After Fifty Years: Interview with our President

After Fifty Years: Interview with our President

“The last meat I ate was a slice of turkey on Christmas Day, 1874.”

Thus Mr. Ernest Bell, the President of the Vegetarian Society, in the course of a chat I had with him on the occasion of his jubilee as a vegetarian. Fifty years is a long span in the life of anyone and especially of one who, like our President, has crammed sixty seconds into most waking minutes, but Mr. Bell declares he is still “only 73 years young.”

“What led you to become a vegetarian?” I asked him. “It was a review in The Spectator, by Dr. T. L. Nichols’ book, ‘How to live on 6d. a day,’” he replied. “I had been ill, and the reasonableness of the doctors’ ideas appealed to me.” “Perhaps,” I ventured, “you were like John Wesley—and many other—a brand plucked from the-doctors!” “Yes! something like that,” he rejoined, with a merry twinkle. “As a boy,” he continued, “I had been subject to rheumatism, and as a student I suffered severely from headaches so much so that for sixteen months at one time I was unable to continue my studies. Since adopting a non-flesh diet I have been very free from colds and coughs, and aches of any kind. I have had only one serious illness-pneumonia, two years ago—when the doctor, though not a vegetarian himself, paid me the compliment of saying that my quick recovery was, no doubt, due to my habits of life.”

Our President does not agree that the Vegetarian Cause has made slow progress. Looking over the past fifty years he sees “a very great difference” on the attitude of the public to it.

“In my early days a vegetarian was looked upon as a poor misguided crank who was expected to apologise for his ‘queer’ ways. Now, it is the meat-eater who apologises for his ways. In London there were no vegetarian dining places until Dr. Nichols, in 1879, opened the ‘Alpha’ Restaurant, in Oxford Street. Now, there are many, and most of the others have a vegetarian section. The leaders in most advanced movements—Theosophical, Christian Science, Salvation Army, Higher Thought—are largely vegetarian, whilst the whole tone of the medical profession has changed, and the humane diet has also become the scientific diet and is adopted by very many doctors in the treatment of several of our severest diseases, including cancer, consumption, rheumatism and gout. In short, I think we have reason to congratulate ourselves and be proud upon the progress made during these years.

Mr. Bell believes with John Howard that if we ate less flesh-meat we should not only have fewer diseases in the body but less vice in the soul. ‘Moral qualities,’ he says, “largely hang together. And, like physical qualities, they grow by practice. For this reason few vegetarians take strong drink or smoke; and they also find it easier to cultivate the higher humanities.”

“The humane phase of the movement is much the most important,” Mr. Bell added. “Reform based on self interest is apt to live only so long as the advantage is present. The humane aspect is based on unselfishness, or love, and just as that is superior to selfishness or indifference it is nearer to the ultimate goal.”

Asked for a New Year's message to his friends everywhere, our President replied, “Tell them to work on, strong in the assurance that we are on the winning side. Let each one set his own house in order, and bear in mind that they are at all times exercising an influence on the world, for good or ill, consciously or unconsciously.”

In the weighty words of that good vegetarian, Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

“The best reformer is the man whose eyes,
Are quick to see all beauty and all worth;
And by his own discreet well-ordered life,
Alone reproves the erring.”

Henry Brown Amos

The Vegetarian Messenger and Health Review, Vol. 22 No. 1, January 1925