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27.The Views Of An Erewhonian Philosopher
Concerning The Rights Of Vegetables
Let me leave this unhappy story, and return to the course of events among the
Erewhonians at large. No matter how many laws they passed increasing the severity of
the punishments inflicted on those who ate meat in secret, the people found means of
setting them aside as fast as they were made. At times, indeed, they would become almost
obsolete, but when they were on the point of being repealed, some national disaster or the
preaching of some fanatic would reawaken the conscience of the nation, and people were
imprisoned by the thousand for illicitly selling and buying animal food.
About six or seven hundred years, however, after the death of the old prophet, a
philosopher appeared, who, though he did not claim to have any communication with an
unseen power, laid down the law with as much confidence as if such a power had
inspired him. Many think that this philosopher did not believe his own teaching, and,
being in secret a great meat-eater, had no other end in view than reducing the prohibition
against eating animal food to an absurdity, greater even than an Erewhonian Puritan
would be able to stand.
Those who take this view hold that he knew how impossible it would be to get the nation
to accept legislation that it held to be sinful; he knew also how hopeless it would be to
convince people that it was not wicked to kill a sheep and eat it, unless he could show
them that they must either sin to a certain extent, or die. He, therefore, it is believed,
made the monstrous proposals of which I will now speak.
He began by paying a tribute of profound respect to the old prophet, whose advocacy of
the rights of animals, he admitted, had done much to soften the national character, and
enlarge its views about the sanctity of life in general. But he urged that times had now
changed; the lesson of which the country had stood in need had been sufficiently learnt,
while as regards vegetables much had become known that was not even suspected
formerly, and which, if the nation was to persevere in that strict adherence to the highest
moral principles which had been the secret of its prosperity hitherto, must necessitate a
radical change in its attitude towards them.
It was indeed true that much was now known that had not been suspected formerly, for
the people had had no foreign enemies, and, being both quick-witted and inquisitive into
the mysteries of nature, had made extraordinary progress in all the many branches of art
and science. In the chief Erewhonian museum I was shown a microscope of considerable
power, that was ascribed by the authorities to a date much about that of the philosopher
of whom I am now speaking, and was even supposed by some to have been the
instrument with which he had actually worked.
This philosopher was Professor of botany in the chief seat of learning then in Erewhon,
and whether with the help of the microscope still preserved, or with another, had arrived