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About this Item

Title: Manly Health and Training

Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as Mose Velsor]

Date: October 24, 1858

Whitman Archive ID: per.00429

Source: The New York Atlas 24 October 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 (For the manuscript draft, see Whitman's Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, 6 vols., ed.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used it a number of times—as when, in 1855, he signed it to both a Life Illustrated article on "The Opera" and an unpublished manuscript about "A Visit to the Opera" (NUPM 1:391).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.








That we use far too many stimulating drinks has been too long the burden of physicians and others to make the statement anything new to our readers. But we believe, for all that, the prevailing impression has hardly been turned in the right direction. We think that water, tea, coffee, soda, lemonade, "slops" of all sorts, have also produced, and are producing, immense injury to the health of the people—from their being used in too great quantities and at wrong times.

It may sound strange that so harmless a liquid as water may require to be guarded against, but it is even so. Drenching the stomach with it just before, or during a hearty meal, plays the mischief with the digestion, and in most cases with the personal comfort. And yet it is a common practice.

We are fain to say, also, that 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.

We mention this, not as recommending any of those drinks to whoever, young, old, or middle-aged, is in pursuit of health and a manly physique, but by comparison. The drink we recommend, and not too much of that, is water only.

By a proper choice of food, much thirst may always be avoided. For it is mostly from using great quantities of salted, and other thirst-provoking food, (also the use of tobacco,) that causes the imbibing of immense quantities of liquids used by our American men. About three-quarters of the drink is decidedly deleterious also, leaving afterward some of the various ingredients held in solution by the liquor, as a deposit in the stomach. Disguised, sweetened, &c., many a dose of semi-poison is taken in the shape of a pleasant drink.

Then of hot drinks—if you are disposed, indeed, to place your physique in perfect condition, it is probable that you must give these up entirely. In almost all cases, they are enervating, injure the action of the stomach upon the food, and produce bad effects upon the general tone of the system. Under present arrangements, at the tables of hotels, boarding-houses, and indeed everywhere, the supply of hot coffee, tea, cocoa, &c., is largely drawn upon twice a day; some drinking two cups, some three, at a meal. The result of thus deluging the stomach with liquid in large quantities, and at a high temperature, is bad, in more ways than one. Besides the injuries previously named, it really prevents the appetite from craving wholesome food at the time. This is contrary to the general supposition, but it is true. At a meal, a man must not fill himself with a quantity of hot liquid, because he has no appetite for solid aliment; it were preferable that he should eat a little of some dish that is on the table, or even a crust of dry bread, a cracker or two, or something of that kind. Be it remembered, however, that we are not disposed to be extra rigid in the matter; if one enjoys coffee or tea, one moderate cup, not hot, and taken toward the end of the meal, to moisten the articles we have just advised, need not be too strenuously prohibited. It is only that we speak with candor to those who are determined to have the condition of health we have spoken of—who realize it as a prize worth striving for, and who will not let any little gratifications of the palate stand in the way.

Hot drinks, however, are so much matters of habit that it only needs a little self-denial and perseverance for a week or two, to acquire an easy way of getting along without them—of seeing them placed before you, and quietly abstaining from them yourself while you see others use them. Such things may be called trifles; but if any one wants to show his strength of mind, and ability to control himself, and prove what of back-bone and stamina there is in him, let him try his hand at giving supreme sway over reason, in sternly deciding to abstain from these very trifles.

Nature, it would seem, is averse to either very hot or very cold drinks or aliment. They should, in general, be as near as possible to the temperature of the body. As to the appetite for ice-water, for instance, in the hot weather, it is an artificial one; simple cool water, and not too cool, is much more wholesome.


It is probable that the people of the United States use more medicines than any other equal number of persons in the world. In our cities, in all the main streets there is a drug-store to be seen every two or three blocks—and we know of some of the streets of New York and Brooklyn, where, upon an average, there will be about three drug-stores to every four blocks! In the country towns, the same fact prevails, in proportion. We know of a small village, a little way out of New York, where an acquaintance of ours eked out a scanty living as the proprietor of a country newspaper, until the thought struck him of setting up a shop for the sale of patent medicines, and drugs generally. These he advertised in his paper, and so great was his custom, that he made quite a handsome little fortune in a few years. It is also notorious that some of the most successful speculations entered into in America are the medicine speculations—mixtures got up by some person, with greater or less degree of knowledge, and, by dint of advertising and keen business talent, sold off in enormous quantities.

These are but partial specimens of the great medicine trade—drops in the ocean. For it is quite oceanic—this dosing, and drugging, and physicing of the great American people!

Does every body, then, take medicine? Is it a regular thing with all classes, rich and poor, old and young? Perhaps not quite so bad as that; and yet the cases of those who do not take medicines of some kind or other, frequently during their lives, are very rare. With many it begins in early childhood and continues through life. Is it not probable that this has much to do with the deficient state of the health, vigor, digestion, and manly physique of America?

We are clear in our own mind that, in by far the vast majority of cases, these medicines do a great deal more hurt than good—that, indeed, they often lay the foundation for a permanent derangement of the health, destroy comfort, and shorten life. These are severe words, but we believe them fully warranted by the facts.

It is too generally supposed, (for that is the amount of it,) that there is some magic or charm in a mysterious drug, a little vegetable or mineral compound whose nature we do not happen to know, that is going to do the wondrous work of restoring the functions of the body, when disordered, into perfect order and harmony again! And not only this, but all the diversities of age, temperament, combination, degree, &c., are overlooked, and the same drug is supposed capable of curing all the various cases under the same heading!

For there are as many varieties of disease as there are persons diseased; there are hardly any two cases alike, and cannot be. Because the degree and exact state of each person's sickness depend on combinations of circumstances that belong to him alone, and that have met together in no other instance but his. This alone makes the use of an arbitrary medicine ridiculous. But there are other points equally important.

Really, to state the matter in plain terms, there can be very little, if any, wholesome effect produced upon almost any case of disease, (probably not one in twenty,) from the mere taking of some more or less powerful drug into the stomach, to have whatever effect it may produce upon the bowels, blood, nerves, brain, &c. The more powerful it is, the worse it is. A shock is produced, and perhaps an accelerated action—always to be paid for by a reaction, according to an eternal law of nature.1 We are not now speaking of marked contingencies, accidents, fits, &c., where prompt and decided means are to be adopted, and where the physician's object is to relieve the patient at once, and let the future make up for any temporary damage he may be compelled to do by those decided means, whatever they are. Our remarks, of course, have no bearing upon such cases as those; but upon the patient and sustained cure of a man laboring under some illness, the result of probably many and long-continued violations of natural laws, and of the simplest requirements of bodily condition. In such cases, (and they make up by far the main portion of the sickness of the civilized world,) it is quite certain to our mind, that any reliance upon drugs is futile. The cure must be by other means, and nature, as in all else, is to be looked to, studied, followed, and faithfully relied upon. In general terms it may be stated that the cure must be as slow as the disease was in forming.


There is, of course, very much to be said relating to health and strength with reference to habits of sexuality, &c. It ought to be more generally understood that here concentrate what are, in many cases, the most important bearings upon manly soundness, physique, and long life.

Modern habits, in their bearings upon this particular, in all our great cities, may be concealed as far as any allusion to them in print and public discourse is concerned, but they are well known enough for our remarks to be understood and appreciated.

Through the cities, (and we don't know that we need to make an exception of country places either,) boys commence early, not only in their knowledge of licentious pleasures, but in their participation of them—increasing rapidly as they advance toward young manhood, and when they take their place in society as full grown members of it, generally with habits formed that, by their effects, stick to them through life. An appearance of decorum is preserved to the outer world; "modesty" is not shocked in parlors or in the social assemblage by any unpleasant word or allusion, but the facts of life, could they be exposed, would be such as to astound the whole mass, even the bad themselves.

If an investigation were candidly made, for that purpose, it would probably be found that, through the thousands and thousands of different working-men, mechanics, employees, clerks, nearly grown apprentices, &c., in New York, and our other great cities, an immense proportion of them, probably a large majority, have had more or less unfortunate experience in syphilitic disease! This is an appaling fact; yet we are obliged to say we have no doubt it is a fact.

The places of resort for the classes of men and youths just mentioned are, of late years, where licentious habits are advanced and confirmed. We are no moralist, in the usual acceptation of the term, but consider this subject solely in its reference to health and physique. And we must candidly inform the reader, especially the youth, that there is no more deadly foe to manly development than the infusion of the virus of any from of venereal disease, however moderate it may be, through his blood and system. It may remain lurking and lurking there for years, and appear a long while afterward, in terrible forms.

Under the present state of things, among the young and middle aged men, it is a bitter fact that it is not considered anything alarming to be "diseased." You meet that everywhere, and its commonness takes off the edge of its hideousness. But it is really one of the most serious things that can happen to the body, especially in early life. Some of the best physicians assert that, after once becoming ingrained in the blood, the syphilitic taint is never afterwards thoroughly worked out of the system. They say it is analagous to the vaccinating matter for vareoloid; if once the smallest particle "takes," it remains in the body ever afterward.

Writers and speakers are surely too fearful of a little candid speaking upon this subject. It is considered well enough between two persons, or in a small assemblage, but indelicate where a writer is addressing a multitude. We thing differently. We believe that ignorance upon this subject is greatly the cause of the evil in the existing state of things; the common classes of young men do not appreciate the fearful detriment they are doing to their manly condition, vigor, and health. Neither are the facts of life, as carried on nightly in the cities, half as well understood by the public as they should be.

Upon this part of the subject we have to add that one of the greatest benefits of training, exercise, simple food, early hours, &c., is that, under them, the sexual passions are far less morbid than under a stimulated course of life. The thoughts are, by degrees, diverted from that form of pleasure, and a tone of greater coolness and evenness pervades the temper. The almost unnatural indulgence in licentiousness, or the desire for it, which previously, perhaps, characterized the man, sinks away, and a different, more wholesome and more salutary habit of feeling and practice succeeds.


What is beauty? The question is a puzzling one, and has been so in all ages. Much has been written upon it, and, like pleasure, it is supposed to vary among the different races and temperaments. Voltaire says: Ask a negro of Guinea what is beautiful, and he will answer, that to him it is a black oily skin, sunken eyes, and a flat nose. The devil, (says the same author,) if you were to ask him, might tell you that the beautiful consists in a pair of horns, four claws, and a tail; while, if you consult the philosophers, they will answer you with their jargon.2 We give this because we would like to let our readers see what the great authors have been writing on a subject that all can realize in their own perceptions and sympathies, but that will hardly bear writing about.

As for us and our purposes, we would simply impress the fact, (without mixing ourselves up in any argument, or trying to explain reasons why,) that, as regards human beings, in an important sense, Beauty is simply health and a sound physique. We can hardly conceive of a man, at any age of life, who is in perfect health, and keeps his person clean and neatly attired, who has not some claims to this much-prized attribute. This may be a new doctrine to many of our readers, but the more it is examined, the more depth will it exhibit.

On the other hand, it is all in vain to pretend that there is any real beauty, or ever can be, in a feeble or deficient man. There is a class of writers, both in this country and Great Britain, who seem to be doing their best, in their novels, sketches, poems, &c., to present as the models for imitation and approval, a set of sickly milk-and-water men, young, middle-aged, or old, without any timber in them, very sentimental, and generally very unwell any how. We hope the young fellows who read our remarks will be on their guard against these writers and their sickly models. They are not for live, robust American men—and especially not for our youth. A very different pattern indeed is wanted to be placed before the growing generations.

The ideas of beauty allowed to prevail and take the lead are too much under the control of such sketch-writers, and of the standard of tailor's and milliner's fashion-plates, and the like. A pretty, sickly, chalk-and-pink face, either in man or woman, is not beauty. On the contrary, it should be classed with deformed things. Always, in a man, indeed, a certain dash of ugliness, rudeness, and want of prettiness, is found to set off his personal qualities—if he have otherwise perfect health.


Of course, all the senses become healthier, longer lasting in keenness, and more perfect, from the clean and buoyant state of the body which results from continued training. The eyes and sight may be mentioned as likely to be vastly improved, if they were previously ailing. Much of the bad eyesight that we notice, is simply from the fact that the whole system wants renovation, the blood being bad, from all sorts of unwholesome and injurious habits. Under good training, continued year after, the eyes will be likely to continue good through life, however advanced it may prove.

The senses of taste and smell, also; these become dulled from all those luxurious and unwholesome habits we have cautioned the reader against, and that deteriorate the physique and manly perfection. Relieved of their evil influence, the palate and the nostrils remain clear and sound as long as the frame holds together.

Indeed, all the senses, all the functions and attributes of the body, become altogether renewed, more refined, more capable of conferring pleasure in themselves, with far more delicate susceptibilities, under the condition produced by long and faithful observance of good diet, proper exercise, and the other rules of healthy development.


If a man wants personal ease, and even for health we consider it requisite too, he must pay more than the usual attention to the feet, and what is worn upon them. Besides, a great portion of the exercise necessary for health and digestion requires a far better condition of the feet than is common. Probably, in civilized life, half the men have more or less deformed feet, from the tight and wretchedly made boots generally worn.

In one of the feet there are thirty-six bones, and the same number of joints, continually playing in locomotion, and needing always a free and loose action. Yet they are always squeezed into boots not modeled from them, nor allowing the play and ease they require. For the modern boot is formed on a dandified idea of beauty, as it is understood at Paris and London, and not as it is exemplified by nature.

If you want to see the feet in their natural and beautiful proportions, you must get a view of the casts of the remains of ancient sculpture, representing the human form, doubtless from the best specimens afforded by the public games and training exercises of the Greek and Roman arenas. They exhibit what the foot is when allowed to grow up, with its free, uncramped, undeformed action. There have been no artificial coverings or compressions; and we know that the gait therefrom must have been firm and elastic. We can understand how the Macedonian phalanx, or the Roman legion, performed its long day's march. We can see the ten thousand Greeks pursuing their daily wearying course through the destroying climate of Asia, marching firmly, manfully, across the arid sand, the mountain pass, or the flinty plain.3 It is a truthful lesson we may learn, not for the soldier only, but for the civilian.

Probably there is no way to have good and easy boots or shoes, except to have lasts modeled exactly to the shape of the feet. This is well worth doing. Hundreds of times the cost of it are yearly spent in idle gratifications—while this, rightly looked upon, is indispensable to comfort and health.

The feet, too, must be kept well clothed with thin socks in summer, and woolen in winter—and washed daily. We may mention that one of the best remedies for continued cold feet which many people are troubled with in the winter, is bathing them frequently in cold water. If this does not succeed, add a little exercise.

Too many young men, and other men too, seriously injure their health by carelessly going with poorly protected feet, or even with improperly made boots. These last, from the distress they cause by walking, indispose to exercise—which would very likely be otherwise engaged in with eagerness and pleasure. It is also to be noted, that one who makes a regular practice to bathe his feet daily, wear clean socks, and protect himself during bad weather by good boots or shoes, will hardly stop there—but will, ten chances to one, continue on until he habitually observes all the rules necessary to a clean and robust development.


1. Presumably, this is a reference to Newton's Third Law of motion. [back]

2. These passages originate in The Philosophical Dictionary (1764) of French philosopher and satirist Voltaire (1694–1778), specfically its section on "Beauty." For an edition Whitman might have consulted, see George H. Evans's translation (New York, 1835), 20, whose relevant passage is quite similar to this one. [back]

3. This passage comes nearly word-for-word from John Eisenberg's Surgical and Practical Observations on the Diseases of the Human Foot (London: Henry Renshaw, 1845), 21–23. Whitman may also be pulling from an excerpt of Eisenberg's book that appears in Joseph Sparkes Hall's The Book of the Feet (1847), 107–108, and again in Godey's Lady's Book (February 1853), 157. [back]


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