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Title: Manly Health and Training

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: December 26, 1858

Whitman Archive ID: per.00435

Source: The New York Atlas 26 December 1858: 3. 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 (For the manuscript draft, see Whitman's Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, 6 vols., ed.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used it a number of times—as when, in 1855, he signed it to both a Life Illustrated article on "The Opera" and an unpublished manuscript about "A Visit to the Opera" (NUPM 1:391).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.]







Are not the present races of men, through the civilized world, far less hardy and sound, less perfect as specimens of noble physique, than they were one hundred, two hundred, and three hundred years ago? We much fear that this question will have to be answered in the affirmative. We have heard it stoutly maintained that the present races are as physically perfect as any previous ones; but our own opinion is that the prevalence of a far more artificial life, and the occupation of such myriads of men, these times, in close factories, and all kinds of indoor work, joined with other causes, (among which may be specified the frightful adulteration of most of the grocery articles of food,) have had a deleterious effect on the general health, in comparison with what, according to all accounts, must have been presented by former times.

Is this inevitable? that is the most important question. Can we not have the principal advantages of modern civilization, with their factories, vast ranks of employees, and all the grand accompaniments of great cities, without having also a deteriorated race of men? We are clear enough that this latter is not the necessary result; but that, in easy accord with modern forms, with factories, the life of cities, and all the modern requirements and usages, these may be conformed to, and still, under training and physiological laws, the health kept robust, and a noble physique developed. We believe that reason, resolution, and training, are equal to all resolutions and emergencies. But it is necessary that working men, with the rest, should understand, without softening the matter, that their best salvation depends upon entering upon, and a persistent adherence in, a rigid course of training and habits of health. With that made general, the difference between the hardy life of old times, and our artificial forms of life, would disappear—and a fine race of men be produced.


We think it not too much to demand that not only the theories of public education, but that the municipal government, in appropriate ways, should recognize and favor manly training, so conducive to the public health, and to filling the land with a superior and every way better race of men. The legislative authorities have long recognized the propriety of caring for the intellectual development of the young; but we believe, and think we have advanced reasons to prove, not only that the physical stands first in order, and should take precedence of the other, but that that other cannot be carried on, with any degree of profit and safety, except it be combined with the training and strengthening of a fine physique, and founded upon it.

We are not prepared to say exactly in what way the recognition and support of the authorities should be bestowed. It is enough at present to broach the matter, giving a few of the reasons that have a bearing upon it—and then leaving the case to work out its consequences.

As to the schools, we have long been of opinion that no school should be established, in city or country, without its training department, its gymnasium, where health, vigor, cleanliness, activity, and the simple and broad laws of physiology, are exemplified for the young. We do not mean merely places of exercise, but of training in its full sense, with reference to the establishment of good habits of diet, self-denial, chastity, temperance, &c., or of inculcating the knowledge of them, at any rate, so that they may be generally diffused. We are encouraged to hope that these articles, among many means now at work, may help towards producing that most desirable result.

To us it is quite certain that, by right observances, an entire nation of men may be vigorous and beautiful—that is, that they will form the rule, and be common, while feebleness and bad looks will be the exception. What a result this would be! As it is, even with all their excesses, their dyspepsia, their abuse and overtasking of the brain, the Americans are undoubtedly the handsomest men, as a race, now upon the earth. What would they be with general sound health, and perfect physiques?


It is a favorite theory of ours that the generations of men, in America, have yet to witness the immense perfection of physical strength that is to be attained, and to become quite general—common enough, at any rate, not to excite the remarks it now does, or serve as a wonder, a monstrosity. We have in our time seen some pretty tall specimens of strength, among the rest a Belgian, who was exhibited a few years ago in New York, named J. A. Bihin.1 He could lift from the ground, with his hands, eight hundred pounds, and straighten his back, when stooping, under a weight of two tons. His size, however, was the most formidable part of him. He was seven feet and a half in height; he measured fifty inches round the chest, twenty-eight inches round the thigh, and twenty-two inches round the calf of the leg—and his weight was three hundred and twenty pounds. He was no monstrosity, but was of symmetrical form throughout.

But very great strength may reside in persons of ordinary general size, and is often to be found there. Good parentage is a great thing; but training, and proper and systematic exercise, are also capable of bringing out strength to a very great degree, in those who have not inherited it.

As an illustration of the power of man's endurance, it is well known that a properly trained pedestrian can tire out a horse, (it is said any horse) on a pull sufficiently long to tax the powers of each to the utmost. In oriental countries, the performances of the Indian footmen and runners, stage after stage, day after day, are almost incredible. There seems to be no tire to the soles of their feet. They are brought up to it from their earliest youth, and so get to have unsurpassed wind and bottom. All this, too, on a simple sustenance of rice and milk, dried fruits, and the like,—as, to many of them, a meat diet is unknown.


Probably the last as well first thing to be mentioned, and attended to, for one who considers the subject of health, and of putting himself in systematic training for its conditions, is that of diet—what he may eat and drink, and what he must avoid. Here will generally be the hardest tug of all. Everybody loves good living; and the ingenuity of modern cookery has created so many dishes to satisfy that love, that few will, at first, be willing to apply that stern check on their appetites which is necessary. It needs to be stated, however, with entire candor, that whoso wants a fine physique, continued through middle age, and carried on to old age, must fulfil this part of the conditions, or the rest will be of no avail. Most of the artificial luxuries, solid and liquid, must be cut off. Soups, pastry, fat, onions, gravies, puddings, sauces, brandy, gin, coffee, jellies, may be specified, not as by any means comprising the whole list of contraband articles, but as heading the list; nor must we forget to put in cigars and tobacco. It is useless to make a stand on these things. To the young man who sets out with the will to accomplish the end we have been placing before him, the result must reward him for his denial of these and similar gratifications.

Have greater care, very much greater care, in the choice of articles used for your food, and also in the manner of their being cooked. It is no discredit to a man, young or old, for him to show that he is jealous of his condition, and that he is determined to use the means which will preserve that condition.

What then may be eaten? If you want to know what is best to a hearty man, who takes plenty of exercise and fresh air, and don't want any pimples on his face or body, we will answer, (perhaps very much to your astonishment,) a simple diet of rare-cooked beef, seasoned with a little salt, and accompanied with stale bread or sea-biscuit. Mutton, if lean and tender, is also commendable. Pork should not be eaten. Butter, pepper, catsup, oil, and most of the "dressings," must also be eschewed. Lobster and chicken salad, cabbage, cucumbers, and even potatoes, are to be turned away from. Salted meats are not to be partaken of either; and salt itself, as a seasoning, is to be used as sparingly as possible. There is quite a great popular error we will mention here, on the use of salt for food. It by no means has the merit that is generally attributed to it; but, on the contrary, if used to excess, causes a very vicious state of the blood. Salt is a mineral, and it is not solved in the juices of the body.

With early rising and "taking an airing," there will be no need of an appetite for breakfast, which, under the rules we have stated, may be pretty fully indulged in. The same as to dinner. The supper, which must not be at a late hour, we would recommend always to be light—occasionally making this meal to consist of fruit, either fresh, during the middle and latter part of the summer—and of stewed fruit during the winter and spring. As to a hearty supper of rich viands, that must be forborne on all occasions—especially by those who have to use the vocal organs in public; speakers, singers, actors, preachers, &c. For it is a well-settled fact that the voice is seriously injured by such suppers, and the "wind" (as it is called in sporting phrase,) gradually weakened and broken up. If the singer or public speaker only knew how incomparably superior his voice would become, and how steady and reliable on all occasions, under the rigid physiological habitudes we have been laying down, he would need no further persuasion from us to initiate and persevere in these rules, especially as regards diet. It is to be understood that there is an intimate analogy between many parts of the training necessary for athletic physical performances, and that necessary for a first-class vocalist.

Of the drink, the same stern system of abstinence is to be observed. Dr. Forsyth, a great training authority among "the fancy" on the other side of the Atlantic, says: "Medically speaking, as regards drink, we should say that water would be the best liquor in training. But it is never given alone in modern times, as it is thought to be a weakening diluent. The ancient athletes, however, were allowed nothing but water, or a sort of thick and sweet wine. The drink preferred by modern English trainers, for the ring, is good old malt liquor, in bottles, and as mild as possible, without any perceptible tartness or harshness, (this is for the English climate, however, not American, which is different.) Those who do not like malt liquor, particularly for breakfast, (they never have coffee or tea,) are allowed by the trainers a small quantity of wine or water. Cool tea is sometimes permitted, but this reluctantly, as it is not considered strengthening. Hot, or even warm liquor, of any kind, is considered as enervating and weakening to the tone of the system, and is not given—except warm gruel or beef tea, when taking physic. By the best English trainers, no spirits, (brandy, gin, &c.) are ever permitted, not even with water, at any time, or under any pretence; if used, it is always against their serious protest. No milk is allowed either, as, if creamy and rich, it is too fattening and plethoric. No drink is permitted, before meals, unless there be distressing thirst.2

Among the English, Scotch and Irish trainers, quite a favorite refreshment to be given their men is a "gruel," a compound of oatmeal, water and salt. This is carefully prepared, quite a large quantity, in a pitcher, and it is free to the man in training, at any hour, day or night, at exercise or between meals—with no other restriction than the man's own appetite. We have heard so much of oatmeal, and of the potent sanitary results of using it as an aliment, that we confess we are curious to see it introduced and tried in America. Would it not make a very cheap, simple, and agreeable addition to the variety of our food here? Cannot some agriculturalist or food speculator take the hint?

Among the additional rules that may be mentioned with regard to eating, are such as follow:

Make the principal part of your meal always of one dish.

Chew the food well, and do not eat fast.

Wait until you feel a good appetite before eating—even if the regular hour for a meal has arrived.

We have spoken against the use of the potato. It still remains to be said that if it agrees with you, and you are fond of it, it may be used; it is best properly boiled, at the morning meal. Do not partake of it, however, except in moderation.

Drink very sparingly at each meal; better still not at all—only between meals, when thirsty.

Any article craved by the appetite, and not of essential importance to be prohibted, may be allowed in moderation. This permission, however, does not extend to spiritous liquors.

In general terms, avoid what disagrees with you; for there are, to every individual case, certain rules which apply to it alone. Study these, as they relate to your own case.

There are even cases where a vegetarian diet applies. Such persons have an antipathy to meat. Of course, to them, it follows that they must eat what their appetite will permit, and what agrees with them.

A cheerful and gay temper during and immediately after meals, is a great help to health.

Never take any violent or strained exercise immediately after a meal.

Our own opinion is, that if things could be so arranged, it would be best to make the heartiest meal in the morning, instead of the middle of the day. This, however, is contrary to modern usage, and would in most cases be inconvenient.

Use no artificial means, "bitters," or any other stimulants, to create a false appetite. If you have none, do not eat till it comes.

Finally, our repeated charge is that all spices, pepper, strong mustard, pickles, pungent preserves, bitters, tobacco, and strong liquor generally, not only injure the stomach by their excessive stimulus and fiery qualities, but the tone of the palate, the taste, by making plain and wholesome food become tasteless. To one, for instance, who is used to plastering over his beefsteak with a thick coat of pungent sauce of some kind, mustard or the like, a plain broiled steak, seasoned only with a pinch of salt, would relish poorly indeed. Yet the latter is by far the best for health; and there is no sauce like regular and daily exercise, and fresh air.


What then to persons in a bad condition? After the body has been reduced by illness, and the whole organism racked and wrecked by powerful drugs, as well as prostrating disease; after the energy and endurance of youth and early manhood have passed, and one has become the slave of custom, and has, perhaps, given up the hope of health, is there still a chance remaining for such a man? Even so. We do not promise anything in the style of some of the medicine advertisements, but say that through simple and natural methods, there arises such virtue out of a few plain laws, and following a few sanitary rules, that, in due time, the result will be, in nine cases out of ten, health and comfort.


We know very well that we have not gone over the whole field, but that much, very much, might still be mentioned, having a bearing, more or less remote, on manly training and the conditions of strength and a perfect physique. In our off-hand articles, however, we have not so much been induced by the desire to comprehend the whole subject, as to broach it to the reader, and give him a few leading hints, out of which the rest will follow; for he who once gets started, fully awakened to the precious endowment he has in his own body, beyond all other wealth that can be acquired by man, will not cease his interest in the subject, but will go on toward a greater and greater degree of inquiry, knowledge, and perfection.

One great point we would again impress on you, reader, (we have before reverted to it,) is the fact that your own individual case doubtless has points and circumstances which more or less modify all the general laws, and perhaps call for special ones, for yourself. This is an important consideration in all theories and statements of wealth.

What we have given has been the general statement—the great highway of manly health, on which all may travel, and must travel; and this is indeed for all. Still there are many little by-ways and lanes leading to particular homes.

Common reason, and such knowledge as we have hastily outlined in the foregoing articles, will clear the way for you in most particulars. Occasionally the advice of an intelligent and conscientious physician may be necessary—and such men are to be found yet. But, generally speaking, the benefit of medicine, or medical advice is very much overrated. Nature's medicines are simple food, nursing, air, rest, cheerful encouragement, and the like. The art of the surgeon is certain and determined—that of the physician is vague, and affords an easy cover to ignorance and quackery. The land is too full of poisonous medicines and incompetent doctors—the less you have to do with them the better.

Our remarks, as we stated ln the beginning, are especially intended for young men. If read over with that attention and earnestness which we are sure they deserve, and then followed with faith and manly perseverance, we feel it not too much to say, we can promise that reliable result, the purpose of all, a sound body and the condition of perfect health.

In that condition your whole body and consequently your spirits too, will be elevated to a state by other persons unknown—made clear and light, inwardly and outwardly elastic—made solid, strong, yet of rapid movement. A singular charm, better than what is called beauty, flickers out of and over your face; a transparency beams in the eyes, both in the iris and the white; you exhibit a new grace in walk, and indeed in all your movements—in the voice, which rings clearer, and has melody, perhaps, for the first time. Few are aware how much a sound condition of the whole organism of the body has to do with the voice.

Not only the looks and movement, but the feelings, undergo a transformation. It may almost be said that sorrows and disappointments cease: there is no more borrowing trouble. With perfect health, (and regular agreeable occupation,) there are no low spirits, and cannot be. A man realizes the old myth of the poets; he is a god walking the earth. He not only feels new powers in himself—he sees new beauties everywhere. His faculties, his eyesight, his hearing, all acquire superior capacity to give him pleasure. Indeed, merely to move is a pleasure; the play of the limbs in motion is enough. To breath, to eat and drink the simplest food, outvie the most costly of previous enjoyments.

Many of those before hand gratifications, especially those of the palate, drink, spirits, fat grease, coffee, strong spices, pepper, pastry, crust, mixtures, &c., are put aside voluntarily—become distasteful. The appetite is voracious enough, but it demands simple aliment. Those others were as vexations dreams—and now the awakening.

How happily pass the days! A blithe carol bursts from the throat to greet the opening morn. The fresh air is inhaled—exercise spreads the chest—every sinew responds to the call upon it—the whole system seems to laugh with glee. The occupations of the forenoon pass swiftly and cheerfully along; the dinner is eaten with such zest as only perfect health can give—and the remaining hours still continue to furnish, as they arrive, new sources of filling themselves, and affording contentment.

How sweet the evenings! The labors of the day over—whether on a farm, or in the factory, the workshop, the forge or furnace, the ship-yard, or what not—then rest is realized indeed. For who else but such as they can realize it? It is a luxury almost worth being poor to enjoy. The healthy sleep—the breathing deep and regular—the unbroken and profound repose—the night as it passes soothing and renewing the whole frame. Yes, nature surely keeps her choicest blessings for the slumber of health—and nothing short of that can ever know what true sleep is.


1. One of P.T. Barnum's curiosities, Belgian giant Jean Bihin (1805–1873) is described very similarly in an article on "Hereditary Descent" in the American Phrenological Journal and Miscellany 10, (1848): 80. Whitman likely got his information from this article, or from Orson Squire Fowler's book of the same title (New York: Fowler and Wells, 1857). [back]

2. Here, Whitman loosely quotes J. S. Forsyth's A Dictionary of Diet (London: Henry Cremer, 1834), 352–353, taking a number of liberties with Forsyth's wording and inserting his own Whitmanian parentheticals throughout. [back]


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