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.

Spoiling Other People's Pleasure

By Henry S. Salt

IT is a grave charge that is brought against us humanitarians, of "spoiling other people’s pleasure." We are reproachfully bidden to look at "sport," for instance, and to ponder all the manifold enjoyment which it provides for its votaries—the pleasure of the riders, the pleasure of the horses, the pleasure of the hounds, the pleasure (some assert) even of the fox himself—or, if not exactly pleasure, at least a praiseworthy acquiescence in the rôle assigned him as the purveyor of amusement for others; for has he not, like Faust, purchased the happiness of a lifetime at the cost of this brief hour of pain? And all this sum of pleasure the humanitarian would deliberately destroy! No wonder that speculation is rife among sportsmen as to any intelligible reason for such malice. Are humanitarians insane? Or is it a dog-in-the-manger instinct that prompts them to wreck a pleasure in which they themselves—poor joyless creatures that they are—can have no part?

We shall be expected, perhaps, in answer to these accusations, to plead some austere and weighty reasons, such as the danger of an excess of pleasure, the need of self-sacrifice, the duty of altruism, and the like. We shall do nothing of the kind. On the contrary, we shall point out that humanitarians seek not to diminish but to increase the pleasures of which life is capable; for it is precisely because we, too, love pleasure, and regard it, when rightly understood, as the sum and purport of existence, that we deplore the absurd travesty of it which at present passes muster among the thoughtless. Our complaint against the sportsman and his like is not that they enjoy themselves, but that they prevent other persons from doing so, through their very rudimentary and barbarous notions of what enjoyment means.

Consider, for instance, the exquisite pleasure, surely one of the greatest joys in life, of seeing perfect confidence and fearlessness in the beings around one—the intrepidity which is the special charm of children, when well-treated, and which is characteristic of animals also, in the rare cases when they have nothing to fear from man. We know with what child-like trust and guilelessness the primitive inhabitants of the West Indies greeted their Spanish discoverers, and how the wild animals in newly-found lands have often shown the same unguarded friendliness to man, until they know better—or worse. The pleasure of the humanitarian consists in preserving and cherishing to the uttermost this friendly relationship; the pleasure of the sportsman consists in rendering and shattering it, in making a hell out of a heaven, and is showing distrust and terror where there might be confidence and love. Chacun à son goût. It is useless to dispute about tastes. But that the sportsman should proceed to denounce the humanitarian as being "a spoiler of pleasure" is a stroke of unintended humour from a very humourless source.

The part which the sportsman plays in the animal world—that world which might be a source of much genuine pleasure to us—may be easily pictured if we look at one of the London parks where the bird-life is protected. There we see a truce reigning between human and non-human, with a vast amount of obvious human enjoyment as the result. Imagine what would happen if a man were to run with a gun or some other weapon among the unsuspecting animals, and pride himself on the dexterity with which he reduced them from beautiful living creatures to limp and ugly carcases. He would be arrested as a lunatic, you say, by the park-keepers. True; yet that is exactly the way in which the sportsman is continually running amuck in the larger park of ours, the world, where unfortunately there are as yet no park-keepers to restrain him.

Nor is it only the sportsman, but everyone addicted to cruel practices of any sort, who makes the world a poorer and less happy place to live in. Centuries of persecution have, in fact, left so little real happiness in life that men have been fain to content themselves with these wretched beggarly amusements, which, from, bull and bear-baiting to stag-hunting, have disgraced our national "sports" from time immemorial, yet have always been defended on the ludicrous ground that their abolition would diminish the "pleasures" of the people.

Who then, is the mar-joy? Surely not the humanitarian, whose desire it is that there should be far greater and wider means of enjoyment than at present, and who, far from discouraging the sports of the people, would establish in every part of the land facilities for many and wholesome sports, such as cricket, football, rowing, swimming, running, and all kinds of athletic and gymnastic exercises. To humanitarians, pleasure—real pleasure—is the one precious thing; and it is just because there is so little real pleasure in the present conditions of life that we desire to see those conditions of life that we desire to see those conditions changed and ameliorated. Why else should we "agitate," sit in committees, write letters to newspapers, and organise public meetings to expound our principles? Certainly, not because we enjoy such occupation in itself, for a more thankless task could scarcely be imagined; but because life is at present so narrowed and saddened by brutalitarian stupidity that to try to alter it, even in the smallest measure, is to us a necessary condition of any enjoyment at all.

From Killing for Sport