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"[New York Atlas, 10 October 1858]"

image 1image 2image 3image 4image 5image 6image 7image 8cropped image 1 [Written for the New York Atlas.] To teach the Science of a Sound and Beautiful Body.



(Continued from last week.)


Our theme commends itself further still. What do you suppose is the reason that some men have so much more power over the masses than other men?—such a "personality" that they can hardly appear in a crowd, or a room of people, but their influence is felt? What is it at the bottom of the curious magnetism such men possess, and show it in house or street, in command, in the lecture-room, in the social circle, in politics, or on the field of battle? It is the subtle virtue of their physique—this just as much as intellect.

What we here affirm is proved by the fact that greater minds by far than any possessed by the commanding and magnetic persons we speak of, when clothed in inferior bodies, produce no effects at all, and come and go with the rest. A man of large personality, (it is not a matter of physical size—a small man may have it as well as any one,) is probably one of the most interesting studies in the world, and one of the greatest exemplifications of our theory of man's vigor. There he is, an evidence of power, of health, of tone—registering all in his port, his carriage, the atmosphere of influence that effuses out of him whenever he moves.

It is indeed our theory, (and we call upon you, reader, to mark this, for it is well worth pondering upon,) that a man of ordinary mental and physical advantages may, by training in its fullest sense, so exalt the intensity of his personal force, that virtue in him which utters itself at last through a perfect physique and a clear mind, that wherever he moves, in the private circle or the crowd, he shall attract to him attention, friendship, and respect, openly or silently—one of the noblest proofs that can be given of what the body is capable of effecting!

Would you succeed in anything?—ambitious projects, business, love? Then cultivate this personal force, by persistent regard to the laws of health and vigor. And remember that the best successes of life are the general resultant of all the human attributes, expressed through a fine physique. This knowledge, this practice, you, too, reader, will need. All kinds of men, herculean, obstinate, petty, profound—men of oak and men of wax—meet you at every move, crowding and jostling through the by-ways of the world. These you would confront, would command, would you not? At least, you would not be overborne by the proudest of them, but would hold your own on equal terms. Then observe our suggestions—train—acquire for yourself firm fibres, a stomach clear and capable, the brain-action unabused, the stream of vital power full and voluminous, a bright eye, a strong voice, a proper degree of flesh, a transparent complexion—a fine average yet plus condition; and sympathy, attraction, and a heroic presence will follow. Are these trifles? Not a bit of it. They lie close to the heart of a man, and are among his secret, most cherished aspirations. With men, with women, with friends, with strangers, who is there that does not crave to be admired, to be beloved?

Is it not, indeed, worth striving for? Through a robust and clean-blooded physique, this personal attraction is the real means that must secure any object, and, in the long run, produce effects worth having, in society, in the popular assemblage, on the boards of the stage or the concert room, on the lecturer's platform, the political hall, addressing a jury, pleading a case with a fair damsel, or in the business relations of buying and selling. All will succumb to it—all yield to its marvelous power.

This large potency, this subtle virtue of health and physique, we say, can be cultivated—it is hardly too much to say that it can be acquired; for we believe that, in almost every case, there are germs enough inherent in any man to work upon. But it will not be acquired except by him who perseveres and is faithful. Gluttony, sloth or inebriety must not even once be allowed to dull the perceptions, reverse the play and vigorous actions of the system—throwing the frame, and all its powers, prostrate, helpless, unable to show itself the master it would otherwise be.

This singular but sure magnetic condition, the result mainly of animal robustness, (through which the moral nature of course effuses,) is, we cannot too often repeat, the result of the health of the whole being, from top to toe—all must be sound, without exception—and then the stronger the tone of health, the mightier will be the stream of magnetic influence evolved. A main part doubtless lies in the department of sexuality; here a fund of vigor is a main part of a manly being, through many years; but he who exhausts himself, who commits excesses in youth, or becomes tainted in his blood, is attacked in the very citadel of manhood, and must pay the penalty through middle age, and the remaining periods of his life, as well as see the "attraction of personality" we have been speaking of depart from him.

In the department we speak of, a reserved stock of vital energy, we say, marks the man; and he who gives himself up, by its undue exhaustion, to lassitude and broken-down manhood, must bear the miserable consequences. The lesson is full of reflections, which we leave the reader to follow out.

Let a young man endeavor to realise of his body that, among other things, it is a machine calculated to produce force, an outpouring of subtle force, the same in moving among his fellow men as the orbs in space have in revolving through their orbits. Yes, a man, too, has his curious attraction of gravitation, and, well developed, it is one of the most amazing and delightful of natural results. This subject probably is new to you, reader, treated in this way; and yet if you will reflect a little, you will see that all history and real life in every direction abounds with illustrations of our statement.

What are most of the movements of men, all the past, whose signs we see around us, but assertions of what this human force has done—is now doing? Friendships, loves, some men well-liked wherever they go, others avoided or treated with indifference, the successful singer or actor, the orator that enchains his audience, the victory of the prize-fighter, the players of manly games, the person applauded in public, and the person whose efforts fall flat or are received with hisses of scorn or contempt—all these are just so many proofs of the powerful presence, or feeble absence, of the quality we are now treating of

Observe the results of one day, to a man, at two different times, a little distance from each other. He goes forth, neither feeling nor looking well; he has lived badly—his blood is bad—his joints move like those of some rusty machine, ill oiled—his eyes have red bloodshots in them—his complexion is muddy and pimpled—he is not clean, not having bathed for a long time—his stomach has been overloaded with all sorts of indigestible solids and injurious liquids. This has been going on so long that his digestion is seriously impaired—his bowels are clogged with accumulations of fearful impurity, like sewers that have been stopped—his gait is halting, and he would sit down often to rest—his appetite is morbid, seeking stimulants and spices to excess—the expression that beams from his face is anything but attractive—his breath is bad—nobody finds it a pleasure to be near him, or feels anything like delight from the magnetism of his voice, for there is no magnetism about it—he does not attract women, nor men either; and thus, going up and down, through the city, it may be, in the street, at table, wherever he moves, he is without vigor, without attraction, without pleasure, without force, without love, without independence, buoyancy, spirit or pride. Can there be a much sadder case? And is it by any means a rare one?

Now for another day—the same man—a little while, it may be but a few months, it need not be but a year at most, afterwards. Can this, indeed, be the result of the steady observance of a few physiological laws—the magic result of training? This day he rises with a merry song on his lips, and bounding strength in every muscle of his limbs. The shock of the cold-water bath in which he laves his body is delicious to him—and the friction of the brush afterward tingles finely through the skin into his blood. Food, air, the simplest drink, every motion—all these give him pleasure. His eyes are bright and sparkling, his voice melodious and strong. As he goes forth among men, he is everywhere noticed, and draws toward him good-will and even envy. His walk is springy and elastic—his complexion pure—his attitude erect, his expression full of manliness, spirit, pride and a noble self-confidence. He has all the indescribable charm which belongs to some of the finest and most spirited animals, with flashing eyes, fine action, and unconquerable spirit, that we sometimes see in the brutes—but alas! seldom see in the case of men. The full condition of power is attained by him—and the marvellous effects play invisibly out of him, wherever he moves, upon men and women in all directions.

Actors! vocalists! speakers! can you not here learn the secret of that coveted power over the public? a power as blessed to receive as it is to give.

To all, however, it is a great power—an art well worth the cultivation. Indeed, in the movements of common life, in the usual residence, and in company of acquaintances and friends—there we should say would be found its most grateful spheres of operation—for there the happiness of life, in the main, must rest.


It is a profound reflection, deeply intertwined with our subject, that much of a man's comfort or discomfort, body and mind, depends on causes that exist and operate, in full activity, before his birth; these are the long train of hereditary causes that cannot too frequently be recurred to and dwelt upon. The laws of transmission of qualities, tendencies and forms, from parents to offspring, have always been among the most perplexing, as well as fascinating studies of the physician. The reasons of such transmission will doubtless continue to remain unexplained1—the facts are innumerable, and run even deeper and farther backward and forward than is generally supposed. Unfortunately, however, there has never yet been found a generation that would shape its course, or give up any of its pleasures, for the greater perfection of the generation which was to follow.

While we cannot resume the past, however, in considering the health, size, looks, strength, &c., of a full-grown man—his beauty and perfection in those points, or his deficiency in them—it may be useful, for future cases, at any rate, to consider that whatever the man is, results, in a great degree, from those hereditary causes—causes that were in operation before he was born. Parentage! how great a thing it is! How the whole subject of life, of race, of temper, &c., all date back, without possibility of escape, to parentage! Yet it is not the future only that is involved; the present also comes in for consideration, as much as that.

Because the same routine of law, causes and effects, that operate to produce sound offspring, and perpetuate health, growth, vigorous maturity and long life in the same, are the identical laws, causes and effects that, by their interplay, have to do with a perfect physique in the parent. If only for the good of the latter, those laws are indispensable. They are the very ones that go to make the youth, the grown person, the middle-aged, strong and sound. So that to be in the condition of true parentage, or of preparing to be, is only another phrase for being in the true condition for yourself, and for all that makes you a true specimen of a man.

Mothers, too, it is useless to deny, are, for the main part, sadly unaware of most of the best conditions of treatment, food, &c., that lay the foundation, in early childhood and youth, for future manliness and a fine physique. So true is this, so lamentably true, that, beyond a doubt, if the mothers of the young children of this, or any other generation, were to put in practice, and carry out through the years of infancy and childhood, the simplest laws of a sound physiology, and form the young into the habits thereof, we should see an entirely different and immeasurably superior race of men advancing upon the earth.

In the scope of our articles on health, we do not include the full statement of this most important and interesting part of our topic. It deserves, from every one, a far more conscientious examination than is usually given to it. No considerations of morbid modesty should be allowed to stand in the way; and, indeed, are not those the immodest ones who would prohibit the enlightenment of the world, both men and women, grown and ungrown, upon what is so vital to them, and to all who come after them—prohibit it from prurient suspicions that it cannot be examined and investigated (as it certainly can be) with the noblest intentions, and in the most manly and even religious spirit?

While, therefore, it does not fall within the line of our remarks here to expatiate upon the laws of hereditary descent, and of parentage—the science, it might be called, of breeding superb men and women—we enjoin upon the reader to study out those laws, and what they result in. To know them is often to be forewarned with some of the most valuable knowledge it is possible for a man to have. He is able, then, to judge of much in his own case that, without which, would be dark and puzzling to him. He is also able to act understandingly toward the future.

We think proper to add, that we include women just the same as men, in the foregoing remarks.


We have always had a great curiosity, and felt an interest in cases of extreme old age. Returning from the west a couple of seasons since, we made a detour from our regular course to visit an aged woman, who numbered 103 years, and yet was in perfectly good condition, and retained her mental faculties unimpaired. This lady was Mrs. Catherine Dunn, of Nunda, in this State.2 She stated that she had always been very healthy and strong—altogether a pleasing and remarkable case.

One of the most noted cases of strength and faculty in old age is that of the old chaplain of the House of Representatives, at Washington, Rev. Daniel Waldo, who is between 95 and 100.3 He has been preaching for three quarters of a century—was a chaplain in the Revolutionary army, and was confined in the celebrated "Sugar House" prison in New York city. This aged man has always followed quite an active life, and has never been sick; living, for many years, on his farm near Syracuse. He keeps up with the times, too, reads all the new books, and is eager as any one to hear the latest news—quite a young old man.

Among the curious cases mentioned by Lord Bacon in his work on the "Prolongation of Life"4 are many of ancient date, among the Greeks, Asiatics, &c. Among the latter, the Esseans, a sect of Jews, are said to have very commonly attained the age of a hundred years; it was attributed to their great temperance in diet, and to a calm habit of mind which they cultivated. As one of various specimens presented by Lord Bacon, we give the following:—Apollonius Tyaneus exceeded a hundred years, his face betraying no such age;5 he was an admirable man of the heathens, reputed to have something divine in him, of the christians held for a sorcerer—in his diet Pythagorical6—a great traveler, much renowned, and by some adored as a god; and lest his long life should be attributed to his vegetable diet, his grandfather before him, who did not restrict himself, lived to a hundred and thirty years.

The two next cases, quaintly related in the style of that time, are also from Lord Bacon's work: Most memorable is that of Cornarus, the Venetian,7 who, being in his youth of a sickly body, began first to eat and drink by measure to a certain weight, thereby to recover his health; this cure turned by use into a diet, and that diet to an extraordinary long life, even of a hundred years and better, without any decay of his senses, and with a constant enjoying of his health. In later times, William Pestel, a Frenchman, lived to a hundred and well-nigh twenty years, the top of his beard on his upper lip being black; a man of a fancy not altogether sound, but somewhat crazed in his brain—a great traveler, mathematician, and somewhat stained with heresy.8

About twelve years ago there was living in the town of Frankford, near Utica, a man by the name of Harvey, 111 years of age. He, too, had been for three-fourths of a century a preacher of the gospel. From an informant who saw him at that time, we learned that he was born in Dutchess County, N. Y., and that he distinctly remembered running about there in the woods a hundred years ago! During his life he had devoted some of his time and attention to farming, but always preached—and was doing so when we heard of him! He walked without any assistance, except that of a staff. His conversation, as well as his style of preaching, was animated—and frequently his eye brightened with the vivacity of youth. His mind appeared to be clear and sound, and his voice was strong enough to be heard through an assemblage of a thousand persons, or more. Wherever he went, multitudes flocked to hear him.

The same informant, (an amateur in the study of longevity) gives us an account of Mrs. Hannah Gough, who died in New York city in 1846, at the age of 110 years. She had always resided in New York, and had seen and conversed with every President of the United States. This case is interesting, as one of not a few that prove the city capable of conferring life as well as the country.9

In cold climates, it is probable that persons are apt to live to a greater age than in tropical ones, or those toward the tropics. The climate of the Northern States, especially through New England, is favorable to longevity. We have gleaned the following from a long list of authenticated instances: A Mrs. Blake dies in Portland, Maine, in 1824, aged 112 years; Mrs. Moody died the same year, aged 111; John Gilley died in Augusta, Maine, 1813, aged 124; Morris Wheeler, in Readfield, Maine, in 1817, aged 115. Other Eastern states afford still more numerous instances, which we need not specify.

The middle states are also full of specimens of great longevity.

One of the oldest persons of whom we have any record in this or any country was Betsey Tranthram, who died in Tennessee in 1834, aged 154 years! A negro died in Pennsylvania in 1808, aged 150. While we write this, we hear accounts of an aged lady in the District of Columbia, supposed to be 150 years of age; she had had ten children previous to the commencement of the Revolutionary war.10

Indeed, in all directions, in modern times just the same as any, there are plenty of instances to prove that human life may last for a century and over, and remain in pretty good condition then.

It is very much to be desired that some one should collect in a volume these cases of great longevity, and the peculiarities of them.

It being thus settled beyond a doubt that, under fair conditions, the human frame is capable of a far greater endurance than is generally supposed—that the number of persons in different parts of the earth, who have long outlived the "seventy years" allotted to man,11 may be numbered not by dozens merely, but by hundreds, and probably thousands—it remains to inquire into the causes that have led to such a result, and give heed to it, as a most precious lesson. Not so much that long livers have remained such a great while upon the earth, as that they must have had a good and sound life.

It will be found in all cases of these long livers, that they did not exhaust the stamina of the frame in their adolescent years, the years from fourteen to twenty-three or four. During this important period of their lives, nature was left to grow strong, harden itself, and strike its roots deep—the whole system being duly prepared for all future emergencies. For it is idle to suppose of the long livers we allude to, but that they also had their ills, troubles, losses, and the various misfortunes that beset, at times, every human being in his journey through this world.

But if the body once attains its wholesome growth and solidity, without having the germs of decay infused through it while the juices of life are yet green, it can stand an immense strain upon it afterward without harm. We would impress this as the most important of the many lessons of manly development, health, and the continuance of life.

It is like a house perfect in the foundation, which then needs but the ordinary repairs, and will keep lasting an indefinite period of time. But the foundation shackly or insecure, it may be patched and mended forever, and still at any moment be liable to serious overthrow or damage.


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.

Disappointment, love, business troubles, and a long list of dark possibilities, are always waiting around every man; these interact, when they happen, (and none can go through life without them) in many ways upon the health. When they do happen, it is no excuse for "giving up;" if one will only persevere in the wholesome observances, and patiently wait a few days, the mind will be again at ease, and spring up with cheerful vigor again. This is one of the greatest recommendations of the training system, which, if our advice could be followed by young men, we would have never intermitted through life. It would be their best armor for all the ills that would be likely to beset them; to others baffling and overcoming, but to them obstacles easily turned aside and traveled away from.


We neither practice the vegetarian system ourselves, nor do we recommend it to others as anything like what its enthusiastic advocates claim it to be; and yet we think vegetarianism well worth a respectful mention. From the most ancient times, the system has come down to us under the most venerable authority. Nearly all the early philosophers and saints appear to have been men who observed this diet; and, it must also be said, nearly all of them obtained a very advanced period of life. In the remarks elsewhere given on longevity, the cases mentioned, as near as can be authenticated, made use of that kind of aliment altogether, or nearly altogether. Newton, the astronomer, it is well known, in his profound and intricate discoveries, sometimes occupying his powers for weeks and months at a time, lived on vegetable food, and drank water only; thus forming a habit from which he seldom departed, and attaining to his eighty-fifth year.12 Boyle, the great chemist, although of extremely delicate constitution, by the simplicity and regularity of living, abstaining from animal food, and also by drinking nothing but water, preserved his useful life far beyond all expectation, dying in his sixth-sixth year—where most others would, in all probability, not have attained to half that age.13

We recollect reading in an old book of travels a description by the traveler, of the head official of a Spanish convent of monks, an aged man, who had always lived upon vegetable food, and whose drink had been water only. He wore, says our traveler, a large garment of coarse cloth, tied at the waist with a rope, and having a hood for his head; and on his feet coarse shoes of half-tanned leather. Yet there was something in his appearance which would have enabled one to single him out at once from a whole fraternity. He had a lofty and towering form, and features of the very noblest mould. His beard descended low upon his breast, and was partly hid in the folds of his dress. The man was one who in any spot would attract attention, but as he stood there at the entrance of his convent, in addition to the effect of his apostolic garment, his complexion and his eye had a clearness that no one can conceive who is not familiar with the aspect of those who have practised a long and rigid abstinence from animal food, and from every exciting aliment. It gives a lustre, a spiritual intelligence to the countenance, that has something saint-like and divine.14

This is, of course, a little enthusiastic. We have seen New England and New York vegetarians, gaunt, hard, melancholy, and unhappy looking persons, that looked like anything else than a recommendation of their doctrines—for that is the proof, after all.



1. The explanation would not come for another seven years; in 1865, Austrian friar and botanist Gregor Mendel (1822–1884) first presented his findings on rules of heredity, based on experiments with plant breeding. Mendel almost single-handedly established the science of genetics, as it would later be named, but he did not identify what Whitman calls here "the reasons of such transmission"—that is, what cellular mehcanisms control heredity. Chromosomes, and, later, the DNA molecule, would not be discovered until 1911 and 1944, respectively. [back]

2. Whitman likely refers to "Catharine Dunn, of Nunda (Livingston County)," listed as 101 in the Census of the State of New York, for 1855, in the subsection labeled "Persons 100 Years Old and Upwards," xxxviii. [back]

3. Named chaplain of the US House of Representatives in 1856, when he was 94, clergyman Daniel Waldo ultimately lived to the age of 101. [back]

4. In 1638, Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626), an English philosopher and pioneer of the scientific method, published a medical treatise titled History of Life and Death. Whitman refers to Bacon's section on longevity, titled "Prolongation of Life." [back]

5. It is unlikely that Greek philosopher Apollonius, of Tyana (ca. 15–ca. 100 CE), lived beyond the age of 85. [back]

6. Well known as a Greek mathematician, philosopher, and cult leader, Pythagoras (ca. 570–ca. 495 BCE) also advocated an exclusively vegetarian diet. [back]

7. Ludovicus Cornarus (1467–1566), a Venetian author of tracts on architecture, government, and living moderately, lived to the age of 99. [back]

8. The preceding two paragraphs (beginning with "Among the curious cases . . .") Whitman copies nearly word-for-word from "Recorded Ages attained by Man," an article in the American Phrenological Journal and Miscellany 8, no. 8 (August 1846): 261–262. [back]

9. The preceding two paragraphs (beginning with "About twelve years ago . . .") Whitman reproduces nearly verbatim from an article in the American Phrenological Journal and Miscellany on "Longevity," 8, no. 1 (January 1846): 38. [back]

10. The preceding three paragraphs (beginning with "In cold climates . . .") are taken verbatim from an article on "Great Age" in the American Phrenological Journal and Miscellany 8, no.4 (April 1846): 123. [back]

11. A reference to the biblical "threescore and ten" years, the proverbial human lifespan, found in Psalms 90:10. [back]

12. A reference to Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727), an English mathematician, astronomer, and member of Parliament. There is no evidence Newton was a vegetarian, besides some late-life writings expressing compassion for animals. [back]

13. Robert Boyle (1627–1691), an Anglo-Irish chemist, physicist, and Anglican theologian. There is no indication that he was a vegetarian. [back]

14. This paragraph originates in A Year in Spain, by "A Young American," 2 vols. (London: John Murray, 1831), 2: 131–132, from which it is taken verbatim. However, it is likelier that Whitman took it from "Abstinence a Beautifier," an article in the Water-Cure Journal (1848): 156, in which it is excerpted. [back]

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