A Turtle Four Hundred Years Old
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IN the marine turtle tank, in the reptile house at the Zoological Park of New York, there is a huge turtle whose head is over eight inches in diameter, and whose weight is a hundred and five pounds. It was captured by J. B. Freeland in a swamp near Plaquemine, La. The most singular thing about this creature is its age. Walter Rothschild, of London, an expert on tortoises, owns one which he claims is four hundred years old, and Dr. W. T. Hornaday, of the New York Zoological Society, asserts that the giant tortoise that they have just secured for their society is considerably older than that.
We do not know by what method Dr. Hornaday can tell how old his turtle is; how many years or hundreds of years it has lived in this world, but it is admitted that such creatures often live to be very old. If this tortoise had sense enough, and could express its thoughts, it might teach us a lesson of human fraility and mortality ; might tell us of the successive generations that have been born, have wrought and died. It might also teach a lesson of human strength and glory ; might tell how these struggling, laughing, crying, dying peoples have made great discoveries, built vast institutions, and contributed enormously to the sum of happiness and progress. But as it is neither a reasoning nor a speaking creature, simply a turtle, we conclude that it is neither wiser nor more ignorant, neither better nor worse, with all its centuries of life, than it was the first year of its existence. With man it is different; his years bring intelligence or ignorance, virtue or vice, moral advancement or retrogression. There are some long lives that are broad and deep—made so by the truths, the loves, the eternities that have been crowded into them; there are other long lives that are the opposite of them ; they are thin and empty because there has been so little thought, and so little done by them. Some old people grow more wicked and corrupt every day. It would be fortunate for themselves and for the world if they could live as harmless a life as that of the turtle. After all it is not the years, but the noble deeds that count. One year of personal holiness, of supreme love for God and service for fellow men is worth a thou-sand years of idleness, of selfishness, and sin.