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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/610

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Art still increases the value of human life, but not its length; the greatest modern masters of tune and color died in their prime, like the greatest poets; inspiration, in all its forms, would seem to be a flame that consumes the human clay more quickly than the fire of affliction—if the extreme longevity of so many of the ancient masters did not suggest a different explanation, namely, that the revelations of Nature and the tendencies of established dogmas have ceased to harmonize, and that the lovers of truth have nowadays to cross a Pontus where they must prevail against a whole sea of adverse currents, or Leander-like perish.

In the course of the last sixty or seventy years the average duration of human life has undoubtedly increased in all civilized countries, but it is not less certain that the gain of a few decades does not yet begin to offset the loss of centuries; we have saved ourselves from the abyss of medieval unnaturalism, but we are still far from having recovered the ancient heights of vitality; the after-effects of the Buddha-poison still cramp our limbs and sadly retard our upward progress; but the tide has turned, and the main currents of the age have ceased to set deathward.

According to the demonstrations of the naturalist Camper, the normal average of our life-term should be at least ninety years. His arguments are both biological and historical, and would agree with the scriptural records, if, as Schleiermacher suggests, the Genesis-years were seasons, of about ninety days. The "years" of the patriarchs were certainly not months, for men who saw their children and children's children must have lived longer than thirty years. The biological argument that in a state of nature the life of a mammal relates to the period of its growth as 6-8 to 1, would give us an average of 90-160; the southern Arab is full-grown with sixteen years, the northern Caucasian hardly before twenty. Hundreds of ancient statesmen and philosophers outlived their threescore and ten by a full decade, though we need not doubt that then, as now, metaphysics and politics were not specially conducive to longevity, nor that even by that time vices had shortened the natural average by several decades.

But there is another a priori argument which, from all but an ultra-pessimistic stand-point, seems almost self-sufficient in its conclusiveness. The whereabouts of new planets have been discovered by an inductive process based upon the observation of otherwise unaccountable disturbances in the orbits of other stars, and Camper's theory alone would account for an otherwise inexplicable contradiction in the economy of human life. Man's life is too short for the attainment of its highest purposes. Our season ends before its seed has time to yield a harvest; before a brave day's work is half done we are overtaken by the night, when no man can work. As the world is constituted, it takes a certain number of years for a new industry to take root and yield its first fruits; it requires a certain period for a new opinion to