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The Old Man’s Guide to Health and Longer Life, 1750!

Category: Alliance Blog
Close-up of snails on the ground
A 1750 book from the British Library's collection dispenses advice on aging, some timeless and some ticklingly outdated, including a particularly unsavory tip involving snails. Photo credit: Gene Pensiero on Unsplash.

In the nearly endless stacks of the British Library there rests a little book entitled The Old Man’s Guide to Health and Longer Life. It was written in 1750 by a gentleman named John Hill, and it is a delightful read for two reasons: First, because one chuckles at how at odds some of Hill’s remedies are with our thinking today; second, because one is sobered by how on target other advice is for having been written almost three hundred years ago.

Here are some excerpts. You decide which to follow as you age creatively, or not!

“Beef and pork should be avoided: for the stomach will rarely be able to digest these when not assisted by exercise.”


“It has been observed…that the quantity of food at a meal should be less for old persons than for young: and the older they grow, the more this should be diminished. This was the practice of Hippocrates; and by the observance of it Carnaro lived to his extreme age.”


“[On supper:] Since all agree solid food at this meal is wrong, let the old man eat liquid; and of all liquid diets, those which are partly composed of milk are best.”


“Carrots are to be avoided, for no old stomach can digest them. On the contrary potatoes are innocent, and parsnips are nourishing.”


“Fruits in general are to be avoided by old men; but of all others, most carefully raw pears.”


“All mixtures of food upon the stomach are bad; and there is not a greater error in an old person than to eat of many things at one meal.”


“But though none will question the superior quality of a clear country air, yet let not him who has attained to a healthy threescore and ten, then think of leaving London, to continue his days to a longer period. They say use is a second nature. It becomes nature itself: and bad things, to which an old man has been very long accustomed, are better than sudden changes.”


“Nothing is better than walking; but let not the old man do himself more hurt by a rash and careless indulgence in this.”


“The air of early morning and of late evening is cold and unwholesome.”


“The benefit of [outdoor] exercise all know; but all cannot take it. The weather will sometimes deny the use of those kinds…and in this case, any bustling about within doors, whether in the light of business or amusement, will answer the purpose. The adjusting [of] an escritoire, or the new arranging [of] the volumes in a book-case have often produced this good effect; and billiards, or other entertainments which afford the means of stirring within the house, answer the same purpose.”


“Good humour and a satisfaction of mind will give the aged many more years, and much happiness in them. Discontent and disturbance wear out nature.”


“Let the passionate old man consider that he hurts himself more than anybody else by his anger; and he will then wish to be cured of its tyranny. Let him examine himself, whether it be a disorder of his mind; and his physician, whether it lie in his body. In the first case the remedy is philosophy; but in the latter, a few medicines will restore him to temper: to that temper on which his life and happiness depend.”


“[For old men] midnight entertainments are no part of the economy of their peaceful lives.”


“Six hours is as much as a person in the prime of life should sleep; but in [old] age eight or ten, according to the [particular] constitution, will be more proper.”


“If the mind be hurry’d, or from any other cause the person finds he cannot compose himself to rest…let him go into a warm bath and indulge himself with a glass of wine, beyond the ordinary allowance, a little before bed time. This will take off his watchfulness; and he will sink into the most pleasing slumber.”


“[On stomach ailments:] The best beginning is by a vomit: and after this the diet must be all of the mild and cooling kind. Every morning let the person take two spoonfuls of syrup of snails made by bruising them with sugar, [you heard me!] and hanging them up in a flannel bag till the juice runs out. [Let me know how this turns out!]”


“Let him every day take a yolk of new laid egg beat up in a glass of strong white wine. The company of agreeable friends will be the best medicine in an evening; and good broth his fittest supper.”

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