From our Special Collections: Monsieur Thévenot’s ‘The Art of Swimming’

If the Olympics have inspired you to take up a new sport you can do worse than taking a look at the Know the Game series, available to library members via Public Library Online.

But these kinds of books are nothing new, as a curious item from our collections demonstrates…

In 1696 Melchisedech Thévenot (scientist, traveller, diplomat and inventor of the spirit level) published ‘The Art of Swimming’, one of the very first books on the subject.

Disregarding its title, Monsieur Thévenot’s swimming handbook seems to have been designed less as a means of perfecting one’s style in the water, and more as a tool for survival in late 17th century France. He lists a number of advantages to learning how to become adept in the water in the introduction to his book:

In case of Shipwreck, if one is not very far from Shore, the Art of Swimming may set one safe there, and to save from being drowned.

In case of being pursued by an Enemy, and meeting a River in one’s way, you have the advantage of escaping two sorts of Death, by gaining the Shore on the other side, and so escaping from your Enemy, and from being drowned in the attempt of doing it.

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This printed treasure from our Special Collections is our latest exhibition on Capital Collections, our online image gallery.

Enjoy the full volume of wonderful illustrations as well as some of the more intriguing techniques such as ‘The Agility of the Dolphin’ or ‘The Leap of the Goat’.  There’s even advice on how ‘To cut the nails of the toes in the water’. The reader is assured this is an easier task to perform in water than out – though best not try this one down the local swimming baths!


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