Some P.G. Wodehouse

Some thoughts about the perils of vanity printed in (where else?) Vanity Fair 1914.

I have added an essay under the “WORDS” page from one of my favorite authors, P.G. (Plum Good) Wodehouse.  It’s just over a hundred years old but applicable today.  It concerns the obsession with Physical Culture and vanity and his take on it.  In the age of internet news feeds, texts, and tweets it is a longish specimen.  But if you’re looking for a way to fill the office doldrums while waiting for the long weekend to begin, read on. 

Sicily, Mosaic: Women exercising in 'bikinis', from the Room of the Ten Dancing Girls (first quarter 4th century AD)

Sicily, Mosaic: Women exercising in ‘bikinis’, from the Room of the Ten Dancing Girls (first quarter 4th century AD)

Some observations as an anthropologist:  We humans have been preoccupied with our appearance and attractiveness for thousands of years.  We also want to stay healthy, live long, and attract more mates but it wasn’t until the age of advertising that we found ourselves with an onslaught of gimmicks and self proclaimed-experts selling their products to the masses. 

These gimmicks were everything from legitimate exercise routines to magic pills and soaps.  And the Spanx culture isn’t exactly new either.  We have been squeezing our fat guts and butts into corsets and girdles and slenderizing undergarments for quite some time now.  Desperation opens the way for someone to make a dollar.

Excuse the distracting graphics.  Just some fun stuff I’ve harvested from the Web that fills my hard drive.  Anyway, on with the essay from the master… _________________________________________________________________

The Physical Culture Peril

And how the nation may easily be saved from it.

Vanity Fair, May 1914

Physical culture is in the air just now. Where, a few years ago, the average man sprang from bed to bath and from bath to breakfast-table, he now postpones his onslaught on the boiled egg for a matter of fifteen minutes. These fifteen minutes he devotes to a series of bendings and stretchings which in the course of time are guaranteed to turn him into a demi-god. The advertisement pages of the magazines are congested with portraits of stern-looking, semi-nude individuals with bulging muscles and fifty-inch chests, who urge the reader to write to them for illustrated booklet. Weedy persons, hitherto in the Chippendale class, are developing all sort of unsuspected thews, and the moderately muscular citizen (provided he has written for and obtained the small illustrated booklet) begins to have grave doubts as to whether he will be able, if he goes on at this rate, to get the sleeves of his overcoat over his biceps.

inchesTo the superficial thinker this is all very splendid. The vapid and irreflective observer looks with approval on the growing band of village blacksmiths in our midst. But you and I, reader, shake our heads. We are uneasy. We go deeper into the matter, and we are not happy in our minds. We realize that all this physical improvement must have its effect on the soul.

A man who does anything regularly is practically certain to become a bore. Man is by nature so irregular that, if he takes a cold bath every day or keeps a diary every day or does physical exercises every day, he is sure to be too proud of himself to keep quiet about it. He cannot help gloating over the weaker vessels who turn on the hot tap, forget to enter anything after January the fifth, and shirk the matutinal development of their sinews. He will drag the subject into any conversation in which he happens to be engaged. And especially is this so as regards physical culture.

The monotony of doing these exercises every morning is so appalling that it is practically an impossibility not to boast of having gone through with them. Many a man who has been completely reticent on the topic of his business successes and his social achievements has become a mere babbler after completing a month of physical culture without missing a day. It is the same spirit which led Vikings in the old days to burst into song when they had succeeded in cleaving some tough foeman to the chine.

Again, it is alleged by scientists that it is impossible for the physical culturist to keep himself from becoming hearty, especially at breakfast, in other words a pest. Take my own case. Once upon a time I was the most delightful person you ever met. I would totter in to breakfast of a morning with dull eyes, and sink wearily into a chair. There I would remain, silent and consequently inoffensive, the model breakfaster. No lively conversation from me. No quips. No cranks. No speeches beginning “I see by the paper that …” Nothing but silence, a soggy, soothing silence. If I wanted anything, I pointed. If spoken to, I grunted. You had to look at me to be sure that I was there. Those were the days when my nickname in the home was Little Sunshine.

Then one day some officious friend, who would not leave well alone, suggested that I should start those exercises which you see advertised everywhere. I weakly consented. I wrote for the small illustrated booklet. And now I am a different man. Little by little I have become just like that offensive young man you see in the advertisements of the give-you-new-life kind of medicines—the young man who stands by the bedside of his sleepy friend, and says, “What! Still in bed, old man! Why, I have been out with the hounds a good two hours. Nothing tires me since I tried Peabody and Finklestein’s Liquid Radium.” At breakfast I am hearty and talkative. Throughout the day I breeze about with my chest expanded, a nuisance to all whom I encounter. I slap backs. My handshake is like the bite of a horse.

Naturally, this has lost me a great many friends. But far worse has been the effect on my moral fiber. Before, I was modest. Now, I despise practically everybody except professional pugilists. I meet some great philosopher, and, instead of looking with reverence at his nobby forehead, I merely feel that, if he tried to touch his toes thirty times without bending his knees, he would be in the hospital for a week. An eminent divine is to me simply a man who would have a pretty thin time if he tried to lie on his back and wave his legs fifteen times in the air without stopping. I look forward to a future spent entirely in the society of Gotch, and Willie Ritchie.

There is another danger. I heard, or read, somewhere of a mild and inoffensive man to whom Nature, in her blind way, had given a wonderful right-hand punch. Whenever he got into an argument, he could not help feeling that there the punch was and it would be a pity to waste it. The knowledge that he possessed that superb hay-maker was a perpetual menace to him. He went through life a haunted man. Am I to become like him? Already, after doing these exercises for a few weeks, I have a waist-line of the consistency of fairly stale bread. In time it must infallibly become like iron. There is a rudimentary muscle growing behind my right shoulder-blade. It looks like an orange and is getting larger every day. About this time next year, I shall be a sort of human bomb. I will do my very best to control myself, but suppose a momentary irritation gets the better of me and I let myself go! It does not bear thinking of.

Brooding tensely over this state of things, I have, I think, hit on a remedy. What is required is a system of spiritual exercises which shall methodically develop the soul so that it keeps pace with the muscles and the self-esteem.

Let us say that you open with that exercise where you put your feet under the chest of drawers and sit up suddenly. Well, under my new system, instead of thinking of the effect of this maneuver on the abdominal muscles, you concentrate your mind on some such formula as, “I must remember that I have not yet subscribed to the model farm for tuberculous cows.”

Having completed this exercise, you stand erect and swing the arms from left to right and from right to left without moving the lower half of the body. As you do this, say to yourself, “This, I know, is where I get the steel-and-indiarubber results on my deltoids, but I must not forget that there are hundreds of men whose confining work in the sweat shops has entirely deprived them of opportunities to contract eugenic marriages.”

This treatment, you will find, induces a humble frame of mind admirably calculated to counterbalance the sinful pride engendered by your physical exercises.

hemanSpace forbids a complete list of these spiritual culture exercises, but I am now preparing a small illustrated booklet, particulars of which will be found in the advertising pages. The accompanying portrait is from the booklet and shows me standing with my hands behind my head and with large, vulgar muscles standing out all over me. But there is a vast difference, which you will discover when you look at my face. I am not wearing the offensively preoccupied expression of most physical-culture advertisements. You will notice a rapt, seraphic expression in the eyes and a soft and spiritual suggestion of humility about the mouth.

(Emphasis added by the post author).

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A Woodcarver’s Bench

Woodcarver

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Dog Sleds, Snow Shoes, and Pack Straps

McLennanMcFeely

McLennan, McFeely & Co. Catalogue 1908-1914

Found on Tumblr.  The basic necessities never change.  Just the execution and materials.

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Edwardian Camp Equipment

This is a re-post from an earlier entry.  Say what you will about British imperial policy of the 19th and 20th centuries.  They certainly worked out minimalist travel with a fair amount of style and comfort on a very personal level.  These old catalogs give

From The Army and Navy Co-operative Society Store, London 1907

1907-11907-21907-31907-41907-61907-71907-51907-91907-101907-11There are some excellent items here that should give some inspiration for fabricating some classic and classy gear.  From an era before the activity of “camping” was fully segregated from “regular living”.

Much more of this to come…

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Tool Cabinet Extrordinaire

Melhuish1889

Melhuish & Sons advertisement from 1889.

Turning saw, rasp, mechanic’s saw, panel saw, chisels, brace and bits, scratch awl, pliers, screwdrivers, dividers, bevel gauge, square, spokeshave, calipers, marking gauge, plane, vice, and workbench; all in a fancy tool chest.  Wow.

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Real Comforts

“Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

Heavy words when you think about them.

I like nice stuff.  I buy good clothes, decent shoes, and drive a new(ish) vehicle.  We all like new, nifty, better, and clever things.  The problem is that we are trained from a young age to grab the newest gizmo and gimmick presented to us.  We are programmed to stockpile and hoard.  Advertisers know this.  Bankers know this.  We spend what we earn, and then a little more.

work-buy-debtcycle1

When we pick up an object, we don’t always think of how this thing will add value to our life; or whose life was devalued to make it and bring it to us.

More stuff is not the path to happiness…

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Dream On

Don_Quixote_16“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

donquixotereadingTake some advice from Don Quixote.  Do your own thing… whatever that is…

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Immerse Yourself in Nature

McKinley_and_hikerTake long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary.

Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.

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No, Thoreau Was Not a Hypocrite

Paleotool:

A good read and observations about some shallow and poorly thought-out attacks on the philosopher of “taking it easy”.

Originally posted on The Gazine:

Walden_Thoreau2

Your average English major of the past decade has decided to dismiss the body of Henry David Thoreau’s work with one scandalous factoid: Thoreau’s mother did his laundry. For some reason, even the well-read think that this is a relevant fact, as if his dependence on friends and family cancelled out his transcendental conclusions.

But you don’t have to be a die-hard Thoreauvian to see the problem with this mama’s-boy attack. Though my dog-eared Walden perpetually floats to the top of my bedside stack, it is not out of blind respect for the Father of Chill that I defend the guy. My only claim to allegiance is that I read his book.

One Richard Smith of the Thoreau Society has my back:

Richard Smith, a die-hard Thoreauvian.

Richard Smith, a die-hard Thoreauvian.

It should be obvious to anyone who’s read Walden that Thoreau was not a hermit.  Just the chapter called “Visitors” is…

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On the Road

Musicians hitting the road.

ontheroad

Vintage photo found on Tumblr HERE.  No other information was supplied.  Got the guitar, dog, and stove.  Let’s go…

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