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

Milton, c. 1629.

Milton - extracts

John MILTON 1608-1674
(text from the 1st edition, 1883 - extracts)

It is opportune to refer to the sentiments of Evelyn's contemporary and political and ecclesiastical opposite - the great Puritan poet and patriot - one of the very greatest name in all literature. Milton's feeling, so far as he had occasion to express it, is quite in unison with the principles of dietetic reform, and in sympathy with aspirations after the more spiritual life.

In one of his earliest writings, on the eve of the production of one of the finest poems of its kind in the English language - the Ode to Christ's Nativity, composed at the age of twenty-one - he thus writes in Latin verse to his friend Charles Deodati, recommending the purer diet at all events to those who aspired to the nobler creations of poetry :-

"Simply let those, like him of Samos live :
Let herbs to them a bloodless basquet give.
In beechen goblets let their beverage shine,
Cool from the crystal spring their sober wine!
Their youth should pass in innocence secure
From stain licentiousness, and in manners pure.
* * * *
For these are sacred bards and, from above,
Drink large infusions from the mond of Jove." (1)

To readers of his masterpiece the Paradise Lost, it is perhaps a work of supererogation to point out the charming passages in which he symathetically describes the food of the Age of Innocence :-

. . . . . "Savoury fruits, of taste to please
True appetites."

In Raphael's discourse with his terrestrial entertainers, the ethereal messenger utters a prophecy (as we may take it) of the future general adoption by our race of "fruit, man's nourishment," and we may interpret his intimation :-

. . . . . . "Time may come, when Men
With Angels may participate, and find
No inconvenient diet, nor too light fare;
And from these corporal nutriments perhaps
Your bodies may at last turn all to spirit,
Improved by tract of time, and, winged, ascend
Ethereal, as we; or may, at choice,
Here or in heavenly Paradises dwell;

as a picture of the truly earthly paradise to be - "the paradise of peace."

With these exquisite pictures of the life of bloodless feasts and ambrosial food we may compare the fearful picture of the Court of Death, displayed in prospective vision before the terror-stricken gaze of the traditional progenitor of our species, where amongst the occupants, the largest number are the victims of "intemperance in meats and drinks, which on the earth shall bring diseases dire." In this universal lazar-house might be seen -

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . "all maladies
Of ghastly Spasm, or racking torture, Qualms
Of heart-sick agony, all Feverous kinds,
Convulsions, Epilepsies, fierce Catarrhs,
Intestine Stone and Ulcer, Colic pangs,
Demoniac Phrensy, moping Melancholy,
And moon-struck Madness, pining atrophy,
Marasmus, and wide-wasting Pestilence,
Dropsies and Asthmas, and joint-racking Rheums." (2)



    1. Translated by Cowper from the Latin poems of Milton. In a note to to the original poem Thomas Warton justly remarks that “Milton’s panegyrics on temperance both in eating and in drinking, resulting from his own practice, are frequent."
    2. Paradise Lost, v. and xi. cf. Queen Mab

  • Poemata : Latin, Greek and Italian Poems by John Milton (plain text 146k) this edition c.1876. Elegy VI, line 60: 'Let herbs to them a bloodless banquet give'
  • Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained (PDF 13mb) this edition 1854.


Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet - index