I Sing the Body Electric: Walt Whitman and the Body

Whitman’s Preoccupation with Healthy Living and Pseudoscience

Whitman’s obsession with various health fads weaves its way through his poetry and other writings. It also shows up in the newspaper and magazine clippings he collected. A lover of swimming and nude bathing, Whitman embraced the “water-cure,” or hydrotherapy, which involved using water as a treatment for pain relief and other ailments. During his later years, Whitman’s doctors prescribed him a number of treatments, including galvanic battery treatments, which an electric machine like the one in this case would have administered.

Whitman also drew inspiration from two pseudoscientific theories that purported to predict personality characteristics based on the size and shape of one’s head (phrenology) and facial features (physiognomy). While it is interesting to speculate about the connections of these pseudosciences to Whitman’s poetry, it is important to acknowledge that phrenology and physiognomy have complex histories. Phrenology and physiognomy have both been used at times to oppress and marginalize people through the reinforcement of racial stereotypes and, in extreme cases, as justifications for eugenics. To learn more, please explore the case in the Trent History of Medicine Room.

 

Transcription:

Descending secondary currents of electro-magnetism to lower limbs-none to the upper.
Heat each muscle separately.
For the brain – 
Inverse constant current say about 6 to 10 Daniells cells from each sciatic N. To sacro-lumbar region. Not any higher under any circumstances. Every other days.
This prescription by Whitman's doctor provides more details about the treatment involving electricity that Whitman received in the hopes of improving his mobility. Unfortunately, the treatment produced no improvement.

 

Whitman’s Preoccupation with Healthy Living and Pseudoscience