Haunts of the Black Masseur

by Charles Sprawson. Pantheon, $23.00. Mr. Sprawson’s reflections on swimming and swimmers are largely, although not entirely, devoted to British practitioners of the art, and necessarily to such of those as have recorded their sensations. Byron, Swinburne, Clough, and the ineffable Baron Corvo figure largely, as does Shelley, a nonswimmer who qualifies because of his ultimately fatal attraction to water. Mr. Sprawson believes that he has found a pattern among swimmers—“generally out of harmony with their age, idealists who felt deeply the futility of life, the contrast between what life is and what it ought to be.” This position does not account for nonswimming idealists or nonliterary swimmers, but it does permit intriguing speculations and some melancholy facts about once-splendid waters now ruined by dams and industrial pollution.