Front Page Titles (by Subject) CRUELTY TO ANIMALS—A STUDY IN SOCIOLOGY.∗ - Methods of Social Reform and Other Papers
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CRUELTY TO ANIMALS—A STUDY IN SOCIOLOGY.∗ - William Stanley Jevons, Methods of Social Reform and Other Papers 
Methods of Social Reform and Other Papers (London: Macmillan, 1883).
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CRUELTY TO ANIMALS—A STUDY IN SOCIOLOGY.∗
Some philosophers hold that whatever we feel in our conscience to be right, is right. Others assert that the course of action to be approved is evidently that which leads to the greatest balance of pleasure over pain. In casting up this credit and debit account, we may properly include not only the pleasures and pains of all mankind, but those of the lower animals, so far as they can be estimated and compared with human feelings. However these fundamental questions of moral science may be settled, it is curious to reflect how little the two standards of right do, as a matter of fact, correspond. In a great many instances which might be pointed out, public sentiment condemns and rigorously represses one particular form of hurtful action, while it condones or approves deeds of a parallel nature equally against the greatest-happiness principle. Prevailing moral sentiments seem to be founded on no nice appreciation of comparative evil and comparative good.
It has often struck me that the English people are under some misapprehensions about their national virtues. Long ago they abolished public lotteries, and a lottery wheel is now considered a wicked and demoralising thing, except in its rather ominous connection with the sale of works of art. But though lottery wheels are abolished, they tolerate the existence of a betting system as demoralising as any lotteries which ever were held. It is true that there are laws against betting in public, which save the national conscience in some degree; but everyone is aware that the nation deliberately ignores the existence of betting rings among its own aristocratic governors, and does not make earnest efforts to suppress the practice.
The English feel their superior virtue, again, in the matter of slavery. They set the world the example of abolishing this odious thing; the very name of slavery cannot be endured in England. When it became known that certain South Sea Islanders were being kidnapped occasionally, and carried into some sort of slavery in Queensland, the Government took prompt and effectual measures against this abominable practice; but when it was stated that the Australian aborigines in the north of Queensland were being shot like kangaroos, or poisoned wholesale by strychnine, one solitary member of parliament went so far as to ask the Government whether this was true. The Government replied that they did not know, but would make inquiries, and nothing more has been heard of the matter to the present day. Accounts which I have heard of the proceedings in the border districts of Queensland are simply dreadful. These accounts may or may not be true,∗ and I should not like to vouch for them; but the point is that English society, though it runs wild about surrendering a fugitive slave, has never cared even to ascertain whether or not scores of the Australian natives are shot like kangaroos, or poisoned by strychnine, like the native dogs.
The most remarkable, however, of all such cases of disproportionate moral sentiment is found in the case of cruelty to animals. In this respect, again, the English are preeminently a virtuous people. Less advanced or, it may be, degenerate nations still indulge in savage sports like bull-fighting. I remember that a kind of thrill of horror went through the newspapers when it was once reported that the Empress Eugénie had attended a bull-fight. Long ago the English abolished such a brutal practice as bull-baiting, which is now only a matter of history. It is pleasing to hear of the intelligence and success with which the police everywhere follow the tracks of cock-fighters. A party of men cannot meet on the most secluded moor in the country, but the force are down upon them before many “mains” have been fought. The praiseworthy efforts of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals are unceasing. A man ties crackers to the tail of a pigeon to make it fly better. He is marched before a magistrate and fined. An ingenious menagerie-keeper makes hyænas jump through a blazing ring. The bench denounce the gross cruelty, it having been given in evidence that hyænas are much afraid of fire; but they ultimately discharge the accused, on the ground that hyænas are not domesticated animals. Within the last few days a man has been fined for taming a horse by electricity. Again, it is thought a very cruel thing to bait rabbits or other animals in an enclosed space, and every now and then a beerhouse-keeper suffers under the Act against this cruel practice; but, curiously enough, if you only let the animals have a run in an open space before they are killed by the dogs, this is not cruel, being called coursing as contrasted to baiting. That is to say, if you let an animal endure the fear of death for a short time, and exhaust itself in vain efforts to escape, and then give it the actual pains of death, there is no cruelty.
But I need hardly go on at any great length to show that the sentiments of the public in respect of cruelty to animals are simply in a chaotic state. There is no approximation whatever to the utilitarian standard. An almost infinite amount of needless pain is inflicted upon the lower animals every day, and yet, because it is done in a familiar form, the inspectors of the Society pass it over, and indeed the laws take no cognisance of it. Sportsmen and ratcatchers ruthlessly leave wounded animals to die slowly and in torture. But if men tie crackers to the tails of pigeons, the fact of their conviction is telegraphed to every daily newspaper in the country, and appears under the sensational heading, “A New Phase of Cruelty.”
By far the most irrational of moral sensations, however, is that excited by the revelations of vivisection. It is not too much to say that the public have almost unanimously been shocked by the details of experiments which the Society for the Abolition of Vivisection have taken care to make widely known. That a number of medical men should have met at Norwich, and coolly stood by to witness M. Magnan cut open the thighs of two dogs, and inject alcohol and absinthe therein, drove many people almost wild with indignation. When, in 1873, the authors of the “Handbook of the Physiological Laboratory” published their unlucky volume, and disclosed the secrets of the vivisection table, a part of the public seemed to become almost inarticulate with rage, that such things should be allowed in a Christian and an English country.
Words of sufficient strength seem to be wanting to express the feelings of anti-vivisectionists. Hellish, monstrous, abominable, horrid, horrible, devilish, diabolical, demoniacal, ghastly, sinful, wicked, detestable, villanous, atrocious, nameless, infamous—such are a few of the adjectives most commonly applied to the practice; and it seems difficult to suggest stronger ones. Yet, from the way in which the writers pile up the agony, they evidently think their language inadequate to the occasion. I noticed one letter, occupying half a column of small print, in a London evening paper, which might be described as one continuous yell of indignation from beginning to end. Mr. George Duckett, of the Society for the Abolition of Vivisection, probably gave a form to the suppressed feelings of many, when he described vivisection as hellish, horrid, and monstrous, as “an abomination imported from the Continent,” and as “going hand in hand with Atheism.”∗
It is noticeable that not a few of the eminent men who have practised vivisection, or are immediately interested in its results, express almost equally strong feelings. Mr. Darwin, when asked what he would think of trying a painful experiment without anæsthetics, when it could be done as well with them, replied emphatically, “It deserves detestation and abhorrence.” (Question 4,672.) Dr. Sharpey, referring to one of Majendie's experiments which he had witnessed in his youth, described it as “his famous, it might rather have been called infamous,” experiment (Question 474). Other less eminent witnesses spoke almost in a similar tone of practices in which they were themselves deeply interested.
I hope that I should be one of the last to deny that it is hellish and infamous and detestable, and so forth, to inflict needless pain on the lower animals. But I wish to ask, If so, why does society, and English society especially, go on permitting the perpetration of hellish atrocities, on a most gigantic scale, in their very midst? Why does it allow practices of this hellish description to be fashionable amusements of the upper classes, patronised by royalty, purchased at vast cost, commented on by all the daily press, and by a number of special journals, as if these amusements were more important to humanity than all science and art put together? Can anybody deny that what is known as “sport,” or as the “noble science,” including hunting, coursing, deer-stalking, shooting, battue-shooting, pigeon-shooting, and angling, is from beginning to end, mere diversion founded on the needless sufferings of the lower animals? On what sociological or psychological grounds can we explain the fact that a comparatively small amount of pain inflicted for the lofty purpose of furthering science and relieving the ills of mortality should excite such intense feelings of disgust, while the infliction of almost infinitely greater amounts of pain in mere trivial amusement seems to excite no corresponding feeling at all? Why is the country agitated with disgust at the report of a cock-fight, or a combat between a man and a dog, or the electrifying of a horse, while the newspapers send their special correspondents to India to describe the achievements of our future emperor in sticking pigs?
It might seem indispensable, in treating a question of this sort, to lay down some clear definition, showing what is cruelty and what is not; but any attempt to reconcile popular sentiments with a single definition of the term will utterly fail. To inflict pain for the pleasure of inflicting it, is unquestionable and malignant cruelty. To inflict pain negligently, and without any adequate motive, as when a butcher, habituated to the slaughtering of animals, pays little regard to the shortening of their last agonies, is also cruel. But it would not seem that the infliction of pain is always regarded as a necessary ingredient of cruelty. A large part of the public strongly condemns the practice of pigeon-shooting as a cruel and brutal amusement. But a bird when fairly shot dies instantaneously, without time to feel pain, and when the business is properly conducted no bird need be left in pain for more than a very brief time. But there can be no doubt whatever that, in shooting wild birds and rabbits, a large proportion of the animals are painfully wounded, and yet escape beyond the reach of the sportsman. Wyndham, in a remarkable speech which he made in favour of bull-baiting, asserted that in shooting there were ten birds wounded for one bird killed. I should think, or at least hope, that this is an immense exaggeration; in the absence of any data I will assume that, for ten birds or rabbits killed outright, there is only one painfully wounded. Now we can hardly suppose that the number of birds and rabbits shot annually in this kingdom is less than thirty millions, and we arrive at the fearful result that, to say the least, three million animals are painfully mangled yearly, partly to supply food, but mainly to afford amusement to the wealthy. Let us grant, for the sake of argument, that only half of these animals could be taken painlessly by nets. Then we must allow that a million and a half wounded animals suffer agonies for the mere diversion of our sporting classes. Strange to say, this enormous infliction of needless pain is seldom thought cruel. True sport is held to be a wholesome manly exercise. Pigeon-shooting is cruel, although the animals die speedily and certainly. Rabbit-shooting is not cruel, apparently because the poor wounded animals which escape die a lingering death out of sight.
It may be said that the sportsman does nothing more than the laws of nature authorise. He procures food by the most direct process, and kills animals in a rapid painless way. But this does not at all hold good of all sporting. From my own observation I can affirm that many sportsmen acquire a taste for the simple wanton destruction of life apart from all ulterior purposes. Provided an animal will only make a good moving target they want to shoot it. They will do this at sea, in woods, and inaccessible places where there is no possibility of recovering the animals, or of putting them out of pain if badly wounded. In Norway and Australia I have frequently seen the sporting instinct of the English develop itself in freedom, and I can only conclude that “sport” is synonymous with the love of the clever destruction of living things.
We should not speak of sportsmen as if they were all exactly alike, and I have no doubt that many of them would hate to leave an animal in pain when they could help it; but not so in every case. I have had narrated to me the proceedings of a highly aristocratic party, engaged in the fashionable amusement of battue-shooting. A wounded bird fell near to a group of country people, who were looking on at their superiors. The poor bird lay writhing in agony on the ground, and a bystander almost instinctively stepped forward to put it out of pain. He received such a rating from some of the aristocratic party for his impertinence as he has not forgotten to the present day, nor is likely to forget.
It does not seem possible to acquit women, especially women of distinction and fashion, of indirect participation in most extensive acts of cruelty. I do not lay so much weight as some do upon their attendance at pigeon-shooting matches. Many a fine lady would turn sick at the notion of seeing a chicken slaughtered for her own table, who would sit by and compliment men on their skill in riddling pigeons and doves. There are fine distinctions in matters of this sort. But what I chiefly refer to is the irresistible tendency of women to ornament their hats and bonnets with the wings of birds. We speak of being “as happy as a bird;” yet all over the world a shocking destruction of the most happy and beautiful little creatures which exist is occasioned by the vanity of women, and especially by those who may pretend to be the most educated and sensitive. There are women who seem to become hysterical at the very name of vivisection. Has it occurred to them that by doing away with the use of birds' wings and feathers they would prevent the lingering, painful deaths, not simply of scores, or hundreds, or thousands, but of millions of sensitive animals? We should always remember that for each hundred birds shot, killed, and secured, there are ten, twenty, or perhaps more, which lie fatally wounded for hours or even days.
In connection with this subject of cruelty, I confess that a disagreeable truth is perpetually forced upon my mind, namely, that the amusements of the lower classes are readily denounced as cruel, while the sports of the squire and the aristocrat are held up as noble, though involving far more pain to animals. At one time there were local by-laws of manors, providing that no bull should be killed before it had been baited for the amusement of the people. But about the beginning of this century, when the manorial system had quite broken down, it was discovered that bull-baiting was a brutal and demoralising exhibition, and it was forthwith suppressed. Yet to the present day it is thought a fine thing to turn out a stage and chase it for hours in mortal agony, afterwards caging it up for another run. Some years ago I saw a revolting account in the papers of the way in which some Yorkshire squires had similarly conducted a beaver hunt, if I recollect aright. Yet when we come to think about it, I do not know that, except in being unusual, there is anything worse in such hunts than in ordinary fox-hunting—“the noble science,” as it is called What, I should like to know, is there noble in it, except that many “noblemen” pursue it? A score or two of strong men, mounted on the fleetest horses, with a pack of highly-trained hounds, pursue one wretched little palpitating animal. It is true that Professor Newman, in his recent interesting article on Cruelty, endeavours to show very ingeniously that hunted animals do not suffer much, the physical exertion banishing the anguish of fear. Swift animals, he considers, are made to run. The real dread of death, he thinks, is felt when we sit in ambush and hear our enemies, as Idomeneus in Homer said, compassing our death. But surely the hunted fox must suffer this too when he gets into cover, and hears the dogs snuffing around him, or when he runs to earth and has to be dug out. I am told, too, that a hunted animal, supposing him to escape death, suffers very severely from cramp in the overstrained muscles. I see nothing in fox-hunting to render it otherwise than highly cruel, except that it is “noble.” I fear, too, that the principal difference to be drawn between coursing and baiting, is that the latter is the form of sport most likely to fall within the means of the lower classes.
From these and many other instances, which will readily suggest themselves, we may learn that the popular notions of cruelty depend in a comparatively slight degree upon the real amount of pain inflicted. The attitude of mind of the inflicter, the circumstances of the infliction, the degree or way in which the pain is made manifest, and especially the frequency with which the act has been done in past times, or the social grade of those by whom it is usually done, are all taken into account.
Cruelty is, in fact, a highly complex notion, involving several distinct elements involved together in a most subtle manner. It is only by the aid of the new sciences of Sociology and Anthropology—with the guidance, in short, of Mr. Spencer or Mr. Tylor—that we can attempt to explain the apparent inconsistencies which meet us on every side in moral and social questions of this kind. But we may perhaps classify the elements of cruelty under four principal heads, as follows:
Firstly, the actual physical pain inflicted.
Secondly, the motive or purpose of inflicting the pain, or rather of performing the action which produces pain.
Thirdly, the degree in which the action in question is habitual and familiar.
Fourthly, the manner in which the pain is expressed and the circumstances of its infliction impressed upon the imagination.
We might call these elements of cruelty respectively, the physical, the moral, the sociological, and the psychological elements. Different acts of cruelty involve these elements in the most various proportions. When hyænas were made to jump through blazing hoops, this was at once pronounced to be gross cruelty, because it conflicted with our notions of what is habitual and recognised. When a man was prosecuted in Scotland for barbarously beating some sporting dogs in the process of training them, the sheriff held that this was not cruelty, because you could not have sporting dogs without training them. Here the element of habit comes in palpably. Sporting dogs are required for man's amusement, and the leaping hyænas were also employed to amuse visitors to the menagerie. What then is the difference, except in the familiarity of the amusement, unless indeed we remember that sporting dogs are chiefly wanted by the aristocratic classes?
The country is shocked now to hear that horses have been occasionally tamed by electricity in Yorkshire. Here the sociological element is again predominant. Horses may be tamed by any of the methods approved by our forefathers, though there is no proof that they are less painful; but the notion of using an electric shock for the purpose has given a moral shock to the country. In the same way we may explain the grotesqueness of the proposal made in that remarkable work, “The Unseen Universe,” to punish criminals by the electric battery. You may starve a criminal, shut him up in a dark cell, or tear his back with the cat, but you must not do anything which conflicts so much with our notions of the proper and habitual as to call in the aid of science. It may be that electricity would give the most deterrent effect with the least permanent injury; but it would still be cruel on the sociological ground.
The psychological element in cruelty has regard to the degree in which the pain of the animal is made apparent to the spectator, and forced upon his imagination. There is a curious instance to this effect in the life of William Roscoe,∗ who tells us that in early life he spent many hours in strolling along the shore of the Mersey, or in fishing. But on one occasion, as he says in his own words, “I determined to become a sportsman; and having procured a gun, and found an unfortunate thrush perched on a branch of a tree, I brought him to the ground with fatal aim; but I was so horrified and disgusted with the agonies which I saw him endure in death, that I have never since repeated the experiment.” William Roscoe, then, drew the line of cruelty between fish and fowl. The helpless flopping and struggling of the hooked fish did not impress upon him the sense of pain with sufficient acuteness to overpower the satisfaction of success. But the writhing of a tortured bird was an expression of suffering too strong to bear. I believe that much of the obloquy so wrongly cast upon Dr. Ferrier arose from his operating upon monkeys, whose grimaces, as described by him, approached too nearly to a human form. That this is so we may perhaps infer from the indignation expended upon the case of the unfortunate patient experimented on by an American medical man, as described in The Spectator of March 20th, 1875, and discussed in subsequent numbers. The woman was dying of a mortal disease, her brain was already exposed, she consented to the experiments, which were also painless. Yet the idea of sticking needles into her brain and exciting spasmodic movements and grimaces by electricity was held to be so cruel, although painless, that the operator left the country. Cruelty, then, does not necessarily involve the infliction of any appreciable pain; it may consist in the production of expressions which merely suggest ideas of pain. The psychological element of cruelty may, then, become so important as itself to constitute cruelty almost entirely. It is not the knowledge, in a logical sort of way, that pain is needlessly and wantonly inflicted upon the lower animals which excites popular indignation, otherwise why does the sporting spirit meet with approval rather than disgust? Cruel actions, according to popular esteem, are simply those which bring the fact and intensity of pain too much before the imagination. It is something in the same way that we are more affected by hearing of one man killed half a mile off, than of ten thousand people perishing in an unknown part of China or South America.
The same perplexing difference of sentiments will be found to occur again as regards the rat-catching business. It is well known that there is a regular trade in live rats, which are caught in cage-traps, and then supplied at regular market prices to dog-fanciers, who want either to train young ratting dogs or to exhibit the powers of their pets. A great many people would call this traffic in rats a base, cruel thing; but this can hardly be on account of physical pain caused to the rats. They can suffer but little in the cage-traps, and a skilful ratting-dog disposes of a rat at a single toss. The same people who would denounce the cruelty of ratting never bestow a thought upon those dreadful serrated steel traps, actuated by a powerful spring, which catch the unhappy animal by any part of his body—head, trunk, legs, or tail—which happens to be within reach. Often must an animal caught in such a trap suffer for hours, and even for days, torments quite equal to those of the vivisection table without chloroform, the pangs of hunger being superadded. In these days of inventive progress it would be very easy to devise traps which would kill rats and mice instantaneously and with certainty. If the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has offered prizes for the invention of such traps, or has taken any steps to reduce the immense amount of pain caused by the present traps, such efforts have not come to my knowledge.
Turning now to the Report of the Royal Commission on Vivisection, my own impression is very strong to the effect that no abuses of the practice of any importance have been proved. The rumours and hearsay evidence about the frequent private vivisections by students did not usually bear cross-examination, though in one town it is clear that a kind of small club of students had been experimenting. The story of the old horse kept for the purpose of practising operations in a veterinary school is also an unpleasant one (Questions 5,037–5,043). But if we allow that there was some cruelty in this single case, I do not think there is any need to expend much sentimental indignation upon it. The witness who made this case known was obliged to allow in his answers to other questions (5,052–5,054) that he had himself performed a far more painful operation on horses, namely, that of firing them without always taking the trouble to give them chloroform. The same witness denounced “the fearful cruelty” with which a particular dog had been treated by some students. Examination, however, showed (Questions 5,009–5,030) that the intention had been to kill the dog in the manner usually considered the least objectionable, namely, by the administration of prussic acid. The dose having perhaps been insufficient, the dog soon afterwards showed signs of life, and some students tried the effect of a little ammonia as an antidote. Having become partially sensible, it was promptly killed by a blow on the head. The dog probably suffered no pain, or as little as might be; and I see nothing so cruel in it as for a sportsman to shoot a bird, and then depart without taking the trouble to ascertain whether it is killed or only wounded.
A great deal of attention was given to the case of certain dogs which had been killed by strychnine in the presence of medical students, for the purpose of demonstrating the action of that fearful poison. As regards the physical pain caused, I see no grounds for complaint, while it is permitted for the squatters of Queensland to kill the native dogs in large numbers by strychnine. If the use of this poison is in itself cruel, then the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty should take means to prohibit its general use. It is on moral and psychological grounds, then, that the exhibition of the effects of the poison are to be objected to, if at all. But nobody denied that a medical man ought to learn the symptoms of strychnine poisoning, which might not only be met with in practice, but are very instructive in other respects. It was given in evidence by several high authorities that no one could adequately conceive the action of strychnine without witnessing it. So that the question really is whether medical students are to be prevented from gaining necessary knowledge in the most effective way, because it will harden and sear their moral natures to see an animal killed for the purpose.
It seems to me, speaking as one having no practical acquaintance with such matters, that if the exhibition of poisoned dogs is objectionable, then a great part of the clinical instruction of medical students is objectionable. Are students, for instance, to be allowed to study patients dying of hydrophobia or other dreadful diseases? To allow the general public heedlessly to see such painful sights would be disgusting, simply because it would be encouraging a morbid pleasure in the witnessing of pain. But it is a necessary part of the education of a medical man, not only to learn the nature of the diseases, but to harden his nerves, and to acquire the power of encountering the most dreadful cases of human suffering without losing his presence of mind. It is in clinical practice he acquires this power, and it seems to me out of the question, that after coolly scrutinising human suffering in all its worst phases, his moral nature will be destroyed by seeing the poisoning of a dog. No doubt it is a question admitting of discussion how far the constant witnessing of pain blunts the moral nature. But so far as I can judge of the medical men with whom I am acquainted, their moral natures have sustained no injuries. On the contrary, they are in general among the most humane of men, and all their affections and sympathies have been in no degree weakened by the painful scenes they constantly witness. Now, if this be so, I am quite unable to see how the exhibition, in a reasonable and necessary degree, of experiments upon the lower animals, conducted in as painless a way as the nature of the experiment allows, can have the dreadful moral consequences attributed to it by the anti-vivisectionists. As regards the physical element of cruelty, the student may well reflect that infinitely greater amounts of pain are daily inflicted, with the approval of the community, by the sportsman and the ratcatcher. As regards the moral element, he may feel assured that an able and experienced teacher would not exhibit useless experiments.
There is one thing which I much regret in this bitter discussion, namely, that questionable motives are imputed to those who practise vivisection for the purpose of research. Like most warm and intemperate partisans, anti-vivisectionists can see no good in those they pursue, and failing to convince people that experiments on animals are useless, they wish to make them out to be cruel on the second or moral ground, namely, that the experiments are performed merely for the purpose of gaining reputation or “notoriety,” as they call it dyslogistically. They would have us believe that men like Dr. Ferrier or Dr. Michael Foster, although they may be discovering truths of some importance to suffering humanity, are not really doing it from humane motives. But can anything be more gratuitous and unfair? In the absence of any special reason, I altogether question our right to pry into private motives. If the experiments are well performed, and the results are, or are likely to be, in a fair proportion of cases, useful to mankind, I think that the private motives of the observer are not a matter for public animadversion. The law distinctly takes this view, allowing the fullest freedom of criticism upon an author's works, but treating remarks upon his moral character and private affairs in a very different way.
But assuming that we must discuss the question of motives, what can be more gratuitous than to question the pure intentions of vivisectors, while we leave physicists, chemists, geologists, and all other classes of discoverers, unchallenged? Can it be that a selfish love of notoriety is the spring of those exertions which have benefited mankind with all the progress of the sciences and arts? I have been astonished to see that one witness before the Commission, himself a scientific man of the highest standing, holds all original research to be selfish and demoralising. He said (Question 1,287), speaking of vivisection: “It is amenable to abuse when employed for the purpose of research; and I must say that, with regard to all absorbing studies, that is the besetting sin of them, and of original research, that they lift a man so entirely above the ordinary sphere of daily duty that they betray him into selfishness and unscrupulous neglect of duty.” And again he says: “I mean to say that vivisection, in its application to research, may be somewhat more demoralising than other kinds of devotion to research; every kind of original research being a gratification of self, and liable to develop selfishness, which of course is the root of all unscrupulousness.” Did ever a scientific man take so extraordinary a view of the moral aspects of the work in which he was engaged? I had previously been under the impression that, of all kinds of occupations, the labours of the scientific discoverer are least open to the charge of selfishness. The labours of the engineer, lawyer, banker, merchant, are not specially selfish, but they often result in the acquisition of so much riches that the individual may fairly aspire to the pleasure of shooting his own partridges, or even renting a grouse moor. But I should like to know how far the salary received by a professor of practical physiology, in respect of his skilful cutting up of dogs and cats, would go, after the payment of household expenses, towards the purchase of the privilege of slaughtering birds in the fashionable way. The vivisector, like most discoverers in pure science, must look for his reward in the pleasure of pursuing knowledge for its own sake, or for the sake of the millions of men who will in the future be benefited by his discoveries. Of course, I do not mean to say that the vivisector has clearly before his mind in each experiment the good of mankind generally. Men are usually driven to work for a great end by some instinctive tendency, some pleasure in the action itself, or some minor motive, just as the bee gathers a store of honey, not because he is conscious of its future utility, but because it is agreeable to gather it. We approve the industrious actions of the bee because they lead to a useful end; and it is quite sufficient defence of the vivisector's character that his labours are likely to result in the diminution of disease and suffering.
Moreover, suppose that the vivisector is consciously urged on by the love of reputation or fame, I have yet to learn that there is anything immoral or selfish in such love. Milton has described the love of fame as “that last infirmity of noble minds.” To call it the love of notoriety is to use a question-begging epithet, assuming that vivisection is a cruel and morally bad practice. Notoriety is reputation gained by bad means, or those injurious to the community; fame is reputation gained by good means, or those beneficial to the community. There are not the slightest grounds upon which to attribute notoriety to the vivisector, while we attribute fame to the great statesman, orator, artist, engineer. And the desire of reputation, too, may be merely the desire of means towards an unselfish end. One who aspires to repeat the labours of a Harvey, a Jenner, or a Simpson, might well adopt the words which Tennyson has put into the mouth of Merlin:
Looking to all the circumstances, we must conclude that this agitation against vivisection consists in a kind of sentimental frenzy, excited in persons of peculiar susceptibility by the minute descriptions of novel and sometimes painful operations described in books on practical physiology. The actual amount of pain inflicted cannot really be the ground of agitation, because, on any supposition, the physical pain needlessly inflicted by sportsmen, ratcatchers, and others, is infinitely greater. As I have already maintained, the moral element of cruelty is altogether wanting in vivisection—in all but a very few cases. It is merely the novelty of the thing to people's minds, the apparent villany and cool-bloodedness of cutting live animals, which excites the imagination. Sociology and psychology enable us perfectly to comprehend the frenzy of the Anti-Vivisection Society, but science and common sense will teach us to bear a slight wound to our sympathetic feelings that we may secure immeasurable blessings for future generations. Vaccination has already saved more lives than all the wars of Napoleon destroyed. Chloroform has prevented inconceivable amounts of pain. From the continued application of experiment to physiology we may look for other gifts such as these. “Where the pursuit of scientific truth and common compassion come into collision, it seems to me that the ends of civilisation, no less than of morality, require us to be guided by the latter or higher principle.” So says Mr. Hutton, in his separate Report as member of the Commission; but the pursuit of scientific truth is the highest and most civilising and most compassionate work in which a man can engage. If he holds that we may not cause pain to a dog that we may save greater pain to a thousand human beings, then further argument would be useless. Mr. Hutton also seems to think that it is more justifiable to make experiments upon sheep, in a way likely to benefit other sheep, than if we experiment purely in the interest of man. We may injure one sensitive creature for the good of other creatures of the same rank, but not for the good of creatures of higher or, I suppose, lower rank. If this be his meaning, I can only allow that he possesses moral sentiments of a kind to which I am wholly a stranger.
I do not believe that there is any need for legislation in this matter at all. It is undesirable that students should privately practise vivisection, and it is most desirable that anesthetics should be employed to the utmost possible extent; but after the attention of the public has been so strongly drawn to the subject, it is very unlikely that the slight abuses shown to have occurred will be repeated. The professors of practical physiology will have every reason to keep a watch, and they are more likely to be able to restrain their students than the police or the societies; but if prosecutions like that of M. Magnan are to be repeated, it will be necessary to protect vivisection by legislation, giving the duly qualified dissector a license to make experiments, somewhat as provided in Dr. Playfair's bill.
In view of the infinite benefits to mankind and the lower animals which we may confidently anticipate from this tardy application of true scientific method to the phenomena of life, it is altogether out of the question that we should attempt to repress or hinder vivisection. Legislation should be directed to legalising the practice on the part of those who are most likely to conduct it usefully, skilfully, and, as far as circumstances will allow, painlessly.
[∗]Since writing the above I have found that these statements are to a great extent confirmed in a work just published upon Queensland, called “The Queen of the Colonies.” A squatter destroyed a whole tribe of blacks by giving them a bag of flour poisoned by strychnine. This crime is comparable with that of Thomassen. No attempt was made to punish him. Another case, in which two blacks were intentionally poisoned by strychnine, is also mentioned. The shooting and poisoning of natives are said to have ceased in the last few years; but ought we to be satisfied by vague and unsupported assertions in a matter of this kind?
[∗]Report of the Royal Commission on Vivisection, p. 326.
[∗]“The Life of William Roscoe,” by his son, Henry Roscoe. 1833. Vol. i. p. 11.
[∗]Read at the Manchester Statistical Society, March 8th, 1876.