The well-read are abuzz over Walt Whitman’s recently discovered journalistic work Manly Health and Training. Published in an obscure newspaper in 1858, Whitman’s dive into the medical science and ubiquitous quackery of the day offers one of those rare opportunities for today’s mass and social media to act smart by referencing a towering literary figure.
Observers have already noted Whitman’s pro-meat diet and his pointed urging that we maintain an active lifestyle, lest we become choleric or some other ungodly thing. Whitman had not become a nurse yet. That would happen during the Civil War. But he clearly had done some thinking on the topic of the (manly) body. Or maybe he was just getting paid by the word.
The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review provides the full text but, always interested in keeping our readership healthy and in sweet breath, we would like to provide an excerpt.
Among the signs of manly health and perfect physique, internal and external, are a clear eye, a transparent and perhaps enbrowned complexion (the latter not necessarily), an upright attitude, a springy step, a sweet breath, a ringing voice and little or nothing of irritability in the temper.
Putting on his prophet’s hat, Whitman looks past the pen and paper of his day to warn future generations like us:
If you are a student, be also a student of the body, a practiser of manly exercises, realizing that a broad chest, a muscular pair of arms, and two sinewy legs, will be just as much credit to you, and stand you in hand through your future life, equally with your geometry, your history, your classics, your law, medicine, or divinity. Let nothing divert you from your duty to your body. Up in the morning early!
As of Thursday at midday, Manly Health and Training had been downloaded over 20,000 times. Why not? Belief in the benefits of, and route to, physical fitness never fundamentally change. We just find new ways to avoid exercise. Let’s commit to the Whit. Tonight, eat a big steak and then do some blacksmithing. Let nothing divert you! Especially Instagram!