Ernest Bell: An Appreciation
Cruel Sports, 1933
The passing of Ernest Bell, announced in our last issue, is an event of no ordinary significance to the Humanitarian-Vegetarian movements, for no one, in our time, has loomed so largely in both as the genial, generous soul now universally acclaimed as “The” animals’ friend. Mr. Bell had many interests — from music and dancing to publishing and languages — but the dominating interests of the last forty years of his life were undoubtedly kindness to animals and simple living. He was probably as keen on the latter as the former, which, he always said, was the only satisfactory solution of animal cruelties. It is interesting to note too, that it was through food-reform that he was led into animal-reform. The introduction took place in 1874, whilst he was a student at Cambridge, through reading a pamphlet by Dr. T. L. Nichols, entitled “How to Live on Sixpence a-Day.” He was much benefited by the humane diet, and his growth to a fuller recognition of the kinship of all life was swift and basic.
Probably no one has ever been so closely and prominently connected with more vegetarian-humanitarian societies or given more lavishly to them of time, thought, and money than Ernest Bell, who has been President, Chairman, Hon. Treasurer, member of Committee, etc., of more groups than we can recall. Equally certain is it that no one ever helped more individual workers and societies in their struggling early days, and one of the greatest joys of his life was to see of the fruits of this co-operation, and to rejoice when they were able to stand on their own feet.
Probably Mr. Bell’s greatest contribution to his day and generation was his thirty odd years’ editorship of “The Animals’ Friend,” in which he dealt with every phase of the twin movements freely and without fear of censorship, and his twenty years’ Hon. Treasurership of the Humanitarian League, where he mixed with many of the leading humanists of the day and published pamphlets and books by eminent writers that have had an appreciable influence on the thought of our time. In both these connections he printed and distributed, largely at his own expense, hundreds of thousands of leaflets and tracts. But no opportunity was missed in any connection, either abroad or at home, to break a lance with any animal cruelty that came to his notice.
Perhaps the happiest memories that most of his friends will have of Mr. Bell will be of garden parties or of summer schools and socials, where he would teach the novices and the heavy footed the intricacies of a new dance, or himself spin “the light fantastic” with a merry friend. To see him, dressed in a velvet jacket, white waistcoat, satin knickerbockers, hose, and bright buckled shoes, tripping it thus gaily with a charming partner was a revelation in the poetry of motion that one can never forget.
But “E. B.” had another side to his nature, and other notable memories are associated with walks and talks in the quiet of Nature and the hush of the woods. Here he would unburden himself of his ideas on the deeper issues of life and death in humans as well as animals, and always with a prescience that illuminated. In whatever way, therefore, we look at Ernest Bell we must recognise a remarkable man, less a leader, perhaps, than a follower, but most of all the perfect companion who stood shoulder with his fellows, cheering, counselling, and inspiring them in the method of peaceful penetration rather than in the more disturbing method of blazing a trail or vindicating a principle. The world was his parish, and we can hardly hope to see his like again.Henry B. Amos