It would be long to listen to the ancient complaints like those of the Chorus,

νῦν δ ̓ ἀπολείπομαι

τᾶς εὐδαίμονος ἥβας *.

"Youth," they sing, "charms me—à vɛótas μoi píλov; but old age, burden heavier than the rocks of Etna, weighs down our heads, and spreads over our eyes a darksome veil." Maffei expresses this regret in words nearly similar to the last, saying, "What wouldest thou give me? I desire nothing; and what would be dear to me no one can bestow. I should wish that the heavy burden of years might be removed from me. It weighs on my head; it sinks me to the earth, as if it were a mountain. I would give all the gold, and all the kingdoms of the world, to have restored to me the days of my youth." The poet of the Lakes gives utterance to the same feelings :

"Soft gales and dews of life's delicious morn,

And thou, lost fragrance of the heart, return!"

But all this belongs, you maintain, to the pagan or romantic schools. To say so argues only the affectation of obdurate theorists-of unnatural insensibility. We have the same sentiments expressed by holy Job: “Quis mihi tribuat, ut sim juxta menses pristinos, secundum dies quibus Deus custodiebat me? quando splendebat lucerna ejus super caput meum et ad lumen ejus ambulabam in tenebris? sicut fui in diebus adolescentiæ meæ, quando secreto Deus erat in tabernaculo meo? quando erat Omnipotens mecum, et in circuitu meo pueri mei ?” ́ Such then, when left without the impressions we are about to trace, is man lamenting that he has reached this westward corner of the wood, this last but one of the roads through life's forest

σὸν πότμον γοόων· χαλεπὸν δ ̓ ἐπὶ γῆρας ἱκάνει †.

Some, as practical men, only say like Cato the Censor in his old age, that "it is painful to have to render an account of one's life to men of a different age from that in which one has lived." Others, as imaginative, are oppressed with the thought that the light of youth should be withdrawn for ever. Others, in fine, less poetical and sensitive, only lament the loss of strength which has ensued. Timanthes had given up his profession of an athlete, but in order to preserve his muscular force he used to draw the bow daily. Having to travel once, he was obliged to interrupt his custom, and when he wished to resume it he found that he had not sufficient strength left to do so. Finding that he was no longer like himself, he was so afflicted that he kindled his + xi. 195.

* Herc. Furens, 440.

own pile and threw himself upon it. Look around, and you will see in the forest an image of this affliction; for when the common birch-tree arrives in age at a considerable size, the branches hang down and weep.

Now for all these afflictions and miseries it is certain that your old Catholicism offers a remedy; if not a complete and absolute specific, at least a most useful palliative and an immense alleviation. In the first place, it is calculated to diminish, to soothe, and to shorten even the physical evils of old age, since the discipline of life which follows from it constitutes the most likely means of keeping off infirmities. Central principles for many men have proved their life's restorer; and, next to Heaven, their thanks are due to the Mother Church who has precepts by which they may preserve life to a length, and end it happy. Though they climb hills of years, not one wrinkle sits upon their brow, nor any sickness shakes them. Some who are without its influence can say of themselves, in the words of Pliny, "We believe all quacks who promise health. We know them to be quacks, non tamen illud intuemur, adeo blanda est sperandi pro se cuique dulcedo t." Those who have adopted central views and manners are not such customers to the college, whether, like "the French physicians, they who come from it be learned and careful," as the old English poet says, or "like your English velvet-cap, malignant and envious ‡." As Sidonius Apollinaris says, "Although sick, they would prefer hearing Socrates dispute on morals to listen to Hippocrates treating on bodies §." They are like the common people in this respect, who have no fancied maladies. "When I was poor," says Geta in the Prophetess, "I could endure like others; but since I grew rich, let but my finger ache, unless I have a doctor, mine own doctor, that may assure me, I am gone." The common people, in most cases, have nature for their doctor.

"If sick with the excess of heat or cold,
Caused by virtuous labour, not loose surfeits,
They, when spare diet, or kind nature fail
To perfect their recovery, soon arrive at
Their rest in death; while, on the contrary,
Other rich men are exposed as preys
To the rapine of physicians, who still
In lingering out what is remediless,
Aim at their profit."

It is clear that the ancient hermits, who lived to such an age, had no physicians in their inaccessible solitudes, and that they

* Pausanias, lib. vi.

The Return from Parnassus.

+ Nat. Hist. lib. xxix, 8.

§ Lib. ix. epist. 14.

[ocr errors]

died without other assistance but that of saints and angels. The Church expressly records of St. Agatha that she received no assistance from physicians *. "Master John de Nivelle, dean of Lieges, was always," says an old writer, "labouring in his holy vocation. During a long and violent indisposition, a great physician came from France at his own expense to cure him; and when the holy man had asked how long a time he must persevere in using the remedy, and heard that after four months his cure would be complete, striking his hands he exclaimed, Alas! miserable me, if for this perishable flesh I should cease for only three weeks! Dear master, return to your country when you please; Christ will repay you for your good intention and your labour +." Charlemagne, whenever indisposed, applied the remedy of abstinence and diet, and found it successful. In his last sickness, having recourse to it, and perceiving it fail, he intimated his conviction that his hour was come for departing to the other world. St. Ambrose, on the supposition that the precepts of medicine are contrary to the celestial science—to fasts, vigils, and meditation-says, rather rhetorically, " Itaque qui se medicis dederit, seipsum sibi abnegat ;" and the blessed Guigues, the Carthusian, says of the religious, "Ut sanos a sanis, ita ægrotos ab ægrotis sæcularibus debere cogitent discrepare §." But Catholicism, we are assured, sanctions no exaggeration in this respect; and, after all, "when sick," said St. Syneliticus, "do not ascribe your malady to having fasted, for those who do not fast are quite as often sick as those who do fast |." Far, indeed, does it seem from the spirit of Catholicity to throw discredit on a most noble profession, which in every age has boasted of such men as Dupuytren and Recamier, who have found upon a road that might have been followed during our past wanderings an attraction constituted by their scientific discoveries and by their observation of other men, which either recalled their steps to faith, if they had ever doubted, like the first of these eminent physicians, or kept them through life like the latter, persevering in attachment to those principles which enabled them to die eternally united to truth, to justice, and to peace. Marina de Escobar permitted herself to be treated by physicians, though they gave evidence on oath that they considered her pains and diseases to be supernatural and without physical cause, while in her sickness God often visited her with obscurities and derelictions, especially towards the close of her life T. But the truth is, that men of the central discipline are not so often sick as

* Thomassin, Traité des Jeunes, c. 14.
Serm. xxii. in Ps. 118.

+ Mag. Spec.

§ Stat. c. 38.

Ant. d'Avéroult, Catéchisme historial, vii. 20. ¶ Vit. Virg. Mar. p. ii. lib. iii. c. 2.

others. They cannot, like so many of the rich, be sick when they have a mind to it; they do not catch an ague with the wind of a fan, or take to their beds in order to pay ten pounds for an elixir. Temperance and virtue, faith, hope, and charity, prove excellent medicine for the body; and, alluding to the neglect of it, one may cite the ancient saying, "Nunquam fuit cupido vitæ major nec minor cura *." "How often," says a living observer of society, "when the unhappy disciple of Esculapius is perplexing himself about the state of our bodies, we might throw light upon his obscure labours by simply detailing to him the state of our minds!" In fact, as a great writer says of something analogous, "Like a new soul, these principles and views of past, present, and future renew the body. We become physically nimble and lightsome; we tread on air; life is no longer irksome, and we think it will never be so. No man fears age, or misfortune, or death, in their serene company; for he is transported out of the district of change.” The renowned and devout sculptor Jacopo Sansovino, so remarkable for his personal beauty, is described by Vasari as still retaining in his old age the carriage of his youth, being nimble and strong even to his ninetythird year. Besides, the old discipline tends in a measure to incapacitate the body for many maladies. So the count of Ureña said to the Venetian ambassador Navagiero, when he visited him in his old age at Ossuna, "Diseases sometimes visit me, but seldom tarry long; for my body is like a crazy old inn, where travellers find such poor fare that they merely touch and go." "Our most holy father," says Sergardi, writing to Mabillon about the pope, enjoys a green old age; his colour is fresh, his eye piercing, his memory exact, his attention to business endless; in fine, if you did not count his years, you would say he was a young man t." That the same discipline tends to lengthen life is most certain; and here, between trees and men, one has to remark, not an analogy, but a contrast; for, as Theophrastus observes, "Wild trees live long, none of them being short-lived; whereas all tame, cultivated trees are in general of shorter duration, and some of them live but a little space. By culture trees become more fruitful, but weaker." With men it is the reverse, that is true. Verdant old age, protracted to its extreme limits under the central influence, renders a person often the observed of all observers. Let us hear a recent traveller in Spain. "Arrived at Elvas," he says, on entering the hostelry, an elderly woman sat beside the fire in her chair, telling her beads. There was something singular in her look, as well as I could discern by the imperfect light of the room. Her hair was becoming grey, and I said that I believed she was older than

[ocr errors]


* Plin. N. H. xxii. 7. + Correspond. de Mabill. ii. lett. cclxi.

myself. How old may you be, cavalier?' I answered that I was near thirty. Then,' said she, 'you were right in supposing that I am older than yourself. I am older than your mother or your mother's mother: it is more than a hundred years since I was a girl and sported with the daughters of the town on the hill side. She then added that she was upwards of a hundred and ten years of age." But what is very remarkable, in order to find examples of old age in greatest abundance, we must repair to the places where the Catholic life is found in _its_severest form, namely, to the desert and the monastery. St. Paul, the first hermit, lived to a hundred and sixteen years, of which a hundred were spent in the desert; St. Anthony lived to be a hundred and five, and ninety of these were passed in the desert; St. Paphnutius attained to the age of ninety; St. Hilarion, though weak and delicate, to that of eighty-four, and he spent seventy years in the desert; James, a Persian hermit, lived to be a hundred and four; St. Macarius, to be ninety, and sixty of these years were in the desert; Arsenius lived to a hundred and twenty, and he spent fifty-five in the desert. So also among monks St. Benedict lived to be sixty-three; St. Maur, to be seventy; St. Romuald, to be a hundred and twenty; St. Robert, to be ninety-three; St. Peter Cœlestin, to be eighty-one; St. John Gualbert, to be seventy-eight; St. Gall, to be ninetyfive; St. Emilian, to a hundred and eight; St. Silvester, to be ninety. Common life, however, in the world, under the central influence, presents extreme old age as a common phenomeThe grandfather of Mabillon lived to the age of a hundred and sixteen, and his father to that of a hundred and eight. "I have seen the latter," says Ruinart, "still vigorous, and with all his faculties sound and entire, at the age of a hundred and five." Catholicism witnesses a fulfilment of the prophecy where it is written, "Thus saith the Lord: There shall be old men and old women dwelling in Jerusalem, every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof." Lately," says Drexelius, "the pro-bishop of Bamberg, in Thuringia, had administered the last sacraments to about six thousand persons. Among these more than two hundred had attained to upwards of a hundred years. One was a hundred and fifty years old; his sons were more than a hundred; his grandsons more than seventy. All had lived Catholically, frugally. How many," he adds, are there now in the Alps who are more than eighty or ninety, without having ever tasted meat or wine! I lately saw one who was more than a hundred and twenty, who had never used other medicine but temperance. Louis Cor


[ocr errors]



* Hæftenus, Econom. Monast. lib. viii. c. 6.

с с

« VorigeDoorgaan »