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The Ethics of Diet - A Catena
by Howard Williams M.A., 1883


Sir Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon 1561-1626
(text from the 1st edition, 1883 )

[at the end of the section on Gassendi] There is one name which, in reputation, occupies a pre-eminent position in philosophy, belonging to this period - Francis Bacon. But, for ourselves, for whom true ethical and humanitarian principles have a much deeper significance than mere mental force undirected to the highest aims of truth and of justice, the name of the modern assertor of the truths of Vegetarianism will challenge greater reverence than even that of the author of the New Instrument.

That Bacon should exhibit himself in the character of an advocate of the rights of the lower races is hardly to be expected from the selfish and unscrupulous promoter of his own private interests at the expense at once of common gratitude and common feeling. His remarks on Vivisection (where he quesions whether esperiments on human beings are defensible, and suggests the limitation of scientific torture to the non-human races) (1) are, in fact, sufficient evidence of his indifferentism to so unselfish an object as the advocacy of the claims of our defenceless dependants. When we consider his unusual sagacity in exposing the absurd quasi-scientific methods of his predecessors, and of the prevailing (so-called) philosophical system and the many profound remarks to be found in his writings, it must be added that we are reluctantly compelled to believe that the opnions elsewhere which he publishes inconsistent with those principles were inspired by that notorious servility and courtiership by which he flattered the absurd and pedantic dogmatism of one of the most contemptible of kings.

One passage there is, however, in his writings which seems to give us hope that this eminent compromiser was not altogether insensible to higher and better feeling :-

"Nature has endowed man with a noble and excellent principle of compassion, which extends [? ought to extend] itself also to the dumb animals - whence this caompassion has some resemblance to that of a prince towards his subjects. And it is certain that the noblest souls are the most extensively compassionate. Thus under the old laws, there were numerous precepts (not merely ceremonial) enjoining mercy - for example, the not eating of flesh with the blood, &c. So, also, the sects of the Essenes and Pythagoreans totally abstained from flesh, as they do also to this day, with an inviolate religion, in some parts of the empire of the Mogul [Hindustan]. Nay, the Turks, though a savage nation, both in their dscent and discipline, give alms to the dumb animals, and suffer them not to be tortured." (2)

If Bacon had lived longer (he died in 1626) we may entertain the hope that the powerful arguments of his illustrious contemporary might have inspired him with more sound and satisfactory ideas on Dietetics than the somewhat crude ones which he published in his De Augmentis (iv., 2). As for Medicine, he had, reasonably enough, not conceived a high opinion of the methods of its ordinary professors. He says :-

"Medicine has been more professed than laboured, and more laboured than advanced; rather circular than progressive; for I find great repetition, and but little new matter in the writers of Physic."

 

Footnotes

    1. Advancement of Learning. ivi., 2. Bacon's suggestion seems to imply that human beings were still vivisected, for the "good" of science, in his time. Celsus, the well-known Latin physician of the second century, had protested against this cold-blooded barbarity of deliberately cutting up a living human body. The wretched victims of the vivisecting knife were, it seems, slaves, criminals and captives, who were handed over by the authorities to the physiological "laboratiry." Harvey, Bacon's contemporary, is notorious (and, it ought to be added, infamous) for the number and the unrelenting severity of his experiments upon the non-human slaves, which, though constantly alleged by modern vivisectors to have been the means by which he discovered the "circulation of the blood," have been clearly proved to have served merely as demonstrations in physiology to his pupils. But we no longer wonder at Harvey, who was accustomed to amuse Charles I. and his family with his demonstrations, it is a pleasant relief to turn to the better feeling of Shakspere on that subject. Se his Cymbeline (i., 6), where the Queen, who is ecperimenting in poisons, tells her physician,
      . . . . . . . . . "I will try the force of these compounds on such creatures as
      . . . . . . . . . We count not worth the hanging - but some human."
      and is reminded that she would "from this practice but make hard her heart." Such a rebuke is in keeping with the true feeling which inspired the poet to picture the undeserved pangs of the hunted Deer in As You Like It ii., 1
    2. Advancement of Learning. viii., 2.

 

Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet - index