Health

Someone Just Found a 47,000-Word Health Manifesto by Walt Whitman, and It's Batshit Crazy

Published On 05/04/2016 Published On 05/04/2016

If you like poetry, manly men, and copious amounts of meat, then boy, do I have some orgasmic news for you! A graduate student was poking around some databases of journals from the 1800s, as grad students are wont to do, and waddya know, there was a 47,000-word Walt Whitman health manifesto called "Manly Health and Training, With Off-Hand Hints Toward Their Condition," just sitting there in the Sunday, Sept 12th, 1858 edition of the New York Atlas, totally undiscovered. What a bounty!

Yes, this is the same Walt Whitman who was known for being one of the preeminent poets of the 19th century, the man who put American literature on a course to modernism, a man who wrote an elegy for Lincoln that remains one of the most well-known poems ever composed, a man who thought baseball players had pretty neat shoes, and maybe more people should wear them? Guess he wasn't lying when he said he contained multitudes.

Wait, how did no one know about this?!

The student, Zachary Turpin, searched the databases using some of Whitman;s pseudonyms, in this case Mose Velsor. After seeing a reference to a health series by "Velsor," he requested microfilm of the New York Atlas. The rest is manly health history.

This isn't some sort of "maybe it's Walt Whitman" situation, either; Whitman had referenced "manly health" in other works, because when you write a manifesto about manly health, you CAN'T STOP WRITING ABOUT MANLY HEALTH. Also, only Walt Motherfucking Whitman would use the word "multitudinous" in the opening paragraph of a health manifesto, and you don't exactly need to be a literary historian to see through that bit of diction. He might as well have called it "Song of My Health."

This is probably no-nonsense, technical, dry health-speak from the 1850s, right?

Wrong! Don't ask stupid, leading questions, idiot straw man. In addition to the opening salvo of "multitudinous," Whitman gives you the full range of his florid health prose, including speculation on why the heck men want bulging, veiny muscles in the first place:
"[A]ll other goods of existence would hardly be goods, in comparison with a perfect body, perfect blood -- no morbid humors, no weakness, no impotency or deficiency or bad stuff in him; but all running over with animation and ardor, all marked by herculean strength, suppleness, a clear complexion, and the rich results (which follow such causes) of a laughing voice, a merry song morn and night, a sparkling eye, and an ever-happy soul!"

Uhhhhh, holy shit, sounds pretty good, where can one purchase these supplements??? Sing my body electric any day, Walt, preferably with loads of protein.

OK, Walt Whitman, teach me about manly health

Mr. Whitman, I am filled with morbid humors! Agues of all sorts! My bile is bilious, and I am overcome with vapors nigh daily! How can I be restored to my previous suppleness, my manly health?
Here's what Whitman says: 

Hang out with manly healthy dudes. "There was a wonderful medicinal effect in the mere personal presence of a man who was perfectly well!" That's Whitman's emphasis, obviously. So just round up a baker's dozen of the healthiest, manliest bros you know, and that should start to work its magic forthwith. 

Don't sit around all day, maybe pull an oar or something. Whitman's advice still applies to anyone involved in "sedentary or mental employments." Uh-oh. If you want manly health, it's time to "Habituate yourself to the brisk walk in the fresh air -- the exercise of pulling the oar -- and to the loud declamation upon the hills, or along the shore." Poetry-heads out there: oar rhymes with shore! 

Chill, bro. After a curiously long digression into how sweet the sculpted, glistening Greeks were at maintaining manly health, a frothing-at-the-mouth Whitman reminds you: don't be an obsessive, dude! "There is such a thing as taking too minute and morbid care of the health, and, therefore, losing it as effectually as by taking no care at all." Moderation in all things, including the number of bros you invite back to your place for a post-workout cooldown. 

Eat lots of meat. Ohhhhh, fuck yeah! Whitman says you should be eating rare, lean meat for dinner AT LEAST five times a week, not including the breakfast of rare lean meat with NO gravy you're supposed to eat before your daily training regimen.

That said, he acknowledges that pretty much every great saint and philosopher ever was a vegetarian who lived to old age. It's just those damn annoying New York vegetarians who drive him crazy: "We have seen New England and New York vegetarians, gaunt, hard, melancholy, and unhappy looking persons, that looked like anything else than a recommendation of their doctrine." Translation: Not. Bangable. 

If you get all hot and sweaty, pop those clothes off! Come on, man, those dripping-wet clothes can't be comfortable... why not "strip, rub down briskly with dry cloths, and change the underclothes"? Maybe some of those manly healthy friends you're hanging out with these days can give you a hand or seven.

Don't drench your stomach with water before eating. Uhhhhh... what? Don't drink water? On the other hand, Whitman was early on the anti-soda bandwagon, saying that you're better off drinking an ale than soda, or "slops of all sorts," which is definitely still true. Beer > any kind of slop. 

Be careful of syphilis and other STDs. Listen, Whitman gets it. You're a manly man. You want to go out and spread your manly seed. Just try to reign in your licentiousness, because if you catch syphilis or any other venereal disease, "It may remain lurking and lurking there for years, and appear a long while afterward, in terrible forms." Kind of like the unwanted child you fathered in an era before prophylactics, only with more rashes. 

The Great American Evil -- indigestion

Truth.

Can I read this myself?

You can! The University of Iowa has put it all together for you. Keep in mind that 47,000 words is a lot to read, especially if you're going to be training your arms with dumbbells and engaging in leaping games with your manly friends. Although it might be a great read for the elliptical.  

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Anthony Schneck is Thrillist's Health editor and unofficial poet at large. Follow him: @AnthonySchneck. 

Clickbait

close

Learn More