Vegetarianism in Colchester, 1854

lecture on vegetarianism in Colchester, 1854
The Essex and West Suffolk Gazette. Colchester, Bury St Edmunds and Eastern Counties Advertiser, December 29, 1854

This report was found by Andrew Senter in Colchester Central Library, and he kindly gave NESX a copy.
July 2009

On Wednesday night a lecture on the subject of Vegetari-
anism, was delivered at the Public-hall, Colchester, by
Messrs. Simpson and Griffin.
The meeting was well attended. The following is a sum-
mary of the lecture : Mr. SIMPSON said —
The dietetic reform, or Vegetarian movement, was the
result of observation and reasoning, and with its many hun-
dred organised members, had its thousands of others in sym-
pathy and practice with the movement, the conviction of all
of these, who knew both sides of the question, being, when
they had fairly compared themselves, not fallaciously with
others, but with their former selves, that the Vegetarian prac-
tice of diet was better and happier than any other. They
were, however, subjected to misconceptions, and some of them
as amusing as erroneous. Vegetarians could laugh at these,
and cheer the wit worth notice on all occasions, for the very
reason that they could best afford to laugh, and from having
long since discovered that they numbered in their ranks some
of the heartiest laughers of a former period. (Hear, hear.) As in-
stances of misconception, it was supposed that they had the spe-
cial object of assailing the poor butcher and drover, whilst a
careful observation of their system showed that it would
ultimately result in giving a better avocation to these classes of
men than those into which they were forced, often most re-
luctantly, by the demands of society. They were not, again,
either exclusive eaters of cabbage–(laughter)–but, now the
system came to be better known, it was seen that their diet of
fruits, roots, and grain, as well as other vegetable products,
gave greater variety and greater gustatory enjoyment, as
well as being obviously far more economical, and possibly,
as the world now seemed to conceive, the most natural. The
object of the dietetic reform movement was to minister to the
order and happiness of the world, and the language which it
adopted was not that of reproach, but of freedom and charity.
They invited popular attention to the examination of the
system they recommended, and if their reasonings were not
accepted, they at least hoped that the world would be none
the worse for what was designated the “benevolent enthu-
siasm” suggesting them ; for, as a popular writer had
remarked, “It was no use being angry with them,
since they merely took a draught of cold water
and looked their opponents calmly in the face.” (Laughter
and applause.) They were told, however, that they made
too much of their system, and that, if a good thing, it could
not be everything ; that the world had been “attempted to
be regulated by temperance,” and that now that that was
not effective, the Vegetarians were going a stage further, in
still further depriving people of the “comforts of life.” He
begged to state that they deprived none of the comforts and
blessings of existence, but, on the contrary, gave them a
higher and happier condition, their system being one of the
greatest abundance and enjoyment. They did not, however,
advocate their principles as anything more than those of an
external system of living in harmony with the physical,
intellectual, and moral condition of man, and did honour to
the greater considerations of truth, which all ought to
acknowledge, and which they did not degrade in their im-
portance for the sake of substituting what was called their
particular ism. (Applause.) All acknowledged the great
importance of the inquiry, What is the best food for man ?–
and modern times had abjured the notable error of thinking
that questions of diet and drink were beneath the considera-
tion of the religionist and philosopher, as was amply demon-
strated in the history of the temperance reform, rendered
necessary by the degradation incident to the drinking system.
The body was the temple of the spirit, and as the manifes-
tation of mind was through its external organs, the character
of the food and drink we partook of was ever worthy of the
highest and most careful consideration. The impartial entry
upon the inquiry, What was the most natural food ? should
not be confounded with what people liked best. The likings
of people, if introduced at all, at once produced conflict, and
might in Scotland present the “haggis,” and singed “sheep’s
head kail” as the best of things–(laughter)– ; whilst our
London friends would as pertinaciously put in their claims
for the roast beef of Old England. Our French brethren,
however, had a right to their conclusions as well, and so they
treated us to a few frogs ; whilst the families of mankind in China
brought us dogs and cats as the good things of the
table. And then, again, the unlettered savage ate the grogroo
worm and the cricket ; and the liking of the Carib for human
flesh showed us how extended indeed was the bill of fare which
the world, in the aspect of “I like it,” would contend for, eat-
ing as they did, in one phase or other of existence, everything,
from the ant to the elephant, and then looking about for some-
thing fresh. The pertinent way of settling the question as to what
was most natural, depended upon a complete inquiry into the
very nature of man. A prevailing error existed in the train-
ing of the young, which would naturally lead to the conclusion
that we were merely intellectual beings, and that the special
objects of early training were to develop intellect, with self-
esteem and the love of approbation, so carefully cultivated,
whilst the physical and even the moral and spiritual condition
were left almost to accidental training. Man was, however,
really and truly, not merely an intellectual, but a great
physical, and also a moral and spiritual being ; and there
could be no sound basis of inquiry entered upon in relation
to his well-being and happiness, which did not take him in
these three great aspects of his nature. Let the meeting,
then, along with him, seek to try the merits of the Vegetarian
and of the mixed-diet system upon this principle of inquiry,
and see what the result would be ; for if Vegetarianism meant
anything, it ought to be able to command attention in this
direction, and such attention as would lead to important
practical results. Man, taken as a physical being, had obvi-
ously instincts like the inferior animal creation, being none
the less perfect in these, however artificial customs and the
unreasoning practices which descend from one generation to
another, might almost have buried them. They were, how-
ever, present, and spoke, with more or less feeble voice, in all,
though clearest and happiest when in their normal state in
the young. What said the sense of sight, then, on the subject
of the consumption of the flesh of animals as part of the
dietetic system? We beheld the animal in the field, or in the
railway truck, or on its way to market, or in the street
(goaded, weary, and foot-sore, it might be, with the tongue
lolling out), and acknowledged no sensible relation between it
and our stomachs, as intended for the food of man. If we
followed it to the slaughter-house, we were still more removed
from the thought of such a relation ; and again, when we be-
held the portions of its body exposed before the butcher’s stall,
and traced them to their origin, the connexion was still as
notoriously wanting, and we arrived at the conviction, if we
dared to express it, that there was no beauty in barons of beef
or saddles of mutton, any more than we found in “the sheep’s
head and trotters.” But there was, through the inlet of
sight, both a beauty and poetry in the fruits of the earth,
which established a precise relation between man and these as
food, and, whether considered in the product of the orchard
and the garden, or the waving corn, these were not merely
received with joy, but acknowledged with gratitude. (Ap-
plause.) The sense of hearing could not support the moans
of dying animals ; and whether in the sobbing of the beautiful
lamb, or in the moan of the calf (put to death by a process
of cruelty, as had been well remarked, worthy of the
Grand Inquisitor), the whole was painful. But there
was no distress of feeling involved in the procuring of the
fruits, farinacea, and vegetable products of the earth ;
for though Punch was pleased to remind them that cabbages
had “hearts”–(laughter),–they well knew that these were
not of the kind that bled. As regarded the sense of touch,
flesh, again, was repulsive, while fruits and vegetable pro-
ducts were delightful even in the handling, the instincts of
the young showing their appreciation of these, and ever
directing them, till depraved by custom, to the fruit and
pudding-end of the dinner-table. To judge of the value of
this analysis of the sense of sight, hearing, and touch, they
had but to contrast the sensations of man with those of the[as]
carnivorous animal as the tiger. The delight the latter ex-
perienced in beholding his prey, the gush of saliva, and the
absence of compunction in the chance moan or sigh of his
victim, declared his complete relation to flesh as food, while
man’s instincts as certainly tended to fruits and farinaceous
productions ; and if he ever experienced the gush of saliva
more copiously than common, it was when he realised the
sensations of the Lancashire boy, whose teeth “shoot water,”
as he flattens his nose against the glass of the pastry cook’s
window, and beholds “them jolly pies and that ripe fruit.”
(Laughter.) Taste and smell were no evidence of the incor-
rectness of these conclusions, because these, after a time,
could be depraved and a “second nature” induced, such as
was demonstrated in the use of tobacco for snuffing and
smoking, or in the drinking of alcoholic beverages, however
repugnant to man’s instincts these undoubtedly were to begin
with. Adaptation to certain food and and circumstances was the
endowment of the Creator to man, and adaptability was
obviously only given to enable him to secure the preservation
of life in variable circumstances, and even to exist at great
disadvantage. The normal life, however, must certainly be
the happiest, and the disuse of flesh for a time proved that
the evidence of the senses of taste and smell also told power-
fully against its use. Vegetarians knew this after abstaining
for a time, and in his own experience, after an education of
abstinence from it of forty-two years, he could abundantly
corroborate the fact. This, however, was proved from the
most impartial history of the missionaries in the South Sea
Islands, who, knowing nothing of Vegetarianism as a princi-
ple, after ten years of subsistence upon fruits, were, greatly
to their surprise, unable to bear either the taste or smell of
an ox they had roasted on a festal occasion, to which the
neighbouring missionary families had been invited ; and the
audience might doubtless arrive at a similar state of feeling
by submitting themselves to the Vegetarian regimen for a
time. An objection to which great importance was attached
was here raised, from the structure of man’s teeth and
intestinal canal, which were both understood to betoken that
man should be a consumer of flesh-meat as well as of vegetable
products. The philosophical settlement of the question de-
pended upon abjuring the very easy process of reasoning
from custom to conviction, and taking nature as the standard
of comparison ; and thus it was seen, that whilst, in the
first instance, the cry for the “canine tooth” argu-
ment was exposed by the fact of man’s never eating
flesh with it at all, other animals besides man had their tooth
as much or more declared, as the horse, camel, reindeer, and
especially the monkey tribes ; and if this tooth were indicative
of flesh-eating, these known herbivorous, granivorous, and fru-
givorous animals, ought also to be flesh-consumers. The
intestinal canal of man had been falsely compared with that
of the herbivora and carnivora, by estimating the legs of man
as part of the trunk of the body ; but when, as had been done
in regard to the animals compared, the proportion of the trunk
of the body to the intestinal canal was fairly taken, this last
instead of being merely six or seven times the length of the
body, was twelve times the length. Man certainly was, as
had been stated by all inquirers, an animal intermediate in
structure between the grass-eating and flesh-eating tribes ;
but, abjuring the notable error in deduction into which those
who contended for the mixed-diet practice had fallen–that
he must, therefore, eat both flesh and vegetable food–there
was, obviously, an intermediate diet, as much suited to his
wants as grass for the ox, or flesh for the tiger, and that was
fruits, roots, and grain, with other vegetable products ; which
Linnaeus and Cuvier, and all the great naturalists, had agreed
in pointing out as “the natural food of man.” Taking man
as an intellectual being, they inquired at once what were the
requirements of food, and knew, from the established theory
of nutrition, that elements to form blood and animal heat
were absolutely required, mineral salt or ashes being also an
accompaniment of these, as necessary in the transformation of
the food into blood ; four to six parts of animal-heat principle
to one of blood principles, being the ordinary requirements of
the body. The chymical composition of food showed, that
whilst butchers’ meat contained 63 6-10ths of solid matter
and 63 4-10ths of water to the 100lbs. weight, barley con-
tained 84 and a half, wheat 85 and a half, maize meal 90, and oat-meal 91 per
cent. of solid matter, the small remaining portions, only,
being water ; thus demonstrating the practical philosophy of
the Scotch in their preference for oat-meal as an article of
diet. The original principles of nutriment, however, were
not peculiar to the flesh of animals ; but, on the contrary,
were set up in the protein compounds of the vegetable king-
dom. Men, in eating an animal, as was demonstrated by the
teaching of Liebig, ate only the proximate principles of
vegetables on which the animal consumed had fed. He
regarded this fact as one of the greatest interest as import-
ance, as illustrating the beauty and simplicity of the
providence of nature otherwise, the Creator in giving air,
water, and light, as great essentials of existence, having also
placed the great and essential elements of food readily within
reach. A moral end, too, was observed in this fact ; for
whilst the poor murmured in beholding the flesh-meat upon
the table of the rich, it was seen that, however a
false luxury might dictate the consumption of animal
flesh, so far as it was worth anything at last, it was
simply (with all the circuitous procedure and dis-
advantages of procuring it, as well as the disease so often
tainting it) made up of vegetable principles which the poor
man who earned his daily bread could have simply and
directly from the bosom of the earth ! It had been said that
the Vegetarian system was not philosophical, but what could
they say to these important facts but that meat-eating
was the unphilosophical custom, and especially when they
saw (taking the facts of Playfair) [Spanish] beans produce 100 lb. of
flesh in the body for £1 2s. 6d., whilst butchers’ meat, even
at 6d. the lb., cost £11 12s. 6 and a half d. to produce the same result.
A thousand men could be fed on Spanish beans (a luxury at
present) and potatoes at £13 18s. 7d., whilst a thousand men,
fed upon beef and potatoes, would cost £27 16s. 6d., double
the sum in this last instance, being required to produce the
same amount of flesh, blood, and bone in the body. They
saw how unphilosophical meat-eating was, when the 200 lb.
of pork from the body of the pig sold in the Cincinati market
only afforded food for 100 days ; whilst the 15 bushels of
Indian corn given to produce the pork, at one quart per day,
would amply suffice for the food of 480 days. (Applause.)
But people said they ate so little, it was hardly worth while
abandoning the flesh of animals. One ounce-and-a-half of
mutton per day, however, amounted to 53 sheep in in 63 years,
as Lardner had shown, and 403 were required for the fair
allowance of one consuming ten oz. per day up to that age.
(Laughter.) The number of animals required at this rate
for a man of the age of Old Parr was 1,052, who, however,
wisely lived on Vegetarian products, and only died when
flesh and wine had been made disturbers of his health. Peo-
ple objected to vegetable food as not sufficiently nutritive,
and it was unfortunate that in numerous instances people
overloaded the blood-vessels by taking food beyond the re-
quirements of the body ; but if the most nutritive food were
required, it had still to be sought in the vegetable kingdom,
peas, beans, and lentils, containing from eight to thirteen
per cent. more blood-principle than is found in the same
weight of butchers’ meat. Again, Vegetarian diet was ob-
jected to as not sufficiently stimulating. Flesh-meat con-
tained a crystallizable substance called kreatinine in addition
to its vegetable particles of nutriment, the analogous princi-
ple being found in tea and coffee. There was, however, he
contended, disadvantage in this stimulation, a febrile action
being set up, and the conservative power of the body being
reduced by it. Circumstances in connexion with the healing
of wounds, and the treatment of disease, proved this.
Measles, small-pox, and other affections usually assailing
the young, were found in families of sound Vegetarian prac-
tice, already so modified as not to be serious, and his convic-
tion was that several generations of Vegetarian practice
would altogether remove even the small-pox. The febrile
action of the system, again, was a great disadvantage in
reference to other diseases of adults, and especially to the
cholera, which, in his estimation, could best be avoided on a
diet of fruits, farinaceous, and vegetable substances. Meat-
eating, as compared with this practice, was obviously dangerous,
however much conflicting prescriptions of medical men might
have misled the public ; for, hitherto, though he would
speak it without presumption, the victims of cholera in Vege-
tarian families, both in this country and in America, were
the meat-eating members, and not the Vegetarians, and he
would earnestly direct their attention to this aspect of Vege-
tarianism as one ultimately carrying both a sense of safety
and a remedy for the painful excitement which at present so
unfortunately and so naturally prevailed. An objection was
here started on the authority of the prescriptions of medical
men, who recommended the flesh of animals to their patients.
Medical men, however, it might equally be said, countenanced
the use of alcoholic beverages, whilst two thousand of the
most talented of their body had lately declared that both the
physical and moral well-being of society would be immensely
advanced by the total disuse of them. The fact was, a greater
degree of intelligence was required in the public before
medical men could freely give their opinions upon such sub-
jects ; and, added to this, they had to contend with such
errors as many which had marked their previous history, as
the denial of the theory of the circulation of the blood, the
value of the stethescope, and the usefulness, in the first in-
stance, of every medical reform which had subsequently been
admitted within their practice. As illustrative of the strange
difference of opinion, and as proving, that they, like others,
were subject to commit the greatest errors, he might simply
refer to the present disputes and conflicting treatment in
cases of cholera. This difficulty was thus accounted for, and
especially when it was considered that the opinions on diet
and the composition of food, to which he had adverted, were
recent, and that medical men had not had the opportunity of
studying comparative cases where persons subsisted upon a
judicious Vegetarian diet. The true province of medical
men was to minister to health, and not merely to attempt to
repair the broken constitutions of those who utterly disre-
garded the laws of health, and when the public contracted
with them to be kept in health, and paid nothing in periods
of sickness–(laughter and cheers)– would they guarantee
themselves the best advice and the best medicines when re-
quired, and then it would be that medical men would have
many things to say to the world, which the present intelli-
gence of society could not bear. (Applause.) It was ob-
jected, too, that flesh-meat was more digestible than any
other kind of food ; but the various articles of Vegetarian
fare, on a just comparison with those of flesh-diet, were, on
the average, more digestible by the space of twenty-two
minutes, thirty-three seconds ; and in these conclusions he
drew his authority from the dietetic tables of Dr. Beaumont,
in his work on digestion. Numerous objections, however,
were raised to the practice of the Vegetarian system, and
these he felt it his duty to advert to, as such doubts often im-
paired the influence of the most important arguments on
the subject. It was sometimes said that all would be
eaten up on their system ; to this he begged to reply,
that they were not all going to turn Vegetarian in a day,
since all truth was ever slow in its progress, and as this system
progressed, their flesh-eating friends would keep eating up the
balance, until the animals now used as food would be reduced to
the numbers of those which neither ate one another nor us.

Be the first to start a conversation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: