Fine feats in the water

These fragments come from a lovely 17th century guide to learning to swim. Illustrated throughout, the author provides all the instructions necessary for learning to swim like a fish in an English river.

There are fewe or none which have bestowed any paines in the explayning or publishing this Art of Swimming, it being so profitable a thing as it is, towards the preserving of mans life, when as he is at any time distressed in the greedie jawes of the swelling Sea.

The time which the temperature of this our climate affords as good to swimme in, is comprehended in foure monthes, May, June, July, and August.  In the place is two things especially to be respected, first, that the banks be not overgrowen with rank thicke grasse, where oft-times, do lie and lurke many stinging Serpents, and poisoned Toades: not full of thornes, bryers, stubbes, or thistles, which may offend the bare feete, but that the grasse be short, thinne, and greene, the banke beset with shadie trees, which may be a shelter from the winde, and a shadowe from the parching heate of the Sunne. Next that the water it selfe bee cleare, not troubled with any kinde of slimie filth, which is very infectious to the skinne, that the breadth, depth, and length therof be sufficiently knowne, that it be not muddie at the bottome, least by much treading the filth rising up from the bottome, thicken the water, and so make it unfitte for that purpose. Also that there be not in the bottome of the River any olde stakes or sharpe stones, which may greatly indanger the Swimmer, but that it be a cleare running water, not a standing corrupted poole, the bottome faire sande, where from the banks may easily be perceaved, whatsoever doth lie in the deepest place of the River.

For the manner of his going into the River, it must not be sweating, for that comming into the cold water it maketh a suddaine change in body, which is very dangerous, but rather by walking easily in some coole shade, or some such other moderate meanes, let him before he enter into the water bring his bodie into a reasonable temperature of heate and cold, and then, not as some which are more bold then wise, rudely leape into the water with their feete downwarde; or when he commeth at the side, fall in upon his right or left side. Or else leaping from the bank, and casting forth his leggs (but yet keeping of them close together) he may light upon his hips, and the hinder parts of his leggs, as you see in this picture:

When he hath perfectly learned to swim to and fro on his bellie, let him learne thus to turne upon his backe, by thrusting out his right hand as far as he can before him, and withall, turne over his left side, and still keepe out his right hand, untill he be turned upon his backe, for that it doth in turning so, support him from sinking, as in this example following:

And when he is thus layd upon his back, he must lie very straight, not bending or bowing with his bodie any way, save onely his legs, which he must easily pull out and in, as when he was on his belly, to put him forwards in the water, as thus:

There is an other kinde of turning when a man is swimming upon his belly, with his head one way, suddainly to turne himselfe, still being upon his belly, & bring about his head and all his body the other way: and for that it is to be done quickly (as oft times you may see the fishes within the water, when in the pleasant heate of Sommer they wantonly friske to and fro) it is commonly called the Koach turne, and that is done thus, if he will turne towards the right hand, hee must suddainely put the water from him with his left hand, and pull that water behinde towards him with his right hand, turning backe his head and his bodie as you see in this next figure:

There is also a turning which is called the bell turne, as when one swimming one his bellie shall suddainely pull in his feete, and in stead of striking with them as is afore sayd, he shall heaving backward with his foreparts, strike forward with his feete, which motion will turne him upon his backe: and because he may at his pleasure turne so upon his backe and belly as hee will, it is called the bell turne, resembling also a bell when it is ringing, as for example:

To swimme upon his side. This kinde of swimming, though it be more laborious, yet is it swifter then any of the rest, for that lying upon one side, striking with your feete as when you swimme on your bellie, but that the pulling in and thrusting out of his hand, which then did onely keepe him up, do now helpe to put him forward: for onely the lower hand supporteth his bodie, and the upper hand roweth, as in this example:

Some more illustrations:

To dive beneath the water:

To swim like a dogge:

To tread in the water:

To pare his toe nails in the water:

To carry anything drie over the water in his hands:

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  • May 17, 2011 - 7:08 pm | Permalink

    This is delightful.

  • May 6, 2011 - 10:37 am | Permalink

    Yes Tom, although I used Middleton’s translation of 1595.

  • May 6, 2011 - 8:30 am | Permalink

    Is this possibly Everard Digby’s De Arte Natandi?

  • May 2, 2011 - 5:31 am | Permalink

    I find that very interesting. I often wondered about trimming the toe nails in a period prior to nail scissors. It appears to be a knife he is using.

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