IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

'A thing ridiculous'? Chemical medicines and the prolongation of human life in seventeenth-century England

Listed author(s):
  • David Boyd Haycock
Registered author(s):

    Sir Francis Bacon explored as a medical question the issue of how human life spans might be returned to the near-thousand years enjoyed by Adam and the Patriarchs. Extended old age seemed feasible: reports told of people living well into their centenary. Meanwhile, New World natives were said to live for several hundred years. The boundaries of old age in the seventeenth century were inconclusive, and the hope that life could be prolonged for decades beyond the allotted eighty years was a serious question. In 1633, one doctor observed that to “attaine to 100 is no wonder, having my selfe knowne some of both sexes”, but responding to the claims of Paracelsians asked, “is it not a thing ridiculous, now in these later times, to extend the life of man-kinde to 1000, 900, or at the least to 600 yeeres?” Comparing the reception of information extrapolated from Biblical sources, stories from distant lands, and the growing divide between philosophical and medico-scientific approaches, this paper looks at how “facts” about human longevity were received and employed by scholars and doctors during the course of the seventeenth century, and the emergence of a more “respectable” empirical chemistry from under the shade of alchemy.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History in its series Economic History Working Papers with number 22538.

    in new window

    Length: 34 pages
    Date of creation: Jul 2006
    Handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:22538
    Contact details of provider: Postal:
    LSE, Dept. of Economic History Houghton Street London, WC2A 2AE, U.K.

    Phone: +44 (0) 20 7955 7084
    Web page:

    More information through EDIRC

    No references listed on IDEAS
    You can help add them by filling out this form.

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:22538. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (LSERO Manager on behalf of EH Dept.)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.