Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/605

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

The votes that killed Cavour and Disraeli probably revived La Marmora and Gladstone. Success is a panacea; a series of long-lived rulers will generally be found to coincide with an era of national triumphs, and a general increase of longevity with a period of material progress, industrial development, good crops, etc., for, when "living" is cheap, one man's success does not necessarily imply the short-coming of his neighbor.

But, as Ludwig Börne says, "to be happy is one of the cardinal virtues"—there is such a thing as a gift of supporting vitality on an accident-proof fund of good humor, a Mark-Tapley-like disposition to exult in the disregard, or, at least, in the defiance, of bad-luck. In stress of circumstances, Hamlet's alternative may often depend upon the possession of this accomplishment, for I believe that it is one of the talents which can be cultivated. Not all men can attain to the philosophical eminence of Francis Fenélon, who valued gloomy days as a foil to brighter ones; but a step in the right direction is a resolute contempt of trifling adversities, which leads to the habit of distinguishing life from its incidents, the pilgrimage from the way-side vicissitudes, and can be most easily acquired by keeping an ultimate goal in view not a supra mundane one necessarily, but something elevated enough to aid us in overlooking the base annoyances which beset all but the loneliest by-ways of modern life. This devotion to a nobler and enduring, or even a permanently interesting, object—a mere hobby, in fact—serves to enhance the value of life, and explains the success of many survivors under apparently hopeless difficulties, the victory of competitors handicapped with disease, poverty, and deficient education; they support a cause which supports them in return; they live upon as well as for a principle. Hence the apparent paradox of the longevity of busybodies, of men who seem to burn the fuel of life at an extravagant rate. Xenophon, Cardinal Richelieu, Ximenes, Benjamin Franklin, and Frederick the Great, were probably the busiest men of their respective nations, gallop-riders on a road where others kept the even tenor of their way, but they bestrode their hobbies and managed both to outride and outlive their competitors.

It is, indeed, a mistake to suppose that the tranquillity, per se, of a man's life tends to prolong its duration; and the longevity of stagnant villages and country parsons proves only how infinitely health outweighs all other means of happiness. The peasants of Southern Russia live almost as frugally as the Hebrew patriarchs, on milk, bread, and honey, with a bit of cheese now and then, or a drop of hydromel (half-fermented honey-water); their climate is dry and favorable to perennial out-door life, and in spite of official tyranny, war, and rumors of war, feudalism, and outrageous over-taxation, they outlive the freeborn British yeoman, with his strong ales and daily beefsteaks. But the coincidence of dietetic and administrative abuses cuts the thread of life with a two-edged knife, and in Northern Russia the average