A Long Life: Georgian Rules to Promote It

Sir John Sinclair, 1st Baronet, was a Scottish writer who primarily wrote about finance and agriculture and was father to Sir George Sinclair, who was arrested as a spy and brought before Napoleon Bonaparte, who then examined him and ordered his release. The elder Sinclair is perhaps best known for writing the 21-volume, Statistical Account of Scotland. However, Sinclair, like other people of Georgian times, was also interested in how to achieve a long life.

Sir John Sinclair, 1st Baronet. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

His interested in leading a long, healthy life resulted in him writing a brief article in which he listed seven rules that he believed would help Georgian people achieve a long life. He classified these rules under the following headings: diet, clothing, habitation, exercise and labor, habits and customs, medicine, and disposition of mind. Here are his seven rules in their entirety and almost verbatim:

  • Diet. The importance of wholesome food, for the preservation of health and long life, and the avoiding of excess, whether in eating or drinking, need not be dwelt upon. Some instances, indeed, are mentioned of persons who have continued to commit excesses, and, have lived long; but these are to be considered in no other light than as exceptions from a general rule; and it may reasonably be contended, that if such persons lived to a great age, notwithstanding their intemperance, they would have lived much longer had they followed a different course. 
  • Clothing. It is equally unnecessary to detail at any length the necessity of warm clothing, more especially in advanced life, and during the cold seasons, as the best mode of preventing a number of diseases to which old men are particularly exposed, and which by no other means can be avoided.
  • Habitation. The health of every individual must greatly depend on the place where he resides, and the nature of the house which he inhabits; and as it has frequently been remarked, that the great number of old people die in winter, and that many individuals, in a weak and consumptive state, are obliged to fly to warmer climates as the only means of safety, it has thence occurred to Dr. Pearson, that it would be of service, both to the aged and to the consumptive, to have houses erected, of such a peculiar construction that the air could always be preserved, not only pure, but nearly of the same, and of rather an elevated temperature, so that the invalids who resided in them should never be affected by the vicissitudes of the seasons. Such an idea, it must be admitted, cannot be a general remedy or resource, but it is well entitled to the attention of those who are in affluent, circumstances, by some of whom, it is to be hoped, a hospital for the aged and the consumptive will be erected, and the experiment fairly tried, both for their own sakes and for that of human nature in general.
  • Exercise and Labour. That either exercise or moderate labour is necessary even to aged persons, for the purpose of preserving the human frame in order can hardly be questioned, provided any great exertion is avoided, than which nothing is more likely to destroy the springs of a long life, particularly when these become feeble. Travelling in moderation also, from the change of air and scene, has been found of great use.
  • Habits and Customs. In the next place, good health, and consequently longevity, depends much on personal cleanliness, and a variety of habits, and customs, or minute attentions, which it is impossible here to discuss. It were much to be wished, that some author would undertake the trouble of collecting the result of general experience upon that subject, and would point out those habits, which, taken singly, appear very trifling, yet when combined, there is every reason to believe that much additional health and comfort would arise from their observance.
  • Medicine. It is a common saying, that every man, after the age of forty, should be his own physician. This seems, however, to be a dangerous maxim. The greatest physicians, when they are sick, seldom venture to prescribe for themselves, but generally much addicted to quackery, than which nothing can be more injurious to the constitution. It is essential to health, that medicines should never be taken but when necessary, and never without the best advice in regard to the commencement, which ought not to be too long delayed, otherwise much benefit cannot be expected from them; and also with respect to nature or sort, quantity, and continuance.
    At present, the powers of physic, it is generally acknowledged, are extremely bounded. The medical art, however, is probably still in its infancy, and it is impossible yet to say to what perfection it may reach, not only in consequence of the new improvements which chemistry daily furnishes, but also of those which may be made, by the discovery of new and valuable plants, in countries either already known or hitherto unexplored, and indeed the new uses to which old medicinal plants may be applied. Perhaps such discoveries will be much accelerated, when, instead of being left to the zeal and industry of individuals, they shall meet with that public encouragement and protection to which they are so peculiarly well entitled.
  • Disposition of Mind. In the last place, nothing is more conducive to longevity than to preserve equanimity and good spirits, and not to sink under the disappointments of life, to which all, but particularly the old, are necessarily subjected. Indeed, this is a point which cannot be too much inculcated; for experience sufficiently demonstrates, that many perish from despondency, who, if they had preserved their spirit and vigour of mind, might have survived many years longer. 


  • The European Magazine, Vol. 42, 1802

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