“Animals’ Rights considered in Relation to Social Progress.” With a Bibliographical Appendix. By Henry S. Salt. London: George Bell and Sons. 8vo, pp. 162. 2s.
Mr. Salt has treated an interesting and important subject with his accustomed literary skills and in his accustomed literary skill and in his usual thoughtful manner. After tracing the growth in modern times of the feeling in favour of kindness to animals, and of the recognition of the principle that they, as well as human beings, have certain “rights,” Mr. Salt discusses the need for a definite and intelligible principle. Those who think that animals possess nothing corresponding either in kind or degree to the human soul, and those who, with Descartes, regard them as automata, are for the most part likely to be deficient in sympathy for their sufferings, and indifferent as to depriving them of life. On the other hand, the humanitarian feels that “if ‘rights’ exist at all—and both feeling and usage indubitably prove that they do exist—they cannot be consistently awarded to men and denied to animals, since the same sense of justice and compassion apply to both cases.” The governing principle, that both men and animals have a right to life and to that “limited freedom” required by the consideration of the general good of the community at large, is first applied to the case of the domesticated animals. Wild animals have also rights, though these are denied by the present law. The slaughter of animals for food is emphatically declared to the unnecessary, and the coming triumph of food reform is prophesied. “Fifty or a hundred years ago there was, perhaps, some excuse for supposing that Vegetarianism was a mere fad; there is absolutely no such excuse at the present time.” A chapter is devoted to “Sport, or amateur butchery,” the vice chiefly, of “gentlemen”; another to “murderous millinery,” the vice, chiefly, of ladies; and still another to “experimental torture.” The last chapter is given up to the consideration of “lines of reform.” He urges the necessity (1) of education in humaneness, and (2) of legislation for the protection of harmless animals. “There are,” he says, “not a few cruel practices, in common vogue at the present day, which are every whit as strongly condemned by thinking people as were bull-baiting and cock-fighting at the time of their prohibition in 1835. Foremost among these practices, because supported by the sanction of the State and carried on in the Queen’s name, is the institution of the Royal Buckhounds. It does not seem too much to demand that all worrying of tame or captured animals—whether of the stag turned out from a cart, the rabbit from a sack, or the pigeon from a cage—should be interpreted as equivalent to ‘baiting,’ and so brought within the scope of the Acts of 1835 and 1849. There is also need of extending to ‘vermin’ some sort of protection against the wholly unnecessary tortures that are recklessly inflicted on them, and of abolishing or restricting the common use of the barbarous steel-trap. The exposure lately made of the horrors of Atlantic cattle-ships—scenes that reproduce almost exactly the worst atrocities of the slaver—is likely to lead to some welcome improvement in the details of that lugubrious traffic. But this will not be sufficient in itself; for the cruelties committed in the slaughter, no less in the transit, of ‘live-stock’ call imperatively for some public cognisance and reprobation. The discontinuance, in our crowded districts, of all private slaughter-houses, and the substitution of public abattoirs under efficient municipal control, would do something to mitigate the worst features of the evil, and this reform should at once be pressed on the attention of local legislative bodies. Lastly, in this short list of urgent temporary measures, stands the question of vivisection; and here there can be no relaxation of the demand for total and unqualified prohibition. But, when all is said, it remains true that legislation, important though it is, must ever be secondary to the awakening of the humane instincts; even education itself can only appeal with success to those whose minds are in some degree naturally predisposed to receive it. I have spoken of the desirability of an intellectual crusade against the main causes of the unjust treatment of animals; but I would not be understood to believe, as some humanitarians appear to do, that a hardened world might be miraculously converted by the preaching of a new St. Francis, if such a personality could be somewhat evolved out of our nineteenth century commercialism! In this infinitely complex modern society, great wrong cannot be wholly righted by simple means, not even by the consuming enthusiasm of the prophet; since any particular form of injustice is but part and parcel of a farm more deep-lying evil—the selfish aggressive tendencies that are still so largely inherent in the human race. Only with the gradual progress of an enlightened sense of equality shall we remedy these wrongs; and the object of our crusade should be not so much to convert opponents (who, by the very disabilities and limitations of their faculties, can never be really converted) as to set the confused problem in a clear light, and at least discriminate unmistakably between enemies and our allies. In all social controversies the issues are greatly obscured by the babel of names and phrases and cross-arguments that are bandied to and fro; so that many persons, who by natural sympathy and inclination are the friends of reform, are found to the be ranked among its foes; while not a few of its foes, in similar unconsciousness, have strayed into the opposite camp. To state the issues distinctly, and so attract and consolidate a genuine body of support, is, perhaps, the best service that humanitarians can render to the movement they wish to promote. In conclusion, I would state emphatically that this essay is not an appeal ad misericordiam to those who themselves practise, or who condone in others, the deeds against which a protest is here raised. It is not a plea for ‘mercy’ (save the mark!) to the ‘brute-beasts’ whose sole criminality consists in not belonging to the noble family of homo sapiens. It is addressed rather to those who see and feel that, as has been well said, ‘the great advancement of the world, throughout all ages, is to be measured by the increase of humanity and the decrease of cruelty”—that man, to be truly man, must cease to abnegate his common fellowship with all living nature—and that the coming realisation of human rights will inevitably bring after it the tardier but not less certain realisation of the rights of the lower races.” In an appendix Mr. Salt gives an annotated list of the principal books in the English language in which the rights of animals are discussed. We cordially commend this excellent little work to our readers.
The Vegetarian Messenger, Vol. VI No. 11, November 1, 1892, pp. 332-334