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About this Item

Title: Manly Health and Training

Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as Mose Velsor]

Date: September 19, 1858

Whitman Archive ID: per.00424

Source: The New York Atlas 19 September 1858: [1]. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue held at the American Antiquarian Society. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the journalism, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: Several pieces of bibliographic evidence establish this series as Whitman's. First, the sole advertisement for "Manly Health and Training"—a single-column notice appearing in the New York Atlas on September 12, 1858 (page 4)—matches a canceled manuscript of Whitman's. A draft advertisement for an original series on "Manly Training," the manuscript is almost identical to the final, published advertisement. (For the manuscript draft, see Whitman's Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, 6 vols., ed. Edward F. Grier [New York: New York University Press, 1984], 6:2255–6 [hereafter cited as NUPM]). For the final advertisement, see Zachary Turpin's "Introduction to Walt Whitman's 'Manly Health and Training'," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 33, no. 3 [2016]: 155.) Second, other health-related manuscripts include draft versions of language appearing in "Manly Health and Training." These include both Whitman's own words, and quotations cribbed for the series from a source familiar to the poet—Fowler and Wells' Water Cure Journal (see NUPM 6:2248–54). Finally, every installment of the series is signed "Mose Velsor, of Brooklyn," a byline that in the 1840s and '50s was one of Whitman's go-to pseudonyms. The pen name appears as early as 1848, in an article Whitman wrote for the New Orleans Daily Crescent on the "b'hoys of the Bowery." By the time of "Manly Health and Training," he had already used it a number of times—as when, in 1855, he signed it to both a Life Illustrated article on "The Opera" and an unpublished manuscript about "A Visit to the Opera" (NUPM 1:391).

Contributors to digital file: Jeannette Schollaert, Zachary Turpin, and Kevin McMullen

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[Written for the New York Atlas.]

To teach the Science of a Sound and Beautiful Body.






It is our deeply felt conviction, the result of much observation in New York, Brooklyn, and other cities, that the only true and profitable way of reaching the morals of the young is through making them first, healthy, clean-blooded, and vigorous specimens of men. The wisest preacher, teacher, or philanthropist is not he who is forever dwelling on abstract qualities, off in the clouds, or that would make virtuous bloodless phantoms of our young men. That can never be; and yet we believe that, out of health and a fine physique, would arise an immensely greater development of morality and abstract good.1

At present there is a mutual recoil between the pure moralist and the teacher of healthy bodily exercises and games—which recoil, in our opinion, should not exist at all. It was not so formerly. The young men of Athens, and other Greek cities, were trained in their bodily, mental, and moral developments and perfections together, and this, as we have before intimated, is the only way, indeed, in which training can be just to the whole man. We repeat, however, that the first requisite to a young man is that he should be well and hardy; and that from such a foundation alone, he will be more apt to become good, upright, friendly, and self-respected.


Reason seems to tell a man, not so much that death is dreadful, as that dragging out a useless, deficient, and sickly life is dreadful. We even think that if such a life were to be continued year after year, without probability of change, death would be preferable—would be a happy relief from it.

This being so, the great object of a man's exertions should be, commencing before he is a man, even in early youth, to lay the foundations of a sound and capable life, by forming for himself a sound and capable body. It is all in vain to say, (though practically our civilized life does say so, in many forms,) that a sick, unsound, or prematurely dying man, has a life really worth living for. And when we come to consider what vast swarms of these sick men, (or at least not-well men,) there are, the fact is one which looms up in terrible proportions!

Yes, we repeat it, there is more distress and horror in one unhappy life, made so by the want of stamina and tone, than in the mere fact of a hundred deaths. Let, then, the attention be given to making life worth the possession; let manly health and physique be oftener taught, and strenuously attended to.


One of the objects we have in view in presenting these statements to the reader, is to help on the taste for athletic exercises and wholesome games, which seems to be sprouting up in New York, Brooklyn, and other American cities. This subject of athletism (we will coin a new word, and what seems to us a needed one) cannot be mentioned without the thoughts irresistibly turning back to ancient Greece, where it received its fullest attention, and, in return, aided with other means in making them the most physically and intellectually glorious nation of antiquity.

The Grecian manly games3 (we may mention, for the interest in them is ever fresh,) consisted of five principal exercises, running races on foot, leaping, boxing, wrestling, and throwing the discus or quoit—all of which we inherit from that ancient time and people.

Running was the exercise held in the highest estimation—and the name of the victor in it, was often identified with the Olympiad in which he had gained the triumph. It was probably prepared for by far more careful antecedents than with us; the contestants were very numerous, and the prize, an olive crown, was considered the most honorable token it lay in the power of man to attain. It is to be mentioned that the pre-examination of those who contended in these games was very strict, and that a temperate, chaste, moral, and heroic life, for a long period previously, was indispensable. (How many of our modern young men, under these tests, would have a chance of competing?)

The boxing games were dangerous and bloody, and often resulted in death. The combatants covered their fists with the cestus, which had an effect something like the "iron knuckles" of our modern sporting men, being a glove made of straps of leather, plated inside with metal. The boxers were the fiercest and roughest of the ancient athletes. They were always noticed to be more or less maimed, some with the loss of an eye, or of the teeth, or a broken nose, or frightful gashes in the face.

Leaping was performed as with us. Wrestling required great address and experience, and was a great physical art. In the arena, several matches would be going on at the same time. The wrestlers were naked, and had their bodies anointed with oil.

There was a contest, called the Pancratium, with included all means of defence and offence, at the option of the fighter, who was expected to do the best he could for himself, and the worst for his adversary. It was lawful to scratch, bite, gouge, kick—in short, just like a modern Arkansas rough-and-tumble of the severest kind, barring the bowie knife.

These games, in which all were interested and most of the young and middle-aged men partook, served to make a very hardy and handsome-bodied race. In such severe exercises, the Greeks not only prepared themselves for the hardships and contests of war, but for the enjoyment of life, and to acquire a happy and vigorous national temper. Nor were they, for all these rough exercises, a brutal or bloody-minded race; but, on the contrary, were friendly, tender-hearted, affectionate and benevolent.

But the manly exercises we are describing did not comprehend the physique only. In the Olympic and other great games, there were intellectual contests also. The poets, orators and historians took part, contended for prizes, and recited their productions before the people. There were also songs, dances, and musical instruments.

Here, too, on such occasions, the sculptors, painters and artists exhibited specimens of their skill—while the philosophers and teachers moved around, or drew groups together, to hear their arguments and disputes.

We will only add to our brief description that these great games always commenced at daybreak, and were mainly held during the forenoon—different from our modern plan of presenting amusements at night. They were also invariably held in the open air.

From them, we repeat, the Greeks become one of the healthiest, handsomest, hardiest and happiest nations that ever lived.


We should like to say much on the various phases of this interesting topic. A high degree of mental development is generally supposed to be analagous to a delicate state of health. So strongly is this style of judgment fixed in the popular mind, that a person of robust physique can seldom or never obtain the credit of having a cultivated mind and a great brain. There is just this amount of truth in the popular ideas on this subject, that a man of refined mentality, and of good knowledge of physiology, will be far more liable to be injured by pernicious and unsanitary habits, than persons of low grade who have the same average strength of constitution and vigor with himself.

Any one may notice this, as it is illustrated in the low-life shanties, and in all places, both city and country, where the lowest order of the population reside. In utter defiance of all the laws of physiology, we see arise, from the denizens of those places, some of the most splendid specimens of health and physical beauty in the world. Indeed, take the case through, it is doubtful whether the upper ranks of society, with all their superior advantages, produce as many specimens of well-built and fine-appearing men, clean-blooded and sound, as these very places where health is never thought of, and, in appearance, is constantly violated.

This fact, which is so startling at first, and seems to knock spots out of all our calculations and advice, will, when further investigated, be found to come under the simple and true theory of health, and confirm it just the same as the rest. The children of a poor family, especially in the country, and to a great extent in cities also, are never injured by those pampering luxuries and condiments that are frequently the bane of the offspring of the rich—who are often literally killed by kindness. The former, if weak and puny, are perhaps more apt to die off, leaving only the hardier shoots to buffet the storms and exposures of life. And these hardier shoots are often found to thrive all the better from such exposures and trials. Like plants left to grow where they first sprouted out of the ground, intended by the gardener, left to the nursing of the sunshine, the air, and the rains, they thrive and attain a wild and hardy beauty which the most carefully tended of their more artificial brethren seek in vain to rival. This, however, is the result of a happy combination of circumstances, all of which, as we have just said, conform to the general laws of health.

For he who is determined to reach, and experience for a continued time, the condition of perfect health,4 will do well to understand that caution is necessary, lest he overdo the matter. There is such a thing as taking too minute and morbid care of the health, and, therefore, losing it as effectually as by taking no care at all. This is a remark which will apply to those who are on the rack every hour lest something may not be exactly right with themselves or their children; and especially to those who over-protect themselves against cold, the air, and exposure.

Let it be known that a certain degree of abandon is necessary to the processes of perfect health and a muscular tone of the system. The fault of intellectual persons is, doubtless, not only that far too much of their general, natural fund of stimulation is diverted, year after year, from all the great organs in the trunk of the body, and concentrated in the brain, but that they think too much of health, and, perhaps, that they know too much of its laws. Of this last, it might be explained that if they only knew a little more, namely, to put their technical knowledge aside at times, and not be forever dwelling upon it, things would go on much better with them.

With all this, we have an idea, amounting to profound conviction, that the highest and palmiest state of health, ministering to a long life, and accompanied throughout by all that makes a man physically the superior animal of the earth, and crowned at last with a painless and easy death—we have an idea, we say, that all this is only attainable, (except in rare natural instances,) by a cultivated mentality, by the intellectual, by the reasoning man. What else, indeed, is the whole system of training for physique, but intellect applied to the bettering of the form, the blood, the strength, the life, of man?

In other and shorter terms, true intellectual developement, not overstrained and morbid, is highly favorable to long life, and a noble physique; and what falls short of these latter aims, (if attributable to anything in the mentality of the subject,) is, that the mentality of that subject was in a vitiated condition, or, (as in these latter days is often the case,) that there was not enough brute animal in the man. We repeat it, strange as it may seem, this is generally the case in these extra-mental and extra-philanthropic days of ours.

That the half-way and unwholesomely developed mentality of modern times, as seen in large classes of people, literary persons, many in the professions, in sedentary employments, &c., acts injuriously upon the health, and militates against the noble form, the springy gait, the ruddy cheek and lip, and the muscular leg and arm of man, we know, full well. But, without wishing to be severe, what, critically considered, is the amount of modern mentality, except a feverish, superficial and shallow dealing with words and shams? How many of these swarms of “intellectual people,” so-called, are anything but smatterers, needing yet to begin and educate themselves in nearly all real knowledge and wisdom?


There we print the magic word that can remedy all the troubles and accomplish all the wonders of human physique. Training! In its full sense, it involves the entire science of manly excellence, education, beauty, and vigor—nor is it without intimate bearings upon the moral and intellectual nature.

Human reason applied to develope the perfection of the body and the mind! What can there be more worthy? We are not insensible to the triumphs of the demonstrative sciences and philosophy—to the explanation of the subtleties of mind—to the accomplishment of such wonders as the Atlantic Telegraph,5 the great feat of the age; but for all that, we are clear in the opinion of the still greater importance of all these researches and statements directly affecting individual happiness and health—the developement of a superb race of men, large-bodied, clean-blooded, and with all the attributes of the best material humanity. We believe this is one of the most commendable departments in which the philanthropist can exercise his time and abilities—and that literature, and the public essayist and lecturer, would do well to pay it more attention, and include it more frequently in their themes.

Developement! Few understand, (you, reader, probably as little as any one,) what a fund of physical power is in them, which systematic training could bring forth, and increase to marvellous proportions.

Look at the brawny muscles attached to the arms of that young man, who, for nearly two years past, has devoted on an average two hours out of the twenty-four to rowing in a boat, swinging the dumb-bells, or exercising with the Indian club. Look at the spread of his manly chest, on which also are flakes of muscle6 that rival those of the ox or horse.—(Start not, delicate reader! the comparison is one to be envied.)

Two years ago that same young man was puny, hollow-breasted, walking home at evening with a languid gait, and eating his meals with less than half an appetite. Training, and the simplest amount of perseverance, have altogether made a new being of him.

Training, however, it is always to be borne in mind, does not consist in mere exercise. Equally important with that are the diet, drink, habits, sleep, &c. Bathing, the breathing of good air, and certain other requisites, are also not to be overlooked. But of the details of these, we shall speak directly.

To Vocalists and public speakers, lawyers, lecturers, actors, &c., training is always to be recommended. We not only allude to habitual practising with the voice, but to great care in diet and drink. Of course, it is well understood among vocalists, that long and steady practice is the only ladder by which they can mount to success. But among the other classes we have mentioned, there is hardly ever any fit preparation for entering on their profession, as regards its physical requirements. We see, indeed, a majority of public speakers, with narrow chests, feeble lungs, diseased throats, and poor voices.

Gentle and gradual development of the vocal powers is within the reach of all; and so, by degrees, to the acquisition of a very remarkable scope of the voice.7 In oratory, in all ages, they who have attained the highest and most lasting fame have been those who, by slow and patient processes, have trained themselves, their voices, their movements, &c. This is art, which is as necessary for any great thing as the natural genius for it. Art cannot, of course, give original life, but it can shape and form it to great things, and to beautiful proportions.

Of all who have to speak, sing, or converse much, &c., the diet is important. The simplest and most natural diet is the best; and lest we be misunderstood, we specify that we do not mean a vegetarian or water-gruel diet, but one of strengthening materials, beef, lamb, &c., and that fruits, wines, and the like, are not to be excluded. But indulgence in a great variety of dishes at the same meal, and, in general terms, the absorption into the system of fat, or any indigestible substance, or the drinking of strong coffee or liquors, will be pretty sure to injure the voice.8

Here, as in many things, we gain serviceable hints from the ancients, and their way in similar circumstances. Of the actors in the theatre of Bacchus, in Athens, where the tragedies of Sophocles and the other Greek poets were played, it is recorded that they observed a rigid diet, in order to give strength and clearness to their vocalization, and that they regularly frequented gymnasiums, in order to acquire muscular energy and pliancy of limbs.

We commend all this to our young American students for the bar, the pulpit, or any other avocation requiring oratorical power; and also to not a few of the actors and singers.


1. Compare a passage Whitman copied into an early notebook: "Morality and talent are affected more by food, drink, physical habits, cheerfulness, exercise, regulated or irregulated amativeness than is supposed—O. S. Fowler" (Trent Collection Catalogue, item no. 24, pp. 66-67). This passage originates in Orson Fowler's Physiology, Animal and Mental, Applied to the Preservation and Restoration of Health of Body and Power of Mind, 3rd ed. (New York: Fowler and Wells, 1847), 31. In an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle dated March 10, 1847, Whitman recommends Fowler's book to his readers as one of "those works on health, and the means of preserving or retrieving it, which are always opportune, and so to all persons." [back]

2. This section closely resembles "The Modern Athlete," a short article appearing a month and a half earlier in Emerson's Magazine and Putnam's Monthly (August 1858), 200–202. [back]

3. Meaning the ancient Olympic games. [back]

4. Altogether, the phrase "perfect health" appears ten times in the "Manly Health and Training" series (1858). Two years later, it will appear for the first time in Leaves of Grass (1860 edition), in "Proto-Leaf," stanza 11: "I, now thirty-six years old, in perfect health, begin, / Hoping to cease not till death." [back]

5. The first transatlantic telegraph cable, laid between Ireland and Newfoundland in 1858, became operational on August 16, preceding by less than a month the first installment of Whitman's "Manly Health and Training" series. [back]

6. Compare this description to Whitman's attention to "Flakes of breastmuscle, pliant backbone and neck, flesh not flabby, goodsized arms and legs," in the first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855, p. 81), in a poem that was ultimately titled "I Sing the Body Electric." [back]

7. Compare Whitman's discussion of voice and vocalism in his "Paumanok" letters to the National Era in 1850. See Rollo G. Silver's "Whitman in 1850: Three Uncollected Articles," in American Literature 19, no. 4 (1948): 301—317, especially page 315. [back]

8. In a notebook (now lost) tentatively dated to 1858, Whitman writes:

For a great Voice—Diet and Drink
Other requisites being favorable, a great voice is attained also by the right diet and drink.—Fat, gluttony, swilling beer, gin, "soda," coffee, or tea,—these, and the like of these, make the voice thick, put phlegm in the throat, cause coughing and irritation, sometimes very unseasonable and interruptive.
Let the diet be vigorous and enough, but simple.
Drink water only.—Such are the rigid pre-requisites of a great voice.
See Whitman's Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, ed. Edward F. Grier (New York: New York University Press, 1984), 6:2233. [back]


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