Walt Whitman Advises Us on Manly Life

Is it facial hair faux pas that wrench your heart? Dietary woes that ail you? Trouble with the ladies? If you’re a nineteenth century man, Walt Whitman is here to help.

This past week, Mose Velsor, Whitman’s go-to penname, was found in connection with a 47,000 word column on men’s health. Under the pseudonym, Whitman wrote an extensive thirteen part treatise titled ‘Manly Health and Training’. The column concerned what it meant to be a man, how to attain a more ‘noble physique’ and of course, the mustachioed man’s musings on facial hair.

Originally published in The New York Atlas, the weekly column created a dialogue between concerned male readers and Whitman, who dished out advice ranging from virility and STD’s, to foul-looking foot fungus.

 Image courtesy of NY Times

The entire series is available to the public domain on the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, including an introduction from Zachary Turpin, the Whitman archivist who discovered the documents. Turpin describes the articles as  “an essay on male beauty, a chauvinistic screed, a sports memoir, a eugenics manifesto, a description of New York daily life, an anecdotal history of longevity, or a pseudoscientific tract.” He also warns of it’s less than tactful and at times contradictory nature.

The broad strokes of his advice center around physical well-being and the aesthetic life that results. Among other tips, he advises men to get involved in sports, avoid exhausting themselves with women – which can only bring “puny and scrofulous” children – indulge in an all-meat diet, and grow a full-bodied beard as safeguard for throat health.

Although some parts of the text may make feminists and nutritionists alike turn over in their graves, the journal should be taken as a “kind of a hymn to the male body – a love song to the male body,” according to the journal’s editor, Ed Folsom. The weekly column fucntions as a framework for Whitman scholars to understand how a particular range of issues were asked and grappled with in the nineteenth century, and in a retrospective glance, how Whitman’s essays communicated this slice of male culture. Beyond it’s massive contribution to the Whitman archives, the finding is a peak below the veil of a not too distant past, the formative years before modernism, and a culture of self-care that ripples into the 20th and 21th centuries. 

We highly encourage you to check out the journal, avoid cringing at the outdated remarks, and hopefully come away with a sliver of wisdom for men and women alike.


Featured image courtesy of FlavorPill