A FORERUNNER OF THE VEGETARIAN SOCIETY
By William E. A. Axon
(Read at the Annual Meeting of the Vegetarian Society, Oct. 23, 1893.)
As the Vegetarian Society is now not far off the attainment of its
half century, it may not be without interest to notice that it had a
precursor. There was in the early part of the present century a great
quickening of moral and intellectual forces. The spirit of reform and
of progress was in the very air, and the old forms and usages of society
were freely challenged. In particular there were many efforts put forth
for the organisation of a common life, but from one cause or other these
attempts failed of success.
There was at Ham Common a socialistic and educational experiment carried
on in Alcott House, under the name of the Concordium. Here that fine
mystic James Pierrepont Greaves, William Oldham, and others united
to form a fraternity of water drinkers, Vegetarians and truthseekers.
They published a paper called The Healthian, which was succeeded
by The New Age and Concordium Gazette. It was a monthly.
The first number appeared 6th May, 1843, and the last 1st December 1844.
The number for October, 1843, contains an article which we reproduce
BRITISH AND FOREIGN SOCIETY FOR THE PROMOTION OF HUMANITY
AND ABSTINENCE FROM ANIMAL FOOD
The following proposal for the formation of a Society has been handed
to us by a friend, who takes great interest in the subject to which
it refers; and we need scarcely say that we shall hail with much pleasure
the extablishment of such a Society; but whether it is to be expected
from those who still remain among the impure influences of our towns
and cities, will remain to be seen by the practical steps that will
be taken. For our own part, we know there is no impediment but the
imperfection of man's being, out of which proceeds all prejudices
and error, false education and false society; but this is the very
evil the Society is designed to remedy, by inducing a more careful
adherence to the universal laws in humanity. We shall be glad to see
those who think with us come out entirely from among the pollutions
in which they exist; still, however, we hail with pleasure this as
well as every other indication of the attention that is now given
to a different mode of existence being necessary for man's real well-being.
Object of the Society. - This Society is formed for the dissemination,
by means of the press, lectures, and missionaries in England and abroad,
of correct principles on universal peace, health of soul and body,
and on the prolongation of human life.
Society. - The Society is composed of members and officers
of both sexes.
Membership. - Every person who subscribes to the subjoined
declaration, and contributes to the funds of the Society, is thereby
constituted a member.
Declaration of Members. - I hereby declare that I will abstain
from animal food, and promote, by word and example, the objects of
the Society for the Promotion of Humanity and Abstinence from Animal
Officers of the Society. - The officers shall consist of a
President, three Vice-Presidents, a Treasurer, a General and an Assistant
Secretary, and a consulting Committee of seven, to be elected annually
in a General Meeting, and to be re-electable.
Duties of Officers. - The President, Vice-Presidents, Treasurer,
and Secretaries consitutute the executive department, the Council
the advising and assisting department. All officers to serve without
salary; the Society defraying the expenses of printing, staionery,
postage, and outlays of missionaries.
Support of the Society. - The Society is supported by monthly
and annual subscriptions and other modes of voluntary contributions.
Branches. - The Society is to form branches throughout England,
the Colonies, and in foreign countries, as a means of greater efficiency
General Meetings.- A General Meeting of members to be held
annually in London, for the purpose of examining the affairs of the
Society, electing its officers, amending the constitution, if necessary,
and passing resolutions and regulations for the subsequent year.
In a subsequent number (p.139) we are told that the society was formed
at Alcott House. Mrs. S. C. Chichester accepted the office of president.
We have pleasure in reporting a favourable progress. Several members
have since enrolled with their names. Among them one lady, who wishes
it to be stated that for ten years she has not tasted flesh food,
and during that time has had unvarying good health, excellent appetite,
and sound sleep. An objection to animal food was felt by her when
very young; and she relates that at eight years of age, when requested
by the servant to eat her dinner, her reply was, "I cannot, nurse
- I cannot eat what has eyes!" When older, she was induced
to do as others did; when older still, the Spirit resumed its rights,
and, free to do as she liked, she relinquished it entirely.
A letter is printed from a friend, whose initials only are given, J.
E. S., pointing out the extensive use of animal substances in other
ways than as food. It is perhaps permissible to conjecture that this
was the Rev. James E. Smith, the Editor of The Shepherd and of
The Family Herald, who looked with friendly eye upon both Vegetarianism
and teetotalism as signs of a better future. He was then preaching a
Universal Church, and Mrs. Chichester and another of Greaves' disciples,
Mrs. Welch, were amongst those who subscribed for the cost of his lectureship.
(Shepherd Smith, the Universalist, by W. Anderson Smith, 1892,
pp.205 et seq.)
At one of the meetings of the B.F.S.P.H.A.F. the question was proposed,
"What is Man's Relationship to the Animal World?" This produced
the following pithy communication, printed in The New Age, February,
You ask, "What is Man's Relationship to the Animal World?"
You want an answer. Why he is their burying place, for which they
repay him by burying him in return. This is the sum and substance
of animal consaguinity.
Such are the scanty data that remain as to the history of this apparently
short-lived Vegetarian Association, the precursor of our present strong
society, which was not organised until 1847. The time was not quite
ripe for "The British and Foreign Society for the Promotion of
Humanity and Abstinence from Animal Food." Possiby it was killed
by the length and weight of the name given to it.