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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/786

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ern origin. New facts connected with longevity have, moreover, been collected within the last few years, and some of these I propose to examine, and further to inquire whether they teach us any fresh means whereby life may be maintained and prolonged.

But, before entering upon the immediate subject, there are several preliminary questions which demand a brief examination, and the first that suggests itself is. What is the natural duration of human life? This oft-repeated question has received many different answers; and inquiry has been stimulated by skepticism as to their truth. The late Sir George Cornewall Lewis expressed the opinion that one hundred years must be regarded as a limit which very few, if indeed any, human beings succeed in reaching, and he supported this view by several cogent reasons. He pointed out that almost all the alleged instances of abnormal longevity occurred among the humbler classes, and that it was difficult, if not impossible, to obtain any exact information as to the date of birth and to identify the individuals with any written statements that might be forthcoming. He laid particular stress upon the fact that similar instances were altogether absent among the higher classes, with regard to whom trustworthy documentary evidence was almost always obtainable. He thought that the higher the rank the more favorable would the conditions be for the attainment of a long life. In this latter supposition, however. Sir George Lewis was probably mistaken: the comforts and luxuries appertaining to wealth and high social rank are too often counterbalanced by cares and anxieties, and by modes of living inconsistent with the maintenance of health, and therefore with the prolongation of life. In the introduction to his work on "Human Longevity," Easton says, "It is not the rich or great ... that become old, but such as use much exercise, are exposed to the fresh air, and whose food is plain and moderate—as farmers, gardeners, fishermen, laborers, soldiers, and such men as perhaps never employed their thoughts on the means used to promote longevity."

The French naturalist, Buffon, believed that, if accidental causes could be excluded, the normal duration of human life would be between ninety and one hundred years, and he suggested that it might be measured (in animals as well as in man) by the period of growth, to which it stood in a certain proportion. He imagined that every animal might live for six or seven times as many years as were requisite for the completion of its growth. But this calculation is not in harmony with facts, so far, at least, as man is concerned. His period of growth can not be estimated at less than twenty years; and if we take the lower of the two multipliers, we get a number which, in the light of modern evidence, can not be accepted as attainable. If the period of growth