Dr. Blakely on Obstetrics, 1933
Binghamton's Famous Doctor
The Prolongation of Life By: Stuart B. Blakely, M.D.
In the Garden of Eden grew a tree whose fruit conferred sternal life. The book of Genesis relates how the first man threw away his gift of perennial youth, and the sons of men through the ages have labored to undo Adam's deed. Man's struggles against oblivion, his efforts to prolong his earthly days make an absorbing story. All classes of writers and thinkers have at some time made an attack upon the problem. From Cicero's Essay on Old Age to Metchnikoff's Prolongation of Life the literature of this and allied subjects is very great. But we really know very little about longevity, either the greatest age ever attained by any human being or the normal span of human life. We have proof, however, that the average length of civilized life has been doubled in the last 350 years, and that it is steadily increasing. The solution to the problem seems to be educational and economic. Today we are to consider longevity in general, to pass in review celebrated instances of long life from ancient times to the present, to discuss the theory of old age and its diseases, and to examine some of the remedies and methods used at different times to defer the day of dying. And finally, we are to take unto ourselves any lesson or fact or truth that all the men and years past and modern science can offer in an effort to prolong life and to make life more livable.
It is the popular idea that primitive man had gigantic size, increased strength, and astonishing duration of life; that man and beast in peace and purity and happiness lived and roamed in perpetual spring the Elysian fields. We look backward and call it the golden age. As a matter of fact, it never existed; it is yet to come.
From Assyrian tablets we read the legend that 4000 centuries age men lived for 50,000 years. Tradition ascribed to Adam a height of 900 feet and a life of ten centuries. The ancient authors report many instances of men living to 1000, who were children at 100. India, whose magicians still perform miracles of rejuvenation, furnished several. Strabo relates that a Punjab people, by temperate life and limitation of feed, averaged three centuries. Pliny writes of man of 500, and of an island king of 800; Lucian, of a man of 600. Certain men and families of Ancient Greece were reputed to enjoy perpetual youth for centuries. Nester was said to have reached 300. The Ascribed ages at death of the ten men of the Bible who lived before the Flood, Enoch, excepted average 912 years. These astounding and incredible ages of Old Testament patriarchs have been explained in several ways. According to Jewish legend, their lives were prolonged to establish the length of astronomical periods. It has been asserted that to men of a strong peaceful race of sober simple habits such ages were possible in a dry healthy climate under good hygiene and sanitation. Another theory is that down to Abraham the year consisted of only three months and became twelve months only at Joseph's time. The most sensible explanation is that these ascribed ages represent the duration of the different patriarchal dynasties. By this method, the genealogy of the fifth chapter of Genesis is brought within the realm of reasonable possibility. For example, Adam lived 130 years and his "period" was 930; Jared lived 162 years and his dynasty lasted 962; Methuselah lived 187 years and the House of Methuselah was in power 969 years. Whatever may have been the ages of these Bible patriarchs, we shall see alter by passages from the Old Testament itself that such extremes were not known, and that ages of 100 to 150 were considered old even at that time. In Greek and Roman history some lived to be over 90 and a very few over 100. Pythagoras said that 60-80 was old man and that after 80 "he ceased to live". In the reign of Vespasian between the Apennines and the river Po among a population of three millions only 170 claimed to over 100, the oldest some ever 150.
The period from the time of Rome to the 19th century records many and astounding internees of long life, not to mention the claims of the charlatans and endorse of the elixirs of the middle ages. In 1799 James Easton compiled a list of over 1700 hussars reported dying over 100 years from A.D. 66 to 1799-17 centuries. Eight were reported between 150 and 180. Haller made a list of a thousand persons who had lived to be over 100, the oldest 169. These lists claimed to contain only reasonably authenticated cases, but few will bear careful scrutiny. They are very interesting and many of the author's comments are very quaint, but we can mention but a few. St. Anthony, the great, "model for Monks", died at 105, St. Patrick at 122, St. Munge at 185. The shield-bearer of Charlemagne lived to be 300. A "certain German", prisoner of the Saracens, was compelled by their king to drink a liquid presented him by a neighboring potentate which he mistrusted. Instead of poisoning, it prolonged the prisoner's life to 500 years. In 1566 a native of Bengal in India died at the reputed age of 370 years. a Portuguese writer relates that the native had had four sets of teeth, that his beard had repeatedly turned from black to gray and back again, that he had 700 wives, and that he had prolonged his life by eating of a certain fruit. In 1741 John Rovin died at the reputed age of 172 and his wife at 164, after 145 years of wedded life. Peter Czertan an Hungarian peasant, died in 1724 at 185, leaving sons of 97 and 155 years. A Norwegian named Drakenberg died at 146 and had been a sailor for 91 years. The Countess of Desmond died at 145. Several cases are cited of ages between 140 and 205.
The two most quoted instances of longevity are two English peasants, Henry Jenkins, and Thomas Parr. Henry Jenkins of Yorkshire died in 1670 at the age of 169 years. He once came to court with his two sons of 100 and 102 and testified concerning an event occurring 140 years before. Thomas Parr of Shropshire died in1635 at the age of 152 years. He married first at 88 and had two children; at 102 he impregnated a woman and married again at 120. Up to 130 years of age he was able to do the usual farm work. His feed was chiefly milk, bread, and cheese. His fame spread to London and he was presented at court. The Change in living killed him. The celebrated Dr. Harvey performed an autopsy on his body and found none of usual senile changes in his organs. He reported his death due to a "plethers from overeating". Old Tom Parr", as he was known, had two grandsons over 100, and a great-grandson of 102. He had lived under ten kings and queens of England and was buried in Westminster.
During the last century numerous cases of longevity have been reported from various parts of the world, particularly Russia, South America and the United States. In 1901 an English newspaper hunted out twenty persons who been born before 1800. In 1888 a Frenchman died at the attested age of 118 years. We all are, or until very recently were, familiar with the old man or women, especially negro, who claimed to have seen Washington or Lafayette. People lie or are ignorant about their ages; the impressions of interviewers and travelers and the statements of historians are all of little real value. It has been claimed, and the claim had never been absolutely refuted, that no person since the time of Christ has reached 100 years. Without question, however, men have lived beyond the century mark, but their numbers, however, men have lived beyond the century mark, but their numbers, comparatively speaking, are very few. Assuredly no man has survived two centuries.
The greatest age never attained by any human being has, however for us only an academic interest. We are much more desirous to know the length of the normal human lifetime. What is the normal span of human life? Omitting pure speculation, the methods used to determine the normal span of human life are of two classes, physiological and historical.
Aristotle was one of the first to suggest a possible relationship between the length of gestation and length of life. It is a purely comparative study. In birds, there is obviously no relationship. The period of gestation in man is about 280 day and let us say that he lives 100 years. Compare some other mammals. In the horse, the period of gestation is 330 days but the horse rarely lives over 40 years. In the cow it is 286 days, practically the same as man but the cow rarely lives over 20 years. In the monkey, it is about 150 days about half that of man but the monkey rarely survives beyond 10 years. The whole question has been exhaustively treated and discussed, but the method can give no valid answer. Another field of comparative physiology has been diligently searched, in the effort to determine the ratio of the period of growth to total length of life. To utilize such a method the investigator must possess two groups of facts. 1. We must have accurate records of the age of a large number of animals or groups of animals. Such we do not possess. Man has never seriously tried to prolong animal life, to determine or lengthen the span of brute existence. It is earlier, more economic, more satisfactory in every way to get rid of the old, to breed the new. Possibly nature feels the same about the human species. Propagation of the species seems to be the great destiny of all life. That accomplished the goal seems to have been reached and the organism speedily perished. 2. We must determine the point at which any given animal reaches maturity. It has been long observed in both plants and animals that slow growth and large size are usually associated with long life. But when is growth at the first maximum weight, I.e. exclusive of purely fatty increase. Others have claimed that certain bony changes mark maturity. The mouse reaches full development at about three weeks, the elephant at about 24 years, man between 20 and 30. Buffon on the last of the 18th century thought that seven times the period of growth would give the normal span of life. Man, by this reasoning should live about 150 years. Fleurens in 1856 believed that five would be a more accurate multiplier, and so determined on about 100 as the normal span. Whether the figures be correct or not, the method is obviously uncertain and wholly theoretical. The science of number cannot be here applied. The other line of investigation is hysterical. Haller and Hufeland on very questionable evidence determined on 150 and 200 years, respectively, as the normal length of a man's life. Let us examine some historical evidence. Abraham at 175 "died in a good old age, an old man and full of years". When told that a son would be born to him in his old age he said, "Shall a child be born to him that is a hundred, shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear"? If a life of serval centuries had been at all a common thing at that time on can scarcely explain such passages. Five centuries after Abraham Joshua at 110 was said to be very old. In Egypt, in Joseph's time the utmost limit of human life was but a little over a century. David was old at 80. In Gn. 6,35 the limit is set at 120, but "there were giants in these days". Is 65,20 seems to set it at 100. In a book of the Apochrypha, it states that the number of a man's days at the most is 100 years. No authentic history of any country records any extraordinary length of human life. In China in 1657 of 373,000 indigent old men, only one hundred claimed to have reached or passed the century mark. The Chinese call 70 "a rare bird of age", and 100, "age's extremity". It has been estimated that of a thousand born only one reaches 90, and only one or two in a century reach 150. According to the U.S. Census of claimed to be 100 or more. The Psalmist's figures of three score years and ten and fourscore years are not far wrong for the normal span of human life today.
Why do Men grow old? Two conceptions have been very easy for the human mind. One looks upon dried, shriveled, wrinkled age and says that the body juices of youth are dried up, have evaporated, have been dissipated. The other view likens the body to a timepiece set to run a given length of time. These views are purely speculative, but how often have the speculations of the dreamers' come near the truth. The modern, scientific view of ae is that we start life with certain potential longevity, that the tissues of our bodies are endowed with a certain amount of vital forces. This forces this ability to live may be lessened or drained by accident, misuses, disease, poisoning from without or from within. Chronic infections of all kinds, without doubt, take a heavy toll of years. But with all these eliminated and avoided we begin to age from birth, if not from before birth. Every phenomenon of that activity we call life hastens the break-up of the organism. The guiding, controlling force of the cells that compose our bodies, the nucleus, perishes. The cells lose their ability to repair, to replace themselves. We lose our capacity for growth. Death is the penalty that we pay for life. Death is, however, for man an acquired characteristic. The organism of a single cell, barring accident or disease, is immortal. We long ago left that stage. Our cells have become so highly differentiated into tissues that they have been compelled to relinquish the gift of immortality. One group, however, have retained the capacity for eternal life. These are the products of the glands of sex the ovaries. Through them, we may be immortal in our descendants. Many years age Charcot wrote a book on the Diseases of Old Age that has remained a classic, as have most of the writings of the famous French physician. It is but within the past few years, however, that the study of the diseases of the aged, geriatrics, has attracted the attention due the subject. Senile changes begin not locally, but generally, and consist of atrophy and degeneration of the tissues. The result is lessened function with diminished secretions and weakened metabolism. Shakespeare's description of the "learn and slipper's Pantaloon, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything" is very striking. We are all familiar with the visage of age the dry and wrinkled skin, the thin grey hair, the toothless mouth, the shortened stooping form, the trembling hands, the shaking head, the tottering gait. The mental changes of intellect, memory, and emotion vary from none evident to those of senile dementia. Charcot mentioned fevers, rheumatism, pneumonia, asthma, and arterio-sclerosis as the most common diseases of the aged. It has been said that a man is as old as his arteries, and it is true that death comes to the most of us in the guise of some circulatory change. It is hard to admit that we are growing old. The thought that the world can jog along without us is displeasing. There comes a day when we suddenly awake to realize the distance that we have come along the road that passes from childhood through youth and middle life. Victor Huge has said that it is better to be fifty than forty, for forty is the old age of youth and fifty is the youth of old age. The ancients by the doctrine of crises divided life into periods of seven years. Infancy ended at seven, adolescence at fourteen, youth at twenty-eight; maturity was reached at forty-nine; the grand climacteric was seven times nine or sixty-three. Manhood ends and old age begins at sixty-five or seventy. The status of the aged has presented curios fluctuations and inconsistencies through the ages. Herodotus tells of a Scythian people that made their parents when they became old, hang from the branches of a tree. If they failed to maintain their hold when their offspring shook the trunk, they were devoured with avidity; if they clung successfully, they were allowed to ripen a little longer. Some races have made a practice of doing away with their aged folk, often from economic necessity. Among other peoples, more fortunately situated and of higher intelligence, the old men have been the Patres, the Patricians, the Fathers, the Senators, the Elders. Old men for counsel, young men for action; old men for decision, young men for strife. Even to this day among ourselves, it is interesting to note that there are two fairly distinct classes of the aged, the useless and the useful, but age is rarely despised, when not contemptible.
But a great change has taken place in the last half-century. Fifty years ago the average person was considered old at sixty. Grand-father was content to dream ever his pipe by the chimney fire with grand-mother opposite in lace cap and knitting. Today grand-father in duster and goggles owns and drives the car, and grandmother is a much interested in the fashion magazine and the various women movement as her grand-daughter. A famous philosopher and a famous physician have asserted that a man adds little to his stock of knowledge after forty, that a man cannot love new things after forty-five. This has a medium of truth, but it is unfortunate that Dr. Osler and chloroform have been inseparably linked together.
Some of the best work in this world has been done by men past sixty. Archimedes discovered the burning glass at seventy-five. Titian and Michael Angelo were still great artists at ninety. John Wesley preached up to eighty-eight. Longfellow and Tennyson wrote to beyond three score years and ten. Victor Huge was best at seventy-five; Voltaire was active at eighty-three. John Quincy Adams was in the Senate at like age. Savage Lander and Isaac Walton wrote till ninety. Gladstone at eighty-three said that he represented the youth and hope of England. Thomas A. Edison at sixty-eight and Luther Burbank at sixty-five are still magicians. James J. Hill at seventy-seven is still a force. The present European war has been called an old man's war. Kitchener is sixty-five, Jeffrey and French are sixty-three, Von Kluck and McKenson are nearing seventy. Many further examples might be brought of men and women too who were or are still active in some sphere at an age usually considered old. But some men are never old, and some are never young. It is not a question of years, or of figures on a dial.
We pass very few facts of the mortality of ages past. It is only within the last 400 years that any attempt has been made to keep vital statistics, and only within the past 50 years and in a few areas have any been at all reliable. We are today somewhat beyond the mental attitude of the Arab chief who, when asked how many of his tribe had died the year past, answered "Allah alone knows"; and to the question what the cause of their death was, replied, "It would be impious to ask". Still in the United States in 1914 only 66.9 p.c. of the estimated population were comprised in the registration area for deaths, and only eight states had adequate birth registration. The impetus for the better registration and keeping of vital statistics has come largely from commercial sources, and it almost makes one believe that only true power in this world is economics.
All the facts that we do possess show that human life is not warning. In ancient Rome, the expectation of life at birth was about 22 years. A man today at 25 lives on an average fifteen years longer than a citizen of like age under the Caesars. When Columbus discovered America the average length of life is thought to have been less than 20 years. In Genova, Switzerland, in the 16th century, the expectation of life at birth was 21,.2 years; one half died before 9 years, and only one third reached 20. Even in 1769, only one-half reached 10 and one in about 16 reached 60. Today two-thirds reach 20. In Massachusetts, at the time of the Revolution, the expectation of life at birth was about 35 years. One hundred years ago in the United States, it was about 28 years, in France 31.5. Today the New England and Middle Atlantic States have an expectation of life at birth of nearly 50 years. In New York City the figures are 44 years for males and 48 for females; for England and Wales they are 51 and 55. In India, by contrast, the expectation of life at birth is less than 25 years and has changed but little in the past two decades. In Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries life increased at the rate of 4 years a century, in the 19th at the rate of 9 years a century. Civilized life gas practically doubled in the past 350 years.
The death rate per 1000 inhabitants likewise exhibits striking improvement. In the 15th century, a death rate of 70-100 was not uncommon. In Geneva in the 16th century, it was 39.7; it's now about 17. Two hundred years ago the rate in England was over 100, in Italy over 40. Berlin two hundred years ago had a death rate of over 40; new about 15. The city of London had a death rate in 1600 of over 80; in 1665-the plague year 430; is 1800 about 29; it is now less than 15. The United States has a death rate of about 18, and New York City less than 14. The four cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans had a combined death rate in 1815 of about 22, now about 15 per 1000. To illustrate the results of reduction of the death rate even by fractions New York state had a rate in 1913of 15, in 1914 of 14.6; this 0.4 represents 4000 lives saved to the state.
What has caused such striking changes? Let us look back on the picture of life 400 years ago. The floor of the average house was the earth, covered with straw that was often not changed for renewed for twenty years and containing bones, food and the excreta of men and animals. Flies and vermin must have abounded. Laundry, bath, and toilet facilities were practically nourishment. Walls were the source of water supply, even in the cities. The sewers were the open streets, into which literally every imaginable. There was little protection against summer rain, or winter snow and cold. There was no glass, few utensils, little furniture. The laborer ate meats, fruits and oats or barley. He rarely enjoyed the luxury of rye, and potatoes were unknown. There was destitution, often famine, little charity or human kindness. The death penalty was enforced for the most trivial offenses. In England in 1800 over 200 crimes wore punishable by death. Europe was almost constantly in a state of war. Labor was long, severe, and poorly paid. Reads and means of transportation and communication were most primitive. Read "Touring in 1600". Sensuality, ignorance, and superstition held away. Infant mortality was appalling in Geneva in the 16th century 44 p.c. of all deaths were under five years. The rudiments of personal hygiene, of public sanitation, of the causes and prevention of disease were unknown. Public disasters were ascribed to Heaven, the Devil and religious activity. In England in the 17th. Century seventeen percent of all deaths were due to pulmonary tuberculosis. Wide-spread epidemics were very frequent occurrences. In 1348-9 the Black Death killed twenty-five million in Europe, and in the 18th century small-pox killed fifty million. In London in 1602 out of a total of 42,00 deaths, 36,000 were caused by the plague. Between 1675 and 1757 ten percent of the population of that city died of small-pox. Not a finger was lifted against this appalling mortality. It was fate.
The dangers of former times have disappeared, have been lessened or disarmed. The causes of diseased are less in force and number. Disease itself has changed in character. Worldwide epidemics are no more. Civilization is organized for protection and prevention. The modern comforts of shelter food and clothing, of education and sanitation, machinery, lessoned labor and higher wages have lengthened life. But civilization has its drawbacks. Luxury, self-indulgence, drugs, and dissipation demand their toll. Alcohol, syphilis and overeating are over present foes. The mortality of ages after 45 has been increased by cancer and diseased of the kidneys and circulatory systems. Degenerative processes and minor ailments are still unchecked. Through our mortality figures compare most favorably with those of any period of time past, we still far from a death rate of 10 per 1000, which, with a stationary population, would represent an average age at death of 100 years. Unlimited existence on this earth would be a luxury. Immortal life here below is not desirable. This seems to be nature's plan. But life is sweet; death is rarely welcomed. Since man starts with the lamp of life filled and lighted, let us see how he has tried to conserve that flame, to retard old age, to prolong his days.
To the ancients' perennial youth and eternal life were gifts divine. The gods on Mount Olympus renewed their youth by nectar and ambrosia. Here was the bearer of the cup of immortally. Zeus, at the request of Aurora, conferred on Tithonian eternal life. The fickle goddess of the dawn failed to ask for her lover the boon of perennial youth, and when he because old and would not die she changed him into a grasshopper. Many and strange have been the methods used to live long, and many and strange are their survivals to this our day. Our ancient brother fasted, took emetics and cathartics, passed through states of trance, ate of certain fruits, drank infusions of certain herbs, dipped himself in certain waters, offered sacrifices to his god or gods. He wished to be born again, he wanted a new heart, he desired to enter upon a new life. To him it was reality. We maintain the same practices; to us it is symbolism, but their ancient use and meaning haunt us still. The idea that serpents renewed their youth, that human semen was the essence of life, and the belief in the efficacy of certain trees and fruits are clear as parts of early religious belief. The mistletoe, the "All Heal" called by Virgil The "branch of gold", has maintained a curious grip on the human mind from a very distant past. Such stories as The wandering Jew and Phra the Phoenician captivate our fancy. To the Babylonians and other early people blood was the "water of life". With the discovery of the circulation by Harvey in the 17th. Century blood as the chief fluid of the harmol pathology of that time came to the fore as a sovereign means of rejuvenation. Blood transfusion was taken up with enthusiasm, first from animal to animal, and then from animal to man. A blind old dog was reported to have become a playful young puppy: a decrepit old nag, a prancing horse. The blood of sheep and calves was used for man. The method failed utterly, as we now know it must have done. Several fatalities occurred and it was abandoned under ban of church and state. The modern revival of blood transfusion from man to man in many of its aspects reveals our ancient brother at his magic rites.
Three methods that have been used at all periods of the world's history against old age deserve separate mention gerokomy, fountains of the youth and elixirs of life.
Gerokomy is the belief that age and its infirmities may be mitigated by youth and its vigor. The idea is very old. The method was tried without success on King David. It is mentioned by Galen and was a popular Roman belief. The illustrious Boorhaave in the 18th century had the old burgomaster of Amsterdam sleep between two young persons and assures us that the old man increased visibly in vigor and activity. A Jewish physician advised Fredrick Barbarossa to sleep with two young men on his chest. The famous old German emperor, whom legend stories as not dead but sleeping, thought this too onerous a burden and substituted two young dogs. In the middle of the 18th.century Cohausen wrote a treatise on this subject, taking as his text the epitaph of L. Clodium Hermippus, a Roman schoolmaster, who had lived to the age of 115 years by the breath of young girls. It is still a popular idea that the emanations from a healthy young body are invigorating. It is commonly held belief today that a weak or ill person by sleeping with a strong well person partakes of the latter's health, often to the latter's detriment. The most modern of us believe that contact and association with youth and young ideas help keep old age at bay. It is the same old idea on a higher mental plan.
Primitive man must have observed the cleaning effect of water on the skin. It was, comparatively, but a step to the idea that somewhere there might be found a fountain, a plunge into whose magic waters would wash away the accumulated body change of the years. Sir John Mandeville tells of odoriferous fountains of youth near the river Indus. The Hawaiians had a life-giving fountain. A report was current in the Middle Ages that a Sicilian peasant found a golden vessel filled with water of which he drank and with which he bathed and lived 500 years. One of the romances of the New World is the quest of Ponce de Leon. Long before his time, the Indians of Central America and the Antilles had searched for a "fabled fountain of the North whose magic waters healed the sick, rejuvenated the aged and conferred immortal youth. It was said to be surrounded by magnificent trees, and the air laden with the perfume of flowers. The trees bore a golden fruit that was plucked by beautiful maidens and handed to strangers. It was the old story of the Garden of Hesperides. These marvelous tales were told the early Spanish explorers, and 400 years ago Ponce de Leon, worn and aged by his adventurous life, started on his quest for this fountain. He drank from and bathed in every fountain and spring of the Bahamas, and on Easter, Sunday came to the Florida coast. His quest was fruitless. They were fabled fountains.
The association of gold with fountains of youth, and as we shall immediately see also, with the elixirs of life, was very close. It is probably a garbled remnant of primitive religious belief. Gold represents the sun, the male element, the life giver; fountain, well or spring, or their waters, represent the female element, the life carrier.
Ovid relates how Medea's brew made Aeson young again. Into her brass cauldron, she put roots and seeds and grains and flowers and stones, dew, hart's liver, screech-owl's flesh, wolves and snakes intestines, and a thousand other things. When the withered olive bought with which she stirred the brew left and bore again and when the from scattered on the barren ground caused grass and flowers to grow, the drink was ready. She forthwith out the old man's throat, and into the wound and through his mouth she poured her witch's brew. His hair becomes black, his color comes, his wrinkles go, he gains in weight; he becomes strong and lusty, forty years younger in mind and body. He much admired the change as well he might. It was a grand elixir. This story from the age of fable reflects human nature that does not change. Before the Christian era, the Chinese believed in the existence of a draught of immortality. The time and energy that has been spent in the endeavor to discover the Elixir of Life has been untold. The intensity of the search reached its height in the fascinating and fanciful studies of the alchemists. Alchemy is usually understood as the art of turning base metals into gold and silver through the medium of some secret preparation of high value. This secret preparation, though given many names, was popularly known as the philosopher's stone, whose pursuit was a most popular pastime of Europe 14th., 15th. And 16th centuries, and from whose enchantment we have not yet entirely freed ourselves. The most bizarre and nauseating substances or combination of substances of most intricate formulas were hailed as this material prima. Each experimenter loudly urged the claims of his own special discovery which he was willing to dispose of for a price, and whose possession would give its purchase wealth and long life. It is a curious thing how near some truths these old philosophers came. A modern ferment acts as they hoped the philosopher's stone to act, a small portion on a large amount without loss of power. The discovery of radium and radioactive substances has again brought to the force the persistent idea of the possible existence of some all-powerful principle somewhere in the depths of nature. The reasons why alchemy turned so assiduously to the discovery of the elixir of life are intricate and complex. The worship of the sun is a perfectly understandable and logical belief and has maintained a most persistent hold and influence on the human mind. Gold was the prototype of the great life-giver, the sun. The yellow metal was therefore good for disease, and potable gold was earnestly sought as a panacea for all ills. Since the philosopher's stone could produce this precious metal gold, how much more powerful must it itself be against disease, old age, and death. A piece of philosopher's stone as big as a kernel of wheat soaked nine days in urine and wine and the preparation drunk every day was said to keep one well to the end of time. They believed that there was a specific hidden in nature that would arrest the changes of the years. Offset the effects of time, restore youth, prolong if not perpetuate life. Long after the claims of the ability to produce gold from other metals had become discredited generally the belief in the efficacy of such universal medicines persisted long after it had degenerated into pure charlatanism.
Paracelsus is the best known of the alchemists. Born in 1493, son of a physician, his career was successively that of a reputable doctor, professor at the University of Basel, wanderer, outcast, charlatan. His aim and dream were to make alchemy serve medicine, and by its magic means to "restore to man the health and soundness that he had lost". He also had discovered a philosopher's stone and manufactured an elixir of life. To quote from one of his announcements "By it", I.E. this elixir, "all infirmities may be cured, human life prolonged to its utmost limit, and mankind preserved in health and strength of body and mind, power and vigor. All wounds are healed by it without difficulty, and it is the best and surest remedy against poisons; with it, too many other benefits to you and the community of your realm may be wrought, such as the transmutation of metals into actual gold and the purest silver". How familiar it all sounds, though written nearly 400 years ago! In 1541 at the age of 48 Paracelsus died with a bottle of his elixir in his pocket. He has been called a charlatan and a faker; an iconoclast he surely was, but with him began an era of trying to make chemistry serve medicine.
The unscrupulous of all periods of the world's history have preyed upon the fear of death, superstition, and credulity of their fellow. It was perfectly natural that alchemy should breed charlatans. The trade in all kinds of elixirs thrived, and the claims made for there were the most extravagant. One alchemist in the 12th.century claimed that he had lived over 1000 years by means of his elixirs. Old women were reported to have become young, and to have born children. In the 18th.century that arch charlatan Count Cagliostro appeared with his Aqua Benedetta, his Balm of Life, which drove away the wrinkles and made its users young again. You can hear the echoes of such claims in the advertisements of today. Cagliostro gravely maintained that he was immune to poisons, that he had lived before the flood and had been in the ark with Noah. There were cephalic waters and stomachic waters, waters of immortality, and cordial waters of Hercules. Our ancestors one hundred years ago bought steel lozenges for preserving life, imbibed vital wines and slept in celestial beds. There were all kinds of "drops" and "balms". even "old Tom Parr" had a medicine named after him. The formula for an elixir of long life has been but recently deleted from the German pharmacopeia. Go into any modern well-stocked drugstore, and you will find Elixirs and Balms of life that find ready sale. Omitting the innumerable and often unmentionable ingredients of the elixirs of other days it is interesting to observe that such elixirs, past and present, contain about the same basic elements a laxative, a bitter, an aromatic and alcohol. For each and all of these was and is a reason. The makers and the vendors of elixirs of life, ancient and modern, have never lacked for this world's goods, for the two most precious things in this world are health and long life and we are glad and eager to part with any of our possessions to retain or recover them.
The modern movement for longer life is taken seriously by many groups and classes. We have centenarian, longevity and live-a-little-longer clubs. The Life Extension Institute with its keep well Leaflets and its monthly Health Letter is making new paths toward longer life. We have days to buy cotton, days to clean up our cities, days to celebrate many things; we ought to have "a medical examination day". The modern intelligent well-read man knows that prevention and early recognition of disease mean longer life. Within certain limitation, an individual can himself determine his length of days, and a community its own death rate.
In olden times human life was purchasable and was cheap. It is still purchasable and is still cheap. One-third of all deaths can be prevented or postponed. Half a million people of the United States have pulmonary tuberculosis, and one half of these are totally incapacitated. Half a million workers are killed or crippled at their work each year, and half is needless waste. Every year in this country 10,000 children die of whooping cough, and there are 300,00 cases of typhoid fever from which 16,00 die. There are but a few of the preventable deaths that cut down the average of life. Two hundred years ago ten percent of all deaths were due to small-pox. To our grandparent's vaccination was almost religious duty, for they know well what small-pox meant. Now the autovaccinations want us to do away with vaccination that has increased the mean duration of life about 3 Â½ years. If disease is preventable, is it worth-while in dollars and cents? The mere indefinite prolongation of life is economically not desirable, however much so, it might be from the individual standpoint. The object is to eliminate the cost of unnecessary illness, death, and suffering; make life healthier and thereby longer; and through both to increased number of men of mature years and ripened judgment. In the United States, there are annually about million and a half deaths. Approximately three million are constantly ill, averaging about 13 days a year nearly four percent of the whole year for each inhabitant at a cost of at least $27.00 per year for every person this country. Each death represents more than two years of illness. Sickness and death cost us each year thee billions of dollars, a year in death claims. The annual deaths from tuberculosis in this country represent an economic loss of $727,000,000; one life insurance company pays out every year $800,000 for tuberculosis death claims alone. The extermination of syphilis would eliminate half of our institutions or defective and insane, that cost $85,000,000 a year. Headaches, tooth-aches, "colds" and minor cause each person an average of three days loss of time each year, and nine-tenths are preventable. The State of Pennsylvania during a period of seven years reduced its death rate 2 per 1000, and thereby saved 51,000 lives to the commonwealth. They are buying human life in The Keystone State. It has been estimated that the sickness and death rate could be reduced about one-third by an expenditure of about two cents per person per year.
If diseased can be prevented it is clear that the average of life would thereby be increased. Prof. Irving Fisher of Yale, President of the Committee of One Hundred on National Health, is authority for the statement that if we the people and the government put into practice all that is known about disease and its prevention fifteen years would be added to the average length of life in this country. To find a cure for cancer would add ten years to human life. Col. Gorgas is the authority for the statement that $2.00 added to the laborer's daily wage would increase the average of life by thirteen years. Within natural limitations, public health is purchased and so is length of life.
The prolongation of life and the making of it more livable resolves itself into a question of money and of brains, question of education and economics. The economic aspects of the problem have already been very briefly touched upon. A small portion of the money wasted by preventable disease and death would, if rightly used, give a thousand-fold return. It used to cost the city of Pittsburg three million dollars a year for its typhoid; a seven-million-dollar filter plant is considered a good investment. One small-pox epidemic cost Philadelphia twenty million dollars, that could have been prevented by the expenditure of one-third that sum. Health is wealth. a sick citizen is a liability. A healthy inhabitant is worth at least $2,900 to his country. The educational aspects of the endeavor to prolong life present great problems. Fairly efficient ruled for healthful living have been the property of some of mankind since history's dawn. Philosophy and medicine have both contributed to the science of longevity. The sanitary code of the ancient Hebrews was a classic of its kind. The ancient Egyptian hoped by two emetics a month and by sweating to avoid the baneful effects of the Nile basin. His customary greeting is said to have been, "How do you respire"? In the pure sir and under the sunny skies of Greece the Athenian hoped to live out his days by "rational enjoyment and continued use of his powers". It is interesting here to note that it was probably a preventable disease that destroyed the greatness of Greece. Hippocrates, Father of Medicine, who died at the age of 99, advised moderation, pure air, bathing, and exercise of body and mind. According to Pliny Rome two thousand years ago needed no physicians so generally were observed the laws of hygiene. This is probably a gross exaggeration, for the health of ancient Rome was notoriously bad. In the 15th.century Ludwig Cornaro, a Venetian nobleman, at the age of forty was told by his physicians that he had but two years more to live. He thereupon reformed his habits and lived for sixty years more on 12 ounces of food and 14 ounces of drink a day. He wrote a book entitled "A Sure and Certain Method of attaining a Long and Healthful Life". Roger Bacon in the 17th.century was the author of "The Cure of Old Age and the Prevention of Youth", that is wonderfully true and valuable through mixed with curious ideas and false beliefs of his time. The human race has never lacked for sound and sensible rules of health that it has steadfastly broken and paid the penalty. Many are current aphorisms. E.g., No day all day indoors; Drs. Diet, Quiet, and Merryman; Great temperance, open air, easy labor, little care; Live on six pence a day and earn it; Easy conscience, merry heart, contented mind; He who eats for health, eats little; Every wise man after fifty ought to lessen the quantity of his ailment, and at the last descend out of life as he entered it, even into the child's diet. Health cults, food faddists, schools of healing abound and prosper. Some men Fletcherite others walk barefoot through the dewy grass at morn. Others escrow meats and are vegetarians. Some sleep with their heads to the north to demagnetized the body. We have almost as many superstitions, are as much fatalists, are nearly as credulous as our benighted predecessors about our bodies and their care.
Two lines of modern thought that look toward the prolongation of life deserve more extended mention because they are so popular and so much in vogue. It has long been observed that vigor of body and mind are usually associated with sexual vigor, and that loss or removal of the sexual organs has a profound effect on the body and its development. We have already mentioned how human semen has been considered the essence of life. The idea that senility is caused or accelerated by the loss of the internal secretions is a subject full of interest and of promise, but at present chaos. Brown-Squad is really the father of this school of thought. This bold and original thinker and experimenter at age of seventy-two injected into himself extract and blood from the testicles f dogs and guinea-pigs. He claimed thereby to have become younger in body and spirit, and that others experienced the same beneficent effects. Spermin did a thriving trade. The present wide advertised animal and goat lymph compounds are such extracts. With the modern attack upon the problem of the internal secretions extracts of testicles, ovaries and other glands are on the market by reputable firms. The enjoy moderate popularity, can be used to advantage in certain conditions, but have no effect on old age. The loss of sexual power and the lessening of internal secretions are not the cause of old age, but a part of the process of senility.
Some years ago, Metchnikoff of the Pasteur Institute in Paris observed, or thought that h observed, a relatively great number of old persons in Bulgaria and the Near East. Since the use of soured milk in that part of the world is very ancient, Metchnikoff drew the conclusion assuredly false that their apparent longevity was due to what they drank. The theory of old age and its prevention that he evolved is briefly as follows. Old age is caused by toxins, or poisons, produced by bacteria or germs in our large intestine. These poisons are absorbed into our circulation. Sour milk is soured by and contains certain bacteria, known as lactic-acid bacteria, Bulgarian bacilli and the like. These bacilli, when taken into our intestinal tract, are antagonistic to the harmful germs growing there and forthwith processed to kill the foe or to inhibit their growth and action. As a result of the rapid and enthusiastic spread of Metchnikoff's ideas, we have heard much of intestinal stasis, auto-intoxication, intestinal poisoning and the like. Manifold preparations of lactic acid and Bulgarian bacilli, many absolutely insert and worthless, have been put upon the market. The drinking of buttermilk and other sour milk preparations has become a fad, one might almost say a cult. One enthusiast has written a book called "The Bacillus of Long Life". It is, without doubt, true and possible that the absorption of poisons from our intestinal tract may cause degenerative processes in our tissues, and that our large intestine may become a source of danger to us. Numerous operations have been aimed at it. Dr. Arbuthnot Lane of London removes it in its entirety, certainly a formidable proceeding. The solution of the problem lies in learning more about food and its fate in the body, move about the flora of the intestinal tract, not by sending an invisible army against a hypothetical foe.
Some years ago, the British Medical Journal investigated the characteristics of nine hundred old people, of whom seventy-four were over 100. I was found that the majority had regular habits, were moderate eaters with good digestion, sound sleepers, of medium height and weight, and most of them used no alcohol and tobacco. Let us now consider the main factors know to favor long life. The may be grouped under four heads- heredity, environment, public sanitation, and individual hygiene.
Certain families are noted for and are proud of the number of long lived members. A tendency to longevity can certainly be transmitted to the tissues of descendants, and eugenics, the much abused, can aid hereditary influences.
Preventative medicine has enabled man to be, to a large extent, master of or indifferent to his environment. Though climate and other factors of surroundings may be largely controlled or eliminated they still profoundly influence vitality.
Public Hygiene The lines of modern activity that can be brought to bear on the problem of the prolongation of life are vast in number, scope, and influence. Consider the machinery of federal, state and municipal hygiene; sanitary codes and their enforcement; the quarantine, reporting, and isolation of disease; and the keeping of vital statistics. Good drainage, efficient garage and sewage disposal clean streets, sufficient park area are all vital factors in a community's health. A progressive medical and dental science, god hospitals and sanitaria are assets and safeguards. Better babies, child welfare, milk depots, school inspection, old age compensation, relief and education of all kinds work toward a better and longer life. There is a 50-80 percent higher mortality among the poor. Infant mortality is in direct proportion to the environment and income of the family. In a city in Pennsylvania, it was found that in families with an income of $10 a week the infant mortality was 256 per 1000 births; in families with an income of $25 a week, the infant mortality rate was only 84 per 1000 births. The quarters of a city presenting neglected streets, unsanitary housing, crowded quarters compare most unfavorably with the better residential quarters. Man's food and drink, his housing his hours and conditions of labor, and his wages have all a direct bearing on the length of his life. Our neighbor's health is our business as well as his own.
Individual Hygiene- Nature is frugal and her wants are few. It is surprising how far a little health, well managed, may be made to go. The individual should have fresh pure air, a proper amount of suitable well-cooked food, clean surroundings, protection by clothing and shelter. It costs more than money alone to drink alcohol and use tobacco. Total abstainers have a 23 percent lower death rate. Two glasses of beer, or one of whiskey, a day will take at least a year off a man's life. The individual should cultivate regular habits of work, exercise, play, rest and sleep. It is not working but worry and the pace we set that kills. James J. Hill says that it is not so much the high cost of living, as it is the cost of high living. Men do not die, they kill themselves. The individual should know at least the rudiments of the anatomy and physiology of his body and its care, and the principles of the prevention and avoidance of disease. Moderation in all things, excess in none, is a difficult, though highly desirable mode of life. Let us not forget that there are no fountains of youth in this world save God's fields and hills and trees and streams, God's ocean and God's skies. There are no elixirs comparable to sunshine, fresh air, pure water, plain food, right living. A clean and healthy body and a calm contented mind are the best defenses against the attacking years.
And finally, we should not neglect a good philosophy of life. We should seek the right combination of work, play, love, and worship. Cicero's Essay on Old Age should be perused. We should recognize that there is a time to be old, to take in sail. Follow the spirit of Browning's verse- "Come, grow old along with me, the best is yet to be, the last of life for which the first was made". And it should be the richest, easiest, happiest time of life, giving us a chance to rest ere we are gone again on our adventure strange and now.
Binghamton, N.Y., November 15, 1915
Originally published: Monday, April 30, 2018; most-recently modified: Friday, June 07, 2019