Discourses on a Sober and Temperate Life
by Lewis Cornaro
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I must farther add, though it may appear impossible to some, and may be so in some measure, that at this age I enjoy, at once, two lives; one terrestrial, which I possess in fact; the other celestial, which I possess in thought; and this thought is equal to actual enjoyment, when founded upon things we are sure to attain, as I ams sure to attain that celestial life, through the infinite goodness and mercy of God. Thus, I enjoy this terrestrial life, in consequence of my sobriety and temperance, virtues so agreeable to the Deity; and I enjoy, by the grace of the same Divine Majesty, the celestial, which he makes me anticipate in thought; a thought so lovely, as to fix me entirely on this object, the enjoyment of which I hold and affirm to be of the utmost certainty. And I hold that dying, in the manner I expect, is not really death, but a passage of the soul from this earthly life to a celestial, immortal, and infinitely perfect existence. Neither can it be otherwise: and this thought is so superlatively sublime, that it can no longer stoop to low and worldly objects, such as the death of this body, being intirely taken up with the happiness of living a celestial and divine life; whence it is, that I enjoy two lives. Nor can the terminating of so high a gratification, which I enjoy in this life, give me any concern; it rather affords me infinite pleasure, as it will be only to make room for another, glorious and immortal life.

Now, it is possible, that any one should grow tired of so great a comfort and blessing, as this which I really enjoy; and which every on else might enjoy by leading the life I have led? an example which every one has it in his power to follow; for I am but a mere man, and no saint; a servant of God, to whom so regular a life is extremely agreeable.

And, whereas many embrace a spiritual and contemplative life, which is holy and commendable, the chief employment of those who lead it being to celebrate the praises of God; O, that the would likewise, betake themselves intirely to a regular and sober life! how much more agreeable would they render themselves in the sight of God! What a much greater honour and ornament would the be to the world! They would then be considered as saints, indeed, upon earth, as those primitive Christians were led, who joined sobriety to so recluse a life. By living, like them, to the age of one hundred and twenty, they might, like them, expect, by the power of God, to work numberless miracles; and they would, besides, enjoy constant health and spirits, and be always happy within themselves; whereas they are now, for the most part, infirm, melancholy, and dissatisfied. Now, as some of these people think, that these are trials sent them by God Almighty, with a view of promoting their salvation, that they may do penance, in this life, for their past errors, I cannot help saying, that, in my opinion, they are greatly mistaken. For I can by no means believe, that it is agreeable to the Deity, that man, his favourite creature, should live infirm, melancholy, and dissatisfied, but rather enjoy good health and spirits, and be always content within himself. In this manner did the holy fathers live, and by such conduct did they daily render themselves more acceptable to the Divine Majesty, so as to work the great and surprising miracles we read in history. How beautiful, how glorious a scene should we then behold! far more beautiful than in those antient times, because we now abound with so many religious orders and monasteries, which did not then exist; and were the members of these communities to lead a temperate life, we should then behold such a number of venerable old men, as would create surprise. Nor would they trespass against their rules; they would rather improve upon them; since every religious community allows its subjects bread, wine, and sometimes eggs (some of them allow meat) besides soups made with vegetables, sallets, fruit, and cakes, things which often disagree with them, and even shorten their lives. But, as they are allowed such things by their rules, they freely make use of them; thinking, perhaps, that it would be wrong to abstain from them, whereas it would not. It would rather be commendable, if, after the age of thirty, they abstained from such food, confined themselves to bread, wine, broths and eggs: for this is the true method of preserving men of a bad constitution; and it is a life of more indulgence than that led by the holy fathers of the desart, who subsisted intirely on wild fruits and roots, and drank nothing but pure water; and, nevertheless, lived, as I have already mentioned, in good health and spirits, and always happy within themselves. Were those of our days to do the same, they would, like them, find the road to heaven much easier; for it is always open to every faithful Christian, as our Saviour Jesus Christ left it, when he came down upon earth to shed his precious blood, in order to deliver us from the tyrannical servitude of the devil; and all through his immense goodness.

So that, to make an end of this discourse, I say, that since length of days abounds with so many favours and blessings, and I happen to be one of those who are arrived at that state, I cannot (as I would not willingly want charity) but give testimony in favour of it, and solemnly assure all mankind, that I really enjoy a great deal more than what I now mention; and that I have no other reason for writing, but that of demonstrating the great advantages which arise from longevity, to the end that their own conviction may induce them to observe those excellent rules of temperance and sobriety. And therefore I never cease to raise my voice, crying out to you, my friends: may your days be long, that you may be the better servants to the Almighty!


The human understanding must certainly have something of the divine in its constitution and frame. How divine the invention of conversing with an absent friend by the help of writing! How divinely it is contrived by nature, that men, though at a great distance, should see one another with the intellectual eye, as I now see your lordship! By means of this contrivance, I shall endeavour to entertain you with with matters of the greatest moment. It is true, that I shall speak of nothing but what I have already mentioned; but it was not at the age of ninety-one, to which I have now attained; a thing I cannot help taking notice of, because as I advance in years, the sounder and heartier I grow, to the amazement of all the world. I, who can account for it, am bound to shew, that a many may enjoy a terrestrial paradise after eighty; which I enjoy; but it is not to be obtained except by temperance and sobriety, virtues so acceptable to the Almighty, because they are enemies to sensuality, and friends to reason.

Now, my lord, to begin, I must tell you, that, within these few days past, I have been visited by many of the learned doctors of this university, as well physicians and philosophers, who were well acquainted with my age, my life, and manners; knowing how stout, hearty, and gay I was; and in what perfection all my faculties still continued; likewise my memory, spirits, and understanding; and even my voice and teeth. They knew, besides, that I constantly employed eight hours every day in writing treatises, with my own hand, on subjects useful to mankind, and spent many hours in walking and singing. O, my lord, how melodious my voice is grown! were you to hear me chant my prayers; and that to my lyre, after the example of David, I am certain it would give you great pleasure, my voice is so musical. Now, when they told me that they had been already acquainted with all these particulars, they added, that it was, indeed, next to a miracle, how I could write so much, and upon subjects that required both judgement and spirit. And, indeed, my lord, it is incredible, what satisfaction and pleasure I have in these compositions. But, as I write to be useful, your lordship may easily conceive what pleasure I enjoy. They concluded by telling me, that I ought not to be looked upon as a person advanced in years, since all my occupations were those of a young man; and, by no means, like those of other aged persons, who, when they have reached eighty, are reckoned decrepid. Such, moreover, are subject, some to the gout, some to the sciatica, and some to other complaints, to be relieved from which they must undergo such a number of painful operations, as cannot but render life extremely disagreeable. And, if, by chance, one of them happens to escape a long illness, his faculties are impaired, and he cannot see or hear so well; or else fails in some or other of the corporeal faculties, he cannot walk, or his hands shake; and, supposing him exempt from these bodily infirmities, his memory, his spirits, or his understanding fail him; he is not chearful, pleasant, and happy within himself, as I am.

Besides all these blessings, I mentioned another, which I enjoyed; and so great a blessing, that they were all amazed at it, since it is altogether beside the usual course of nature. This blessing is, that I had already lived fifty years, in spite of a most powerful and mortal enemy, which I can by no means conquer, because it is natural, or an occult quality implanted in my body by nature; and this is, that every year, from the beginning of July till the end of August, I cannot drink any wine of whatever kind or country; for, besides being during these two months quite disgustful to my palate, it disagrees with my stomach. Thus losing my milk, for wine is, indeed, the milk of old age; and having nothing to drink, for no change or preparation of waters can have the virtue of wine, nor of course do me any good; having nothing, I say, to drink, and my stomach being therefore disordered, I can eat but very little; and this spare diet, with the want of wine, reduces me, by the middle of August, extremely low; nor is the strongest capon broth, or any other remedy, of service to me; so that I am ready, through mere weakness, to sink into the grave. Hence they inferred, that were not the new wine, for I always take care to have some ready by the beginning of September, to come in so soon, I should be a dead man. But what surprized them still more was, that this new wine should have power sufficient to restore me, in two or three days, to that degree of health and strength, of which the old wine had robbed me; a fact, they themselves have been eye-witnesses of, within these few days; and which a man must see to believe it; insomuch that they could not help crying out; "Many of us, who are physicians, have visited him annually for several years past; and ten years ago, judged it impossible for him to live a year or two longer, considering what a mortal enemy he carried about him, and his advanced age; yet we do not find him so weak at present as he used to be." This singularity, and the many other blessings they see me enjoy, obliged them to confess, that the joining of such a number of favours was, with regard to me, a special grace conferred on me, at my birth, by nature, or by the stars; and to prove this to be a good conclusion, which it really is not (because not grounded on strong and sufficient reasons, but merely on their own opinions) they found themselves under a necessity to display their eloquence, and to say a great many fine things. Certain it is, my lord, that eloquence, in men of bright parts, has great power; so great, as to induce people to believe things which have neither actual nor possible existence. I had, however, great pleasure and satisfaction in hearing them; for, it must, no doubt, be a high entertainment to hear such men talk in that manner.

Another satisfaction, without the least mixture of alloy, I at the same time enjoyed, was to think, that age and experience are sufficient to make a man learned, who without them would know nothing; nor is it surprizing they should, since length of days is the foundation of true knowledge. Accordingly, it was by means of it alone I discovered their conclusion to be false. Thus, you see, my lord, how apt men are to deceive themselves in their judgement of things, when such judgement is not built upon a solid foundation. And, therefore, to undeceive them, and set them right, I made answer, that their conclusion was false, as I should actually convince them by proving, that the happiness I enjoyed was not confined to me, but common to all mankind, and that every man might equally enjoy it; since I was but a mere mortal, composed, like all others, of the four elements; and endued, besides existence and life, with rational and intellectual faculties, which are common to all men. For it has pleased the Almighty to bestow on his favourite creature man these extraordinary blessings and favours above other animals, which enjoy only the sensible perceptions; in order such blessings and favours my be the means of keeping him long in good health; so that length of days is a universal favour granted by the Deity, and not by nature and the stars.

But man being in his youthful days more of the sensual, than of the rational animal, is apt to yield to sensual impressions; and, when he afterwards arrives at the age of forty or fifty, he ought to consider, that he has attained the noon of life, by the vigour of his youth, and a good tone of stomach; natural blessings, which favoured him in ascending the hill; but that he must now think of going down, and approaching the grave, with a heavy weight of years on his back; and that old age is the reverse of youth, as much as order is the reverse of disorder. Hence it is requisite he should alter his mode of life in regard to the articles of eating and drinking, on which health and longevity depend. And as the first part of his life was sensual and irregular, the second should be the reverse; since nothing can subsist without order, especially the life of man, irregularity being without all doubt prejudicial, and regularity advantageous to the human species.

Besides, it is impossible in the nature of things, that the man, who is bent on indulging his palate and his appetite, should not be guilty of irregularity. Hence it was that to avoid this vice, as soon as I found myself arrived at maturer years, I embraced a regular and sober life. It is, no doubt, true, that I found some difficulty in compassing it; but, in order to conquer this difficulty, I beseeched the Almighty to grant me the virtue of sobriety; well knowing, that he would graciously hear my prayer. Then, considering, that when a man is about to undertake any thing of importance, which he knows he can compass, though not without difficulty, he may make it much easier to himself by being steady in his purpose; I pursued the same course. I endeavoured gradually to relinquish a disorderly life, and to accustom myself insensibly to the rules of temperance: and thus it came to pass that a sober and regular life no longer proved uneasy or disagreeable; though, on account of the weakness of my constitution, I tied myself down to such strict rules in regard to the quantity and quality of what I eat and drink.

But others, who happen to be blessed with a stronger temperament, may eat many other kinds of food, and in greater quantities; and so of wines; whereas, though their lives may still be sober, they will not be so confined as mine, but much more free. Now, on hearing these arguments, and examining the reasons on which they were founded, they all agreed that I had advanced nothing but what was true. Indeed the youngest of them said, that though he could not but allow the favour of advantages, I had been speaking of, to be common to all mankind, yet I enjoyed the special grace of being able to relinquish with ease one kind of life, and embrace another; a think which he knew by experience to be feasible; but as difficult to him as it had proved easy to me.

To this I replied, that, being a mortal like himself, I likewise found it a difficult task; but it did not become a person to shrink from a glorious but practicable undertaking, on account of the difficulties attending it, because in proportion to these difficulties, is the honour he acquires by it in the eye of man, and the merit in the sight of God. Our beneficent Creator is desirous, that, as he originally favoured human nature with longevity, we should all enjoy full advantage of his intentions; knowing, that, when a man has passed eighty, he is intirely exempt from the bitter fruits of sensual enjoyments, and is intirely governed by the dictates of reason. Vice and immorality must then leave him; hence God is willing he should live to a full maturity of years; and has ordained that whoever reaches his natural term, should end his days without sickness by mere dissolution, the natural way of quitting this mortal life to enter upon immortality, as will be my case. For I am sure to die chanting my prayers; nor do the dreadful thoughts of death give me the least uneasiness, though, considering my great age, it cannot be far distant, knowing, as I do, that I was born to die, and reflecting that such numbers have departed my life without reaching my age.

Nor does that other thought, inseperable from the former, namely the fear of those torments, to which wicked men are hereafter liable, give me any uneasiness; because I am a good Christian, and bound to believe, that I shall be saved by the virtue of the most sacred blood of Christ, which he has vouchsafed to shed, in order to free us from those torments. How beautiful is the life I lead! how happy my end! To this, the young gentleman, my antagonist, had nothing to reply, but that he was resolved to embrace a sober life, in order to follow my example; and that he had taken another, more important, resolution, which was, that, as he had been always very desirous to live to be old, so he was now equally impatient to reach that period, the sooner to enjoy the felicity of old age.

The great desire I had, my lord, to converse with you at this distance, has forced me to be prolix, and still obliges me to proceed; though not much farther. There are many sensualists, my lord, who say, that I have thrown away my time and trouble in writing a treatise on Temperance, and other discourses on the same subject, to induce men to lead a regular life; alledging, that it is impossible to conform to it, so that my treatise must answer as little purpose as that of Plato on government, who took a great deal of pains to recommend a thing impracticable; whence they inferred, that as his treatise was of no use, mine will share the same fate. Now this surprises me the more, as they may see by my treatise, that I had led a sober life for many years before I had composed it; and that I should never have composed it, had I not previously been convinced, that it was such a life as a man might lead; and being a virtuous life, would be of great service to him; so that I thought myself under an obligation to represent it in a true light. I have the satisfaction now to hear, that numbers, on seeing my treatise, have embraced such a life; and I have read, that many, in times past, have actually led it; so that the objection, to which Plato's treatise on government is liable, can be of no force against mine. But such sensualists, enemies to reason, and slaves to their passions, ought to think themselves well off, if, whilst they study to indulge their palate and their appetite, they do not contract long and painful diseases, and are not, many of them, overtaken by an untimely death.


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