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

John Ray

John Ray - extracts

John RAY, 1627-1705
(text from the 1st edition, 1883)

John Ray, the founder of Botanical and, only in little less degree, of Zoological Science, was an alumnus of the University of Cambridge. He was elected Fellow of Trinity College in 1649, and Lecturer in Greek in the following year. While at Cambridge he formed a collection of plants growing in the neighbourhood, a catalogue of which he published in 1660. Three years later, with his friend Francis Willoughby, he had traversed the greater part of Europe, as during his academical life he had traversed the greater part of these islands, in pursuit of botanical and zoological science - an account of which he published in 1673.

He had been one of the first Fellows of the recently founded Royal Society. In 1682 appeared his New Method of Plants, which formed a new era in botany, or rather, which was the first attempt at making it a real science. It is the basis of the subsequent classification of Jussieu, which is still received; and its author was the first to propose the division of plants into monocotyledons and dicotyledons.

His principal work is the Historia Plantarum, 1686-1704. "In it he collected and arranged all the species of plants which had been described by botanists. He enumerated 18,625 species. Haller, Sprengel, Adamson, and others speak of this his work as being the produce of immense labour and as containing much acute criticism."

What, however, is more interesting to us is the fact that "in zoology Ray ranks almost as high as in botany, and his works on this subject are even more important, as they still in great measure, preserve their utility. Cuvier says that 'they may be considered as the foundation of modern zoology, for naturalists are obliged to consult them every instant for the purpose of clearing up the difficulties which they meet within the works of Linnaeus and his copyists.' "

Between 1676-1686 appeared Ornithologia and Historia Piscium, the materials of which had been left him by his friend Willoughby. To his extraordinary erudition and industry the world was indebted for A Methodical Synopsis of Quadrupeds as well as a very valuable history of insects. Conspicuous amongst his merits are his accuracy of observation and his philosophical method of classification. With others, Buffon is largely indebted to the most meritorious of the pioneers of zoological knowledge.

Ray has delivered his profession of faith in the superiority and excellence of the non-flesh diet in the following passage which has been quoted with approval by his friend John Evelyn :-

"The use of plants is all our life long of that universal importance and concern, that we can neither live nor subsist in any plenty with decency, or conveniency or be said to live indeed at all without them: whatsoever food is necessary to sustain us, whatsoever contributes to delight and refresh us, are supplied and brought forth out of that plentiful and abundant store: and ah [he exclaims], how much more innocent, sweet and healthful, is a table covered with these, than with all the reeking flesh of butchered and slaughtered animals. Certainly man by nature was never made to be a carnivorous animal, nor is he armed at all for prey and rapine, with jagged and pointed teeth and crooked claws, sharpened to rend and tear, but with gentle hands to gather fruit and vegetables, and with teeth to chew and eat them." (1)


    1. See Acetaria (page 170). By John Evelyn

  • Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets (plain text 255k) by John Evelyn (1620-1706) First pub. 1699, this edition New York, 1937. From the foreword: 'Evelyn ... is probably the first advocate in England of a meatless diet.'

Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet - index