Text: Edgar Allan Poe (compiler), “A Chapter on Field Sports and Manly Pastimes: Gymnastics and Gymnasia (part I),” Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine (Philadelphia, PA), September 1839, vol. V, no. 3, 5:161-163


[page 161, unnumbered:]





[[This paragraph is taken directly from American Journal of Education, 1826, 1:502:]]

IT may be truly said, that the revival of Gymnastics, so long buried under the ruins of antiquity is one of the greatest advancements yet made in the science of education, and not among the least conspicuous improvements of the present enlightened age. Every one who reflects—every one who knows anything, knows, and by experience, how intimate a connexion there exists between body and mind — how invariably the healthy or sickly temperament of the one influences that of the other; that when the body is strong, healthy, and active, so is the mind cheerful and elastic, and that when the former is sickly and diseased, so is the latter languid and depressed. The ancient Greeks and Romans understood this; and their education was accordingly directed to the development, not only of the mental, but also of the corporeal powers; and this corporeal branch of education was termed Gymnastics.

[[The next three paragraphs are taken from the London Mirror, May 20, 1826, 7:306:]]

The earliest account we have of gymnastic exercises is in Homer’s Iliad, book the twenty-third”, in which are described the games celebrated at the funeral of Patroclus. The Grecian gymnastics consisted of chariot racing, boxing, wrestling, foot races, drawing the bow, hurling javelins, etc,

Plato states, that one Herodicus introduced this art into physic; and Hippocrates, who lived at a later period, recommended it ; but as physicians did not adopt all the exercises of the gymnastic art, it came to be divided between them and the teachers of warlike and athletic exercises, who kept schools for the purpose.

From Greece, gymnastic exercises were imported into the Roman empire, where the young men were exercised in athletic sports in a large plain, by the side of the Tiber, called the Campus Martins, or in public schools, termed Gymnasia, or Palestrae ; but as the amusements did not differ materially from those in Greece, it is unnecessary to describe them.

[[This paragraph is taken directly from American Journal of Education, 1826, 1:502:]]

In the middle ages, when education got into the hands, and was at the sole disposal of the monks, it is not surprising that Gymnastics altogether disappeared. The lords of the soil indeed, knights and princes, contended at their splendid tilts and tournaments ; but the mass of the people were degraded and enslaved, the more effectually to administer to the pleasures and the pride of their oppressors. This age of chivalry, as it was termed, passed away however in succeeding ages ; even these knightly games became extinct, and Gymnastics, gradually losing ground, were at length reduced to the very name, known possibly to some musty philosophers who might have stumbled on it in their insane, because indiscriminate, enthusiasm for whatever might bear the stamp of barbarism or antiquity.

[[As implied by the reference to Joseph Strutt, the next two paragraphs, including the quoted poems, are taken from Sports and Pastimes:]]

The nearest approach to the true exercises of the Gymnasium proper, of which we find an account in any of the British records, is to be met with in the “Sports and Pastimes” of Joseph Strutt.

”Hopping-matches for prizes,” he says, “were occasionally made in the sixteenth century, as we learn from John Heywoode, the epigrammatist. In his Proverbs are the following lines :

Where wooers hoppe in and out, long time may bring

Him that hoppeth best, at last to have the ring —

— I hoppying without for a ringe of a rushe.

[page 162:]

And again, in a play called the four P’s, by the same author, one of the characters is directed to ‘hop upon one foot ;’ and another says —

Here were a hopper to hop for the ring.”

Mention is also made of the Ladder-Dance — “so called because the performer stands upon a ladder, which he shifts from place to place, and ascends or descends, without losing the equilibrium, or permitting it to fall.”

In regard to those mere feats of agility and dexterity, for which our tumblers, rope-dancers, and circus-riders are now famous, we meet with enough to prove that they have been at all times practised in England, and indeed throughout Europe, and many other portions, both of the civilized and uncivilized world ; but the practice of gymnastic exercises, as a system, for the useful purposes of invigorating the body and imparting elasticity to the mind, has been only lately revived from antiquity. To Professors Gutsmuths and Jahn, the merit of the discovery and revival of this long lost art, — “this relic of an age gone by,” — is more particularly due. After a careful examination of the structure of the human body, they devised numerous exercises, arranged them in a well adapted series, and again restored Gymnastics to something like their former rank and importance.

[[This paragraph is taken directly from the London Mirror, May 20, 1826, 7:306:]]

It was in Denmark that these exercises were first considered in a national point of view ; and in 1803 the number of gymnastic establishments in that country had amounted to fourteen, in which three thousand young men were educated. Indeed, on the continent generally, the system spread.

[[The next three paragraphs are taken directly from American Journal of Education, 1826, 1:503:]]

In many towns of Germany and Switzerland, Gymnasia were established. The youth, and even grown men, soon derived more pleasure from exercises which fortified, than from pleasures which paralized, the powers of their bodies. By the consciousness of increased vigor, the mind, too, became power fully excited, and strove for equal perfection ; and the constant ambition of every pupil was to verify in his own instance, the truth of the adage, “Mens sana in corpore sana — A sound mind in a healthy body.” Even the naturally indolent were irresistibly carried away by the zeal of their comrades ; persons, diseased and weakly, recovered their health, for the restoration of which these exercises were possibly the only effectual remedy. The certificates of physicians wherever Gymnastics were introduced, concurred as to their healthful tendency, nor were the highest testimonials from parents and teachers found wanting. Indeed, all young men who cultivated them, were acknowledged to have improved in health and morals, and to have acquired an open, free, and graceful deportment. For many years past, Gymnastics have been introduced into England, and have met with decided success. They have been patronized by the government — have been adopted in the army ; in the Royal Military, and Naval Schools; besides the Charter-house, and many private establishments. Private Gymnasia, too, have also appeared in various parts of the metropolis, and received considerable encouragement. But in order to render Gymnastics generally beneficial, and to secure to them a permanent and a national basis, a Public Gymnasium was at length established in several parts of London and the environs, for the admission of all persons of character and respectability, and on terms as nearly as possible proportioned to their pecuniary abilities. Its conduct and regulation were placed under the management of a society, formed by their own body.

That such institutions are desirable in large cities, will be obvious to all who reflect on the impossibility of persons whose employments are sedentary, attaining, after the confinement and anxiety of the day, a requisite portion of healthful exercise and excitement to recruit and exhilarate the spirit, and restore the tone of languid nature. This object, it will be admitted, is not accomplished by the dull, monotonous, and even the pernicious practice of listlessly strolling about the streets without a definite or a useful motive; still less, by dissipating the remnant of their already abused faculties in the unhallowed atmosphere of the tavern or the club. To the clerk, this course will but accelerate the mischief arising from eight or ten hours’ “dry drudgery at the desk’s dead wood ;” to the artizan it is not calculated to ensure peaceful slumbers, and to enable him to meet the duties of the morrow “with nerves new-braced and spirits cheered.”

In hypochnndriacal, and all other melancholy disorders, people are too apt to acquire the notion, that mind alone is concerned ; whereas, the body will usually be found to own at least an equal share, if not indeed the original, of the evil. There is a mutual re-action between them, and by lessening it on one aide, you diminish the pain on both. Hypochondria is the name of one of the regions of the stomach — a very instructive etymology. The blood of a melancholy man is thick and slow ; that of a lively man, clear and quick. A natural conclusion therefore, is, that the remedy would be found in putting the blood into action. “By ceaseless action all that is, subsists.” Exercise is the best means of effecting it, as the impulse given by artificial stimuli is too sudden, the effect too transitory, and the cost to nature too great. Plato had so high an opinion of the medicinal powers of exercise for disorders of the mind, that he said it was even a cure for a wounded conscience.

The want of exercise, says Dr. Blackmore, is a preparatory cause of the gout, and this is warranted by long experience ; for instance, the sedentary lawyer, and the unwearied student who continually converse with their books, and seldom employ themselves in exercise, thereby often contract [page 164:] the gout. The sauntering, supine, and oscitant gentleman, by his birth and great possessions, exempt from labor and exercise, therefore is entitled to diseases.”

”If much study,” says Dr. Cheyne, “ be joined to the want of exercise, it becomes then doubly prejudicial, and will, if long pursued, ruin the strongest constitutions.

”Hard study never fails to destroy the appetite, and produce all the symptoms already enumerated, with headaches, vertigoes, costiveness, wind, crudities, apoplexies, and palsy.

”If inactivity and want of exercise are joined with luxury, the solids become relaxed and weakened, and the acrimony of the salts and humors gradually increase, then chronical disorders are produced, such as gout, erysipelas, rheumatisms, with all the pains, miseries, and torments arising in this low sunk state of the constitution.”

It is difficult to convince sedentary people, but it is a duty to attempt persuading them, that their usual habits waste the spirits, destroy health, and shorten life. Hundreds in each of our large cities die every year for want of exercise.

It is by no means necessary that we should cultivate Gymnastics “after the manner of the ancients,” but only so far as may be requisite to maintain the even tenor of existence. The state of society in towns continually imposes obstructions to health, and offers inducements to the slothful, in the shape of palliatives, which ultimately increase the “miseries of human life.” Exercise is both a prevention and a remedy ; but we must not mistake — diligence is not neceesarily exercise.

Our ordinary pastimes are now almost all within doors ; those of our progenitors in England were more in the open air. They danced on the green in the day-time ; we, if we dance at all, move about in warm rooms at night ; and then there are the “late hours,” the “making a toil of pleasure,” the lying in bed late the next morning, the incapacity to perform duties in consequence of “recreation!” The difference to health is immense — the difference to morals is not less. If reflection be troublesome, read the proceedings in courts of justice and then reflect. We have much to unlearn.

Woodcut Engraving of Barret's Gym, Philadelphia, PA

The above Engraving is an accurate representation of



An institution which has met with decided encouragement, and which, we are happy to add, deserves it. Mr. B. has introduced many improvements upon former plans, in regard to his machinery, regulations, and exercises. Some general idea of these latter may be gained from an inspection of the engraving. In our next number, we will enter into minute details respecting this and similar institutions — giving an entire code of “Instructions for Gymnasts.” It would be a source of great picture to us if we could be the means, in any degree, of exciting intcreet upon a subject which, however frivolous it may appear, is yet ene of so much real importance.





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