Social Science blog

03 August 2010

Swim coaching

You’d have thought - wouldn’t you? - that the latest sports coaching books acquired by the British Library would be cutting edge modern titles replete with the latest research by sports physiologists and psychologists.  Not a bit of it: a couple of years ago we proudly took possession of a book on swimming published in 1595. This was an English edition, from a Latin original called De arte natandi which was written by Everard Digby and published in 1587.

As Professor Nicholas Orme wrote in his note to accompany a talk on the book at the BL in October 2008, Digby was a ‘rumbustious Tudor scholar, thrown out of Cambridge for offences ranging from crypto-Catholicism to fishing (when he should have been in chapel) and blowing a horn and shouting round the college’. Unusually, he seems to have been pretty nippy in the River Cam, with a love of synchronised swimming moves such as ‘to caper with both his legges at once above the water’ and ‘to swimme with one legge right up’. Woodcuts showed how this was done, should anyone wish to try it.


It’s such a wonderful book that one half expects it to be revealed as a daring hoax, like the Hitler diaries, but anyhow we rate it as authentic – so far…

Digby, Everard De arte natandi Libri duo, quorum Prior regulas ipsius artis, posterior vero praxin demonstrationemque continet. Excudebat Thomas Dawson: Londini, 1587.

London reference collections shelfmarks: 58.b.16; and C.71.h.11.

Orme, Nicholas. Early British swimming 55BC-AD1719 : with the first swimming treatise in English, 1595  [Exeter] : University of Exeter, 1983.

London reference collections shelfmark: X.629/20547

Lending collections shelfmark: 83/27528

Digby, Everard, [De arte natandi libri duo. Adaptation. English ] A short introduction for to learne to swimme. Gathered out of Master Digbies Booke of the Art of Swimming. And translated into English for the better instruction of those who vnderstand not the Latine tongue. By Christofer Middleton. At London : Printed by Iames Roberts for Edward White, and are to be sold at the little North doore of Paules Church, at the signe of the Gun, 1595.

London reference collections shelfmark: C.194.a.833



The comments to this entry are closed.