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About "Manly Health and Training" and the New York Atlas

"Manly Health and Training" appeared in print only once in Whitman's lifetime, between September and December 1858 in the New York Atlas. Founded in 1838 as the Sunday Morning Atlas, the Atlas was created by Anson Herrick and Jesse Fell, with early support from Frederick West. By the time "Manly Health and Training" appeared in its pages, the paper was known as the New York Atlas, a well-circulated weekly prominent for its literary features and advocacy for workers' rights. Whitman knew its proprietors, Herrick and John F. Ropes, through their co-ownership of another paper, the New York Aurora, a Democratic daily for which the poet had once served as editor. The two papers even shared the same headquarters, at 162 Nassau Street, in Manhattan.

Based on Whitman's brief stint at the helm of the Aurora in 1842, Herrick and Ropes had famously decided that he was "the laziest fellow who ever undertook to edit a city paper." This, along with political differences, had led the twenty-two-year-old Whitman to quit the paper, after which he publicly declared Herrick and Ropes "two as dirty fellows, as ever were able by the force of brass, ignorance of their own ignorance, and a coarse manner of familiarity, to push themselves among gentlemen." Ironically, sixteen years later, Whitman's entrée back into the pages of the Atlas was likely one of those "dirty fellows," Anson Herrick, still part owner of the Sunday-only paper, now with partner A. G. Seaman.

At the time of the publication of "Manly Health and Training" (September–December 1858), Whitman was an editor and writer for the Brooklyn Daily Times, a Republican newspaper politically the opposite of the Atlas. This, along with Herrick's distaste for Whitman's poetry, may explain why "Manly Health and Training" appeared under a pseudonym. Indeed, it is not easy to imagine why Herrick—who famously called Leaves of Grass "dirty"—would have allowed Whitman to write so extensively in the Atlas about men's bodies and manly beauty. In the end, the explanation is probably a practical one. Herrick's newspapers needed their columns filled, and Whitman was good at filling them. Less than a month after the poet had quit the Aurora, his short story "Reuben's Last Wish" appeared in another Herrick and Ropes newspaper, the New York Washingtonian; a second story, "The Madman," would be published in the same paper the following year. Whitman had even contributed to the Atlas before, in the form of a series of turgid "Brooklyn Affairs" local-news columns, published in 1848. Thus, behind the scenes Herrick seems to have been well aware who and what he was publishing, suggesting that his public grudge with Whitman may have been as much theater as fact.

"Manly Health and Training" is a thirteen-part essay series, published by the poet under the pseudonym "Mose Velsor, of Brooklyn." Whitman is not known to have ever confirmed his connection to it, at least not directly. It took manuscript evidence, including a pair of draft advertisements, and Whitman's pen name (which he'd used before) to finally establish his authorship of "Manly Health and Training." The series covers a wide range of subjects, many—but not all—of them related to young men's health and wellness, especially urban working men. Among other things, Whitman touches on diet, exercise, physical beauty and "magnetism," manly comradeship, sex and reproduction, socialization, race, eugenics, war, climate, longevity, bathing, prizefighting, gymnastics, baseball, footwear, facial hair, depression, alcohol, and prostitution. As in his political-philosophical tract Democratic Vistas (1871), the poet writes "Manly Health and Training" not only as a paean to the potential of the everyday American, but also as a proving ground for the pseudoscientific, sexual, and even eugenical ideas that pervade Leaves of Grass.

For more information on the rediscovery of this series, its place in Whitman's life and work, and its relationship to Leaves of Grass, see the critical introduction to "Manly Health and Training" that appeared in the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 33, no. 3 (2016): 147–183.

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