Biography of Famous Vegetarians Percy Bysshe Shelley

About the famous English writer and vegetarian Percy Bysshe Shelley, history and biography of the man.

PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY. 1792-1822. English.

--Expelled from Oxford at 19. Married Harriet Westbrook, ran off to the Continent with Mary Godwin, daughter of radical author, bookseller, publisher William Godwin. Legalized his union with Mary (after 1st wife's suicide). Famed for poems like The Cenci and Prometheus Unbound, for his views on free love, revolution, atheism, for his friendship and rivalry with Lord Byron, for his life as an expatriate in Switzerland and Italy. Drowned off Viareggio, Italy, when his vessel capsized in a storm or was rammed by piratical Italian fishing boats.

--Converted to vegetarianism at 21, by friendship with 46-year-old John Frank Newton, who championed bohemianism, nudism for children, and hosted meals consisting of delicious vegetables, fruits, unbuttered bread-cakes, distilled water, but sometimes allowed sparing use of butter and eggs in cooking. Attacked meat eating in his famous poem "Queen Mab," writing: "No longer now/He slays the lamb, who looks him in the face,/And horribly devours its mangled flesh." Published pamphlet A Vindication of Natural Diet (only 8 copies have survived) in 1813, in which he pointed out that since man has the superior ability to communicate pain, which animals do not possess, man should abstain from "the evils" of seeking "animal food." Suggested that the meat eater should "tear a living lamb with his teeth, and plunge his head into the vitals, and slake his thirst with the steaming blood," and then all men would be vegetarians. Admonished all, "Never take any substance into the stomach, that once had life." Wrote that "animal flesh is the basis not only of human disease, but of human vice as well." Promised that with a vegetarian diet, even "hereditary diseases such as consumption, gout, asthma, cancer will perish." Would not eat "muffins and crumpets with tea because they were apt to be buttered," but was indifferent to what his wife served their friends. Served mutton to one friend, Hogg, and invited another guest to enjoy "a murdered chicken." Had no real interest in food and ate absentmindedly. Occasionally fell off the wagon and was once seen by Hogg on a trip "settling down to a solitary meal of cold boiled beef."

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