An Essay on the Abstinence from Animal Food, as a Moral Duty
London: Richard Phillips, 1802.
London: Richard Phillips, 1802. First edition. Contemporary quarter calf over marbled boards, rebacked to style with gilt and morocco label to spine. Boards with some gentle rubbing and toning, else pleasing and square. Armorial bookplate of the Delamere House to front pastedown. Occasional marginal foxing, but internally clean and unmarked otherwise. Collating complete: , 236. OCLC reports 19 copies at U.S. institutions.
An antiquary by trade and animal rights activist by ideology, Joseph Ritson became a vegetarian in 1772 as he worked through Madeville's Fable of the Bees. By his own account, the book "induced him to serious reflection" at the age of 19 and ever since then he "firmly adhered to a milk and vegetable diet, having, at least, never tasted during the whole course of those thirty years, a morsel of flesh, fish, or fowl." An atheist who based his views in observations of human behavior rather than in a theistic worldview, he was considered a dangerous radical by some contemporaries. "As well as issuing editions of ballads, he wrote books on vegetarianism and atheism" and he was a supporter of the French Revolution's call for liberty and equality (Morton). His Essay tracks, in ten chapters, the various reasons physical, economical, and moral that give humans a duty to abstain from meat consumption. In addition to considering the health benefits to the individual and the wider environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet, Ritson also documents how the consumption of animals leads to cruelty towards them, which in turn trains humans to dehumanize each other and more easily justify social violence and inequality. Vegetarianism, in this sense, becomes one thread in a larger tapestry promoting respect for the dignity of bodies, human and non-human. (Item #4619)