Louis Cornaro Outwitted Old Age
( Originally Published 1927 )
It is generally believed that life is so precarious that in spite of anything we do, we are apt to be taken ill at any time, and this illness may terminate life. This belief has no greater foundation in fact than the old belief which persisted up to recent times that the arteries are air vessels, or that the earth is flat.
We can live so as to avoid disease; we can live so that the various parts of the body re-main healthful and youthful; we can even live so as to regain health and youthfulness after having almost wrecked the body. We can live so as to outwit old age. If any of the vital organs have been ruined beyond repair, full recovery and rejuvenation can not take place, but the vast majority of those who are now considered incurable can recover enough to grow younger in every way except in years, and lead a productive, helpful life.
We shall note a well authenticated instance, a man whose life has influenced many others, and whose writings are enjoyed by many. It is not necessary to go outside of our own nation and time for illustrations of the manner in which life can be prolonged, even after it is generally supposed that life can no longer continue, but Louis Cornaro left such a clear record and he illustrates the point so well that his life serves best for this purpose. It is well known that many do live to be old. Others can do the same if they have the desire and the will.
Louis Cornaro was an Italian nobleman, bond in 1464. He was wealthy and in youth he lived very intemperately. Among other extravagances he dissipated his health. When. he was about forty years of age his doctors in-formed him that medical skill could help him no more. At this time Cornaro realized that he would either have to change his mode of living or die. Instead of complaining that it is difficult to change the manner of living, he immediately made up his mind to lead a simple and wholesome life. At the time he made this resolution he had done nothing to repay the world for the opulence bestowed on him. After living the temperate life for one year Cornaro was feeling well again. He did not revert to his old style of living as so many do after they recover. He decided to live long and usefully. He resolved to outwit old age. The basis of long life was to be good health, and the foundation of good health would be living according to the simple laws of nature, especially as regards eating and drinking.
After regaining his health he began to make himself useful to humanity. He took great interest in agriculture and he helped to plan for the welfare of his beloved Venice; he was a sanitarian, and he was a builder and an architect.
But the most enduring of his works is his "La Vita Sobria" (The Moderate Life) ; the first part was written when he was eighty-three years old, the last part when he was ninety-five years of age. During these years of temperate living he thought much about human welfare, and he was a close observer. For instance: He stressed the fact that as the individual grows older he should eat less--a vital truth that only a few have learned to this day.
Another truth that was clear to him was that in disease the body does not want food but it wants rest, so he wrote that in periods of illness the food intake should be greatly reduced —another vital truth that very few possess.
At the age of seventy-eight, after living in good health for thirty-nine years, Cornaro's relatives and physicians grew anxious that he should stop eating and drinking in moderation; they argued with him and annoyed him until he consented to increase both his food and wine intake about fifteen per cent. The old gentleman reasoned with them that instead of needing more he needed less nourishment. But they knew that if he would eat and drink more he would increase his strength. So in order to please his doctors and his loved ones he began to eat and drink more. At the end of twelve days on increased rations he was distressed in mind and seized with a severe fever. Then Comoro returned to the temperate life and after five weeks the fever abated. It is the same old story today people are told, "You must eat to keep up your strength," when they are sorely in need of rest. They eat for this purpose, and lacking digestive ability, the food poisons them. This is one of the chief reasons for a large mortality in fevers.
Cornaro also records that he recovered in very short time from a serious accident after he reached advanced years. So do people today who lead the orderly life which Cornaro advocated so pleasantly and so piously.
At the age of eighty-three Cornaro writes that he is healthy and has perfect sight and hearing. Eight years later he records that his hands are steady, voice good, memory fine, and health and strength are still with him. And finally at the age of ninety-five years he says that he is strong and healthy, blessed with good sleep and appetite, endowed with keen mind and memory, sound judgment and mental serenity. He also had a strong voice.
This is not the picture usually drawn of advanced years, but it is old age as it ought to be and as it can be. Cornaro was neither sad nor lonesome. He enjoyed his own family, his friends, his correspondents, his work, his city and his country. He derived vast satisfaction because he realized that he was serving humanity. No one can deprive us of the privilege of serving.
Let Cornaro speak for himself, at the age of ninety-five.
"In conclusion, I wish to say that, since old age is—as, in truth, it is—filled and overflowing with so many graces and blessings, and since I am one of the number who enjoy them, I cannot fail—not wishing to be wanting in charity—to give testimony to the fact, and to fully certify to all men that my enjoyment is much greater than I can now express in writing. I declare that I have no other motive for writing but my hope that the knowledge of so great a blessing as my old age has proved to be, will induce every human being to determine to adopt this praiseworthy, orderly and temperate life, in favor of which I ceaselessly keep repeating, Live, live, that you may become better servants of God !"
After writing this he lived seven years, and at the age of 102 he was gathered to his fathers.
He sometimes wondered how long he could have lived if he had not almost killed himself through dissipation before reaching the age of forty. Without doubt he could have lived much longer if he had been reasonably moderate in youth.
Cornaro was a man of delicate constitution from childhood. This leads us to wonder how long a man with good constitution can live, if he will give himself a fair chance. The average individual has the inherent ability to live beyond the age of one hundred years. Thousands do it through accident, in spite of many imprudences. Those who will give the time and attention and exert will power can learn in a few short months how to live long and well. And the beautiful part of it is that advanced years need not mean degeneration of body and mind. People can have the use of their senses, judgment, and physical strength at one hundred.
Cornaro lacked much knowledge that any of us can obtain, but he fully grasped the two chief essentials-simple living and moderation in all things—and these were enough to save his life, and to prolong it more than sixty years after he was supposed to be dying.
So important are these two fundamentals that this knowledge put into practice will greatly prolong life, even if one makes many other mistakes. Thomas Edison informs us that his grandfather learned about the moderate life from Cornaro's writings ; that he put the principles into practice, and that he lived to be more than one hundred years old. Then one day he decided that he had lived long enough, went to a relative's house and gave up his spirit. He further adds that this was also the manner of his father's earthly end. How much better that is than the present mode of disease, suffering, and premature death with sorrow and want for those who are left behind.
We have told about Cornaro because his life is authentic and historic. If a man who is very ill at forty can recover and enjoy life for sixty-two additional years, thus most decidedly outwitting old age, it is obvious that a man who has maintained fair health can do better if he wills it.