Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/500

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
484
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

estimated. It appears that the method in common use was about equivalent to assuming that all persons who attain the age of thirty would certainly live to the age of sixty, and then certainly die. This purely arbitrary assumption was probably accepted by jurists as the simple solution of a difficult problem.

A great improvement was introduced by the Prætorian Prefect Ulpianus, one of the most eminent of Roman jurists. He published a table of mortality, in which a distinction was made between the different ages, and the probable number of years of life for each given. The rate of mortality assumed for the middle ages approximates to that probably prevalent previous to the seventeenth century. Whether this table was based upon actual observation or was purely speculative is not settled; but, if its estimates were correct, the chances of life above sixty years were very poor indeed among the Romans. However, these early efforts do not seem to have exercised any influence toward a proper investigation of the subject, and, having been forgotten, they only possess a passing interest for us.

The real germs from which life insurance ultimately developed were life-annuities and tontine annuities. These latter derived their name from a Neapolitan adventurer, Tonti, who came to Paris in 1653, in the reign of Louis XIV. He formed associations based upon the agreement that members should pay a certain sum of money into a fund, which was to be managed by him or other founders. The interest on this capital was annually divided among the surviving members, and, as their number grew smaller, their income became larger from time to time, until eventually the last survivor enjoyed the whole annual proceeds, which often were considerable. An instance is given of a widow who died in France in 1726, at the age of ninety-six, as the last survivor of a tontine society, having an income of 79,000 francs; her husband had been a surgeon, and had paid 300 francs for her membership in the association.

Such schemes were naturally attractive, and spread rapidly over Europe. Various modifications were introduced, adapting them to changing circumstances. Even governments had recourse to them as a means of raising money, when credit was low. The English Government made a tontine loan in 1693, comprising 1,002 members, the last of whom died in 1783. The other, known as the Great English Tontine, was started in 1789 for £1,000,000, embracing about 3,500 lives.

Voluntary associations for specific purposes were also quite frequent. One of a later date, originating in this city, may be mentioned by way of illustration. The Tontine Association of New York, established in 1794 by prominent merchants, upon 203 shares, applied its fund of about $40,000 to the erection of a coffee-house at the corner of Wall and Water Streets. There was an agreement that, when the nominees (mostly young children of the originators) should be reduced