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Bertrand Russell


A brilliant British mathematician, scientist, philosopher and essayist, Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872-1970) received in 1950 the Nobel Prize for literature. All his life he was a pacifist and an active opponent of the atom bomb. Because of his strong opposition to the war of 1914-18 he was dismissed from Cambridge University and sent to prison. He wrote and lectured a great deal on science, sociology, psychology and the history of philosophy. In all his writings he had the gift of making even difficult subjects clear and interesting.


How to Grow Old
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In spite of the title, this article will really be on how not to grow old, which, at my time of life, is a much more important subject. My first advice would be to choose your ancestors carefully. Although both my parents died young, I have done well in this respect as regards my other ancestors. My maternal grandfather, it is true, was cut off in the flower of his youth at the age of sixty-seven, but my other three grandparents all lived to be over eighty. Of remoter ancestors I can only discover one who did not live to a great age, and he died of a disease which is now rare, namely, having his head cut off. A great-grandmother of mine, who was a friend of Gibbon, lived to the age of ninety-two, and to her last day remained a terror to all her descendants. My maternal grandmother, after having nine children who survived, one who died in infancy, and many miscarriages, as soon as she became a widow devoted herself to women's higher education. She was one of the founders of Girton College, and worked hard at opening the medical profession to women. She used to tell of how she met in Italy an elderly gentleman who was looking very sad. She asked him why he was so melancholy and he said that he had just parted from his two grandchildren. 'Good gracious,' she exclaimed, 'I have seventy-two grandchildren, and if I were sad each time I parted from one of them, I should have a miserable existence!' 'Madre snaturale!,' he replied. But speaking as one of the seventy-two, I prefer her recipe. After the age of eighty she found she had some difficulty in getting to sleep, so she habitually spent the hours from midnight to 3 a.m. in reading popular science. I do not believe that she ever had time to notice that she was growing old. This, I think, is the proper recipe for remaining young. If you have wide and keen interests and activities in which you can still be effective, you will have no reason to think about the merely statistical fact of the number of years you have already lived, still less of the probable shortness of your future.

As regards health, I have nothing useful to say as I have little experience of illness. I eat and drink whatever I like, and sleep when I cannot keep awake. I never do anything whatever on the ground that it is good for health, though in actual fact the things I like doing are mostly wholesome.

Psychologically there are two dangers to be guarded against in old age. One of these is undue absorption in the past. It does not do to live in memories, in regrets for the good old days, or in sadness about friends who are dead. One's thoughts must be directed to the future, and to things about which there is something to be done. This is not always easy; one's own past is a gradually increasing weight. It is easy to think to oneself that one's emotions used to be more vivid than they are, and one's mind more keen. If this is true it should be forgotten, and if it is forgotten it will probably not be true.



at my time of life: at my age (a mis años)
ancestors: ascendants, someone from whom you are descended (antepasados)
as regards: with respect to (en lo que se refiere a)
cut off: removed by cutting; in this context, removed by death. Russell makes a joke of this phrase when he repeats it in its literal meaning some lines below (fue cortada, rebanada)
the flower of his youth:
the finest part of his youth (la flor de su juventud)
disease: illness (enfermedad)
great-grandmother: a mother of your grand-parent (bisabuela)
Edward Gibbon (1737-94) is famous for his "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"
(Edward Gibbon (1737-94) famoso por su obra "Caída y Decadencia del Imperio Romano")

descendants: persons considered as descended from some ancestors (descendientes)
miscarriages: abortions (abortos)
widow: a woman whose husband is dead (viuda)
devoted herself to: consecrated, dedicated herself to (se consagró a, se dedicó a)
Girton College: the first women's college in Cambridge (el primer colegio para mujeres de Cambridge).
melancholy: sad, melancholic (melancólico)
had just parted from: had just separated from (acababa de separarse de)
madre snaturale!: what an abnormal mother! (¡madre desnaturalizada!)

recipe. formula or instructions for making and cooking a particular dish. Here it means "advice on how to remain young" (fórmula, receta)
popular science: scientific literature regarded with great approval, or affection by the general public (divulgación científica)
keen interests: intense pastimes (pasatiempos interesantes)
shortness: the property of being of short temporal extent (brevedad)

as regards health:
with reference to my health (en lo que respecta a la salud)
awake: completely conscious (despierto)
in actual fact: in the practice (en la práctica)
wholesome: good for the health (saludables)
undue absorption: excessive and deep interest (indebido interés)
it does not do to live in memories: living on memories does not work (de nada sirve vivir de recuerdos)
regrets: sadness associated with some wrong done or some disappointment (lamentos, remordimientos)
in sadness about: sad because of the (entristecido por los)
If this is true: this is the kind of sentence that Bertrand Russell uses in order to make us think carefully. The thought expressed in it is "If you think you are losing your mental powers, stop thinking so and you will not lose them. If you have never thought so, you are in no danger of losing them"
(si esto es cierto)


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