How to Live Long and Healthy
An Exhortation to a Sober and Regular Life in Order to Attain Old Age
An essay by Lewis Cornaro
Not to be wanting in my duty, and not to lose at the same time the satisfaction I feel in being useful to others, I again take up my pen to inform those, who, for want of conversing with me, are strangers to what those with whom I am acquainted, know and see. But as some things may appear to certain persons scarcely credible, though actually true, I shall not fail to relate for the benefit of 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 to thank the Divine Majesty for so great a blessing, considering the usual condition of old men. These scarcely ever attain the age of seventy, without losing health and spirits, and growing melancholy and peevish. Moreover, when I remember how weak and sickly I was between the ages of thirty and forty, and how from the first, I never 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 many years longer, the thought of death gives me no uneasiness; I, moreover, firmly believe that I shall attain to the age of one hundred years. But, to render this dissertation more methodical, I shall begin by considering man at his birth; and from thence accompany him through every stage of life, to his grave.
I therefore say, that some come into the world with the stamina of life so weak, that they live but a few days, or months, or years, and it is not always easy to show, to what the shortness of life is owing. Others are born sound and lively, but still, with a poor, weakly constitution; and of these, some live to 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 which usually they have to thank themselves, because they unreasonably presumed on the goodness of their constitution; and cannot by any means be brought to alter when grown old, from the mode of life they pursued in their younger days, but live as irregularly 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 quantity of what they eat and drink; but, rather than decrease, many of them are for increasing the quantity, saying, that, as health and vigor grow less, they should endeavor to repair the loss by a great abundance of food, since it is by sustenance we are to preserve ourselves.
But it is here that the great mistake is made; since, as the natural force and heat lessen as a man grows in years, he should diminish the quantity 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 do we see it so? On the contrary, such a case is a rare exception; whilst my course of life is proved to be right, by reason of its results. But, though some have every reason to believe this to be the case, they nevertheless, because of their lack of strength of character, and their love of repletion, still continue their usual manner of living. But were they, in due time, to form strict temperate habits, they would not 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 been the 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 strong constitution, I should make no doubt of attaining to that age. But as I was born feeble, and with an infirm constitution, I am afraid I shall not outlive an hundred years; 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 which all are liable, and which must specially be left to our Maker), and highly to be valued; 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 never fail; 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-health die, as his sober life has the virtue to remove the cause of sickness, and sickness cannot 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, instead of 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 quality of his humors, such a life as I speak of purifies the blood, and corrects all vicious humors, rendering all perfect and harmonious. It is true, and cannot be denied, that man 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 and peacefully, and my present condition insures this to me, for, though at this great age, 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 understanding clear and bright, my judgment sound, my memory tenacious, my spirits good, and my voice (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 whispering and muttering them to myself as was formerly my custom.
O, how glorious is this life of mine, replete with all the felicities which man can enjoy on this side of the grave! It is entirely exempt from that sensual brutality, which age has enabled my reason to banish; thus I am not troubled with passions, and my mind is calm, and free from all perturbations, and doubtful 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 presently show.
And first, I am of service to my country, and what a joy is this. I find infinite delight in being engaged in various improvements, in connection with the important estuary or harbor of this city, and fortifications; and although this Venice, this Queen of the Sea, is very beautiful, yet I have devised means by which it may be made still more beautiful, and more wealthy, for I have shown in what way she may abound with provisions, by improving large tracts of land, and bringing marshes and barren sand under cultivation. Then again, I have another great joy always present before me. Some time since, I lost a great part of my income, by which my grandchildren would be great losers. But I, by mere force of thought, have found a true and infallible method of repairing such loss more than double, by a judicious use of that most commendable of arts, agriculture. Another great comfort to me is to think that my treatise on temperance is really useful, as many assure me by word of mouth, and others by letter, where they say, that, under God they are indebted to me for their life. I have also much joy in being able to write, and am thus of service to myself and others; and the satisfaction I have in conversing with men of ability and superior understanding is very great, from whom I learn something fresh. Now, what a comfort is this, that old as I am, I am able, without fatigue of 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 two lives: one terrestrial, which in fact I possess, the other celestial, which I possess in thought; and this thought is actual enjoyment, when founded upon things we are sure to attain, and I, through the infinite mercy and goodness of God, am sure of eternal life. Thus, I enjoy the terrestrial life in consequence of my sobriety and temperance, 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 to fix me entirely on this subject, the fruition of which I hold to be of the utmost certainty. And I further maintain, that, dying in the manner I expect, is not really death, 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 is so pleasing, so superlatively sublime, that it can no longer stoop to low and worldly objects, such as the death of this body, being entirely taken up with the happiness of living a celestial and divine life. Whence it is, that I enjoy two lives; and the thought of terminating this earthly life gives me no concern, for I know that I have a glorious and immortal life before me.
Now, is it possible, that any one should grow tired of so great a comfort and blessing as this which I enjoy, and which the majority of persons might attain, by leading the life I have led, an example which every one has it in his power to follow? For I am no saint, but a mere man, a servant of God, to whom so regular a life is extremely agreeable.
Now, there are men who embrace a spiritual and contemplative life, and this is holy and commendable, their chief employment being to celebrate the praises of God, and to teach men how to serve Him. Now, if while these men set themselves apart for this life, they would also betake themselves to sober and temperate living, how much more agreeable would they render themselves in the sight of God and men. What a much greater honor and ornament would they be to the world. They would likewise enjoy constant health and happiness, would attain a great age, and thus become eminently wise and useful; whereas, now, they are mostly infirm, irritable, and dissatisfied, and think that their various trials and ailments are sent them by Almighty God, with a view of promoting their salvation; that they may do penance in 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 should enjoy 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 who profess to be our teachers in divine matters would also set the example, and thus teach men how to preserve their bodies in health, they would do much to make the road to heaven easier: men need to be taught that self-denial and strict temperance is the path to health of body and health of mind, and those who thus live see more clearly than others what their duty is toward our Saviour Jesus Christ, who came down upon earth to shed His precious blood, in order to deliver us from the tyranny of the devil, such was His immense goodness and loving kindness to man.
Now, to make an end of this discourse, I say, that since length of days abounds with so many favors and blessings, and I, not by theory, but by blessed experience can testify to it–indeed, I solemnly assure all mankind that I really enjoy a great deal more than I can mention, and that I have no other reason for 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 induced to observe these excellent rules of constant temperance in eating and drinking, and therefore, I never cease to raise my voice, crying out to you, my friends, that your lives may be even as mine.