To the majority of readers the news of Mr. Howard William’s death will mean little, but to students of humanitarian literature much, and still more to a few friends who, like the present writer, have been in close touch with him for many years. My own acquaintance with him began in the early ‘eighties; we were intimately associated during the thirty years’ campaign of the Humanitarian League (it was he who first suggested the formation of that society); and since the League came to an end there has been unbroken correspondence between us. By me, therefore, this loss will be very severely felt.
Howard Williams has long been better known to the humanitarian world in name than in person, yet it is no idle compliment to say that few individual workers did more than he in the advocacy of our principles. By word and by pen, in private and in public, in season and out of season, he was a quiet but indefatigable champion not of food-reform only, but of many other causes in which justice and humanity are concerned. It is probable that thousands of newspapers readers, who had never heard of him personally, read letters signed by “H.W.” or “M.A.Cantab.”, and were the wiser for reading them. It is impossible to estimate precisely the result of work like this, but it may confidently be asserted that it had a very considerable influence in the extension of humane ideas.
Of his writings the greatest was undoubtedly his book on “The Ethics of Diet,” a work for which he was well qualified by uniting a wide classical knowledge with the newer spirit of humanity; he was a student of “Literæ Humaniores” in the truest and fullest sense. A scholar of St. John’s College, Cambridge, he took his M.A. degree in 1861, and became a convert to humane diet ten years later.
It is possible that a few readers of this article will remember the serial publication of “The Ethics of Diet” in the Dietetic Reformer, 1877-1882; to the present writer, then a novice in vegetarianism, it was a matter of much interest and encouragement. The book, which appeared in 1883, had the great value of showing, by a well-selected series of biographies and quotations, the early evolution and historical continuity of the protest against Butchery, and thoroughly deserved the appellation of “the text-book of vegetarianism,” and the exceptional honour of being translated into Russian by Count Leo Tolstoy, who spoke of its author in words of high praise.
No one has a right, in these modern days, to call himself zoophilist, “lover of animals,” who is not aware of the momentous influences of flesh-eating in its bearing on zoophily; and on this point Mr. Williams was an authority beyond question. It is not only a dietetic question that his book discusses; it is, as its title rightly indicates, an ethical question of great importance. For which reason it could be wished that “The Ethics of Diet” might find its way into the hands of all our professors of morals, and that there should be an end of the scandal—for scandal it is—of an Ethical Movement in which almost every ethical question is discussed except the one which, as Howard Williams showed, is a matter of daily, personal, and terribly practical significance.
The Vegetarian News, October 1931