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

Jean Antoine Gleïzès 1773-1843
(text from the 1st edition, 1883 )

Of all the enlightened and humane spirits to which the philosophic eighteenth century gave birth, and who were quickened into activity by the great movement which originated in France in its last quarter, not one, assuredly, was actuated by a purer and more exalted feeling than Jean Antoine Gleïzès - the most enthusiastic, perhaps, of all the apostles of humanity and refinement. He was born at Dourge, in the (present) department of the Tarn. His father was advocate to the old provincial parliament. His mother's name was Anna Francos. After attending preliminary schools, he applied himself to the study of medicine - urged, says his biographer, more by love of his species than by predilection for the profession. His intense horror of the vivisectional experiments in the physiological torture-dens soon compelled him to abandon his intended career : the experience, however, gained during his brief medical course he was able to utilize more than once in after life for the benefit of his neighbours.

The earlier period of the Revolution had been hailed by him, still very young as he then was, as the hopeful beginning of a new era; when its direction, unhappily, fell into the hands of fanatical leaders, who, following too much the examples of the old régimes, thought, by wholesale executions , to clear the way for the establishment of a universal republic and of lasting peace. The youthful enthusiast, whose whole soul revolted from the very idea of bloodshed and of suffering, withdrew despairing into solitude, and devoted himself to scientific and literary studies, and to calm contemplation of nature.

In 1794, at the age of 21, Gleïzès married Aglae de Baumelle, daughter of a writer of some repute. At his time he seems to have entertained the hope of instructing his countrymen, by engaging in public teaching; but, disappointed in a scheme for the inauguration of a course of historical lectures in the central school of his department, he retired altogether from the active business of the world, and settled down in a happy and peaceful home, in a small château belonging to his wife, at the foot of the Pyrenees near Mezières. It was here, amidst the magnificent solitudes of Nature, that in 1798, in his twenty-fifth year, he determined upon abandoning for ever the diet of blood and slaughter. Until the moment of his death, forty-five years later, his diet consisted solely of milk, fruits, and vegetables.

So great was his scrupulousness, that there might be no possibility or mistake Gleïzès prepared his own food; and he always ate alone (his wife being unable or unwilling to follow his loftier aims), since he could not endure either the smell or the sight of the ordinary dishes. And this intense aversion it was, indeed, that compelled him to forego in great measure his intercourse with the world, or, at all events, to shun the ordinary celebrations of social "festivity."

Full of enthusiastic belief that the transparent truth and sublimity of his creed could not fail to commend themselves to the better spirits of the age amongst his countrymen, Gleïzès addressed himself to some of the more thoughtful of his contemporaries; amongst others to Lamartine, Lamennais, and Chateâubriand. Lamartine - the author of the Fall of an Angel, in which he gives expression to his akreophagistic sympathies - responded, if not with the enthusiasm that might justly have been expected from the author of that great poem, at least in a friendly spirit. The others kept silence. This indifferentism of those who should have been the first to lend support of their names naturally affected him; and made much more sensible the intellectual and moral isolation of his existence. He was not left quite alone, however. There were found three or four minds of a loftier reach who had the courage of their convictions, and followed them out to their logical conclusion. These were Anquetil (the author of Recherches sur les Indes), Charles Nodier, Girod de Chantrans, and Cabatous, dean of the Faculty of Letters at Toulouse. His brother, Colonel Gleïzès, a member of the Academy of Sciences of the same university, also declared for the reformation. It is superfluous to say that these converts were all men of superior moral calibre to their contemporaries, however high they might be exalted by popular estimates of worth.

Deeply sensible as he was of the profound selfishness and indifferentism of the world surrounding him upon the subject which to him had all the interest and importance of a new religion, he yet constantly displayed the benevolence of his disposition, and the beneficence of his morality, in his efforts for the good of all with whom he came in contact, and particularly in respect to his domestics and his tenants, amongst whom his memory was long and held in reverence. "His exalted nature," states his brother, "glowed with enthusiasm for everything true and good." His "life-sorrow" seems to have been the want of sympathy on the part of his wife, to whom, nevertheless, he proved an indulgent husband.

His first book, Les Mélancolies d'un Solitaire, appeared in the year 1794, in 1800 his Nuits Elysiennes, and four years later his Agrestes; all more or less advocating the truth. A long interval elapsed before he again essayed an appeal to the world. His Christianisme Explique : ou l'Unité de Croyance pour tous les Chrétiens (Christianity Explained : or, Unity of Belief for all Christians) was published in in 1830. Seven years later it appeared under the title of "Christianity Explained : or, the True Spirit of that Religion Misinterpreted up to the Present Day." In this work, says his estimable editor and translator Herr Springer, "he sought to prove, from the standing-point of a protestant christian, that Christ's mission had for its end the abolition of the murder of animals (Thiermord), and that the whole significance of his teaching lay in the words spoken at the institution of the 'Supper,' that is to say the substitution of bread instead of flesh, and wine instead of blood." This undertaking, it is needless to remark, admirable as was its motive, could hardly, from the nature of the case, be successful.

His last work was his Thalysie : ou La Nouvelle Existence, the fist part of which was published at Paris in 1840, the second in 1842. He survived this his final appeal to the world on behalf of the new reformation but a few months. He had reached the proverbial limit of human existence; but that his life was shortened by disappointment and the bitter weariness of hope deferred, "by that sorrow which perpetually gnaws at the heart of the unrecognised reformer" (as his biographer well expresses it), we have too much reason to believe. The Thalysie - his magnum opus - excited, it appears, little interest, or even notice, upon its first appearance. It found one sympathising critic in M. Cabantous, to whom reference has already been made, who delivered a course of lectures upon it from his professional chair. A few years later a Parisian advocate, M. Blot-Lequène, wrote a treatise in terms of strong recommendation of its principles; and Eugène Stourm, editor of The Phalanx, also eloquently advocated its claims upon the public notice. At length it was criticised in the Révue des Deux Mondes by Alphonse Esquiros, known to English readers by his contributions to that Review on English life and manners. We are hardly surprised that the criticism was conceived in the usual supercilious and prejudiced spirit.

No attempt appears to have been made to re-publish the New Existence until Herr Springer undertook the task for his countrymen. His German version, with an interesting notice of the life and labours of Gleïzès, was published at Berlin in 1872. Criticising a flippant article in The Food Journal in the same year, Herr Springer eloquently rebukes the easy and arrogant tone - so successful in appealing to popular prejudices - and observes : "Gleïzès at last published his eminent work, which as Weilhaüser says he has written with the blood of his own heart. If it be eccentric, as Mr. Jerrold asserts, it has only the eccentricity of a gospel of humanity. Gleïzès was so eccentric as to write the following lines, which were found amongst his posthumous papers: 'God, pure Source of Light, in order to obey thy commands I wrote this book. Be gracious to protect and to support my efforts; for the humble creature which raises its voice from its grain of sand may, perhaps, be speechless to-morrow, and deep silence reign in the desert.' Yes; Mr. Jerrold is right : that theory was to its author a religion. In the Thalysie we are instructed in the highest questions concerning the health and happiness of mankind. Surpassing all naturalists and philosophers, he explained to us the great mystery of Nature - that robbery and murder [in its full meaning] arose only by corruption, and by alienation from the original laws of creation, and that man, instead of favouring the corruption, as he had done till now, would be able to abolish it. In this way, and in contradiction to the hollow phrases of optimism and the depressing contemplation of pessimism, Gleïzès restores the peace of our mind, and bestows upon us the hope for a future reign of Wisdom and Love." (1)

In the preface to the Thalysie Gleïzès thus expresses his convictions, his hopes, and the general purpose of his labours :-

"The system which I now publish to the world is not, as the usual acceptation of that word might seem to indicate, a collection of principles more or less probable, and of which it depends upon each one to admit or reject the consequences. It is a chain of principles, rigorously true and just, from which man cannot depart without incurring penalties proportionate to his deviation. But, in spite of these penalties which he has suffered, and which he still suffers, he is not aware of his lost condition [égarement]. His fate is that of the slave, born in servitude, who plays with his chains, sometimes insults the freemen, and carries his madness to the point of refusing freedom when it is offered to him, and of choosing slavery.

"It is not that all men have allowed themselves to be carried willingly down the fatal descent : a large number have struggled against the press, but their diverse and scattered efforts have resembled the eddies of the flood, which ends with forcing together all the diverging waters and hurrying away with them into the gulf of the ocean. Or, if some few have raised and kept themselves above the rapid current, no permanent advantage has resulted from it to the human race, which has been none the less abandoned to itself."

We know that the greatest intellects among the Greeks (2) had taught the better way : but they failed, says Gleïzès, inasmuch as their doctrine was too exclusive and esoteric.

"The condition of the human race is a plain witness of its error. This condition, in fact, is so alarming that it might seem desperate, if it were certain that men had acquired all their knowledge. But, happily, there is one branch of it - the most essential of all, and without which the rest is scarcely of any account - which is yet entirely ignored. This knowledge is precisely that of which these great men had glimpses, and of which they reserved to themselves the sole enjoyment; (3) and it is this knowledge, or, rather, this wisdom (and we know that with the Greeks these two things were comprised under the same denomination) which I publish. I shall give it an extension which it was not possible for them to perceive or to give; because Nature refuses its life-giving spirit [esprit de vie] to solitary and isolated seeds, and makes those only to fructify which enter into the common heritage of mankind.

"With such support, the most feeble must have an advantage over the strongest without it. I have besides, another advantage. Men feeling to-day, more than ever, the privation of what is wanting to them, invoke on all sides new principles, and demand a higher civilisation. It is not the first time, doubtless, that such a state of things has been manifested. It has been seen to supervene after all the moral revolutions that have left man greater than they have found him. But that of which we have been the witnesses [the revolution in France of 1789 - the reforms of 1830] seems to have something more remarkable, more complete - one would almost be tempted to believe that it must be the last, and terminate that long sequence of vain disputes across which the human kind has painfully advanced, seeing it rise in the midst of the débris of all the old-world ideas which have expired or are expiring at one's feet. What a moment for rebuilding! No more favourable one could exist; and it is urged on, so to speak, by the breeze of these happy circumstances that I offer to the meditation of men the following propositions. . . .

"I shall add but few words. The principles which I have laid down are absolute - they cannot bend [fléchir]. But there are steps on the route which conduct to the heights which they occupy; and were there but a single step made in that direction, that single step could not be regarded as indifferent and unimportant. Thus this work - guide of those whom it shall convince - will be useful also to the rest of the world as, at least, a moderator and a check; and I shall avow it, my hopes do not extend beyond this latter object. I should feel myself even perfectly satisfied, if this book should inspire my contemporaries enough of esteem and favour to prevent them from arresting and impeding it at its start, and to allow it to follow its course towards a generation, I will not say more worthy, but better prepared than the present to receive it."

Gleïzès divides his work into twelve Discourses, in two volumes, supplemented by a third volume which he entitles Moral Proofs. It is an almost exhaustive, as well as eloquent, résumé of the history and ethics of the subject. The only fault of this, perhaps, most heartfelt appeal to the reason and conscience of mankind ever published is its too great discursiveness. The manifest anxiety of the author to meet, or to anticipate, every possible objection or subterfuge on the part of the hostile or the indifferent, may well excuse this apparent blemish; and the slightest acquaintance with his New Existence can hardly fail to extort, even from the most prejudiced reader a tribute of admiration to a spirit so noble and so pure, devoting all its energies to the furtherance of an exalted and refined morality.

In the earlier portion of his book he reviews the dietetic habits and practices of the various peoples of the younger world, and notices the various philosophic and other writers who have left any record of their opinions upon flesh-eating. He next treats of modern authorities, and , after quoting a large number of anti-kreophagistic testimonies, in his fifth Discourse he applies himself to answer the sophisms of the chief opponents, and particularly of its arch-enemy - his countryman, Buffon, in his well known Histoire Naturelle - and he may be said effectually to have disposed of his astonishing fallacies . (4)

"What most strikes the observer when he throws an attentive glance over the earth, is the relative inferiority of man, considered as what he is, in regard to what he ought to be : it is the feebleness of the work compared with the aptitude of the workman. All his inspirations are good, and all his actions bad ; and it is to this singular fact that must be attributed, without doubt, the universal contempt that man exhibits towards his fellows. . . . We must remount to the source, and see if there is not in man's existence some essential act which, reflecting itself on all the rest, would communicate to them its fatal influence. Let us consider, above everything, the distinctive quality of man - that which raises him above all other beings. It is clear that it is Pity, (5) source of that intelligence which has placed him at the head of that fine moral order, invincible in the midst of the catastrophes of Nature. His utter failure to exhibit this feeling of pity towards his humble fellow-beings, as well as to his own kind, engages us to inquire what is the permanent cause of such failure ; and we find it, at first, in that unhappy facility with which man receives his impressions of the beings by whom he is surrounded. These impressions, transmitted with life and cemented by habit, have formed a creation apart and separate from himself, which is consequently beyond the domain of his conscience, or, if you prefer it, of the ordinary jurisprudence of men. Thus men continue to accuse themselves pf being unjust, violent, cruel and treacherous to one another, but they do not accuse themselves of cutting the throats of other animals and of feeding upon their mangled limbs, which, nevertheless, is the single cause of that injustice, of that violence, of that cruelty, and of that treachery.

"Although all have not these vices to the same degree, and it is exactly this fact which aids the self deception, I shall clearly prove that all have the germs of them; and that, if they are not equally developed, we must thank the circumstances only which have failed them.

"It is thus that many Europeans, whom their destiny conducts to the cannibal countries, after some months of sojourn with the natives, make no difficulty of seating themselves at their banquet, and of sharing their horrible repast, which at first had excited their horror and disgust. They begin with devouring a dog : from the dog to the man the space is soon cleared.

"Men believe themselves to be just, provided that they fulfil, in regard to their fellows, the duties which have been prescribed to them. But it is goodness which is the justice of man; and it is impossible, I repeat it, to be good towards one's fellow without being so towards other existences. let us not be the dupes of appearances. Seneca, who lived only on the herbs of his garden, to which he owed those last gleams of philosophy which enlightened, so to speak, the fall of the Roman Empire, also thinks that crime cannot be circumscribed : Nullum intrà se ma et vitium. And if, as Ovid affirms, the sword struck men only after having been first dyed in the blood of the lower animals, what interest have we not in respecting such a barrier? Like Æolus, who held in his hands the bag in which the winds were confined, we may at our will, according as we live upon plants or upon animals, tranquillize the earth or excite terrible tempests upon it.

"I am too well aware that a subterfuge will be found in excusing the crime by necessity, and calumniating Providence. According to the pretended belief of the greatest number of people, if other animals were not put to death, they would deprive men of the empire of the earth. But it is easy to reply to this objection by the examples of people who, holding in horror the effusion of blood, and robbing no being of life - even the vilest or most hateful - are by no means disturbed in the exercise of their sovereignty. (6) And it would result from the examples of these people, if one had not other proofs besides, that man is absolutely master of the means of increasing or limiting the multiplication of the species which are more or less in dependence upon him. And it is not less evident that the earth, in this latter hypothesis, would support an infinitely greater number of the human species. Thus will the vegetable regimen be necessarily adopted one day over the whole earth, when the multiplication of our species shall have reached a certain number fixed and pre-established by that imperious and irrevocable law which is intimately connected, for the most part, with humanity, justice, and virtue - the number at which it is slowly arriving, arrested by the very causes which I am striving to destroy, and which, for that single reason, ought to arm against them all generous beings who appreciate the benefit of existence." (7)

Amongst other pretexts by which men seek to excuse selfishness, is the assertion that its victims have little or no consciousness of suffering, and that their death is so unexpected that it cannot excite their terror. This monstrous fiction is eloquently exposed by Gleïzès, as it is, indeed, by the commonest everyday experience :-

"The instinct of life among animals generally gives them a presentiment and fear of death - that is to say violent death; for as for natural death it inspires in them no alarm, for the simple reason that it is in the course of nature. And it is the same with man. He is not afflicted with the thought of dying when he knows his hour is come; he resigns himself to that fate as to any other imposed on him by necessity. The sensations of other beings differ in no respect from those men; and when the horse, for example, is condemned to death by the lion, that is to say, when he hears the confused roar of that terrible beast which fills space, while the precise spot from which it emanates cannot be determined, which takes from the victim all hope of escape by flight, the perspiration rolls down all his limbs, he falls to the earth as if he had just been struck by a thunderbolt, and would die of terror alone if the lion did not run up to terminate the tragedy." (8)

"There exists so great an analogy, so strong a resemblance, between the life of man and that of other animals who surround him, that a simple return to himself - simple reflection - ought to suffice to make him respect the latter; and if he were condemned by Nature to rend it from them, he might justly curse the order of things which, on the one hand, should have implanted in his heart the source of feeling so gentle, and, on the other, should have imposed on him a necessity so cruel. . . . . And if this man have children, if he bear in his heart objects which are so dear to him, how can he increasingly surround himself with images of death - of that death which must deprive him one day of those whom he loves, or snatch himself away from their love? And if he be just, if he be good, how will he not have repugnance for acts which will continually recall to him ideas of ingratitude, of cruelty, and of violence? There exists in the East a tree which, by a mechanical movement, inclines its branches towards the traveller, whom it seems to invite to repose under its shade. This simple image of hospitality, which is revered in that part of the world, makes them regard it as sacred, and they would punish with death him who should dare to apply a hatchet to its trunk. Our humble fellow-beings, should they be less than sacred because they aid us to bear the burdens of the world, which would overwhelm us without them but because they have the same right with ourselves to life. . . . A reason which is without reply, at least for generous souls, is the trust and confidence reposed in man by other animals. Nature has not taught them to distrust him. He is the only enemy whom she has not pointed out to them. Is it not evident proof that he was not intended to be so? For one can believe that Nature, who holds so just a balance, could have been willing to deceive all other beings in favour of man alone? It has been observed that birds of the gentle species express certain cries when they perceive the fox, the weasel, &c., although they have nothing to fear from them, without doubt, by reason of the analogy which they offer. They are the cries of hatred rather than of fear, whilst they utter these latter at sight of the eagle, of the hawk, &c. Now, it is certain that in all the islands on which man has landed, the native animals have not fled before them. They have been able to take even birds with the hand."

Gleïzès rejects the common fallacy that, because man has because men have acquired a lust for flesh, therefore it is natural or proper for them.

"It is a specious but very false reason to allege that, since man has acquired this taste, he ought to be permitted to indulge it - in the first place because Nature has not given him cooked flesh, and because several ages must have rolled away before fire was used. It is well known that there are many countries in which it was not known at the period of discovery. Nature then, could have given man only raw or living flesh, and we know that it is repugnant to him over the whole extent of the earth. Now it is exactly this character which essentially distinguishes animals of prey from others. The former, those at least of the larger species, have generally an extreme repugnance, not only for cooked flesh, but even for that which has lost its freshness. man, then, is not carnivorous but under certain abnormal conditions; and his senses, to which he appeals in support of his carnivorousness, are perverted to such a degree, that he would devour his fellow-man without perceiving it, if they served him up in place of veal, the flesh of which is said to have the same taste. Thus Hargreaves ate, without knowing it, the corpse of his son."

Gleïzès instances the case of Cows and of Reindeer who, in Norway, have been denaturalised so far as to feed on fish, and readily to take to that unnatural food.

"It would be too long to enumerate here all the causes which may have produced so greta an aberration. This will be the matter of another Discourse. I shall content myself for the moment with saying some words upon that which perpetuates it. It is essentially that lightness of mind, or, rather, that sort of stupidity, which makes all reflection upon anything which is opposed to their habits painful to the generality of mankind. They would turn their head aside with horror if they saw what a single one of their repasts costs Nature. They eat animals as some amongst them launch a bomb into the midst of a besieged town, without thinking of the evils which it must bring to a crowd of individuals, strangers to war - women, children, and old men - evils the near spectacle of which they could not support, in spite of the hardness of their hearts. . . . To-day, when everything is calculated with so much precision [he remarks with bitterness], there will not be wanting persons with sufficient assurance to attempt to prove that there is more of advantage for the domesticated animals to be born and live on condition of having their throats cut, than if they had remained in 'nothingness,' I confess that I do not understand it, but I could understand the other very well; and I have never conceived how man could have had the barbarity to accumulate all the calamities of the earth upon a single individual; that is to say, to slaughter it in return for having caused its degeneracy. But if he thinks himself to escape from the influence of an action so dastardly and so infamous, he would be in a very great error. . . . .

"I shall finish these prolegomena with an important remark. I have known a large number of good souls who offered up the most sincere wishes for the establishment of this doctrine of humaneness, who thought it just and true in all its aspects, who believed in all that it announces; but who, in spite of so praiseworthy a disposition, dared not to be the first to give the example. They awaited this movement from minds stronger than their own. Doubtless they are the minds which give the impulse to the world; but is it necessary to await this movement when one is convinced of one's self? Is it permissible to temporise in a question of life or death for innocent beings whose ole crime is to have been born, and is it a case like this that strength of mind should fail justice? No! Well-doing is, happily, not so difficult. Ah! what is your excuse, besides, pusillanimous souls? I blush for you at the miserable pretexts which keep you back. It would be necessary, say you, to separate one's self from the world; to renounce one's friends and neighbours. I see no such necessity, and I think, on the contrary, that if you truly loved the world and your neighbours, you would hasten to give them an example which must have so powerful an influence upon their present happiness and upon their future destiny." (9)

We have reason once again to lament the perversity of literary or publishing enterprise which will produce and reproduce, ad infinitum, books of no real and permanent value to the world, and altogether neglect its true luminaries. This is, in an especial manner, the case with Gleïzès. The Nouvelle Existence has never been republished, we believe, in the author's own country; while it has never found a translator, perhaps scarcely a reader, in this country outside the Vegetarian ranks. Germany, as we have already noticed, alone has the honour of attempting to preserve from oblivion one of the few who have deserved immortality.

 

Footnotes

    1. See the Dietetic Reformer and Vegetarian Messenger, August 1873.
    2. Pythagoras, Anytique reum, doctumque Platona : "Pyhtagoras and the Man accused by Anytus [Socrates] and the learned Plato." - Satires of Horace.
    3. This is, perhaps, scarcely just to Pythagoras and his school. It is, without doubt, deeply to be lamented that they did not more widely promulgate a doctrine of such vital importance to the world; but the reasons of their reserve and partial reticence have been indicated already in our notice of the founder of Akreophagy. In a word - like the Founder of Christianity in a later age - they had many things to say which the world could not then learn. Moreover, as Gleïzès remarks, the teachers themselves could not have from the nature of the case, the full knowledge of late times.
    4. The eloquence and style of Buffon, it need scarcely be remarked, are more indisputable than his scientific accuracy. Amongst his many errors, none, however, is more surprising than his assertion of the carnivorous anatomical organisation of man, which has been corrected over and over again by physiologists and savants more profound than Buffon.
    5. "Lachrymas - nostri pars optima sensûs."
    6. In newly-discovered countries, no decided predominance of one species over another has been found; and the reason is, that qualities are pretty equally divided, and that the strongest animal is not at the same time the most agile is the most intelligent. - Note by Gleïzès
    7. Upon this, not the least interesting and important of the side-views of Vegetarianism, we refer our readers, amongst numerous authorities, to the opinions of Paley, Adam Smith, Prof. Newman, Liebig, and W. R. Greg (in Social Problems).
    8. That the victims of the Slaughter-House have, in fact, a full presentiment of the fate in store for them, must be sufficiently evident to every one who has witnessed a number of oxen or sheep driven towards the scene of slaughter - the frantic struggles to escape and rush past the horrible locality, the exertions necessary on the part of the drovers or slaughtermen to force them to enter as well as the frequent breaking away of the maddened victim - maddened alike by blows and clamours of its executioners and the presentiment of its destiny - who frantically rushes through the public streets and scatters the terrified human passengers - all this abundantly proves the transparent falsity of the assertion of the unconsciousness or indifference of the victims of the shambles. See a terribly graphic description of a scene of this kind in Household Words, No.14, quoted in Dietetic Reformer (1852), in Thalysie, and in the Dietetic Reformer, passim. Also in Animal World, &c., &c.
    9. Thalysie : ou la Nouvelle Existence : Par J. A. Gleïzès. Paris, 1840. in 3 vols., 8vo. Se also preface to the German version of R. Springer, Berlin, 1872. Our English readers will be glad to learn that a translation by the English Vegetarian Society is now being contemplated.

Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet - index