Henry Salt Archive

Henry Salt (1853-1939) was the author of the Life of Henry David Thoreau, Animals Rights and A Plea for Vegetarianism which inspired Gandhi for follow a vegetarian diet.

Savage Sports

The Vegetarian Messenger and Health Review, November 1935

A FEW weeks ago the Observer, as quoted in the VEGETARIAN MESSENGER, made the significant remark that the defenders of blood-sports “are now fighting a losing battle.” Such a forecast, in such a quarter, was very gratifying; but losing battles are often long ones, and an article in The Countryman of October is a warning that the hunting of hares and foxes is not going to be abandoned in this country without a hard struggle. Written by Mr. Basil de Selincourt, under the evasive title of “With the Hounds and the Hare,” it is in effect an attempt to justify hunting, and he has the audacity to describe the hunting folk as “our main representatives, before the world, of English gentleness and fair play,” and to assert that the reason why they give no thought to the sufferings of the hunted animals is that it is so difficult to do so “rationally.” Now on the strength of a fifty-years’ familiarity with the subject, I say without hesitation that sportsmen refuse to face this question—the ethics of hunting—for no other reason than that their enjoyment of the chase is to them of vastly more importance than the sufferings of fox or hare. It is perfectly possible to think rationally about the subject, but they find it easier to call their opponents “cranks,” and to have recourse to rudeness instead of reason.

Mr. de Selincourt’s article entirely lacks logic and relevance of humour of course there is no trace-and it is comical to find him expressing a fear of extremes. “If one started thinking of nothing but the fox’s feeling,” he says, “life would be intolerable”; but as nobody does start solely on that thought the remark is somewhat pointless. He is quite unaware that just as Mr. Bernard Shaw defined vegetarianism as “eating decently,” so the opponents of blood-sports have always dwelt not merely on the feelings of the fox, but also on the indecency of a supposed “gentleman” behaving like a savage. As Mr. de Selincourt lays stress on the “true gentleman” whom he sees in the blood-sportsman (he wisely does not allude to the practice of “blooding”) I would like to call his attention to a passage from a book quoted in another part of this very same number of The Countryman, (p. 123):—

“I was once told that no man was a true fox-hunter who did not drink to fox-hunting in a glass of liquor stirred with one of the pads of the fox ... It was not uncommon, thirty years ago, for a gallon of ale to be poured through the open mouth of the decapitated fox; the mixture I have seen eagerly drunk.”

The Countryman invites discussion of this subject: but it is difficult to found a useful discussion on an article so uninformed as the one it has printed. If, as appears, it is itself in favour of these cruel practices (it prints on another page an illustration of cockfighting) it would be much more straightforward to avow its feelings outright as supporting the grand old pastimes of the country-side.

Henry S. Salt