… they apparently spent their leisure time demonstrating to their loved ones how massively muscular they were.

A man attempting to bend a poker on his neck.

Following on from Ros’s discovery of all the things a bright Edwardian boy could do, I recently came across Simple strength tests for home entertainment, a volume of “tricks and feats”, with the help of which the average Edwardian gentleman could show off his physical prowess. It would seem that the way to pass a dark winter’s night in 1909 (or thereabouts) was to get into competitions of strength with one’s companions. It’s intriguing, not least because while the book gives its readers hints on how to appear stronger than they actually are, most of the stunts suggested would require an iron physique anyway, and the author seems to realise that fact. So, when it comes to “Bending a poker on the neck”, men are advised, “Choose a poker that has been frequently on the fire”, as “Very few people have the strength to bend a poker with the use of arms only”. (Well, thanks for that brilliant tip.)

A quick way of rising

The book is, therefore, full of disclaimers. The “Jumping feat”, which involves jumping from a crouching position onto a chair, is, the author acknowledges, “Not so easy as it appears”. Should you want to attempt “Lifting a man with two fingers” (dear goodness), it’s easier if the man being lifted “retains his breath, keeping his lungs full of air”; but still, “A certain amount of strength is, of course, necessary for the performance of this feat”. (I should say so. I read this as the author saying: good luck to you, as it’s probably not going to happen.) Even when the feat is allegedly “really easy”, as in the case of “A quick way of rising” (pictured to the right), I have my doubts as to whether anyone would actually be capable of carrying it off. But maybe I’m being unfair. There was less obesity back in those days, after all, and I’m sure that physical education was more punishing, so perhaps most Edwardians were Superman types.

Oh well. Not being much inclined to physical exertion myself, I won’t try to lift a man on a chair, or even to break a pencil with my forefinger; and I can only exhort you not to try any of this at home. Particularly not this “skilful feat”:

Is this even humanly possible?