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Title: Manly Health and Training

Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as Mose Velsor]

Date: November 28, 1858

Whitman Archive ID: per.00432

Source: The New York Atlas 28 November 1858: 2. 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 (For the manuscript draft, see Whitman's Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, 6 vols., ed.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used it a number of times—as when, in 1855, he signed it to both a Life Illustrated article on "The Opera" and an unpublished manuscript about "A Visit to the Opera" (NUPM 1:391).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.








The noblest function of mankind, the power to procreate the soundest and most perfect offspring, ought to remain to a man all through those years we have mentioned in a preceding article, as eligible, under proper training, for him to be in a high, flush condition of health, strength, beauty and happiness—namely, from the twenty-third or fourth to at least the sixty-fifth year of his age. If, during his early years, he become diseased with any form of venereal taint—especially if that be repeated upon him again and again, as in too many cases—of course there is so much strength, and the prospect of longevity taken away; which, in the same train, deprive his system of its true procreative power. A man that exhausts himself continually among women, is not fit to be, and cannot be, the father of sound and manly children. They will be puny and scrofulous—a torment to themselves and to those who have the charge of them.

This virile power, so becoming to a man, and without which, indeed, he is not a man, seems, in modern life, to be under the curse of an insane appetite, especially among the youth of cities, which makes them think they are doing great things if they commence early with women, and keep up afterwards a huge number of intrigues and amours—having no choice about it, but sweeping at all that is female, as a fisherman sweeps fish into his net. This is one reason we see the lamentable spectacle, in New York, and the other cities, of so many old-men boys—youths who have begun long before their time, and will never know the true feelings and attributes of that, in some respects, most glorious age, from fourteen years to twenty-one or two—but jump at once from the traits and tastes of childhood, unto all the experiences of mature age. We say this state of things is throwing a bad ingredient in the stock of the population of our cities. You see them in all directions, not without good qualities, perhaps, but in their physique feeble, small, and pale—not the large and rude-natured specimens of humanity that would seem to be called for in America. Their offspring, when in time they marry and have families, illustrate what we said in the first part of our paragraph, and, indeed, if we must be candid about it, are no credit either to their parentage or to the land.

It is related of the ancient Germans, by the Roman writers of that time, that, although in a harsh climate and with a rugged soil, they produced the finest races of men, as far as physique was concerned, then known; and also that it was the stern custom of Germania, in those primitive periods, for the young men to be so educated and trained that they had nothing to do with women till they were twenty six or seven years old. Our readers can ponder a while over these facts, for they are full of meaning.

There is no doubt, as things now are, among the young men of modern civilized life, in cities, that a healthy manly virility seems to be almost lost—seems to have given place to a morbid, almost insane, pursuit of women, especially of the lowest ranges of them, for the mere repetition of the sensual pleasure. This habit, begun by a young fellow, (generally from the contagion of his companions,) and afterward formed into a regular indulgence, that is a case where there cannot be produced by training or any other means, a superior specimen of animal perfection, strength and beauty.

We have not read Dr. Sanger's late work,1 of which so much is said on the subject of female prostitution; but we dare say he has overlooked some of the most important points connected with the subject. For, great as the facts and their bearings are, with reference to the females themselves, the prostitutes, we think the most weighty of the facts, and all their bearings, out of this subject of prostitution, are those which affect men. The effects of prostitution upon men—there is the text for the work that should be written. It involves deep studies and investigations, through the popular strata of modern life—all through the masses of youth, and of men of the younger ranks, (and older ranks, too, for that matter,) in the cities,—and then radiating back again into the country regions. To us, it this time, and from the point of view we are now taking it is the question of physique that is affected, and of the race as a fine collection of animals—but out of that, of course, is developed all the rest, the effects upon the minds, morals, social usages, temper, perpetuity, &c., &c., of the immense rounds of persons further affected by their causes.

One thing is very certain to any man who is at all familiar with the popular understrata of the life of our great cities—not that mere life upon the surface; a thin glaze of respectability and decorum which, we suppose, deceives only those who either willingly shut their eyes, or have very little power of vision anyhow.

It is, we say, quite certain that, at this very hour, there is circulating through nearly all of the life-streams of this city, and of all great cities, a sure and increasing amount of the tainted blood of prostitution, morbid, venereal and scrofulous—and that there is probably not a street in New York where it does not now exist, and show its effects in human veins, on the human countenance, and in the birth of an enfeebled offspring.

Those are the facts to which we would like to call passing attention, by virtue of our duty as a writer upon this subject of health—and considering it, not only in the matter of the daily wholesome observances we have advised, but deeper, as an important race question, and one affected, in a most serious manner, and likely to be affected far more deeply, by the existence of the facts just treated upon.


We have before intimated that we feel inclined to doubt whether we have, hereabout, any examples of the utmost perfection of muscular power and endurance which man is capable of attaining to. The feats performed by the "strong men" of the shows are worthy of attention, as far as they go; but, when we have inquired into the special cases of the said "strong men," we have invariably found that each individual was the victim of habits which retarded the full development of his power. In all such cases, the power continues as a sort of monstrosity for a year or two, and the "strong man" then becomes perhaps a poor wreck, the ruins of what might have easily lasted through a long life, and been far more highly developed under a proper and sustained course of physical training.

Nothing indeed, amid the infinate wonders of nature, is a greater wonder than the muscular strength of certain specimens of the human body, even as things are, and have been. Many of these specimens, both in old times and new, are well authenticated. Especially in former days, when physical superiority was more generally attended to and admired than now, were there marked cases of this immense bodily energy. The relation and perusal of some of them are well calculated to provoke serviceable thoughts in the mind, and to beget a manly emulation in the same course:

In the Greek city of Krotona, in ancient times, one of the athletes, named Milo,2 accustomed himself from early years, by almost imperceptible degrees, to carry burthens of increasing weight, day after day—joining to that, of course, the other means of producing and confirming the strength and fibre of his body. He persisted in this a number of years, until at last, it is credibly reported, that in the height and strength of his vigor, he actually carried an ox four years old, and weighing upwards of a thousand pounds, for about forty yards, and then struck the animal and killed it dead with one blow of his fist! (We might offer the above—which we may say we don't think so unreasonable as some will at first sight suppose—as a special encouragement yet to Johnny Heenan, as against Morrissey.3 If such things can be done, by human training and muscular energy, even that miraculous endurance and impassiveness that won the fight at Long Point, might yet be overcome. This same Milo was six times crowned at the Olympian Games, for his enormous feats of strength, agility and endurance—for all those faculties went together; but the greatest of his points was strength. He was one of the disciples of Pythagoras;4 and to that same strength the master himself, and several others, owed their lives—for once, in school, the supports under the roof giving way, Milo uplifted the whole of the upper works, giving the philosopher and the rest time to escape, and others a chance to secure the roof from precipitate fall. Milo was celebrated for such feats as pulling up a respectable-sized tree by the roots—and similar interesting little amusements. We would like the reader, at the same time, to take notice of what we said about this "muscle man" being a student, and doubtless a favorite one, of one of the most celebrated philosophers of antiquity—for then the pursuit of the means toward a superb and mighty-sinewed body was not considered anything else than appropriately joined with the most elevating and refining studies of the intellect.5

Augustus Eleventh, a king of Poland, could roll up a silver plate, like a sheet of paper, and twist the strongest horse-shoe asunder.6 We suppose many of our readers must have seen men in the shows who could break quite large-sized stones with a blow of the fist; at any rate we have several times seen such men, and satisfied ourselves that there was no humbug about it. We may, perhaps, as well add to this casual list, a mention of some of the blows given in the Morrissey and Heenan fight—two or three of those blows are said, by old visitors to the prize-ring, here and in England, to have been the heaviest they ever saw given. They would have, without doubt, been certain death to any man not prepared for them by that condition of perfect training which the combatants had both undergone for four months before fighting.

(Four months is no time at all—better say four years; for when the time is small, the injurious fatigue of crowding so much into so small a space, destroys and reacts upon itself. Training ought not to be that hurried and hateful thing it is generally made, on account of these forced reasons, but rather a pleasant, acceptable, gradual, and every way welcomed season of a man's life.)

We were reading, the other day, in a book of travels in Asia,7 that a Hindoo runner will run not only all day long, but day after day, by the side of a European traveling on horseback—enduring the travel much better than the horse, or the rider of the horse. Habit, and a certain agility and litheness of body, which seem to be characteristic of the Hindoo, make the endurances of these runners among the most remarkable illustrations known of the muscular power of the human body. Indeed, from what we have heard about them, it would seem as if all the running and walking feats we ever have here in America were mere child's play to what is constantly done in India; and that even our famed performances of "walking a thousand miles in a thousand hours," are nothing at all to blow about considering what is common off there.8

So much is done by the imperceptible effects of education. A Turkish porter, for instance, will trot at a rapid pace, carrying a weight of six hundred pounds.9 You "muscle men" of New York! you will have to improve yourselves considerably yet, we are thinking.

Probably the best and truest average test of muscular endurance and power exists in the locomotive organs, and in their performances. Walking is nature's great physical energy—and, in some form or other, after all, includes the whole expression of life, the passions, and the outshowing of active beauty. Well did the old Greeks, in their highest and most refined games, concentrate their training, and the main interest and fruit of the same, to the point of producing the swiftest and longest-continued locomotion; for they knew, what it is time we should know, that all that goes to make up the heroic physique, and its elements and powers, out of which the other kinds of perfect-bodied men branch and develope themselves—all the stuff of those elements and powers is to be found in the best runners. In other words, there can be no grand physique, for anything, unless it stand well on its legs, and have great locomotive strength and endurance. Make a note of this, reader, and commence regular habits of walking—not forgetting other means of attention to the health, ease, and improvement of the feet, ankles, knees, and all the lower muscles.

The ease of the feet and legs, and their freedom from many of the nonsensical and hurtful environments of modern fashion, are to be insisted on, to begin with. Most of the usual fashionable boots and shoes, which neither favor comfort, nor health, nor the ease of walking, are to be discarded. In favorable weather, the shoe now specially worn by the base-ball players would be a very good improvement to be introduced for general use. It should be carefully selected to the shape of the foot, or, better still, made from lasts modeled to the exact shape of the wearer's feet, (as all boots should be.) In a matter of such consequence as ease and pleasure of walking, these things are of serious weight, and cannot be overlooked. Of course, fashion must stand one side, if we are going to enter into the spirit of the thing seriously; no man can serve the two masters, of frivolous fashion and the attainment of robust health and physique, at the same time. You will have to stand out a little; but, like the first shock in entering a swimming-bath, it only needs a little determination at first, and the thing is done.

The daily bathing of the feet in cold water, we have before spoken of. This practice should never be intermitted. The feet, legs, thighs, &c., should also be subjected to the friction of a stiff bristle brush—just the same as the upper limbs. The clothing of the feet is of importance: clean cotton socks in summer, and woolen in winter, carefully selected as to the size. These are little things, but on such little things much depends—yes, even the greatest results depend. And it is, perhaps, to be noted, that many a man who is mighty careful of his outside apparel—his visible coat, vest, neckcloth, jewelry, &c., is habitually careless of the fixings and condition of his feet. Most of the unpleasantness from cold feet, under which many suffer, would also, by following our precepts, be obviated. In this connection, we desire to enter our protest against the use—already too prevalent, and getting more and more so—of the India-rubber shoe; it is a bad article, obstructing the perspiration, and in many ways injuring the feet. There is nothing better for this weather than good leather boots—the feet being, besides, well protected by fresh woollen stockings.

We recommend dancing, as worthy of attention, in a different manner from what use is generally made of that amusement; namely, as capable of being made a great help to develop the flexibility and strength of the hips, knees, muscles of the calf, ankles, and feet. Dancing, on true principles, would have ultimate reference to that, and would then, as an inevitable result, bring grace of movement along with it. There is no reason why, in a good gymnasium, the art of dancing should not also be included, with the intents and purposes we speak of.



1. New York physician William W. Sanger's History of Prostitution (Boston: Harper's, 1858) appeared serialized in the New York Atlas alongside Whitman's "Manly Health and Training." See also Whitman's editorial on Sanger's History written for the Brooklyn Daily Times, December 9, 1858. [back]

2. A Greek wrestler and Olympic champion, Milo of Croton lived during the sixth century BCE. Traditional legends tell of his lifting an ox. [back]

3. Whitman is referring to a recent bare-knuckle prize fight, held in Ontario, between John Morrissey (1831–1878), a gang member, Tammany Hall man, and future member of the US House of Representatives, and fellow New Yorker John C. Heenan (1834–1873), a bare-knuckle boxer and future husband (briefly) of actress/poet Adah Isaacs Menken. [back]

4. Milo is often associated with the school of Greek mathematician and cult leader Pythagoras (ca. 570–ca. 495 BCE), which was established on Croton. The tale of his saving Pythagoras' life is a traditional legend. [back]

5. This paragraph, as well as the following statement about Augustus the Eleventh of Poland, is lifted, much of it verbatim, from an article on "Muscular strength" in the American Phrenological Journal and Miscellany 8, no. 6 (June 1846): 194–195. [back]

6. Augustus II of Poland (1670–1733), widely known today as "Augustus II the Strong," performed many well-documented feats of strength, including straightening horseshoes. [back]

7. Whitman may be referring to Ferdinand De Wilton Ward's India and the Hindoos (New York: Baker and Scribner, 1850). See, e.g., page 102. [back]

8. Scottish walker Robert Barclay Allardice (1779–1854) made headlines in 1809—and won a 1,000-guinea bet—by walking one thousand miles in one thousand hours. [back]

9. This sentence is also taken from the same article on "Muscular strength" in the American Phrenological Journal and Miscellany 8, no.6 (June 1846): 194–195. [back]

10. In fact, three more installments of the series were published. [back]


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