|French thinker Jean Sales' illustration of “Newton in Senegal” (see: social Newton), from his satirical play “Reasonable Drama” (1777), showing Newton, depicted as a vegetarian, eavesdropping on a conversation between a merman, a meat-eater, and an oyster, which is desperately reasoning for its life, amid which a African, who believes in a scarab-like god, enters the scene, illustrating the idiosyncrasies and seeming moral conundrums involved in so-called morality of eating. |
In 1770, Baron d’Holbach, with footnote assistance by Denis Diderot, in their The System of Nature, were comparing man to oyster, in a Newtonian laws of motion sense of things:
“From the benumbed oyster, to the thoughtful and active man; we see an uninterrupted progression, a perpetual chain of motion and combination, from which is produced beings.”— Baron d’Holbach (1770), The System of Nature (pg. 27)
“These reflections would appear to contradict the ideas of those, who are willing to conjecture that the other planets, like our own, are inhabited by beings resembling ourselves. But if the Laplander (Finnish) differs in so marked a manner from the Hottentot (Africans), what difference ought we not rationally to suppose between an inhabitant of our planet and one of Saturn or of Venus?”— Baron d’Holbach (1770), The System of Nature (pg. 45)
“In the eyes of nature, the oyster that vegetates at the bottom of the sea is as dear and perfect as the proud biped who devours it.”— Denis Diderot (1770), note to Baron d’Holbach’s The System of Nature (pg. 47)
Voltaire commented his views on d'Holbach's System of Nature to Jean Sales as follows:
“D’Holbach’s book caused a great stir among the Paris savants, effectively dividing the deists from the atheists. Voltaire, committed to deism and long impatient with d’Holbach’s declamatory ways, called it ‘a chaos, a great moral sickness, a work of darkness, a sin against nature, a system of folly and ignorance.’ He wrote to Delisle de Sales: “I think that nothing has debased our century more than this enormous stupidity.”— Rebecca Stott (2013), Darwin’s Ghosts: in Search of the First Evolutionists
In 1777, Jean Sales, likely influenced by the above, penned “Reasonable Drama”, a short Socratic dialogue style satirical play, accompanied by an image of “Newton in Senegal”, shown adjacent, which is found in volume four of his The Philosophy of Nature, with a accompanying discussion section, of controversial nature, the gist of which, as summarized by Patricia Fara (2002), situates an allegorical tale of Newton perched by the coast in Senegal, Africa, representative of a civilizing force of the enlightenment, taking time off from checking his calculations of the tides to contemplate the grandeur of nature, during which Newton, presented as vegetarian, enters into a dialogue with a merman, an oyster, and a native African about whether or not they should eat each other.
Newton, set up as an icon of rationality, concludes that only African is worth teaching, since his perception of god as a cockchafer does at least indicate that he can acquire a human soul. 
● John Stewart | Moral vegetarianism
1. (a) Sales, Jean. (1777). “Reasonable Drama” (“Drame Raisonnable”). Publisher.
(b) Sales, Jean. (1789). The Philosophy of Nature: Treatise on Human Moral Nature, Volume 4 (De la Philosophie de la Nature: Ou Traité de Morale Pour Le Genre Humain, Tiré de la Philosophie Et Fondé Sur la Nature, Volume 4) (Drame Raisonnable, 7+ pgs; esp. pgs. 173-201, 205). Publisher.
(b) Darnton, Robert. (1996). The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (Delisle de Sales, Jean-Babtiste-Claude Isoard, pgs. 48-49, 70-71, 397 n. 32). W.W. Norton.
(c) Malandian, Pierre. (1982). Delisle des Sales: Philosophe de la Nature (1741-1816), Volume 1. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation.
(d) Malandian, Pierre. (1982). Delisle des Sales: Philosophe de la Nature (1741-1816), Volume 2. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation.
(e) Fara, Patricia. (2002). Newton: the Making of a Genius (pg. 126; Newton in Senegal, figure 5.1). Columbia University Press.
(f) Shank, J.B. (2008). The Newton Wars and the Beginning of the French Enlightenment (pg. 9). University of Chicago Press.