Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/606

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

duration of life is ten years less than among the equally intemperate but less misgoverned natives of Northern Germany, and almost twenty years less than in the equally despotic but less poison-cursed territories of the Shah.

Historically, too, the lowest ebb of human happiness coincides with that of human longevity. The ancient Greeks outlived us by about thirty years, but even our northern Russians would outlive the nations of the Christian middle ages, when common sense was a capital crime, the suppression of all natural instincts the chief aim of education, and the invention of new instruments of torture the only flourishing branch of industry. The Western pessimists dislike to confess the main object of their religion; but their first exemplar, Buddha Nepaulensis, did not hesitate to define it as the mortification of all earthly desires—in other words, the shortening of life by all possible means, excepting the resort to the summary and, therefore, more desirable methods of direct suicide.

The depreciation of Nature, which formed the constant theme of the orthodox preachers, may have had something to do with the unparalleled destructiveness of mediæval epidemics; if life was a curse and death the highest gain, the converts of such dogmas must have yielded to Siva with Hindoo-like apathy, while, on the other hand, it is a well-established fact that the mere determination to live has often turned the scales in the crisis of an apparently hopeless disease. During the Grecian Revolution of 1821, Edward Trelawney survived a load of buckshot because he "felt that he had no right to die," and mothers with a houseful of sick children have frequently resisted the virus of a contagious fever. Mahmed Kasim, the first Arabian conqueror of Hindostan, was infected with the pest by the messenger of a rajah who had adopted that method of freeing his country from the invaders, and, in spite of all remedies, a number of Mahmed's companions died before the end of the week. But Mahmed himself "conquered the disease as he had conquered the rajahs"—recovered by sheer will force, and continued the campaign on the seventh day after the arrival of the plague-bearer.

In the century of Trajan, the Thessalian mountaineers were the macrobiotes, the long-livers, par excellence, of the Roman Empire; the natives of Asia Minor, with her over-populated islands and luxurious cities, the most short-lived. Time has since wrought strange changes in the land of the Ephesians; the wealthy cities have disappeared, and, with the single exception of her North-Persian neighbors, the Levanters are now the longest-lived race on earth. Next come the Turks, Greeks, Arabs, Hindoos, and southern Russians; next to these, and long before any West Europeans, the present inhabitants of the United States, for the advantages of a golden age like ours more than counteract such things as pork-fritters and strawberry-shortcakes. Among the separate States, North Carolina and Vermont hold the highest rank; Louisiana and New Jersey the lowest, topographi-