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Are We A Dying Race?

Creator: J.H. Kellogg (author)
Date: 1897
Source: Wellesley College Archives

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Every one who has studied the subject of centenarianism must have been struck with the fact that examples of great age have rapidly diminished within the last century. Going back to the early ages, it is interesting to notice the uniformity with which men lived to advanced years. For instance, Abraham lived to the age of 175; his son Isaac died at the age of 180; Jacob, 147; and Ishmael, 137. Still farther back in the history of the world we find the same uniformity, with a far greater extension of life. Pliny tells us that in the time of the Emperor Vespasian, a little more than eighteen hundred years ago, there lived in the portion of Italy lying between the Apennines and the Po, one hundred and thirty-four persons who were more than one hundred years of age. Of those persons, three had reached the age of 140; four, 135; four, 130; two, 125; and fifty-seven, 110. At the present time, where could such a collection of supra-centenarians be found ? Henry Jenkins, an Englishman, was born in 1501 and died in 1670, aged 169 years, his age being proved from the registers of the Chancery Court. Old Parr, another Englishman, born in 1463, lived 152 years and nine months, and then died from high living while on a visit to the king at London. Jean Korin, a Hungarian peasant lived to the age of 172 years. It is said that at the present time the greatest number of persons above one hundred years is found in Hungary. One Hungarian peasant, born in 1537, lived to the age of 185 or 187 and was able to walk a mile only a few days before his remarkable age, which was ten years greater than Abraham and five years more than that of Isaac, was attributed to the simplicity of his diet, which consisted of simple cake of grain, with milk. There was living in Moscow in 1848 a woman aged 168 years. Van Owen tabulated ninety-one cases of death at the advanced age of 120 to 130 years, thirty-seven between 130 and 140, and twenty-eight at 160 and beyond. Lord Raleigh made famous historically the Countess Desmond, who appeared in court in the year 16l4, at the age of 140, still in the full possession of all her faculties, both mental and physical. A Dane, born in 1623, lived until his 146th year. Jean Effingham died in Cornwall in 1757, aged 144 years. Numerous other similar instances might be cited, in which persons in the centuries immediately preceding the present, have lived to an extreme age, although it must be noted that for examples of very extraordinary longevity it is necessary to go back a century or two.


Some who have studied the subject of longevity have exhibited considerable skepticism respecting the extraordinary ages recorded, notwithstanding the reliability of the evidence presented, asserting that since the Christian era no person of royal blood or of noble lineage, the length of whose life is recorded in history, has reached the age of one hundred years. This observation is easily accounted for by the fact that so-called noble blood is not conducive to long life. History records the names of very few rulers who have attained the age fourscore. Of three hundred popes, only five reached eighty years. The examples of great longevity are all to be found in the lowly ranks of life, among peasants and common laborers and a study of the habits of centenarians has shown them to be without exception, persons of simple habits of life. The majority of them used neither spirits nor tobacco, and many have abstained even from meat and stimulating foods of all kinds, living upon the simplest and most frugal fare.


The German government has recently collected some interesting statistics relating to longevity in that country. From these it appears that in 1888 there were ninety-one persons in Prussia who were over a hundred years old. Between 1864 and 1886, upwards of 7,000 persons over one hundred years of age died, and of these 155 were more than 109 years old. A study of these statistics will develop a very interesting and significant fact. If between 1864 and 1886, 7,000 persons died at the age of over 100 years, the number of deaths of this age in each year may be ascertained by dividing 7,000 by 34. The result is nearly 300, which represents the minimum average number of persons of this age alive in each year between 1864 and 1888. This does not represent the total average number of persons alive in each year between these periods, since 155 persons died who were more than 109 years of age, and there must have been at least nine times that number who were over 100 years of age, as it is not at all unlikely that there were more deaths of persons at each age less than 109 and upwards of 100 than persons over 109. Multiplying 155 by 9 and dividing by 24, gives us 58, which, added to 292, gives exactly 350 as the minimum average number of persons over 100 years of age alive each year between 1864 and 1888. In 1888, however, there were but ninety-one persons alive in Prussia who were over 100 years of age, indicating a very great decrease in longevity within twenty-four years, the total number of persons alive upwards of one hundred years being only one fourth of the average number alive at that age during the whole period of twenty-four years. The actual decline from 1864 to 1888, must, however, be much greater, since 330 represents not the number of persons alive in 1864, but the average for the entire period from 1864 to 1888.

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