THE VEGETARIAN MOVEMENT IN ENGLAND,
A STUDY IN THE STRUCTURE OF ITS IDEOLOGY
A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy,
©AUTUMN 1981 - Thesis Index
The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.
CHAPTER FIVE: THE EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY
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The Concordium was a vegetarian community established in the late 1830's at Alcott House, Ham Common, near Richmond, by a group of followers of James Pierrepont Greaves. (1) It stands here as the principle example of a number of such communitarian and socialist experiments of the period aimed at the establishment of a new order for society, one based on harmony and co-operation rather than competition and antagonism, and it belongs in essence to the same broad milieu as Owenism with which, indeed, it has a number of direct links. Owenism itself, especially in its communitarian expression, also had vegetarian connections. (2)
Greaves himself had in the 1830's been influential in the eclectic world of London coteries, influenced by romanticism and stressing a mixture of co-operation, mysticism and - sometimes - vegetarianism. (3) Alcott House had started in 1838 as a school and community aiming to put Greaves' ideas into effect, and it was from this that the Concordium itself developed as an 'Industrial, Harmonic Educational College for the benefit of such parties as were ready to leave the ignorant selfish strife of the antagonistic world'. (4)
Greaves had been a friend of Pestalozzi, and had been influential in the propagation of his ideas in England. (5) At the Concordium, open-air education was stressed and punishment was frowned upon. The moral growth of the children and not just instruction, was seen as the key, and this was to be pursued: 'with a view to their becoming integral men and women', rather than just fitting them for a particular role in society. (6) Together with others of the early socialists, they laid particular stress on the role of environment in the creation of personality and behaviour, and saw education as the key to producing people capable of living in a truly co-operative society.
Production at the Concordiurn was co-operative and property repudiated. An important difference between the Concordium and the most other socialists however, was the particular stress on moral rather than economic issues, and on austerity of life. The community was a mixed one, in which men and women lived in celibacy, following a simple and austere regime of early rising, cold baths (they had hydropathic connections), fresh air and simplified clothing. (7) George Holyoake visited them
and wrote of them as: 'scrupulously clean, temperate, transcendental, offensive to anyone who ate meat, attached to Quakers, especially the white ones, repudiated even tea and salt as stimulants, and thought most of their guests who ate their cabbage uncooked', and he added: 'Their cardinal doctrine was that happyness was wrong'. (8) Harriett Jay also mentions the belief in raw food and in celibacy: the married were refused entry to the inner or perfect circle. (9) This practice of celibacy marks the Concordium as belonging more to the religious communitarian tradition, than that of socialist models for a future society.
The religious atmosphere was one of romantic transcendentalism blending idealism and mysticism, and emphasising harmony and cosmic unity, and it was an outlook that easily turned into the rationalist atheism of the period. (10) Greaves himself repudiated any formal structure in religion, rejecting doctrines and churches, and substituting 'love' as an all-embracing concept. The aim of the community was to produce the: 'most loveful, intelligent and efficient conditions for divine progress in humanity'. (11) 'Most loveful' was a recurrent phrase of Greaves, and typifies his cloudy mixture of socialist brotherhood and transcendental mysticism.
The American Transcendentalists were very influential and there were a number direct links with leading figures like Emerson and Bronson Alcott in America. (12) Alcott, after whom Alcott House was named, visited the Concordium and addressing a gala in the garden summed up some of their ideas: 'Our trust is in purity not vengeance. Together with pure beings will come pure habits. A better body shall be built up from the orchard and the garden . . . From the fountain shall we slake our thirst, and our appetite shall find supply in the delicious abundance that Pomona offers. Flesh and blood we will reject as "the accursed thing". A pure mind has no faith in them'. (13)
The later history of the Concordium is confused, though it seems that the eventual split came in 1844 over the issue of discipline and self-denial. Some association continued, for Lane, having returned to England in 1846, was involved with Oldham in a school at Alcott House. This finally dissolved in the late forties or early fifties, and seems to have turned into an orphanage, possibly run on vegetarian principles.
- 5.This account is drawn mainly from a personal memoir by H.S. Clubb (1896 article - also more recent article on Henry Clubb), who as a young man joined the Concordium and was later influential in the Vegetarian Society, The Herald of Health, May 1906, p88, June p106 and Aug p148; Austin Feverel, Surrey Comet, Dec 1905, March 1906 (he used some recollections of local people); W.H.G. Armytage, Heaven's Below: Utopian Experiments in Britain, 1560-1960, 1961; and others noted below.
- 6.Greaves attracted many influenced by Owen's ideas. Though the two men disagreed over Greaves' mystical stress and his belief in self-denial, Owen did visit the Concordium as an old man and gave it his blessing.
Alexander Campbell, a prominent propagandist of the Rationalist Society was a member of the Ham Concordium, and after leaving, set up his own Concordium at Hampton Wick which was also an educational venture, serving 'chiefly vegetarian food'. Robert Buchanan, the actor, was sent there after attending the Ham school, but his biographer, Harriett Jay, says that the children pined for lack of nourishment. (Harriett Jay, Robert Buchanan, 1903). Harmony Hall at Queenwood, one of Owen's model communities, was also influenced by vegetarianism, though the diet was not universal there; Holyoake reported in his History of Co-operation, 1875, that the vegetarian table there was the 'merryest in the hail'. For the Owenite and utopian socialist background generally see J.F.C. Harrison,Robert Owen and the Owenites in Britain and America, 1969 and G.D.H. Cole, A History of Socialist Thought: The Forerunners, 1789-1850, 1953.
- 7.For an account of Greaves, 'the Sacred Socialist', 1777-1842, see Alexander Campbell's introduction to The Letters and Extracts . . . of J.P. Greaves, Ham Common, 1843, 1845. Armytage, in Heaven's Below, traces some of the intricate cross-connections of this world, and includes incidental references to vegetarianism; see also Harrison, p127.
- 8.Prospectus, quoted in Armytage.
- 9.See Kate Silber, Pestalozzi: the Man and his Work, 1960, appendix on Pestalozzianism in Britain and the United States, for Greaves and his educational background. Silber also traces the differences from and similarities with Owenite ideas.
- 10. MS copy of advertisement for the Ham Common School, placed in The Psyche by the headmaster H.G. Wright, June 22, 1839, and bound in Richmond Notes, Vol 20, Richmond Local History Collection.
- 11.The exact details of the regime vary over the period. They wore cotton blouses, checked shirts and white trousers, but no collars or neckties, perhaps as these indicated gentility. According to Clubb, their diet seems to have been vegan. When he joined in 1842, there were ten inmates, with room for twenty or thirty.
- 12.G.J. Holyoake, The History of Co-operation, 1875, p152.
- 13. Robert Buchanan, 1903, p10.
- 14. See Alexander Campbell for example. The affinity with deism and atheism is apparent also among the Swedenborgian Bible Christians.
- 15. Prospectus of Concordium.
- 16. Both Alcott and Emerson were admirers of Greaves and corresponded with him. Alcott visited the Concordium, unfortunately shortly after Greaves' death. Three members of the community, Henry Gardiner Wright, Charles Lane and his son, returned with Alcott to the States, where they were involved in the setting up of Fruitlands the pioneer vegetarian community near Harvard. Fruitlands was an attempt to set up the new Eden, but it foundered over practical difficulties, and disputes concerning the role of the family. There were also strong Shaker connections, and two ex-members of the Concordiurn joined Shaker communities.
- 17. Quoted in Armytage and taken from F.B. Sanborn and W.T. Harris, Bronson Alcott: His Life and Philosophy, Boston, 1893, p342.
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