Under that most macho of aliases, “Manly Health and Training” amounts to a "part guest editorial, part self-help column," a “rambling and self-indulgent series” that reveals Walt Whitman's thoughts on a variety of manly-man topics. Including sex.
In addition to the topic of bonking, Whitman as Mose Velsor opined on fitness, bathing, shoes, and gymnastics. The writings also reveal that he might have had something in common with Paleo, Atkins, or “Whole 30” enthusiasts of our time.
“Let the main part of the diet be meat, to the exclusion of all else,” Whitman wrote.
And he was basically into standing desks, and taking walk breaks throughout the day. “To you, clerk, literary man, sedentary person, man of fortune, idler, the same advice,” he commanded, “Up!”
He flirts with the popular quackery and pseudoscience of the day, too, with rants on the nuances of bodily humors, and “the great American evil — indigestion.”
The discovery of this pseudonymous work is of great value to Whitman scholars, because it fills in some blanks in his life story and may help us understand more about the culture he lived and wrote in before the Civil War.
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”]
Here's a juicy snippet from “Mose Velsor”...
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."
Related Reading: The New York Times interviewed the scholar who found the work and realized its signifance. You can also find a copy of the work there, in its entirety.
A gem from the New York Times piece:
The series was discovered last summer by Zachary Turpin, a graduate student in English at the University of Houston who was browsing in digitized databases of 19th-century newspapers, entering various pseudonyms that Whitman, a prolific journalist, was known to have used.
“It’s kind of a sickness I have in off-hours,” Mr. Turpin said in an interview.
As Jennifer Schuessler points out in the NYT, the references in “Manly Health” to “inspiration and respiration” and the importance of “electricity through the frame,” feels similar to the narrative of early Whitman poems such as “Song of Myself,” and “I Sing the Body Electric.”
After reading “Manly Health,” the theme of those classic Whitman poems reads a little more like a HOWTO, or self-improvement blog post. And that is pretty cool.
Source: "University of Houston student uncovers an unknown work by Walt Whitman" [chron.com]
Below: An ad teased the beginning of Whitman's series in the New York Atlas in 1858.