Read transcript of Ep 11: Enlightenment

Old English handwriting, protesting the death of a deer.

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

[Traffic and building noise]

Ian McDonald [in Paris]:

We’re in the courtyard of the brick and stone baroque Hotel Tubeuf in Paris, now being renovated as the headquarters of the National Library of France.

But from here the French East India Company in the 18th Century controls swathes of India, unwittingly connecting the ideas of ahimsa and vegetarianism with the Paris of Voltaire and Rousseau.

Because Paris of the 18th Century is also the intellectual capital of the world. And the debates on animals and food that echo in her salons and cafés will end with vegetarian revolutionaries and a generation of children raised with a fleshless diet.

[Theme starts – music with sound of gongs]

Ian:

Vegetarianism: The Story So Far with Ian McDonald. Episode eleven: Enlightenment.

[Theme ends]

[Women chanting]

Ian [in Pondicherry]:

As devotees chant the thousand names of Vishnu, we are standing inside a temple, surrounded by icons, underneath figurines of a man who wears a fantastic moustache and turban, and long, flowing, slightly Turkish garb. Who are we looking at?

Prof. B. Krishnamurthy:

Ananda Ranga Pillai, and his wife.

Ian:

Who is Ananda Ranga Pillai?

Krishnamurthy:

Ananda Ranga Pillai, he was a dubash of the French people.

Ian [as narrator]:

That’s Professor Krishnamurthy, head of the Centre for European Studies here in Pondicherry. It is a town on the south Indian coast and, in the 18th Century, the capital of French India, where those instructions from Hotel Tubeuf land.

Dubash literally means “two-languages” in Sanskrit. Officially it means an interpreter, but in practice Ananda Ranga Pillai is far more than that, the colonial governor’s foreign minister for the local Indians, the Tamils.

[to Krishnamurthy] And his figure is here because he built this temple?

Krishnamurthy:

Yeah. Generally the statue of the person who has built the temple, with folded hands, that would be there always, that will be seen in Hindu temples. In that way actually they are continue to pray, continue to worship even after their death.

Ian:

Let’s step outside and learn more about him.

Krishnamurthy:

Yeah.

Ian [as narrator]:

In the 1740s and 50s, the ambitious French Governor Dupleix expands France’s handful of ports into swathes of coastal territory. The Mughal empire is disintegrating, producing wars of succession where Dupleix and the British intrigue against each other.

We’re not here just because Ananda Ranga Pillai is his chief dubash, or because he’s vegetarian – there are plenty of vegetarians in southern India.

Krishnamurthy:

He is the only person who has left behind a diary. Which is a mine of information. He talks about the problem between the French people and the local culture.

Ian [as narrator]:

Pillai’s diary tells us exactly what it’s like to be an 18th Century Indian vegetarian at the heart of European power. You might remember from previous episodes how vegetarianism has spread through India on the back of the concept of ahimsa – loosely, non-violence – and ideas of personal or caste purity.

The worship of Vishnu is particularly associated with vegetarianism, and Pillai’s caste claims Krishna himself as a member.

Krishnamurthy:

Because in India, food is always linked with caste and religion.

Ian [as narrator]:

Pillai, a man of high standing, sounds more concerned about his personal ritual purity than the non-violent ethic of ahimsa. He is happy to have animals fed to meat-eating Europeans. Like these three French friends of his, whom, he writes…

Ananda Ranga Pillai [from his diary Nov 16 1749 – actor reading]:

… begged me to share their feast this afternoon. I cannot describe their polite words. They have twice visited my guesthouse. And I have supplied them with rice, dhal, ghee, goats, fowls and other provisions. I agreed, and they had their food prepared by a Brahmin that I might partake of it.

Krishnamurthy:

Because, even now vegetarian cooking, if it is done by all, it will not be taken, consumed. So only particular people are allowed to cook for particular castes.

Ian [as narrator]:

Taboos about who cooks your food are a very long way from the wandering monks on their alms-rounds where this all began. But by now vegetarianism has been entwined with social standing for centuries. And around that rules about the purity of food have developed.

And that’s crucial to how colonialism and independence are going to affect Indian vegetarianism in future episodes.

Pillai also tries to protect Indian religion from the schemes of the powerful Catholic order of Jesuits. They want to replace him with a local convert.

Krishnamurthy:

Because they wanted, actually, a Christian should be a dubash. And that will help their cause of converting locals.

Ian [as narrator]:

Pillai vents his fury with Dupleix’s wife, equally over her casual cruelty, her schemes to replace temples with churches, and her disregard for caste.

Krishnamurthy:

Because Mrs Dupleix was influenced by the Jesuits.

Pillai [from his diary – actor reading]:

… and she sends outcastes to live in the houses of the Brahmins, Koomuttis, Vellaalas and other castes, in order to root out the religion of the Tamils and establish her own in its place.

It has been prophesied that, at the end of the age of strife, all religions will decay, all castes will be mingled together, and each caste will cease to observe their customs. So men now say that Madame’s “benevolence” has revealed the end of the age in the town of Pondicherry.

Ian:

Nevertheless, Dupleix stands by Ananda Ranga Pillai, a name that Dr Krishnamurthy can say a lot quicker than me.

Krishnamurthy:

But Dupleix was having a lot of faith in Ananda Ranga Pillai as Ananda Ranga Pillai was loyal to Dupleix.

Ian [as narrator]:

Notwithstanding this mutual loyalty, Ananda Ranga Pillai records a day when Dupleix loses his temper, and basically has a rant about vegetarians eating rabbit food.

Pillai [from his diary Apr 4 1753 – actor reading]

The governor then asked what I took in the mornings. I said: cold rice, buttermilk, and pickles. The governor continued, “Tamil food is not worth eating. They eat animal feed! What else is the vegetable and curries? It’s not food fit for men. Now a Muslim’s pilau is something; but there is nothing like our food in the world! The Muslims and Tamils always want our food, but we don’t want theirs.”

Ian:

But Dupleix’s schemes fail. He’s defeated in battle by the British, replaced as governor by the French, and eventually dies in France in poverty.

Krishnamurthy:

And he feels very sorry for the French people. That is very clearly indicated in the last pages of his diary.

Ian:

Because the British conquer Pondicherry.

Krishnamurthy:

Yeah, yeah.

Ian [as narrator]:

The descendants of Ananda Ranga Pillai, on the other hand, still live in his mansion on one of the main streets of Pondicherry.

This is Tristram Stuart, author of “Bloodless Revolution: Radical Vegetarianism and the Discovery of India”.

Tristram Stuart:

Many missionaries throughout the centuries had already developed a method of accommodation.

Ian [as narrator]:

Such as the Jesuits we met a couple of episodes ago, who present themselves as Indian holy men when preaching in India.

Stuart:

The East India Company employees could be split down two different lines. Some of them regarded that approach as pandering to an inferior race. Others regarded it as a pragmatic measure, at least to hide the fact that you’re eating beef, if not all meat.

A few of the British East India Company employees went out to India, and became – like the enthusiasts [like] Thomas Tryon in previous centuries, besotted with the Indian philosophy and the Indian practice of vegetarianism. In particular amongst them, John Zephaniah Holwell who at one time was governor of Calcutta.

[crows cawing; vehicle horns; traffic noise]

Ian [as narrator]:

We’re in an 18th Century East India Company churchyard in old Calcutta.

[in churchyard] So we’re looking at the monument. It looks like a massive grave marker, with a eight-sided pillar on top, reaching up 20 metres, and…

[as narrator] This is Holwell’s monument – to lives lost in the tragedy that didn’t just make Holwell famous, but turned him into an ironic cornerstone of British Imperial propaganda. Professor Partha Chatterjee of Columbia University, New York.

Prof. Partha Chatterjee:

Holwell was born in Dublin, educated in England, and he was trained as a physician. He came to India as a surgeon’s mate, a surgeon’s assistant. But then he soon proved to be extremely adept at legal and revenue matters. And so, he rose to become what was then called the Zaminder, the rent collector.

Ian [as narrator]:

As Zaminder he runs the court for non-Europeans, and his interest in traditional Indian law codes probably helps with the day job.

This company trading port increasingly fortifies, mostly against that French threat. But this militarisation arguably breaks treaties with the Indian ruler, the Nawab. And in 1756 he arrives with an army.

Professor Chatterjee took me a short walk to the site of the tragedy, up what’s now a very noisy main road.

[traffic noise]

Chatterjee:

Before I tell you about the Holwell monument I have to tell you the event which that monument commemorated.

This building is where the old fort of Calcutta used to be. Surrounding the fort, right in front of where we are standing, is what is… you can still see a large, big pool of water. And this supplied this township with a source of water.

Ian [as narrator]:

The British evacuate, but dozens get left behind, including Holwell. It’s Holwell who officially surrenders the fort, and he’s locked up as far as we can tell exactly where we are standing with his colleagues in his fort’s dungeon – called “black hole”.

Chatterjee:

Now, this was in the month of June, which was the height of Summer. And…

Ian:

It’s March now, I am uncomfortable.

Chatterjee:

[Laughs] Yes. And of course, this was a relatively small room compared to the number of people who’d been squeezed into it. So at the end of the night, according to Holwell’s account, well, there were twenty-something survivors.

Ian [as narrator]:

The cultivated Dr Holwell blames the deaths on indiscipline in the lower ranks in the face of adversity.

Chatterjee:

But there was so much of a scramble and fights among the prisoners, that that led to a large number of people simply being trampled to death.

Ian [as narrator]:

The East India Company comes back in force, conquers Bengal, and that’s the real start of British India. It makes Holwell governor, and that monument is his tribute to his dead comrades.

Chatterjee:

And that monument was located right there in the middle of the street, over there. Which was meant to have been where these bodies had been thrown.

Ian:

Where the cars are running now. So that’s where the listeners can hear where the distance.

Chatterjee:

Correct.

Ian [as narrator]:

Holwell soon returns to England with fame and fortune; not just as a former colonial governor, but as its first expert in Indian culture.

Chatterjee:

He claimed to have translated various Sanskrit texts. None of the translations exist. He mentions in some of his writings that he had produced these things, but then in all the, sort of, warfare and siege and so on, much of that material had been lost. And people have doubted his knowledge of languages. Certainly his knowledge of Sanskrit.

But on the otherhand there are these tracts, and it’s very early orientalist tracts. You know, Holwell was regarded as somebody who knew such things, and virtually nobody else did in Europe at the time.

Ian [as narrator]:

Much later for the British Raj, Holwell’s account of the Black Hole of Calcutta is the heart of imperial propaganda – “why Britain needs to civilise India” and so on. So they rebuild the monument.

But Indian historians refute Holwell’s exaggerated death tolls and dispute the tragedy’s significance. So the monument is demoted to the churchyard, in the 1940s.

But the staggering irony, why I’ve spent a few minutes on this colonial tale, is that John Zephaniah Holwell would probably have been horrified at the way his story ended up being used. Fascinated by Indian culture, he wants India to civilise Europe. Tristram Stuart.

Stuart:

He developed an entire philosophy that was based on, again, a joining up of the Christian religion and the Hindu religion. And that led him to practise vegetarianism, and regard the reintroduction of vegetarianism in western Europe as a key campaign.

Holwell is a bit of a marginal figure in terms of his wider influence, but his philosophy itself is fascinating. He tried to rehabilitate reincarnation into a Christian theology. And the practice of vegetarianism is obviously what he regards as an absolute key tenet of the true religion.

Ian [as narrator]:

As well as India, Holwell’s influences include meeting other physicians who promote vegetable diets for health, books like “The Turkish Spy” that suggest India puts Christendom to shame, and heretical radical Christians.

He begins a trickle of respectable colonial Europeans who are won over by Indian religious ideas, like non-violence.

And Holwell influences in turn the central figure of the enlightenment, Voltaire.

Attendant at restaurant:

Bonjour monsieur, bienvenue à Procope!

Ian [as narrator]:

Cafe Procope is the intellectual heart of 18th Century Paris, where challenging ideas are swapped over exotic flavours of coffee.

Renan Larue:

The people here were talking about theatres, obviously, religions, you know, and there are some dangerous topic[s] they were talking about such as God, his existence… [fades out]

Ian [as narrator]:

I’m sat at a table by the window with Renan Larue, who lectures in French Literature at UC Santa Barbara. He’s an expert in Voltaire and the author of “Le Végétarisme et ses ennemis”, a history of vegetarianism.

Procope is still a restaurant, decorated in revolutionary style, with the motto: Liberté Egalité Fraternité, endlessly repeated on the wallpaper. With portraits and even mementoes of past patrons, like Benjamin Franklin, Rousseau, and Voltaire.

Larue:

Voltaire was the epitome of the philosopher-thinker of the 18th Century. In French we say “le siècle de Voltaire”, Voltaire’s century, because he’s our first ‘dramaturge’-ist. He’s the main poet. He’s the main thinker. He’s the main novelist. So in each field, he was the number one. So he was the real rock-star of the century.

Ian [to Larue]:

If he was over there in this room, he’d be the middle of this table, everybody would be listening to him.

Larue:

For sure. He was brilliant. He was really funny. But at the same time he was really provocative, and a lot of people were shocked by the way he didn’t respect the church and the dogma and so on.

Ian [as narrator]:

Enlightenment philosophers like Voltaire set tolerance, science, and empirical evidence over religion. Many, like John Holwell, are Deists – God created the world, but cannot intervene or answer prayers.

Larue:

So for Voltaire, for example, we have to draw all the consequences on Newton’s science. Rules are universal, they cannot be in some way suppressed. And miracles, it’s like an offence to the creator.

Ian [as narrator]:

The young Voltaire was a contemporary of Hecquet, Paris’ physician of fasting, and did try a vegetable diet.

Larue:

Because he was ill all the time, when he was 20. And he tried a lot of cures, different cures.

Ian [as narrator]:

But by the time he writes about the ethical question, he’s an old man who has retreated to his estates at the Swiss border.

Larue:

In 1760-61 he discovers Holwell’s work on India. He played a crucial role in Voltaire’s interest in India.

Ian [as narrator]:

He still thinks Brahminism is wrong. But a lot less wrong, compared to what science has uncovered, than Christianity.

Larue:

Voltaire was impressed by the way the Brahmins considered animals. There is no gap anymore between animals and human beings. But at the same time there is this question of metamorpho-cosis, you know, reincarnation.

Ian [as narrator]:

Voltaire says all religions are lies, but at least this particular lie – reincarnation – encourages compassion.

Larue:

The first priests lied, but they did it for a good reason.

Ian [as narrator]:

When his essays and novels examine the ethics of eating animals, they praise the, quote “humane doctrines” of Pythagoras.

Larue:

Or we could mention an article, the article of “Viande”, that is to say meat, he wrote in the 1770s.

Voltaire [from Viande – actor reading]:

They want but speech; if they had it, would we dare to kill and eat them; would we dare to commit these fratricides?

What manner of barbarian would roast a lamb, if it entreated him with an affecting speech not to become both murderer and cannibal?

Larue:

And he highlights the theological and philosophical question of the suffering of animals.

Ian [as narrator]:

If he is conceding the case in theory, it’s not changing his practice – his estates still farm animals. But he heaps praise on Indian vegetarianism.

Larue:

We can mention a very short novel called “Aventure Indienne”…

Ian [interjecting]:

Indian Adventure

Larue:

…about Pythagoras’ travels in India.

Ian [as narrator]:

He writes animal advocates who can put Christianity to shame, such as in his fairy-tale “Princess of Babylon”.

Larue:

A short novel called “La Princesse de Babylon”. One of the characters is Indian and he advocates vegetarianism in the book.

Ian [as narrator]:

But all this is only a dozen pages in Voltaire’s vast output.

Larue:

Those letters, as you know, in comparison they are very few. So his impact on vegetarianism at this period of time is not really big. You know, on the contrary, Rousseau’s vegetarianism is much more important at the end of the 18th Century.

Ian [to Larue]:

Rousseau, Voltaire’s great rival.

Larue:

Uh hum, for sure.

Ian [as narrator]:

Nature-loving Rousseau is a generation younger, and passionate where Voltaire is just sardonic.

Larue:

Rousseau was more bon vivant. Even though he claimed the contrary. Their views on civilisation, they can’t be more opposite.

Ian [as narrator]:

Although Rousseau joins in the life of Cafe Procope, his refuge is a modest home in a village that overlooks Paris. There, Renan and I are joined by Christophe Martin, professor of French literature at the Sorbonne.

[at Rousseau’s home] this is where Rousseau woke up every morning, but what does it tell us about Rousseau, that he came so far from Paris?

Prof. Christophe Martin:

He wanted to go out from the city. He came in ’57 to [?] “petit Mont-Louis” , here where we are.

Ian:

So every morning he walked to work in his garden. So let’s take that walk now.

[footsteps on creaky stairs]

Down the stairs. Well I ask, but this reflected his whole philosophy.

[as narrator] Whereas Voltaire thinks civilisation protects us from nature red in tooth and claw, Rousseau thinks it corrupts our natural innocence.

Larue:

Yes of course. Because in 1754 or 57, Montmorency was in the countryside. So it was a way to live far from the corrupted city.

Ian:

So we’re walking past the table where he used to love to sit outside and eat with the birds.

[footsteps]

And the works he wrote here took his philosophy and popularised it.

Larue:

He wrote here “La Nouvelle Héloïse” and “L’Emile”.

Ian [as narrator]:

These are an innocent romance set in an Alpine village, and the idealised rustic upbringing of a boy called Emile. They feature unsullied heroes who generally avoid eating animals.

Larue:

[fades in]… because they met Rousseau, really a superstar of French literature. And he was so famous that a lot of people wanted to know him. They sent him so many letters and he could not respond because he had too many fans.

And the people wanted to have relationships, just like Julie de Wolmar, and, erm…

Ian:

Just like the people in his books.

Larue:

Yeah.

Ian:

So we’ve reached the little studio in his garden where Rousseau wrote these books.

[as narrator] It’s a single room, about five metres wide, as he’d have used it with a desk, quill, and a view across the valley towards Paris.

[sound of key in old lock and door opening in echoey room]

Ian [to Larue]:

How do you sum up “Emile”?

Martin:

Emile is difficult to sum up [laughs]. But it’s an essay to raise a child without corrupting him. And in a corrupted society it’s something very, very difficult. It’s almost impossible. But you have to make a circle around Emile to give him a chance not to be corrupted by all these corruptions.

Larue:

And L’Emile, he’s raised like a vegetarian boy, and when he becomes to explain what kind of food he should eat, Rousseau quotes Plutarch, and he mentions these links between nature and human beings and the respect we should owe to animals.

Ian [to Larue]:

The book’s made him a superstar but a controversial one. There was a scandal about Emile.

Martin:

Yes, very. There was a religious scandal about Emile because Rousseau introduces religion in book four. It means that it’s very late because Emile is 14.

So before that time, he never heard of God. And for, in a Christian world it’s just amazing. We could say that the reaction was very, very strong and he had to go away very quickly because he was almost arrested. So he had began a long life of wandering and exile, in England in fact and other sites.

Ian [as narrator]:

So we move, more out of the January cold than political persecution, to examine Rousseau’s ideas in the Museum Library. About for example the natural diet of humans.

Larue:

They had to be herbivorous because they are good by nature.

Ian [as narrator]:

Rousseau martials the biological arguments from across history.

Larue:

For Plutarch it’s crisp and clear. We are not meat-eaters. So Rousseau developed this argument. He used other arguments and things, to Gassendi and to Wallace and Tyson who were physicians.

Ian [as narrator]:

Rousseau can also cite his Swedish contemporary, the father of taxonomy Carl Linnaeus, who classes homo sapiens amongst the fruit eating apes. But by now most naturalists disagree.

Martin:

An important argument to say that eating meat is unnatural, is that people who are eating too much meat are very cruel. An example is English people. [everyone laughs]

Larue:

English butchers and …

Martin:

And if he keep saying that then it’s all [laughs]

Larue:

It’s a cliché of this period.

Martin:

It’s a cliché, yeah, it refers to us too.

Larue:

And English people say that we are cruel in French.

Ian [as narrator]:

Rousseau even warns against second-hand meat in mother’s milk.

Martin:

It’s very important as well for women not to eat too much meat because of the milk. So the milk is, for Rousseau milk belongs to vegetable things, in fact. It’s not an animal food.

Ian:

Purified vegetables.

Martin:

Yes. The woman who eats too much meat would have putrefied milk in fact, so it’s very dangerous, you know.

Ian [as narrator]:

This is a Romantic culture of sensibility and heightened emotion that, amongst many other things, particularly encourages women to avoid eating animals. But that doesn’t mean that women’s voices are heard.

Rousseau’s confessional autobiography describes the gap between his ideals and his life, including having his own children given up to the orphanage.

[To Larue] in the midst of all these pro-animal, pro-vegetarian ideas, if you come to Rousseau’s front door [knocks on door, which squeaks as it opens] there’s a bit more of a contradiction. You come straight into his kitchen. Bonjour.

Pauline Prévot:

Hello, I’m Pauline Prévot, and I’m a guide on the Rousseau’s museum.

Ian [to Prévot]:

Would you just describe the room to listeners.

Prévot:

It is a really small kitchen. You’ve got not a lot of furniture. Because Rousseau was used to live in a really poor way. Only a little table, some really simple things for the kitchen, not beautiful dishes, not silver dishes.

Ian:

Is there anything in this kitchen that actually, you can point out and say, that’s used to prepare meat?

Prévot:

Ah, yeah. This one, that’s for the paté.

Ian:

We’re looking at a cake tin with a lid. And it’s got a shape of a rabbit on the top.

Prévot:

Yes, it’s a rabbit. Yeah, it’s a rabbit, it’s for rabbit meat.

Ian:

Which wouldn’t have conflicted with his social ethics, because that’s what the common people ate, but obviously…

Prévot:

Yeah, but you know rabbit, you can have on your garden. So it’s a really easy meat.

Ian [as narrator]:

Rousseau doesn’t pretend to be an uncorrupted herbivore. Politically, he proposes a radically fairer social contract; the point of his simple life is to eschew the luxuries of society.

Larue:

Even though it was not really a vegetarian, his thought about vegetarianism had a very important impact on, you know, the way vegetarians nowadays, can think about animal rights, and you know, the duty we have toward those creatures. So we shouldn’t care too much about what he did, you know, in his daily life. The most important things for me are his writings and his philosophy.

Ian [introducing]:

Christophe Martin.

Martin:

Something very important just after Rousseau is Rousseauism. And it’s not exactly the same as Rousseau’s thought. Rousseauism is for instance what Marie Antoinette did in Versailles, a little garden with lands and things like that.

I could mention the huge impact of L’Emile on a lot of parents at the end of the 18th Century. The famous example, Alix de Lamartine who were Alphonse de Lamartine’s mother.

Ian [to Martin]:

Major poet, major statesman in the French 19th Century.

Martin:

Hmm, for sure, yeah. And he explained very well how he was a vegetarian as a kid, and he couldn’t bear the blood and the butchers. He was really surprised when he understood the, what a butcher used to do. So he explained this sensibility he had as a kid, and has as a grown-up.

Ian [as narrator]:

Alphonse’s Rousseauist upbringing still has him start to eat meat in late childhood. But throughout his life he continues to condemn it in principle. Publicly declaring yourself a vegetarian isn’t really a thing yet.

But Bernardin Saint-Pierre does stand out for at least mostly practising what he preaches. He’s Rousseau’s disciple, a writer, and a leading naturalist, and he continues the argument that humans are herbivores.

Martin:

And in some novels Bernardin Saint-Pierre takes these arguments to his own account. And he explains that animals like tigers are very, very different from human beings.

Ian [to Martin]:

Bernardin Saint-Pierre’s novels were even more sentimental.

Martin:

Uh huh.

Ian:

Even more compassionate in that sense.

Martin:

Yeah.

Ian:

Even more emotional than Rousseau’s.

Martin:

That’s for sure. And in “Paul and Virginia” the most famous novel by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, we have those two characters who live in the nature and they are compassionate. And Bernardin Saint-Pierre is clear, he mentioned their vegetarianism.

Bernardin Saint-Pierre [from “Paul et Virginie” – actor reading]:

Amiable children! Thus past your early days in innocence and benevolence. How often have I shared your rural repasts, which cost no animals their lives.

Gourds full of milk, of newly-laid eggs, of rice-cakes upon banana leaves, baskets laden with mangoes, with oranges, with pomegranates, with bananas, with dates, offered at once the most wholesome dishes, the most beautiful colours, and the most delicious juices.

Ian [as narrator]:

By the time Rousseau and Voltaire pass away in 1778, radicals inspired by their political ideas are a potent force. They agitate to reform France’s absolute monarchy. In the 1780s, when that monarchy is caught in a perfect storm of famine, social change, and war debt from the American Revolution, they get their chance.

To discover the animal advocates of the French Revolution, I visited the University of the Sorbonne in Paris to meet Professor Pierre Serna.

Prof. Pierre Serna:

And I have to, to recognise that these ideas arrive from England. Because Mirabeau, Condorcet, … [fades]

Ian [explaining]:

These will be the leaders of the French revolution.

Serna:

Brissot above all. Why all French men who from 1780 to 1788 are made to travel in England. England was a country of freedom in this moment.

Ian [to Serna]:

And Voltaire and Rousseau both spent time in England.

Serna:

Yes of course. Don’t forget that in France that was very often monarchie absolue, absolute monarchy. England was the model of freedom.

Ian [as narrator]:

Britain at least has a parliament and some freedom of expression.

And those London radical circles include quite a few Pythagoreans.

And one of the French revolutionaries that Pierre Serna mentioned – Brissot – stays in London with a wealthy Rousseauist Pythagorean called Robert Piggot.

And Thomas Paine, propagandist of the successful American revolution, counts as close friends two Scots who have trod – separately – the same path as John Holwell.

They had both joined the service of the East India Company, seen firsthand how the Hindu religion (in their view) put Christianity to shame, and found their way back to Europe as atheists who eat a Hindu-inspired Pythagorean vegetable diet. They are the tall phlegmatic John Stewart, and the passionate revolutionary John Oswald.

John Oswald [from “The Cry of Nature” – actor reading]:

The merciful mythology of Hindustan has consecrated, by the metamorphosis of the Deity, every species of animal.

Ian:

One idealistic young French nobleman, Marquis de Valady, moves between London, Paris, and elsewhere in Europe as he flees an arranged marriage.

Marquis de Valady [in a letter – actor reading]:

My good fortune was that I met an English gentleman of the name of Pigott, who is a Pythagorean philosopher, and who easily converted me to the diet and manners agreeable to that most rich and beneficent deity – Mother Earth.

Ian:

After meeting Robert Piggot, De Valady throws himself into ancient philosophy and radical politics, including schemes for a Pythagorean cult, a colony …

Serna:

The new colony in the new United States, a vegetarian colony.

Ian [as narrator]:

And even dressing like an ancient Greek. Bernardin Saint-Pierre, the Rousseauist novelist, says of de Valady’s entreaties:

Saint-Pierre [actor reading]:

Marquis de Valady, full of zeal for the well-being of the human race and without experience of men, wants to reduce me to the diet of the Pythagoreans, and, which is more, to their costume.

Ian:

Bernardin Saint-Pierre is much more positive when he meets Robert Piggot and his teenage son.

Saint-Pierre:

He was of a most interesting figure, of the most robust health, and of the most sweet disposition.

His father, Mr. Pigott, told me that he had brought him up entirely upon the Pythagorean regimen, the good effects of which he had known by his own experience.

Ian:

De Valady isn’t the only one with Utopian schemes.

Saint-Pierre:

He had formed the project of employing a part of his fortune, in establishing in English America, of a society of dietary reformers. Would that this educational scheme, worthy of the best and happiest times of antiquity, might succeed!

Serna:

So you know that in France, in 1788, appears la Société des Amis de Noirs. The Society of Friends of Black People.

Ian [as narrator]:

This anti-slavery group forms international links with other abolitionists, and is a core circle of the French revolution. Again, De Valady is at the heart of it, Piggot is in contact. It includes others with doubts over the ethics of eating animals.

This overlap isn’t new; Thomas Tryon opposed both in the 1660s; and the link will strengthen in the United States in the following century.

And as France moves towards revolution, De Valady abandons his personal schemes.

De Valady [actor]:

I am young yet, and I must aid in conquering a lasting peace, which can only be had by establishing the laws of freedom; and this conquest will be the more delightful as it will give happiness to many future generations.

Ian:

Professor Serna’s PhD student, Matthew Ferradou, took me a square in the heart of Paris, gardens and paths surrounded by neoclassical colonnades. The hub of the revolution.

Matthew Ferradou:

Exactly the Palais Royal was very famous because of its owners, the Duke of Orleans who was an enthusiast for the revolution.

Ian [as narrator]:

He opens it as a public promenade.

Ferradou:

At this time it was, there were cafes and gambling shops, and bookstores and newspapers. And all kind of things. It was a kind of permanent carnival.

Ian [as narrator]:

It’s next to the revolutionary legislature and a place of intrigue.

Ferradou:

For instance, the storming of the Bastille started here, when Camille Desmoulins went and jump on a table in a café, and called the people to the Bastille.

Ian [as narrator]:

In one account, the crowd gain the confidence to follow and storm the Bastille because the Marquis de Valady has swayed his old regiment enough towards the revolution that they won’t stand in the way.

Foreigners come to Paris to see and join the revolution, many staying at the nearby Hotel White.

Ferradou:

English but also Scottish, Irish, Americans. And even other, other people from all around Europe. Italians, Germans, Polish, Dutch. So it was an international place as well as a national one, you know.

Ian [to Ferradou]:

The children of the revolution from around the world.

Ferradou:

Yes, exactly. They were thinking about the universal republic, as they called it. Republic should become the political regime of every state, and then a kind of universal peace could exist.

Ian [as narrator]:

Stewart, Piggot, and other British Pythagoreans visit, but John Oswald stays, offering the revolution his experience as a soldier, saying of himself:

John Oswald [read by actor]:

When he considers the natural bias of the human heart to the side of mercy, and observes on all hands the barbarous governments of Europe giving way to a better system of things, he is inclined to hope that the day is beginning to approach when the growing sentiment of peace and good-will towards men will also embrace, in a wide circle of benevolence, the lower orders of life.

Ferradou:

Republicans who were vegetarians were the most radical ones. They had ideas ahead of their times. They were feminists, they were abolitionists, republicans, democrats. It was very, very radical. This is important to understand.

Ian [as narrator]:

The king accepts limits on his power that owe something to Rousseau’s ideas. The new spirit of equality at least discourages excessive carnivorous gluttony. The fact that animal foods generally take up more land isn’t lost on John Oswald.

John Oswald:

This is literally the case in the north of Scotland, where large tracts of land that formerly supported a hardy happy race of men, are now converted to grazing ground for cattle.

Ian:

That change isn’t called the highland clearances for nothing.

Ferradou:

For him, universal republic is truly universal. And he’s often mocked for this. Henry Yorke mocks him by saying that “Oswald’s forgot to give the right to vote to animals”.

Ian [as narrator]:

And when Oswald sets up a regiment of pike, he does something almost unheard of.

Ferradou:

He is the first colonel of the first regiment of pike bearers. And in his regiment there were men and women on an equal basis. So he gave women the right to bear arms.

Ian [as narrator]:

His appeals to wage revolutionary war on Britain bring him closer to Robespierre’s faction. When the constitutional monarchy gives way, a republic is declared, invasion threatens. Even when prisoners are massacred in their cells, and when the King is guillotined, Oswald doesn’t flinch.

Thomas Paine is said to have rebuked him once: “You have lived so long without tasting flesh, that you now have a most voracious appetite for blood.”

Ferradou:

He is a soldier. So he wants to fight the enemies of the revolution. And since he can’t go to fight in England or in Ireland, then he has to be sent to fight the contra-revolutionaries, the royalists, and this is where he died at the battle of Ponts-de-Cé, late August 1793.

Ian [as narrator]:

De Valady loudly and publicly draws the line at executing the king, and when the revolution turns on itself, he flees Robespierre’s terror. But he’s captured, condemned. And in December 1793, is writing emotional letters as he awaits the guillotine.

De Valady:

I loved the people like you taught me to. I threw myself headlong into the Revolution, which I regarded as a necessary remedy, directed by Providence against the excessive ills of the people and the oppression of a corrupt government.

Ferradou:

It was a time when they believed that something really new could happen, and every idea was on the table, you know. It was possible, it was a time of possibilities.

Ian [as narrator]:

Oswald and de Valady help embed animal liberation in radical politics. And the reaction against the revolution helps move the vegetable eaters of Britain closer to being a movement.

The British government is cracking down, prosecuting and jailing radicals for sedition. Robert Piggot’s brother Charles, whose works criticise cruelty to man and beast alike, is sent to Newgate Prison. Along with the publishers of John Oswald’s works, and his countryman and comrade John Stewart.

And it’s not just in Calcutta that prison can kill you. Typhus is so rife they call it “jail fever”. England’s 18th Century prison reformer, the respected Calvinist John Howard, said his vegetable diet was how he visited so many prisons without catching it for so long.

Typhus probably causes Charles Piggot’s death in June 1794. Coincidentally, two weeks before his brother Robert, living peacefully in Toulouse.

But on the other hand, these are gentlemen of means who can pay their way to decent rooms where they can entertain visitors. Newgate becomes an informal publishing house – the heart of radicalism.

Not for the last time, the British government imprisons disparate enemies together and through sheer incompetence forges them into a coherent network. A network that publishes books that bring voices against animal foods together, a network that sows the seeds of a movement that will call itself vegetarianism.

And that is where we turn, next episode.

With the voices of Selva Rasalingham, Brian Roberts, and Guillaume Blanchard. And the music of Robb Masters. Vincent Migeotte assisted on the production of location interviews in Paris, and Elisabeth Lyman on translation and travel.

This episode is generously sponsored by Martin Taylor Costumes. Search for them on Facebook for vegan period clothes, especially for the 18th Century.

[Theme starts – music with sound of gongs]

Follow me on facebook and twitter dot com slash veganoption. And discover more at the veganoption dot org. Or for a shortcut to this series, veghist dot org.

And as always, if you like the show, please do get the word out and let people know. One fantastic way to do that is reviews on iTunes or your podcast provider. It does really help, and there’s no time like the present.

Thank you so much for listening.

END OF EPISODE 11.

This transcript was posted September 24 2018, but dated so that it appears after the show itself in listings. Featured image is from ‘The Cry of Nature’, by John Oswald, CC-BY Wellcome Trust. Many thanks to Amy Carpenter.

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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.

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