The Physical Culture Peril

A century-old essay by P.G. Wodehouse, eerily appropriate today in the age of Instagramming “carb refeed breakfasts”, tweeting WOD scores, MapMyRunning shares, and the like.

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.

To 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.

Read the full essay here.