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.

Man and the lower animals

Royal Cornwall Gazette, December 15, 1892

It is significant of the increased public interest in the treatment of the brute creation that a new book should have been written and published dealing with the whole questions of man’s relation to the lower animals. This represents a welcome progressiveness in humanitarian feelings and augurs well for the kindlier consideration in the future.

The author of “Animals’ Rights” takes a comprehensive view of his subject. He premises be discussing the principle of animal rights and his subsequent survey treats of the claims of domestic and wild animals, the slaughter of animals for food, “sport, or amateur butchery”, murderous millinery, experimental torture, and proposed lines of reform. 

Such a work must necessarily be of great interest to animal lovers, and those also who, while not professing any ardent attachment for any one species of the dumb creation yet feel some sort of sympathy for them as a body, and hold themselves in a sense responsible for their humane treatment. In a prefatory note the author (Mr. H. S. Salt) strikes the keynote of the controversy in the following words:— “We have to decide not whether the practices of fox-hunting, for example, is more, or less, cruel than vivisection, but whether all practices which inflict unnecessary pain on sentient beings are not incompatible with the higher instincts of humanity.”

There is no question that from very early times there have been thinkers who have affirmed their belief in the rights of animals, and many divines have held that in another world the lower animals will have a place. This, of course, opens up a very wide question of animals’ rights is not one of purely recent growth, nor is it the hysterical outcome of any recent controversy. It represents the gradual evolution of an idea, hazy and ill-defined in bygone ages, but gradually assuming a definite form and shape, based on the principle of, and a sense of justice. Granted that the dumb creation are lower in the scale of moral beings than man, that does not involve such complete subjection to man that he may wreak on them this will, whatever that may be. Authority carries with it responsibility, and the subjection to us of the lower animals involves consideration on our part to them. If we might do as we would with the animals, would it not be perfectly consistent for a higher order of beings, if such existed, to treat us on similar lines? The claim of the animals on our consideration and protection is that they have the same capacity for feelings as human beings. As Jeremy Bentham put it—“The question is not ‘Can they reason?’ nor ‘Can they speak?’ but ‘Can they suffer?’” There are some minds incapable of appreciating this argument. There are some natures so full of the lust of scientific eminence, or so steeped in the more vulgar forms of cruelty, that they will refuse to credit animals with the acute sensibility to pain, and they even deny that consideration of such a thing, even if it exists, comes within the domain of their duty. They grow callous to suffering, and “conscience” has no meaning for them. The highest authorities hold, as Mr. William Pritchard, M.R.C.V.S., late Professor of Anatomy at the Royal Veterinary College, stated before the Royal Commission, in 1876, that there is nothing to lead us to think otherwise than that the mere physical sensation of pain was equal in animals to that in the human being. Mr. Pritchard ought certainly to have known, because he had, as he said, performed some thousands of operations (not experiments) on them. We may take it as settled, therefore, that animals feel pain quite as acutely as we do, and that being accepted, we must admit also their claim to humane consideration. The purpose of this article is to bring home to the mind of every reader his or her duty towards the lower order of creation.  If, as is asserted, there be cruelty in rabbit coursing, stag hunting, pigeon shooting, horse racing and other forms of sport, in experiments upon living animals, in the slaughter of birds for feminine decoration, in our methods of slaughtering cattle for food, if the coster’s donkey or the ‘bus or cab-horse be ill-treated, wherever and whenever there is cruelty the duty of humankind towards the brutes is clear. There is no shadow of doubt that in all the things enumerated there is constant and brutal ill-usage involving physical pain to sensitive animals. Surely the gentle Wordsworth taught us the right doctrine when he bade us

“Never to blend our pleasure and our pride
With sorrow of the meanest thing that feels.”

That the lower races of animal life have rights has been conceded by the Legislation which has passed several Acts for their better protection, but that they still have wrongs is not for one moment to be doubted. What is required is that the higher race shall cultivate an enquiring spirit, for an accurate realisation of the rights of animals and the duties of men must undoubtedly result in the bettering of the condition of the sentient animal creation.

Communicated