Ernest Bell, President of the Vegetarian Society

Ernest Bell, President of the Vegetarian Society

IT is with great regret that we announce the death, at Hendon, on the 14th of September, of Mr. Ernest Bell, M.A., the honoured President of The Vegetarian Society, to which office he was elected in 1914.

Mr. Bell lived in an atmosphere of scholarship and business all his life. He was born in 1851, the son of George Bell, founder of the great publishing firm that bears his name. A Londoner by birth, Mr. Bell was educated at St. Paul’s School, and passed with a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge. He graduated in 1873, his special line being mathematics. Then he went to Germany for a year to study the profession to which he was then inclined, that of a schoolmaster. Instead of following that vocation he joined the family firm, was a partner until it was formed into a limited company, when he became a director, and, in 1926, on the death of his brother Edward, he became chairman of the board of directors. Successful publishing requires a combination of scholarship and business ability, and under the direction of Mr. Bell and his brother, the late Mr. Edward Bell, M.A., F.S.A., the reputation of George Bell and Sons was enhanced.

Mr. Bell devoted so much time to humanitarian activities that it is difficult to realize that the work was done in the spare time of a man with great business responsibilities. His work for animals began in 1873, when he joined the R.S.P.C.A. About the same time he read a review in the Spectator of a pamphlet by Dr. T. L. Nichols, one of our Vice-Presidents, on “How to live on Sixpence a Day,” and this was his first introduction to vegetarianism. Following this up he came to realize, what many lovers of animals do not, that flesh-eating is at once unnecessary and cruel, and that the believer in humanity to animals should be a vegetarian. Therefore, in 1874, he became a vegetarian. Not content with having found the truth he wished to help others to find it, and so he joined The Vegetarian Society. He was elected a Vice-President in 1896 and President in 1914. He was always a generous supporter of the work of the Society, and, as he disliked the appearance of ostentation, some of his largest contributions to the funds were made anonymously. But his value to the Society was not to be measured by his generous money gifts. From the time he became President until old age prevented it he never spared himself in performing the duties of his office. At the Annual Meetings in Manchester and at May Meetings elsewhere, and on many other occasions he took his full share of the work. Nor was The Vegetarian Society the only vegetarian society to benefit by his enthusiasm, for the London Society had in him, for many years, an active and honoured officer. Our Summer Schools were a delight to him and he much appreciated the sociability and the mental, moral and physical advantages which he derived from them. Until two or three years ago he had attended most of the schools. He happily embodied what has been called “the summer school spirit.” Always able and willing to give thoughtful and thought-promoting papers on his favourite subjects, always willing and able to be the teacher and leader in the dancing and sports, Mr. Bell came to be highly appreciated by scholars of all ages and classes. How many of us remember his “readings,” and how many of us, having learnt the first steps in dancing in the morning, had under his inspiration, the courage to take a partner the same evening in the dance. A few years ago he published a selection of the papers he had read at Summer Schools in a volume entitled : “Summer School Papers: Animal, Vegetable and General.” It is a book which all vegetarians and animal lovers should read, so full is it of good sense and kindly wisdom.

Though Mr. Bell served The Vegetarian Society so well and presided over it with so much distinction, direct vegetarian propaganda formed only a small part of his work for the sub-human animals. He was for thirty years Honorary Secretary of a Hampstead Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and he had been Chairman of the Committee of the Anti-Vivisection Society and of the National Anti-Vivisection Society. He was closely associated with Mr. H. S. Salt in the Humanitarian League (a society which in its time did immense service to all humanitarian movements) being its Chairman of Committee, and Treasurer for over twenty years. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Anti-Bearing-Rein Association, the National Canine Defence League, and many other societies for the defence of animals had his active support. Of the Animals’ Friend Society he was the chief inspirer. In the furtherance of what must be regarded as the main purpose of Mr. Bell’s life, the protection of animals from cruelty, he made full use of his literary talents. He also did good work as an editor. The Animals’ Life Readers, a delightful series of school books issued under his editorship forty years ago, made many young people life-long lovers of animals, and the Animals’ Friend, which he edited for many years, was favourably known to all workers in humanitarian fields. Apart from his humanitarian work, Mr. Bell had translated from the German several of the volumes in Bohn’s Standard Library, and he edited the All England Series of Athletic Sports for his firm, and he compiled the amusing Bell’s Joy Book, a collection of stories, puzzles, parlour games, garden games and howlers, the profits of which he gave to the Vegetarian Home for Children, of which he was a generous supporter. To him as a publisher was due the introduction to English readers of Ralph Waldo Trine and other American writers.

In 1893, Mr. Bell married Marie A. von Taysen and was happy to .the end of his long life in her sympathy with him in the pursuance of his humanitarian work.

In 1925, the Vegetarian Society commemorated Mr. Bell’s jubilee as a vegetarian by presenting him with an address of congratulation, and in 1929, twenty-two separate societies united in the presentation of an album to Ernest Bell, “The Animals’ Friend,” surely as well deserved a title as was ever conferred on a man.

The funeral, at Hendon Parish Church, on September 16th, was attended by his widow and others of the family, and by representatives of many societies, The Vegetarian Society being represented by Councillor Farrington, Chairman of the Executive, and Mr. Hough, Secretary.

An appreciative notice of Mr. Bell in The Times concludes “of spartan habits and simple tastes, Ernest Bell had little use for money, save for what might be done with it to promote the causes he had at heart. For the furtherance of those causes he employed his means as lavishly as he expended his personality. Humanitarianism and food reformers the world over will mourn the passing of this gentle spirit, in whom they have lost a sage counsellor and a tried friend.”

The Vegetarian Messenger and Health Review, October 1933