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Poet Walt Whitman Health Tips Unearthed

FLI Walt Whitman

A trove of journalism by the great US poet Walt Whitman is being published online after lying in obscurity more than 150 years.

The 13-part series “Manly Health and Training” was written under the pseudonym, Mose Velsor, for a New York newspaper, The New York Atlas, in 1858.

It contains multitudes of tips on topics such as diet, sex, and hygiene.

The 47,000-word series, which survived only in a few libraries, was discovered in a digitalised newspaper database by a graduate student last year.

It is now being published by the online journal The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review.

US commentators point out that some of Whitman’s health advice sounds surprisingly modern.

FLI New York Atlas

Left column: “Manly Health and Training”

“Let the main part of the diet be meat, to the exclusion of all else,” one entry reads – a exhortation that both The New York Times and Time Magazine say would be endorsed by today’s paleo-diet advocates.

Whitman also recommended the general use of the comfortable shoes “now specially worn by base-ball players” – trainers, as we would call them today.

He also warned against the ravages of desk jobs. “To you, clerk, literary man, sedentary person, man of fortune, idler, the same advice. Up!”

Whitman is regarded as one of America’s literary giants, but for many years he scraped a living as a journalist, and achieved success as a poet late in life.

He began writing “Manly Health and Training” for The Atlas, a small New York newspaper, after the flop of Leaves of Grass – a collection now recognised as his masterpiece.

Ed Folsom, editor of The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, told the New York Times that some of the journalism echoes the themes of self-improvement and homo-erotic love that are central to the poet’s work.

“Look at the brawny muscles attached to the arms of that young man, who, for nearly two years past, has devoted on an average two hours out of the twenty-four to rowing in a boat, swinging the dumbbells, or exercising with the Indian club. Look at the spread of his manly chest, on which also are flakes of muscle which rival those of the ox or horse.—(Start not, delicate reader! the comparison is one to be envied.)

Two years ago that same young man was puny, hollow-breasted, walking home at evening with a languid gait, and eating his meals with less than half an appetite. Training, and the simplest amount of perseverance, have altogether made a new being of him. Training, however, it is always to be borne in mind, does not consist in mere exercise. Equally important with that are the diet, drink, habits, sleep, &c. Bathing, the breathing of good air, and certain other requisites, are also not to be overlooked.” (Walt Whitman, as Mose Velsor)

The 13-part series was recently published online by Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, from the University of Iowa:
[Volume 33, Number 3 (2016), Walt Whitman’s Newly Discovered “Manly Health and Training”]

An ad teased the beginning of Whitman’s series in the New York Atlas in 1858.

FLI Walt Whitman ad

Sources: BBC, University of Iowa

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