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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/791

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THE ART OF PROLONGING LIFE.

be regarded as causes of longevity. Not a few old persons are found on inquiry to take credit to themselves for their own condition, and to attribute it to some remarkable peculiarity in their habits or mode of life. It is said that Lord Mansfield, who reached the age of eighty-nine, was wont to inquire into the habits of life of all aged witnesses who appeared before him, and that only in one habit, namely, that of early rising, was there any general concurrence. Health is doubtless often promoted by early rising, but the habit is not necessarily conducive to longevity. It is, as Sir H. Holland points out, more probable that the vigor of the individuals maintains the habit than that the latter alone maintains the vitality.

If we pass from probable to improbable causes of longevity we are confronted by many extravagant assumptions. Thus, to take only a few examples, the immoderate use of sugar has been regarded not only as a panacea, but as decidedly conducive to length of days. Dr. Slare, a physician of the last century, has recorded the case of a centenarian who used to mix sugar with all his food, and the doctor himself was so convinced of the "balsamic virtue" of this substance that he adopted the practice, and boasted of his health and strength in his old age. Another member of the same profession used to take daily doses of tannin (the substance employed to harden and preserve leather), under the impression that the tissues of the body would be thereby protected from decay. His life was protracted beyond the ordinary span, but it is questionable whether the tannin acted in the desired direction. Lord Combermere thought that his good health and advanced years were due, in part at least, to the fact that he always wore a tight belt round his waist. His lordship's appetite was doubtless thereby kept within bounds; we are further told that he was very moderate in the use of all fluids as drink. Cleanliness might be supposed to aid in prolonging life, yet a Mrs. Lewson, who died in the early part of this century, aged one hundred and six, must have been a singularly dirty person. We are told that instead of washing she smeared her face with lard, and asserted that "people who washed always caught cold." This lady, no doubt, was fully persuaded that she had discovered the universal medicine.

Many of the alchemists attributed the power of prolonging life to certain preparations of gold, probably under the idea that the permanence of the metal might be imparted to the human system. Descartes is said to have favored such opinions: he told Sir Kenelm Digby that, although he would not venture to promise immortality, he was certain that his life might be lengthened to the period of that enjoyed by the patriarchs. His plan, however, seems to have been the very rational and simple one of checking all excesses and enjoining punctual and frugal meals.