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HISTORIA VITE ET MORTIS.
BY ROBERT LESLIE ELLIS.
Or the five treatises which in the dedication of the Historia Naturalis Bacon proposes to publish in five successive months, or even within a shorter period, the Historia Vitæ et Mortis stands last in the list of titles. But it was Bacon's intention that it should be published next in order to the Historia Ventorum, and this intention was fulfilled, though not as soon as he had proposed; the Historia Vitæ et Mortis not being published until 1623.
Bacon's reason for giving it precedence of the other histories is mentioned in the Aditus or preface, the extreme importance of the subject to which it relates, namely "the prolongation and setting up of human life," a matter "in quâ vel minima temporis jactura pro pretiosâ haberi debet." Yet we may surely be permitted to doubt whether it be wise to regard longevity as in itself a thing desirable, and whether we are at liberty to seek to prolong life by other appliances than those by which health may be improved, or at least by which it cannot be impaired. If health and long life can be regarded as independent objects of pursuit, it may be said that we are bound to make our option for the former, seeing that we come into the world to perform duties for which enfeebled health more or less unfits us, and that it would be no addition to human happiness if we could succeed in making all men long-lived valetudinarians. Moreover, it is hard to see how the systematic pursuit of longevity is to be reconciled with the professions of men who speak of themselves as sojourners upon the
1 Vita hominum proroganda et instauranda.
earth and pilgrims. This difficulty Bacon himself perceived; and both in the following Aditus and in a corresponding passage in the De Augmentis where he is explicitly speaking of long life as a distinct object of pursuit, he remarks that though to Christian men the world is but a wilderness, yet it is to be, accounted a blessing if our shoes and garments do not wax old by the way; an illustration by which the difficulty is not removed. Not to insist upon it, and admitting that the love of life is at any rate the most natural of all weaknesses, we may yet regard it as a happy circumstance that long life is apparently not to be attained by artificial means, and certainly not by means which tend to endanger health.
In the passage of the De Augmentis already referred to, Bacon complains that physicians have not sufficiently recognised the prolongation of life as one of the objects which their art should seek to obtain. The question had however been asked, whether life could be prolonged by other means than those which are used to preserve health, or to improve it. Thus Flacius in his Commentatio de Vitâ et Morte  decides this question by asserting that health and longevity depend on the same causes, and must therefore be promoted by the same means. But from this view Bacon altogether dissents; and he therefore divides the duty of the physician into three distinct parts: the preservation of health; the cure of diseases; and the prolongation of life. In speaking of the last, he warns men not to confound the treatment which conduces to health with that which conduces to long life. Some things there are, he says, which promote the alacrity of the spirits and increase the vigour of the functions, and are of use in warding off disease; and which nevertheless shorten life and accelerate the decay of old age. Contrariwise there are others which are of use in lengthening life, and yet cannot be used without endangering health; wherefore they who employ them must obviate the inconveniences which they might else occasion by other means.
The Historia Vitæ et Mortis is in fact an essay on this third part of medicine, "quæ nova est et desideratur, estque omnium nobilissima." In none of Bacon's writings is there more appearance of research; he has collected a great number. of instances of longevity, and in attempting to find something
'Flacius, iv. 23.
in the character or way of life of the persons whom he mentions to which their long life may be ascribed, he often sums up with singular felicity whatever is most remarkable about them. Still it cannot be said that the theory on which he relies for the prolongation of life has much connexion with the facts which he has collected, and in truth no general inference can seemingly be derived from them, except perhaps that for the most part those men live longest in whom the spirit of life is the most vigorous. For the theory itself, which is based upon that of the animal spirits, not much can now be said; but the way in which it is set forth and the remarks by which it is accompanied have been much commended by one of the greatest of medical writers. Haller, in his edition of Boerhaave's Methodus Stud. Medicin.', speaks thus of the Historia Vitæ et Mortis : "Causam equidem mortis falsam adlegat, non satis cautus a præjudicatâ opinione, spiritum nempe vitalem exhalantem. Multum historiarum confert ad longævitates plantarum, animalium, hominum. Sapientia denique consilia dat, quibus longævitas obtineri queat, nitro, opio, purgationibus subinde repetitis, validis, omnium mediocritate, rejectis nugacibus opinionibus quæ eo tempore dominabantur." He gives a fuller account of it in the Bibliotheca Medica. Spiritum vitalem aëre puriorem, igne mitiorem, habitare in corpore animali et viscidioribus particulis irretiri, ea vero vincula paulatim evadere, denique exhalare, eam esse mortis naturalis causam. Spem longævitatis esse in retardandâ hujus spiritus evolutione dum inviscatur, pori per quos exhalat obstruuntur, calor diminuitur. Ad longævitatem ergo pertinere vitam minus actuosam, opium, nitrum, somnum longiorem, purgationem alvi, diætam debilitantem. Homines qui salivationem passi sunt, aut alioquin ad summam macilentiam redacti, postquam convaluerunt, iidem ad longam ætatem perveniunt. Ad longævitatem spem facere periodos vitæ majores, ingenium non fervidissimum, incrementum lentius, corpus siccius, succorum subinde renovationem, vitam etiam parcissimam, contemplationi deditam. Aurum, margaritas, lapides pretiosos parvi facit. Aëris exclusionem, vitam in speluncis laudat, alimenta firma, carnes duriores, stomachum
I. 56. In the passage to which Haller's remark is a note, Boerhaave speaks in the highest terms of Bacon, and concludes by saying: "Quidquid Cartesius habet, si quid boni habet, hoc unice isti debet, neque melior autor haberi potuit, licet ejus nomen ab imperitis adeo supprimatur."
per vina styptica confirmatum, frictionem, inunctionem, corporis exercitationem modicam, balnea.
"Denique mortis historia. Perire animal quando spiritus motus supprimitur, quando denegatur refrigerium, quo strangulatio pertinet, quando reparatio inhibetur per inediam, aut depletionem vasorum. Atriola mortis, s. symptomata quæ vitæ finem præcedunt, quo etiam pulsus subpressus et vacillans. Restitutio submersorum. Quæ cuique ætati propria sint, ju ventuti, senio. Multiplex ubique eruditio et ingenii vis." 1
The idea on which Bacon's theory of longevity is founded, namely that the principle of life resides in a subtle fluid or spirit which permeates the tangible parts of the organisation of plants and animals, seems to be coeval with the first origin of speculative physiology. Bacon was one of those by whom this idea was extended from organised to inorganic bodies: in all substances, according to him, resides a portion of spirit which manifests itself only in its operations, being altogether intangible and without weight. This doctrine appeared to him to be of most certain truth, but he has nowhere stated the grounds of his conviction, nor even indicated the kind of evidence by which the existence of the spiritus is to be established. In living bodies he conceived that two kinds of spirits exist: a crude or mortuary spirit, such as is present in other substances; and the animal or vital spirit, to which the phenomena of life are to be referred. To keep this vital spirit, the wine of life, from oozing away, ought to be the aim of the physician who attempts to increase the number of our few and evil days.
With respect to the instances of long life which Bacon has collected, it would be well to ascertain the sources from which his information was derived. But it is hardly possible to do this, at least in all cases, and in some I have even failed in obtaining any information as to the age at which the persons in question died. I am inclined to believe that Bacon was in the habit of noting down instances of longevity as they occurred to him in the course of his reading. Thus he mentions the age of Ovid's father, which is only known from a passage in the Tristia. He has made use of all the instances of longevity mentioned by Pliny and by Valerius Maximus, and seems to have consulted some of the works composed in imitation of the
Haller, Bibl. Med. ii. 512. 2 This notion is prominent in the writings of Paracelsus.
latter by modern writers. The earliest of these is perhaps the Res Memoranda of Petrarch; the most often quoted is Fulgosius's Facta dictaque memorabilia. Egnatius's collection, entitled De Exemplis illustrium virorum Veneta civitatis et aliarum gentium, is the one which there is the most reason to believe that Bacon made use of. Three remarkable instances of longevity are mentioned by Egnatius and by Bacon in the same order. All these works (there are probably others of the same class) resemble that of Valerius Maximus, or rather the collection commonly ascribed to him, in consisting of anecdotes arranged under various heads, and subdivided by a general principle of classification. Thus in the case of Valerius Maximus, we have a chapter on valour, on piety, and so on, each containing two sections, of which the first contains Roman and the other foreign instances of the subject of the chapter. Each chapter of Petrarch's collection is divided into three heads: Roman, foreign, and recent examples being placed together. Fulgosius divides each chapter into two sections, of which the second contains "Recentiora." Egnatius's collection having especial reference to Venice, he classes Venetian instances in a division of their own, and the remainder of each chapter consists of all others. In all these works there is a chapter entitled "Senectus," and Bacon may perhaps have referred to them all. The great age which was attained by Gartius Aretinus is first. mentioned by his great-grandson Petrarch. But though Bacon repeats Petrarch's statement, it by no means follows that he had found it in Petrarch's book. The story is told also by Fulgosius and probably by many other writers, among whom I may particularly mention Theodore Zwinger. For there seems reason to believe that Bacon was acquainted with Zwinger's Theatrum Vita Humana, the greatest collection that was ever made of miscellaneous anecdotes. We find in the Historia Vitæ et Mortis that the grandfather of Apollonius of Tyana attained the age of one hundred and twenty years. Now in the life of Apollonius by Philostratus, which is the source from which we derive almost all that is related of him and of his kindred, nothing of the kind is mentioned. But in the first of Zwinger's folios we find the same statement as in Bacon. Zwinger refers to Raphael Volaterrensis, from whom those who depreciate the Theatrum Vita Humanæ affirm that a great deal of it is taken. Under the head of Apollonius we find in the