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The Ethics of Diet - A Catena
by Howard Williams M.A., 1883

LAMBE, 1765-1847
(text from the 1st edition, 1883)

One of the most distinguished of the hygeistic and scientific promoters of the reformed regimen, Dr. Lambe, occupies an eminent position in the medical literature of vegetarianism, and he divides with his predecessor, Dr. Cheyne, the honour of being the founder of scientific dietetics in this country.

His family had been settled some two hundred years in the county of Hereford, in which they possessed an estate that descended to Dr. William Lambe, and is now [1883] held by his grandson. He early gave promise of his future mental eminence. Head boy of Hereford Grammar School, he proceeded, in due course, to St. John's College, Cambridge. In 1786, being then in the twenty-first year of his age, he graduated as fourth wrangler of his year. As a matter of course he was elected a Fellow of his college, where he continued to reside until his marriage in 1794. During this period of learned leisure he devoted his time to the study of medicine, and the MS. notes in the possession of his biographer, Mr. Hare, "prove the diligence with which he studied his profession, and there we see the origin of his enlarged views of the causes of disease, so much insisted on by these fathers of medicine, and so much neglected by modern physicians in their search for chemical remedies." After his marriage he went to reside and practice in Warwick, where he was the intimate friend of Parr, the well-known Greek critic, and of Walter Savage Landor, who writes of him as "very communicative and good humoured. I had enough talk with Lambe to assure myself that he is no ordinary man." It was to the discoveries of Dr. Lambe, and his publications reporting the curative value of its mineral waters, that Leamington owed its fame and popularity; and Dr. Jefferson, in his address to the British Medical Association a few years ago, thus eulogises him :-

"It was not until the end of the last century that any really scientific research ever was recorded on this subject [impure water]. About this period Dr. Lambe was engaged in practice at Warwick. Somewhat eccentric in some of his practical views, Dr. Lambe was not the less a scientific man, an intelligent observer of nature, and an accomplished physician, and was, moreover, one of the most elegant medical writers of his day. The springs of the neighbouring village of Leamington did not escape his observation, and, having carefully studied and analysed the waters, he published an account of them, in 1797, in the fifth volume of the Transactions of the Philosophical Society of Manchester, a society embracing the respected names of Priestley, Dalton, Watt, and others, and not inferior, perhaps to any contemporary association in Europe."

Like many other members from orthodox dietetics both before and after him, Dr. Lambe found himself impelled to experiment in the non-flesh diet by ill-health. His bodily disorders, indeed, were so complicated and of such a nature, as to excite astonishment that not only he greatly mitigated their violence, but that he also survived to an advanced age. In an exceedingly minute and conscientious narrative of his own case in his Additional Reports (writing in the third person), he informs us, that having during several years - from his eighteenth year - suffered greatly with constantly aggravated symptoms :-:

"He resolved, therefore to finally execute what he had been contemplating for some time - to abandon animal food altogether, and everything analogous to it, and to confine himself wholly to vegetable food. This determination he put into execution the second week of February, 1806, and he has adhered to it with perfect regularity to the present time [written 1814]. His only subject of repentance with regard to it has been, that it had not been adopted much earlier in life. He never found the smallest real ill consequence from this change. He neither sunk in strength, flesh, nor spirits. He was at all times of a very thin and slender habit, and so he has continued to be ; but upon the whole he has rather gained than lost flesh. He has experienced neither indigestion nor flatulence, even from the sort of vegetables which are commonly thought to produce flatulence, nor has the stomach suffered from any vegetable matter though unchanged by culinary art, or uncorrected by condiments. The only unpleasant consequence of the change was a sense of emptiness of the stomach, which continued many months. In about a year, however, he became fully reconciled to the new habit; and felt as well satisfied with his vegetable meal, as he had been formerly with his dinner of flesh. He can truly say that since he has acted upon this resolution, no year has passed in which he has not enjoyed better health than in that which preceded it. But he has found that the changes introduced into the body by a vegetable regimen take place with extreme slowness ; that it is in vain to expect any considerable amendment in successive weeks, or in successive months ; we are to look rather to the intervals of half years, or years."

With extreme candour as well as carefulness, this patient and philosophic experimentalist details every particular circumstance of his own diagnosis. After a minute report of the various symptoms of his maladies and gradual subjugation of them, he deduces the only just inference :-

"Granting the representation of facts to be correct, and the nature of this case to be justly determined, I must be permitted to ask, what other method than that which has been adopted would have produced the same benefit? If such methods exist, I confess my own ignorance of them. . . . But though these pains [in the head] still recur in a trifling degree, the relief given to the brain in general has been decided and most essential. It has appeared in an increased sensibility of all the organs, particularly of the senses - the touch, the taste, and the sight in greater muscular activity, in greater freedom and strength of respiration, greater freedom of all the secretions, and in increased intellectual power. It has been extended to the night as much as to the day. The sleep is more tranquil, less disturbed by dreams, and more refreshing. Less sleep upon the whole appears to be required. But the loss of quantity is more than compensated by its being sound and uninterrupted. . .

"The hypochondriacal symptoms continued to be occasionally very oppressive during the second year, particularly during the earlier part of it ; but they afterward very suddenly declined, and at present he enjoys more uniform and regular spirits than he had done for many years upon mixed diet. From the whole of these facts it follows, that all the organs, and, indeed, every fibre of the body is simultaneously affected by the matters habitually conveyed into the stomach ; and that it is the incongruity of these matters to the system which gradually forms that morbid diathesis, which exists alike both in apparent health and in disease, I might illustrate this fact still more minutely by observations on the teeth, on the hair, and on the skin. I might show that, by a steady attention to regimen, the skin of the palms of the hand, or between the toes, becomes of a firmer and stronger texture ; that even an excrescence which had for twenty years and upward been growing more fixed, firm, and deep, had first its habitudes altered, and finally was softened and disappeared ; but perhaps enough has been said already to give a pretty clear idea both of the kind of change introduced into the habit by diet, and of the extent to which it may be carried. I proceed, therefore, to relate some new phenomena which took place during the course of this regimen, which are both curious in themselves, and lead to important conclusions."

The author goes on to record further gradual diminution of painful symptoms. From long and careful observation of himself, amongst other important deductions, Dr. Lambe infers that :-

"We may conclude that it is the property of this regimen, and in particular of the vegetable diet, to transfer diseased action from the viscera to the exterior parts of the body - from the central parts of the system to the periphery. Vegetable diet has often been charged with causing cutaneous diseases ; in common language, they are, in these cases, said to proceed from poorness of blood. (1) In some degree the charge is probably just ; and the observation I have just made may give us some insight into the cause of it. But this charge, instead of being a just cause of reproach, is a proof of the superior salubrity of vegetable diet. Cutaneous eruptions appear, because disease is translated from the internal organs to the skin."

For all brain disease abandonment of the gross and stimulating flesh-meats is shown to be of the first importance. At the same time, that it involves any loss of actual bodily strength is a fallacy :-

"We see, then, how ill-founded is the notion that inanition and loss of power is induced by a vegetable diet. In fact, all the observations that have been made, have shown the very reverse to be the truth. Symptoms of plenitude and oppression have continued in considerable force for at least five years. And the consequence of this peculiar regimen has been an increase of strength and power, and not a diminution. In the subject of this case, the pulse, which may be deemed, perhaps, the best index to the condition of all the other functions, is at present much more full and strong than under the use of animal food. It is also perfectly calm and regular."

His personal experience of satisfaction derivable from vegetables and fruits affording, for the most part, sufficient liquids in themselves, without use of extraneous drinks, is of importance :-

"He had, when living on common diet, been habitually thirsty and like most persons inclined to studious and sedentary habits, was much attached to tea-drinking. But for the last two or three years, he has almost wholly relinquished the use of liquids ; and by the substitution of fruit and recent vegetables, he has found that the sensation of thirst has been, in a manner, abolished. Even tea has lost its charms, and he very rarely uses it. He is therefore certain, from his own experience, that the habit of employing liquids is wholly an artificial habit, and not necessary to any of the functions of the animal economy."

Whatever may be thought of the theory of the possibility of entire abstinence from all extraneous liquids, there is not the least doubt that a judicious use of vegetable foods reduces to a minimum the feeling of thirst and craving for artificial drinks, an experience, we imagine, almost universal with abstinents from flesh-dishes.

Dr. Lambe concludes the first part of his valuable diagnosis with the assurance, "that if those for whose service these labours are principally designed, I mean persons suffering under habitual and chronic illness, are able to go along with me in my argument to form a general correct notion of what they are to expect from [a reformed] regimen, and, above all, even to arm their minds with firmness, patience, and perseverance, shall not readily by induced to think that I have written one superfluous line." (2)

In 1805, at the age of forty, we find him established in practice in London. Five years later he was physician to the General Dispensary, Aldersgate Street. He was also elected Fellow and Censor of the College of Physicians, whose meetings he regularly attended. His peculiar opinions did not tend to secure popularity for him, and the adhesion of such men as Dr. Abernethy, Dr. Pitcairn, Lord Erskine, and of Mr. Brotherton, M.P. (one of the earliest members of the Vegetarian Society), served only to make the indifference of the mass of the community more conspicuous.

Not the least interesting fact in his life is his share in the conversion of Shelley, and his friendship with J. F. Newton and his interesting family, at whose house these earlier pioneers of the New Reformation were accustomed to meet, and celebrate their charming réunions with vegetarian feasts. A cardinal part of the dietetic system of Dr. Lambe was his insistence upon the use of distilled water. In his Reports on Regimen he writes of the Newton family : "I am well acquainted with a family of young children who have scarcely ever touched animal food, and who now for three years have drunk only distilled water. For clearness and beauty of complexion, muscular strength, fullness of habit free from grossness, hardiness, and ripeness of intellect these children are unparalleled. (3)

We have already mentioned Lord Erskine as one of many eminent friends of Dr. Lambe. That more humane and distinguished lawyer, in a letter to his friend acknowledging the receipt of the Reports, writes as follows: "I am of opinion that both this work and the other referred to in it are deserving of the highest consideration. I read them both with more interest and attention from the abuse of the British Critic [one of the periodicals of the day] mentioned in the preface, as no periodical criticism ever published in this country so uniformly unjust, ignorant, and impudent." Dr. Abernethy's testimony to the efficacy of abstinence in cases of cancer will be found in the notice of that eminent practitioner. Amongst the most interesting correspondence of his later years is his interchange of ideas with Sylvester Graham - the first of the American prophets of the reformed regimen. The letter to the celebrated American vegetarian is, as Dr. Lambe's latest biographer justly observes, " a most valuable relic, because it continues the result of Dr. Lambe's diet up to September 1837 - twenty-three years after the last notice of his health in the account of his own case, which he published in November, 1814. It is, besides, an admirable proof of his truthful and philosophic mind, which was slow to arrive at conclusions, and willing rather to exaggerate than otherwise the traces of disease which he still felt." He proves, also, in this letter, how slow and yet sure are the effects of diet, and it supplies and answer to those objectors who complain that they have tried the diet (perhaps a few weeks only) without any good result. After complimenting his transatlantic fellow-worker in the cause of truth upon his zeal and industry, Dr. Lambe proceeds :-

"My book, entitled Additional reports on Regimen, has now been before the world three and twenty years. That it has attracted little notice, and still less popular favour - though it may have excited in the writer some mortification - has not occasioned much surprise. The doctrine it seeks to establish is in direct opposition to popular and deep-rooted prejudice. It is thought (most erroneously) to attack the best enjoyments and most solid comforts of life; and, moreover, it has excited the bitter hostility of a numerous and influential body in society - I mean that body of medical practitioners who exercise their profession for the sake of its profits merely, and who appear to think that disease was made for the profession and not the profession for disease.

"To drop, however, all idle complaints of public neglect, let us go to the more useful inquiry whether or not the principles propounded in these Reports have been confirmed by subsequent and more extensive experience. To this inquiry I answer directly and and fearlessly, that in the interval between the present time and the year 1815 (the date of that publication) the practice recommended has succeeded in cases very numerous and of extreme variety, and I can promise the practitioner who will try it fairly and judge with candour that he will experience no disappointment. I say, let him try it fairly. I do not assert that it will succeed in cases where the powers of life are sunk, in confirmed hectic fever, in ulcerated cancer, in established chronic disease, or in the decrepitude of old age. I may have attempted the relief of such cases in an early stage of my experiments, but experience speedily demonstrated the hopelessness of such attempts. But let subjects be taken not far advanced in life, let them be tabid children (for example) with tumid abdomen, swelled joints, and depraved appetites, or with obstinate cutaneous diseases, erythema, scabus, rickets, epileptic convulsions (not grown habitual by long continuance). But a practitioner in moderate practice will find no difficulty in selecting proper subjects, if he is himself actuated by a regard to humanity united to principle of honour.

"Moreover, let not the patient, particularly if arrived at mature age, expect to receive a perfect cure. In many cases the consequences are rather preventive than curative. To this I hold to be no objection. It is enough surely, if a disease which, from its nature, might be expected to be continually on the increase, is obviously checked in its progress, if the symptoms become more and more mild, and if a human being is preserved in comfortable existence who would otherwise have been consigned to the grave."

He devoted his great medical knowledge and experience particularly to the cure or mitigation of cancer. In the letter, from which we have already quoted, he informs his correspondent of this interesting fact :-

"My most ardent wish was to attempt the relief of cases of cancer. This object I have steadily pursued (from the year 1803) to the present day. The case - the particulars of which I briefly mentioned to you in my former communication - has hitherto succeeded so perfectly that I should myself suspect an error in the diagnosis, if it were not for the strongly-marked constitutional symptoms, which are such as, in my mind, put it out of doubt. There does not now remain what I expected, and what I have called a nucleus, for the resolution is complete. Now, this is contrary to most of my former observations, and would furnish, as I have said, some ground of suspicion. But still it is not wholly unsupported by corroborative facts. I have observed, particularly in one case, that the whole extreme edge of a schirrous tumour has been restored, whilst the portion has remained unchanged; not, indeed speedily, as in the former case, but after having used the diet for a very considerable time,. Now, if a portion of a true schirrous tumour can be resolved, there can be no reason why a resolution of whole - taken very early and under favourable circumstances - shall be deemed impossible. The truth is, that at present we are not advanced enough to form general conclusions, but ought to content ourselves with accumulating facts for the use of our successors."

If the experience of the benefits of a reasonable living in the case of his patients was thus satisfactory, he himself afforded, in his own person, perhaps the best testimony to its revivifying and invigorating qualities. ne of his visitors gives his impressions of the now famous doctor (a title, in the present instance, of real meaning) as follow:

"Agreeably to your request, I submit to your perusal a short account of the friendly interview I had with Dr. Lambe in London. I first called on him in February. I found him to be very gentlemanly in manners and venerable in appearance. He is rather taller than the middle height. His hair is perfectly white, for he is now seventy-two years of age. He told me he had been on the vegetable diet thirty-one years, and that his health was better now than at forty, when he commenced his present system of living. He considers himself as likely to live thirty years longer as to have lived to his present age . . . Although he is seventy-two years of age he walks into town, a distance of three miles from his residence, every morning, and back at night. Dr. Lambe, I am told, has spent large sums of money in making experiments and publishing their results to the world."

In his earlier life he had been conspicuously thin and attenuated. In later years he seems to have acquired even a certain amount of robustness, and he is described as being active and strong at an advanced age. Some instances of extra-ordinary energy and endurance have been put on record by his family; and his feats of pedestrianism, when he was verging on his eightieth year, are, we imagine, rarely to be paralleled.

His hope of attaining the age of one hundred years, unhappily was not to be fulfilled. "Our bodies," his biographer justly remarks, "are but machines adapted to perform a definite amount of work, and Dr. Lambe's originally weak constitution had been severely tried by sickness and wrong diet during the first forty years of his life. At the age of eighty his strength began to fail, but his grandson writes, 'up to a very short time before his death there were no outward signs of ill-health, only the marks of old age.' " (4) Existence had its enjoyment for him up to almost the last days, and his intellectual powers remained to the end. He calmly expired in his eighty-third year.

Of contemporary and posthumous eulogies of his personal, as well as scientific, worth, the following may suffice: "A man of learning, a man of science, a man of genius, a man of distinguished integrity and honour." Such is the testimony of his friend Dr. Parr, as quoted by Samuel Johnson. In the Anniversary Harveian Oration before the College of Physicians, by Dr. Frances Hawkins, in the year 1848, the representative of the Faculty thus recalls his memory: "Nor can I pass over in silence the loss we have sustained in Dr. William Lambe - an excellent chemist, a learned man, a skilful physician. His manners were simple, unreserved, and most modest, His life was pure. Farewell, therefore, gentle spirit, than whom no one more pure and innocent has passed away!"


    1. Excessive poverty of blood it is obvious to remark, is caused, not by abstaining from flesh but by abstaining from a sufficient amount of nutritious foods.
    2. Additional Reports, 1814. Amongst valuable diagnoses of this kind the reader may be referred in particular to the highly interesting one of the rev. C. H. Collyns, M.A., Oxon. which originally appeared in the Times newspaper, and which has been republished by the Vegetarian Society. The success of the pure regimen in first mitigating and, finally, in altogether subduing long-inherited gouty affections, was complete and certain. The recently published evidence of the President of the newly-formed French Society, Dr. A. H. de Villeneuve, is equally satisfactory. (See Bulletin de la Société Végétarienne of Paris, as quoted in Nature, Jan., 1881.)
    3. See, too, the testimony of Newton, Return to Nature, and of Shelley in his Essay on the Vegetable Diet, in which he describes these children as "the most beautiful and healthy beings it is possible to conceive. The girls are the most perfect models for a sculptor. Their dispositions, also, are the most gentle and conciliating."
    4. The Life of William Lambe, M.D., Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. By E. Hare, C.S.I, Inspector-General of Hospitals, to which valuable biography we are indebted for the present sketch. In Mr. Hare's memoir will be found, among other testimonies to the truths of Vegetarianism, a highly-interesting letter, written to him by his friend Dr. H. G. Lyford, an eminent physician of Winchester.


Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet - index