How to Live 100 Years, or
Discourses on the Sober Life
Being the Personal Narrative of Luigi Cornaro (1464-1566 a.d.)
The First Discourse: On a Temperate and Healthful Life
It is universally agreed, that custom, in time, becomes asecond nature, forcing men to use that, whether good or bad, to which they have beenhabituated; in fact, we see habit, in many instances, gain the ascendancy over reason.This is so undeniably true, that virtuous men, by keeping company with wicked, oftenfall into the same vicious course of life. Seeing and considering all this, I havedecided to write on the vice of intemperance in eating and drinking.
Now, though all are agreed that intemperance is the parentof gluttony, and sober living the offspring of abstemiousness; yet, owing to thepower of custom, the former is considered a virtue, and the latter as mean and avaricious;and so many men are blinded and besotted to such a degree, that they come to theage of forty or fifty, burdened with strange and painful infirmities, which renderthem decrepit and useless; whereas, had they lived temperately and soberly, theywould in all probability have been sound and hearty, to the age of eighty and upward.To remedy this state of things, it is requisite that men should live up to the simplicitydictated by nature, which teaches us to be content with little, and accustom ourselvesto eat no more than is absolutely necessary to support life, remembering that allexcess causes disease and leads to death. How many friends of mine, men of the finestunderstanding and most amiable disposition, have I seen carried off in the flowerof their manhood by reason of excess and overfeeding, who, had they been temperate,would now be living, and ornaments to society, and whose company I should enjoy withas much pleasure as I am now deprived of it with concern.
In order, therefore, to put a stop to so great an evil, Ihave resolved, in this short discourse, to demonstrate that intemperance is an abusewhich may be removed, and that the good old sober living may be substituted in itsstead; and this I undertake the more readily, as many young men of the best understandinghave urged upon me its necessity because of many of their parents having died inmiddle life, while I remain so sound and hearty at the age of eighty-one. These youngmen express a desire to reach the same term, nature not forbidding us to wish forlongevity; and old age, being, in fact, that time of life in which prudence can bebest exercised, and the fruits of all the other virtues enjoyed with the least opposition,the senses then being so subdued, that man gives himself up entirely to reason. Theybesought me to let them know the method pursued by me to attain it; and then findingthem intent on so laudable a pursuit, I resolved to treat of that method, in orderto be of service, not only to them, but to all those who may be willing to perusethis discourse.
I shall therefore give my reasons for renouncing intemperanceand betaking myself to a sober course of life, and declare freely the method pursuedby me for that purpose, and then show the good effect upon me; from whence it willbe seen how easy it is to remove the abuse of free living. I shall conclude, by showingthe many conveniences and blessings of temperate life.
I say, then, that the heavy train of infirmities which hadmade great inroads on my constitution were my motives for renouncing intemperance,in the matter of too freely eating and drinking, to which I had been addicted, sothat, in consequence of it, my stomach became disordered, and I suffered much painfrom colic and gout, attended by that which was still worse, an almost continualslow fever, a stomach generally out of order, and a perpetual thirst. From thesedisorders, the best delivery I had to hope was death.
Finding myself, therefore, between my thirty-fifth and fortiethyear in such unhappy circumstances, and having tried everything that could be thoughtof to relieve me, but to no purpose, the physicians gave me to understand that therewas one method left to get the better of my complaints, provided I would resolveto use it, and patiently persevere. This was to live a strictly sober and regularlife, which would be of the greatest efficacy; and that of this I might convincemyself, since, by my disorders I was become infirm, though not reduced so low butthat a regular life might still recover me. They further added, that, if I did notat once adopt this method of strict living, I should in a few months receive no benefitfrom it, and that in a few more I must resign myself to death.
These arguments made such an impression on me, that, mortifiedas I was, besides, by the thought of dying in the prime of life, though at the sametime perpetually tormented by various diseases, I immediately resolved, in orderto avoid at once both disease and death, to betake myself to a regular course oflife. Having upon this inquired of them what rules I should follow, they told methat I must only use food, solid or liquid, such as is generally prescribed to sickpersons; and both sparingly. These directions, to say the truth, they had beforegiven me, but I had been impatient of such restraint, and had eaten and drank freelyof those things I had desired. But, when I had once resolved to live soberly, andaccording to the dictates of reason, feeling it was my duty as a man so to do, Ientered with so much resolution upon this new course of life, that nothing sincehas been able to divert me from it. The consequence was, that in a few days I beganto perceive that such a course agreed well with me; and, by pursuing it, I foundmyself in less than a year (some people, perhaps, will not believe it) entirely freedfrom all my complaints.
Having thus recovered my health, I began seriously to considerthe power of temperance: if it had efficacy enough to subdue such grievous disordersas mine it must also have power to preserve me in health and strengthen my bad constitution.I therefore applied myself diligently to discover what kinds of food suited me best.
But, first, I resolved to try whether those which pleasedmy palate were agreeable to my stomach, so that I might judge of the truth of theproverb, which is so universally held, namely: —That, whatever pleases the palate,must agree with the stomach, or, that whatever is palatable must be wholesome andnourishing. The issue was, that I found it to be false, for I soon found that manythings which pleased my palate, disagreed with my stomach. Having thus convincedmyself that the proverb in question was false, I gave over the use of such meatsand wines as did not suit me, and chose those which by experience I found agreedwell with me, taking only as much as I could easily digest, having strict regardto quantity as well as quality; and contrived matters so as never to cloy my stomachwith eating or drinking, and always rose from the table with a disposition to eatand drink more. In this I conformed to the proverb, which says, that a man to consulthis health must check his appetite. Having in this manner conquered intemperanceI betook myself entirely to a temperate and regular life, and this it was which effectedme that alteration already mentioned, that is, in less than a year, it rid me ofall those disorders which had taken such hold on me, and which appeared at the timeincurable. It had likewise this other good effect, that I no longer experienced thoseannual fits of sickness, with which I used to be afflicted while I followed my ordinaryfree manner of eating and drinking. I also became exceedingly healthy, as I havecontinued from that time to this day; and for no other reason than that I never transgressedagainst regularity and strict moderation.
In consequence, therefore, of my taking such methods, I havealways enjoyed, and, God be praised, still enjoy, the best of health. It is true,that, besides the two most important rules relative to eating and drinking, whichI have ever been very scrupulous to observe (that is, not to take of either, morethan my stomach could easily digest, and to use only those things which agree withme), I have carefully avoided, as far as possible, all extreme heat, cold, extraordinaryfatigue, interruption of my usual hours of rest, and staying long in bad air. I likewisedid all that lay in my power, to avoid those evils, which we do not find it so easyto remove: melancholy, hatred, and other violent passions, which appear to have thegreatest influence on our bodies. I have not, however, been able to guard so wellagainst these disorders, as not to suffer myself now and then to be hurried awayby them. But I have discovered this fact, that these passions, have, in the main,no great influence over bodies governed by the two foregoing rules of eating anddrinking. Galen, who was an eminent physician, has said, that, so long as he followedthese two rules, he suffered but little from such disorders, so little, that theynever gave him above a day’s uneasiness. That what he says is true, I am a livingwitness, and so are many others who know me, and have seen me, how often I have beenexposed to heats and colds, and disagreeable changes of weather, without taking harm,and have likewise seen me (owing to various misfortunes which have more than oncebefallen me) greatly disturbed in mind; these things, however, did me but littleharm, whereas, other members of my family, who followed not my way of living, weregreatly disturbed; such in a word, was their grief and dejection at seeing me involvedin expensive law suits, commenced against me by great and powerful men, that, fearingI should be ruined, they were seized with great melancholy humor, with which intemperatebodies always abound, and such influence had it over their bodies, that they werecarried off before their time; whereas, I suffered nothing on the occasion, as Ihad in me no superfluous humors of that kind; nay, in order to keep up my spirits,I brought myself to think that God had permitted these suits against me, in orderto make me more sensible of my strength of body and mind; and that I should get thebetter of them with honor and advantage, as it, in fact, came to pass; for, at last,I obtained a decree exceedingly favorable to my fortune and character.
But I may go a step farther, and show how favorable to recoveryis a temperate life, in case of accident. At the age of seventy years, I happened,as is often the case, to be in a coach, which, going at a smart rate, was upset,and in that condition drawn a considerable way before the horses could be stopped.I received so many shocks and bruises, that I was taken out with my head and bodyterribly battered, and a dislocated leg and arm. When the physicians saw me in sobad a plight, they concluded that in three days I should die, but thought they wouldtry what bleeding and purging would do, in order to prevent inflammation and fever.But I, on the contrary, knowing that, by reason of the sober life I had lived forso many years, my blood was in good and pure condition, refused to be either purgedor bled. I just caused my arm and leg to be set, and suffered myself to be rubbedwith some oils, which they said were proper on the occasion. Thus, without usingany other kind of remedy, I recovered, as I thought I should, without feeling theleast alteration in myself, or any bad effects from the accident; a thing which appearedno less than miraculous in the eyes of the physicians. Hence, we may infer, thathe who leads a sober and regular life, and commits no excess in his diet, can sufferbut little from mental disorders or external accidents. On the contrary, I conclude,especially from the late trial I have had, that excesses in eating and drinking areoften fatal. Four years ago, I consented to increase the quantity of my food by twoounces, my friends and relations having, for some time past, urged upon me the necessityof such increase, that the quantity I took was too little for one so advanced inyears; against this, I urged that nature was content with little, and that with thissmall quantity I had preserved myself for many years in health and activity, thatI believed as a man advanced in years, his stomach grew weaker, and therefore thetendency should be to lessen the amount of food rather than to increase. I furtherreminded them of the two proverbs, which say: he who has a mind to eat a great deal,must eat but little; eating little makes life long, and, living long, he must eatmuch; and the other proverb was: that, what we leave after making a hearty meal,does us more good than what we have eaten. But my arguments and proverbs were notable to prevent them teasing me upon the subject; therefore, not to appear obstinate,or affecting to know more than the physicians themselves, but above all, to pleasemy family, I consented to the increase before mentioned; so that, whereas previous,what with bread, meat, the yolk of an egg, and soup, I ate as much as twelve ounces,neither more nor less, I now increased it to fourteen; and whereas before I drankbut fourteen ounces of wine, I now increased it to sixteen. This increase, had, ineight days’ time, such an effect upon me, that, from being cheerful and brisk, Ibegan to be peevish and melancholy, so that nothing could please me. On the twelfthday, I was attacked with a violent pain in my side, which lasted twenty-two hoursand was followed by a fever, which continued thirty-five days without any respite,insomuch that all looked upon me as a dead man; but, God be praised, I recovered,and I am positive that it was the great regularity I had observed for so many years,and that only, which rescued me from the jaws of death.
Orderly living is, doubtless, a most certain cause and foundationof health and long life; nay, I say it is the only true medicine, and whoever weighsthe matter well, will come to this conclusion. Hence it is, that when the physiciancomes to visit a patient, the first thing he prescribes is regular living, and certainlyto avoid excess. Now, if the patient after recovery should continue so to live, hecould not be sick again, and if a very small quantity of food is sufficient to restorehis health, then but a slight addition is necessary for the continuance of the same;and so, for the future, he would want neither physician nor physic. Nay, by attendingto what I have said, he would become his own physician, and indeed, the best he couldhave, since, in fact, no man should be a perfect physician to any but himself. Thereason is, that any man, by repeated trials, may acquire a perfect knowledge of hisown constitution, the kinds of food and drink which agree with him best. These repeatedtrials are necessary, as there is a great variety in the nature and stomachs of persons.I found that old wine did not suit me, but that the new wines did; and, after longpractice, I discovered that many things, which might not be injurious to others,were not good for me. Now, where is the physician who could have informed me whichto take, and which to avoid, since I by long observation, could scarce discover thesethings.
It follows, therefore, that it is impossible to be a perfectphysician to another. A man cannot have a better guide than himself, nor any physicbetter than a regular life. I do not, however, mean that for the knowledge and cureof such disorders as befall those who live an irregular life there is no occasionfor a physician and that his assistance ought to be slighted; such persons shouldat once call in medical aid, in case of sickness. But, for the bare purpose of keepingourselves in good health, I am of opinion, that we should consider this regular lifeas our physician, since it preserves men, even those of a weak constitution, in health;makes them live sound and hearty, to the age of one hundred and upward, and preventstheir dying of sickness, or through the corruption of their humors, but merely bythe natural decay, which at the last must come to all. These things, however, arediscovered but by few, for men, for the most part, are sensual and intemperate, andlove to satisfy their appetites, and to commit every excess; and, by way of apology,say that they prefer a short and self-indulgent life, to a long and self-denyingone, not knowing that those men are most truly happy who keep their appetites insubjection. Thus have I found it, and I prefer to live temperately, so that I maylive long and be useful. Had I not been temperate, I should never have written thesetracts, which I have the pleasure of thinking will be serviceable to others. Sensualmen affirm that no man can live a regular life. To this I answer, that Galen, whowas a great physician, led such a life, and chose it as the best physic. The samedid Plato, Cicero, Isocrates, and many other great men of former times, whom notto tire the reader I forbear naming; and, in our days, Pope Paul Farnese and CardinalBembo; and it was for that reason they lived so long. Therefore, since many haveled this life, and many are actually leading it, surely all might conform to it,and the more so, as no great difficulty attends it. Cicero affirms that nothing isneeded, but to be in good earnest. Plato, you say, though he himself lived thus regularly,affirms that, in republics, men often cannot do so, being obliged to expose themselvesto various hardships and changes, which are incompatible with a regular life. I answer,that men who have to undergo these things, would be the better able to bear suchhardships by being strictly temperate in matters of eating and drinking.
Here it may be objected, that he who leads this strict andregular life, having constantly when well made use only of simple food fit for thesick, and in small quantities, has when himself in sickness, no recourse left inmatters of diet. To which I reply, that, whoever leads a regular life, cannot besick or at least but seldom. By a regular life I mean, that a man shall ascertainfor himself, how small a quantity of food and drink is sufficient to supply the dailywants of his nature and then having done this, and found out the kinds of food anddrink best suited for his constitution, he shall, having formed his plans, strictlyadhere to his resolutions and principles, not being careful at one time, and self-indulgentat others, for by so doing, he would gain but little benefit; but taking care alwaysto avoid excess, which any man can certainly do at all times, and under all circumstances,if he is determined. I say then, that he who thus lives cannot be sick, or but seldom,and for a short time, because, by regular living, he destroys every seed of sickness,and thus, by removing the cause, prevents the effect; so that he who pursues a regularand strictly moderate life, need not fear illness, for his blood having become pure,and free from all bad humors, it is not possible that he can fall sick.
Since, therefore, it appears that a regular life is alsoprofitable and virtuous, it ought to be universally followed, and more so, as itdoes not clash with duties of any kind, but is easy to all. Neither is it necessarythat all should eat as little as I do—twelve ounces—or not to eat of many thingsfrom which I, because of the natural weakness of my stomach, abstain. Those withwhom all kinds of food agree, may eat of such, only they are forbidden to eat a greaterquantity, even of that which agrees with them best, than their stomachs can withease digest. The same is to be understood of drink. The only rule for such to observein eating and drinking, is the quantity rather than the quality; but for those who,like myself, are weak of constitution, these must not only be careful as to quantity,but also to quality, partaking only of such things as are simple, and easy to digest.
Let no one tell me that there are numbers, who, though theylive most irregularly, attain in health and spirits to a great age. This argumentis grounded on uncertainty and hazard, and such cases are rare. Men should not, therefore,because of these exceptional cases, be persuaded to irregularity or indulgence. Whoever,trusting to the strength of his constitution, slights these observations, may expectto suffer by so doing, and to live inconstant danger of disease and death. I thereforeaffirm, that a man, even of a bad constitution, who leads a strictly regular andsober life, is surer of a long one, than he of the best constitution who lives carelesslyand irregularly. If men have a mind to live long and healthy, and die without sicknessof body or mind, but by mere dissolution, they must submit to a regular and abstemiouslife, for such a life keeps the blood clean and pure. It suffers no vapors to ascendfrom the stomach to the head; hence, the brain of him who thus lives enjoys constantserenity; he can soar above the low and groveling concerns of this life to the exaltedand beautiful contemplation of heavenly things to his exceeding comfort and satisfaction.He then truly discerns the brutality of those excesses into which men fall, and whichbring them misery here and hereafter; while he may with comfort look forward to along life, conscious that, through the mercy of God, he has relinquished the pathsof vice and intemperance, never again to enter them; and, through the merits of ourSaviour Jesus Christ, to die in His favor. He therefore does not suffer himself tobe cast down with the thoughts of death, knowing that it will not attack him violently,or by surprise, or with sharp pains and feverish sensations, but will come upon himwith ease and gentleness; like a lamp, the oil of which is exhausted, he will passgently, and without any sickness, from this terrestrial and mortal, to a celestialand eternal life.
Some sensual unthinking persons affirm that a long life isno great blessing, and that the state of a man, who has passed his seventy-fifthyear, cannot really be called life; but this is wrong, as I shall fully prove; andit is my sincere wish, that all men would endeavor to attain my age, that they mightenjoy that period of life, which of all others is most desirable.
I will therefore give an account of my recreations, and therelish which I find at this stage of life. There are many who can give testimonyas to the happiness of my life. In the first place, they see with astonishment thegood state of my health and spirits; how I mount my horse without assistance, howI not only ascend a flight of stairs, but can climb a hill with greatest ease. Then,how gay and good-humored I am; my mind ever undisturbed, in fact, joy and peace havingfixed there above in my breast. Moreover, they know in what manner I spend my time,so as never to find life weary: I pass my hours in great delight and pleasure, inconverse with men of good sense and intellectual culture; then, when I cannot enjoytheir company, I betake myself to the reading of some good book. When I have readas much as I like, I write; endeavoring in this, as in other things to be of serviceto others; and these things I do with the greatest ease to myself, living in a pleasanthouse in the most beautiful quarter of this noble city of Padua. Besides this house,I have my gardens, supplied with pleasant streams in which I always find somethingto do which amuses me. Nor are my recreations rendered less agreeable by the failingof any of my senses, for they are all, thank God, perfect, particularly my palate,which now relishes better the simple fare I have, than it formerly did the most delicatedishes, when I led an irregular life. Nor does the change of beds give me any uneasiness:I can sleep everywhere soundly and quietly, and my dreams are pleasant and delightful.It is likewise with the greatest pleasure I behold the success of an undertakingso important to this state; I mean that of draining and improving so many uncultivatedpieces of ground, an undertaking begun within my memory, but which I thought I shouldnever see completed; nevertheless I have, and was even in person assisting in thework for two months together, in those marshy places during the heat in summer, withoutever finding myself worse for the fatigues or inconveniences I suffered; of so muchefficacy is that orderly life, which I everywhere constantly lead. Such are someof the recreations and diversions of my old age, which is so much the more to bevalued than the old age, or even the youth of other men; as, being freed by God’sgrace from the perturbations of the mind and the infirmities of the body, I no longerexperience any of those contrary emotions which rack such a number of young men andas many old ones, who, by reason of their careless living and intemperate habits,are destitute of health and strength, and consequently of all true enjoyment.
And if it be lawful to compare little matters to affairsof importance, I will further venture to say that such are the effects of this soberlife, that, at my present age of eighty-three, I have been able to write an entertainingcomedy, abounding with innocent mirth and pleasant jests.
I have yet another comfort which I will mention; that ofseeing a kind of immortality in a succession of descendants; for, as often as I returnhome, I find before me, not one or two, but eleven grandchildren, the oldest of themeighteen, all the offspring of one father and mother, and all blessed with good health.Some of the youngest I play with; those older, I make companions of; and, as naturehas bestowed good voices upon them, I amuse myself by hearing them sing, and playon different instruments. Nay, I sing myself, as I have a better voice now, clearerand louder, than at any period of my life. Such are the recreations of my old age.
Whence it appears, that the life I lead is not gloomy, butcheerful, and I would not exchange my manner of living and my gray hairs, with thatof even a young man, having the best constitution, who gave way to his appetites;knowing, as I do, that such are daily subject to a thousand kinds of ailments anddeath. I remember my own conduct in early life, and I know how foolhardy are youngmen; how apt they are to presume on their strength in all their actions, and by reasonof their little experience, are over-sanguine in their expectations. Hence, theyoften expose themselves rashly to every kind of danger, and, banishing reason, bowtheir necks to the yoke of concupiscence, and endeavor to gratify all their appetites,not minding, fools as they are, that they thereby hasten the approach of what theywould most willingly avoid, sickness and death.
And these are two great evils to all men who live a freelife; the one is troublesome and painful, the other, dreadful and insupportable,especially when they reflect on the errors to which this mortal life is subject,and on the vengeance which the justice of God is wont to take on sinners. Whereas,I, in my old age, praise to the Almighty, am exempt from these torments; from thefirst, because I cannot fall sick, having removed all the cause of illness by myregularity and moderation; from the other, that of death, because from so many years’experience, I have learned to obey reason; whereas, I not only think it a great follyto fear that which cannot be avoided, but likewise firmly expect some consolationfrom the grace of Jesus Christ, when I arrive at that period.
But though I know I must, like others, reach that term, itis yet at so great a distance that I cannot discern it, because I know I shall notdie except by mere dissolution, having already, by my regular course of life, shutup all other avenues of death, and thus prevented the humors of my body making anyother way upon me, than that which I must expect from the elements employed in thecomposition of this mortal frame. I am not so simple as not to know that, as I wasborn, so I must die; but the natural death that I speak of does not overtake one,until after a long course of years; and even then, I do not expect the pain and agonywhich most men suffer when they die. But I, by God’s blessing, reckon that I havestill a long time to live in health and spirits, and enjoy this beautiful world,which is, indeed, beautiful to those who know how to make it so, but its beauty canonly be realized by those who, by reason of temperance and virtue, enjoy sound healthof body and mind.
Now, if this sober and moderate manner of living brings somuch happiness; if the blessings that attend it are so stable and permanent, thenI beseech every man of sound judgment to embrace this valuable treasure, that ofa long and healthful life, a treasure which exceeds all other worldly blessings,and, therefore, should be sought after; for what is wealth and abundance to a manwho is possessed with a feeble and sickly body? This is that divine sobriety, agreeableto God, the friend of nature, the daughter of reason, the sister of all the virtues,the companion of temperate living, modest, courteous, content with little, regular,and perfectly mistress of all her operations. From her, as from their proper root,spring life, health, cheerfulness, industry, learning and all those actions and employmentsworthy of noble and generous minds. The laws of God are all in her favor. Repletion,excess, intemperance, superfluous humors, diseases, fevers, pains and the dangersof death, vanish in her presence, as mists before the sun. Her comeliness ravishesevery well-disposed mind. Her influence is so sure, as to promise to all a long andagreeable life. And, lastly, she promises to be a mild and pleasant guardian of lifeteaching how to ward off the attacks of death. Strict sobriety, in eating and drinking,renders the senses and understanding clear, the memory tenacious, the body livelyand strong, the movements regular and easy; and the soul, feeling so little of herearthly burden, experiences much of her natural liberty. The man thus enjoys a pleasingand agreeable harmony, there being nothing in his system to disturb; for his bloodis pure, and runs freely through his veins, and the heat of his body is mild andtemperate.
The Second Discourse:
Showing the Surest Method
of Correcting an Infirm Constitution
My treatise on a sober life has begun to answer my desire,in being of service to many persons born of a weak constitution, or who, by reasonof free living, have become infirm, who, when they commit the least excess, findthemselves greatly indisposed. I should also be glad to be of service to those, who,born with a good constitution, yet, by reason of a disorderly life, find themselvesat the age of fifty or sixty attacked with various pains and diseases, such as gout,sciatica, liver and stomach complaints, to which they would not be subject, werethey to live a strictly temperate life, and by so doing would moreover greatly increasethe term of their existence, and live with much greater comfort; they would findthemselves less irritable, and less disposed to be upset by inconvenience and annoyance.I was myself of a most irritable disposition, insomuch that at times there was noliving with me. Now, for a very long time it has been otherwise, and I can see thata person swayed by his passions is little or no better than a madman at such times.
The man, also, who is of a bad constitution, may, by dintof reason, and a regular and sober life, live to a great age and in good health,as I have done, who had naturally one of the worst, so that it appeared impossibleI should live above forty years, whereas, I now find myself sound and hearty at theage of eighty-six; forty-six years beyond the time I had expected; and during thislong respite all my senses have continued perfect; and even my teeth, my voice, mymemory, and my heart. But what is still more, my brain is clearer now than it everwas. Nor do any of my powers abate as I advance in life; and this because, as I growolder, I lessen the quantity of my solid food. This retrenchment is necessary, sinceit is impossible for man to live forever; and, as he draws near his end, he is broughtso low as to be able to take but little nourishment, and at such times, the yolkof an egg, and a few spoonfuls of milk with bread, is quite sufficient during thetwenty-four hours; a greater quantity would most likely cause pain, and shorten life.In my own case, I expect to die without any pain or sickness, and this is a blessingof great importance; yet may be expected by those who shall lead a sober life, whetherthey be rich or poor. And, since a long and healthy life ought to be greatly covetedby every man, then I conclude that all men are in duty bound to exert themselvesto that effect; nevertheless such a blessing cannot be obtained without strict temperanceand sobriety. But some allege that many, without leading such a life, have livedto a hundred, and that in good health, though they ate a great deal, and used indiscriminatelyevery kind of viands and wine, and therefore they flatter themselves that they shallbe equally fortunate. But in this they are guilty of two mistakes: the first is,that it is not one in fifty thousand that ever attains that happiness; the othermistake is, that such, in the end, most certainly contract some illness, which carriesthem off: nor can they be sure of ending their days otherwise; so that the safestway to attain a long and healthful life, is to embrace sobriety, and to diet oneselfstrictly as to quantity. And this is no very difficult affair. History informs usof many who lived in the greatest temperance; and this present age furnishes us withmany such, reckoning myself one of the number: we are all human beings, endowed withreason, and consequently we ought to be master of all our actions.
This sobriety is reduced to two things, quality and quantity.The first consists in avoiding food or drinks, which are found to disagree with thestomach. The second, to avoid taking more than the stomach can easily digest; andevery man at the age of forty ought to be a perfect judge in these matters; and whoeverobserves these two rules, may be said to live a regular and sober life. And the virtueand efficacy of this life is such, that the humors in a man’s blood become harmoniousand perfect, and are no longer liable to be disturbed or corrupted by any disorders,such as suffering from excessive heat or cold, too much fatigue, or want of rest,and the like. A man who lives as I have described, may pass through all these changeswithout harm. Wherefore, since the humors of persons who observe these two rulesrelative to eating and drinking, cannot possibly be corrupted and engender acutediseases (the cause of untimely death), every man is bound to comply with them, forwhoever acts otherwise, living a disorderly life, instead of a regular one, is constantlyexposed to disease and death.
It is, indeed, true that even those who observe these tworules, relating to diet, the observance of which constitutes a regular life, may,by committing any one of the other irregularities, such as excessive heat, cold,fatigue, etc., find himself slightly indisposed for a day or two, but he need fearnothing worse.
But as there are some persons who, though well stricken inyears, are, nevertheless, very free in their living, and allege that neither thequantity nor the quality of their diet makes any impression upon them, and thereforeeat a great deal of everything without distinction, and indulge themselves equallyin point of drinking; such men are ignorant of the requirements of their nature,or they are gluttonous; and I do affirm, that such do not enjoy good health, butas a rule are infirm, irritable, and full of maladies. There are others, who saythat it is necessary that they should eat and drink freely to keep up their naturalheat, which is constantly diminishing, as they advance in years; and that it is thereforetheir duty to eat heartily of such things as please their palate, and that strictmoderation, in their case, would tend to shorten life. Now, this is the reason, orexcuse, of thousands. But to all this, I answer, that all such are deceiving themselves,and I speak from experience, as well as observation. The fact is, large quantitiesof food cannot be digested by old stomachs; as man gets weaker as he grows older,and the waste in his system is slower, the natural heat certainly is less. Nor willall the food in the world increase it, except to bring on fever and distressing disorders;therefore, let none be afraid of shortening their days by eating too little. I amstrong and hearty, and full of good spirits, neither have I ache or pain, and yetI am very old, and subsist upon very little; and, in this respect, that which wouldsuit one man, is good for another. When men are taken ill they discontinue, or nearlyso, their food. Now, if by reducing themselves to a small quantity, they recoverfrom the jaws of death, how can they doubt, but that, with a slight increase of dietconsistent with reason, they will be able to support nature, when in health. Leta fair, honest trial of some few weeks be given, and the result would, in all cases,be most pleasing.
Others say, that it is better for a man to suffer three orfour times every year, from gout, sciatica, or whatever disorder to which he maybe subject, than be tormented the whole year by not indulging his appetite, and eatingand drinking just as he pleases, since he can always by a few days of self-denialrecover from all such attacks. To this I answer, that, our natural heat growing lessand less as we advance in years, no abstinence for a short time can have virtue sufficientto conquer the malady to which the man is subject, and which is generally broughton by repletion, so that he must die at last of one of these periodical disorders;for they abridge life in the same proportion as temperance and health prolong it.
Others pretend that it is better to live a short and self-indulgentlife, than a long and self-denying one; but surely, longevity ought to be valued,and is, by men of good understanding; and those who do not truly prize this greatgift of God, are surely a disgrace to mankind, and their death is a service to thepublic rather than not. And again, there are some, who, though they are consciousthat they become weaker as they advance in years, yet cannot be brought to retrenchthe quantity of their food, but rather increase it, and, because they find themselvesunable to digest the great quantity of food, with which they load their stomachstwice or thrice a day, they resolve to eat but once, heartily, in the twenty-fourhours. But this course is useless; for the stomach is still overburdened, and thefood is not digested, but turns into bad humors, by which the blood becomes poisoned,and thus a man kills himself long before his time. I never met with an aged personwho enjoyed health, and lived that manner of life. Now, all these men whose mannerof life I have named, would live long and happily, if, as they advanced in years,they lessened the quantity of their food, and ate oftener, and but little at a time,for old stomachs cannot digest large quantities; men at this age becoming childrenagain, who eat little and often during the twenty-four hours.
O thrice holy sobriety, so useful to man, by reason of theservice thou dost render him! Thou prolongest his days, by which means he greatlyimproves his understanding and, by such knowledge, he can avoid the bitter fruitsof sensuality, which is an enemy to man’s reason. Thou, moreover, freest him fromthe dreadful thoughts of death. How greatly ought we to be indebted to thee, sinceby thee we enjoy this beautiful world, which is really beautiful to all whose sensibilitieshave not been deadened by repletion, and whose minds have not been blighted by sensuality!I really never knew till I grew old, that the world was so beautiful; for, in myyounger years I was debauched by irregularities, and therefore could not perceiveand enjoy, as I do now, its beauties. O truly happy life, which, over and above allthese favors conferred on me, hast so improved and perfected my body, that now Ihave a better relish for plain bread, than formerly I had for the most exquisitedainties! In fact I find such sweetness in it, because of the good appetite I alwayshave, that I should be afraid of sinning against temperance, were I not convincedof the absolute necessity for it, and knowing that pure bread is, above all things,man’s best food, and while he leads a sober life, he may be sure of never wantingthat natural sauce, —a good appetite—and moreover, I find that, whereas I used toeat twice a day, now that I am much older, it is better for me to eat four times,and still to lessen the quantity as the years increase. And this is what I do, guidedby my experience; therefore, my spirits being never oppressed by too much food, arealways brisk; especially after eating, so that I enjoy much the singing of a song,before I sit down to my writing.
Nor do I ever find myself the worse for writing directlyafter meals; my understanding is never clearer; and I am never drowsy; the food Itake being too small a quantity to send up any fumes to the brain. O, how advantageousit is to an old man to eat but little; therefore I take but just enough to keep bodyand soul together, and the things I eat are as follows: bread, panado, eggs (theyolk), and soups. Of flesh meat, I eat kid and mutton. I eat poultry of every kind;also of sea and river fish. Some men are too poor to allow themselves food of thiskind, but they may do well on bread (made from wheat meal, which contains far morenutriment than bread made from fine flour), panado, eggs, milk, and vegetables. Butthough a man should eat nothing but these, he may not eat more than his stomach canwith ease digest, never forgetting that it is the over-quantity which injures, evenmore than the eating of unsuitable food. And again I say, that whoever does not transgress,in point of either quantity or quality, cannot die, but by mere dissolution, exceptin cases where there is some inherited disease to combat; but such cases are comparativelyrare, and even here a strict and sober diet will be of the greatest service.
O, what a difference between a regular and temperate life,and an irregular and intemperate life! One gives health and longevity, the otherproduces disease and untimely death. How many of my dearest relations and friendshave I lost by their free living, whereas, had they listened to me, they might havebeen full of life and health. I am thus more than ever determined to use my utmostendeavors to make known the benefit of my kind of life. Here I am, an old man, yetfull of life and joy, happier than at any previous period of my life, surroundedby many comforts; not the least to mention are my eleven grandchildren, all of fineunderstanding and amiable disposition, beautiful in their persons, and well disposedto learning; and these, I hope so to teach, that they shall take pattern after me,and follow my kind of life.
Now, I am often at a loss to understand why men of fine partsand understanding, who have attained middle age, do not, when they find themselvesattacked by disorders and sickness, betake themselves to a regular life, and thatconstantly. Is it because they are in ignorance as to the importance of this subject?Surely, it cannot be that they are enslaved by their appetites to such an extentthat they find themselves unable to adopt a strict and regular diet? As to youngmen, I am in no way surprised at their refusal to live such a life, for their passionsare strong and usually their guide. Neither have they much experience; but, whena man has arrived at the age of forty of fifty, surely he should in all things begoverned by reason. And this would teach men that gratifying the appetite and palate,is not, as many affirm, natural and right, but is the cause of disease and prematuredeath. Were this pleasure of the palate lasting, it would be some excuse; but itis momentary, compared with the duration of the disease which its excess engenders.But it is a great comfort to a man of sober life to reflect, that what he eats willkeep him in good health, and be productive of no disease or infirmity.
The Third Discourse:
The Method of Enjoying Complete Happiness in Old Age
In writing to your Lordship, it is true I shall speak offew things, but such as I have already mentioned in my essays, but I am sure yourLordship will not tire of the repetition.
My Lord, to begin, I must tell you, that being now at theage of ninety-one, I am more sound and hearty than ever, much to the amazement ofthose who know me. I, who can account for it, am bound to show that a man can enjoya terrestrial paradise after eighty; but it is not to be obtained, except by stricttemperance in food and drink, virtues acceptable to God and friends to reason. Imust, however, go on to tell you, that, during the past few days I have been visitedby many of the learned doctors of this university, as well as physicians and philosopherswho were well acquainted with my age, life, and manners, also, that I was stout,hearty, and lively, my senses perfect, also my voice and teeth, likewise my memoryand judgment. They knew, besides, that I constantly employed eight hours every dayin writing treatises, with my own hand, on subjects useful to mankind, and spentmany more in walking and singing. O, my Lord, how melodious my voice is grown! Wereyou to hear me chant my prayers, and that to my lyre, after the example of David,I am certain it would give you great pleasure, my voice is so musical.
Now, these doctors and philosophers told me that it wasnext to a miracle, that at my age, I should be able to write upon subjects whichrequired both judgment and spirit, and added that I ought not to be looked upon asa person advanced in years, since all my occupations were those of a young man, andthat I was altogether unlike aged people of seventy and eighty, who are subject tovarious ailments and diseases, which render life a weariness; or, if even any bychance escape these things, yet their senses are impaired, sight, or hearing, ormemory is defective, and all their faculties much decayed; they are not strong, norcheerful, as I am. And they moreover said, that they looked upon me as having specialgrace conferred upon me, and said a great many eloquent and fine things, in endeavoringto prove this, which, however, they could not do; for their arguments were not groundedon good and sufficient reasons, but merely on their opinions. I therefore endeavoredto undeceive and set them right, and convince them that the happiness I enjoyed wasnot confined to me, but might be common to all mankind, since I was but a mere mortal,and different in no respect from other men, save in this, that I was born more weaklythan some, and had not what is called a strong constitution. Man, however, in hisyouthful days, is more prone to be led by sensuality than reason; yet, when he arrivesat the age of forty, or earlier, he should remember that he has about reached thesummit of the hill, and must now think of going down, carrying the weight of yearswith him; and that old age is the reverse of youth, as much as order is the reverseof disorder; hence, it is requisite that he should alter his mode of life in regardto the quality and quantity of his food and drink. For it is impossible in the natureof things, that the man who is bent on indulging his appetite, should be healthyand free from ailments. Hence it was to avoid this vice and its evil effects, I embraceda regular and sober life. It is no doubt true, that I at first found some difficultyin accomplishing this, but in order to conquer the difficulty I besought the Almightyto grant the virtue of sobriety in all things, well knowing that He would graciouslyhear my prayer. Then, considering that when a man is about to undertake a thing ofimportance, which he knows he can compass, though not without difficulty, he maymake it much easier to himself by being steady in his purpose, I pursued this course:I endeavored gradually to relinquish a disorderly life, and to suit myself to stricttemperate rules; and this it came to pass, that a sober and moderate life no longerbecame disagreeable, though, on account of the weakness of my constitution, I tiedmyself down to very strict rules in regard to the quantity and quality of what Iate and drank.
Others, who happen to be blessed with a strong constitution,may eat a greater variety of food, and in somewhat larger quantity, each man beinga guide to himself, consulting always his judgment and reason, rather than his fancyor appetite, and further let him always strictly abide by his rules, for he willreceive little benefit if he occasionally indulges in excess.
Now, on hearing these arguments, and examining the reasonson which they were founded, the doctors and philosophers agreed that I had advancednothing but what was true. One of the younger of them said that I appeared to enjoythe special grace of being able to relinquish, with ease, one kind of life, and embraceanother, a thing which he knew from theory to be feasible, but in practice to bedifficult, for it had proved as hard to him, as easy to me.
To this I replied, that, being human like himself, I likewisehad found it no easy task, but it did not become a man to shrink from a gloriousand practical task, on account of its difficulties; the greater the obstacles toovercome, the greater the honor and benefit. Our beneficent Creator is desirous,that, as He originally favored human nature with longevity, we should all enjoy thefull advantage of His intentions, knowing that when a man has passed seventy, hemay be exempt from the sensual strivings, and govern himself entirely by the dictatesof reason. Vice and immorality then leave him, and God is willing that he shouldlive to the full maturity of his years, and has ordained that all who reach theirnatural term should end their days without sickness, but by mere dissolution, thenatural way; the wheels of life quietly stopping, and man peacefully leaving thisworld, to enter upon immortality, as will be my case; for I am sure to die thus,perhaps while chanting my prayers. Nor do the thoughts of death give me the leastconcern; nor does any other thought connected with death, namely, the fear of thepunishment to which wicked men are liable, because I am bound to believe, that beinga Christian, I shall be saved by the virtue of the most sacred blood of Jesus Christ,which He freely shed in order to save those who trust in Him. Thus, how beautifulmy life! How happy my end! To this, the young doctor had nothing to reply, but thathe would follow my example.
The great desire I had, my Lord, to converse with you atthis distance, has forced me to be prolix, and still obliges me to proceed, thoughnot much farther. There are some sensualists, my Lord, who say that I have thrownaway my time and trouble, in writing a treatise upon temperance, and other discourseson the same subject; alleging, that it is impossible to conform to it, so that mytreatise must answer as little purpose as that of Plato on Government, who took agreat deal of pains to recommend a thing impracticable. Now, this much surprisesme, as they may see that I lived a sober life many years before I wrote my treatise,and I should never have composed it, had I not been convinced, that it was such alife as any man might lead; and being a virtuous life, would be of great serviceto him; so that I felt myself under an obligation to present it in its true light.Again, I have the satisfaction to hear that numbers, on reading my treatise, haveembraced such a life. So that the objection concerning Plato on Government is ofno force against my case. But a sensualist is an enemy to reason, and a slave tohis passions.
The Fourth Discourse:
An Exhortation to a Sober and Regular Life
in Order to Attain Old Age
Not to be wanting in my duty, and not to lose at the sametime the satisfaction I feel in being useful to others, I again take up my pen toinform those, who, for want of conversing with me, are strangers to what those withwhom I am acquainted, know and see. But as some things may appear to certain personsscarcely credible, though actually true, I shall not fail to relate for the benefitof the public. Wherefore, I say, being arrived at my ninety-fifth year, God be praised,and still finding myself sound and hearty, content and cheerful, I never cease tothank the Divine Majesty for so great a blessing, considering the usual conditionof old men. These scarcely ever attain the age of seventy, without losing healthand spirits, and growing melancholy and peevish. Moreover, when I remember how weakand sickly I was between the ages of thirty and forty, and how from the first, Inever had what is called a strong constitution; I say, when I remember these things,I have surely abundant cause for gratitude, and though I know I cannot live manyyears longer, the thought of death gives me no uneasiness; I, moreover, firmly believethat I shall attain to the age of one hundred years. But, to render this dissertationmore methodical, I shall begin by considering man at his birth; and from thence accompanyhim through every stage of life, to his grave.
I therefore say, that some come into the world with the staminaof life so weak, that they live but a few days, or months, or years, and it is notalways easy to show, to what the shortness of life is owing. Others are born soundand lively, but still, with a poor, weakly constitution; and of these, some liveto the age of ten, twenty, others to thirty or forty, but seldom live to be old men.Others, again, bring into the world a perfect constitution, and live to an old age;but it is generally, as I have said, an old age of sickness and sorrow, for whichusually they have to thank themselves, because they unreasonably presumed on thegoodness of their constitution; and cannot by any means be brought to alter whengrown old, from the mode of life they pursued in their younger days, but live asirregularly when past the meridian of life, as they did in the time of their youth.They do not consider that the stomach has lost much of its natural heat and vigor,and that, therefore, they should pay great attention to the quality and quantityof what they eat and drink; but, rather than decrease, many of them are for increasingthe quantity, saying, that, as health and vigor grow less, they should endeavor torepair the loss by a great abundance of food, since it is by sustenance we are topreserve ourselves.
But it is here that the great mistake is made; since, asthe natural force and heat lessen as a man grows in years, he should diminish thequantity of his food and drink, as nature at that period is content with little;and moreover, if increasing the amount of nourishment was the proper thing, then,surely the majority of men would live to a great age in the best of health. But dowe see it so? On the contrary, such a case is a rare exception; whilst my courseof life is proved to be right, by reason of its results. But, though some have everyreason to believe this to be the case, they nevertheless, because of their lack ofstrength of character, and their love of repletion, still continue their usual mannerof living. But were they, in due time, to form strict temperate habits, they wouldnot grow infirm in their old age, but would continue as I am, strong and hearty,and might live to the age of one hundred, or one hundred and twenty. This has beenthe case with others of whom we read, men who were born with a good constitution,and lived sober and abstemious lives; and had it been my lot to have enjoyed a strongconstitution, I should make no doubt of attaining to that age. But as I was bornfeeble, and with an infirm constitution, I am afraid I shall not outlive an hundredyears; and were others, born weakly as myself, to betake them to a life like mine,they would, like me, live to the age of a hundred, as shall be my case.
And this certainty of being able to live to a great age is,in my opinion, a great advantage (of course I do not include accidents, to whichall are liable, and which must specially be left to our Maker), and highly to bevalued; none being sure of this blessing, except such as adhere to the rules of temperance.This security of life is built on good and truly natural reasons, which can neverfail; it being impossible that he who leads a perfectly sober and temperate life,should breed any sickness, or die before his time. Sooner, he cannot through ill-healthdie, as his sober life has the virtue to remove the cause of sickness, and sicknesscannot happen without a cause; which cause being removed, sickness is also removed,and untimely and painful death prevented.
And there is no doubt, that temperance in food and drink,taking only as much as nature really requires, and thus being guided by reason, insteadof appetite, has efficacy to remove all cause of disease; for since health and sickness,life and death, depend on the good or bad condition of a man’s blood, and the qualityof his humors, such a life as I speak of purifies the blood, and corrects all vicioushumors, rendering all perfect and harmonious. It is true, and cannot be denied, thatman must at last die, however careful with himself he may have been; but yet, I maintain,without sickness and great pain; for in my case I expect to pass away quietly andpeacefully, and my present condition insures this to me, for, though at this greatage, I am hearty and content, eating with a good appetite, and sleeping soundly.Moreover, all my senses are as good as ever, and in the highest perfection; my understandingclear and bright, my judgment sound, my memory tenacious, my spirits good, and myvoice (one of the first things which is apt to fail us) has grown so strong and sonorous,that I cannot help chanting aloud my prayers, morning and night, instead of whisperingand muttering them to myself as was formerly my custom.
O, how glorious is this life of mine, replete with all thefelicities which man can enjoy on this side of the grave! It is entirely exempt fromthat sensual brutality, which age has enabled my reason to banish; thus I am nottroubled with passions, and my mind is calm, and free from all perturbations, anddoubtful apprehensions. Nor can the thought of death find room in my mind, at least,not in any way to disturb me. And all this has been brought about, by God’s mercy,through my careful habit of living. How different from the life of most old men,full of aches and pains, and forebodings, whilst mine is a life of real pleasure,and I seem to spend my days in a perpetual round of amusements, as I shall presentlyshow.
And first, I am of service to my country, and what a joyis this. I find infinite delight in being engaged in various improvements, in connectionwith the important estuary or harbor of this city, and fortifications; and althoughthis Venice, this Queen of the Sea, is very beautiful, yet I have devised means bywhich it may be made still more beautiful, and more wealthy, for I have shown inwhat way she may abound with provisions, by improving large tracts of land, and bringingmarshes and barren sand under cultivation. Then again, I have another great joy alwayspresent before me. Some time since, I lost a great part of my income, by which mygrandchildren would be great losers. But I, by mere force of thought, have founda true and infallible method of repairing such loss more than double, by a judicioususe of that most commendable of arts, agriculture. Another great comfort to me isto think that my treatise on temperance is really useful, as many assure me by wordof mouth, and others by letter, where they say, that, under God they are indebtedto me for their life. I have also much joy in being able to write, and am thus ofservice to myself and others; and the satisfaction I have in conversing with menof ability and superior understanding is very great, from whom I learn somethingfresh. Now, what a comfort is this, that old as I am, I am able, without fatigueof mind or body thus to be fully engaged, and to study the most important, difficult,and sublime subjects.
I must further add, that at this age, I appear to enjoy twolives: one terrestrial, which in fact I possess, the other celestial, which I possessin thought; and this thought is actual enjoyment, when founded upon things we aresure to attain, and I, through the infinite mercy and goodness of God, am sure ofeternal life. Thus, I enjoy the terrestrial life in consequence of my sobriety andtemperance, virtues so agreeable to the Deity, and I enjoy, by the grace of God,the celestial, which He makes me anticipate in thought; a thought so lively, as tofix me entirely on this subject, the fruition of which I hold to be of the utmostcertainty. And I further maintain, that, dying in the manner I expect, is not reallydeath, but a passage of the soul from this earthly life to a celestial, immortal,and infinitely perfect existence. Neither can it be otherwise; and this thought isso pleasing, so superlatively sublime, that it can no longer stoop to low and worldlyobjects, such as the death of this body, being entirely taken up with the happinessof living a celestial and divine life. Whence it is, that I enjoy two lives; andthe thought of terminating this earthly life gives me no concern, for I know thatI have a glorious and immortal life before me.
Now, is it possible, that any one should grow tired of sogreat a comfort and blessing as this which I enjoy, and which the majority of personsmight attain, by leading the life I have led, an example which every one has it inhis power to follow? For I am no saint, but a mere man, a servant of God, to whomso regular a life is extremely agreeable.
Now, there are men who embrace a spiritual and contemplativelife, and this is holy and commendable, their chief employment being to celebratethe praises of God, and to teach men how to serve Him. Now, if while these men setthemselves apart for this life, they would also betake themselves to sober and temperateliving, how much more agreeable would they render themselves in the sight of Godand men. What a much greater honor and ornament would they be to the world. Theywould likewise enjoy constant health and happiness, would attain a great age, andthus become eminently wise and useful; whereas, now, they are mostly infirm, irritable,and dissatisfied, and think that their various trials and ailments are sent themby Almighty God, with a view of promoting their salvation; that they may do penancein this life for their past errors. Now, I cannot help saying, that in my opinion,they are greatly mistaken; for I cannot believe that the Deity desires that man,his favorite creature, should be infirm and melancholy, but rather, that he shouldenjoy good health and be happy. Man, however, brings sickness and disease upon himself,by reason, either of his ignorance or willful self-indulgence. Now, if those whoprofess to be our teachers in divine matters would also set the example, and thusteach men how to preserve their bodies in health, they would do much to make theroad to heaven easier: men need to be taught that self-denial and strict temperanceis the path to health of body and health of mind, and those who thus live see moreclearly than others what their duty is toward our Saviour Jesus Christ, who camedown upon earth to shed His precious blood, in order to deliver us from the tyrannyof the devil, such was His immense goodness and loving kindness to man.
Now, to make an end of this discourse, I say, that sincelength of days abounds with so many favors and blessings, and I, not by theory, butby blessed experience can testify to it–indeed, I solemnly assure all mankind thatI really enjoy a great deal more than I can mention, and that I have no other reasonfor writing, but that of demonstrating the great advantages, which arise from longevity,and such a life as I have lived—I desire to convince men, that they may be inducedto observe these excellent rules of constant temperance in eating and drinking, andtherefore, I never cease to raise my voice, crying out to you, my friends, that yourlives may be even as mine.