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THE PHYSICIAN.NO. IV.
General Rules for attaining long Life. THERE dwelt in ancient times on the Palus Mæotis, a barbarous people, called the Alani, whose god was a naked sword, which they set up in the ground and worshipped, and whose greatest glory and happiness consisted in slaughtering their fellow-creatures, and employing their skins for horse-covers. This brutal nation was, as far as I can recollect, the only one that considered it ignominious to die of old age. This maxim, nevertheless, seems to have identified itself with the character of martial nations, the members of which are anxious to die for their country; and it may be viewed in a milder light where it loses all that is rude and barbarous, and appears in the rank of real heroic virtue. It is truly absurd to regard natural death, that is to say, the only way in which men can die of old age, as ignominious : but still it is a real virtue to sacrifice one's life for the public weal ; a virtue in which the ancient heroes and philosophers were great, and in which those of modern times are mostly very little. The more effeminate and luxurious a nation becomes, and the more it is depraved by indulgence and voluptuousness, so much the more it dreads death and is attached to life. In vain would you show the debauchee the lustre of immortality that must surround his name, if he sacrifice his life for his fellow-citizens and his country. To no purpose would you promise him the pure joys of heaven, and the everlasting glories on which his soul will feast itself. He would rather be utterly forgotten from the present moment, and renounce a future state altogether, than give up a single year of his voluptuous life. Between these two extremes the wise will choose a middle course. We must not hold life so lightly as to throw it away, neither ought death to appear so terrible as to make us hesitate to surrender it, when important occasions demand the sacrifice.
Such are my sentiments, though I am a physician, and a physician ought always to espouse the cause of life. The duty of a physician extends no farther than to take care that life be not lost till natural necessity or higher purposes require it. For this reason we combat the diseases which carry off men before they have attained the natural term of life; but not to render our patients immortal: just as we should pay the most assiduous attention to a sick general, without being offended if, after his recovery, he should go forth and seek honour or death in the turmoil of battle. Besides, a physician is best qualified to determine the real value of life, and to form a comparison of the advantages and inconveniencies of age, with the degree of attachment or indifference to long life, which deserves to be termed, not only a duty but a real benefit to mankind. For, how melancholy is that life, every moment of which is embittered by the fear of losing it !-and how grievous that death, which a hopeful youth draws upon himself by culpable neglect ! Old age is subject to a thousand inconveniencies. It is a lingering death, which causes us to survive ourselves, and deprives the world of the melancholy pleasure of tenderly deploring our loss. The death of one, who, in his best years, sacrifices himself for the State, is a peal of thunder that shakes all who hear it: and how grateful to his spirit must be the heart-felt sorrows of all on his account ! It is evident
from the expressions of Horace that he preferred the early death of Achilles, far above the melancholy immortality conferred by Aurora on Tithonus :
Abstulit clarum cita mors Achillem,
Longa Tithonum minuit senectus. I am well aware, however, that all this imposes on no man the obligation to die a moment sooner than his destiny calls him, and that an old man ought not to grieve because he survives those who would have done him the honour to deplore his early end. So right and proper as I esteem it in every one, not to set too high a value on life, and not to fear death; so little can I find fault with him who is solicitous to attain advanced age, even though he has but little honour and enjoyment to expect from it: for one of the first laws of nature enjoins the love and preservation of life; and it is the interest of the State itself that men should not be too careless on this point. The enemies of religion are frequently told, that no power on earth would be strong enough to restrain the wicked without the fear of a future state, which is promised by religion. In like manner we may argue in opposition to those who preach up the contempt of life, that not one individual in the world would enjoy more peace and safety, if the wicked had not some regard for their lives and some horror of death. I can therefore have no scruple to show my readers the way to attain longevity, without in any manner injuring either themselves or the State. I am not an apostle of voluptuousness; I desire of my readers nothing more, than that life shall be dear and death not terrible to them. I shall now tell them how they must act to preserve life as long as possible, without falling into the absurdities of the alchemists, to which I shall presently advert.
The way to long life is, like that to everlasting happiness, arduous and difficult. There are many rules that are disagreeable, to be observed; and these even it is useless to observe, unless a person be descended from healthy parents and have brought into the world with him a sound constitution. I will suppose that this is the case; and then the first care of him who desires to attain old age must be, in early youth not to waste or exhaust his energies in any way whatever. With this view he must avoid too severe bodily exertion, by which he will either bring on himself infirmities or premature age. I can never see but with pain, how the common people keep young children to laborious employments to which their strength is inadequate. Young colts are spared and not set to work till they have attained a certain age, when their strength is proportionate to the labour required of them; because their owners know from experience that they are spoiled, and become prematurely old and unserviceable, unless this indulgence be allowed them. It is most unreasonable that we should spare children less than horses ; for though they are not so dear as those animals, yet they are of far greater importance to the State ; and parents ought not to forget, that their children are part of themselves though existing independently of them, and that it is therefore their duty to be as tender of them as of their own persons.
All too lively sensations, the too free use of the senses, violent passions, excesses of every kind, by whatever name they may be called, severe exertion of the mental faculties, assiduous study, deep meditation, and nocturnal vigils, consume the vital spirits, weaken the powers, and bring on premature old age. Indolence and total inactivity, either of the corporeal or mental energies, are nevertheless equally to be avoided. Bacon has well expressed this where he says the vital spirits must not be left to stagnate till they clog up their vessels ; neither ought they to be wasted or so expended as to injure those vessels.” Experience confirms incontestably the truth of this doctrine. It is proverbial, that children remarkable for precocity of intellect or acquirements die prematurely. Boerhaave knew a boy who was a miracle of erudition, but scarcely attained his fifteenth year. Another learned youth, who passed night and day in study, died in his nineteenth year without any previous illness, merely of premature age. Debauchery, not war, put an end to the life of Alexander the Great in the flower of manhood. Most of those who have exceeded the term of human longevity, were thoughtless, easy, insensible persons, who were in no hurry with the labour to which poverty doomed them, and strangers to all kinds of excesses. Such as have cultivated the sciences merely for their amusement, and opened their hearts only to the gentler passions, have in consequence attained advanced age. “Look you," says a writer of the last century, at the old dames, who have lost all their teeth : let them relate to you their course of life, and they will tell you how merry they were in their youth: you will find that their anger dwells rather in the tongue than in the heart. These have enjoyed favourable gales, and have reached the haven where they would never have arrived either with a total calm, or with violent tempests. Whoever wishes to become old, must endeavour to resemble them in this point."
Go through the whole catalogue of excesses in pleasure, and you will find that they have precipitated their votaries into a premature grave. Boerhaave justly observed, that few who are intemperate in the use of wine, brandy, and other spiritous liquors, survive the age of fifty. With these votaries of Bacchus, the votaries of Venus proceed pari passu ; and immediately after them come the immoderate eaters. Plato and Socrates grew old upon very frugal fare; and Maimonides, the Arabian physician, says, that it is necessary to avoid overloading the stomach with too much food : for though a person might take the most wholesome aliments, yet if he were to take too much of them, he could not remain in good health. Bread and water are an admirable diet for those who would rival Methusalem in longevity; and fasting itself is an excellent promoter of their views.
A regular way of life, in the most comprehensive sense of the term, is absolutely requisite for those who would flatter themselves with the hope of living to be old. They must live in a free, serene, and healthy air. That of high mountains is best suited to this object. In mountainous countries you meet with persons verging upon a century and a half, though living in poverty and subsisting on the coarsest fare. How much temperance in eating and drinking contributes to the attainment of old age, I shall have occasion to show hereafter by a variety of examples.
In respect to bodily exercise, I have already observed that it must be moderate, otherwise it will tend to abridge life. In this point, then, the system of life of those who wish to be old, differs a little from that of the persons who merely desire to enjoy bodily strength and health in their best years. The object of the latter is promoted by violent exercise, for fatigues harden the body, but they also render the fibres rigid before the time, and too rapidly exhaust the vital spirits, the principle of life.
A due alternation of sleep and watching is an essential maxim for those who desire longevity. If you sleep too much, you collect a superabundance of juices ; for sleep feeds the body more, if any thing, than alimentary substances. It is an indispensable rule for such as wish for long life, that they keep the body as nearly as possible of equal weight. Now, by rest it soon becomes heavier, and by fatigues it is rendered lighter. Both militate against the hope of long life.
Of the labours of the mind and of the passions I have already treated; and as to the natural evacuations, they must be constantly kept up, but on no account too strongly excited by the use of frequent or powerful medicines. “No cathartics are necessary,” says Boerhaave ; " for there are people of eighty who have never taken any, and yet have always kept their bodies in a proper state.” The same remark applies to all artificial evacuations, to blood-letting, perspiration, and the like.
To attain advanced age, a man must enjoy uninterrupted health, for all diseases gnaw at the germ of life. If then the rules for regulating our mode of life in general enable us to avoid diseases, it follows of course, that we must observe all these rules if we would attain advanced age. It is most commonly the case, that people care too little about the future, to submit for the sake of it to the observance of so many rules : and yet there is no other way of becoming old than this. How, for instance, can a man expect to live long, if he injures the viscera, or suffers his juices to be tainted by a corruption which exposes him to a thousand dangers in his mortal pilgrimage! Boerhaave relates a remarkable instance in elucidation of this truth. A young man of a distinguished family, and of a melancholy temperament, fancied, without any cause, that the effects of youthful indiscretions were still lurking in his constitution. So strong was his conviction on this subject, that all the arguments of his physicians could not persuade him to the contrary. At length he found one—and why should he not meet with such a man?—who coincided in his opinion, and prescribed salivation. He submitted twice to this process, and after this cure of his imaginary disease, lived without ailment till his eightieth year, though none of his family had ever attained an advanced age. By this operation all the juices are cleansed, and whatever of impurity they contain is expelled from the system. Bacon first discovered that such a purification of the juices contributes greatly to longevity. He observes, that those medicines which consume all the juices of the body promote long life, if the viscera be but strong enough to concoct new and healthy juices from the new salutary aliments; otherwise, it would certainly be better to have bad juices than none at all.
Such are the most important points to be observed, by those who desire to attain an advanced age. There are few people who pursue this course, and most of those who are found there have struck into it by accident, or been driven thither by necessity. A very small number indeed voluntarily choose this way, which keeps them aloof from the gratifications and indulgences of early life. It must not, however, be imagined, that those who continue to be the slaves of their passions, are indifferent to length of life, or have voluntarily renounced the hope of enjoying it. This is far from being the case. The more pleasure we find in life, the more ardently we desire its prolongation. No man is more unwilling to die prematurely than the debauchee ; none sighs more anxiously for length of years ; none feels a greater horror of death, than he who knows not how to die well, which art consists solely in the consciousness of having lived well. As, however, the direct road to life is too dull and too arduous to such a person, he seeks the means of immortality in secret things, and hopes to find it in absurdities. Helmontius flattered himself with the expectation of discovering it by extracting the ens primum from the cedar of Mount Lebanon ; because, forsooth, as the cedar is an almost imperishable tree, its juice or spirit must contain the essence of immortality! Paracelsus sought it in the herb of lung-wort, which was said to expel all bad juices from the body. Many others, equally silly, imagined that it was possible to extract from gold a spiritus rector, which would be a remedy for all diseases and a medium of immortality. Artephius caused a youth to be killed, and, as we are told, extracted from his blood the magnet of the human spirit, by means of which he attained a great age, and after he had become weary of life, laid himself down of his own accord in the grave, but not without taking along with him some of this volatile spirit in a bottle, to which he occasionally smells, merely to protract his life, which has now lasted upward of a thousand years. Others again have sought the means of immortality in animals; and the stag, on account of its longevity, has had the honour of being preferred by those fools, who fancied themselves possessed of the greatest wisdom. In short, there is nothing so ridiculous that has not been tried as a preservative against death; because the devisers of these experiments forgot that the human body is a machine, which, though it may have gone correctly for a long time, yet gradually decays, till at last its powers become completely exhausted. Is it, then, any wonder that not a single individual, out of all those who have invented elixirs of life and immortality, should have survived the ordinary age of man?