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The Art of Swimming

Three near-drownings elucidate the wisdom of a 17th-century guide to swimming safety and technique.

When I was 18 months old, I fell into a pool. My father, who was supposed to be supervising, was engaged in conversation. I would have drowned had my three-year-old brother not seen me floating (I wasn’t struggling) and yelled.

The Art of Swimming (1696) by Melchisédech Thévenot was one of the first, and most popular, books on swimming. In it, he asserts: “While one reflects on those many and frequent Accidents, which through want of Swimming daily happen amongst us; everyone is ready to complain of the unhappiness of Man in that respect, in comparison of other Animals to whom Nature has indulged that faculty, which [Man] ought to enjoy in a more excellent degree, since it is so necessary to his Preservation.”

Until recently I thought I could remember that moment: the sun’s brightness muted through layers of water, my father’s worry-lined face as he pulled me back into the air. I thought I could remember that... Continue Reading

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Jul 22
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