Arnold of Villanova was born in the year 1240, and studied medicine with great success in the University of Paris.
He afterwards travelled for twenty years in Italy and Germany, where he made acquaintance with Pietro d’Apone; a man of a character akin to his own, and addicted to the same pursuits.
As a physician, he was thought, in his own lifetime, to be the most able the world had ever seen. Like all the learned men of that day, he dabbled in astrology and alchemy, and was thought to have made immense quantities of gold from lead and copper.
When Pietro d’Apone was arrested in Italy, and brought to trial as a sorcerer, a similar accusation was made against Arnold; but he managed to leave the country in time and escape the fate of his unfortunate friend. He lost some credit by predicting the end of the world, but afterwards regained it.
The time of his death is not exactly known; but it must have been prior to the year 1311, when Pope Clement V. wrote a circular letter to all the clergy of Europe who lived under his obedience, praying them to use their utmost efforts to discover the famous treatise by Villanova on The Practice of Medicine. The author had promised, during his lifetime, to make a present of the work to the Holy See, but died without fulfilling it.
In a very curious work by Monsieur Longeville Harcouet, entitled “The History of the Persons who have lived several centuries, and then grown young again,” there is a receipt, said to have been given by Arnold de Villeneuve, by means of which any one might prolong his life for a few hundred years or so.
In the first place, say Arnold and Monsieur Harcouet, “the person intending so to prolong his life must rub himself well, two or three times a week, with the juice or marrow of cassia (moelle de la casse).
Every night, upon going to bed, he must put upon his heart a plaster, composed of a certain quantity of Oriental saffron, red rose-leaves, sandal-wood, aloes, and amber, liquified in oil of roses and the best white wax.
In the morning, he must take it off, and enclose it carefully in a leaden box till the next night, when it must be again applied. If he be of a sanguine temperament, he shall take sixteen chickens — if phlegmatic, twenty-five — and if melancholy, thirty, which he shall put into a yard where the air and the water are pure.
Upon these he is to feed, eating one a day; but previously the chickens are to be fattened by a peculiar method, which will impregnate their flesh with the qualities that are to produce longevity in the eater.
Being deprived of all other nourishment till they are almost dying of hunger, they are to be fed upon broth made of serpents and vinegar, which broth is to be thickened with wheat and bran.”
Various ceremonies are to be performed in the cooking of this mess, which those may see in the book of M. Harcouet, who are at all interested in the matter; and the chickens are to be fed upon it for two months.
They are then fit for table, and are to be washed down with moderate quantities of good white wine or claret.
This regimen is to be followed regularly every seven years, and any one may live to be as old as Methuselah!
It is right to state, that M. Harcouet has but little authority for attributing this precious composition to Arnold of Villeneuve.
It is not to be found in the collected works of that philosopher; but was first brought to light by a M. Poirier, at the commencement of the sixteenth century, who asserted that he had discovered it in MS. in the undoubted writing of Arnold.