Monday, January 17, 2022

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

Thanks to Jarett Hulse! 


Returning home the ensuing winter, I attended a second course of medical lectures, and, in the routine of labors incident to a medical student's life, omitted to develop further my powers as a lifter

In the summer of 1857 I became a practitioner of medicine. In the autumn of that year, a gentleman, who had been looking at my lifting-apparatus, remarked to me, "If you are as strong as they tell me, what is to prevent you seizing hold of me, (I weigh 180 pounds,) holding me at arm's length over your head, and pitching me over that fence?" To this I replied, that, if he would give me six weeks for practice, I would satisfy him the thing could be done. He agreed to be on hand at the end of the time named.

In order to be sure of the muscles that would be brought into play by the feat, I procured an ablong box with a handle on eithe side running the whole length. Into the box I threw a number of brick-bats, -- then raised the box at arm's length above my head, and threw it over my vaulting-pole, which was at an elevation of six and a half feet from the ground. Subsequently I added more brick-bats, till gradually their weight amounted to precisely one hundred and eighty pounds. 

Having practiced till I could easily handle and throw the box thus charged, I informed my challenger that I was ready for him. He came, when, seizing him by the middle, I lifted him struggling above my head, the threw him over the fence before he was hardly aware of my intent. As he was somewhat coruplent and puffy, and the act involved an abdominal pressure which was by no means agreeable, he expressed himself perfectly satisfied with the experiment, but objected very decidedly to its repetition.

In June, 1858, I commenced practicing with two fifty-pound dumb-bells, and subsequently added one of a hundred pounds, which I was prompted to get from hering that one of that weight was used by Mr. James Montgomery, at that time a celebrated gymnast of New York City, and afterwards a successful teacher at the Albany Gymnasium. Not having given much attention to the development of the extensor muscles of the arms for several months previous, it was a number of weeks before I could put this dumbbell up at arm's length above my head with one hand. As soon as I succeeded in doing this with comparative ease, I procured another hundred-pound dumb-bell, and in a few months succeeded in exercising with both of the instruments at the same time, raising each alternately above my head. I then commenced practicing with a dumb-bell weighing one hundred and forty-one pounds. It consisted of two shells connected by a handle, which, being removable, allowed me to introduce shot, from time to time, into the cavities of the shells. After a few months of practice, I could, with a jerk, raise the instrument from my shoulder to arm's length above my head. My first public exhibition of this feat took place in Philadelphia, in April, 1860. 

The spring of 1859 was now drawing nigh, and I began to think of giving a public lecture on Physical Culture, illustrating it with some exhibitions of the strength which I had attained. My father approved the venture, but, be-thinking himself of my extreme diffidence, significantly asked, when I would be ready to permit a public announcement of my intention. "Oh, in a few days," I replied, as if it were as small a matter for me to lecture in public as to lift a thousand pounds in a gymnasium. Weeks flew by, and still to the galling inquiry, "When?" I could only answer, "Soon, but not just yet." 

February and March had come and gone, and still I was not ready. Finally, to the oft-renewed interrogatory, I made this reply: "As soon as I can shoulder a barrel of flour, a feat which I am determined to accomplish before an audience, you may announce my lecture." 

I had then been practicing some two months with a loaded barrel, so contrived that it should weigh a little more each succeeding day; and it had now reached a hundred and ninety pounds. About this time it occurred to me, that, among my many experiments, I had never fairly tried that of a vegetable diet. I read anew the works of Graham and Alcott; and conceiving that my strength had reached a stagnation point, I gave up meat, and restricted my animal diet to milk.

A barrel of flour weighs on average two hundred and sixteen pounds. I therefore could not succeed in shouldering one until twenty-six pounds had been added to my loaded barrel. Day after day I shouldered my one hundred and ninety pounds, but could not get an ounce beyond that limit. My grand theory of the possible development of a man's strength began to look somewhat insecure.

So fares the system-building sage,
Who, plodding on from youth to age, 
Has proved all other reasoners fools
And bound all Nature by his rules, -- 
So fares he in that dreadful hour
When injured Truth exerts her power
Some new phenomenon to raise,
Which, bursting on his frighted gaze,
From its proud summit to the ground,
Proves the whole edifice unsound.
 - James Beattie 

The shouldering of a barrel of flour is a feat, by the way, which many an old inhabitant will tell you that he, or some friend of his, could accomplish in his eighteenth year. Why it should always be among the res gestae temporis acti cannot be readily explained. It is a common belief that any stout truckman can do this thing; but I have been assured by one of the leading truckmen of Boston, that there are not, probably, three individuals in the city who are equal to the accomplisment.

The mode of life I had hitherto found essential to the keeping of my strength was quite simple, and rather negative than positive. from tobacco and all ardent spirits, including wine, I had to abstain as a matter of course. Beer and all fermented liquors had also been ruled out. Impure air must be avoided like poison. Summer and winter I slept with my windows open. Badly ventilated apartments were scrupulously shunned. Cold bathing of the entire person was rarely practiced oftener than once a week in cold weather or twice a week in warm weather. A more frequent ablution seemed to over-stimulate the excretory functions of the skin, so that excessive bathing defeated its very object. 

The "tranquil mind" must be preserved with little or no interruption. Great physical strength cannot coexist with an unhappy, discontented temper. You must be habitually cheerful, if you would be strong. 

With regard to diet, -- that was the very experiment I was trying, -- the experiment, namely, of going without solid animal food. With me it did not succeed. So far from gaining in strength, hardly did I hold my own. Suddenly I resolved to give up my vegetable diet, and return to beef-steaks, mutton-chops, and loins of veal. A daily appreciable increase of strength was soon the consequence. Within ten days I succeeded in shouldering the loaded barrel weighing two hundred and sixteen pounds; and a day or two after I shouldered, in the presence of our grocer himself, a barrel of flour.

Enjoy Your Lifting! 

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