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About this Item

Title: Manly Health and Training

Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as Mose Velsor]

Date: December 19, 1858

Whitman Archive ID: per.00434

Source: The New York Atlas 19 December 1858: 6. 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 (For the manuscript draft, see Whitman's Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, 6 vols., ed.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used it a number of times—as when, in 1855, he signed it to both a Life Illustrated article on "The Opera" and an unpublished manuscript about "A Visit to the Opera" (NUPM 1:391).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.]






In the course of reading one of these articles only, (we must here remark, en passant, the student of health and a manly physique will by no means be apt to get a fair view of our positions, and of those points that have a bearing on the subject. It is necessary that all the preceding articles of this series should be carefully read also. We have there jotted down, as they presented themselves to our mind, most of the primary rules that are to be followed by him who would achieve a sound and clear-blooded condition of body. We have spoken of health as being the real foundation of all manly beauty, and have done our part toward dissipating the pink-and-white doll-theory of masculine good appearance. We have shown that all sickliness is fatal to beauty, and the inference follows, unavoidably, that much of the prevailing taste is morbid and unsound.

Our series is drawing to a close. This article, and one more to follow, finishes them. Disconnected as our mode of writing has been, and intended from the first to be given off-hand and just as the subjects presented themselves to our mind, we are aware that the reader who peruses one article only, will not see the drift of our writing—which we should consider an entire failure if, in a total review of it, we did not find to be compact, effective for the purpose it aims at, and comprehensive. To those of our readers who have seen only partial sections of the series, we can only repeat our charge and wish that they procure the entire series, which, if they take an interest in the subject, will amply repay them, and give them, we are sure, many new and useful items of information.

For these two concluding numbers of our series, we find we have a few more items to give, which we shall proceed to jot down in the same manner as hitherto.

The object of a correspondent, who writes to complain of our series that "the spirit of such articles is to make an entire nation of fighting men," we think we have already answered in a preceding section. If not, we may as well confess that we do not deny the charge, but admit it. We would be quite willing to have the young men of America thoroughly trained to be able to give a good account of themselves in all contests, muscular, military, naval, and otherwise. As to the danger of belligerent habits, why for that we must take chances. We would rather see an occasional "muss," either on a small scale or a large one, than that continual and supple obedience which the opposite tack would be likely to produce.

Another correspondent (for we have had several,) objects to our statement of the time that a man ought to be in good condition, and considers it, for general purposes, quite chimerical to expect that a man, in modern times, can last, in robust tone, from his twenty-fourth or fifth to his sixty-fifth year. Very well—our correspondent is of one opinion, and we are of another; that's the difference.1 We dare say a great many of the views we have expressed will find denials here and there; but what would be worth those statements that only repeat what is already so well known that it would meet a ready assent everywhere?

We do not think, indeed, upon referring to our already written articles, that we have given sufficient prominence to the subject of middle-age, in all its bearings, and with reference to the flush condition of health, strength, &c., which belongs to it. We consider that the same condition and qualities, in a fitly trained man, may well be expected to advance far into the confines of what is generally termed old age. The ancients were full of the examples of this, and we see occasionally an intimation of it in modern fanciful writing.


Somebody who writes in the metaphorical style of the litterateurs of a century and a half ago, encloses some very useful wisdom in the following paragraph:

From forty to sixty a man who has properly regulated himself may be considered as in the prime of life. His matured strength of constitution renders him almost impervious to the attacks of disease, and experience has given his judgement the soundness of almost infallibility. His mind is resolute, firm and equal; all his functions are in the highest order; he assumes the mastery over business; builds up a competence on the foundation he has formed in early manhood, and passes through a period of life attended by many gratifications. Having gone a year or two past sixty, he arrives at a critical period in the road of existence; the river of death flows before him, and he remains at a stand-still. But athwart this river is a viaduct, called "The Turn of Life," which, if crossed in safety, leads to the valleys of "Old Age," round which the river winds, and then flows beyond without a boat or causeaway to effect its passage. The bridge is, however, constructed of fragile materials, and it depends upon how it is trodden whether it bend or break. Gout, apoplexy, and other bad characters are also in the vicinity to waylay the traveler and thrust him from the pass; but let him gird up his loins, and provide himself with a fitting staff, and he may trudge on in safety, with perfect composure.2

Indeed, a very amusing and interesting volume might be written on the theme the above paragraph treats of, in the style of Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress."3 It would come home as close to the feelings and experience of people as any thing in that celebrated work—substituting the physical for the moral and spiritual, which latter Bunyan has treated with such marvelous ingenuity and power.

The periods of middle and old age are perhaps the finest, in some of the most important respects, through life. We dwell upon this the more, because we notice that too many of the tendencies of American city life so destroy the chances for this middle and old perfection, that it seems to have gone out of mind. No one seems to understand that there is attainable a high flush condition of stamina, strength, vigor, personality, clearness and manly beauty and love-power, thoroughly sustained many years, in perfect specimens of trained health, through middle and old age, towering in its ripeness and completeness, till it rivals and fully equals the best and handsomest specimens of early manhood—and indeed transcends them!

The mind of one familiar with antique models at once turns to the palmy ages of Greek art, and of its Roman copyists. All the grandest characters who appear in it are middle aged or old men—and they rise into collossal proportions. No matter what the field—war, adventure, love, or what not—they are the principal figures in the foreground, or eminent above the mass.

But how can we expect specimens of perfect physique,4 these years, to rival the ancient ones, unless the models are more steadily presented before us? As things are, all the ambition of the young is turned in intellectual channels—to a monstrous development of the mind, and of what is called "knowledge."


In addition to what we have already said in preceding articles, it seems necessary for us, as a counterbalance, to add a few further remarks on this part of the subject. It is indisputable that many lives are prematurely sacrificed by a too restless intellect and brain—the action thereof literally rushing a man into his grave. All through America, especially North and East, not only among the writers, lawyers, editors, preachers, &c., but through the ranks of the masses, there is altogether too much brain action, sapping the foundation of life, and of the enjoyment of life. The intellect is too restless. The parent bequeaths the tendency to the child—and he, when grown up, has it in increased force. Some direct it toward money-making, others to religion, and so on. It eats into the whole temperament, and produces reaction; then for fits of "the blues," and an unhappy life.

The remedy lies with the person himself. He must let up on his brain and thought-power, and form more salutary and reasonable habits—which, by-the-way, are formed astonishingly soon, if once sternly resolved upon, and the practice commenced in earnest. The homely advice to "take things easy," applies with particular force to this sort of persons. Most of the ills they labor under, and the dispensations they dread, are imaginary; at any rate, imagination distorts them, and magnifies them out of all proportion. A little calmness and coolness puts to flight three-fourths of the evils of their lives.

But the mere fact of intense mental action is itself a misfortune. We repeat again, how much it is to be regretted that, in the prevailing theories of education, the desire to make young persons prodigies of learning, statistics, science, and mental brilliancy, have gone so far in what we are clear is a very dangerous and unwholesome direction—that is, if manly health and happiness are, as they are, first to he considered in a boy's and young man's life. These hints should be more thoroughly accepted by parents and teachers, and acted upon in families and schools.

By undue action, development and concentration, the brain begets upon the system and character a high state of excitability and inflammation often resulting in later life, and sometimes in middle age, in the condition of softening of the brain. It is a terribly malady, not so much for its amount of suffering as for the pitiable condition to which it reduces the most collossal intellect. Sir Walter Scott, Daniel Webster, Dean Swift, and hundreds of persons of lesser note, are instances of the play of cause and effect resulting in this fearful disease, which has various phases, but is of one general type.5 Literary men, and persons in the excitement of political life, are especially liable to it, from the uncertain nature of their employment and popularity, the strain upon the brain-power, and probably also from the cares and jealousies that are forever multiplying among them, aggravated no doubt by their generally reckless habits, and irritable tempers; and besides from something inherent in the nature of their occupation, waiting upon the public. To them, too, the only salvation is in rising superior to all such petty fears and bickerings—otherwise they are at any time liable to the consequences of which we have just given the most signal examples.

And yet, as before intimated, a diseased brain, and a sadly inflamed state of the nervous system, are by no means confined to literary men. We Americans altogether, all classes, think too much, and too morbidly,—brood, meditate, become sickly with our own pallid fancies, allowing them to swarm upon us by night and by day. It will, of course, sound strange in the ears of many to say so, but we are fain to proclaim over and over again, in our loudest and most emphatic tones, We are too intellectual a race. To the brain parts of our structure we draw off much that should be devoted to the body, the muscles—neglecting what all men first require, to be fine animals. We suppose we shall excite some disdain by such remarks, but they include undoubted truths necessary to be told.

Not that calm and wholesome brain-action, tempered with regular exercise and development of the body, is meant to be called injurious. On the contrary, that no doubt tends to longevity, and is consistent with the best health, and is perhaps a part of it—as it is the crowning glory of a rational being, and endows the finest condition of the body with grace and beauty, otherwise lacking.

No; duly tempered mental labor is justified in the lives of its votaries in all ages. Plato lived to be 81 years of age, Diogenes 90, Democritus 100, Zeno 102, and indeed all the most celebrated philosophers and poets of ancient times seem to have been long-lived, and to have produced their most famous works in old age. In more modern times Newton attains the age of 84, Harvey that of 88, Franklin 84, Noah Webster 85, and so on. In France, a statistician, selecting at random one hundred and fifty scientific and literary men, one half from the Academy of Sciences, the other half from that of Belles Lettres, found the average age of life attained by them to be the ripe age of 70 years.6

Of the ancient poets and philosophers, it is always worthy of remembrance that some of the greatest of them are as much celebrated for their physical strength and beauty as for their mental. Pythagoras, the father and master, was of large, imposing and elegantly shaped body; he often entered the arena and contended with the athletes for the prizes in running, leaping, fighting, &c., and won them too!7 We might ask our modern puny and dandy tribes of literary men to make a note of such facts.


The great requisites of health being good air, proper food, and appropriate exercise, the two latter of course can be as well accomplished in the city as country—leaving the matter of pure air as the only doubtful point. And why could we not have a good atmosphere in the city? The reader, accustomed to the prevailing state of things, may think this a very unreasonable question, and yet we utter it in all seriousness. Because we think a clear and deeply based popular appreciation of the truth, with all its play of causes and effects, relating to this point, would almost certainly in the end lead to the means of having the kind of atmosphere we speak of.

The means of accomplishing this most desirable result consist of a perfect system of sewerage, in which no part or section of the city whatever shall be neglected—and in an organized plan, whose details should be overseen by the police, for gathering and carrying away daily all the garbage and refuse of the city; and these details should be joined with a rigid and perpetual sanitary inspection of every block in the city, every street, every alley, every yard. But could this be done? Of course it could be done; and the day will arrive when it will be done. Then the airs of our streets, instead of being reeking and pestiferous during the hot season, will not offend the most delicate nostrils.

There is, however, much in cities, it remains to be said, which is not sufficiently appreciated as offering great advantages for health. The markets, with their luxuries, afford their selection from a list of simple articles, to him who realizes the importance of attaining a fine physique, primarily through the stomach, the careful choice of his daily aliment. This is no trifling advantage, and it is one which is often deficient in the country; there the prevailing food is apt to be salt meat, vegetables, &c., which (the truth may as well be told,) are by no means the articles most favorable to produce a race of clear-blooded and sound-conditioned men. The often-mentioned superiority of the country receives a great drawback on this account.

And with respect to the matter of good air, it is to be recollected that it is of serious importance only through the three or four hot months of the year. We do not intend to deprecate its vital bearings upon health, but are not willing to have the truth overstated, or made worse than it is. During the fall, winter and spring, most of our cities are as healthy as any country place. Nor let it be forgotten that a very large proportion of country places are pervaded with an atmosphere more or less bad and unwholesome. Exhalations and vapors rise and spread around, often in neighborhoods where everything looks fair and inviting to the eye. The frame-racking and blood-thinning disease of fever and ague, which annually ruins its tens of thousands of men, is one of the results of country air.

In general terms, it may be stated that the rude forms and florid complexions of healthy specimens of country life, are to be attributed to their more natural hours, early rising, exercise, open air, and their being less under the influence of the artificial habits and overtaxed mentality which mark the life of the citizen. If citizens would only make a reasonable use of their many priceless advantages, knock off some of their artificial habits, and take daily exercise, avoiding all dissipations, they would soon show not only equally noble specimens of health with the country, but superior to them.



1. Which "correspondents" Whitman refers to is unclear, since no responses to "Manly Health and Training" appear in the Atlas. Still, it is possible that readers of other contemporary newspapers responded to the wellness series, and this installment in particular, with letters to their editors. For some suggestive evidence, see a brief handwritten draft in Whitman's Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, 6 vols., ed. Edward F. Grier (New York: New York University Press, 1984), 6: 2259, hereafter abbreviated as NUPM: "Since these articles were commenced[?] [illeg.] have seen some very indignant rebukes in various papers on the [illeg.] of the physical degeneracy of [?] the American race" [back]

2. Other than minor variations of spelling and word inversions, Whitman takes this passage intact from Samuel La'Mert's The Science of Life, or, How to Live and What to Live For (Paternoster Row: Kent and Richards, 1849), 136–137. He likely derives it from "The Turn of Life," an article published in the Water Cure Journal (December 1849): 172, which matches a clipping described in NUPM 6: 2254. [back]

3. The Pilgrim's Progress, a Christian allegory and the most famous work of English Puritan preacher John Bunyan (1628–1688), was published in 1678. [back]

4. This phrasing will linger in Whitman's mind for several years. Compare his description of the death of a soldier, Lorenzo Strong, in a letter to his mother, 18 September 1863: "It was a death—picture characteristic of these soldiers' hospitals: the perfect specimen of physique,—one of the most magnificent I ever saw—" [back]

5. Most of the paragraph up to this point Whitman takes verbatim from an article titled "Effect of Literary Occupation upon the Duration of Life," in Harper's Weekly (January 17, 1857): 34. Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) was a popular Scottish novelist and poet, Daniel Webster (1782–1852) an American congressman, and Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) an Anglo-Irish satirist and cleric. [back]

6. Plato (d. 348/347 BCE) was a philosopher and major intellectual figure in ancient Greece, as were Diogenes (412 or 404–323 BCE), Democritus (ca. 460–ca. 370 BCE), and Zeno (ca. 490–ca. 430 BC). Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) was an English mathematician, astronomer, and scientist; William Harvey (1578–1657) an English anatomist; Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) an American diplomat, politician, and scientist; and Noah Webster (1758–1843) an American lexicographer. As quoted by Whitman, the attained ages of the Greek philosophers are almost pure conjecture, and he misstates those of Harvey and Webster, since Whitman again derives the information for this paragraph from "Effect of Literary Occupation upon the Duration of Life," Harper's Weekly (January 17, 1857): 34. The anecdote about the French statistician, which appears in the Harper's article, originates in William Lambe's Water and Vegetable Diet (New York: Fowler and Wells, 1850), 61. [back]

7. The athleticism of Greek philosopher and cult leader Pythagoras (ca. 570–ca. 495 BCE) is often noted in traditional legends. [back]


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