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the over-worked brain, and either prevent our slumbers, or render them a series of feverish, tumultuous, or distressing dreams, from which we rise more languid than when we lie down!
But it will be asked—can this apply to the immense mass of seasoners or sojourners in Babylon, who have nothing to think of but pleasure or dissipation—those “nati consumere fruges," who remain as torpid as the owl while the light of Heaven is on the earth, and flutter in foul air while all other created beings are asleep? Yes. They, too, experience the “ WEAR AND TEAR” of high civilization, fully as much as those whose intellectual and corporeal powers are worn down and expended in the most useful as well as the most honourable avocations. It would be a very unequal distribution of justice were it otherwise !
PREMATURE OLD AGE.
It cannot be necessary to miņutely describe that WEAR AND TEAR of the morale and the physique, which is too widely felt not to be readily recognized. The experienced eye detects it at a single glance in every street, in almost every habitationin the senate and in the theatre—at the bar and at the altar-in the cabinet, the court; in short, in every spot where art, science, literature, or civilization can be found. One of the most striking features of this state is that which indeed would be, à priori, expected--PREMATURE AGE. Every one knows that a precocious development of the intellectual faculties, generally winds up, in the end, with an early failure of the mental powers. Now modern education, male and female, has a constant tendency to do that artificially, which Nature, in a capricious mood, sometimes does voluntarily;-namely, to give birth to precocity of intelligence-with this difference, that the artificial precocity stamps its baneful mark on the physical organization as well as on the intellectual capacities of the individual, thus urged forward too quickly along the path of existence. The “ march of intellect,” then, is a forced march-and military men well know that forced marches will wear out the best troops that ever trode
PREMATURE OLD AGE.
the field. The terrible competition and struggle for pre-eminence, introduced into all systems of male and female education, are not relaxed when scholastic discipline is at an end. Alas, , no! A new and destructive element is then added-CARE ! The studies of youth are untinctured by anxiety, except that of emulation; and they are sustained by that almost inexhaustible elasticity of mind which is inherent in the juvenile constitution. But when the next act of the drama comes to be performed when the curtain is drawn up, and we step forward on the stage of life, the competition is not merely for honorary rewards, but, among a large majority of society, for actual subsistence! This struggle, inductive of premature old age, is, of course, increased and rendered more baleful by the crowded state of all the learned professions--which redundancy of hands, or rather of heads, is itself produced, in a great degree, by the taste or mania for excessive education. Man naturally, and almost universally, aims at bettering his condition—that is, at rising a step above his present station. This impulse is, if possible, still more active with respect to his offspring. The consequence is a general and unquenchable thirst for knowledge and intellectual acquirements of all kinds, as the means of accomplishing the great object in view. This, in fact, is the MARCH, or rather the RACE of INTELLECT, in which the progression is with the head instead of the feet. And it is not in the higher pursuits of literature : and science-of divinity, law, medicine, and politics only that this system obtains; in every art, from the most refined to the most mechanical, one leading feature, one pervading object, is to work the brain in preference to the hand. That man was designed by his Creator to exercise both his intellectual and muscular powers, is as clear, from the organization of his body, as it is evident, from the structure of his teeth, that he was destined to live on animal and vegetable food. Nor does it appear that Nature is very squeamish about the relative proportions of intellectual and corporeal labour. We see people-almost whole nations, enjoy health and comparative happiness with scarcely any exercise of the thinking faculties—and we observe whole
classes of society, as, for example, LAWYERS, run through the usual range, apparently, of human existence, with infinitely more work of the head than of the body. Yet there is a certain limit to this disproportion between mental and corporeal action, beyond which we cannot go without offering a violence to Nature, which is sooner or later resented.
sunt certi denique fines
Compare, for instance, the coal-heaver on the banks of the Thames, straining daily, like an Atlas, under a load of “ Northumbria's entrails,” and passing through his stomach and veins some three or four gallons of porter, with the barrister, straining his brain during twelve hours in the day, from beginning to end of term, with scarcely any exercise of his muscles. Nothing can be more striking than the contrast between these two classes of operatives, as far as complexion is concerned ;-but strip them of their habiliments-wash off the charcoal and hairpowder-and examine their constitutions :-You will find that the WEAR AND TEAR” of body and mind has forwarded each of them a step or two, in advance, on the path of human existence. It will be said, indeed, that many instances of longevity are found in the most sedentary and literary professions, as well as in the most toilsome trades. No doubt of it. Chelsea and Greenwich present us with veteran soldiers and sailors of 80, 90, and 100 years. But is it to be inferred from these specimens, that a naval or military life includes no extra wear and tear of the constitution, except what is connected with battle? If the silent sea and tented plain could give up faithful records of the past, it would be found that both cruizing and campaigning wear down and wear out the powers of life, independently of gunpowder or steel; and that at a very rapid rate indeed! It is well known that the soldier and sailor, especially the latter, appears to be 50 at the age of 40, and so on in proportion. The wear and tear of a sea life did not escape the penetrating observation of Homer, who distinctly says that
PREMATURE OLD AGE.
" Man must decay when man contends with storms."
To present the Chelsea and Greenwich pensioner as proofs of the longevity of a naval and military life, is to take the exception for the general rule :-it is like pointing to the Pyramids, for proof that Time had broken his scythe, while we shut our eyes to the mouldering ruins of Egypt, Greece, and Italy. And so it is with the tens of thousands who labour inordinately with the brain, whether in literature, law, science, or art—the octogenarians and the nonogenarians whom we meet with, are only the human pyramids that have withstood, somewhat longer than usual, the extra wear and tear of avocation.
The actuary and the statistical enquirer may tell us that the duration of human life is greater now than it was a century ago. This may be the case; but it does not affect my argument. It only proves the diminution of some of those physical agencies. which curtailed the range of existence among our ancestorsand holds out the probability, that our successors may be able to check the influence of many of those moral ills which shorten, or, at all events, embitter life among us.
If three score years and ten be the number allotted to man, and we find that the average range of his existence is little more than half that number, there must surely be “ something rotten in the constitution,” (independent of the mere accidents to which civilization exposes us) to abridge so tremendously the short span of being to which man is doomed in this transitory scene! But granting, for the sake of argument, what I deny, in point of fact, that this wear and tear, this over-exertion, this super-excitement, made no appreciable difference in the ratio of mortality, so as to be tangible in the calculations of an actuary, will it be inferred from thence that health and happiness are not sufferers in the collision ? Are not whole tribes of maladies, mental and corporeal, thus engendered, which may not materially shorten life, but must render it a burthen rather than a blessing? Yes! The devastation which is worked in this way far exceeds calculation or belief. We may safely come to the conclusion, then,
that the WEAR and TEAR of avocation induces the semblance, if not the reality, of PAEMATURE OLD AGE.
Whether the seat of our feelings and our passions be in the head or in the heart, one thing is certain, that their expression is in the countenance. To mask or conceal this expression is the boast of the villain—the policy of the courtier—the pride of the philosopher—and the endeavour of every one. It may appear remarkable that it is much easier to veil the more fierce and turbulent passions of our nature, as anger, hatred, jealousy, revenge, &c. than the more feeble and passive emotions of the soul, as grief, anxiety, and the various forms of CARE. The reason, however, is obvious. Vivid excitement and tempestuous feeling cannot last long, without destroying the corporeal fabric. They are only momentary gusts of passion, from the effects of which the mind and the body are soon relieved. But the less obtrusive emotions resulting from the thousand forms of solicitude, sorrow, and vexation growing out of civilized life, sink deep into the soul, sap its energies, and stamp their melancholy seal on the countenance, in characters which can neither be prevented nor effaced by any exertion or ingenuity of the mind ! The tornado, and the cataract from the clouds, wear not such deep furrows in the mountain's rocky side, aš the faintly murmuring rill, whose imperceptible but perpetual attrition effectuates more in the end, than the impetuous but transitory rush of the roaring torrent engendered by the storm, not fed by the spring.
Gutta cavat lapidem non vi sed sæpe cadendo.
This care-worn countenance, in short, is a more obvious mark of the wEAR AND TEAR of mind, in modern civilized life, than premature age :-for age is relative, and its anticipated advance can only be appreciated by a knowledge of its real amount, wbich can seldom be attained.