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History of Vegetarianism - Europe: The Middle Ages to the 18th Century
Bernard de Mandeville (1670-1733)


English author, born in Holland, noted for his satire The Fable of the Bees (1723)

extracts from The Fable of the Bees (1723)

Another piece of Luxury the Poor enjoy, that is not look'd upon as such, and which there is no doubt but the Wealthiest in a Golden Age would abstain from, is their making use of the Flesh of Animals to eat. In what concerns the Fashions and Manner of the Ages Men live in they never examine into the real Worth or Merit of the Cause, and generally judge of Things not at their Reason, but Custom directs them.

I have often thought, if it was not for this Tyranny which Custom usurps over us, that Men of any tolerable good Nature could never be reconcil'd to the killing of so many Animals for their daily Food, as long as the bountiful Earth so plentifully provides them with varieties of vegetable Dainties. I know that Reason excites our Compassion but faintly, and therefore I would not wonder how Men should so little commiserate such imperfect Creatures as Cray fish, Oysters, Cockles, and indeed all Fish in general: As they are mute, and their inward Formation, as well as outward Figure, vastly different from ours, they express themselves unintelligibly to us, and therefore 'tis not strange that their Grief should not affect our Understanding, which it cannot reach; for nothing stirs us to Pity so effectually, as when the Symptome of Misery strike immediately upon our Senses, and I have seen People mov'd at the Noise a live Lobster makes upon the Spit, that could have kill'd half a dozen Fowls with Pleasure.

But in such perfect Animals as Sheep and Oxen, in whom the Heart, the Brain and Nerves differ so little from ours, and in whom the Separation of the Spirits from the Blood, the Organs of Sense, and consequently Feeling itself, are the same as they are in Human Creatures, I can't imagine how a Man not hardened in Blood and Massacre, is able to see a violent Death, and the Pangs of it, without concern.

In answer to this, most People will think it sufficient to say, that all Things being allow'd to be made for the Service of Man, there can be no Cruelty in putting Creatures to the use they were design'd for; but I have heard Men make this Reply, whilst their Nature within them has reproach'd them with the Falshood of the Assertion. There is of all the Multitude not one Man in ten but what will own, (if he was not brought up in a Slaughter-house) that of all Trades he could never have been a Butcher; 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 perswaded 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. In this behaviour, methinks, there appears something like a consciousness of Guilt, it looks as if they endeavor'd to save themselves from the Imputation of a Crime (which they know sticks somewhere) by removing the cause of it as far as they can from themselves; and I can discover in it some strong remains of Primitive Pity and Innocence, which all the arbitrary Power of Custom, and the violence of Luxury, have not yet been able to conquer.

What I build upon I shall be told is a folly that Wise Men are not guilty of: I own it; but whilst it proceeds from a real Passion inherent in our Nature, it is sufficient to demonstrate that we are born with a Repugnancy to the killing, and consequently the eating of Animals; for it is impossible that a natural Appetite should ever prompt us to act, or desire others to do, what we have an aversion to, be it as foolish as it will.
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It is only man, mischievous man, that can make death a sport. Nature taught your stomach to crave nothing but vegetables; but your violent fondness to change, and greater eagerness after novelties, have prompted you to the destruction of animals without justice or necessity, perverted your nature and warped your appetities which way soever your pride or luxury have called them.

The lion has a ferment within him that consumes the toughest skin and hardest bones as well as the flesh of all animals without exception; your squeamish stomach, in which the digestive heat is weak and inconsiderable, won't so much as admit of the most tender parts of them, unless above half the concoction has been performed by artificial fire beforehand; and yet what ammal have you spared to satisfy the caprices of a languid appetite?

... ungrateful and perfidious man feeds on the sheep that clothes him, and spares not her innocent young ones, whom he has taken into his care and custody. If you tell me the gods made man master over all other creatures, what tyranny was it then to destroy them out of wantonness?

... when to soften the flesh of male animals, we have by castration prevented the firmness thcir tendons and every fibre would have come to without it, I confess I think it ought to move a human creature when he reflects upon the cruel care with which they are fattened for destruction. When a large and gentle block, after having resisted a ten times greater force of blows than would have killed his murderer, falls stunned at last, and his armed head is fastened to the ground with cords; as soon as the wide wound is made, and the jugulars are cut asunder, what mortal can without compassion hear the painful bellowings intercepted by his blood, the bitter sighs that speak the sharpness of his anguish, and the deep sounding groans with loud anxiety fetched from the bottom of his strong and palpitating heart; look on the trembling and violent convulsions of his limbs; see, while his reeking gore streams from him, his eyes become dim and languid, and behold his strugglings, gasps and last efforts for life, the certain signs of his approaching fate? When a creature has given such convincing and undeniable proofs of the terrors upon him, and the pains and agonies he feel, is there a follower of Descartes so inured to blood as not to refute, by his commiseration, the philosophy of that vain reasoner?