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.

Killing for Sport

The Socialist Review, May 1915

Killing for Sport. By VARIOUS WRITERS, with Preface by G. Bernard Shaw. Edited by Henry S. Salt. (London, 1915. Published by G. Bell and Sons for the Humanitarian League. pp. xxxiv.—186; 2s. 6d. net.)

It is a bold venture on the part of the Humanitarian League to issue this little volume at a time when the nation is still earnestly engaged in “Killing for Business,” and there is evidence that the book has been held back by the war, since Bernard Shaw’s preface is dated a year ago. But in England the Blood Sports continue, while the Blood Business goes on amain along two great lines drawn across Europe, and only the day before that on which these lines are penned the writer passed a field in which a posse of excited barbarians were watching the hounds draw the coverts in the hope of hunting a fox to death. Probably all these people had relatives at the front, engaged on what is perhaps the less degrading occupation of the two.

For all of us, each after his or her own fashion, must, with varying limitations, accept Killing for Business. Those of us that regard war as a purposeless anachronism merely reject one particular form. Those of us that for sentimental or hygienic reasons prefer vegetable food to animal, reject another. People who will not wear the skin of trapped animals, reject a third. In one way or another, all appeal to the utilitarian calculus, and say that the benefits that accrue from the particular killing are not worth the cost. But the consistent rejection of all killing of sentient animals is impossible. As Bernard Shaw well puts it in his preface

There is no use in saying that our fellow creatures must not be killed. That is simply untrue; and the converse proposal that they must be killed is simply true. We see the Buddhist having his path swept before him [As a matter of fact, it is not the Buddhist who does this, but the Jain] lest he should tread on an insect and kill it; but we do not see what that Buddhist does when he catches a flea that has kept him awake for an hour; and we know that he has to except certain poisonous snakes from his forbearance. If mice get into your house and you do not kill them, they will end by killing you. If rabbits breed on your farm and you do not exterminate them, you will end by having no farm.

Cruelty is the unnecessary or inconsiderate infliction of pain or death, but views as to what is necessary or considerate in these respects vary greatly. At second hand the writer has the story of a humanitarian lady living in the New Forest, who had her little estate surrounded by close and high wire netting, to save the poor rabbits from their enemies. When in the course of the next year or two the rabbits threatened to expel the human inhabitants from the enclosure, the lady’s principles underwent modification, and she had to accept the doctrine “Killing no Murder.” But she would not have the rabbits shot, trapped, or poisoned. She went to a well-known sporting farmer in the neighbourhood, and asked him if he would be good enough to turn a few ferrets loose among the rabbits, since this was Nature’s way of disposing of the surplus population. He made the memorable answer: “No, ma’am, I can’t agree to it. You don’t know what ferrets are. It’s too cruel a business for me to be a party to it!”

Elsewhere in the book under review is the story of some women who were so humane that when their cat caught a mouse they always refused to allow the cat to play with its prey after the time-honoured manner; but these same women would take part in a fox-hunt with delight.

Such are the vagaries of the human intelligence. But, as Shaw says, when we come to Killing for Sport, the true objection is the one taken by that wise and justly-famous Puritan who objected to bear-baiting not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators. Under the limitations of terrestrial life it is inevitable that the principles of the struggle for existence should at times dominate our conduct in preference to the principles of mutual aid. But though we are often forced to kill, and sometimes deliberately to inflict pain, to do either of these for “sport” reduces man below the level of the unreasoning beasts. In this well-planned and well executed book, those who are interested in such lines of thought as these will find ample matter for reflection.