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History of Vegetarianism - Anna Kingsford M.D. (1846-1888)

Texts of talks and articles

from lecture given at Girton College, Cambridge, 24 April 1882:

As to the second contention, that Nature's law is the 1aw of prey, and that therefore man has a priori a natural right to rend and torment, it should be answered that the term 'Nature' implies neither individuality nor responsibility, but simply condition. All that Nature does is to permit the manifestation of acquired qualities in individuals. In such sense we must understand the phrase "habit is Nature". This fact does not justify responsible humanity in the manifestation of cruelties which put to shame the worst of the carnivora. It is by dint of following what Mr Matthew Arnold calls "the stream of tendency which makes for righteousness" that man has risen out of the baser elements of his nature to the recognition of the standard known as the "golden rule". And it is precisely in proportion as he has set himself, on every plane of his activity, to

"Move upward, working out the beast,
And let the wolf and tiger die"
within him, that he has become higher, nobler - in a word, more manly. The modern advocates of flesh-eating and vivisection, on the contrary, would reverse the sentiment of the lines just quoted, and would have us
"Move down, returning to the beast,
And letting heart and conscience die",
making thereby the practice of the lowest in the scale of Nature the rule of the highest, and abasing the moral standard of mankind to the level of the habits of the most dangerous or noxious orders of brutes.

Our opponents are fond of calling arguments such as these 'sentirnental', and seem to imagine that the word completely disposes of their value. But that this should be the case serves but to reveal more clearly their own position. For it shows either that they are ignorant of what the word 'sentiment' means - ignorant that honour is a sentiment, that courage, truthfulness, love, sympathy, friendship, and every moral quality, the possession of which constitutes the superiority of civilued maii over the savage and the brute, are sentiments; or else that they deliberately intend to obliterate these qualities from the curriculum of future generations of mankind, and to exclude them from their definition of humanity. The pretence of modem civilization is to aim only at the acquirement of intellectual knowledge and physical gratification, with but scant, if any, regard to moral limits. In the creed of the nineteenth century, man is man, not because he has it in him to love justice and to refrain from doing wrong, but because, being a pre-eminently clever beast, he is the strongest and most successful of all beasts.

But the disciple of Buddha and of Pythagoras, the preacher of the Pure Life and of the Perfect Way, cries to humanity, "Be men, not in mere physical form only - for form is worth nothing - but in spirit, by virtue of those qualities which exalt you above tigers, swine or jackals! Under all your pseudo~civilization lies a foul and festering sore, a moral blemish, staining your lies, and making social amenities unlovely. For the sake of ministering to your depraved and unnatural appetities, there exists a whole class of men, deprived of human rights, whose daily work is to kill, and who pass all their years in shedding blood and in superintending violent death. Away, then, with the slaughter-houses! Make to yourselves a nobler ideal of life and of human destiny!"

from 'The Theosophist', February/March 1884:

The ordinary flesh-eater, if he be a man of any perception, is always fain to acknowledge, on being pressed, that there is something in the usual mode of feeding which clashes with his finer sense of what ought to be. He would rather not talk about the slaughter-house, he feels that the whole subject is, somehow, unsavoury, and more or less frankly admits that he cannot associate the idea of slaughter with what are called 'Utopian' theories of existence. But, in most cases, be is not ready to sacrifice the least of his appetities to his conscience. He likes the taste of flesh-meat, he will tell you, and does not wish to deprive himself of the pleasures it gives him. It is the custom of Society to eat it, and he has no desire to make himself conspicuous by refusing to partake of the dishes set before him by his friends. Such an attitude of mind, of course, can only be dealt with effectually by an effort of will on the part of the individual himself. The excuses thus formulated are precisely those which every transgressor of every moral law turns to bay on the man who seeks to reform or convict him. The reason of such a man may be amply convinced that flesh-eating is neither scientific nor civilized, and yet he lacks the courage to carry these convictions into practice. No logic is able to influence a person of this kind. His affair is with his Conscience rather than with his reason.

But sometimes we meet opponents who tell us that the plea for purer and more merciful living rests on mere 'sentiment' . . . Sentiment is but another name for that moral feeling which alone has made man the best that he is now...

... it is precisely the power to recognize and exercise the sentiments which makes man to differ from the beasts... And our system of liviug is pre-eminently a sentimental system, founded in the nature of Humanity, and made for true Men.

from 'The Credo of Christendom':

The great need of the popular form of the Christian religion is precisely a belief in the solidarity of all living things Who can doubt it who visits Rome the city of the Pontiff where now I am, and witnesses the black-hearted cruelty of these 'Christians' to the animals which toil and slave for them? . . . Today I saw a great, thick-shod peasant kick his mule in the mouth out of pure wantonness. Argue with these ruffians, or with their priests, and they will tell you "Christians have no duties to the beasts that perish". Their Pope has told them so. So that everywhere in Catholic Christendom the poor, patient, dumb creatures endure every species of torment without a single word being uttered on their behalf by the teachers of religion. It is horrible - damnable. And the true reason of it all is because the beasts are popularly believed to be soulless.