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Title: Manly Health and Training

Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as Mose Velsor]

Date: December 12, 1858

Whitman Archive ID: per.00433

Source: The New York Atlas 12 December 1858: 6. 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 (For the manuscript draft, see Whitman's Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, 6 vols., ed.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used it a number of times—as when, in 1855, he signed it to both a Life Illustrated article on "The Opera" and an unpublished manuscript about "A Visit to the Opera" (NUPM 1:391).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.]






We have before alluded to the necessity of conforming to all propositions of reform, in manly physique or anything else,as far as possible to the habits and institutions of the day—in conforming to the employments, the common hours of work, and, to some extent, even the prejudices of the people. It is therefore best for those who would follow out our advice, in the matter of training, to do so without making any "blow" about it, or setting themselves up in opposition to the right of others to pursue their course also—and likewise without any special vaunts of superior judgment and wisdom. The true trainer is generally known by his quietness and serenity, and by never putting on airs; and the trained man should copy him in these respects.

Besides, after all, in modern society, especially here in America, there is such diversity of taste, and so large an infusion, (getting larger and larger every day,) of what we believe the philosophers call "individuality," that a person having any disposition to follow our rules, no matter in what situation in life he may be, or where he may live, can, in the main, do so, without serious impediment or annoyance, so long as he is quiet and self-possessed about it. In all the habitudes of diet and exercise, it is to be considered sufficient if the subject can obey them in the long run, without minding special little interruptions of a meal or so, or of a day or part of a day, which will sometimes be unavoidably forced upon him. The vigor and tone of the manly frame, (as before remarked,) are the result of the average course of life, for months, and years, and, in general, need not be seriously disturbed by a casual omission. For all this, which we say by way of consolation for the offences which must come, let the reader understand that our rules are intended to be as consistently and faithfully adhered to as possible—the omissions never without danger.


It is too generally taken for granted that the formation and preservation of manly strength, and of all those points that conduce to longevity, are the result of accidents, hap-hazard chances, "luck." We wish distinctly to impress it upon the reader that, speaking in general terms, there is no hap-hazard or luck about the matter. In the case of brute animals, all that is necessary is to follow the natural instincts—and, in their case, health is conserved by the perpetual surroundings of the open air, and by the absence of artificial preparations of food. But man, in an artificial life, has to come under the control of his reason, judgment, calculation—with frequent self-denials. We all live surrounded by these artificial circumstances—many of them unfavorable to health and condition. The important object to be gained is, to form the habit of considering these things with reference to their results on the physique—and not any longer accepting them indifferently whenever placed in the midst of them, whether injurious or no.

We repeat it, health and manly strength are under the control of regular and simple laws, and will surely follow the adoption of the means which we have jotted down in the foregoing articles. Indeed, we have often thought, without elaborate study of these laws of health, the desired result might be almost always attained by a little exercise of common sense on the part of him who realised the needlessness and evil of a weak and impure body, and the sure way of retrieving it.


In the shortest way of stating it the cause of disease is bad blood—often hereditary, more often from persistence in bad habits. The object of training is, it may also be stated, to simply purify and invigorate the blood—and when that result is attained, to keep it so.

When we look over the long lists of maladies making such a terrible catalogue, with new additions every year, one is ready to be discouraged, from any attempt at renovation and the establishment of a better order of things—especially, when the doctor's books are studied, with all their formidable arrays of technical terms, (and technical nonsense we were going to add—but that is not in the innocent words, only in the narrowness and short-sight of too many who claim the name of physician.) The discouragement we allude to will be greatly obviated by discarding nineteen-twentieths of the confusing influence of mere names, and looking at this matter of health and disease in the plain bearing of general facts. After that, the particulars may be studied with as much detail as any one will.

Certain habits, be it definitely understood, invariably produce bad blood and a lowered tone of the system—if continued long enough, ending in what is generally called "a ruined constitution."

How many young men there are in New York, and all our great American cities, who, just for a transient indulgence in a few questionable "pleasures," are thus destroying the priceless treasure of their manhood, strength and virility.

There is, (to make a primitive statement of the matter,) always so much latent possibility of disease in a man's body—as it were sleeping there, ready to be waked up at any time into powerful and destructive action. So long as the system is kept in good order by healthy observances, there is no trouble from these latent germs; but all forms of dissipation and violations of natural law arouse them and cause them to come rapidly forward. Then fevers, rheumatism, colds, consumption, inflammation, or some other of the scourges—generally looked upon, in the most ignorant manner, as accidental results! Of course, to one who has caught the least portion of the spirit of our theory of training, this error, at least, has become exploded—and he will look on all health and all illness as a play of sensible cause and effect, just as much as building a house, or pulling it down again.


From various reasons, at the present time, (gradually accumulating in strength and frequency for the last fifty years,) a very large proportion of the violations of the laws of health have concentrated in their results in the throat. To our mind the following are some of the leading causes: Feeble and scrofulous parentage, precocious youthful indulgences and passions, a too various and too artificial diet, distilled liquors, syphilitic taint, sedentary employments, continual breathing of stale air, the use of drugs and medicines, &c., &c. More than half the diseases of the throat come from bad digestion, or no digestion, producing bad blood—in other words come from the stomach. Have you any one of the numerous forms of throat affection? To modify it, perhaps entirely cure it, here is your first course of remedy: discard three-quarters of the varied and unwholesome articles which you have been in the habit of eating, especially for dinner and supper. Make your principal meal, as often as possible, on a slice of beef or mutton, cooked rare, without grease—avoiding every other dish, with scrupulous self-denial. Sup lightly, drink nothing but water, and breathe as much fresh air, winter and summer, as possible. Keep the feet well protected, and use them daily in exercise.

The beard is a great sanitary protection to the throat—for purposes of health it should always be worn, just as much as the hair of the head should be. Think what would be the result if the hair of the head should be carefully scraped off three or four times a week with the razor! Of course, the additional aches, neuralgias, colds, &c., would be immense. Well, it is just as bad with removing the natural protection of the neck; for nature indicates the necessity of that covering there, for full and sufficient reasons.

Of the throat, it may, perhaps, as well be added that its health and strength are doubtless aided by forming the habit of throwing the voice out from it, and not from the mouth only, as many do. The best Italian singers, it will be noticed, have that utterance—sending out the sound from the back of the mouth; in most of the New England states the bad-sounding and unwholesome practice of speaking through the front of the mouth only, and through the nose as much as mouth, is very prevalent.

We have said that the bad condition of the general health ends and shows itself, in many cases, in these throat-diseases spoken of. We are not sure but this is almost invariably the case; for we have noticed that persons with the aforesaid throat-diseases are those whose blood is bad, either clogged with the thick and morbid consequences of gluttony and inebriate habits, or else the thin and watery blood of persons whose food does not assimilate to and nourish the system. Because what is there in the throat itself, the windpipe, (trachea) or the bronchial tubes, (two continuations forking down from the trachea, and leading into the lungs —what is there in these, or their ramifications, to become diseased except from bad blood? Medicines, for any of the ailments of the throat will of course be ordered by the ordinary physician, and may give temporary relief—but the only effectual medicine lies in the entire purification and renovation of the life of the body, the blood, after the spirit of the hints we have jotted down in our foregoing articles. It must be borne in mind also, that one of the greatest dangers of all throat-diseases is that they lead to the last and most to be dreaded result of bad blood, consumption,—lungs honey-combed and consumed—the destruction of the power to vivify the blood. Much is said in books, newspapers, schools of medicines, and among the doctors, over the question, can consumption be cured? When the evil processes have gone on long enough to destroy a lung, or a great portion of the lung, it is vain to think of restoring the lost member, of course; and, in most cases, the best that can be done is to stave off the final dissolution as long as possible. But the true statement to put before the people is that which makes them realize what causes consumption, and all other serious diseases of the lungs, throat, and the like. It is absurd to confuse the plain popular mind with volleys of technical terms, doctor's Latin, &c.; the simple underlying truths should be set forth in common English and made to come home to the experience and understanding of every one.


What is the reason that a voyage to sea, or a journey to California, or off for months and months in a wild country, perhaps exposed to many unusual hardships and privations, half-starved, or fed on what, under ordinary circumstances, would prove unwholesome food—what is the reason, we say, that this often proves the means of re-establishing the health previously in decay, or quite given up? The actual reason of any case, necessitates a knowledge of the special particulars of that case; for there are hardly any two that are precisely alike (which proves the folly of the usual pretensions of the cure-all medicines).

Generally speaking there is that virtue in the open air, and a stirring life therein, that has more effect than any or all the prescriptions that go forth from the apothecary's shop. Hunters, raftsmen, lumbermen, and all those whose employments are away from the close life and dissipation of cities—what specimens of manly strength and beauty they frequently are! We throw out this sort of hint, in our usual rapid way, for you, reader, to cogitate upon, and draw the moral yourself.

Not that we wish to see you take to the woods or rivers—for we think you can attain all the desired results without leaving your home in the city, if you choose to stay here. But to hint that, so long as you give up your own self-control and allow yourself to be a victim to all these pestiferous little gratifications that are offered to you in the city, so long will you present a marked contrast to the noble physique of the lumberman and hunter.

Often, a complete change of scene, associations, companionship, habits, &c., is the best thing that can be done for a man's health, (and the change is perhaps beneficial to a further extent in his morals, knowledge, &c.) If you are "in a bad way" from associations, &c., wisdom and courage both indicate to you to pull up stakes and leave for a new spot—careful there to begin aright, and persevere with energy. This advice is of more necessity than might be supposed. There are thousands of young men now in New York, and in all American cities, who go on year after year, slaves of habits they know to be bad, but pressing close and helpless upon them, because they are also the habits of their friends and intimate companions. To such, our counsel is, Up and away!


The winter has now set in, and some remarks appropriate to it may not be amiss. In America, where the close stove is used everywhere, much injury to health results therefrom, in consequence of the frequent and sudden changes of temperature, vibrating every hour or two between the bitter cold of the out-door air and the stifling heat of an unventilated room, warmed by a red hot coal fire. Neither the throat or lungs can stand such abrupt changes, continued month after month, and winter after winter. Neuralgia, aching joints, colds, coughs, &c., joined with inflammations and fevers, and great derangements of the stomach and bowels, are among the liabilities of health at the commencement of winter; for a change in the temperature "strikes in" where the subject has bad stuff in him, and stirs it up to action, one way or another. As to general habits, especially of diet, we can but refer the reader to our former articles, confident that they will apply to a greater or less extent to every case that can be devised. We would, however, make a few remarks upon dress, as appropriate for the winter. Many persons dress too much in winter for their own good—too much for the very purpose of keeping warm. Excess of clothing is really one of the most frequent causes of that tender sensitiveness to cold, which is so annoying in our climate, resulting in a morbidly sensitive skin, and thence great suffering from all those exposures to cold air, which, of course, in our climate, are almost unavoidable.

The best rule is, instead of putting on all the clothing one can stand, to dress as lightly as is consistent with comfort, at the same time affording all parts of the body their requisite protection. The most prevalent error, of course, is too little protection about the feet, and too much about the head and neck. Since shaving has come in practice, (it ought to be scouted entirely from all northern countries,) and since heavy mufflers, neck-winders, shawls, &c., have got to be generally used, all sorts of head and throat distempers have multiplied a hundred fold. A physician of our acquaintance once informed us that he had known several cases of liability to throat-inflammation entirely cured by simply washing the neck regularly every morning, the year round, in cool water, and dispensing with all thick "comforters" in winter, with nothing but a light and loose handkerchief, leaving the throat open.

We have spoken before of the morning ablutions—we mean the cool bath for the whole body. No doubt many of our readers will start back in dismay from such a proposition this weather; yet this is what we seriously mean. Not, be it well understood, for the feeble, the puny, the invalid, but for the robust, the young, and the sound only. This, cautiously begun, and by degrees formed into a habit, will so invigorate the whole surface as to make one indifferent during the day to the severest cold, and enjoy comfort in it, while others are chilly and shivering.

Then, after all is said about dress and other outside observances, we refer back to our theory of the other final understratum of warmth, health, comfort, or any other bodily perfection, viz., good blood—all sound inside. "The life-principle within," somebody has wisely observed, "is our main protection against the elements without."1 Yes, and against all the bodily changes, and the liabilities to disease. The quality of the blood, and the state of its circulation—if these are amiss, no care or amount of dress will keep a man warm or comfortable. They have to do with the condition of the skin, which, of course, is nothing in itself, but only a register or medium, to act between the "life principle" inside the body and the elements without.

In walking, these wintry days, we see that the men through our streets have adopted the fashion of carrying themselves with head bent downward, and arms and shoulders tightly drawn in—very much after the mode of the turtle withdrawing its head into its shell. We submit that such is not the habit a man should form for his walking style—but always go with head erect and breast expanded—always throwing open the play of the great vital organs, inhaling the good air into the throat, lungs and stomach, and giving tone to the whole system thereby.

Another thing; hot drinks of all kinds do more hurt than good in cold weather—there is always a reaction. The morbid habit of drinking excessively, (we include tea, coffee, and water also, just the same,) is at any season pernicious to the sound state of the body, and especially so in winter. We advise the reader, if he be ambitious of that kind of a "good time" which is superior to all others, perfect bodily comfort in winter, to follow the old maxim, "keep the feet warm and the head cool,"2 the body evenly and moderately clad, studying all our preceding articles and faithfully observing their directions—continuing on with a couple of others that are to follow, (for we are drawing uigh the end of our rope)—accustom himself as much as convenient to out-door exercise—and thus, we assure him, he will, in all likelihood, pass through the winter with a degree of pleasure that will not only more than repay him for his trouble, but will give him new ideas of the capacity of bliss the simple sensation of "feeling well" is able to produce.



1. Whitman lifts this quote from an article in Life Illustrated magazine on "Clothing and Cold Catching," likely published in January 1857. [back]

2. This old saying may derive from Joel Shew's "A Health Picture in New York," published in the Water-Cure Journal (November 1850): 192. [back]


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