Early modern swimming (2)

I posted on early modern swimming a couple of days ago, and regretted that I had not been able to find an image from Everard Digby’s sixteenth-century treatise on swimming online. I made do with a description of his illustrations, since I did not dare to scan an image and post it on the web. But Peacay of BibliOdyssey read my post, engaged his special image-finding skills, and found an online image from Digby’s original Latin treatise, De Arte Natandi. It is on the website of St John’s College, Cambridge, and I reproduce it here.

It is the fourth image in Nicholas Orme’s edition of Christopher Middleton’s translation of the treatise (1595). The first images in the treatise are concerned with techniques of entering the water. It is of the utmost importance, Digby writes, that the swimmer be neither too hot or too cold before entering the water. A beginning swimmer should simply wade into the water, but “when he can perfectly swim and boldly turn himself every way in the water” the swimmer could leap into the water. There are several ways of leaping into the water. Digby first describes a technique in which the swimmer declines his head forwards and turns round over with his heels — a technique that seems to resemble our modern dive. In this illustration, however, he pictures another technique. We see the swimmer ready to dive gracefully into the river, and we see him in a later stadium when he has fallen “on his left or right side, after this fashion”:

Many thanks to Peacay!


10 thoughts on “Early modern swimming (2)

  1. I must ask…why wouldn’t you scan some images from a very old book? As long as it is properly attributed there ought to be no worries surely? Actually it would probably be ok to scan and post the whole book (were the space available say) just like misteraitch is doing at Giornale Nuovo with his Curiosities of Literature project.

    I am not trying to act as any authority here (at all) but ‘fair use’ and ‘out of copyright’ ought to be sufficiently protective t’would have thought.

    Oh actually…that reminds me to check out googlebooks to see if any Digby/Orme/Middleton is available. If I find anything I’ll post a link !

  2. Actually, begging your pardon – I see know the book you got was published in 1983. And it contains the older book. Hmm….I still wonder about all this – if I had books and a scanner I’d ask misteraitch’s advice because he does this all the time. I just pilfer already uploaded material.

    Anyway, not a picture but this gives a really interesting breakdown of the publication history of poor Digby’s hugely plaigarized work. (search on ‘De Arte Natandi’ and first result in googlebooks – if the link doesn’t work which it may not because of the need for one to be logged in)

    [not sure why this has caught in the craw of my attention but, there you have it]

  3. Well, yes, that’s the thing. I am sure I could scan the sixteenth-century book and publish the images on my website, since that is long out of copyright. But what I have is Nicholas Orme’s publication that reprints the Middleton translation of Digby’s book, and that makes it a different case, I think. But I have to admit that I never looked into the regulations for copyright on images on the internet. I’ll definitively take a look at the Curiosities of Literature site!

  4. I just discovered that Ramage was inspired by our philosophizing over images and reproduction rights, and reproduced a picture of a running Turkish soldier from one of the sources you mentioned.

    I am going to try to do something I should have done in December: reproduce the image of a man swimming while cutting his toes, here in the comments section. Not the engraving from Digby, but from the book Peacay found: Monsieur Thevenot’s Art of Swimming, translated from the French in 1699. Here he is:

  5. How was this Everard Digby related to the Everard Digby of the Gunpowder Plot, father of Kenelm? I don’t have my books handy – was the swimming philosopher the plotter’s father, as per Fulton, Notes and Records … 1960, p.199? The sad plotter was born in 1576 or 1578, when this guy was still at Cambridge …? There is now and there probably was then a fair bit of water in the park at Gayhurst/ Gothurst/ Goathurst where the plotter Everard and then Kenelm and Venetia lived … did they all practise the toe-cutting stroke there?

  6. Interesting question. According to the Dictionary of National Biography, the two were indeed related, but they were not father and son. Our Everard Digby (d. 1605), Church of England clergyman and author of the treatise on swimming, was indeed a scion of the Digby family of Stoke Dry, Rutland, the DNB says, but not, as your source Fulton thinks and apparently more historians used to think, a member of the main branch, as the conspirator was. The swimming Digby was probably born in Welby, Leicestershire, and not in Stoke Dry — he later moved their when his cousins brought him up after his father’s death.

    Sir Everard Digby, the conspirator (1578-1606), was the son of an Everard Digby, but this is not our swimming man — this man died in 1592. The NDB has a paragraph on the swimming treatise as well, I hope they don’t mind if I reproduce it in full:

    Digby’s next and most original publication was De arte natandi (1587), a Latin treatise on swimming. The Swiss writer Nicholas Wynman had written a dialogue on the subject, Colymbetes (1538), which Digby’s treatise resembled in discussing the history and value of the art, but he surpassed Wynman by systematically describing a large number of strokes, feats, and manoeuvres. The text was illustrated by forty-three detailed woodcuts, making the treatise also a landmark in the use of pictures to convey techniques. An abridgement in English by Christopher Middleton, entitled A Short Introduction for to Learne to Swimme, appeared in 1595 with the same woodcuts, and Digby’s work was copied by other writers on swimming in the seventeenth century, notably Melchisedech Thevenot, whose L’art de nager (Paris, 1696) drew extensively on De arte natandi and reissued its illustrations in updated form. Since Thevenot’s work circulated in both France and England until the late eighteenth century, Digby may be said to have influenced the understanding and teaching of swimming for the next 200 years.

    Nicholas Orme, ‘Digby, Everard (d. 1605)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/7625, accessed 1 Sept 2007]

  7. Thanks Kristine! Curious isn’t it – so the DNB doesn’t tell us what the actual relationship was – or was the swimming Everard the *uncle* of the plotter then?

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