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

Dr Daniel Solander, Sir Joseph Banks, Captain James Cook, Dr John Hawkesworth and Earl Sandwich by John Hamilton Mortimer

Hawkesworth -extracts

John Hawkesworth. 1715-1773
(text from the 1st edition, 1883)

Best known as the editor of The Adventurer - a periodical in imitation of the Spectator, Rambler, &c., - which appeared twice a week during the years 1752-54. Johnson, Warton, and others assisted him in this undertaking, which has the honour of being one of the first periodicals which have ventured to denounce the cruel barbarism of "Sport," and the papers by Hawkesworth upon that subject are in striking contrast with the usual tone and practice of his contemporaries and, indeed, of our own times.

In 1761 he published an edition of Swift's writings, with a life which received the praise of Samuel Johnson (in his Lives of the Poets), and it is a passage in that bok which entitles him to a place here. In 1773 he was entrusted by the Government of the day with the task of compiling a history of the recent voyages of Captain Cook. He also translated the Avetures de Télémaque of Fénélon. The coarseness and repulsiveness of the dishes of the common diet seldom have been stigmatised with greater force than by Dr. Hawkesworth. His expressions of abhorrence are conceived quite in the spirit of Plutarch :-

"Among other dreadful and disgusting images which Custom has rendered familiar, are those which arise from eating animal food. He who has ever turned with abhorrence from the skeleton of a beast which has been picked whole by birds or vermin, must confess that habit alone could have enabled him to endure the sight of the mangled bones and flesh of a dead carcass which every day cover his table. And he who reflects on the number of lives that have been sacrificed to sustain his own, should enquire by what the account has been balanced, and whether his life is become proportionately of more value by the exercise of virtue and by the superior happiness which he has communicated to [more] reasonable beings." (1)


    1. Edition of Swift's Works. Canon Sydney Smith, equally celebrated as a bon-vivant and as a wit, at the termination of his life writes thus to his friend Lord Murray: "You are, I hear, attending more to diet than heretofore. If you wish for anything like happiness in the fifth act of life eat and drink about one-half what you could eat and drink. Did I ever tell you my calculation about eating and drinking? Having ascertained the weight of what I could live upon, so as to preserve health and strength, and what I did live upon, I found that, between ten and seventy years of age, I had eaten and drunk forty four horse wagon loads of meat and drink more than would have preserved me in life and in health! The value of this mass nourishment I considered to be worth seven thousand pounds sterling. It occurred to me that I must, by my voracity, have starved to death fully a hundred persons. This is a frightful calculation, but irresistibly true." Commentary upon this candid statement is superfluous. Ab uno disce omnes. If amongst the richer classes the ordinary liver may consume a somewhat smaller quantity of life during his longer or shorter existence, at all events the sum total must be a sufficiently startling one for all who may have the courage and candour to reflect upon this truly appalling subject. Another thought irresistibly suggests itself. What proportion of human lives thus supported is of any real value in the world?

Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet - index