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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

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Sunday, 9 September 2012

On keeping very busy

Tuesday, September 9th., Thorpe-le-Soken

Constant moderate perspirations through sharp exercise seem to be putting me into form. Yesterday was a proper sort of day for my trade. 400 words before breakfast. After breakfast, newspapers, cigar. Then 800 words. Then dictation of letters. A few 'Muller' exercises.

Born in Asserballe, Denmark in 1866, J.P. Müller was, for a time, as famous as that other Danish export, Hans Christian Anderson. Maybe more. At the turn of the last century, Müller's wildly popular cult of physical fitness swept Mitteleuropa, turning parlor-sitting dandies from Copenhagen to Berlin to London into ironmen. Müller's My System was published first in 1904 as little more than a long, bound pamphlet graced with an image of the Greek athlete Apoxyomenos naked and toweling himself. The exercise guide, which promised that just "15 minutes a day" of prescribed  exercise would make "weaklings" into strong men (and women), was ultimately translated into 25 languages, reprinted dozens of times, and sold briskly well into the 20th century. Müller was the Tom Paine of free body movement and fresh air. Like many a radical, he was resisted at first, called pornographic (partly because he often appeared in a loincloth—even while skiing in St. Moritz). His was a call to throw off the restrictive shackles of the Victorian era—a literal stripping away of restrictive layered clothes and corsets, a rejection of the "pallid, sickly looks" once prized as beautiful, and the "false dignity which forbids people, for instance, to indulge in so healthy and beneficial an exercise as running." He admonished: "Do not let a day pass without every muscle and every organ in your body being set in brisk motion." And bathing—the man had a fondness for cleanliness many of his contemporaries did not share: "This does not only refer only to people of the 'working' classes. I have often met 'gentlemen' in frock-coats and top hats and ladies in evening dress of whom you could tell by the smell of them, even at a distance of several feet, that they seldom or never took a bath." Born sickly himself, so small "I could be placed in an ordinary cigar box," Müller nearly died of dysentery at two and "contracted every childhood complaint." His own strength, in other words, was acquired, not inherited, through physical exercise.

A quarter of an hour in the garden. A section of Lavisse's "Histoire Generale". Lunch. Flaubert's correspondence. Sleep. Early tea. In car with Marriott to Landermere to make a watercolour - 4 to 6 o'clock.

Landermere Wharf

Car came back to fetch our things. We walked home. Over two miles mostly uphill and ever rough ground, in 29 minutes. profuse perspiration. Change. Bath. Dinner. Champagne. Cigar. Coffee. Bed at 10 pm and a very fairish night. Absolutely no time at all cut to waste between 7 am and 7.30 pm, when we dine.

I can always do more work when I have many other things on hand, and when I am following a programme that is rather a tight fit for the day.

In my book "How to live on 24 hours a day" (1910) I addressed the large and growing number of white-collar workers that had accumulated since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. In my view, these workers put in eight hours a day, 40 hours a week, at jobs they did not enjoy, and at worst hated. They worked to make a living, but their daily existence consisted of waking up, getting ready for work, working as little as possible during the work day, going home, unwinding, going to sleep, and repeating the process the next day. In short, he didn't believe they were really living. I addressed this problem by urging these "salarymen" to seize their extra time, and make the most of it to improve themselves. Extra time could be found at the beginning of the day, by waking up early, and on the ride to work, on the way home from work, in the evening hours, and especially during the weekends. During this time, I prescribed improvement measures such as reading great literature, taking an interest in the arts, reflecting on life, and learning self-discipline. I regard time as the most precious of commodities. Many books have been written on how to live on a certain amount of money each day and there is the old adage "time is money" but, though time can often produce money, money cannot produce more time. Time is extremely limited, and I urged others to make the best of the time remaining in their lives. In bursts I try to practice What I preach!

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