How did you learn the art of swimming? Perhaps your parents signed you up for swimming lessons at the local pool, or your grandpa did the old fashioned daredevil of sending you directly to study out of necessity. You may have found a way. Swimming is often learned through practice rather than reading, but not always. In fact, this practical ability is immortalised in this book. The first treatise on swimming in English was Everard's translation of his Digby book in 1587 entitled De Arte Natandi, or the Art of Swimming. With amusing woodcut illustrations, this bizarre book shows and explains how men and women float, propel, and otherwise frolick in the water.
Written by Cambridge University theologian Digby, the book was originally published in Latin. An English translation followed, but the woodblock prints were understandable to anyone, regardless of language ability. Digby explained the theory behind many of the striking techniques still taught today, such as "swim like a dog," "step on water," and "knee forward in water." . His goal is clear. "Safety first!" He even explains how to properly enter and exit the water, which is depicted in a manner similar to the River Cam in Cambridge, which he would have been familiar with.
But safety wasn't the only reason men and women wanted to swim in the 16th century. The author writes, "Not only should she be honoured for this tremendous help in the extremity of death, but as every human being should do, even in the most comfortable and safe times of life." What not to do, especially when: "When..." helps cleanse the skin of external contaminants and impurities such as perspiration and relieve the body's extreme heat... "