Thursday, December 2, 2021

Autobiographical Sketches of a Strength-Seeker, Part Three- George Barker Windship (1862)

A lifting apparatus, a forerunner of the Universal machine, designed and built by Windship, patented in 1893. 

My role of dramatic characters was a very modest one for a beginner. It embraced only Richelieu, Bertram, Brutus, Lear, Richard, Shylock, Sir Giles Overreach, Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth. My principal literary recreation for several years had been in studying these parts; and as I knew them by heart, I did not doubt that a few rehearsals would put me in possession of the requisite stage business. And yet my familiarity with the theatre was very limited. I had never been behind the scenes. 

Once, with a classmate, i had penetrated in the daytime to the stage of the old 

Federal Street Theatre
and looked on with awe on the boards formerly trodden by elder Kean; but a growl from that august functionary, the prompter, sent us back in quick retreat, and I had never ventured again into those sacred precincts. 

Arrived at Rochester, -- which place I had selected for my debut because of its remoteness from home, -- I looked inm, the evening of my arrival, to see the performnces at the theatre. It was a hall of humble dimensions, seating an audience of only five or six hundred. 

The piece was the travesty of "Hamnlet," neither edifying or amusing. A little of the coleur-de-rose which had flushed my prospect faded that night; but the few friends at home to whom I had confided my plans had so pertinaciously assured me that I -- the most diffident man in the world -- cound never appear before an audinece without letting them see I was shaky in the knees, that I resoved to do what I could to show my depreciators they were false prophets.

And so I called on the manager, -- with a beating heart, as you may suppose. He was a small, quiet, gentlemanly person, whom I regret I cannot, consistently with historical truth, show up as a Crummles. But not even Dickens could have found any salient trait for ridicule in the man. Frankly and kindly he went into the statistics of the theatrical business, and showed me, that, unless I was rich, and could afford to play for my own amusement, the stage held out few inducements; it was barren of promise to a young man anxious to make himself independent of the world. 

I did not reply, "Perish the lucre!" but said that I would be content, in the early part of my career, to labor for reputation. He soon satisfied me that he could not give up his stage to an experimentalist, and I did not urge my suit; but bade Mr. S. good morning, and, a day or two afterwards, started to Niagara. Here, wet by the mist and listening to the roar of the great cataract, I speedily forgot my chagrin, and took a not unfriendly leave of the illusions which had lured me on to try my fortune on the stage. Even now they return occasionally with all their fascination.

While at Rochster, as I was passing through the principal street, I met a crowd assembled about a lifting machine. On making trial of it, I found I could lift 420 pounds. I had then been for four years a gymnast, and I supposed my practice would have qualified me to make the crowd stare at my achievement. But the result was far from triumphant. I found what many other gymnasts will find, that main strength, by which I mean the strength of the truckman and the porter,j cannot be acquired in the ordinary exercises of the gymnasium.

Returning home, I began the study of anatomy and physiology, and in the autumn of 1854 entered the Harvard Medical School. The question of the extent to which human strength can be developed had long been invested with a scientific interest to my mind. 

One of the greatest lifting feats on authentic record is that of 

Thomas Topham

an Englishman, who in Bath Street, Cold Bath Fields, London, on the 28th of May, 1741, lifter three hogsheads of water, said to weigh, with the connections, 1,836 pounds. In the performance of this feat, Topham stood on a raised platform, his hands grasping a fixture on either side, and a broad strap over his shoulders communicating with the weight. An immense concourse of persons was assembled on the occasion, -- the performance having been announced as "in honor of Admiral Vernon," or rather, "in commemorartion of his taking Porto Bello with six ships only." 

Being a descndant myself from the Vernon family of Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, England, I have reserved it for future genealogical inquiry to learn whether the Admiral was connected with that branch of the Vernons. If so, a somewhat remarkable coincidence is involved.

I now informed my father that I intended to go through a series of experiments in lifting. He was afraid I should injure myself, and expressly forbade any such practice on his premises. To gratify him, I gave up testing the question for a whole year.

But the desire re-awoke, and I had frequent arguments with my father in the endeavor to overcome his objections. 

"Look at the man," he said to me one day, -- pointing to a large, stout individual in front of us, -- "you might practice lifting all your life, and never be able to lift as much as that big fellow." 

"Let me construct a lifting apparatus in the back yard, and I will soon prove to you that you are mistaken," I replied.

Finding that I was bent on the experiment, he at length gave a reluctant consent . . .  

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