What’s the healthiest way to live? According to Walt Whitman, three keys to a healthy lifestyle are lean meat, regular cold bathes, and comfortable shoes.
Best known for his poetry and essays, Whitman was also a prolific journalist that used many different pseudonyms in his writing. NPR reported on Saturday that the man best known for writing “Leaves of Grass” and “O Captain! My Captain” also wrote a series of advice columns collectively titled “Manly Health and Training” under the name Mose Velsor.
The columns, which were published in an obscure newspaper and have long been hidden away in a handful of libraries, were recently rediscovered by Zachary Turpin, a doctoral candidate at the University of Houston. The New York Times reported that Turpin uncovered the series while browsing various digitized databases of newspapers from the 19th-century. Turpin would enter one of Whitman’s many pseudonyms and see what turned up. “It’s kind of a sickness I have in off-hours,” Turpin said.
The hours of browsing paid off, however, when he finally got a hit in The New-York Daily Tribune, from Sep. 11, 1858, that refereed to a column by Mose Velsor that was about to appear in The New York Atlas. Turpin ordered microfilm of the issues The Atlas containing the series, and was shocked when he discovered a full 13 installments. “It took about 24 hours for it to sink in,” he said.
Turpin describes the find as a “rare open-and-shut case,” where the authorship of the column is not even remotely in question. “Besides it being signed with this pseudonym of his … there was also draft language in his handwriting that matches the piece itself,” Turpin said.
So what does Whitman have to say about healthy living? Well, for one he is a huge advocate of eating meat. “Let the main part of the diet be meat, to the exclusion of all else,” he wrote, sounding like a paleo advocate. But Whitman isn’t recommending a meat eating free-for-all, as there are only a few kinds of animal worthy of consumption, such as “rare-cooked beef, seasoned with a little salt” or “mutton, if lean and tender.” However, “Pork should not be eaten,” and most condiments should also be avoided.
He is also a big advocate of facial hair: “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.” Dancing, too, is recommended: “We recommend dancing, as worthy of attention, in a different manner from what use is generally made of that amusement; namely, as capable of being made a great help to develop the flexibility and strength of the hips, knees, muscles of the calf, ankles, and feet.”
Between the beard, the paleo diet, and the focus on Jazzercise, Whitman could very well have been writing a health column for the modern day.