Happiness in Old Age
The Method of Enjoying Complete Happiness in Old Age
An essay by Louis Cornaro
In writing to your Lordship, it is true I shall speak of few things, but such as I have already mentioned in my essays, but I am sure your Lordship will not tire of the repetition.
My Lord, to begin, I must tell you, that being now at the age of ninety-one, I am more sound and hearty than ever, much to the amazement of those who know me. I, who can account for it, am bound to show that a man can enjoy a terrestrial paradise after eighty; but it is not to be obtained, except by strict temperance in food and drink, virtues acceptable to God and friends to reason. I must, however, go on to tell you, that, during the past few days I have been visited by many of the learned doctors of this university, as well as physicians and philosophers who 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 memory and judgment. They knew, besides, that I constantly employed eight hours every day in writing treatises, with my own hand, on subjects useful to mankind, and spent many more in walking and singing. O, my Lord, how melodious my voice is grown! Were you 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 was next to a miracle, that at my age, I should be able to write upon subjects which required both judgment and spirit, and added that I ought not to be looked upon as a person advanced in years, since all my occupations were those of a young man, and that I was altogether unlike aged people of seventy and eighty, who are subject to various ailments and diseases, which render life a weariness; or, if even any by chance escape these things, yet their senses are impaired, sight, or hearing, or memory is defective, and all their faculties much decayed; they are not strong, nor cheerful, as I am. And they moreover said, that they looked upon me as having special grace conferred upon me, and said a great many eloquent and fine things, in endeavoring to prove this, which, however, they could not do; for their arguments were not grounded on good and sufficient reasons, but merely on their opinions. I therefore endeavored to undeceive and set them right, and convince them that the happiness I enjoyed was not 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 weakly than some, and had not what is called a strong constitution. Man, however, in his youthful days, is more prone to be led by sensuality than reason; yet, when he arrives at the age of forty, or earlier, he should remember that he has about reached the summit of the hill, and must now think of going down, carrying the weight of years with him; and that old age is the reverse of youth, as much as order is the reverse of disorder; hence, it is requisite that he should alter his mode of life in regard to the quality and quantity of his food and drink. For it is impossible in the nature of things, that the man who is bent on indulging his appetite, should be healthy and free from ailments. Hence it was to avoid this vice and its evil effects, I embraced a regular and sober life. It is no doubt true, that I at first found some difficulty in accomplishing this, but in order to conquer the difficulty I besought the Almighty to grant the virtue of sobriety in all things, well knowing that He would graciously hear my prayer. Then, considering that when a man is about to undertake a thing of importance, which he knows he can compass, though not without difficulty, he may make 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 strict temperate rules; and this it came to pass, that a sober and moderate life no longer became disagreeable, though, on account of the weakness of my constitution, I tied myself down to very strict rules in regard to the quantity and quality of what I ate 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 being a guide to himself, consulting always his judgment and reason, rather than his fancy or appetite, and further let him always strictly abide by his rules, for he will receive little benefit if he occasionally indulges in excess.
Now, on hearing these arguments, and examining the reasons on which they were founded, the doctors and philosophers agreed that I had advanced nothing but what was true. One of the younger of them said that I appeared to enjoy the special grace of being able to relinquish, with ease, one kind of life, and embrace another, a thing which he knew from theory to be feasible, but in practice to be difficult, for it had proved as hard to him, as easy to me.
To this I replied, that, being human like himself, I likewise had found it no easy task, but it did not become a man to shrink from a glorious and practical task, on account of its difficulties; the greater the obstacles to overcome, the greater the honor and benefit. Our beneficent Creator is desirous, that, as He originally favored human nature with longevity, we should all enjoy the full advantage of His intentions, knowing that when a man has passed seventy, he may be exempt from the sensual strivings, and govern himself entirely by the dictates of reason. Vice and immorality then leave him, and God is willing that he should live to the full maturity of his years, and has ordained that all who reach their natural term should end their days without sickness, but by mere dissolution, the natural way; the wheels of life quietly stopping, and man peacefully leaving this world, 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 least concern; nor does any other thought connected with death, namely, the fear of the punishment to which wicked men are liable, because I am bound to believe, that being a 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 beautiful my life! How happy my end! To this, the young doctor had nothing to reply, but that he would follow my example.
The great desire I had, my Lord, to converse with you at this distance, has forced me to be prolix, and still obliges me to proceed, though not much farther. There are some sensualists, my Lord, who say that I have thrown away my time and trouble, in writing a treatise upon temperance, and other discourses on the same subject; alleging, that it is impossible to conform to it, so that my treatise must answer as little purpose as that of Plato on Government, who took a great deal of pains to recommend a thing impracticable. Now, this much surprises me, 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 a life as any man might lead; and being a virtuous life, would be of great service to 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, have embraced such a life. So that the objection concerning Plato on Government is of no force against my case. But a sensualist is an enemy to reason, and a slave to his passions.