|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
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now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website.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
THE VEGETARIAN SOCIETY
Who were the members of the Society? Of its leading figures, many were Bible Christian pastors, and three were drawn from the liberal manufacturing class. James Simpson, 1812-1859, was the son of a wealthy calico printer, educated privately in London and Berlin. (1) He was prominent in public life, supporting a variety of social and political reforms. He was a member of the Anti Corn Law League, and joined the tee-total movement, 'when few gentlemen would'. A Bible Christian and admirer of Swedenborg, he had through the influence of his mother been a life-long vegetarian. Joseph Brotherton, 1783-1857, was the son of an excise man, turned mill owner, (2) A follower of Cowherd, he became the pastor of the Salford Bible Christians in 1817. In 1819 at the age of thirty-six he retired from business with a 'competence'. He became Salford’s first MP after the Reform Act and championed various causes including factory reform, especially the reduction of hours for children, free-trade and the repeal of the Corn Laws. He is credited with writing the first tee-total tract. William Harvey, 1789-1870, was also a Bible Christian and the brother-in-law of Brotherton. He was a cotton spinner and known as an 'advanced liberal'. He was alderman and mayor of Salford, and succeeded Simpson as the second president of the society in 1859. (3)
These leading figures were not, however, typical of the membership as a whole. Each month the Messenger published a break-down of the membership according to 'position in society', and from this it is clear that although groups like physicians and merchants were quite well represented, by far the bulk of the membership, well over two-thirds, was drawn from 'tradesmen, mechanics and labourers' (see table). Accounts and references in the magazine bear out this picture. The society drew in particular from the new industrial cities of the north; and it is in towns like Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Paisley and Rotherham that there is the greatest interest and activity. (4) There was some activity centred around London, (5) but the focus of the society was strongly northern and working-class. The working-class aspect is atypical of vegetarianism - or certainly of the vegetarianism of the subsequent periods studied here - I shall therefore concentrate on this here, using the Salford vegetarians as my principle illustration.
* The social class of these females is not recorded. Reports of dinners etc. include the names of numbers of wives and daughters of leading figures (we know Mrs Brotherton published a vegetarian cookery book, possibly the first, in 1812) though there is evidence for the existence of at least one independent working woman, living in lodgings.
If we turn now to their beliefs about vegetarianism, we find that all the major arguments are present. There are, however, certain differences that mark the period and I shall comment briefly on these alone. There is a very close association with teetotalism; nearly all the vegetarians at this time were active abstainers from alcohol, and they often termed vegetarianism 'the higher phase of temperance'. They believed there was an organic link and that meat stimulated the desire for alcohol. The vegetarians have close links with the tee-total movement, and share many of its social characteristics. (6) Many also abstained from tea, coffee and. tobacco, which like meat and alcohol were regarded as stimulants. Salt, pepper and spices were disapproved of by many, again through their being seen as stimulants, including of sexual desire, and the majority at this time believed in the virtues of a bland, unspiced diet. (7)
During this early period the society faced a need to establish that it was possible to live on a vegetarian diet. Both vegetarianism and teetotalism were widely regarded as dangerous experiments that threatened to undermine the health of anyone foolish enough to try them. (8) Much vegetarian propaganda was therefore aimed at dispelling these beliefs and great stress was laid on the health and longevity of vegetarians. (9) The
healthiness of peasants who lived an almost vegetarian existence. was related, as were the evils of a life that relied on meat alone. (10) Bormond pointed out that people laid. a stress on meat out of proportion to its presence in their diet, and. This remained true even of the poor who, though their consumption of meat was low and sometimes non-existent, still clung to the belief in its necessity. (11)
Lastly during this period, certain effects of a vegetarian diet are given a special emphasis. Meat eating, it was believed, dulls the mind, whereas a vegetarian diet produces 'superior mental powers'. (13) Intellectual capacity is seen here as part - together with the moral and the spiritual - of man's higher nature, which vegetarianism, by direct physiological effect, strengthens. Against this is man's lower nature, which seeks out sensual gratification and rejoices in the lower instincts: 'flesh eating is known to gratify and expand the lower propensities of our nature, it is opposed to the development of the intellectual and moral faculties; . . . it exites in us those "lusts which war against the soul" '. (14) This emphasis on rising to a higher intellectual plane is to some extent an eduring element in vegetarianism, though it is partly disrupted in the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries by the attack, by some, on cerebration and its replacement in the category of approval by the intuitive and bodily.