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Title: Manly Health and Training

Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as Mose Velsor]

Date: November 7, 1858

Whitman Archive ID: per.00431

Source: The New York Atlas 7 November 1858: [1]. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue. 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 (For the manuscript draft, see Whitman's Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, 6 vols., ed.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used it a number of times—as when, in 1855, he signed it to both a Life Illustrated article on "The Opera" and an unpublished manuscript about "A Visit to the Opera" (NUPM 1:391).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.







Much is said, (and with reason,) on the advantages of climate. The principal points of climate, in the line of latitude of New York, New England, and the Middle States, from which injury ensues to the best physical requisites of our common humanity, arise from the vast differences of temperature between a great part of the winter weather—and a great part of the summer weather—the one being often extremely hot, and the other extremely cold. Also, the sudden changes and fluctuations to which we hereabouts are liable—the same week occasionally presenting nearly all the varieties of temperature from those of the arctic regions to those on the line of the equator.

It is often argued that the human frame and organization cannot be expected to stand these amazing discords and shocks of temperature, and that it will not; consequently, if such premises be true, that a hardy, sound, large-bodied and long-lived race of men cannot flourish in such a climate—cannot stand it, for the course of permanent generations. The assertion is plausible—and yet it will not bear to be thoroughly investigated. Climate has much, very much, to do with the physique, as with all else that appertains to a nation, (its literature, laws, religion, manners, &c.;) but so marvellously can the human being adapt himself to circumstances that there is hardly any climate on the surface of the globe, but, as far as it alone is concerned, can be made to adjust itself to manly development and fine condition.

Indeed it seems as if some of the most rugged and unfavorable climates turn out the noblest specimens of men—as, in Europe, from Scandinavia descended the very best parts of the elements, which served to make that composite, the English race—flowing onward to be but an element of a greater and stronger composite race still, namely, the American. From that Northern Europe, and from chilly and sterile Germania, we inherit, doubtless, we say, the toughest and most commanding part of our physique; leaving for sunnier climes to have bequeathed us what are perhaps our finer mental and sentimental attributes. (And yet there are not a few who will contend that for the latter qualities also, the best of them, we owe, far, far back in the past, the debt of obligation to our Teutonic ancestors, many hundreds, perhaps thousands of years ago.)

In those bleak and changeable climes, too, men lived to a great age, and performed heroic deeds—no parlor gentlemen, but such as held their own in the violent combats of the open air, and upon the sea. A new age is upon us—and yet the same old qualities, and the love and admiration of them, still remain. These qualities are to exist and find their expression in new forms, conformable to modern life, usages, and tastes. Otherwise, we shall have but a nation of smirking persons, polite, dapper, correct and genteel, following the established forms, their shrunken frames concealed in costumes, because, if they were stript, their meagerness and deformity would disgust the world.

Indeed, it has sometimes appeared as if the hardiest races must necessarily flourish in rugged and stern climates; for that, among the rest, awakes them to exertion, labor, knowledge, and ingenuity, which develop the great qualities of a man. A perfect man is the result of urged cultivation. Nothing brings him out either so much as "a forced put." He then enters into that combat with Nature, and with circumstances, which hardens his powers, teaches him his own grandeur, and begets in him the fierce joy of combativeness and conquest.

The physique, of course, partakes largely of all this play of causes and effects. It soon learns to confront the evils that to a feeble person are so terrible—learns to find some of its highest pleasures in overcoming them. Thus, storms, the cold, exposure, the sea, peril, enemies, war—all these, and the like of these, to superior and hardier spirits, instead of giving terror, give a certain sort of grim and manly delight. They are the atmosphere most suitable to them—the aliment which suits them. A little examination, then, may perhaps show that the really superb physique of man, involving his greatest heroism, faith, and unconquerable spirit of freedom, owes its birth and breed, not to the genial climes of this earth of ours, where the air is soft and equable, and fruits and perfumes run their even round the whole year, and where man has no effort to make for the support of his existence, but is permitted to lounge an indolent holiday of life, and dream it away in the poetical enjoyments of his appetites and amours,—but to rougher and sturdier lands, where he has to fight hand-to-hand with the very earth, air, and sea. Thus, truly, Mother Earth, whose sharpness is only sweetness in disguise, raises her firmer races. Ever, she seems to show, through the affairs of man, that he must be whipped and spurred into his best development. By that means, and nothing less, will he arrive at all the highest prizes and blessings of his life.

From such trains of thought and argument, we arrive at the conclusion that, allowing all which is charged against the climate of the northern portions of the United States, (and including Canada,) there is nothing to prevent our seeing there the very grandest examples of physique, strength, quickness, tone, and longevity—and these, for permanent continuance, through many an age and generation of the future. But in order to produce these effects, the public mind needs far more clearly to understand, (and act thoroughly and persistently on the understanding,) that certain means are indispenslble, for individuals, that they may resist the injurious wear and tear of a racking and variable climate. A man must become, as we intimated in the beginning of our articles, a reasoning and reasonable being—must be willing to follow a certain course, and find his pay for the same, not in ephemeral and immediate gratifications, but those at some distance; must be willing to place health, sound internal organs, and perfect condition, at the head of the list of the objects of his whole life, here on earth.

The cold bath, for instance, cautiously begun, and kept up habitually morning after morning, year after year—what a toughener and hardener to this changeable climate of ours it is! In conjunction with other means, (for, be it remembered, the true theory of health is not a "one idea" theory, but involves a cluster, all hanging together,) it neutralizes the differences of the air, different weeks and seasons, and makes the body indifferent to them—thriving equally under the heats of August or in the bitter contracting air of January or December. This simple habit, (which would occupy from five to ten minutes of your before-breakfast time,) is enough to ensure the frame, in by far the greatest number of cases, from the common and prevalent injury of colds, coughs, &c.

The modern custom of heating by stoves has much to do with the incompatibility of a large proportion of our North Americans, with the climate in which they live. Given close rooms, hot stoves and no ventilation, and you have a prolific crop of chilled bodies, whenever exposed to the otherwise bracing effects of the open air. It does not seem to be known that the best way to keep really warm in winter, (for men,) is, not to withdraw from the open air, but to go out in it, and keep stirring. Habit soon settles the matter. Fifty and sixty years ago, before the introduction of cast-iron stoves, there was far more hardihood of body, and less liability to coughs, and all forms of plumonary complaints.

Indeed, upon deliberate reflection, it would be found that many, perhaps most, of the evils which are laid to the American climate, in the northern and eastern states, are not so much to be attributed to it, as to special causes—the habits of life, the follies of dress, unwise diet, artificial overheating, and the like. This leads us to consider a special point; in the matter of diet, which, although touched upon incidentally in our foregoing articles, is of importance enough to call for its own heading.


In our view, if nine-tenths of all the various culinary preparations and combinations, vegetables, pastry, soups, stews, sweets, baked dishes, salads, things fried in grease, and all the vast array of confections, creams, pies, jellies, &c., were utterly swept aside from the habitual eating of the people, and a simple meat diet substituted in their place—we will be candid about it, and say in plain words, an almost exclusive meat diet—the result would be greatly, very greatly, in favor of that noble-bodied, pure-blooded, and superior race we have had a leaning toward, in these articles of ours. The effect of nearly all those highly artificial dishes is to stimulate and goad on the appetite, distend the stomach, thin the blood, and prepare the way to some form or other of disease. They do not harden a man in his fibre, nor make him any the better in wholesome flesh—as it is often to be noticed of such articles that the greatest eaters of them are by no means the fattest, but often lean and scraggly.

The business of eating, in modern civilized life, is probably conducted on the most marked absence of principles, or of anything like reason or science, of aught that can be mentioned. And yet there is nothing in which there may be and ought to be more science displayed. It is here where physiology and medicine have yet to make their great foundationary beginnings—for with all the cry about medical accomplishment, in our times, it is plainly to be seen that, as far as the masses of the people are concerned, there is the same state of ignorance and darkness prevalent, that can be shown as marking any of the ages of the past.

We have been flooded in America, during the last fifteen or twenty years, with vast numbers of doctors, books, theories, publications, &c., whose general drift, which respect to diet, had been to make people live altogether on dry bread, stewed apples, or similar interesting stuff. What volumes of works have been issued from the different publishing houses, of which the foregoing is about the amount! Probably a more monstrous and enfeebling school could not be started; and yet it has undoubtedly obtained considerable foothold in the United States, especially in New England. In the latter quarter, the people are prone to be too intellectual, and to be "ashamed of the carnal body"s—running very much to brains, at the expense of the brawn and muscle of their limbs. It is for this reason probably that in the eastern states the school we allude to have met with the greatest favor, and number the main part of their followers.

But in defiance of all that can be said in behalf of dry bread and stewed apples (good enough diet to deplete the system, at times, or in case of a fit of half sickness), we have no hesitation in publicly declaring our adherence to the motto previously inscribed—Let the main part of the diet be meat, to the exclusion of all else. The result of this would be that the digestive organs would have more than half the labor (agonizing labor, it often is,) withdrawn from them, and the blood relieved from an equally great amount of noxious deposit which, under the present system, is thrown into it.

This is very likely an astounding doctrine to the reader, who has perhaps been taught to believe, under the teachings of the school aforesaid, that "temperance in eating" means vegetarianism, with all its weakening effects. But ours is the true doctrine, in our judgment, for all the northern and eastern states. We say less about hotter climates, because in those regions of perpetual fruits, there are other points to be considered. And it may be as well to add, that by meat diet, we do not mean the eating of meat cooked in grease and saturated therewith—or in any made dishes—but meat simply cooked, broiled, roasted, or the like. This is the natural eating of man and woman, under the first and unbiased appetites, and confirmed afterwards by experience and the researches of reason.


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 marvellous power of scattering all those unpleasant visitors, and dissipating them to the winds. It is at least probable, we begin by saying, that in a vast majority of cases, melancholy of mind is the exclusive result of a disordered state of the body—a longer or shorter absence of those clarifying habits of diet, exercise, &c., which we have in previous articles jotted down for observance. 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 gives 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. Such habits, and what corresponds with them, becoming common, and especially if backed up with regular employment occupying the mind and the bodily powers for a stated portion of the day, and it were probable that the most inveterate case of melancholy would yield to those simple and harmless prescriptions.

For it is not generally realized what a wide circle of victims there is to this "ennui"—this word of France we have imported, for the English tongue hardly has any fit phrase to describe it. If one were to set out investigating the matter, it would probably be found that these victims exist in almost countless numbers, in all ranks of people in America, the working classes just the same as the rich. Not only the idler in his parlor, and without and need of occupying his time in an employment to procure his living—not only the literary man, with his overstrained mentality—or the professional person, the lawyer at his desk, the clergyman in his study, the student at his books—not these any more than the mechanic, the farmer, the carpenter, mason, boatman—and especially those of sedentary employments, the printer, shoemaker, tailor, and others at their listless work indoors—all, all are to be numbered among the habitual sufferers from the cause we have mentioned. Nor would our hints be complete without some allusion to this one of the most serious detriments to all the wholesome operations of the manly system, sapping the strength and shortening life.

What does this too prevailing melancholy in such people result from? From their bad condition of body, very generally—the reaction of the powers, often from the stimulus of drink, or other exciting causes. In those that do not drink, the stomach and nervous system are very likely out of order, after months, perhaps years, of heedless violations of natural laws—a long course of artificial living, depositing its bad dregs at last in such a way that they have effectually clogged that natural buoyancy and lightness of temperament, that nonchalance and passive and even gaiety, which seem to be at least as much the birthright of man as of any other animal. A sad and terrible price, is it not, at which even civilization and the splendid results of these improvements of arts, literature, laws, and social culture, may almost be considered to cost too much? For this same curse of sadness, in its numberless forms, is an attribute of civilized life, and must be met with those weapons which can destroy it—an infusion through civilized life of a greater degree of natural physical habits, and a stern rejection of those specious enjoyments that leave such frightful deposits afterward, to sting and fester through the middle and later years.

Nor let any one be deceived in this matter of low spirits, by the outside appearance of people as they move about in the streets, in public houses, places of amusement, &c. In public, no doubt, you would judge from the show upon the surface that every one was happy, and that there was no such thing as a cloud upon the sky of the mind; all goes so well, and there is so much drinking and eating, and joking and laughing and gay music. The faces are full of color, the eyes sparkle, the voices have a ring—everybody is well dressed, and there is surely no unhappiness in these lives. A serious mistake! Many and many a silent hour, both by day and night, does every one here undergo, in which the distress of the mind equals any distress of the body, in its worst sickness or hurt. The evil we speak of, like most other human evils, is not of a kind that flaunts out and exposes itself, but is only to be detected by the powers of insight and acute observation. To those powers there is perhaps no rank of the community, and no group of men collected together, but the presence of it can be plainly seen, passive enough, but still lurking there. It shows itself in the lines of the face, cut and seamed by harrassing thoughts, and many an hour of discontent and nausea of life. The very classes that would be supposed to be freest from the visitations of this grim spirit—those who live a gay and reckless life, following where the animal passions lead and the appetite of gain—even those whose career is the career of prostitution, "pleasure" and play—are the very persons who give some of the most striking illustrations of its presence and effects. Some of the members of these classes (we were going to say all of them,) are subject to terrible fits of despondency and "the horrors," lasting day after day, and even, in a few instances, for weeks on the stretch—a curious study for those inquirers who indeed think that the proper study for mankind is man, with all the strange play of his interwoven warp of passions, appetites, pains and joys.

Further than this, the middle ranks of society, the sturdy body of American workingmen, even the young, afford plentiful examples of a similar sort. There seems to be something, not only in our Saxon stock, but in all the intergrafts we have here in America from the Celtic nations also, that forms the popular disposition, at times, to fits of melancholy—each individual after his or her own special form of outlet and expression. Otherwise we should be unable to account for the fact of so many of the class we have mentioned being included in the list. For that they are included we feel certain. What one of them but has his periods, (in a majority of cases frequent, and in many severe,) sombre and gloomy fits, when the whole world appears cheerless and bleak, and the best of life not worth the living? During these fits, any effort at conversation is unpleasant, and the machinery of the mind turns with a slow motion—no alertness, no spring or vivacity—incapacitated from all the talents and accomplishments that are ready enough at other times. Sometimes, in the working classes, these periods of depression become habitual, and take up the majority of the years of life—more usually in the cases of those whose occupations are sedentary, as in those, before-mentioned, of tailors, shoemakers, 'c.

All we are here saying is but the candid mention of a series of pregnant and positive facts, which it is impossible to deny, and which will be readily admitted by those who have looked with thinking eyes through the strata of middle society—not on the surface merely, but down in its recesses, in habits, homes, occupations, and especially during those hours when life is lived according to what itself is, inherently, and not from second-hand influences, imitation, gentility, or disguises, or, "the looks." We know very well that the subject we treat of is not often, hardly ever, indeed, mentioned in this way; but we are clear that it ought to be mentioned, and met, too, as every other great fact of bearings on the popular happiness or unhappiness should be. This is the only way of getting at such things, and it is all folly to cover them up or avoid them.

Through the "upper" ranks of society, it is well known, the undertone of existence is that of listlessness and low spirits—running in every vein of fashionable dawdling and occupation. The same cast appears in literature, in every volume where the imagination bears a part, giving a heavy and depressing cast to it all. The novel-hero of the writers is always a gentleman who has sentimental moods—also, misfortunes and tragic adventures, placing him in all sorts of forlorn predicaments; and the same with tragedies. But we will not travel aside from our own special track.

We have dwelt at more length on this topic of "the blues," (to give it that expressive and cant name, which is common,) because we are firmly convinced that the hint we uttered at the commencement of our remarks on this branch, is possessed of the true secret of pricking and bursting the bubble—for bubble it is, even allowing all that can be said of hereditary tendency. That same tendency not only has the weakness itself, but the strength, reason, and ability to surmount it, under proper circumstances. 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. Of this we have not the least particle of doubt—and, indeed, the thing stands to reason.

We repeat it, that it is the bad stuff stagnating in the phisical system, accumulated through long seasons of artificial eating, drinking, and "pleasure," (a sad mistake of a name as generally applied,) that returns in a morbid action of the mind and temper. This is the true cause at the bottom of that painful and wide-spread effect. We are not sure but the same cause is at the bottom of another still more dreadful effect—Insanity. Such was Spurzheim's deliberate opinion, if we are not mistaken in our inferences from the hints he drops in his work on that terrible malady.2 This celebrated and keen observer and student, after passing through all that could be found and got at, treating insanity as a "disease of the mind," seems to have learned at last that the most important points lay in another direction—physical facts and causes, including, of course, the hereditary ones. And all brooding and melancholy are the first faint tinges, of which insanity is the set color, deep and strong.

Of this aforesaid varied group of ills, then and therefore, we are firm in the conviction that the point of concentration, where, by medical men, the same as the rest, and perhaps more than the first, they are to be studied, and from which, as originally, they all spring, finally they are all to be touched there for the only effectual cure, is the point of the physical. The body—the stomach—the blood—the nervovs system—the physical brain, and what affects it for good or bad—in other words, a rational and elevated system of MANLY TRAINING—we believe that knowledge and practice in that direction only will put to effectual flight all the phantom swarms of "loathed melancholy," so threatening with their growth of worse mental derangements, now prevalent through the many classes of men here in the United States.

Have we made ourselves understood? For it is no small thing, reader, we have taken upon ourselves to treat in this section of our hints, and we have thrown out, in a rapid manner, these suggestions, in all candor, more to open the subject, and lead you to think upon it yourself, and to behold it in what we are sure is its true light, to be deliberated upon thoughtfully afterwards, than as any finished presentation of our views upon it.

There is such a deplorable ignorance everywhere, (we are more and more convinced,) of the surpassing importance of these physical considerations—these which refer to the human being, as a perfect animal, and to the sublime science of breeding a nation of sane and clean-fleshed men. All treatment of evils of any sort whatever, especially those evils we have just been considering, that contemplates anything less than such a science, is but patchwork and poor botching. We are, therefore, unable to apply other terms than those which end the last sentence to the usual "reforms" of the theorists of the day—as to most of the schools of the doctors, the metaphysicians, and the moralists, of which America is so rife.

When we hear the preachers preaching from their pulpits, and the lecturers from their platforms—and all the outpourings of the numerous well-intended philanthropists who flood New York with their "May anniversaries,"3 and gatherings at the same—we see clearly enough, for our own satisfaction, that, (putting them all in a bundle together) the wisdom and application of their efforts is just precisely the wisdom of him who should attempt to medicate the superficial sores and boils on a sick body, by nothing better than surface applications, (or by praying to the sores and boils, and exhorting them to begone!) when the only cure, in the mind of a sensible person worth trial, is the deep, interior, sane cure of the whole quality of the blood and the tissues it forms, which make the body—a generative and altogether physical cure, involving years of time, and a revolution of habits—this the vaunted reformers appear never to think of.



1. Whitman refers to the opening line of John Milton's "L'Allegro" (1645), which begins: "Hence loathed Melancholy, / Of Cerberus, and blackest midnight born . . . " [back]

2. German physician Johann Spurzheim (1776–1832) popularized phrenology, the pseudoscientific study of the shape of the skull as it supposedly relates to character traits. See his Observations on the Deranged Manifestations of the Mind, or Insanity (Boston: Marsh, Capen & Lyon, 1836), 32–33, for an example of the kind of claim to which Whitman refers: "Among the remote or occasional causes of sanguineous apoplexy, the first to be considered is the hereditary and constitutional disposition. Other such causes are intoxication, repletion of the stomach, intemperance, and a luxurious life." [back]

3. "May anniversaries" are large festivals traditionally held in May by philanthropic and religious groups. [back]


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