Muscular Christianity

Muscular Christianity. Fun. William S. Brunton (fl. 1859-71), artist; Dalziel, engraver. (2 December 1865): 120. Courtesy of the Suzy Covey Comic Book Collection in the George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida. Click on image to enlarge it. —  George P. Landow]

Adolphus Cowdy, my particular friend, or as he will always say, Companion of my youth, which I deny, called on me the other morning when I was particularly busy, and begged of me to give him my serious attention for a few minutes. I felt somewhat nervous, not that I thought he had come to borrow any money, because, being a Scotchman, my friends are a deal too sharp to try that on with me. I saw there was something on Cowdy’s mind, for he sat down and contemplated me in solemn silence. I did not feel comfortable under his scrutiny, for I was in déshabille — a condition in which, I allow, my figure is not seen to the best advantage. “Sandie,” at length he said to mo, “What a size you are round where your waist ought to be!” “Well,” I said, “I like that from you, Dolly,” for I knew from positive information, derived, I admit, somewhat surreptitiously from his tailor, that he measured three inches more than I did in that delicate quarter. I knew that Dolly went up stairs judiciously, and if you walked up Primrose-hill with him, was always stopping, as he said, to look at the view. All these circumstances combined made me think that he need not trouble himself about my figure. So I said, “ All right, old boy, we can’t help being fat, can we?” He winked at me, and said, “We can.” I said, “Oh, I know, Banting.” “Bosh! no.” “What then?” said I. “Gymnastics,” said he. “I have discovered a secret that will make you the figure you were at eighteen. Come!” “Where?” said I. “To Maiden-lane,” said he. “Gymnastics in Maiden-lane,” said I, “whereabouts?” “The Old Cyder Cellar. I’ve been every day for the last three months, and the proprietor has promised to restore to me my figure in no time.”

I said nothing, for I remembered Dolly when he was thin, and the less said about his figure at any time the better. He’s a dear creature, but round shouldered and bent at the knees. I wanted to get rid of him, and so promised to meet him at the Gymnasium that afternoon.

About three I was there. We all, I mean all who have passed boyhood, remember the Cyder Cellar as not a bad place to get a chop at night, though there used to be a very ghostly song about a sweep who was about to be hanged, which though cleverly sung, never for a moment enhanced my enjoyment of my supper; but let that pass.

I did not burst into tears, though I could not help feeling depressed at the sight of poor Cowdy, in a Jersey, and pair of white flannel trowsers, white shoes, and a belt, prepared for games. He looked like a combination of an alderman and a prize-fighter. I had no idea of his size till I saw him thus arrayed — his childhood had indeed run to waist. What was my dismay when I saw him cling wildly to a wooden bar and draw up his legs frantically. “It will give way with him,” I exclaimed, with horror. “Don’t be alarmed, we’ve had it made expressly for him,” was the reply, of the manager.

All went off well till, carried away by his feelings, poor Dolly tried to revolve on his own axis, and in the attempt his wig came off. I fully expected that he would have rushed madly from the place, but no, he actually replaced his invisible Truefitt with a smile, and made some playful remark about the fever he had in the spring, when to my knowledge he has worn that wig since forty-five, when he was three and twenty; and yet that man, although my friend, will go about remarking that he flatters himself he wears better than I do, and insinuates that we are the same age, when it is notorious that I look ten years younger than he does, and am four years his junior.

But I’m resolved he shan’t go in for gymnastics, and beat me. Never! I have gone through a course of dumb-bells already, I have ordered a set of flannels. I’ll lay anything I’ll give him his three months’ start and beat him at anything he likes. I intend to walk a mile, run a mile, jump a mile, and hop a mile, that’s my challenge to him, and if I get on the gloves with him, he’d better look out for his new front teeth. I don’t mind confessing to being thirteen stone, though the last time I weighed, which was in Paris, the idiot who superintended the operation made me out a great deal more.

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Last modified 9 March 2016