When it was suggested by the editor of this magazine that I should write a comment on the Bishop of Exeter’s attempted justification of stag-hunting as practised by his Devonshire friends,* I had more than one reason for feeling interested. First, that the Bishop, under his name of Lord William Cecil, was a boy at Eton in the ’seventies, when I was a master there; and also that when Mr. Amos broke the window, erected by Lord Fortescue’s survivors (with the main purpose of honouring his memory as a stag-hunter), he had the intention of pushing through it a book of mine, in which the cruelty of such sports is insisted on! At the risk of seeming to speak disrespectfully of the Bishop, there are three things to which I must emphatically draw attention, and I beg readers and newspaper-editors to observe them—
(1) His manners. Eton prides itself especially on the politeness of its titled and distinguished nurselings. Yet in his “Diocesan Gazette” for December, the Bishop tells us that his essay on stag-hunting had brought him a lot of letters “from very charming old ladies.” That is actually the expression in which he tries to ridicule those who disagree with him. It might come from some rude cheap-jack of a hunting-paper; but from a Bishop, and one who was educated at Eton, it is sickening.
(2) His Logic. He tells the story of St. Hubert, who was converted from stag-hunting, and then asks “how it can be said to encourage cruelty to animals,” deliberately ignoring his own title “The Memorial Window to Lord Fortescue.” It is not, of course, the story of St. Hubert, but the disingenuous attempt of certain stag-hunters to utilise that story to their own glorification—the exact contrary of its real moral—that encourages cruelty to animals, and to sheer untruthfulness. Yet it would seem that the Bishop cannot, or will not, see what one would expect a child of six to comprehend.
(3) His ignorance. This, in view of the fact that he lives, not in the middle ages, but at a time when all subjects relating to man’s treatment of the lower races have been studied by thinkers and scientists, is enough to take one’s breath away, not to mention the stolid assurance with which (always in the interests of his local friends) he propounds it. We are informed that animals may be hunted, worried, and killed, but that “suffering there is none,” and that the harm done by those who call attention to the undeniable practises of sportsmen is that: “They withdraw attention from the serious evils of life.” This ignorant and insolent assertion I strongly resent. The sportsmen’s pretence that hunting stags do not suffer is simply untrue, and a Bishop ought to be ashamed to repeat it; I was closely connected with the campaign which led to the abolition of the Royal Buckhounds, and decline to listen to the old shufflings, quibbles, and false excuses as now re-told from Exeter. The Bishop, in a word, knows nothing: and what he has written in his “Diocesan Gazette” is sheer and absolute nonsense.
But am I “withdrawing attention,” as he says, “from the serious evils”? Well; I have been, like others whom I know, working for many years (not on the pleasant stipend of a bishopric, but unpaid) in order to get a full and clear knowledge before writing on these subjects; and one point on which I have throughout laid stress is that we must not, in our indignation at a special piece of savagery, allow our minds to be diverted from the rest, but must view all such themes as a whole. That is in fact humanitarianism.
One point more. He is sure that his friends who follow the hounds are not “degraded” thereby. Well; it all depends on what is meant by “degradation”! I can only say that I would rather die drunk in the gutter than do the things which can win a rich nobleman a window in Exeter Cathedral, or than write the iniquitous balderdash to which a Bishop has put his name.
*Exeter Diocesan Gazette, November and December, 1935.
Henry S. Salt
Cruel Sports, February, 1936