The fact that the majority of the men are bony and muscular, and the women plump, is easily explained, I think, by the occupations. In the work of the men their muscles have been brought into play so much, and have used such a large proportion of the nourishment taken into the system, that fat could not accumulate. With the women the reverse has been true, especially after they reached the age of fifty, when grown-up daughters took the hardest of the work from their mothers' shoulders.
In regard to food, the evidence is so uniformly one way that those who advise a simple diet, and those who cry out against meat, must either hold their theories to be above facts or give them up. There is certainly nothing "simple" about the diet of a New England farmer. It consists of salt and fresh pork and beef and all sorts of common fish and vegetables, almost always poorly cooked, and pies and cakes of the most indigestible sorts. The food is "plain," truly, and gives the digestive organs an abundance of work to do, but it is not such food as a theorist would recommend to one who desired to live near up to the century-mark. Tea and coffee have certainly proved that they do not tend to shorten life, even if they do not prove that they help to prolong it. The generally accepted theory in relation to stimulants, that in excess they are not life-sustaining, receives strong support. Tobacco appears to prove itself harmless, at least on the temperament of these people. Whether it be a help to live long requires other evidence.
While the farmers of New England and their wives are a cleanly people, they are not much given to bathing. This neglect may not have prolonged their existence or made them more healthy, but it is to be presumed that it has not cut off many years or caused much disease. Neither are the members of these households well informed in relation to sanitary matters. They know little of the unseen dampness to which the human system is so constantly exposed, and, knowing little, care little. May not this be an influence in favor of a prolonged existence, paradoxical as the supposition may seem? In Hingham, Mass., with only four thousand inhabitants, there are eighty people over eighty years of age, and out of these seventy-five are of light complexion. In no other town in New England, so far as could be learned, is there such a proportion of old people. This town is on the sea-coast, lies very low, is without sewers, and has only recently put in a system of water-works. From a sanitary point of view the conditions here are about as unfavorable to long life as could be conceived outside the crowded portions of the large cities. And in Boston, where the sanitary conditions appear to be the worst—in the North End and South Boston districts—the greatest number of very old people are found.