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A REPLY TO CRITICS
I AWAITED the appearance of the May number of this Review hoping to meet in its pages a serious, carefully reasoned reply to my article entitled 'Why “ Vegetarian "?' in the number for April. In this hope I have been disappointed. In default, however, numerous batches of
cuttings' containing comments thereon have arrived from the agency; among them some from the authorised Vegetarian Press, and many from members of the society in various provincial journals. I venture, therefore, to ask permission to devote a few pages of reply to these criticisms, seeing that they all reproduce very much the same statements, and can be treated under two or three heads.
I may first say that the main object I had in view in publishing the article has been satisfactorily attained—namely, to ensure henceforth the cessation of reiterated public statements that I was a supporter of vegetarianism either in theory or practice, or that I approved of flesh abstaining as a dietetic habit for man. To a brief list of illustrious authorities repeatedly cited by the Vegetarian Press as asserting that animal food is unnecessary for man's diet-Cuvier, Owen, Darwin, Sir B. Richardson, and others—my own unworthy name had been added ; and of these I happen to remain the sole survivor. By what authority the three first-named are regarded as advocates of a vegetarian diet I am at a loss to understand. Professor Owen for several years was well known to myself; I have not the faintest recollection of any expression of his favouring vegetarian views, and certainly met with no sign at his table of any practice indicating a leaning thereto. Some misapprehension may have arisen in respect of passages in his writings which have escaped my notice. But if his written language, or that of Cuvier, Owen, or Darwin, has been treated on the system pursued towards my own, I am not surprised at any inferences which may have been drawn from them. For I may say briefly, but emphatically, that in the many criticisms before me, I find in only two or three any reply to the argument of my paper; but instead merely the well-worn reproductions of a few isolated passages from my writings, carefully separated from their
context, and thus seriously misrepresenting my real views. It was this that made it impossible for me to remain silent, and gave rise to ed red
the first paper. What I felt to be a very unpleasant duty was forced upon me, and the manner in which it has been received by those whom I had always regarded in the light of old friends, seeing that we had certain aims very much in common, has made it still more unpleasant. In illustration of this and in defence of my own position, it will suffice to deal with a single quotation, as it was the first which arrested my attention, and it is a sample of others which have been made in the numerous authorised issues of vegetarian opinion—a striking specimen of the ingenuity by which an author may be misunderstood, and I do not desire to assert wilfully misrepresented, by those who, having pronounced views of a given question, can find the support for them and for no other in the work of an author whose name they desire to advertise as sustaining them. I am compelled, however, to add that the original adapter or adapters of the quotation in question can only avoid the gravamen of misrepresentation by admitting the imputation of serious mental defect. Permit me to say I would gladly have let these inaccurate statements pass unnoticed had they not been circulated with assiduity by a very active press in all directions, and been renewed with almost offensive emphasis since my previous article. The vast majority of those who repeat them verbatim in all quarters of the country have probably not the means of knowing whether the statements put into my mouth are correctly attributed to me or not, and do not I am sure suspect them to be so garbled as to be misleading. My complaint lies, then, not against the disciples who repeat, but against the originators of the misstatements, an example of which is set forth in the following words. Moreover, let me say that this quotation is one of the most widely circulated, which is another reason for dealing with it here. I give it, with its heading, copied from an original form.'
SIR HENRY THOMPSON'S VIEWS
• Is man designed to be a vegetable feeder, or a flesh-eating or an omnivorous
animal? Any evidence to be found by anatomical investigation can only be safely sto 2 regarded as showing what man is and has been. Thus the character of his teeth
and digestive organs indicate that during his long history of development he has mainly lived on roots, seeds, nuts and fruits; in other words, he has been a vegetable feeder. For these organs are in all essential points identical with those possessed by the highest apes.
It is a vulgar error to regard meat in any form as a necessity of life.'
Let it be observed (1) that the two paragraphs are bracketed as a single quotation by inverted commas. There is no sign, none by intervening stars for example, to suggest a break in the context. Will it be believed that these two passages thus brought together as one do not occur in the same article, or even in the same volume ?
1 Best Food for Athletes. The Vegetarian Federal Union, Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, E.C. p. 11. The italics are the work of the quoter, not of the author.
3 s 2
The first is from the work entitled Food and Feeding.?
The second is from another work, Diet in relation to Age, &c., written some years later.
(2) That in each case the sense is entirely altered by the suppression of the immediate context.
Thus, the first extract is taken from the middle of a sentence, the commencement being left out. In the original it reads thus: * I shall not enter on a discussion of the question: Is man designed to be a vegetable feeder ?' &c., as above. I have put the words in italics to mark the portion omitted.
I specially desired to show that, although in early stages of his development man was mainly a vegetable feeder, he had through later civilisation ‘long been omnivorous,' a fact to be now beyond discussion, as the words which immediately follow in the text, but were also carefully suppressed, completely prove. I append them in italics:
During the stages of what is called civilisation, man has gradually extended his resources and has long been omnivorous to the extent which his experience and his circumstances have permitted'
No one could possibly infer my meaning unless I had here supplied the two missing passages. It will now be quite obvious that I declined to discuss the question whether man is a vegetable feeder or no, because during the later stages of civilisation he had * long been an omnivorous' animal. The effect of my quoter's act in suppressing a few words before and after is therefore to represent 'my views' as exactly the opposite of those which the passage in its original condition expresses.
Now for the second short passage which terminates the 'quotation.'
It will be seen by reference that two pages of context immediately preceding this brief extắct are occupied with details of advice, specially designed for elderly and sedentary persons with little power or opportunity of taking exercise, to live on well-made cereal food with fruits and vegetables, with a fair addition of eggs and milk if no meat is taken, and little of other animal food than fish. On such a dietary, and without alcoholic stimulants, thousands of such workers .... may enjoy far better health than at present they experience on meat or heavy puddings, beer, baker's bread, and cheese.' Then having briefly adverted to those who are less sedentary, I add : 'For such some corresponding modification of the dietary -intending, of course, a little more animal food—“is naturally appropriate.' Desiring to discourage the use of meat by the sedentary I bring the subject to a close, commencing the paragraph with the words isolated by the quoter and placed by him in italics : ‘But it
? Food and Feeding, 7th edition, pp. 18-21.
is a vulgar error to regard meat in any form as necessary to life:'4 Observe that the quoter stops at the colon without even ending the sentence, but substitutes a full stop, and again suppresses the context. This I will supply:
If for any it is necessary, it is for the hard-working outdoor labourers above referred to, and for these a certain proportion is no doubt desirable. Animal flesh is useful as a concentrated form of nutriment, valuable for its portability, and for the small space it occupies in the stomach, unrivalled in certain circumstances. Like every other description of food, it is highly useful in its place, but is by no means necessary for a large proportion of the population.
It may be observed that all through the book on · Diet 'I have favoured as much as possible vegetarian views for the purpose of impressing the elderly or inactive consumers of much meat and fat, to whom the work is-chiefly addressed, with the superior value of lighter food. For them it is truly a 'vulgar' error to consume the former, and for them alone was this said, as the context shows.
I am not disinclined to surmise that these grossly inaccurate representations may be greatly due to a certain torpor or obliquity of the moral sense, insensibly acquired through want of due respect for the meaning of words and a consequent loose habit in employing them—a condition too commonly occurring among those who, somewhat hastily perhaps, have become ardent advocates of peculiar views. And of this the employment of the word 'vegetarian' in a sense obviously misleading furnishes an ever present illustration. The sectarian, whether concerned with social habits or in that far greater field in which he is chiefly active-namely, the field of religious belief—is rarely a humble simple-minded seeker after truth. He does not patiently await what facts and study reveal, after the manner of a student of science, but approaches his subject with certain preconceived opinions for which he desires to gather support from authority, whether in the writings of experts or in the collection of 'scriptural texts. No doubt the sectarian babit so predominant in this country-eliciting the sarcastic, but I fear just, observation from our keen-witted neighbours outre mer that we have a hundred religions although only one sauce'-is one of the innumerable forms of human egotism. This defect mostly appears in young and active minds without the training necessary to teach the risk of hastily generalising from insufficient or unproved data, and without a degree of experience attained by the habit of observation and by knowledge of life as manifested in the world and its surroundings. Some study of these furnishes a far more useful training to form a man’s judgment than much which is taught in schools. They might
* Butcher's meat, or other filesh, of course, because I have immediately before been recommending them fish diet. I presume this has not yet been admitted into the vegetarian 'scheme-to join the milk and eggs which its votaries say have so long been included.
find that the book of Nature itself presents context' as well as text; its students soon learn that patient search for all the truth, and not for isolated facts among the varied phenomena presented, is not only the worthiest pursuit for an intelligent mind, but furnishes breadth of view, and gives a due sense of the proportion of things. It would preserve many well-meaning people from the unconscious commission of really unpardonable errors. How very much modern faddism has its root in this confirmed and misleading practice! For those under its influence the assumption of personal singularity possesses strong attractions ; it contributes a supposed distinction, confers a consciousness of superiority to their neighbours, and flatters their self-esteem.
Let me now briefly define my position in relation to vegetarianism to be distinctly this.
I have never been a vegetarian, and have never advised any one to become so; and this, notwithstanding that I have unhesitatingly stated that man may find in the vegetable kingdom the chemical elements necessary to support life. The healthy, vitality of many persons may be so sustained, but, as a matter of fact, the very great majority of mankind add some product of the animal kingdom when they can obtain it. I have always deemed it unwise to reject any source of food well ascertained to agree with the human stomach, especially the flesh of animals, many forms of which are far more nutritious and more easily digested than are the corresponding nitrogenous products of the vegetable kingdom. So varied are man's idiosyncrasies, his occupations, whether bodily or mental, his surroundings, whether tropical, temperate, or northern, that it is impossible not to regard him, fitted as he is beyond all other creatures to adapt himself to life in every portion of the globe, as essentially an omnivorous animal. And this fact I hold now, as I have ever held and maintained, to be absolutely proved. The great majority of the human race are of necessity and must remain 'mixed feeders,' using animal food more or less in quantity according to the climate in which they live and the labour they perform. For this purpose their internal organs admirably serve. I have never in any part of my works stated that man in general can thrive without some animal food, whether it be in the form of milk, eggs, fish, birds, or the flesh of flocks and herds.
Any opinion contrary to this statement can only be deduced from writings of mine by quotations without context after the fallacious method illustrated above.
Having carefully read what purport to be replies to the article in question, I find that they chiefly consist in demands variously reiterated that I should withdraw' the passages quoted, or that I should ‘specifically retract' them, otherwise vegetarians will be justified in reproducing them, being able to give chapter and verse as our warranty'! Again, the well worn trick of the text seeker! My answer to all this is complete in the foregoing paragraph, and I