Letter: Long life down the centuries

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Sir: Even a brief promenade around an old graveyard will demonstrate the accuracy of Terry Marshall's point (Letters; "A long life in Victorian times", 22 August). People who managed to survive birth and childhood seem to have developed a habit of not dying.

Thomas Hobbes, around the age of 75, said that his regular games of tennis and long, sweaty walks, always followed by a massage, would make him "live two or three years longer". Twelve years after that, he finished and published his last book, and he eventually died of a stroke aged 91. (And the Countess of Desmond, we are told, only finally lost that habit of not dying when, at the age of 140, she fell out of an apple tree.)

But in their eyes old age approached faster. Montaigne compliments himself that though "well-stricken in years" his health is still "blithe and lusty", then immediately reminds himself that this cannot last: he is, after all, "engage dans les avenues de la vieillesse" - his feet are already on the pathways of old age. And how old was he, exactly, at the time? Oh, he tells us that. In his forties.

Poor Montaigne lived to be only 59; but his mother made it to 90, and outlasted him by nearly 10 years.