Auguste Rodin, Bathing, Battle of Spion Kop, Bikini, Black Week, Boer War, Bronson Alcott, Concentration camps, Diet, Don Ethan Miller, Fitness, Gayelord Hauser, Great Zimbabwe, Gymnasiums, Health, Honore de Balzac, Hortense Schneider, Ismail Pasha, Jan Morris, Jean Tinguely, Jim Fixx, John Harvey Kellogg, Joseph-Eugene Schneider, Lionel Casson, Mary Cable, Pax Brittannica, Propaganda, Rhodesia, Robert Baden-Powell, Samuel Thomson, Seneca, Shirley Tomkievicz, Siege of Mafeking, Spencer Klaw, Tacuinum Sanitatis, The Human Comedy, Vegetarianism, Vichy
There are so many goodies in this issue I’ve had to break this entry into two!
The cover shows an illustration from Tacuinum Sanitatis, a mediaeval handbook on health and wellbeing, based on an 11th Century Arab medical treatise. It illustrates a special section, ‘Is Civilization Dangerous to Your Health?’ I wonder whether Managing Editor James F. Fixx might have had role in choosing this topic: his The Complete Book of Running came out the following year.
Looking at how people have pursued health and wellbeing through history, Editor Shirley Tomkievicz writes about those who have been creative despite ill-health: Balzac (whose statue by Rodin also features in this issue) ‘died of heart failure at fifty-one, but then, so has many another man without Balzac’s dependence on stimulants, and without writing The Human Comedy…To the question, Is health really necessary? one would, moving down the ages, receive a variety of answers – often negative. Much of the world’s most distinguished work has, it seems, been done while the worker was groping for the aspirin bottle.’
In ‘A Passion for the Hard Workout’, classicist Lionel Casson looks at the Greek and Roman approaches to health:
Among the Romans physical fitness was more as it is with us, a social and not a state matter [as it was with the Greeks] and something people went in for strenuously. Every Roman, rich or poor, male or female, repaired daily to the public baths, the poor at the end of their working day, the leisured long before that…The Roman moralist Seneca, who once rented a room over a bath, has left us a graphic account of what went on: ‘I live right over a public bath. Just imagine every kind of human sound to make us hate our ears! When the muscular types work out and toss the lead weights, when they strain (or make believe they are straining), I hear the grunting, and whenever they let out the breath they’ve been holding in, there’s the whistling and wheezing at maximum pitch….But if a ball player arrives on the scene and begins to count shots, then I’m done for!’
The bikini has been around for longer than you may think:
‘Taking the Waters at Vichy’ includes this example of what went on at one of France’s most popular spa towns:
In ‘Pursuing Health in the Promised Land’ Spencer Klaw describes the new boom in health and fitness in the 70s:
One of the more diverting aspects of life in America these days is the unprecedented intensity and passion with which Americans appear to be pursuing the holy grail of perfect health. The morning landscape teems with sweating joggers. Bicycles are popular again. In the privacy of bedrooms and living rooms millions of citizens daily bend and strain to keep fit and trim. Others repair to luxuriously appointed health clubs and yield themselves up to chromium-and-plastic machines that resemble in their mad complexity the constructions of the Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely. In the embraces of such machines they rhythmically flex and stretch their arms, legs, necks and torsos.
But he shows this is actually nothing new in America, where ‘A keen interest in the workings of the body, coupled with a profound mistrust of the medical establishment, is an old story.’ Examples include:
• Samuel Thomson, herbalist.
• Vegetarians including Bronson Alcott and John Harvey Kellogg.
• Gayelord Hauser, creator of Swiss Kriss laxative.
• Don Ethan Miller, author of Bodymind.
Also in this issue
Strategy, economics, morality, instinct and now cupidity ensured that before long the Boer republics must be tidied up within the imperial logic.
…In December, 1895, there had been a British attempt to overthrow Kruger in in a coup d’état, the so-called Jameson Raid. It ended in fiasco, but by the end of the century the issue had gone beyond petty plots and maverick raids. Tempers were so inflamed, prejudices so rooted, consequences so inescapable, that war came about scarcely by intention at all.
…All in all the Boers were born irregular soldiers, perhaps the best guerrillas in the world.
Morris describes engagements ‘each long ago apotheosized into myth’. Firstly, the British defeat at Spion Kop:
Spion Kop was one of the most cruelly confined of all battles. Some two thousand British infantrymen were packed within a perimeter of about a quarter of a mile, without water and, as the day wore on, in ferocious heat. They could scarcely move at all, and throughout the day they were shelled and raked with rifle fire. Time and again the Boers charged, at one end of the line or the other, to be beaten back with bayonets and bludgeon blows: all the British could do was hang on, for there was no hope of advance or retreat while daylight lasted. No orders reached them, no diversionary attacks could be made. Isolated on their high proscenium, the men on Spion Kop sweated and died through the long day, enacting a drama that had no meaning.
Then a victory, the relief of the Siege of Mafeking:
Through the worst days of ignominy, Mafeking brilliantly kept the legend of empire alive. The defence of Mafeking, though no exhibition of military genius, undeniably had style; and style – as the queen’s soldiers lumbered dismayed and bewildered across the veldt, or lay maimed and bleeding on mountaintops – was what the empire badly needed. The whole world came to know the lithe figure of Baden-Powell, whistling with his telescope on his rooftop lookout; and it was wonderfully true to the Mafeking myth that when, after seven months, the first men of the relieving force clattered into the outskirts of the town, they got a laconic greeting from the first citizen they met. ‘Ah yes’, the man remarked, in the best Baden-Powell manner. ‘Ah yes, we heard you were knocking about.’
The role of propaganda:
It was the very first of the propaganda wars. Every incident in the field, flashed across the world by electric telegraph, was magnified or distorted to prove a point or support an ideology. When, in Black Week, the British armies were disastrously defeated in three battles in a row, half the world laughed or cheered at their discomfiture; when, six months later, Mafeking was relieved at last, the other half indulged in such hysterical celebrations that the name of the little town went briefly into the English language: maffick, ‘to indulge in extravagant demonstrations of exultation on occasion of national rejoicing.’
But in the end, ‘The Boer War cracked the confidence of imperialism…and among the mass of the British people it suggested a first nagging misgiving about the value of glory.’
In another part of Africa, Mary Cable asks ‘Who Built Zimbabwe?’, the ruined city in what was then Rhodesia, which eventually gave its name to the country. She writes of how the argument over who built it had become political when she was living there:
I found it curious that an obscure archaeological question could be of such lively general interest, and furthermore, that it could cause people to raise their voices, become flushed, and even stalk out of the room. The whole temper of white society in Salisbury was, and is, easily inflamed. Race and politics invade every aspect of Rhodesian life, and to ask ‘Who built Zimbabwe?’ is far from an idle pleasantry or a polite parlor game. Rather, it is to ask, ‘Was Zimbabwe built by blacks or whites?’ And in such circumstances, the person’s answer is likely to be taken as a quick index to his political bias; for to contend that Africans could of their own initiative build so rugged and impressive a structure as Zimbabwe is to suggest that one’s houseboy has a capacity for building something substantial too – possibly even a government.
White Rhodesians believed it was the palace of the Queen of Sheba:
More of this issue to come!