Read transcript of Ep 10: Revolution

Old printed text introducing "A treatise of most sorts of ENGLISH HERBS"

Follow this link to hear the episode & read the show notes. Transcription by Amy Carpenter.

[Sound of birds]

Sherwin Everett:

This is an Indian flapshell turtle. And it was run over by a car.

Ian [to Everett]:

Oh my goodness. So it survived.

Everett:

So it’s got a crack half way down the shell. We’ve done a wiring. We drilled holes alongside the crack. And so the screws [go] into that. [voice fades to background]

Ian [as narrator]:

Sherwin Everett is walking me around the animal hospital he curates in the grounds of a traditional animal sanctuary in Ahmedabad, northwest India.

Places like this have always amazed European travellers to the subcontinent.

Jan Huyghen van Linschoten [in “Voyage to the East Indies”; actor reading]:

And throughout Cambaya they have hospitals to cure all manner of birds and beasts whatsoever they ail, and receive them thither with great vigilance and diligence as if they were men, and when they are healed, let them fly or run loose; which among them is a work of great charity.

Ian:

Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, writing in 1595, visiting the nearest port to Ahmedabad.

Everett:

It’ll take at least three to four months for the healing to get completed, to complete cracks. It’s barely visible now.

Ian [narrating]:

Linschoten is Dutch, working for the Portuguese. But he leaked Portugal’s secret trade maps, and suddenly every sailor in Europe knows how to get to India.

If you’ve been listening to the series you’ll have heard some of India’s vast religious complexity. But the headline that fascinates Europe, is this compassion that some Indian faiths show to animals.

Everett:

We’ve done this operation on like around three to four turtles already and release them successfully.

Ian:

Wow.

Everett:

It depends, before we release them, obviously.

Ian:

Yes, yes.

Everett:

And just sort of fill in the holes with the bone cement.

Ian [narrating]:

This challenges a Christendom that’s already splintering in the face of the renaissance and reformation. In 16th Century Europe, literacy is spreading to shopkeepers and yeomanry. They can read ancient philosophy, Indian travelogues, and new religious ideas.

This episode, we’ll meet the radicals of the English civil war, London’s vegan hermits, and the first self-help gurus. And understand how India’s compassion for animals challenges England’s century of revolution.

[Theme starts – music with sound of gongs]

Vegetarianism: The Story So Far with Ian McDonald. Episode ten: Revolution.

[Theme ends]

[Sounds of water lapping, of boats, and road traffic]

Ian [near the Thames]:

People can hear the Thames in the background lapping against us. We’re at one of the few clubs that’s standing from the era.

[as narrator] In England, the 1600s are when the old order breaks. Ariel Hessayon, from Goldsmiths, part of London University, specialises in the radicals of the English Civil War.

Dr Ariel Hessayon:

It was unlike anything that had gone before, and probably unlike anything that would come afterwards. It’s a revolution not just in politics but also in religion and in a host of other areas, including culturally. And I think through that there is something you can say about attitudes to diet and meat.

Ian [as narrator]:

We’re in the dockside Prospect of Whitby, or, as it’s nicknamed in the 17th Century, the Devil’s Tavern.

Hessayon:

The pub is a meeting place. The pub is not just a place for refreshment. It’s not just the place for food and drink. We have evidence that the pubs were also venues for radical – for radical talk, for dangerous words.

Ian [as narrator]:

It’s been rebuilt since then, but the flagstones are the same as echoed dangerous words of parliament versus king.

So let’s recap: what would the mid-17th century drinkers here know about vegetarianism?

The literate have access to the classics – including the Epicureans whose simple lifestyle already has fans amongst the intellectuals of the Republic of letters.

And to Pythagoras, at least as a semi-mythical guru of maths, music, reincarnation, and a vegetable diet. And to a lively translation of Ovid’s poem where Pythagoras pleads against flesh-eating. Old hands might even have caught a play about Pythagoras in 1596, put on by the Lords Admiral’s Men, Shakespeare’s main rivals.

There aren’t any overt monks and nuns in Protestant countries like England any more, but asceticism has its followers. Royalist Thomas Bushell, the old servant of statesman philosopher Sir Francis Bacon follows a quote…

Thomas Bushell [read by Ian]:

“ascetic diet of oil, honey, mustard, herbs, and biscuit.”

Ian:

And some people are prescribed a cooling vegetable diet by physicians; or – despite the meat-eating culture – own up to instinctive misgivings about killing animals.

One of the Parliamentary side’s main Puritan clerics, Richard Baxter, admits:

Richard Baxter [actor reading]:

I am convinced that to eat flesh is lawful, and yet all my days it hath gone, as against my nature, with some regret; which hath made me the more contented that God hath made me long renounce it through the necessity of nature, in my decrepit age.

Ian:

Parliament defeats the king, puts him on trial, and in 1649 executes him.

[Sound of water, as of a river]

Hessayon:

The 1640s and 1650s was, as one historian has portrayed it, a world turned upside down, or at least a world turning upside down. On the religious level you had a national church that is emasculated. And replaced by, into that vacuum really, nothing, a void, until legislation attempts to introduce something to fill, to plug the gap.

But within that vacuum is what today we would call a group of sects, a group of radicals.

Some people suggest that they were more organised, more cohesive as a movement. Others that they are a bunch of nutters on the fringes with no programme. The truth of course is always somewhere in between.

But this was certainly unique in giving us an opportunity to hear voices we would never hear before, saying things we have not heard before, in ways that were also new.

Ian [as narrator]:

A Puritan, Thomas Edwards, publishes three volumes denouncing as many of these radicals as he can. The denouncing starts with the title: “Gangreana”.

But thanks to him, we have some idea of the full range of radicalism – including for example, this pacifist animal advocate:

Thomas Edwards [actor reading, incredulous]:

’Tis unlawful to fight at all, or to kill any man, yea to kill any of the creatures for our use, as a chicken, or on any other occasion?

Hessayon:

Thomas Edwards is somebody who I’m surprised didn’t die earlier from a heart attack.

Edwards:

’Tis unlawful to eat any manner of blood in any kind of thing whatsoever? And that black-puddings are unhallowed meat, and that the eating of black-puddings is a barbarous custom?

Ian [to Hessayon]:

What was the issue with blood?

Hessayon:

The issue with blood is that for Jews, it was something that you could not drink, and you could not eat. While there are no Jews openly living in England until the 1656, there are Baptists and some religious radicals who have begun to openly adopt Jewish customs. Men who have circumcised themselves.

Ian:

This is a thread within Christianity that goes back to some of the early Jewish Christian groups…

Hessayon:

Yes.

Ian:

… who were themselves in a vegetarian strand.

Hessayon:

Yes.

Ian [as narrator]:

The sects acquired nicknames. The “Scandalous Ranters”.

Hessayon:

Meetings as in pubs such as the “David and the Harp” in Moorfields, where wild antics are going on, even arrests are attempted to be made of these people, as outraged publicans are calling the local authorities to stamp down and restore sexual propriety.

Ian [as narrator]:

Or the Quakers, who – though much changed – still take that name today. Or the Shakers, whose leader promises to part the English channel and lead them, literally, to Jerusalem.

Hessayon:

John Robins was somebody who, during the English revolution, was, at least it was alleged, worshipped as God by his followers.

Ian [as narrator]:

It’s a tabloid scare about a messianic cult that – say the stories – follows a dangerously austere vegetable diet.

Hessayon:

It’s interesting, we have an account where it’s said of Robins and his followers that they tended to eat lots of fruits, and things that make you fart.

John Reeve [from a tract aimed at Robins – actor reading]:

Thou didst deceive many people and then gavest them leave to abstain by degrees from all kind of food, that should have preserved and strengthened their natures; but thou didst feed them with windy things, as apples, and other fruit that was windy, and they drank nothing but water.

Ian [as narrator]:

If true, they could be against eating flesh, or just against blood.

Hessayon:

Possibly it suggests that they would only eat meat they considered to be Kosher. A problem in the period when there were no Jews officially living in England.

Ian [to Hessayon]:

In his heyday, how big a deal was he?

Hessayon:

We can say there were a good 20 or 30 followers that we can name. We know their occupation. Interestingly there’s quite a lot of women in there, there’s always the possibility he was charismatic leader.

Ian [as narrator]:

It’s all classically tabloid.

Hessayon:

He believed that the end of the world was imminent, certainly. And he believed that he and his followers were, to use the metaphors of the time, amongst the children of Israel, the 144,000 of the book of Revelation, who would be saved. He would perform great miracles before the end of the world.

But in fact, he was imprisoned and recanted and decided to possibly run away with all of his followers’ money, rather than suffer for his beliefs.

Ian [as narrator]:

The Shakers and Quakers see God not just in the heavens, but in themselves. But some other radicals see God in the world around them, including other animals.

Hessayon:

I think that the most interesting vegetarian of the period is somebody who has a Baptist background, a man called Roger Crab.

Anonymous pamphlet [actor reading title]:

The English Hermite, Or, Wonder Of This Age.

Ian:

Pamphlet about Roger Crab, 1655.

Pamphlet:

Who counteth it a sin against his body and soule to eate any sort of Flesh, Fish, or living Creature, or to drinke any Wine, Ale, or Beere.

Hessayon:

It’s worth emphasising that this man was a religious radical. He was also politically radical and preached against Charles the First’s right to rule the country.

Ian [as narrator]:

So Crab spent a couple of years in prison for that, then he fought for parliament and had his head, quote “cloven to the brain on the battlefield”.

Pamphlet:

He left the Army, and kept a Shop at Chesham, and hath now left off that, and sold a considerable Estate to give to the Poore, shewing his reasons from the Scripture.

Ian:

He becomes an anti-consumerist pacifist vegan hermit – in 1652.

Hessayon:

It’s his career as a hermit that he’s famous for. But it’s one that his enemies say is explicable not as a trajectory of religious radicalism, but because he was smashed over the skull during the civil wars, and went a bit crazy.

Pamphlet:

His constant food is Roots and Hearbs, as Cabbage, Turneps, Carrets, Dock-leaves, and Grasse; also Bread and Bran, without Butter or Cheese. His Cloathing is Sack-cloath.

Ian [as narrator]:

Yes, grass. The media blames this austere diet for the death of the Ranter Captain Charles Norwood, shortly after he becomes Roger Crab’s disciple. Crab suffers a succession of charges like sedition, blasphemy and sabbath breaking.

Hessayon:

He’s accused of witchcraft, but he also claims to have insight as a physician.

Ian [as narrator]:

His patients get folk medicine grounded in not just a vegetable diet, but astrology. In Crab’s own words:

Roger Crab [actor reading]:

If my Patients were any of them wounded or feaverish, I sayd, eating flesh, or drinking strong beere would inflame their blood, venom their wounds, and encrease their disease, so there is no proof like experience.

Ian:

In written disputations with Christians across the theological spectrum, he opens a new front against flesh-eating: the Bible. He expands the themes we’ve heard before – the widespread belief in a vegan garden of Eden and how Daniel at the pagan court of Babylon stuck to a vegetable diet – into an ongoing divine struggle. The permission to eat flesh after the flood, he explains, was just a temporary stop-gap whilst plants re-grew.

Crab:

So that eating of flesh is an absolute enemy to pure nature. Pure nature being the workmanship of a pure God, and corrupt nature under the custody of the Devill.

Hessayon:

After all of that, he marries well.

Ian [as narrator]:

That’s in 1663, after a decade as a hermit.

[to Hessayon] But we know he did give up the diet.

Hessayon:

We assume he gave up the diet because somebody married him.

Ian:

[Laughs]

[as narrator] He’s buried not far from where we are talking in 1680.

There is a big crowd, he’s recorded as a gentleman, and a monument goes up calling him, quote “a temple un-defiled with blood, a friend to everything that’s good”.

Perhaps it means he maintains a vegetable diet, or perhaps that he just maintains a Jewish-inspired taboo on eating blood.

But with his burial, the political, religious, and even – yes – dietary radicalism of that world turned upside down is finally gone. But ideas can’t be forgotten so easily.

Some of the returning royalists were making a more practical contribution to vegetable foods. Last episode, we met royalist refugee philosophers in Paris. But some others, like for example Tom Bushell, retreated to their own personal Eden in their English garden.

[Music fades in: “Greensleeves” on flute plays in background]

Dr Anita Guerrini:

Paradise is a garden.

Ian [as narrator]:

Anita Guerrini is Professor of History and Humanities at Oregon State University. When we both happened to be in Berlin, I took the chance to visit her at the Max Planck Institute of the History of Science.

Remember from last episode how the widespread belief in a vegan diet informs what philosophers and physicians think should be the diet of man? Even though they weren’t necessarily abstaining from flesh, they were trying to move towards that Eden, and in the process make the vegetable diet tastier than just asceticism.

In 1650, in witty essay collection “Vulgar Errors”, the mainstream garden historian Thomas Browne weighed up the arguments for a vegetable diet and went almost as far as radical Roger Crab by suggesting that Noah’s permission to eat meat was just because the flood had killed all the plants.

Guerrini:

He was a physician, known mainly as a writer, not as a man of science really.

Ian [as narrator]:

Leading herbalist William Coles calls his 1657 handbook “Adam in Paradise” – and waxes lyrical about how to know botany is to recover Eden.

But the keenest is diarist John Evelyn.

Guerrini:

He starts his diary when he’s in the 1640s, when he’s quite young. He talks about going on the grand tour, he describes all kinds of things which makes his diary incredibly useful for historians.

And he’s definitely likes to eat vegetables. And this was not necessarily a common thing at this point. The aristocratic diet is heavily based on meat. And he really wants to reform that. He thinks that vegetables are better for you.

John Evelyn [from “Acetaria” – actor reading]:

Such vigour to renew and support our natural strength, such ravishing flavours and perfumes to recreate and delight us; in short, such spirituous and active force to animate and revive every faculty and part, to all the kinds of human, and, I had almost said heavenly capacity.

Guerrini:

And toward the end of his life he wrote this discourse on salads, “Acetaria” published in the late 1690s.

Ian [as narrator]:

When Evelyn is almost 80.

Guerrini:

It’s a book about vegetables. And it’s a book about how to grow vegetables, and what they’re good for, including their medicinal uses but also has a fairly large chapter on how to make salad dressing. So, and this was the first book of its kind.

Evelyn:

What shall we add more? Our Gardens present us with them all; and whilst the Shambles are covered with gore and stench, our salads escape the Insults of the summer-fly, purify and warm the blood against winter rage.

Ian [as narrator]:

When Coles and Evelyn weigh up the benefits of, as they’d put it, plant meats over flesh meats, they can now point to the example of India. Coles even locates Eden there, echoing travel writers who find…

Tristram Stuart:

In the Indian vegetarians, a vestige of that prelapsarian lifestyle.

Ian [as narrator]:

That’s before the lapse – the fall – from Eden. Tristram Stuart is the author of “Bloodless Revolution: Radical Vegetarianism and the Discovery of India”.

Stuart:

So much so that the pope’s emissary in the 13th Century actually went and joined a Buddhist monastery for a while, in the belief that he was joining the last vestiges of life before the fall.

When India grows in importance, both economically and culturally for Western European nations who are going out there in the interest of trade, there is a huge surge in anthropological and philosophical interest in those Indian vegetarians, who had attracted the interest of travellers since antiquity.

Gira Shah:

My name is Gira Shah. I’m the managing trustee of Jivdaya Charitable Trust.

Ian [as narrator]:

The official name of the Animal Hospital in Ahmedabad.

Shah:

And it is in the premises of Ahmedabad Panjrapole Sanstha.

Stuart:

It was a routine stop-off in any travelogue for a European going out to India to write about the naked Brahmins, the philosophers, the Hindus.

[Indian man chants or speaks in background]

Ian:

John Overington, 1689.

John Overington [actor reading]:

For within a mile distance from Surat is a large hospital, supported by the Banyans in its maintenance of cows, horses, goats, dogs, and other animals diseased or lame or infirm or decayed by age.

[Sound of birds and breeze through leaves]

Ian [to Shah]:

We can see a couple of dozen cows lazing under the sun.

Shah:

Yes.

Ian:

What’s a Panjrapur?

Shah:

It’s a shelter house for visible, distressed, large animals. The people, those who fed the cows, they can stray [abandon] the cows after the non-use of the cow.

Ian:

They leave them, they abandon them.

Shah:

Yes. Over a period of time, there are some… there is a community like Jains and Vaishya.

Ian [as narrator]:

You might remember, the most vegetarian of India’s religions.

Shah:

They build a specific area for this large animal, specifically for cows. Because cow is a Hindu religious animal.

Stuart:

This was of interest on a multitude of different levels. Firstly, empirical proof that people could really survive on a vegetarian diet, a fact that had been brought into doubt by Western Europeans who believed that meat was essential for strength and for activity. Here was a population of millions surviving, they believed by and large, on vegetables.

From a philosophical point of view it was interesting, not least because of its similarity to indigenous European philosophies, in particular that of Pythagoras, the practice of not killing animals because they may contain reincarnated souls.

That was philosophically of huge interest. How come the Indians and the Ancient Greeks came up with the same set of ideas. Was that a coincidence? Or, as many people came to believe, did Pythagoras go to India, and either learn his philosophy from these ancient Brahmins, or indeed accordingly to some, teach the whole of India his Pythagorean philosophy and therefore from that point of view, the existence of reincarnation belief in Hindu vegetarians was of profound historical interest.

Ian:

We learnt in episode three that the real Pythagoras grew up on trading island Samos, between Greece and Persia. There’s no real reason to believe he went to India, though he might just have heard something from traders.

Stuart:

And then theologically the existence, or indeed as many people believe, the survival of vegetarians in India, presented this possibility that here was a band of people who had somehow maintained a practice of vegetarianism since the origins of humans on Earth, since Paradise.

There were individuals within Western Europe who thought the Brahmin vegetarians of India were so amazing, and so likely to be a true vestige of prelapsarian ideal lifestyles, that they took up this lifestyle and belief system themselves.

Thomas Tryon, existing originally as a hat merchant in 17th Century London…

Guerrini:

For some reason, they and shoe makers, tended to be very politically radical.

Stuart:

… read the Indian travelogues avidly.

Guerrini:

And just starts reading all the works on popular medicine that are coming out, all the works on natural philosophy, works on alchemy, astrology…

[sound of contemporary urban life plays in background – horse hoofs on paving, neighing, voices, music]

Stuart:

And collated information about them from every different source that he could lay his hands on.

Guerrini:

And starts writing works on popular medicine, what’s been called the “long life literature”.

Thomas Tryon [actor reading]:

A way to health, long life and happiness.

Guerrini:

Tryon definitely taps into this long life literature, but aims it not toward the aristocrats or the upper classes, but toward his class of people, toward the lower classes. He is saying “you too can enjoy these benefits of life, it’s not just for the upper classes”.

Tryon:

The whole treatise displaying the most hidden secrets of philosophy, communicated to the world for the general good, by Thomas Tryon.

Guerrini:

He was very big on self-education. “Read books yourself, don’t depend on what other people tell you.”

Ian [as narrator]:

Tryon incorporates what he knows of India into his own religious radicalism.

[Sound of horse neighing. Urban sounds continue.]

Stuart:

Which gave the Brahmins precedent over Christianity in terms of holding onto original truths. And he profoundly believed that the meat eaters around him were a symptom of a fallen nature of humanity.

And essentially tried to set up something that was in all but name a Brahmin cult in London.

Ian [as narrator]:

His self-help books might be populist and softly softly.

Guerrini:

He definitely would prefer that people ate vegetables over meat. He has sections on different kinds of meat.

Ian [as narrator]:

But right from the start, he sets out his beliefs.

Stuart:

He wrote about 20 or more books about vegetarianism, and attacked it from every single different point of view. The fact that you could save money by living on vegetables instead of buying meat…

[sound of horse neighing]

Guerrini:

Which is an argument that Crab also makes.

Stuart:

The fact that eating meat made you more aggressive and more like the animal that you eat.

Guerrini:

Again, kind of connects it to this radical anti-aristocratic politics.

Stuart:

He presented the health case for vegetarianism: the fact that monks lived longer than the average human population and that they didn’t eat meat; the fact that the Indian lived to a great long age.

Ian [as narrator]:

In 1683, he publishes his philosophy, but as a fictional dialogue with a Brahmin. Writing as the Brahmin, Tryon says:

Tryon:

We find the famous philosopher Pythagoras flourishing, who expressly taught his followers not to eat any flesh, but content themselves altogether with vegetables.

And this great man, travelling for the quest and fusion of knowledge into diverse parts left not our India unvisited. And there planted this wholesome doctrine which ever since has not wanted observers derived down by a continual succession to our times.

Ian:

In 1695, Tryon concocts what he says is a historic cache of letters supporting his views.

Tryon:

Transcript of several letters from Averroes.

Ian:

Medieval Spanish Arab philosopher.

Tryon:

Also several letters from Pythagoras to the King of India

Ian:

It’s a very brazen fraud. Tryon, writing as Pythagoras, says

Tryon:

Houses and hospitals, sufficiently endowed, must be provided to preserve the inferior animals from the injury of the elements in their old age. For charity and kindness to innocent and helpless creatures, is the most acceptable service to the good powers, attracting the benevolent influence of all things.

Shah:

I’ll show something here.

[cow mooing]

Shah:

This is a wheat flour…

Ian [repeating]:

Wheat flour

Shah:

…for ant. And a [?] squirrel. Food for ant.

Ian [with Shah]:

It’s a low table leaning against the low concrete wall. And it’s a beautiful concrete wall, it’s shaped into ornate carvings. But there are two blocks, and a concrete slab, and on the slab I can see several piles of white flour. And quite a few ants.

Shah:

Yes.

[car horn]

Ian [to Shah]:

So all the animals are looked after.

Shah:

Yes.

Stuart:

He looked at the way we, as a species, pollute the air, with sulphurous smoke. He looked at the way in which we pollute rivers by throwing our urban sewerage into it. And he also identified what we would call the circulation of pollution. So he was interested in how we were polluting environments, how that pollution would get into fish, how we would then eat the fish and pollute ourselves.

These kinds of ideas are really the beginnings of how vegetarianism in Europe starts to be the incubator for what we now call environmentalism. The idea that non-humans have a value in and of themselves, not just in so far as they serve human ends.

And the idea that we humans need to realign ourselves with those interests, in order both to live a moral life, but also for the wholeness and the health of the planet, the environment around us.

Ian [as narrator]:

The literary sensation of Paris in the 1680s is “Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy”. It builds on the popular reaction to those Indian travelogues – and the suspicion that the East might actually hold the moral high ground.

It also invents a whole new genre – an intercepted bundle of letters. The sequels, published in England, become increasingly sceptical about flesh-eating and religion.

The main character, Mahmut, is a spy for the expanding Ottoman Empire, living in Paris. So it turns the tables on those travelogues and asks what they would say about us.

The anonymous English writers seem to be secret radicals, sceptics, perhaps even heretical deists who believe in a God without miracles. Mahmut is free to pose uncomfortable questions about God because he’s asking them about Islam.

And of course, he dreams of a posting to the Mughal’s court in India.

Mahmut [read by actor]:

To converse with the Brahmins, and pry into the mysteries of their unknown wisdom, which occasions so much discourse into the world.

Ian:

And he complains of Europeans…

Mahmut:

The Franks (who are more ready to find faults in others, than to mend their own) censure the Muslims for extending their charity to beasts, birds, and fishes, who, in their opinion, have neither souls nor reason, and consequently, are insensible of our good offices towards them.

Ian:

He proclaims, perhaps inspired by Thomas Tryon, that Jesus was a vegetarian Essene; that he’s met the immortal wandering Jew who practices the original vegetarian Judaism; and calls India:

Mahmut:

the only public theatre of justice towards all living creatures.

Ian:

He eventually complete disavows flesh-eating.

Mahmut:

Now, since ’tis evident that no man would willingly become the food of beasts, therefore, by the same rule, he ought not to prey on them.

Ian:

But even in fiction, it’s rare this century for someone to follow through. He tries over a dozen times.

Mahmut:

But by the force of a voracious appetite, suffered myself to be carried back to my own intemperance.

[Recorders play Trio Sonata in D major by Purcell. Continues in background]

Ian:

By now, Britain has settled as a protestant constitutional monarchy. But its foremost scientist is secretly a veg-curious religious radical.

Guerrini:

Newton was definitely unconventional in his religious beliefs.

Ian:

Isaac Newton’s unpublished manuscripts reveal, like Tryon, a secret belief in an root religion behind Judaism, Christianity, Pythagoras, and Brahmanism.

Sir Isaac Newton [actor reading]:

Comprehended in the precepts of the sons of Noah, the chief of which were to have one god … [fades out]

Guerrini:

Definitely did not believe in the divinity of Christ. So that was heretical.

Newton:

Not to feed on the flesh or to drink the blood of a living animal, but to be merciful even to brute beasts.

Ian:

Going back to that same Jewish taboo on blood, and – like Sir Francis Bacon a couple of shows ago – interpreting it as a metaphorical plea for mercy.

Guerrini:

Lived what was by all accounts a very abstemious life. Don’t know for sure if he was a vegetarian, but certainly did not eat a lot of meat.

Ian:

But Newton kept his speculations to himself.

[Music finishes]

Ian:

The cultured poetry of the 18th Century imagines alternatives to eating animals even if the poets themselves don’t follow through.

Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, a parody of the travelogue genre, and a satire of society at large, includes a land of vegetarian talking horses.

Mandeville’s 1723 Fable of the Bees argues against flesh-eating and punctures people’s squeamish hypocrisy.

Bernard Mandeville [read by actor]:

And I question whether ever any body so much as kill’d a Chicken without Reluctancy the first time.

Some People are not to be persuaded to taste of any Creatures they have daily seen and been acquainted with, whilst they were alive.

Others extend their scruple no further than to their own Poultry, and refuse to eat what they fed and took care of themselves, yet all of them will feed heartily and without Remorse on Beef, Mutton and Fowls, when they are bought in the Market.

Ian:

The greatest poet of the age is Alexander Pope, who sensitively meditates on a condemned lamb.

Pope [read by actor]:

The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed to-day,

Had he thy reason, would he skip and play?

Pleased to the last, he crops the flowery food,

And licks the hand just raised to shed his blood.

Ian:

But these are all acts of imagination. We’ve no reason to believe that even Mandeville abstained.

Folk make the same arguments as they still do today – that without flesh-eating those animals would either overrun humanity or not exist. Or, as in Pope’s case, let readers imagine that their animals felt no fear or stress before their slaughter.

Pope:

Oh, blindness to the future! kindly given,

That each may fill the circle marked by Heaven:

Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,

A hero perish or a sparrow fall,

Ian:

This “poetry of sensibility” convinces some readers to abstain, and will find its way into later vegetarian anthologies. But for the most part it’s like looking at pictures of cute animals on the internet. Feeling something rather than doing something. But flesh-eating has reached the point where it’s something that needs to be defended.

[Händel’s recorder Sonata fades in]

Ian:

In 1703, one of Sir Isaac Newton’s circle publishes a flattering but unauthorised book on his calculus, and they fall out.

This is George Cheyne, a physician originally from the countryside near Aberdeen.

Guerrini:

Definitely not in the centre of intellectual life, shall we say. And his family is not wealthy although they are… they’re kind of the poor branch of a pretty well-off family.

Ian:

George is already massively overdoing it in the big city. In his “case of the author” he confesses:

George Cheyne [read by actor]:

…constantly dining and supping in taverns, and in the houses of my acquaintances of taste and delicacy, my health was in a few years brought into a great distress.

Guerrini:

At this point he’s also quite obese. He likes to eat, he especially likes to drink.

Ian [as narrator]:

After another book flops, it gets too much for him.

Guerrini:

Has a kind of, erm, breakdown in some ways.

Cheyne:

A constant violent headache, giddiness, lowness, anxiety, and terror, so that I went about like a malefactor condemned, or one who expected every moment to be crushed by a ponderous instrument of death, hanging over his head.

Ian:

The brutal concoctions, purges, and vomits of the 18th Century don’t save him, and he retreats into the countryside. He finds some solace in Christian mysticism and a more modest diet.

Guerrini:

As he goes on a diet. He feels better. He finds the works of Doctor Taylor of Croydon who recommends an all-milk diet.

Ian:

He sets off.

Cheyne:

Next day in the middle of winter, to ride to Croydon to advise with Dr Taylor personally.

I found him at home, at his full Quart of cow’s milk (which was all his dinner).

Guerrini:

And lives this way, and kind of has this revelation about the relationship between mind and body, the relationship between diet and health.

Ian:

And that’s how George Cheyne becomes the 18th Century’s vegetarian diet guru.

Guerrini:

And Cheyne from then on was a great fan of drinking milk. Which was not something that was very common. So people in cities did not drink milk. They ate cheese, but they didn’t drink milk.

So drinking milk was kind of unusual. And also just drinking milk was not something people did. I mean, unless you were an infant, and then you wouldn’t be drinking, probably wouldn’t be drinking cow’s milk anyways. And he becomes a big advocate.

Cheyne:

Milk, being vegetables immediately cooked by animal heat and organs.

Guerrini:

It’s pure, it’s motherly, it’s… I think if he could advocate drinking, you know, human milk, he would have, but he… I don’t think that would have been possible [laughs].

Ian:

We can see a division emerging between vegetable diet advocates who are against milk – like Crab, Tryon, or (well) me – and those who idolise it, like Indian vegetarians, Cheyne, and his ally across the channel in France, Hecquet, whom we met last episode.

Guerrini:

And eventually moves to Bath, which is the big kind of health spa.

Ian:

His weight yoyos over the years as he resumes and abandons and resumes his milk diet – but only between obese and massively so.

Guerrini:

Pity the poor bearers of the sedan chair carrying this 220 kilos through Bath.

Ian:

One poet calls him the “great fat doctor of bath” – but that’s kind of the point.

Guerrini:

I know, it’s funny, it seem totally contradictory. And I think part of it is that in many of his works he presents himself as a fellow sufferer. Which was, again, not… his works have a very personal tone, many of them.

That “I’ve been through this, I know what it’s like, I know it’s hard”. Much like modern diet books which are written by people who have gone through this process and therefore they have the experience.

Ian:

Celebrity patients include Alexander Pope and royalty. He treats illnesses physical and mental.

His prescriptions, he thinks to physically unblock nerves, includes purges, emetics, and toxic mercury concoctions. But also what we’d now call a talking cure.

Guerrini

What we might call mental and spiritual exercises.

Ian:

And of course a lighter diet.

Guerrini:

Moderation, more vegetables, less meat, no red meat. And starts writing in the early 1720s, these books on “an essay of health and long life”, and so forth, that are hugely popular, reprinted over and over and over and over and over. He’s… just becomes in many ways this kind of hatchword, mentioned in poetry, he’s satirised, he’s all over the place.

Ian:

And his writing spreads his advice further.

Guerrini:

An advocate for dietary reform. Among, not the working classes but the upper classes. So the upper classes, the big meat-eaters, and the people who have gout, who have all kinds of horrible health problems, who have the stone, these issues that he says is totally related to their lifestyle.

Ian:

John Wesley, the founder of Methodist Christianity, is one of Cheyne’s patients, and follows his milk and vegetables prescription.

When Methodist leaders are accused of ostentatious asceticism by a critic, the Bishop of London, Wesley writes him a letter about his diet. Wesley discounts any motives other than physical health, saying the diet leaves him, quote “free from all bodily disorders”.

He eventually summarises Cheyne’s ideas into his popular medicine book, “Primitive Physic”, spreading them to more middle and working class readers. And though he maintains that Christianity allows flesh-eating, sympathy for animals is there in his sermons.

John Wesley [read by actor]:

Yet how severely do they suffer! Yea, many of them, beasts of burden in particular, almost the whole time of their abode on earth.

Ian:

As we heard last show, most physicians will happily discuss whether you should sometimes prescribe a vegetable regimen. But many suspected Cheyne of being a full-blown radical. And, after decades of mincing his words, he comes out with his fully radical theology in 1740.

Cheyne:

I cannot find any great difference, on the foot of natural reason and equity alone, between feasting on human flesh and feasting on brute animal flesh, except custom and example.

Ian:

Cheyne sets out an idiosyncratic form of Christianity that borrows liberally from neoplatonism like Tryon, Jewish kabbalism, and includes reincarnation on other planets.

Cheyne:

This rude and unfinished Sketch may possibly be thought by some, an imaginary and enthusiastical Romance, and so perhaps it may be.

Ian:

This is, after all, the age when all the old certainties have broken down, when people can pull their ideas from across the world, and from across history. The Republic of Letters we explored in the last episode is now open to everyone who can read.

The radical ideas that flourished during the English civil war have not been forgotten – even if dietary radicalism is now a secret hidden in the manuscripts of Isaac Newton, or behind a fictional foreigner, or are revealed only reluctantly.

Thanks to agricultural advances, and particularly John Evelyn, vegetables are a more varied and interesting part of the western diet.

The Edinburgh chair of medicine still, as last episode, sometimes prescribes a so-called cooling vegetable regimen, but he now calls it a Cheynian diet, after the celebrity diet doctor.

Healthy folk turning to entirely vegetable diet is no longer unheard of either. In the 1720s, a young Ben Franklin tries it after reading Thomas Tryon. And the diet now has a name: Pythagorean.

Most educated Europeans now know – or rather think they know – that Indians are vegetarian, that Pythagoras was vegetarian, and that some physicians think it’s the best diet for humanity, and that some strange sects agree with them.

Next episode, we’ll see how the vegetable diet moves from the intrigues of colonial India to the cafes of Enlightenment Paris, and the heart of their revolution.

With the voices of Jeremy Hancock, Brian Roberts, and Ian Russell.

And the music of Handel, Purcell performed by Papalin, and Robb Masters.

Follow on facebook and twitter dot com slash veganoption.

[Theme starts: music with sound of gongs]

Ian:

And discover more at The Vegan Option dot org.

And as always, please do get the word out. Review on iTunes, your podcast provider. It’s now on Google Play music podcasts. Share it on Twitter and Facebook, and let your friends know.

Thank you very much for listening.

END OF EPISODE 10.

This transcript was posted June 18 2018, but dated so that it appears after the show itself in listings. Featured image is from the start of “A treatise of most sorts of English Herbs” by Thomas Tryon. Many thanks to Amy Carpenter.

Tags: , , ,

Avatar for Ian McD

About Ian McD

I'm a British new media person with a passion for radio, and interested in the kind of stories best told when we see humans as part of the world of animal minds. I blogged about why I'm producing The Vegan Option.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

"The Vegan Option Vegetarianism: The Story So Far - A Radio History