B orn in England, Metcalfe immigrated to America to preach the gospel of temperance, vegetarianism, and health. He was a member of the "New Church," which, following the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), advocated abstinence based on his theological views. Likewise, Metcalfe "gave up, at once and entirely, fish, flesh and fowl as food, and every kind of intoxicating liquor as drink" in 1809 (Metcalfe 1872: 12).
His dietary choices, however, met with some resistance. Metcalfe explained that, friends laughed at me, and entreated me to lay aside my foolish notions of a vegetable diet. They assured me I was rapidly sinking into a consumption, and tried various other methods to induce me to return to the customary dietetic habits of society; but their efforts proved ineffectual.
(Metcalfe 1872: 13)
Nevertheless, Metcalfe did not renounce his vegetarianism, which became central to his preaching in the "Bible-Christian Church" that he helped to found. Like the New Church, Metcalfe's sect advocated temperance and vegetarianism. The Bible-Christian Church resulted, in part, from Metcalfe's break with the New Church over the question of revelation. He argued that only the Bible was
"divinely inspired record of the word of God" (Metcalfe 1872: 16). In 1816, forty-one followers of Metcalfe and the Bible-Christian Church departed Liverpool for Philadelphia. Their numbers actually decreased on the trip over as "the strong sea breeze of the Atlantic" made them "give way to indulgences in eating and drinking those things which their principles had forbidden" (Metcalfe 1872: 19). However, once in Philadelphia, Metcalfe preached the new doctrine of temperance and vegetarianism to ever-greater audiences.
His periodical The Rural Magazine and Literary Evening Fireside also promulgated his views. From 1820, he began to publish a series of widely read and quoted tracts against alcohol and the eating of flesh. His argument here was moral: When men and women gather together for whatever purpose, and alcohol is served, the potential for immorality is present (Metcalfe 1872: 31). The temperance movement grew much more quickly than "dietetic reform," yet it too was "as criminal, as debasing, and as barbarous as that or any other known evil" (Metcalfe 1872: 32). In 1821, Metcalfe published the tract Abstinence from the Flesh of Animals, and, in 1839, he met Sylvester Graham, who was then preaching temperance and, through Metcalfe, later added vegetarianism to his cause. In addition, Metcalfe's tracts had a major influence on William Alcott, whose work emphasized the moral basis of health and education. As such, Metcalfe continued to be a major feature of the growing diet-reform movement until his death in 1862.
Metcalfe based his ideas about diet on strict biblical interpretations, which were always combined with notions of health and hygiene: "The system of temperance which we thus religiously practice, furnishes us with strength and activity sufficient to support the most laborious occupations, secures one of the all-important blessings of life,—the possession of health—and qualifies us for the enjoyment of a more perfect mode of being" (Metcalfe 1872: 153). This combination is fundamental to his notion of biblical revelation, which assures not only salvation but health: "It is clear from the nature of the Law, as recorded in the text before us, that man was originally intended to live upon vegetables only" (Metcalfe 1872: 156). Thus the commandment "Thou shall not kill" applies to any living thing (Metcalfe 1872: i63). Metcalfe sees in Paul's break with Jewish law, especially with the law of sacrifices, his opening (Metcalfe 1872: 190). Christ was an advocate of temperance and of vegetarianism. Even Christ's miracle of the loaves and fishes, is reread to stress the bread and to deny the fishes (Metcalfe 1872: 180). Never mind turning water into wine! It is the "hardness of their hearts" that makes the Jews continue to sacrifice after Christ's preaching (Metcalfe 1872: 191). The Jews are "so carnal as to be incapable of understanding the nature of spiritual worship, they were mere performers of external rites and ceremonies" (Metcalfe 1872: 193). Here Metcalfe is not very far from the German atheist philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach's (1804-72) dismissal of Judaism, in his Essence of Christianity (1841) as not a religion at all, but a gastronomic cult, as "the Israelites opened to Nature only the gastric sense; their taste for Nature lay only in the palate; their consciousness of God in eating manna" (Feuerbach 1841).
SLG/Angela Willey See also Christianity; Graham; Jews; Vegetarianism
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