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

1777 Jean-Baptiste Greuze portrait of Franklin.
Franklin - extracts

John Howard (1789)
by Mather Brown

Emanuel Swedenborg, 75, holding the manuscript of Apocalypsis Revelata (1766)
Swedenborg - extracts

John Wesley

'Practical witnesses to this period' - late 18th century
- Benjamin Franklin 1706-1790
- John Howard 1726-1790
- Emanuel Swedenborg 1688-1772
- John Wesley 1703-1791
(text from the 1st edition, 1883)

Of the many practical witnesses of this period, more or less interesting, for the sufficiency, or rather superiority, of the reformed regimen, four names stand out in prominent relief - Franklin, Howard, Swedenborg, Wesley - prominent either for scientific ability or for philanthropic zeal. To his early resolution to betake himself to frugal living, Benjamin Franklin, then in a printer's office in Boston, attributes mainly his future success in life. (1)

It was to his pure dietary that the great Prison Reformer assigns his immunity, during so many years, from the deadly jail-fever, to the infection of which he fearlessly exposed himself in visiting those hotbeds of malaria - the filthy prisons of this country and of continental Europe. (See the correspondence of John Howard - passim.) Equally significant is the testimony of the eminent founder of methodism whose almost unexampled energy and endurance, both of mind and body, during some fifty years of continuous persecution, both legal and popular, were supported (as he informs us in his Journals) mainly by abstinence from gross foods; while, in regard to Emmanuel Swedenborg, if abstinence does not assume so prominent a place in his theological or other various writings as might have been expected from his special opinions, the cause of such silence must be referred not to personal addiction to an anti-spiritualistic nourishment (for he himself was notably frugal) but to preoccupation of mental faculties which seem to have been absorbed in the elaboration of his well-known spiritualistic system.



    1. The reason, as given by himself for his abandonment in after years of his self-imposed reform, is worthy neither of his philosophic acumen nor his ordinary judgment. It seems that on one occasion, while his companions were engaged in sea-fishing, he observed that the captured fish, when opened, revealed in its interior the remains of another fish recently devoured. The young printer seemed to see in this fact the ordinance of Nature, by which living beings live by slaughter, and the justification of human omniverousness. (See Autobiography.) This was, however, to use the famous Sirian's phrase, "to reason badly;" for the sufficient answer to this alleged justification of man's flesh-eating propensity is simply that the fish in question was, by natural organisation, formed to prey upon its fellows of the sea, whereas man is not formed by Nature for feeding upon his fellows of the land; and further, that the larger proportion of terrestrials do not live by slaughter.

  • Swedenborg - extracts
  • Emanuel Swedenborg : a biography (PDF 14mb) by James Wilkinson, Boston, 1849. p.238: He writes on the subject in his Arcana as follows: " Considered apart, eating the flesh of animals is somewhat profane...."

  • John Wesley (1703-1791) (link to biography by Richard Green, pub. late 19th century. p.35: in the hope of thereby promoting his own piety, he began to use a vegetable diet.

  • Franklin - extracts
  • Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (PDF 12mb) by Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) edited by John Bigelow, 1868 edition p.97 When about 16 years of age I happened to meet with a book, written by one Tryon, recommending a vegetable diet. I determined to go into it. (he remained on it for about 17 years)

  • John Howard (1726-1790) (link to Biography of the prison reformer by Edgar C. S. Gibson, London, 1901. p.180: "has been accustomed for years to exist on vegetables and water, a little bread, and a little tea."

Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet - index