Avoid sweets, wear sneakers, and get moving. And don't eat your vegetables.
Walt Whitman has long been considered one of America's greatest poets, but only recently has he posthumously joined the ranks of recognised self-help gurus. The discovery of his 47,000-word treatise, Manly Health and Training, With Off-Hand Hints Toward Their Conditions has thrilled Whitman experts and entertained his fans.
The series was written under his pseudonym Mose Velsor during the late 1850s, a time when he was preparing the third edition of "Leaves of Grass" and, as the New York Times points out, "probably working on the poems of homoerotic love that are central to the Whitman we know today." His poems of that time are celebrated for their sensuousness, but his straightforward catalogue of advice for men is also a pleasure to read.
Whitman believed that a sound body was a prerequisite for a sound mind, explaining that "out of health and a fine physique, would arise an immensely greater development of morality and abstract good."
While some of his suggestions may strike the modern reader as a bit odd, many would still have their followers today. Here are some words of wisdom (as you will see, not all of them have stood the test of time) from the poet's 13-part series, which first appeared in the New York Atlas over a century ago and is now available in its entirety online thanks to Iowa Research Online.
- "There is such a thing as taking too minute and morbid care of the health."
- "Eat enough, and when you eat that, stop!"
- "There is no sham or make-believe about this business of entering on the development, purification, strengthening and gracefulness of the body; but it is something to be carried out with an earnest, conscientious, persevering soul."
- "The great American evil—indigestion."
- "Walking, or some form of it, is nature’s great exercise—so far ahead of all others as to make them of no account in comparison."
- "We do not know a better exercise, either for young or middle-aged men, than practicing (at first with moderation), in loudly reciting and declaiming in the open air, or in some large room."
- "The habit of rising early is not only of priceless value in itself, as a means toward, and concomitant of health, but is of equal importance from what the habit carries with it, apart from itself. In nature, there is no example of the bad practice of an animal, in full development of health and strength, in fine weather, lingering in its place of rest, nerveless and half dead, for hours and hours after the sun has risen."
- "We would rather, a little while after his dinner, a man should drink a glass of good ale or wine than one of those mixtures called “soda,” or even a strong cup of hot coffee. We mention this, not as recommending any of those drinks to whoever, young, old, or middle-aged, is in pursuit of health and a manly physique, but by comparison. The drink we recommend, and not too much of that, is water only."
- "The best way to keep really warm in winter, (for men,) is, not to withdraw from the open air, but go out in it, and keep stirring."
- "If nine-tenths of all the various culinary preparations and combinations, vegetables, pastry, soups, stews, sweets, baked dishes, salads, things fried in grease, and all the vast array of confections, creams, pies, jellies, &c., were utterly swept aside from the habitual eating of the people, and a simple meat diet substituted in their place—we will be candid about it, and say in plain words, an almost exclusive meat diet—the result would be greatly, very greatly, in favor of that noble-bodied, pure-blooded, and superior race we have had a leaning toward."
- "This virile power, so becoming to a man, and without which, indeed, he is not a man, seems, in modern life, to be under the curse of an insane appetite, especially among the youth of cities, which makes them think they are doing great things if they commence early with women, and keep up afterwards a huge number of intrigues and amours—having no choice about it, but sweeping at all that is female, as a fisherman sweeps fish into his net."
- "No man can serve the two masters, of frivolous fashion and the attainment of robust health and physique, at the same time."
- "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."
- "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."
- "The periods of middle and old age are perhaps the finest, in some of the most important respects, through life."
- "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."
- "Do not be discouraged soon. Give our advice a thorough trial—not for a few days or weeks, but for months."