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.

What Teachers Can Do

by Henry S. Salt

This appeal is addressed especially to teachers, because until they as a class are brought to feel the need of humane education, there is not the slightest hope of such education being granted. It is a case of Quis docebit doctores? We must convert the guardians first, in order to gain the desired access to the pupils . . . . Individual teachers, by personal example and precept, can appreciably influence for the better the general tone and attitude of their pupils towards the lower animals; and by more and more introducing such subjects into the course of instruction, can help to give a definiteness and reality to the departmental notice recently issued. We have already the Government permission that such teaching may be given; what is needed is the insistence that no education shall be considered sufficient without it. Still easier would it be for the principals and assistant-masters of private schools to do something towards a reform, by making the treatment of animals a subject of frequent reference in the pulpit and elsewhere. Hundreds of addresses and exhortations are annually given to schoolboys by those who have charge of their moral and spiritual welfare; yet it is rare indeed to hear a word spoken in protest against the worst of all human vices—inhumanity.

Although, for reasons elsewhere stated, the inculcation of gentleness by means of prizes is to be regarded with some suspicion, there is no doubt that the system of essay-writing out of school hours has certain distinct advantages. It sets boys and girls thinking on subjects which perhaps would otherwise be overlooked; and not unfrequently when the competitors are day-scholars and write the essays at home, the whole family becomes interested in the work, and the awakening of one mind to humane ideas causes the awakening of many. Thus the “mercy” writing, like the quality of mercy itself,

“is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

That still more excellent results might be obtained from a systematic instruction of children in the duty of humanity to animals, may be judged from the success which has attended the efforts of the few pioneers in this cause, as for example M. de Sailly, a French schoolmaster n Algiers. I quote a portion of his own record of the experiment:—

 “I have long been convinced that kindness to animals is productive of great results, and that it is not only the most powerful cause of material prosperity, but also the beginning of moral perfection. I therefore began my work in 1851, and at the same time introduced agriculture into my school; for I saw the close connection between the doctrine of kindness to animals and the important science of agriculture, since there can be no profitable farming unless animals are well kept, well fed, and well treated. And, besides, how can children better learn the pleasures of country life than by understanding the importance of agriculture, the methods in use in. their own country, and the profit which may be derived from intelligent farming and kind treatment of animals? Do they not become attached to country life? Do they not feel kindly towards all dumb creatures? Do they not receive ideas of order and .domestic economy? Do they not love Mother Earth, who pays us so freely and so generously for our work? And does not this love tend to check the growing evil of emigration from the country to the city?

“My method, of teaching kindness to animals has the advantage of in no way interfering with the regular routine of my school. Two days in the week all our lessons are conducted with reference to this subject. For instance, in the reading class, I choose a book upon animals, and always find time for useful instruction and good advice. My “copies” for writing are facts in natural history, and impress upon the pupils ideas of justice and kindness towards useful animals.

“In written exercises, in spelling and composition, I teach the good care which should be taken of domestic animals, and the kindness which should be shown them, I prove that by not overworking them, and by keeping them in clean and roomy stables, feeding them well, and treating them kindly and gently, a greater profit and large crops may be obtained than by abusing them. I also speak, in this connection, of certain small animals which, although in a wild state, are very useful to farmers.

“The results of my instruction have been, and are, exceedingly satisfactory. “My ideas have deeply impressed my pupils, and have exercised the best influence upon their lives and characters. Ever since I introduced the subject into my school I have found the children less disorderly, but, instead, more gently and affectionate towards each other. They feel more and more kindly towards animals, and have entirely given up the cruel practice of robbing nests and killing small birds. They are touched by the suffering and misery of animals, and the pain which they feel when they see them cruelly used has been the means of exciting other persons to pity and compassion.”

The central principle which should be steadily kept in view in all humane education is that which the Humanitarian League has made the basis of its Manifesto—that “it is iniquitous to inflict suffering on any sentient being, except when self-defence or absolute necessity can be justly pleaded.” It cannot be difficult to teach children to distinguish between necessary suffering and unnecessary; yet in this distinction (so often forgotten by our opponents), and in its practical application to the details of life, lies the whole ethic of humanitarianism. The idea that humanitarians are “sentimentalists” is the very reverse of the truth. We fully recognize that it is often a stern necessity to inflict pain or death. Let us do so, when we are satisfied that the necessity exists, with as few words as possible, and not shrink from any action that is rightly incumbent on us. But to hurt or kill for mere caprice, or fashion, or amusement; to cage animals when they need not be caged; to hunt them when there is no necessity for such hunting; to torture them in the supposed interests of a barren and futile “science”; to treat them, when domesticated, with an insensate roughness which defeats its own ends—these are inhumanities which every boy and girl should learn to regard with loathing and detestation.

The question of nomenclature is an important one, to which a brief mention must be given. It was remarked by Jeremy Bentham that whereas human beings are styled persons, “other animals, on account of their interests having been neglected by the insensibility of the ancient jurists, stand degraded to the class of things.” The German philosopher, Schopenhauer, has also commented on the inappropriateness of the English neuter pronoun “it,” when applied to highly intelligent beings. The common use of such contemptuous terms as “brute-beasts,” “live-stock,” etc., is undoubtedly an obstacle to the humaner treatment of the lower races; and children should be taught that it is absurd for man, himself an animal, to ignore his natural kinship with the “other” animals, as Bentham correctly calls them.

“Without perfect sympathy with the animals around them, no gentleman’s education, no Chrstian education, could be of any possible use,” So said Mr. Ruskin in 1877; and one of the rules of his Society of St. George runs as follows:—

“I will not kill nor or hurt any living creature needlessly, nor destroy any beautiful thing; but will strive to save and comfort all gentle life, and guard and perfect all natural beauty upon the earth.”

I would put it to those who may chance to read this—how is it possible to make any progress towards a “perfect sympathy” with the animals, or to strive towards the high ideal of the Society of St. George, unless on the humanitarian lines which I have advocated? I t is useless to think of “comforting all gentle life” until we deliberately set ourselves to eradicate the evils by which social life is at present brutalised and degraded. Let it be admitted that this education process must perforce be a slow and laborious one; it is all the more desirable, therefore, that it should at one admitted that this education process must perforce be a slow and laborious one; it is all the more desirable, therefore, that it should at once be taken in hand. . . . Much has been done in recent years for the better instruction and the better protection of English children. We have recognized that it is a, national duty to give a sound intellectual education to every child in the kingdom and a national duty to safeguard every child from cruelty and violence, even if its own parent be the aggressor. We have now to realize that there is one thing yet lacking—the education not of the intellect only, but, of the heart. It is useless to teach the young to become clever, if we permit them to remain cruel; it is useless to pass laws to repress parental tyranny, if we encourage children in their turn to indulge the most tyrannous propensities towards beings yet more defenceless than themselves. It is a mockery to talk of religion, and art, and education, and “humane letters,” if we allow the gentleness which can alone give vitality to these accomplishments to be poisoned at its source by the festering plague of cruelty. There can be no literæ humaniores while brutality still exists. As was nobly said of the curse of negro slavery, “While these things are being done, Beauty stands veiled, and Music is a screeching lie.”

For these reasons our appeal is now made to that educational class whose power, though sharply limited by facts and circumstances, is yet greater than that of any other class to initiate a reform. It is for teachers to say whether an earnest effort shall, or shall not, be made to inform the rising generation that animals have rights, and that the man who violates those rights, however cultured or learned or influential he may be, is deficient in the highest and noblest wisdom of which the human mind is capable. From such an attempt, though the immediate results be but slight, who can say how rich a harvest may not be reaped hereafter, or that the time may not come when there shall indeed be that “perfect sympathy” between mankind and the lower races which is to us but a vision and a dream. In Shelley’s words,

“No longer now the wingèd habitants,
That in the woods their sweet lives sing away
Flee from the form of man; but gather round,
And prune their sunny feathers on the hands
Which little children stretch in friendly sport
Towards these dreadless partners of their play.
All things are void of terror; man has lost
His terrible prerogative, and stands
An equal amidst equals. Happiness
And science dawn, though late, upon the earth.”

Published: Birds and Beasts Within Our Gates, 1901