Page images
PDF
EPUB

sincere opinion. We do not certainly wait till every other periodical work has tasted and approved the relish of a book, and then come forth with our own flat speculations on obvious matters, founded upon the wisdom or mistakes of our betters. We do not consider our literary“ repository” (to use good Mr. Ackerman's phrase), as a place of refuge for dull rebuses, and charades which must always remain a riddle. We do not correspond with ourselves, nor insert all the letters we receive, in order to show our own want of wit. We are not (we hope) prolix beyond all our contemporaries, yet eternally falling short of the mark. We do not pique ourselves on possessing an obituary, with every “ Thomson” and “ Johnson” faithfully set down, their mark and livelihood. (We know that the world does not care to hear of such unprofitable matters.) We have no account of West Lambeth Church. We have no epitaphs, original or from the Elegant Extracts, that can beguile, with their bad grammar, the muscles of our readers for a moment. We leave our friends to enjoy the quiet range of all abbeys and parish churches, from the Sid to the Tyne. A mermaid comes to Wapping, a pitchfork is transmuted into Neptune's trident, and of these we have no record. If our readers can forgive us such omissions, we are content. We will in turn endeavour to lead them now and then from the dusty and beaten road of learning, over green and cheerful paths, by forest side or fountain,” and show them bright things which the growth of later ages has hidden, but which nothing can ever destroy:

Having premised thus much, we will proceed to consider our subject. And here let not the courteous reader, or rather the good matter-of-fact reader, dispute with us at the outset. Let him not deny to our wish of five hundred years its possible accomplishment. We ourselves are not “ true believers” in the Eastern fashion. We do not credit all things good, bad, and indifferent. Yet, although we have some lurking doubts about the philosopher's stone, and even the elixir vitæ, we believe that something material may be done to prolong our lives, and save our age from the common penalties of pain

and

premature decay. We do not here refer to Dr. Brodum, who instructs us how to arrive at a cordial old age; nor to Dr. Solo. mon (his gentle spirit will forgive us)-nor to his balm; neither have we in our immediate thoughts (though we respect his labours) Sir John Sinclair, who tells us, that the road to longevity is not paved with hard dumplings, nor watered very plentifully by either whiskey or wine.

Much no doubt may be done for our inveterate lovers of life, by air, and exercise, and diet. The grand nostrums certainly startle us sometimes, as well by their audacity as by the number of exceptions who daily die off in defiance of the

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

It has grown

perpetual life poured into them. There is no knowing what to do with such rebels against their own immortality. We vent our spleen against them at first; but in the end we are obliged to inquire into the specific. Then our misgiving commences. We discover that there is something (or nothing) in it, which argues against its universal character. We deny its virtues ; and from one solitary instance insist upon the incompetency of all possible elixirs. This is not fair dealing. Much less fair is it to go further still, and argue, that life itself is not to be, even by any means, prolonged. Proverbs, as well as facts, should teach us better.

Senhor, may you live A THOUSAND YEARS !”—Such used to be a Spaniard's wish; nay it is so even now. into a proverb. It is hallowed by constant use. Shall we believe that it is merely jocose, chimerical? It may sound a little rhetorical, a little exaggerated; but we have no doubt that it is meant sincerely, and (what is more to the purpose) considered as not utterly impossible.—May you live a thousand years! It sounds like a magnificent blessing, full and musical. What a prodigal utterance must he have had who first spoke it! What an antipathy to arithmetic and fractions! We talk of a fine old age of three-score and ten-years- It is contemptible. “ What employment have we here,” that could be ended so soon? What science could be mastered? what paradox made plain? what star surely tracked in its finer wanderings? what, in short, can we do that is worth doing, in so poor a fragment of time?

Once, our fathers were a mighty people. The men before the flood and after had their thousand years alloited to them, and they were wise and happy. They were patriarchs, and saw through the long file of their generations, blessing and blessed. It is true, that the taint of the first murder was upon them, and all were not free from error; yet it was not with them as with us, who, sickly and degenerate, fall into the earth before our time, and die in the morning of our wisdom. They read the stars, and a commerced with the skies.” Heaven opened its bright gates, and disclosed to their seers its wondrous secrets. Dumb nature obeyed them, and spoke. The rock burst, and gave forth its waters. The great sea bared its heart, and let them pass. They had visions radiant as day, gorgeous as the rainbow,-sights, of which words are but the shadow. They had angels for their companions; and they heard the word of God and lived.

O fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint,

Agricolas !
The assertions as to the long lives of the patriarchs cannot

be explained away on the ground of mere trope or figure ; nor even by different methods of calculating time. Neither is it only a Jewish story, credited in Judæa. The old Chaldean, Egyptian, and Chinese authors speak of the great ages of those who lived in early times : and Pliny and Xenophon admit their testimony without hesitation. Whether longevity is to be ascribed to some peculiar providence is another question. Perhaps much may be attributed to simplicity of living, and something to freedom from hereditary disease. Some of the most learned of the Jews have considered, that a certain term of life was actually fixed by the Creator, beyond which it was impossible to live. The Chaldeans, and perhaps others, believed, that life depended on the stars. The Greeks admitted the unalterable will of fate (this last differs little from our own notions of the prescience of the Deity): but that a certain term of three-score and ten or four-score years should be fixed and known as the decree of God, seems hardly consistent with our general ideas either of his wisdom or beneficence.

Whether Nature has so fashioned the crazy tenement of man, that it will endure the storms of a thousand winters, we cannot pretend to say. Here our experience fails us; and theory supplies little but conjecture. But that life may be improved, that youth may be prolonged, and age made less infirm, and death retarded, we conscientiously believe. Certain animals are known to outlive the ordinary term of man's life; yet we do not know that any thing has been discovered in their structure to account for such excelling longevity. The stag, the elephant, the eagle, the parrot, the viper, are notorious livers. And in the year 1497, in a fish-pond in Suabia, a carp, of prodigious size, was found, which had in its ear a ring of copper, with these words in Latin : I am the first fish ihat was put into this pond, by the hands of Frederick the Second, governor of the world, the 5th October, 1230.” So that this carp must have lived two hundred and sixty-seven years. In this last case, the parallel may not be quite so straight, as with animals who breathe the same atmosphere with man ; though we know of nothing which leads us to suppose, that fishes in general attain a greater age than birds or quadrupeds, living in a different element.

But, lest such instances should be deemed insufficient, we may observe, that there are cases of such extreme longevity among ourselves, as to justify a hope that the ordinary term of life may be at least considerably extended. The most famous physicians, in particular, were also famous livers. Hippocrates lived to the age of 104.-Asclepiades, the Persian, to 150.Galen, in complete health, to 104. (Such men, the author of

age

Hermippus Redivivus justly observes, do honour to their profession.”). Besides these, there are instances far more extraordinary, which are tolerably well authenticated. It is recorded, that in Bengal there was a certain peasant who reached the of 335! In America (beyond the British settlements in Florida) there died some years ago an Indian prince, who had the full use of his faculties and limbs to the last, who remembered the coming of the Spaniards into those parts : he consequently must have been upwards of_200 years old. There is also an account of a man, called Francis Secardi Hongo, who, after marrying successively five wives, and having fifteen or twenty concubines, arrived at the age of 115 years; and another, of some Hungarians who attained respectively the extraordinary ages of 172, 185, and 187 years.

To these facts, many others of a more doubtful nature might be easily added. The stories of the Hermetic philosophers are undoubtedly dashed with enough of the marvellous to justify some incredulity on our parts ; yet the lives of many were so pure, and the accounts of others so seriously insisted upon, that we shall do well to pause before we bestow on them our unqualified disbelief, and despise what we cannot learn, for a certainty, to be either false or true. That we should live a thousand years, or even five hundred, seems at first to be a monstrous impossibility. But if a man should assert, that he remembered Oliver Cromwell, we should quite as readily conclude him to be an impostor; and yet, it is tolerably notorious, that some men have actually outlived a century and an half. Old Parr died in 1635, aged one hundred and fifty-two years, Lawrence Hutland died in the Orkneys when he was one hundred and seventy ; and the famous Countess of Desmond was known to be more than one hundred and forty, at the time of her death.

What is the cause of longevity, is undoubtedly very difficult to say. It is impossible to found a system upon the accounts given from time to time of extremely old persons. Some lived in cold and some in hot countries ; some rose early and some late; some were temperate, and others free livers. Almost all, however, seem to have used a great deal of exercise, and they lived, we suspect plainly, even when they indulged in spirits, or wine. It is remarkable, that the oldest pensioners in Greenwich hospital appear to have lived generally in warm countries, while most of the invalid soldiers in Kilmainham barracks passed their lives in cold climates. Again, the instances of long life in the northern countries are somewhat striking; and yet, the patriarchs lived beneath a burning sky, and tilled an arid soil. One satisfactory conclusion, however, is to be drawn from all this; and with that we must be con

tent. It is, that, however medical writers may assert that heat, or cold, or excess of any sort, tends to accelerate death, yet the frame of man is constructed of such durable materials as to enable it to fight up against all the adversities of circumstance, and to withstand the rigours of all seasons, whether at the tropic or the poles.

Old age is said to be "the only natural disease” inflicted upon human nature. For the rest, we have to thank our own ingenuity; not “the stars.” The curries of the East, the sauces of France, the grapes of Portugal and Spain, have been the enemies of man. The sins of the Roman banquets are visited on the heads of their imbecile generation; and we think that our modern apoplexies, and other errors of health, may be traced pretty distinctly to those enormous “ barons of beef” and roasted oxen, upon which our forefathers oncefed to satiety. Now, having lost “ the substantials,” we have nothing to do, but to get speedily thin upon turtle and stewed carp, (we wonder whether our friend of Swabia ended his two hundred and sixtyseventh year in the stew-pan),—and on legs of Welch mutton and other such etherial aliment, (scarce better than the chamelion's) and to begin our race of a thousand years, upon experience of our ancestors' folly.

In the first place, Moderation should be carved upon every plate, and should stand out in bright relief on every wine cup. Beaumont and Fletcher were wits and fine writers, but they did not know where to stop. They over past the goal. Their wit ran over and went to waste. They showed plethora rather than strength. It is the same with our friends the aldermen: they are rosy, but not healthy; huge, but not robust. The cold evening winds which meet them (like the scythe of Time) after the city ceremonials, would pass them harmlessly were they temperate at table. But the " sons of Belial” may never aspire to be long livers. The “bottle is the sun of their table," and its circle is speedily accomplished. Neither should the student exult prematurely over his less worthy brethren. He too is marked out for a brief career. To sit and think and dream of love or heaven is delightful. It is a pity that any penalty should be attached to it. And yet, there is,-he must die. Study, in its excess, is like a fearful spell. It conjures up demons, and hideous phantasmas, legions of grisly shapes, fancies unutterable-things such as trooped

• Under the sooty flag of Acheron,

• Harpies and Hydras,-' and others, all armed with the shears of Fate, between which our slender threads sooner or later become entangled. Not only is excess of thought bad ; but the mere fact of sitting for a length

« PreviousContinue »