The following is an introduction and excerpts from Walt Whitman’s Guide to Manly Health and Training, a recently discovered manifesto written by Whitman under a pseudonym in The New York Atlas in 1858.
Manly health! Is there not a kind of charm — a fascinating magic in the words?
We fancy we see the look with which the phrase is met by many a young man, strong, alert, vigorous, whose mind has always felt, but never formed in words, the ambition to attain to the perfection of his bodily powers — has realized to himself that all other goods of existence would hardly be goods, in comparison with a perfect body, perfect blood — no morbid humors, no weakness, no impotency or deficiency or bad stuff in him; but all running over with animation and ardor, all marked by herculean strength, suppleness, a clear complexion, and the rich results (which follow such causes) of a laughing voice, a merry song morn and night, a sparkling eye, and an ever-happy soul!
To such a young man — to all who read these lines — let us, with rapid pen, sketch some of the requisites toward this condition of sound health we talk of — a condition, we wish it distinctly understood, far easier to attain than is generally supposed; and which, even to many of those long wrenched by bad habits or by illness, must not be despaired of, but perseveringly striven for, as, in reason, probable and almost certain yet to attain.
On Training and Ennui
The observance of the laws of manly training, duly followed, can utterly rout and do away with the curse of a depressed mind, melancholy, “ennui,” which now, in more than half the men of America, blights a large portion of the days of their existence.
On How a Man Should Walk
Always go with the head erect and breast expanded—always throwing open the play of the great vital organs, inhaling the good air into the throat, lungs and stomach, and giving tone to the whole system thereby.
On Bedtime and the Bedroom
Ten o’clock at night ought to find a man in bed—for that will not afford him the time requisite for rest, if he rise betimes in the morning. The bedroom must not be small and close—that would go far toward spoiling all other observances and cares for health. It is important that the system should be clarified, through the inspiration and respiration, with a plentiful supply of good air, during the six, seven, or eight hours that are spent in sleep. During most of the year, the window must be kept partly open for this purpose.
We recommend dancing, as worthy of attention, in a different manner from what use is generally made of that amusement; namely, as capable of being made a great help to develop the flexibility and strength of the hips, knees, muscles of the calf, ankles, and feet.
The beard is a great sanitary protection to the throat—for purposes of health it should always be worn, just as much as the hair of the head should be. Think what would be the result if the hair of the head should be carefully scraped off three or four times a week with the razor! Of course, the additional aches, neuralgias, colds, etc., would be immense. Well, it is just as bad with removing the natural protection of the neck; for nature indicates the necessity of that covering there, for full and sufficient reasons.
Very much of the violent crusade of modern times against brewed and distilled liquors is far from being warranted by the true theory of health, and of physiological laws, as long as those liquors are not partaken of in improper quantities and at injudicious times, disturbing the digestion. Of the two, indeed, we would rather, a little while after his dinner, a man should drink a glass of good ale or wine than one of those mixtures called “soda,” or even a strong cup of hot coffee.
Brooding and all sorts of acrid thoughts, “the blues,” and the varied train of depressed feelings, are among the most serious enemies of a fine physique—while the latter, in turn, possesses a marvelous power of scattering all those unpleasant visitors, and dissipating them to the winds . . . If the victim of “the horrors” could but pluck up energy enough, after turning the key of his door-lock, to strip off all his clothes and give his whole body a stinging rub-down with a flesh-brush till the skin becomes all red and aglow—then, donning his clothes again, take a long and brisk walk in the open air, expanding the chest and inhaling plentiful supplies of the health-giving element—ten to one but he would be thoroughly cured of his depression, by this alone.
A steady and agreeable occupation is one of the most potent adjuncts and favorers of health and long life. The idler, without object, without definite direction, is very apt to brood himself into some moral or physical fever—and one is about as bad as the other.