As the excitement and euphoria generated by the London 2012 Olympics fade and talk turns to 'the Olympic legacy', what better moment to look at how sport and society got to where they are now? Doctors, politicians, athletes, journalists and teachers are telling us all to take exercise because it will make us fitter, happier and longer lived; but there is nothing new here, for, as Julia Allen shows in Swimming with Dr Johnson and Mrs Thrale, eighteenth-century physicians were telling their patients to get outside, get moving, work up a sweat, ride, swim, or even take a drive in a bumpy coach. In Johnson's words, 'much happiness is to be gained' and 'much misery escaped by frequent and violent agitation of the body'.

In this wonderfully eccentric book the great lexicographer, literary colossus and old sage gets out of his familiar tavern chair and into the rough breakers at Brighton, having been pressed to come and join in the fun by his friend Mrs Thrale. Using the two characters in the title as commentators and guides, Allen takes a sideways look at aspects of sport, health and exercise in their time, in this scholarly and entertaining book. In Part I she goes into the medical theories behind eighteenth-century notions about exercise, the role of the physician, the work of the surgeon, the conditions in which exercise was taken, its place in child-rearing and education, and its efficacy as a cure for depression. Part II comprises chapters on the various sports and forms of exercise associated with Johnson and Mrs Thrale; here Allen describes the state of each one at the time, its rules and evolution, the clothes people wore, some of the star performers and their achievements, and what men decreed that women might decently be allowed to do – should we forget the degree to which women were kept subordinated in the eighteenth century, no one reminds us more eloquently than the intelligent, opinionated Hester Thrale.

At the heart of the book, giving it its immediacy, originality and value, are the voices of the eighteenth century heard in the long quotations from a wide range of contemporary sources; they produce some startling revelations and lead the reader into the past, that 'foreign country' where things were done 'differently'. There are 79 black and white illustrations, a 'who was who', bibliography and index, and frequent use is made of Johnson's Dictionary of the English language.

About the author:

Julia Allen read English at Bristol University and has worked as a teacher, librarian, translator and lexicographer. She is the author of Samuel Johnson's menagerie (2002) and in 2009 curated an exhibition at Cambridge University Library jointly commemorating the University's 800th anniversary and the 300th anniversary of Johnson's birth.

About the Publisher:

The Lutterworth Press has been trading since the eighteenth century and is one of the longest established and best-known independent publishers in the United Kingdom. It has been associated with James Clarke & Co. since 1984.