7. SOME ASPECTS OF THE VEGETARIAN QUESTION (1)
IT appears to me that we may justly regard the century in which we live as par excellence the age of Reform and of Criticism. The work of our day seems to be almost exclusively that of applying tests to the discoveries and theories of the past. The civilised world has outgrown its childhood, and consents no longer to take things upon trust. With nations, as with individuals, the enthusiastic faith and credulity of youth yields, in process of time, to the sober reason of maturity. The mind, whether single or aggregate, reviews, with the searching eye of a critic, the opinions it has hitherto entertained, subjects them, one by one, to the test of logic, and retains only such as are sufficiently well-founded to stand the crucial examination unimpaired.
Thus, at the present era of our national history, we are dealing with our old beliefs, and by degrees are putting away our childish things. We are not now satisfied to pursue a certain course of life, or to hold by certain modes of faith, merely because that was the life and this the faith which contented our ancestors. We are asking the meaning and purpose of our existence, and inquiring why such and such things are to be done, and what is our warranty for doing them.
In this manner I account for the fact that the nineteenth century is so fruitful in critics and in censorship. Nothing can be said or done in these days without attracting comment. Everyone who stands forward to advocate any particular cause or opinion is asked why he supports it; nor is it enough for him to reply that the duty of so doing attaches to his hereditary faith or family history. Such an answer would have suited the times that are past very fairly, but the people of to-day want personal convictions which shall bear with impunity the broad light of Reason.
This keen and searching fire of criticism which burns around us may well be likened to the famous cauldron of the enchantress Medea. Into it is put the old worn-out body of the world's past creeds and theories, inert, decrepit, powerless to touch any longer the minds and hearts of the people. But out of the purifying furnace springs the aspiration of the new age, vigorous and strong, full of life and youth and purpose. So it comes about that the popular movements of our time are the result, as a rule, of criticism applied to past ideas. Of late, people have dared to ask why, in old times, wives and daughters were subjected by their male relatives, and practically denied the dignity of humanity. As a result of this inquiry we have the agitation for women's rights. Other people, again, have questioned the sense and propriety of the flesh-eating habits which have prevailed so generally hitherto in European countries, and by consequence the Vegetarian Society rises into being. "Reform" is the cry of our day. With us the inquiry to be made is not "What did our fathers think?" or "What have been the belief and practice of the past?" but more reasonably, "What should we think?" "What should be the belief and practice of the future?" The consideration of that which ought to be is now of more importance to us than the consideration of that which has been. It is our duty and our desire to progress beyond our ancestors, not to imitate them. Intellect is ever on the march; the spirit of man is never contented with the possessions of a bygone age; his nature and the law of his being compel him to a continual striving after the highest and the best – that is, the Divine.
And for those who know and estimate the absolute dependence of Mind upon Matter, the Vegetarian movement will assume a vast importance and significance among the progressive theories of the age. We are that which we eat; our food is converted into our blood, our blood nourishes our brains, our brains are the foci and centres of our thoughts. In the old and beautiful story of the Fall of Man, we find the entire moral and spiritual condition of the individual independent on his choice of food, and a wrong selection in this respect immediately followed by the most dismal results to his soul. It is the same with each of us to-day. Our whole mental status rests upon our bodily condition. If we feed purely and wisely, we shall be pure and wise in spirit. If, on the contrary, we accustom ourselves to gross diet, and mould
our appetites to seek and to love food which is obtained at the expense of suffering and death to other sentient creatures, we shall assuredly develop in our souls the sensuality and the cruel tastes of the men of past times. Shall we not, then, place the spiritual progress of our race foremost in the catalogue of our necessities – foremost in our personal aspirations? Shall we not, all of us, combine to sacrifice every consideration of luxury to the higher claims of the soul?
And, again, do we not find, as a matter of fact, that the more earnest and the more advanced a man is in the study and practice of wisdom, the simpler and the more frugal become his habits of diet? Cast your eye back on the biographical records of former times, whether biblical or secular, and you will find that the prophets, the seers, the miracle-workers, the saints, the students, the teachers, the philosophers whose great names make the glory of the Past, were men of exceeding temperance, often ascetics in regard to appetite.
Some persons will tell you that the Divine Founder of the Christian Church was a flesh-eater. The utmost they can show from gospel narrative is that He ate fish, and the obvious inference from several passages is against the supposition that He partook of meat in any grosser form. When hungry in the wilderness, it was with the suggestion of bread, and not of flesh, that the demon attempted to beguile His pure desires; when famished with long abstinence and travel, it was with the fruit of the fig-tree that He sought to satisfy His appetite.
But the closing act of His life was one of such deep significance and interest to Vegetarians that I cannot avoid noticing it here. Surely it is at least remarkable that the memorial and type of His mission to the world should have been bequeathed under the emblems of unleavened bread and wine mingled with water. We know that the Jews were accustomed to celebrate the Passover by eating the flesh of a lamb, and this lamb has always been regarded as the type of the Messiah. It might, therefore, have been naturally expected that this same Messiah, celebrating this identical paschal feast, would have chosen the lamb before Him on the table as the type of Himself in time to come, and thus have perpetuated the use of the ancient symbol in the Church He was about to institute. But instead, we find Him consecrating a cake of unfermented meal as his sacramental representative. But instead of this innocent victim, Jesus of Nazareth lays His hand upon a loaf
of unleavened grain, and on a cup of unfermented wine, and these He gives to His apostles as the regenerating and bloodless food of the future Church – His legacy to the new-born brotherhood – fittest token and symbol of the gentle morality He advocated, and of the pure and simple aspirations He taught. "This," says He, "is My Body, and this My Blood. These are the untainted elements from whence I draw my perfect Being, my wondrous power and vitality. This is the mysterious meat of which ye knew not; these the aliments on which ye also ought to support your lives. Henceforward eat and drink these in memory of your Master." Thus His last act is to restore to the world a pure dietary, and, dismissing the barbarisms of the past, to assure His disciples that the age of slain victims and of paschal lambs should yield in the wiser hereafter to a more spiritual dispensation. “Whoso eateth this bread and drinketh of this cup for his sustenance shall never see death." There is, rightly, a far more literal meaning in these words of Christ's than theologians are apt to fancy.
Passing from religious to
economical considerations, we may notice, first, a very general objection raised with regard to Vegetarianism which we may represent by
the query: "What will become of us
if we do not kill and eat other creatures? Shall we not be ourselves eaten
by them?" In the first place I reply: "The animals at present used for human
food are artificially bred. Cease to breed them." And in the second place I
would observe that there are many creatures which are not used for food which,
nevertheless, do not increase to any appreciable, still less to any injurious,
extent. Do we think we run any risk of being devoured by badgers, beavers,
squirrels, dogs, weasels, hedgehogs, cats, or horses? Or of being pecked to death by robins, wrens, or titmice?
Have we not even great difficulty in obtaining horses and other beasts of burden
at reasonable prices, although these creatures are never killed for food, save
by a few fanatics in
Again, it is not in the least probable that the whole world, or even the members of one nation, or the population of one city, will be converted to Vegetarianism simultaneously. The adoption of a purer system of diet will be a gradual process
Therefore, those creatures which are now reared artificially will have ample
time to decrease gradually in number as the demand for their flesh gradually
lessens and ceases. Most of these animals too, let us recollect, are not
indigenous to our climate, but have been at a remote period imported from
distant parts of the globe: the ox probably from Oriental countries, the sheep
Stand awhile in any one of our pasture-meadows and observe the sheep. He is a large mass of flesh, supported on four small straight legs, ill-fitted for carrying such a burden. His movements are awkward, he is easily fatigued, and frequently sinks under the weight of his own corpulence. And, in proportion as these marks of human transformation become more numerous and observable, the creature becomes more helpless and stupid. Oxen and sheep which batten upon very fertile lands become fat and entirely feeble, those that lack horns being the most dull and heavy, while those whose fleeces are longest and finest are most subject to disease. In short, whatever changes have been wrought upon these unfortunate brutes by man, are entirely calculated for imagined human advantage and not for that of the creatures themselves. It would require a succession of ages to restore the ox or the sheep to its primitive condition of strength and activity so as to match in point of perfection its compeers of wild or forest.
Sometimes, again, we are told by our opponents that if the whole nation, or any considerable portion of it, were to become
Vegetarian, we should not, in our latitude, be able to produce fruits and vegetables in sufficient quantity to meet the demand for food. But imagine all the miles of English pasture and sheep-runs converted into orchards, gardens, and grain fields; imagine the pig-styes, cattle sheds, and pens giving place to fragrant vineyards and fruit-houses! Will anyone be hardy enough to say we should not then have enough to eat and to spare?
Mr. W.R. Greg, in a paper upon population and the prospects of the world in view of the ever-rapidly increasing tide of human life on the earth, observes: "There is one mode in which the amount of human life sustainable on a given area, and therefore throughout the chief portion of the habitable globe, may be almost indefinitely increased, i.e. by a substitution of vegetable for animal food. A given acreage of wheat will feed at least ten times as many men as the same acreage employed in growing mutton. It is usually calculated that the consumption of wheat by an adult is about one quarter per annum, and we know that good land produces four quarters. But let us assume that a man living on grain would require two quarters a year; still one acre would support two men. But a man living on meat would need three pounds a day, and it is considered a liberal calculation if an acre spent in grazing sheep and cattle will yield in beef or mutton more than fifty pounds on an average – the best farmer in Norfolk having averaged ninety pounds; but a great majority of farms in Great Britain only reach twenty pounds. On these data, it would require twenty-two acres of pasture-land to sustain one adult person living on meat. It is obvious that, in view of the adoption of vegetable diet, there lies the indication of a vast possible increase in the population sustainable on a given area."
Once more: there is a favourite argument brought against us on the score of the human teeth. People like to assume that they have carnivorous teeth – the teeth of the lion, the wolf, or the tiger. Well, if our opponents have such teeth, it is because they have developed them by habit through successive generations, just as many other abnormal characteristics of body have been developed in all manner of creatures by means of long-continued custom.
It really happens, however, that the human cuspids (or canine teeth, as they are erroneously called) do not bear the slightest resemblance to those of the carnivorous animals, and
it is on the shape and formation of these cuspids that the whole argument of the advocates of flesh-eating depends. In the human jaw there is no space between the opposite teeth for receiving the cuspids, as in the jaws of all carnivorous animals. And in the jaws of the horse, camel, and other individuals of the herbivorous tribes, the canines are considerably longer in proportion to the other teeth than they are in the human jaw; therefore, these creatures must be held, if we are to be logical in our deductions, far more carnivorous than man.
Again, the teeth of the orang-outang, which is frugivorous in its habits, bear a much greater likeness to those of the flesh-eating animals than the teeth of man; so that it is evident our race is farther removed by nature from the carnivora than is the race of apes, which more nearly resembles us. Let anyone who is still troubled with doubts on this subject examine the jaws of his dog and compare them honestly with his own. He will not find in his mouth the uneven, sharp-pointed incisors, or the projecting tusks of his dumb favourite; but, on the contrary, he will observe that his teeth are short, broad, and blunt, closely adjoining one another like those of the deer and kine. Thomas Bell, in a work entitled "The Anatomy, Physiology, and Diseases of the Teeth," remarks that the formation of the human jaw and teeth, as well as the character of all the organs and limbs of man, class him indubitably among the frugivorous animals. Such also is the opinion of Roget, Broussonet, Ray, Sir E. Home, Baron Cuvier, Linnaeus, Gassendi, Sylvester Graham, Professor Lawrence, and other eminent and learned physiologists and natural philosophers.
But, again, we have the witness of instinct on our side. We hear a vast deal about the infallible and sacred character of instinct. Theologians appeal to the natural instinct of man as a proof that he is a religious animal; and, apart from Revelation, it is on human instinct that they rely as the chief assurance of immortality. Let us inquire, then, in what direction instinct leads us with regard to our choice of food. Man under his noblest aspects is compassionate, gentle, unselfish, benign; he has a horror of injustice and of bloodshed; he abhors cruelty. If he sees any creature in pain or distress, he instantly conceives it is his duty to assist and relieve it. His spirit is moved to indignation at the sight of oppression or tyranny. He feels that war is a lamentable barbarism, and endeavours, accordingly, to settle international disputes by
means of arbitration. Carnage and the odour of death occasion him the deepest repugnance. He is a peace-maker, and he believes that title constitutes his highest claim to be called a child of God.
How absurd and inconsistent to suppose that such a being as this ought to feed like a beast of prey! How ridiculous to invest him with the sanguinary desires of the tiger or the vulture! If the appetite for flesh were a true instinct in man, he would share the savage disposition of the carnivora; it would be a pleasure to him to kill and tear his victim, and the sight of blood would be an agreeable titillation to his hunger. The carnivorous tribes delight in slaughter because slaughter is normal to their nature. But civilised man, on the contrary, has so great an aversion to bloodshed and to the sight of death, that he is apt to shudder on passing a butcher's stall, to quicken his steps, and to thank Heaven that he does not belong to so repulsive a trade. He employs other people of coarser organisation than himself, men who are the helots of modern times, to slaughter victims for his use; and when, finally, their limbs are brought to his table, prepared by the art of cookery, he further disguises the taste and appearance of them with unwholesome sauces, fiery condiments, poisonous seasonings, and fantastic garnishes.
How I should like to compel all flesh-eating men and women to kill their own meat! Conceive the delicate lady of the period going out, knife in hand, to slaughter her victims for the next day's dinner! Imagine the clergyman, whose mission it is to preach mercy and benevolence, taking his pole-axe from the shelf and sallying forth to his cattle-shed intent on taking innocent life! What a vulgar picture! What a coarse and indelicate conception! Quite so! But this is just what would be natural enough if human instincts were really carnivorous. Observe the little child, – for in childhood you have the nature of man in its purest and most uncorrupted state. I lately saw a little girl weep bitterly for hours and refuse all consolation because a favourite rabbit had been killed for the mid-day meal. Let such training continue, and by and by that child will become hardened by habit, depraved by contact with a world which lives amiss, and be no longer moved by the sweet impulses of pity.
In the recent accounts of the Tichborne trial, most of us read the testimony given to the claimant's identity by a
metropolitan butcher. In the course of his examination it was elicited that butchers, while employed in the slaughterhouse, are compelled to walk about upon clogs to preserve their feet from being soaked with blood. The floor of the slaughter-house is a great red pool of steaming blood! Can anything be pictured more awful, more infernal, than such a sight? Conceive what manner of men these unfortunate slaughterers must become after a few years of constant familiarity with scenes and odours of this character, in which it is also theirs to enact the chief horrible part! What chance have they, do you think, of being gentle, refined, or noble-hearted men? Can such men conceive lofty aspirations, or form high ideals? Can they appreciate pure happiness? And so long as a certain number of human souls is thus sacrificed to the debased desires of the rest of our race, must we not admit that our boasted civilisation is a chimera? Every flesh-eater is guilty, not only of shedding innocent blood at the hands of his helot, but is guilty also of causing the degradation and pollution of a human soul. The depravity and insensibility of the butcher rest upon the purchaser, who is morally responsible for retaining in a debased condition the intellect of a fellow-man.
[Here the lecturer related the incident of the butcher and the child, referred to in the first of her Letters on Pure Diet in The Food Reform Magazine. (1)]
I confess, indeed, that I cannot perceive what logical basis for the support of the flesh-eating doctrine is left to those who affirm the wisdom of the Creator or who desire the progress of civilisation. For it follows, if the consumption of flesh be natural and necessary to man, that God must have intended his bodily appetite to do continual violence to his spiritual instincts, since he must, at the same time, have implanted in the human heart a love of gentleness and an aspiration after purity and divine benevolence, while obliging the human organisation to subsist by deeds of carnage. Such a supposition is, in the last degree, derogatory to the wisdom of God, since it maintains Him to have perpetrated a stupidity and inconsistency which the most simple of us can readily perceive. And because civilisation, with its concomitants of education, refinement, and morality, must certainly tend to increase the benignity of the human race, the opponents of Vegetarianism
ought reasonably to advocate our return to a state of barbarism, that so the growing aversion to bloodshed might diminish among us, and the old ardour for battle and rapine return to the heart of mankind.
Not unfrequently, too, we are fated to hear the beautiful argument – "Animals must have been intended for the food of man; else, why were they created at all?" It really is very preposterous that man should imagine everything he beholds has been designed solely for his consumption! Are there not scores and scores of creatures which live, and move, and die around us, of which we cannot make, and have never attempted to make, any use as food? Are there not innumerable mineral and vegetable poisons throughout nature which we do not conceive ourselves in any way bound to consume? Is no creature to have a right to life for life's sake except ourselves? Nothing to exist but for our gratification? We have already observed that those creatures which men are accustomed to eat are not by any means such as God created them: man has degenerated and enfeebled them for his own ends. Obviously, therefore, the wild ox was no more created to be eaten by man than the rhinoceros or the river-horse. It would be much more logical to assert that the human races were created to be the prey of lions, bears, panthers, tigers, or wolves, which are certainly carnivorous animals, than to presume that sheep and oxen were designed to be victims for us, who are furnished with teeth and internal organs suitable for vegetable diet.
Time will not suffice me in this brief address to examine at length the objection raised against us on the head of the comparative value to the human system of mixed and of Vegetarian diet. Other writers and lecturers, vastly more fitted than I to deal with this important subject, have, already and triumphantly, vindicated our cause in this respect. Suffice it, therefore, to observe, briefly, that the origin of all nutriment is found in the vegetable kingdom; that the various articles comprised in a vegetarian dietary are more digestible than a corresponding average from the flesh of animals; that flesh-meat contains about 25 %, of nutritious matter, while rice, wheat, pease, and beans contain from 82 to 92 %, and potatoes 28 %; that one pound of bread, oatmeal, rice, or sago contains more solids than three pounds of flesh, and a pound of potatoes as much
as a pound of beef. Notwithstanding this, there are persons found, usually among the ranks of ordinary medical practitioners, who may be heard to declare, with much assurance, that the principles of nutrition found in vegetables differ in character from the fibrin, albumen, and casein of animal food, and that only animal food imparts muscle and strength to the human body. But the experiments of Liebig, Dr. Lyon Playfair, Boussingault, and other distinguished chemists have established, beyond possibility of doubt, the fact that animal and vegetable substances are identical in fibrin, albumen, and casein, and that both contain precisely the same amount of azotised principle.
Moreover, vegetable diet is incontestably superior to flesh-tissue in point of purity, for the latter is often tainted or diseased in consequence of the unnatural state in which creatures bred for slaughter are habitually kept, the cramped, confined, and ill-ventilated spaces allowed them for exercise, and the unwholesome aliments on which they are fed in order to induce that abnormal deposit of fat which, though deemed a delicacy, is really a diseased condition of body. All of us are familiar enough, for example, with the sight and smell of a pig-stye. Many breeders of pigs feed their beasts upon every filthy substance that comes to hand – old sour wash, slops, the entrails of oxen and other offal. The flesh of hogs thus raised is sold for healthy pork. But even if pigs are cleanly fed and reared more expensively, it would still be better not to rear them at all. It is a very great wrong that a quantity of precious grain, which would be wholesome and nutritious as food for man, should annually be converted into poisonous hog-grease, which contains no nourishing element, and which corrupts the blood, vitiates the mind, and disorders the system of the consumer. Apart from these considerations, it is obvious that all cattle driven to market, and conveyed thither by rail or steamship, must be more or less disordered. The terror, the blows, the foul air, the fatigue, the maddening thirst these poor, animals experience during their transit, all tend to set up an abnormal and feverish condition of body; the blood becomes inflamed, the secretions disturbed, the system suffers exhaustion and irritation, and the result is febrility and diseased tissue. Indeed, nothing less could be expected.
But while on the subject of animal disorders, I should like to draw your attention to a few significant particulars connected
with it. Did you ever reflect how strange a thing it is that man, the master of creation, appears, more than any other creature, to be the prey of disease and premature death? Wild animals rarely suffer from disease; they die of old age, or by accident. Oxen and sheep and other domesticated beasts are more frequently disordered, but the proportion and variety of even their complaints is not to be compared to those of man. For the truth is, as I once heard a preacher say, that every creature, except man, and those unfortunate animals whom man has seduced, obeys the will of God and fulfils its nature. Man suffers disease because he has sinned. "God made him upright," says a wise writer, "but men have sought out many inventions." And it is one of Nature's most remarkable laws that the children must bear the iniquity of the fathers. Nothing is able to save a man from the transgressions of his ancestors. Ages ago, our progenitors forsook the course of diet prescribed for them by Nature, and forgot that original command of Divine wisdom, "Behold, I give you every herb which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree; to you it shall be for meat." How impious to assert that the food which Divine appointment selected for man is inadequate for his sustenance, unsuited to his organisation! Yet this is the foolish and irreverent idea which man conceived, and upon which he acted. And Nature, who forgives nothing, has visited the crime upon every successive generation. The predisposition to such diseases as gout, consumption, or heart complaint, is usually an inheritance from parents or ancestors who have violated the most obvious conditions of hygiene. Nevertheless we go on, year after year, in the same vicious excesses, indulging our palates with improper food, and compelling our innocent babes to partake of the same nauseous diet, till they, too, learn to like and to crave for it. Thus our whole systems have become vitiated, easily disturbed, the prey of all manner of maladies; and recent years have added incalculably to the mischief by building up, upon this basis of flesh-diet, a culinary code of luxurious living which will, by and by, be the ruin of England, as it was in old times the ruin of the Roman Empire. All simplicity, all healthfulness, have disappeared from our mode of cooking; every viand of which we partake is disguised alike in name and appearance, and the very praise and glory of kitchen art seems to consist in making the taste and the look of any particular
dish as unlike its original component elements as possible. Glancing over a fashionable cookery-book the other day, I lighted on a string of "ménus" for family dinners. I could not recognise in the catalogue of soups, meats, and puddings furnished a single English name, not could I form the least notion of the appearance or taste of a single article! Fortunes are expended in these days over the preparation of a lunch, a breakfast, or a supper, not to mention the fabulous sums lavished on civic or on royal dinners. The entertainment lately given to the Shah of Persia, at the Guildhall, is estimated to have cost forty thousand pounds. With such statistics as this before us, what can we hope for the health prospects of the rising generation? Luxury and gluttony have their record in every newspaper we take up, in every fashionable chronicle or advertisement that comes to hand. English men and women cannot meet in committee, nor assist a charity, nor join in a religious service, without supplementing the act with inordinate eating and drinking. In old times, even in the age of our grandparents, flesh-meat once a day used to be considered sufficient. But the people of our generation, in the same class of life, accustom themselves to hot meat breakfasts, and to the same diet at lunch and dinner. Thus the history of the world repeats itself, and the rebuke which Horace applied to the Romans of his time is verified of us also: "The age of our fathers hath produced us still more wicked, hereafter to leave a posterity more vicious still."
There is yet another point in connection with Vegetarianism which influences my mind very strongly. As I have not elsewhere encountered any reference to this particular consideration, it may not be amiss to record my opinion upon it here. I allude to the aspects of Vegetarian diet as they affect the subject of woman's emancipation. Conservatives in social and domestic matters are constantly urging upon us the pretended fact that one of the chief duties of woman is – to cook. And the exigencies of modern cookery have grown to such an alarming extent that, if women are to satisfy all the present demands of this luxurious age with regard to the pleasures of the table, they certainly will have no time left them for serious pursuits. Now, the Vegetarian system is pre-eminently calculated to rescue women from the drudgery which threatens them in respect of the culinary art. Simple and wholesome cooking, such as we advocate, would relieve
the sex from
more than half the hard toil and anxiety of the present régime, while it would
promote the health of every member of the household. "At least four-fifths of
all the money expended for medicines and medical advice," says a writer in the
Science of Health Journal,
"are paid because of the diseases of women and children. And
nine-tenths of all the care, nursing, night-watching, and privation of sleep and
rest because of sick children are performed and suffered by women." Hygienic
diet would get rid of almost all this vexation and expense, for over-stuffing
and improper food are the fruitful causes of both adult and childish complaints.
The Medical Society in
But we shall be told, perhaps, that in cold climates like our own, flesh-meat is necessary to sustain the heat of our organisation. Chemistry will inform you that vegetable diet is, at least, quite as rich in heat-forming principle as animal food, and for proof the querist may be referred to the evidence afforded by the contrasted habits of the Finns and Lapps dwelling in the same bleak latitude. The former live upon grain, the latter on flesh. And as a result the Finns are strong, vigorous, well-grown men, while the Lapps, on the contrary, are stunted and diminutive.
One of the most sturdy agitations of the day is the movement
in favour of abolishing the Game Laws. It is conceived by many thoughtful persons that there must be something grievously amiss in a system which permits the expulsion of human inhabitants from large tracts of land, and the prohibition of tillage, in order to stock preserves with game and deer for the purposes of so-called sport. The people of England are beginning to assert that they have a right to their country; that it is unjust to parcel it out into private wildernesses and wastes, from which all human feet, save those of the owner and his friends, are to be excluded; that, in short, the landed system of our country needs radical reform. It is not my province to enter into the political bearings of this subject; but the occasion will, I think, permit me to say a few words with regard to the demoralising tendency of private sport. Week after week our newspapers record the wholesale slaughter of hares, pheasants, grouse, and other animals in the preserves of some illustrious member of the Upper House; and it is written for our learning that His Royal Highness, or his Ducal Grace, bagged, like any poulterer, so many head of game. I am not going to enlarge on the sufferings of these unlucky creatures, exposed so cruelly to the inexperienced fire of nervous or of unpractised shooters, but rather, I wish to point out the pernicious effects of such amusements upon the persons who indulge in them, and, through them, upon the moral tone of the country. At Hurlingham, where the members of the nobility accustom themselves to do butcher's work on a number of tame and defenceless pigeons, it is forbidden by the laws of sport to aim twice at the same bird. If, therefore, the shooter should not be sufficiently dexterous to kill his victim at first fire, the wretched pigeon falls wounded on the grass, and pants away its life as speedily as it may. And while bird after bird is let out of its narrow little trap to meet a death it has not much chance of escaping, creatures, with the forms and the faces of women, sit by it in their laces and ribbons, and look on with a smile – creatures who are destined to become the mothers of, at least, some of our rising aristocracy.
Then we have the battues, which are, perhaps, more horrible and un-English in detail than even the sport at Hurlingham, and these also are attended by ladies. In pastimes of such description there is no real healthy sport, but only a gratification of the savage desire to kill and shed blood, a desire unnatural to civilised man, and which, so long as it is fostered
and encouraged by a luxurious and excessive system of stimulating diet, will place the persons who manifest it outside the pale of this century's philosophy, and will greatly retard the progress and enlightenment of our race. Long since, the voice of the nation condemned bear-baiting, bull-fighting, and all the kindred sports which involved barbarous and demoralising cruelty. Very lately the law inflicted its punishment on a number of persons belonging to the upper ranks of society who had been found guilty of taking part at a cock-fight. But the spirit of these deadly games still survives at Hurlingham, and in the park-preserves of many a noble peer. Will the nation have nothing more to say on the subject?
Only a few weeks ago I had a
short conversation with a clever and well-informed clergyman of the
Alas! alas! Here, then, we have the very pith and core of our difficulty with the people! Vegetarianism is supposed to be at variance with the dictates of religion! Now, on this point I am prepared to deny resolutely the possibility of finding in the Jewish Scriptures a single phrase condemnatory of vegetable diet, given with the authority of Divine command. There are, on the contrary, many passages which plainly indicate the displeasure with which the God of Israel regarded the adoption of carnivorous habits by man. So many persons have instanced the original ordinance delivered to Adam with regard to his diet, that I think it superfluous to dwell on the
subject here. For the same reason, I pass over the record of
the punishment incurred by the early Jews, in the desert at Sinai, in
consequence of their lust after the flesh-pots of Egypt; and, in respect of this
incident, I will merely remark that the wandering Israelites could not possibly
have been accustomed to feed on the flocks and herds which accompanied them,
else the demand for flesh would have been beyond measure absurd and superfluous.
It is evident that the vegetable manna described as "angel's food" was their
only aliment until the supply of quails arrived in the camp. But these details
have been, one and all, so ably handled, that I prefer to take other ground.
Nevertheless, in order that no one may have reason to accuse me of unfairness in
dealing with this part of my subject, I will, while on the treatment of texts,
instance and examine the only passage in the whole Bible which appears
unfavourable to the tenets of Vegetarianism. It occurs in the First
Epistle of St Paul to Timothy: "Now the Spirit speaketh
expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving
heed to spirits of error, (...) forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain
from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving; for every
creature of God is good, and nothing to be rejected, for it is sanctified by the
word of God and prayer." Now, in the first place, I observe that these Epistles
of St Paul, and of other early Christian writers, although they have received
the sanction of the Church, are not to be regarded as the direct communications
of the Divine Being, nor to be invested with any superstitious awe. They are
simply the utterances of minds which reflected all the early errors and
prejudices of the infant Christian community. If we want proof of this, we need
not seek far. The Epistles are full of exhortations, and warnings of the speedy
dissolution of the world, plainly showing that their writers, one and all, laboured under the delusion that they were, even then,
living in the last days. How far they erred in this respect we all know. Again:
it happens that this special passage about abstaining from meat was written
against an ancient sect of heretics, called the Manicheans, which had just then
arisen to vex the orthodox. These Manicheans held that all flesh was from an evil principle, and of the devil's
of an evil principle, but quite otherwise, the work of God Himself. This fact no
modern Vegetarian denies; but, so far to the contrary, because every living being is the work of God, he
abhors the idea of defacing its beauty, shedding its innocent blood, and robbing
it of the life he cannot give. Observe, too, that the progress of mankind and
the advance of human intellect have caused many of the precepts contained in the
Epistles to be set aside, with the full consent of the greatest intellects among
more modern times, we count among the ranks of Vegetarians such men as Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Richard Phillips, Dr. Lambe, Ritson, Haller, Howard, Swedenborg, and the reformer Wesley; while among the wise thinkers and teachers of heathen times, Pythagoras, the philosopher, was eminent in condemning the use of flesh as food, and his practice and opinions were also those of Zeno, Diogenes, Plato, Plutarch, Produs, Apollonius of Tyana, a seer and a worker of miracles; Porphyry, Plautus, and many others.
Surely we cannot suppose that all these Christian saints and famous philosophers erred throughout their lives; or that a solitary expression of apostolic opinion in one Epistle is to be taken as outweighing and condemning the belief and practice of so many good and wise persons; to say nothing of the direct contradiction which the passage in question offers to many other texts throughout the Scriptures of much higher and Diviner authority.
I shall, therefore, beg you to
reflect that, although it is right to regard sacred writings with every
reverence, they ought not, by any means, to be understood as containing all that God has to say to
the world and to our souls. God has not ceased to exist, nor is His voice
silenced. As in old times He spoke to our race by the lips of men of poetic or
prophetic genius, so also He yet speaks in the wonderful language of Science.
Every truth which comes to light is God's truth, and to nothing but error can it
be dangerous. Little by little, as the world is able to bear it, God uncovers
the splendour of His divine face. Every new discovery
in anatomy, physiology, chemistry, geology, or any other branch of learning, is
a word of God, as truly and as powerfully as though it were the utterance of a
Daniel or of a
union with the
pure spirituality they covet. For the God of the Holy Scriptures is also the God
of Nature; and, since it is impossible for God to contradict Himself, these two
must agree, and must be equally divine. Whatever, therefore, we find to be the
teaching of science, we must accept with perfect and entire reverence as being
the true Word of God. Science is the Apocalypse of To-Day, the revelation
vouchsafed to the present age. Not alone in the leaves of a printed volume, the
text of which has undergone many vicissitudes and translations, many losses,
additions, and interpolations, and the intentions of which often lie hid in
obscure orientalisms, parables, and enigmas – not
alone in the pages of our Jewish and Christian Scriptures, does the Voice of God
address us, but far more clearly, majestically, and forcibly in the living
Nature around us. His Word is written on star, and plant, and stone. He speaks
to us in the thousand voices of the earth, bidding us aspire ever upward towards
the perfect day; bidding us rise through sphere after sphere, hating and casting
from our ascending spirits the garment spotted by the flesh. He bids us abstain
from the pollution of blood, and revert to the original purity in which we were
created, for thus only can we hope again to make our world a
Vainly, to-day, we dream of universal peace – vainly we talk about abolishing war among nations, while we are still content to live like brutes of prey. As long as men feed like tigers, they will retain the tiger's nature. Universal peace will be impossible until man abjures the diet of blood. Thus, I regard Vegetarianism as the ultimate and the only means of the world's redemption. Even the commonest and most popular conception of the condition of things which will obtain under the immediate reign of Christ precludes the anticipation of bloodshed. Then, as Isaiah says in another of his prophecies, "He that killeth an ox shall be, in the sight of the Lord, as if he slew a man."
Therefore, let us rid ourselves as soon as we may of the absurd
fancy that science and the instincts of humanity are less holy or less venerable than the text of Scripture. We shall yet see the day when no imaginary distinction will be drawn between so-called sacred and so-called secular knowledge. All knowledge is equally sacred. Nature can unfold nothing to us but God. Whatever theory, whatever aspiration receives the sanction of science, and the approval of virtue, is, undoubtedly, the inspiration of the Father of Spirits, demanding our ready and perfect obedience to its dictates. And I know that at some distant day, now, indeed, perhaps very remote, the message we preach in a corner will become the religion of great nations. To us, meanwhile, it belongs to inaugurate the Golden Age with words of entreaty and appeal, whose spirit and whose burden shall be these:
Rise, human soul! "Arise and fly
The reeling Faun, the sensual feast;
Move upward, working out the beast,
And let the wolf and tiger die!"
(124:1) A lecture given by Anna Kingsford, reprinted from The Ideal in Diet: Selections from the Writings of Anna Bonus Kingsford.
(132:1) See p. 66, ante.