Walt Whitman Knows How to Be a Man

Credit: Getty Images

Jim Harrison and Ernest Hemingway declared their traditional, rugged takes on manliness and their general disdain for modern American culture in their writing. Turns out that Walt Whitman did too. He may be best known for his poetry, but more than a century later, he’s making headlines with a 47,000-word guide to life for men, aptly titled Manly Health and Training." 

The 150-year-old guide to eating, exercising, sex, and facial hair is for men of all generations. Until recently, it was just a long-forgotten collection of newspaper columns written under Whitman’s pseudonym, Mose Velsor. But when University of Houston doctoral student Zachary Turpin discovered the complete draft handwritten and signed by Walt Whitman, the true identity of the author was confirmed. Now, we have a modern-day version of an antique manual of manhood, courtesy of the gentleman Walt Whitman himself. Here are a few of our favorite and most entertaining excerpts and tips from the tome.

On Beards

"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. Think what would be the result if the hair of the head should be carefully scraped off three or four times a week with the razor!”

Takeaway: According to Walt, the season of the beard is never over. Keep it well-groomed.

On Nutrition

"If you want to know what is best to a hearty man… we will answer… a simple diet of rare-cooked beef, seasoned with a little salt, and accompanied with stale bread or sea-biscuit. Mutton, if lean and tender, is also commendable. Pork should not be eaten. Butter, pepper, catsup, oil, and most of the 'dressings,' must also be eschewed. Lobster and chicken salad, cabbage, cucumbers, and even potatoes, are to be turned away from. Salted meats are not to be partaken of either."

Takeaway: If it were up to Walt, there would be no tacos, seafood, burgers, salad, barbecue, chicken, or potatoes. And dream on about condiments. Welcome to the original Paleo diet.

On Footwear

"Probably there is no way to have good and easy boots or shoes, except to have lasts modeled exactly to the shape of the feet. This is well worth doing. Hundreds of times the cost of it are yearly spent in idle gratifications — while this, rightly looked upon, is indispensable to comfort and health. The feet, too, must be kept well clothed with thin socks in summer, and woolen in winter — and washed daily."

Takeaway: Invest in a good pair of shoes and keep your feet clean.

On Toughness

"We have spoken before of the morning ablutions — we mean the cool bath for the whole body. … This, cautiously begun, and by degrees formed into a habit, will so invigorate the whole surface as to make one indifferent during the day to the severest cold… while others are chilly and shivering."

Takeaway: If you’re young and strong and want to feel younger and stronger, take a freezing bath everyday. Sounds like a recovery ice bath – not worth it.

On Nudity

“Never before did I get so close to Nature; never before did she come so close to me… Is not nakedness indecent? No, not inherently… There come moods when these clothes of ours are not only too irksome to wear, but are themselves indecent.”

Takeaway: It’s okay to enjoy relaxing in the nude for a bit. But for the most part, you should probably keep your clothes on.