Text: Edgar Allan Poe (compiler), “A Chapter on Field Sports and Manly Pastimes: Gymnastics and Gymnasia (part II),” Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine (Philadelphia, PA), October 1839, vol. V, no. 4, 5:221-226


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IN our last number we gave, in brief, the History of Gymnastics and Gymnasia, and dwelt, at some length, upon their manifest advantages. Education, indeed, may be divided into two parts, physical and mental ; and of the former Gymnastic Exercises, are the most extensive, and, undoubtedly, the earliest portion. Their purpose is, by systematic guidance, to strengthen the muscular system, and to teach the means of its most advantageous employment. Their general utility will be questioned only by those who are not aware that the health and vigor of all the bodily organs depend on the properly-proportioned exercise of each. Gymnastics insure, in particular, the full development of all the locomotive organs ; preventing or correcting all deformities to which these organs are liable. They are well calculated to produce strength and activity, and to bestow invariable health. They confer beauty of form ; they impart grace of action ; above all, they inspire confidence in difficult situations, and suggest resources in danger.

The term “Gymnastics” in its widest sense, may be made to include a great variety of subjects such, for instance, as riding, rowing, and swimming — but, more strictly, is confined to those particular feats which are practised in gymnasia, and which may be regarded as adapting the bodily system to any possible variety of exertion. In this view we now consider the term ; and may devote separate papers hereafter to the discussion of the other physical exercises above mentioned.

[[This paragraph is taken directly from American Journal of Education, 1826, 1:504:]]


was the name given, originally, by the Greeks to the place where public exercises were performed. We now apply the term in a similar sense. It is not enough to know the theory ; the practise must be combined with it ; and, man being a social animal, that practice is not to be attained in solitude. The Gymnast does not arrive at his enviable pre-eminence by hearsay ; he does not bear about him that delightful sensation of capability to perform und endure what is out of the reach of ordinary men, and by a mere act of volition too, without first making repeated trials and efforts, and by witnessing in the Gymnasium the performances of others, thereby encouraging the pleasing hope that his exertions, also, will be crowned with success.

[[The following section of rules is essentially adapted from Gynmastics for Youth, 1803, pp. 423-426:]]


1. The exercise of the pupils should always take place early in the morning, before breakfast, or two or three hours after a meal.

2. Few persons in good health are ever injured by being overheated ; but from drinking when excessively hot, or being cooled too quickly, practices highly pernicious ; therefore, take off such clothing as can be spared previous to commencing the exercise, and put them on again immediately after. Lying down upon the cold ground afterwards, is very dangerous.

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3. Commence with the more gentle exercise, not with its most violent degrees ; gradually leave off in the same manner. Too sudden transitions are dangerous.

4. Do not let your bodily exertion be carried to excess : your object should be to strengthen the body not to exhaust or render it languid.

5. In all exercises attention should be paid to such a position of all the parts of the body, that none may be exposed to injury — the tongue must never be suffered to remain between the teeth, the legs must not be separated too far.

6. It is necessary, and very advantageous, particularly where the pupils are numerous, to keep up a certain degree of Military regularity and obedience to command.

7. Distinguish the feeble from the athletic, attempt not to make the weak hardy and strong at once, but take time, and proceed gradually. The best standard for the feeble at first is their own desire — their own inclination.

8. Observe what limbs of each Gymnast are the feeblest, and let these be particularly exercised. The left hand and arm are commonly weaker than the right ; let them be frequently exercised, therefore, by lifting, carrying and supporting the weight of the body by suspension, till they become ss strong as the others.

9. The Gymnast must bear in mind, as much as possible, the degree attained by each of his pupils in every exercise, that he may not set them to any thing above their ability. This is an important rule for avoiding danger.


What may be termed the initiatory exercise is for the purpose of strengthening and rendering flexible all the different joints of the body. This is what persons unaccustomed to Gymnasties stand most in need of. The pupils are, usually, ranged in a line at such distances that each can barely touch the other’s finger with his extended arm. They then practise after the example of their leader every different flexion of which the joints are capable viz : bending down on the toes till the knees nearly touch the ground, and rising therefrom slowly, without any assistance from the hands, holding the arm at full length, and rapidly whirling it in a circle, darting the fists forward, and suddenly withdrawing them to the shoulder ; with various other motions which are deemed desirable.

After training the body in this manner, the student will be enabled to sustain the fatigue of exercising on

[[With the exception of a few lines about Mr. Barrett, the sections on the Parallel Bars, the Leaping Bars and the Wooden Horse, including the engravings, are taken from the London Mirror, August 26, 1826, 7:104:]]


Woodcut Engraving of Men on Parallel Bars

The pupil being placed between the two horizontal bars, which are parallel to each other, by a strong pressure of his hands on both the bars he must raise his body, the arms being kept perfectly straight, and the legs close. In this position the body is vaulted over the bar to the right or left. The pupil is then directed to walk on his hands along the two bars, backwards and forwards, to pass with both his hands from one bar to another, his body being suspended the whole time. The exercise on the parallel bars improve the flexibility of the joints, strengthen the muscles, and must be used preparatory to the


Woodcut Engraving of Men on Leaping Bars

This ranks among the most excellent of the gymnastic exercises, for it strengthens and gives elasticity to the feet, legs, knees, and thighs, and braces every muscle while its invigorates the courage. Two posts are perpendicularly fixed in the ground, about seven feet asunder, and each of these posts is perforated with holes at small but regular intervals, for inserting an iron pin, on which is loosely hung a horizontal cord, the pin being placed at equal heights on the two opposite posts. A small bag, containing either a bit of lead or stone, at each end, tightens the cord. This may be practised either standing or running, and should the leaper miss the proposed height, the cord easily yields, and prevents any disagreeable accident. The leaper must be careful to raise his feet and knees in a straight direction, neither separating the legs, nor inclining them to either side ; and in taking a running leap, the run must be a short, tripping step on the toes, gradually quickened, as this does not exhaust the strength previous to the leap. The body must always be inclined forwards in rising, and the leaper must observe not to pitch wholly on his heels, but chiefly on the toes and balls of the feet.

To acquire strength and pliability of body, courage and presence of mind, preservation of equilibrium and accuracy of eye, recourse must be had to

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Woodcut Engraving of Men on Wooden Horse

This is an oblong block of wood, rudely shaped like a horse’s body, and covered on the top with a cushion of stuffed leather. The exercise consists in placing one or both hands on the block, and, in the leap, throwing one leg over it, and so bestriding it. Both legs and the body are, sometimes, thrown quite over it, which may be done either standing or with a run. Mr. Barrett has made some improvement in the shape of his wooden-horses, which differ considerably in appearance from the one in our engraving. This is one of the best of the Gymnastic apparatus, and the exercise connected with it has a powerful tendency to strengthen the limbs.

Numerous other exercises are practised — viz: that of

[[The following sections on Darting the Javelin, Leaing with a Pole, Excercising on the Bars, Haulting the Rope, Running and Excerice of the Hands, etc. by Suspension appear to have been adapted from Gymnatics for Youth, translated by C. G. Salzmann, 1803. A few sentences or phrases are directly quoted from pp. 214 and 268:]]


To practice this there is an abutment raised at one end of the Gymnasium, on which is placed a mark to aim at. The dart is a perfectly straight shaft, five or six feet long. The weight must be adapted to the strength of the thrower, the length to his height. It is grasped in the middle, and thrown with all the force of the arm to the appointed mark.


Over a given height, or a required distance. To effect this, the leaper grasps the pole with both his hands, the right hand at the top, the left at some little distance below it. The leaper takes a smart run, in proportion to the height ; places the lower pointed end of the pole just before his feet, neither to the right nor to the left; gives a good spring, which he assists by raising himself with his hands, and swings himself round in a curved line to the point he aims at. An indifferent leaper cannot pass a bar higher than himself, in this exercise, in which the body is swung half round the pole, the leaper must not pitch in the direction in which he rose, but must turn himself round in leaping, so that when his feet come to the ground his face may look toward the place from which he took his rise. In consequence of this turning the feet strike the ground with much less violence. Beginners must commence with leaps of no great height, and be careful to pitch rather on the toes.


Two horizontal bars are placed parallel to each other, and the pupil being placed betwixt, be ix directed to raise his body, by a strong pressure of his hands on both the bars. The arms must be kept perfectly straight, and the legs close. In this position the body, after two or three vibrations, is vaulted with a bound over the bar to the right or left. In this, care must be taken to clear the bar, that the back may not touch it in coming down. The pupil is then directed to walk on hie bands along the two bars, backwards and forwards, to pass with both his hands from one bat to another, his body being all the while pendulous, besides a variety of other evolutions.


Two parties of Gymnasts equal in number, and, as near as can be, equal in strength, are arranged on each side of a stout cable rope. When all is prepared, the director gives the word, each party endeavoring to draw the rope, with their opponents, along. Sometimes the strength of the parties seems so nearly balanced as to render the victory for some minutes doubtful.


This consists simply in holding the hands firmly fixed to the haunches, keeping the mouth rather shut, and breathing mostly through the nostrils. The whole set off at a brisk trot, with the director at their head.


Two perpendicular posts are fixed in the ground, ten or twelve feet asunder, a cross horizontal beam is fixed at the top ; on this beam the pupils hang by their hands ; and even by their legs, sometimes by the hands and legs, and practise a number of evolutions, making the joints flexible, and strengthening the muscles.

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But not the least important portion of the exercises of the Gymnasium is that connected with


All Gymnasia are furnished with Climbing-Stands. These are constructed in various manners — but our engraving, perhaps, represents the best kind in use.

Woodcut Engraving of Men on a Climbing Stand

[[The remaining paragraphs, excluding the final one, are taken directly from the London Mirror, June 3, 1826, 7:345-347:]]

In describing the exercises connected with the Stand it is necessary that we should frequently refer to this cut. To the crossbeam are attached the implements for climbing, namely, two poles, a rope ladder, and three ropes. The two standing places are intended for the exercises in mounting; a ladder leads to the lower one and is made fast to the mast, and another leads from the lower to the upper platform, which latter is principally intended for the purpose of accustoming the learners to look down from any height. Before the learner can go through the exercises on the Climbing-Stand, he must have practiced some exercises for augmenting the muscular powers of the body and limbs, such as climbing, hanging by the arms, etc. When expert in these exercises the learners may commence the following ones : —

1. Beginners ascend and descend the ladder which is fixed to the Climbing-Stand, in the customary way, until they acquire expertness and courage.

2. They descend with the back turned towards the ladder.

3. They mount and descend in the usual way, but only with one hand ; and, after a little practice carry something in the other. See the uppermost figure on the sloping ladder.

4. The learner goes up and down without using his hands. See the lowermost figure on the sloping ladder. The ascent is extremely easy ; after which he uses his hands in turning round so [page 225:] as to have his back towards the ladder when descending. In this part of the exercise, the teacher most always be ready to assist him.

5. Two learners meet upon the ladder and wish to pass each other. They either both remain on the front part of the ladder, and give way to each other as much as possible, or if one of them is sufficiently expert in the two following exercises, he swings himself round to the back part, in order to let his companion pass.

6. The exercises now commence on the back part of the ladder. The learner easily ascends from step to step by advancing his hands and feet, at the same time, higher and higher.

7. The learner mounts along the front part of the ladder as usual; then swings himself round to the back part, along which he descends.

8. The learner mounts und descends the ladder upon its back part, without making use of his feet. See the middle figure on the sloping ladder. This may be divided into two parts. The first consists in taking fast hold of the most convenient rundle with both hands, and raising the body forcibly upward. At this moment, one hand seizes the next highest rundle, and immediately afterwards, the other hand does the same. Both hands again raise the body as before, etc. In the second part of this exercise, the hands seize the rundles singly and alternately ; which is much more difficult, and only accomplished by practised learners.

9. Climbing either the upright or slant pole. — The thickness of the upright pole to the right of the engraving is from two to two inches and a half, or more, according to the size of the learners. It must be perfectly smooth, and void of splinters. Its upper end is fastened by an iron ring to the beam. The slant pole to the left must be at least three inches thick. Neither of them is made very fast in the ground, but only sunk a little into it, in order that they may be easily replaced by poles of different sizes. The position of the climber is the same in both the upright and oblique pole, and, is shown upon the latter. Nothing must touch the polo besides the feet, legs, knees, and hands. The climber, while he raises himself with both hands, draws his legs up the pole, then holds fast by them, and again places his hands higher up. He continues this alternate use of the legs and arms until he has reached the top. The descent is not at all difficult ; it is not performed similar to the ascent, but merely by sliding quickly down with the legs, scarcely ever touching the pole at all with the hands, as shown in the upper figure on the upright pole. This exercise is more difficult upon the oblique pole since the hands are more affected by the weight of the body. The learners should be made very perfect in this exercise, for every one ought at least to be sufficiently expert, to slide himself down along a smooth pole placed against the window of a second or third story.

10. Climbing the mast is more difficult than the last exercise, for even when made of a moderate size, it cannot be spanned round by the hands. It is fixed quite firm in the ground ; is from six to eight inches thick at the bottom, and thirty feet high. The learners must not be allowed to climb the mast until they aie very expert at climbing the poles mentioned in the last exercise, and are able to get from that, upon the beam. All climbing succeeds best in hot weather, but more particularly that of the mast. The position of the legs is the same as with the pole ; boots are the best covering for the feet. Since the mast is too thick to be grasped by the hands, the climber must lay fast hold of his left arm with his right hand, and vice versa. Learners climb with much more ease and security, with naked arms, for the skin does not slip near so easily as the clothes. A climber up th mast adheres to it with his whole body, as in the lower figure on the upright pole to the right, un he reaches the thinner part of it, as appears from the figure at the top of it.

11. Climbing the rope ladder. — The rope ladder should have three or four wooden rundles to spread it out, and ought to be made so as not to twist round and entangle when used ; if it has this fault, it is unserviceable.

It is much more difficult to mount the rope ladder than the pole, the former hanging quite loose, and not at all fastened at the bottom. The muscles of the arms and hands are very much affected; for the latter must, when the learner is not sufficiently acquainted with this exercise, almost entirely support the body, which continually inclines backward. The manner of proceeding in this exercise is easy, for it is similar to ascending a wooden ladder ; but as the rope ladder hangs perpendicularly, and is very flexible, the steps upon which the feet rest, are generally pushed forward by the unpractised, and the upper part of the body sinks out of the perpendicular position into a very oblique one ; whereby the whole weight of the body becomes supported by the hands, and the exercise is rendered so difficult that the learner cannot ascend very high. To obviate this, he must always have a fast hold of the two main ropes, as shown in the rope ladder, and keep the body, as much as possible, stretched out upon the ladder and upright. If the ladder is sufficiently strong, the teacher allows two or three of his pupils to get up and down at the same time ; by which means they learn to pass each other. One hangs by a main rope until the other has passed him.

12. Climbing either the oblique or level rope. — Let a rope be fastened from one post to another, or from the beam to an adjoining post, and in an oblique direction. The learner fixes himself to the rope as exhibited on the sloping rope, with the feet close to each other across it, and advances along the rope by moving his hands one before the other, and either sliding his feet or moving them alternately like the hands. In this manner a number of soldiers might cross a small river, with their arms and knapsacks when other means failed.

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There are two ways of using the legs in this exercise ; 1st, so that the feet, cither in ascending or descending, move forward along the io?e alternately ; or one leg only may hang ovei the iope, end be made to slide along it; but in both cases the pressure is painful, particularly if the climber does not wear boots. The 2nd, which is the best method, is to place the sole of one foot, for instance, the right, flat upon the rope, and to lay the left leg across the instep of that foot ; whereby the friction of the rope is removed.

13. Climbing the upright rope. — This exercise may be done in two different ways. It is very easy to those who arc already expert at climbing the upright pole. The only difficulty lies in seizing the rope with the feet so as to obtain a firm support.

In the first method the knees and thighs have nothing to do; only the feet are employed. If the learner sit upon a chair, and cross his feet in the usual way, he will immediately perceive their proper position. The rope passes between them, and is held fast by pressing them moderately together, while the hands alternately grasp higher up the rope. Hereupon the climber, hanging by his hands, also draws his feet higher up, fixes them again to the rope, and proceeds as before.

In the second method, peculiar to sailors, the rope passes down from the hands of the climber, along one, generally the right thigh, not far above the knee ; winds round the inner side of this thigh, along the knee-hollow and the calf, and then across the instep of the right foot, whence it hangs loose. If the climber only treads moderately upon that part of the rope where it crosses the other foot, he will, by means of the varied pressure, obtain a firm support. The exercise depends almost entirely upon holding the right leg and foot so that the rope may retain its proper winding, after being quitted by the left foot, when the hands have been raised for the purpose of drawing the body higher. This is easily acquired after a few trials. In descending, the hands must be lowered alternately, as they are raised in ascending, for if the hands slide down quickly, they will be injured.

14. Resting upon Hie upright rope, — This exercise not only excites a lengthened power of the muscles, but also tends to promote expertness in dangerous situations. The climber mounts to a moderate height, and then halts ; swings the right foot three or four times round the rope, so that this winds round the leg ; he then entwines it, by means of the left foot, once or twice round the light one, which he bends so as to point the toes upwards, and now treads the left foot firmly upon this last winding. The pressure which thus arises between the rope and the feet, opposes the whole weight of the body. In this position he can rest a long time ; but suppose he wishes to be still more at his ease. With this intention he lowers his hands a little along the rope, then holds fast with the right hand, stoops, and grasps with the left that part of the rope which hangs below the feet. He raises himself again, and entwines this part a few times round his shoulders, hips, and the rope itself, until he is firmly entangled.

Climbing by means of the arms only is one of the best exercises for strengthening all the muscles of the chest, the arms, and hands ; it is a true criterion by which to judge the powers of those members, and it also augments them most effectually. We seldom find a boy who is able in his eighth or ninth year to raise himself a little way either up the rope or pole by his hands only. The age of fourteen is generally the time when the arms become sufficiently strong ; therefore some attention must be paid to this point.

15. Climbing up the pole by the hands only is perhaps easier than up the ladder, for with this the body hangs quite free, but with the former one side of the body is close to the pole, which facilitates the learner a little. See the lower figure on the upright pole to the left. The feet hang loosely and remain perfectly steady. The climber must not be allowed to bend his knees, nor to stamp, as it were, in the air, nor to let the pole come between his thighs. There are two methods of employing the hands in this exercise. According to the first, which is the usual mode, both hands raise the body simultaneously; immediately after which, one quickly grasps the pole higher up, while the other supports the weight alone for a moment. The second, in which each hand alternately supports the body alone, and the other, quite free, seizes the pole higher up, in order to raise the body again, requires great practice and considerable strength in the arms.

16. Climbing the rope by the hands only should be first practised upon the slant rope, as with it, the continual grasping higher up is much easier. The position of the hands and of the body similar to that required in climbing the pole.

It should be observed that of the preceding exercises, all those which require more strength than agility must not be kept up too long. Strength increases gradually, its growth is not only combined with exercise, but also with the development of the corporeal system. For this reason, such exercises should be frequent but not long.

Exercises in mounting require neither particular strength nor agility ; they are intended to produce fearlessness, and the power of looking down from high stations, and consequently to prevent weakness of nerves and giddiness.

The excellent Gymnasium of Mr. Barret [[Barrett]], (in Walnut street) an engraving of which we gave in our last number, embraces many improvements upon the established system of Gymnastics — and a great variety of exercises are there practised, of which our limits have prevented us from taking notice.



In the original, the paragraph under the section called Parallel Bars is not indented, in error. The indendation has been provided here. Several sentences in this article appear, at first glance, to end abruptly, but are intended to introduce, and to be read with, the heading for the subsequent section.

The first three engravings are copied from the London Mirror, August 26, 1826, 8:104. The final engraving is from the same periodical, May 20, 1826, 7:305, where it appears on the cover of the issue.


[S:0 - BGM, 1839] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - A Chapter on Field Sports: Gymnastics and Gymnasia (part II)]