Friday, June 12, 2009

British Manly Exercises -- oh my!

I have to share a great Google book I am looking at, even though it is dated slightly outside of the Regency period. It is titled "British Manly Exercises". The one I am studying is the 1837 edition although I have discovered there was a 3rd edition in 1835. This could mean that the first edition was possibly 1830 which, in a stretch, could be considered Regency! The full title is "British Manly Exercises containing Rowing and Sailing, Riding and Driving etc. etc." and it is written by Donald Walker. (The etc. etc. includes skating, wrestling, boxing, leaping, vaulting and balancing, walking and running, and climbing.)

The illustrations have a Regency feel about them--tailcoats and pantaloons--and a naïve charm that is delightful. The text is formal, pedantic and seems to me a foretaste of the Victorian era to come. Following are some sample illustrations and text:

On Ice Skating:
"Skating is the art of balancing the body, while, by the impulse of each foot alternately, it moves rapidly upon the ice.
… In the general inclination of the foot in skating, no edge can have greater power than that of rectangular shape; the tendency of its action is downwards, cutting through rather than sliding on the surface; and great hold that this is unnecessary…
The irons of skates must be kept well and sharply ground."

On Boxing:

"Self-defence, indeed, is essential to the safety of man as a social being; nor is it less requisite to him as an individual.
… If self-defence be at all requisite, if it tend to the protection of life or property, then it is worth acquiring in its natural form,…
…A man's bare arm is his natural weapon, at all times by his side ready for his protection, and where art is united to muscular strength, it is extremely power and efficacious."

On Upright Swimming:

"In this method, the motions of both arms and legs differ from those we have so carefully described, only in so far as they are modified by a more upright position. …
According to this system…a swimmer ought at every stroke to urge himself forward a distance equal to the length of his body. … A good day's journey may thus be achieved, if the strength be used with due discretion, and the swimmer be familiar with the various means by which it may be recruited."

The picture above is titled 'Swimming--Action of the Feet' (note the Regency-style chair)

On Driving

"In modern times, notwithstanding the sneers directed against the gentlemen-coachmen and driving-clubs, it is to them chiefly that this country is indebted for the present excellent state of the roads, and for safe and expeditious travelling.

The taste for driving produced, between men of property and those connected with the road, an intercourse which has been productive of the best results.

Road-makers, and those who have the care of roads, … have been greatly benefited by their advice…"

I recommend you seek out this utterly charming book whether you use it for research or just spend an idle half hour on it. It is books like this that bring the past firmly before us, and breathe life into the people who lived in past times.

Let me know what you think…


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