William A. (William Andrus) Alcott.

Vegetable Diet: As Sanctioned by Medical Men, and by Experience in All Ages online

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Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1849,
in the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the Southern District of
New York.

201 William st. corner Frankfort, N. Y.


The following volume embraces the testimony, direct or indirect, of more
than a HUNDRED individuals - besides that of societies and
communities - on the subject of vegetable diet. Most of this one hundred
persons are, or were, persons of considerable distinction in society;
and more than FIFTY of them were either medical men, or such as have
made physiology, hygiene, anatomy, pathology, medicine, or surgery a
leading or favorite study.

As I have written other works besides this - especially the "Young
House-Keeper" - which treat, more or less, of diet, it may possibly be
objected, that I sometimes repeat the same idea. But how is it to be
avoided? In writing for various classes of the community, and presenting
my views in various connections and aspects, it is almost necessary to
do so. Writers on theology, or education, or any other important topic,
do the same - probably to a far greater extent, in many instances, than I
have yet done. I repeat no idea for the _sake_ of repeating it. Not a
word is inserted but what seems to me necessary, in order that I may be
intelligible. Moreover, like the preacher of truth on many other
subjects, it is not so much my object to produce something new in every
paragraph, as to explain, illustrate, and enforce what is already known.

It may also be thought that I make too many books. But, as I do not
claim to be so much an originator of _new_ things as an instrument for
diffusing the _old_, it will not be expected that I should be twenty
years on a volume, like Bishop Butler. I had, however, been collecting
my stock of materials for this and other works - published or
unpublished - more than twenty-five years. Besides, it might be safely
and truly said that the study and reading and writing, in the
preparation of this volume, the "House I Live In," and the "Young
House-Keeper," have consumed at least three of the best years of my
life, at fourteen or fifteen hours a day. Several of my other works, as
the "Young Mother," the "Mother's Medical Guide," and the "Young Wife,"
have also been the fruit of years of toil and investigation and
observation, of which those who think only of the labor of merely
_writing them out_, know nothing. Even the "Mother in her Family" - at
least some parts of it - though in general a lighter work, has been the
result of much care and labor. The circumstance of publishing several
books at the same, or nearly the same time, has little or nothing to do
with their preparation.

When I commenced putting together the materials of this little treatise
on diet - thirteen years ago - it was my intention simply to show the
SAFETY of a vegetable and fruit diet, both for those who are afflicted
with many forms of chronic disease, and for the healthy. But I soon
became convinced that I ought to go farther, and show its SUPERIORITY
over every other. This I have attempted to do - with what success, the
reader must and will judge for himself.

I have said, it was not my original intention to prove a vegetable and
fruit diet to be any thing more than _safe_. But I wish not to be
understood as entertaining, even at that time, any doubts in regard to
the superiority of such a diet: the only questions with me were, Whether
the public mind was ready to hear and weigh the proofs, and whether this
volume was the place in which to present them. Both these questions,
however, as I went on, were settled, in the affirmative. I believed - and
still believe - that the public mind, in this country, is prepared for
the free discussion of all topics - provided they are discussed
candidly - which have a manifest bearing on the well-being of man; and I
have governed myself accordingly.

An apology may be necessary for retaining, unexplained, a few medical
terms. But I did not feel at liberty to change them, in the
correspondence of Dr. North, for more popular language; and, having
retained them thus far, it did not seem desirable to explain them
elsewhere. Nor was I willing to deface the pages of the work with
explanatory notes. The fact is, the technical terms alluded to, are,
after all, very few in number, and may be generally understood by the
connection in which they appear.




The great question in regard to diet, viz., whether any food of the
animal kind is absolutely necessary to the most full and perfect
development of man's whole nature, being fairly up, both in Europe and
America, and there being no practical, matter-of-fact volume on the
subject, of moderate size, in the market, numerous friends have been for
some time urging me to get up a new and revised edition of a work which,
though imperfect, has been useful to many, while it has been for some
time out of print. Such an edition I have at length found time to
prepare - to which I have added, in various ways, especially in the form
of new facts, nearly fifty pages of new and original matter.

WEST NEWTON, Mass., 1849.




Experience of the Author, and his Studies. - Pamphlet in
1832. - Prize-Question of the Boylston Medical
Committee. - Collection of Materials for an Essay. - Dr.
North. - His Letter and Questions. - Results, 13-20



Letter of Dr. Parmly. - Dr. W. A. Alcott. - Dr. D. S.
Wright. - Dr. H. N. Preston. - Dr. H. A. Barrows. - Dr. Caleb
Bannister. - Dr. Lyman Tenny. - Dr. J. M. B. Harden. - Joseph
Ricketson, Esq. - Joseph Congdon, Esq. - George W. Baker,
Esq. - John Howland, Jr., Esq. - Dr. Wm. H. Webster. - Josiah
Bennet, Esq. - Wm. Vincent, Esq. - Dr. George H. Perry. - Dr. L.
W. Sherman, 21-55



Correspondence. - The "prescribed course of Regimen." - How many
victims to it? - Not one. - Case of Dr. Harden considered. - Case
of Dr. Preston. - Views of Drs. Clark, Cheyne, and Lambe, on the
treatment of Scrofula. - No reports of Injury from the
prescribed System. - Case of Dr. Bannister. - Singular testimony
of Dr. Wright. - Vegetable food for Laborers. - Testimony, on the
whole, much more favorable to the Vegetable System than could
reasonably have been expected, in the circumstances 56-66



Letter from Dr. H. A. Barrows. - Dr. J. M. B. Harden. - Dr. J.
Porter. - Dr. N. J. Knight. - Dr. Lester Keep. - Second letter
from Dr. Keep. - Dr. Henry H. Brown. - Dr. Franklin Knox. - From a
Physician. - Additional statements by the Author. 66-91



General Remarks. - Testimony of Dr. Cheyne. - Dr.
Geoffroy. - Vauquelin and Percy. - Dr. Pemberton. - Sir John
Sinclair. - Dr. James. - Dr. Cranstoun. - Dr. Taylor. - Drs.
Hufeland and Abernethy. - Sir Gilbert Blane. - Dr. Gregory. - Dr.
Cullen. - Dr. Rush. - Dr. Lambe. - Prof. Lawrence. - Dr.
Salgues. - Author of "Sure Methods." - Baron Cuvier. - Dr. Luther
V. Bell. - Dr. Buchan. - Dr. Whitlaw. - Dr. Clark. - Prof.
Mussey. - Drs. Bell and Condie. - Dr. J. V. C. Smith. - Mr.
Graham. - Dr. J. M. Andrews, Jr. - Dr. Sweetser. - Dr.
Pierson. - Physician in New York. - Females' Encyclopedia. - Dr.
Van Cooth. - Dr. Beaumont. - Sir Everard Home. - Dr.
Jennings. - Dr. Jarvis. - Dr. Ticknor. - Dr. Coles. - Dr.
Shew. - Dr. Morrill. - Dr. Bell. - Dr. Jackson. - Dr.
Stephenson. - Dr. J. Burdell. - Dr. Smethurst. - Dr.
Schlemmer. - Dr. Curtis. - Dr. Porter, 92-175



General Remarks. - Testimony of
Plautus. - Plutarch. - Porphyry. - Lord Bacon. - Sir William
Temple. - Cicero. - Cyrus the Great. - Gassendi. - Prof.
Hitchcock. - Lord Kaims. - Dr. Thomas Dick. - Prof. Bush. - Thomas
Shillitoe. - Alexander Pope. - Sir Richard Phillips. - Sir Isaac
Newton. - The Abbé Gallani. - Homer. - Dr. Franklin. - Mr.
Newton. - O. S. Fowler. - Rev. Mr. Johnston. - John H.
Chandler. - Rev. J. Caswell. - Mr. Chinn. - Father
Sewall. - Magliabecchi. - Oberlin and Swartz. - James
Haughton. - John Bailies. - Francis Hupazoli. - Prof.
Ferguson. - Howard, the Philanthropist. - Gen.
Elliot. - Encyclopedia Americana. - Thomas Bell, of
London. - Linnæus, the Naturalist. - Shelley, the Poet. - Rev.
Mr. Rich. - Rev. John Wesley. - Lamartine, 176-222



The Pythagoreans. - The Essenes. - The Bramins. - Society of Bible
Christians. - Orphan Asylum of Albany. - The Mexican
Indians. - School in Germany. - American Physiological
Society, 223-235



General Remarks on the Nature of the Argument. - 1. The
Anatomical Argument. - 2. The Physiological Argument. - 3. The
Medical Argument. - 4. The Political Argument. - 5. The
Economical Argument. - 6. The Argument from Experience. - 7. The
Moral Argument. - Conclusion, 236-296

* * * * *




Bread of the first order. - Bread of the second order. - Bread of
the third kind. - Boiled Grains. - Grains in other forms - baked,
parched, roasted, or torrefied. - Hominy. - Puddings proper,



The large fruits - Apple, Pear, Peach, Quince, etc. - The smaller
fruits - Strawberry, Cherry, Raspberry, Currant, Whortleberry,
Mulberry, Blackberry, Bilberry, etc., 308-309



The Common Potato. - The Sweet Potato, 309-311



Buds and Young Shoots. - Leaves and Leaf Stalks. - Cucurbitaceous
Fruits. - Oily Seeds, etc., 311-312




Experience of the Author, and his Studies. - Pamphlet in
1832. - Prize Question of the Boylston Medical
Committee. - Collection of Materials for an Essay. - Dr.
North. - His Letter and Questions. - Results.

Twenty-three years ago, the present season, I was in the first stage of
tuberculous consumption, and evidently advancing rapidly to the second.
The most judicious physicians were consulted, and their advice at length
followed. I commenced the practice of medicine, traveling chiefly on
horseback; and, though unable to do but little at first, I soon gained
strength enough to perform a moderate business, and to combine with it a
little gardening and farming. At the time, or nearly at the time, of
commencing the practice of medicine, I laid aside my feather bed, and
slept on straw; and in December, of the same year, I abandoned spirits,
and most kinds of stimulating food. It was not, however, until nineteen
years ago, the present season, that I abandoned all drinks but water,
and all flesh, fish, and other highly stimulating and concentrated
aliments, and confined myself to a diet of milk, fruits, and

In the meantime, the duties of my profession, and the nature of my
studies led me to prosecute, more diligently than ever, a subject which
I had been studying, more or less, from my very childhood - the laws of
Human Health. Among other things, I collected facts on this subject from
books which came in my way; so that when I went to Boston, in January,
1832, I had already obtained, from various writers, on materia medica,
physiology, disease, and dietetics, quite a large parcel. The results of
my reflections on these, and of my own observation and experience, were,
in part - but in part only - developed in July, of the same year, in an
anonymous pamphlet, entitled, "Rational View of the Spasmodic Cholera;"
published by Messrs. Clapp & Hull, of Boston.

In the summer of 1833, the Boylston Medical Committee of Harvard
University offered a prize of fifty dollars, or a gold medal of that
value, to the author of the best dissertation on the following question:
"What diet can be selected which will ensure the greatest health and
strength to the laborer in the climate of New England - quality and
quantity, and the time and manner of taking it, to be considered?"

At first, I had thoughts of attempting an essay on the subject; for it
seemed to me an important one. Circumstances, however, did not permit me
to prosecute the undertaking; though I was excited by the question of
the Boylston Medical Committee to renewed efforts to increase my stock
of information and of facts.

In 1834, I accidentally learned that Dr. Milo L. North, a distinguished
practitioner of medicine in Hartford, Connecticut, was pursuing a course
of inquiry not unlike my own, and collecting facts and materials for a
similar purpose. In correspondence with Dr. North, a proposition was
made to unite our stock of materials; but nothing for the present was
actually done. However, I agreed to furnish Dr. North with a statement
of my own experience, and such other important facts as came within the
range of my own observations; and a statement of my experience was
subsequently intrusted to his care, as will be seen in its place, in the
body of this work.

In February, 1835, Dr. North, in the prosecution of his efforts,
addressed the following circular, or LETTER and QUESTIONS, to the editor
of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, which were accordingly
inserted in a subsequent number of that work. They were also published
in the American Journal of Medical Science, of Philadelphia, and copied
into numerous papers, so that they were pretty generally circulated
throughout our country.

"To the Editor of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal.

"SIR, - Reports not unfrequently reach us of certain individuals who have
fallen victims to a prescribed course of regimen. Those persons are
said, by gentlemen who are entitled to the fullest confidence, to have
pertinaciously followed the course, till they reached a point of
reduction from which there was no recovery. If these are facts, they
ought to be collected and published. And I beg leave, through your
Journal, to request my medical brethren, if they have been called to
advise in such cases, that they will have the kindness to answer,
briefly, the following interrogatories, by mail, as early as convenient.

"Should the substance of their replies ever be embodied in a small
volume, they will not only receive a copy and the thanks of the author,
but will have the pleasure to know they are assisting in the settlement
of a question of great interest to the country. If it should appear
probable that their patient was laboring under a decline at the
commencement of the change of diet, this ought, in candor, to be fully

"It will be perceived, by the tenor of the questions, that they are
designed to embrace not only unfortunate results of a change of diet,
but such as are favorable. There are, in our community, considerable
numbers who have entirely excluded animal food from their diet. It is
exceedingly desirable that the results of such experiments, so difficult
to be found in this land of plenty, should be ascertained and thrown
before the profession and the community. Will physicians, then, have the
kindness, if they know of any persons in their vicinity who have
excluded animal food from their diet for a year or over, to lend them
this number of the Journal, and ask them to forward to Milo L. North,
Hartford, Connecticut, as early as convenient, the result of this change
of diet on their health and constitution, in accordance with the
following inquiries?

"1. Was your bodily strength either increased or diminished by excluding
all animal food from your diet?

"2. Were the animal sensations, connected with the process of digestion,
more - or less agreeable?

"3. Was the mind clearer; and could it continue a laborious
investigation longer than when you subsisted on mixed diet?

"4. What constitutional infirmities were aggravated or removed?

"5. Had you fewer colds or other febrile attacks - or the reverse?

"6. What length of time, the trial?

"7. Was the change to a vegetable diet, in your case, preceded by the
use of an uncommon proportion of animal food, or of high seasoning, or
of stimulants?

"8. Was this change accompanied by a substitution of cold water for tea
and coffee, during the experiment?

"9. Is a vegetable diet more - or less aperient than mixed?

"10. Do you believe, from your experience, that the health of either
laborers or students would be promoted by the exclusion of animal food
from their diet?

"11. Have you selected, from your own observation, any articles in the
vegetable kingdom, as particularly healthy, or otherwise?

"N.B. - Short answers to these inquiries are all that is necessary; and
as a copy of the latter is retained by the writer, it will be sufficient
to refer to them numerically, without the trouble of transcribing each

"HARTFORD, February 25, 1835."

This circular, or letter, drew forth numerous replies from various parts
of the United States, and chiefly from medical men. In the meantime, the
prize of the Boylston Medical Committee was awarded to Luther V. Bell,
M.D., of Derry, New Hampshire, and was published in the Boston Medical
and Surgical Journal, and elsewhere, and read with considerable

In the year 1836, while many were waiting - some with a degree of
impatience - to hear from Dr. North, his health so far failed him, that
he concluded to relinquish, for the present, his inquiries; and, at his
particular request, I consented to have the following card inserted in
the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal:

"DR. NORTH, of Hartford, Connecticut, tenders his grateful
acknowledgments to the numerous individuals, who were so kind
as to forward to him a statement of the effects of vegetable
diet on their own persons, in reply to some specific inquiries
inserted in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal of March
11, 1835, and in the Philadelphia Journal of the same year.
Although many months elapsed before the answers were all
received, yet the writer is fully aware that these
communications ought to have been published before this. His
apology is a prolonged state of ill health, which has now
become so serious as to threaten to drive him to a southern
climate for the winter. In this exigency, he has solicited Dr.
W. A. Alcott, of Boston, to receive the papers and give them to
the public as soon as his numerous engagements will permit.
This arrangement will doubtless be fully satisfactory, both to
the writers of the communications and to the public.

"HARTFORD, November 4, 1836."

Various circumstances, beyond my control, united to defer the
publication of the contemplated work to the year 1838. It is hoped,
however, that nothing was lost by delay. It gave further opportunity for
reflection, as well as for observation and experiment; and if the work
is of any value at all to the community, it owes much of that value to
the fact that what the public may be disposed to regard as unnecessary,
afforded another year for investigation. Not that any new discoveries
were made in that time, but I was, at least, enabled to verify and
confirm my former conclusions, and to review, more carefully than ever,
the whole argument. It is hoped that the work will at least serve as a
pioneer to a more extensive as well as more scientific volume, by some
individual who is better able to do the subject justice.

It will be my object to present the facts and arguments of the following
volume, not in a distorted or one-sided manner, but according to truth.
I have no private interests to subserve, which would lead me to
suppress, or falsely color, or exaggerate. If vegetable food is not
preferable to animal, I certainly do not wish to have it so regarded.
This profession of a sincere desire to know and teach the truth may be
an apology for placing the letters in the order in which they
appear - which certainly is such as to give no unfair advantages to those
who believe in the superiority of the vegetable system - and for the
faithfulness with which their whole contents, whether favoring one side
or other of the argument, have been transcribed.

The title of the work requires a word of explanation. It is not
intended, or even intimated, that there are no facts here but what rest
on medical authority; but rather, that the work originated with the
medical profession, and contains, for the most part, testimony which is
exclusively medical - either given by medical men, or under their
sanction. In fact, though designed chiefly for popular reading, it is in
a good degree a medical work; and will probably stand or fall, according
to the sentence of approbation or disapprobation which shall be
pronounced by the medical profession.

The following chapter will contain the letters addressed to Dr. North.
They are inserted, with a single exception, in the precise order of
their date. The first, however, does not appear to have been elicited by
Dr. North's circular; but rather by a request in some previous letter.
It will be observed that several of the letters include more than one
case or experiment; and a few of them many. Thus the whole series
embraces, at the least calculation, from thirty to forty experiments.

The replies of nearly every individual are numbered to correspond with
the questions, as suggested by Dr. North; so that, if there should
remain a doubt, in any case, in regard to the precise point referred to
by the writer of the letter, the reader has only to turn to the circular
in the present chapter, and read the question there, which corresponds
to the number of the doubtful one. Thus, for example, the various
replies marked 6, refer to the length or duration of the experiment or
experiments which had been made; and those marked 9, to the aperient
effects of a diet exclusively vegetable. And so of all the rest.



Letter of Dr. Parmly. - Dr. W. A. Alcott. - Dr. D. S.
Wright. - Dr. H. N. Preston. - Dr. H. A. Barrows. - Dr. Caleb
Bannister. - Dr. Lyman Tenny. - Dr. J. M. B. Harden. - Joseph
Ricketson, Esq. - Joseph Congdon, Esq. - George W. Baker,
Esq. - John Howland, Jr., Esq. - Dr. Wm. H. Webster. - Josiah
Bennet, Esq. - Wm. Vincent, Esq. - Dr. Geo. H. Perry. - Dr. L. W.


To Dr. North.

MY DEAR SIR, - For two years past, I have abstained from the use of all
the diffusible stimulants, using no animal food, either flesh, fish, or
fowl; nor any alcoholic or vinous spirits; no form of ale, beer, or
porter; no cider, tea, or coffee; but using milk and water as my only
liquid aliment, and feeding sparingly, or rather, moderately, upon
farinaceous food, vegetables, and fruit, seasoned with unmelted butter,
slightly boiled eggs, and sugar or molasses; with no condiment but
common salt.

I adopted this regimen in company with several friends, male and female,
some of whom had been afflicted either with dyspepsia or some other
chronic malady. In every instance within the circle of my acquaintance,
the _symptoms_ of disease disappeared before this system of diet; and I
have every reason to believe that the disease itself was wholly or in

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Online LibraryWilliam A. (William Andrus) AlcottVegetable Diet: As Sanctioned by Medical Men, and by Experience in All Ages → online text (page 1 of 23)