Cornaro, Lewis

, a Venetian of noble extraction, is memorable for having lived to an extreme age: for he was ninety-eight years old at the time of his death, which happened at Padua April 26, 1566, his birth being fixed at 1467. Amongst other little performances, he left behind him a pieae, entitled “De vitae sobrise commodis,” i. e. “Of the advantages of a temperate life:” of which an account was given in the preceding editions of this Dictionary, and which, as amusirrg and instructive, we shall not disturb, although it belongs rather to the medical than, biographical department.

He was moved, it sefems, to compose this little piece, at the request and for the benefit of some ingenious young men, for whom he had a regard; who, having long since | lost their parents, and seeing him then eighty-one years old, in a florid state of health, were desirous to know by what means he contrived thus to preserve a sound mind in a sound body, to so extreme an age. In answer, he tells them, that, when he was young, he was very intemperate; that this intemperance had brought upon him many and grievous disorders; that from the thirty-fifth to the fortieth year of his age, he spent his nights and days in the utmost anxiety and pain; and that, in short, his life was grown a burthen to him. The physicians, however, as he relates, notwithstanding all the vain and fruitless efforts which they had made to restore him, told him, that there was one medicine still remaining, which had never been tried, but which, if he could but prevail with himself to use with perseverance, might free him in time from all his complaints; namely, a regular and temperate way of living, but that unless he resolved to apply instantly to it, his case would soon become desperate. Upon this he immediately prepared himself for his new regimen, and now began to eat and drink nothing but what was proper for one in his weak habit of body. But this at first was very disagreeable to him: he wanted to live again in his old manner; and he did indulge himself in a freedom of diet sometimes, without the knowledge of his physicians indeed, although much to his own uneasiness and detriment. Driven in the mean time by necessity, and exerting resolutely all the powers of his understanding, he grew at last confirmed in a settled and uninterrupted course of temperance: by virtue of which, all his disorders had left him in less than a year, and he had been a firm and healthy man from that time to his giving this account.

To shew what a security a life of temperance is against the ill effects of hurts and disasters, he relates an accident which betel him, when he was very old. One day being overturned in his chariot, he was dragged by the horses a considerable way upon the ground. His head, his arms, his whole body were very much bruised; and one of his. ancles was put out of joint. He was carried home; and the physicians seeing how much he was injured, concluded it impossible that he should live three days, but by bleeding and evacuating medicines, be presently recovered his health and strength.

Some sensualists, as it appears, had objected to his manner of living; and in order to evince the | reasonableness of their own, had urged, that it was not worth while to mortify one’s appetites at such a rate, for the sake of being old since all that was life, after the age of sixty-five, could not properly be called vita viva, sed vita mortua not a living life, but a dead life. “Now,” says he, “to shew these gentlemen how much they are mistaken, I will briefly run over the satisfactions and pleasures which I myself now enjoy in this eighty-third year of my age. In the first place I am always well; and so active withal, that I can with ease mount a horse upon a flat, and walk to the tops of very high mountains. In the next place I am always cheerful, pleasant, perfectly contented, and free from all perturbation, and every uneasy thought. I have none of that fastidium vita?, that satiety of life, so often to be met with in persons of my age. I frequently converse with men of parts and learning, and spend much of my time in reading and writing. These things I do, just as opportunity serves, or my humour invites me; and all in my own house here at Padua, which, I may say, is as commodious and elegant a seat, as any perhaps that this age can shew; built by me according to the exact proportions of architecture, and so contrived as to be an equal shelter against heat and cold. I enjoy at proper intervals my gardens, of which I have many, whose borders are refreshed with streams of running water. I spend some months in the year at those Eugancan hills, where I have another commodious house with gardens and fountains: and I visit also a seat I have in the valley, which abounds in beauties, from the many structures, woods, and rivulets that encompass it. I frequently make excursions to some of the neighbouring cities, for the sake of seeing my friends, and conversing with the adepts in all arts and sciences: architects, painters, statuaries, musicians, and even husbandmen. I contemplate their works, compare them with the ancients, and am always learning something, which it is agreeable to know. I take a view of palaces, gardens, antiquities, public buildings, temples, fortifications: and nothing escapes me, which can afford the least amusement to a rational mind. Nor are these pleasures at all blunted by the usual imperfections of great age: for I enjoy all my senses in perfect vigour; my taste so very much, that I have a better relish for the plainest food now, than I had for the choicest delicacies, when formerly immersed in a life oi luxury. Nay, to let you see what a portion of fire | and spirit I have still left within me, know, that I have this very year written a comedy, full of innocent mirth and pleasantry; and, if a Greek poet was thought so very healthy and happy, for writing a tragedy at the age of 73, why should not I be thought as healthy and as happy, who have written a comedy, when I am ten years older? In short, that no pleasure whatever may be wanting to my old age, I please myself daily with contemplating that immortality, which I think I see in the succession of my posterity. For every time I return home, I meet eleven grandchildren, all the offspring of one father and mother; all in fine health; all, as far as I can discern, apt to learn, and of good behaviour. I am often amused by their singing; nay, I often sing with them, because my voice is louder and clearer now, than ever it was in my life before. These are the delights and comforts of my old age; from which, I presume, it appears, that the life I spend is not a dead, morose, and melancholy life, but a living, active, pleasant life, which I would not change with the robustest of those youths who indulge and riot in all the luxury of the senses, because I know them to be exposed to a thousand diseases, and a thousand kinds of deaths. I, on the contrary, am free from all such apprehensions: from the apprehension of disease, because I have nothing for disease to feed upon; from the apprehension of death, because I have spent a life of reason. Besides, death, I am persuaded, is not yet near me. I know that (barring accidents) no violent disease can touch me. I must be dissolved by a gentle and gradual decay, when the radical humour is consumed like oil in a lamp, which affords no longer life to the dying taper. But such a death as this cannot happen of a sudden. To become unable to walk and reason, to become blind, deaf, and bent to the earth, from all which evils I am far enough at present, must take a considerable portion of time: andI verily believe, that this immortal soul, which still inhabits my body with so much harmony and complacency, will not easily depart from it yet. I verily believe that I have many years to live, many years to enjoy the world and all the good that is in it; by virtue of that strict sobriety and temperan-ce, which I have so loug and so religiously observed; friend as I am to reason, but a foe to sense.” His wife, who survived him, lived also to nearly the same age. Sir John Sinclair, in his “Code of Health and Longevity,” mentions the edition of 1779 as the best | English translation of Cornaro’s works. There are four discourses on one subject, penned at different times; the first, already mentioned, which he wrote at the age of eighty-three, in which he declares war against every kind of intemperance. The second was composed three years after, and contains directions for repairing a bad constitution. The third he wrote when he was ninety-one, entitled “An earnest exhortation to a sober life;” and the last is a letter to Barbaro, patriarch of Aquileia, written when he was ninety-five, which contains a lively description of the htalth, vigour, and perfect use of all his faculties, which he had the happiness of enjoying at that advanced period of life. 1


Thuani Hist. His treatise on Long Life, often republished in English.