Pristine Grace

Whether unnecessary cruelty to the Brute creation, is not criminal?
by Augustus Toplady

Speech Delivered at the Queen's Arms,...
SPEECH DELIVERED AT THE QUEEN'S ARMS, NEWGATE- STREET,
ON THE FOLLOWING QUESTION:

“Whether unnecessary cruelty to the Brute creation, is not criminal?"

    Mr. President,

    The humane tendency of the question reflects great honour on the benevolence of the gentleman who proposed it; and the manner in which it has been discussed, since I came into the room, does equal credit to the gentlemen who have spoke to it. However, I must own my dissent, in some particulars, from the worthy gentleman who gave his sentiments last: and, as he thought proper to make very free with the gentleman who spoke before him, I hope he will excuse me, if I make modestly free with him. And though the observation, I intend to animadvert upon, was rather a deviation from the question; yet I shall follow him in the deviation, for a while: and the more willingly, as it may conduce, indirectly, to throw some light on the subject now under debate.

    That gentleman asserted, peremptorily and absolutely, that "All things whatever, in and upon the terraqueous globe, were created purely and solely for the service of man." Such an opinion may serve to gratify our vanity and sooth our pride: but, how far it is founded on reality, will appear from examining into matter of fact.

    We will suppose, that a ship, on a foreign voyage, drops anchor on a foreign coast. A poor sailor takes the opportunity of bathing in the sea. An hungry shark either scents or descries him; darts forward to the unhappy victim; snaps him in two, and swallows him at a couple of mouthfuls. I would ask; was the shark made for the use of that man? or was that man made for the use of the shark? So long, therefore, as there are not only useless creatures in the world, (useless, as to us, though they doubtless answer some valuable purpose in the great scheme of creation (but creatures apparently noxious, and fatal, sometimes, to our very lives; so long, I think, if demonstration carries any conviction, we must grant that there are some creatures not made for the service of men. But, to omit sharks, rattlesnakes, and crocodiles, let us descend to creatures of much lower class. Will that gentleman seriously say, for instance, that London bugs, fleas, and some other reptiles I could mention, are made for human benefit? Ask any mendicant in the streets, what he thinks; he will tell you, that they seem rather made to tire our patience, and to mortify our pride. I allow, indeed, that man is the centre, in which the generality of created good may be said to terminate: for which we ought to be thankful to the most wise and gracious Creator of all things. But then it is, to me, equally evident, that the same adorable being consulted, and does consult, the happiness of every individual creature to which he has given life: else why such various, and so admirably adapted accommodations for their respective provision and welfare.

    I now come directly to the question; and, without hesitation, or limitation, deliver it as my stedfast belief that all wanton exercise of power over, and all unnecessary cruelty to, the brute creation, is truly and properly criminal. Several good reasons have been urged in proof of this by some gentlemen who spoke before me: but I own, there is one argument, which has more weight with me than all that have been yet offered, and which I wonder no gentlemen has hitherto mentioned. I firmly believe, that beasts have souls; souls, truly and properly so called: which, if true, entitles them, not only to all due tenderness, but even to a higher degree of respect than is usually shown them.

    I lay down two things, Mr. President, as data: 1. That mere matter is incapable of thinking; and, 2. That there is no medium between matter and spirit.

    That brutes think, can hardly, I imagine, be questioned by any thinking man. Their not being able to carry their speculations so high as we do, is no objection to their cogitability. Even among men, some are more able reasoners than others. And we might perhaps, reason no better than the meanest animal that breathes, if our souls were shut up in bodies, no better organized than theirs. Nay, brutes not only think when they are awake, and their senses are in full exercise; but they frequently think, even in their sleep. A dog, as he lies extended by the fireside, will sometimes show, by the whining noise he makes, and by the catching motion of his feet, that he is enjoying an imaginary chase in a dream. A cat, dissolved in sleep, will often by various starts and agitation, convince any unprejudiced observer, that she fancies her prey full in view, and is preparing to seize it. I remember a cat of my own, who one evening enjoyed, for five or eight minutes, this pleasing illusion: until at last, her eagerness, agitation of spirits, and a spring she endeavoured to make, awoke her from her golden dream: upon which she showed as much concern and disappointment, as she could discover by disconsolate mewing. Now, there can be no imagination without thought: nay, these two are, perhaps, in fact, things synonymous: nor can there be thought, without some degree of reason: and that which reasons, must be something superior to matter, however modified, and essentially different from it. I have not time to enter deep into the subject. I cannot, however, help giving it as my judgment, that, before a man can, coolly and deliberately deny rationality to brutes, he must have renounced his own. And why that noble faculty, which, pro gradu, produces similar effects in us and them, should be called by a different name in them and us, I own myself quite at a loss to determine. If I can at all account for it, the pride of man is the only reason I am able to assign. We are, right or wrong, for monopolizing every excellence to ourselves, and for allowing little or none to other animals is forgetting that inferior animals are not only our fellow-creatures, but (if it may be said without offence) our elder brethren: for their creation was previous to ours. - If then brutes reason; that in them which does reason, must be spirit, or an immaterial principle: which principle, being immaterial, must be perfectly simple and uncompounded: if perfectly simple it must be, in its own nature, incorruptible; and, if incorruptible, immortal. And I will honestly confess, that I never yet heard one single argument urged against the immortality of brutes; which, if admitted, would not, mutatis mutandis, be equally conclusive against the immortality of man.

    What I have offered may seem strange and surprising to those who have not viewed the subject on both sides of it. It would have seemed strange to myself a few years ago.

    I accounted for all the internal and external operations of brutes upon the principles of mechanism. But I was soon driven from this absurdity, by dint of evidence. Was a cat a mere machine, she could not distinguish a mouse from a kitten; but would be equally indifferent to both. Was a dog a mere machine, he would not distinguish his master from a rabbit: much less would he pursue the latter, and caress the former: any more than a clock can know its owner, or one statue can hunt another. – I next had recourse to instinct. But I soon found, upon careful examination, that this is a mere term without an idea: a name, for we know not what: and he that would distinguish between instinct and reason (for, if instinct has any meaning at all, it must signify reason), must first find a medium between matter and spirit. But I am rather for expunging the word quite, as a term, which, in its present application at least, signifies just nothing: and, like all such unmeaning terms, either conduces to no end; or, at least, to a very bad one, as only tending to confuse and embarrass, and "darken counsel by words without knowledge." By the way, this is not the only word, which, was I to unite an expurgatory index to our language, I would utterly proscribe. But, whatever I retain, chance, fortune, luck, and instinct, should have no quarter; because they are wells without water; terms without ideas; and words are only so far valuable, as they are the vehicles of meaning.

    I cannot wholly dismiss the subject, without observing another particular in favour of the spirituality of brutes: namely, what is commonly the facultas locomotiva, or power of voluntary motion from place to place. Motion itself, simply considered, is not always an indication of an intelligent agent within: but voluntary motion is, and must be such in the very nature of things. An inanimate body, set in motion by some exterior cause, would, as is universally allowed, go on, in a strait line, ad infinitum if not obstructed in its course by the air or some other intervening body. All involuntary motion, therefore, being necessarily, and in its own nature, rectilinear; and the motions of beasts not being necessarily rectilinear, but in all directions, and in any direction, as occasion requires (for they, in their way, act as much pro re nata as we can do); it follows, that every beast has something within, which judges, consults, and directs; which, as it cannot possibly be material, must be spiritual. If a dog was running, from this end of the room to the other, and one of the gentlemen, by the opposite chimneypiece was to stand up in a menacing posture, the animal would immediately cease to proceed in a right line, because he would know that would be the wrong one for his safety; he would turn back, and, if possible, escape at the door. What is this but practical reason? an excellence, by the bye, in which many of those creatures surpass the generality of mankind. The language of such conduct is apparently this: "If I go forward, danger is before me: if I return, or go another way, I may, probably, escape this danger: ergo, I will do the latter." Could we ourselves in similar circumstances argue more justly or act more wisely? From which, I conclude, that, as there is evidently something in every living creature, which discerns what is good, and puts him upon pursuing it; which likewise points out what is pernicious, and puts him upon avoiding; this discerning, reasoning, inclining principle must be essentially different from the mechanic system it actuates, and can be no other, in plain English, than an intelligent soul. Should it be objected, that "this intelligent principle does not always produce these beneficial effects, witness the case of a dog who swallows poison under the apprehension of a dainty;" I answer, man himself is liable to deceptions of a similar kind. Yet he would be a disgrace to the name of man, who should, upon this account, question either the immateriality or immortality of his own soul.

    I pay, likewise, great attention to another consideration. That beasts are possessed of the five senses we value ourselves upon (though, perhaps, after all, every one of those senses may, in reality, be reducible to one, viz. feeling), in as great, and sometimes much greater perfection than we; is a principle which I look upon as incontestible. Brutes are, if experience (which is practical demonstration) carries any authority, as sensible of pain and pleasure, as man. Rub a cat's head and she will purr; pinch her tail, and she will spit. Now I would ask, what is it that feels? The body, the flesh, the blood, the nerves? No: for a dead animal has all these, and yet feels not. It is the soul, Mr. President, that feels and perceives, through the medium of the senses: for, what are the senses; but channels of conveyance, and a sort of mediators between outward objects and the mind? In what way matter acts upon spirit, is unknown: but that it does so, every day's experience proves.

    Memory likewise belongs to brutes. Memory is the power of recalling past ideas, and of recollecting past events. The person who denies that beasts remember, must either be a man of no observation, or have a very bad memory himself. Now there can be no memory without ideas: no ideas, without thinking (for, the forming, the comparison, and the combination of ideas are thought): no thinking, without some degree of reasoning: and no reasoning, without a reasonable soul. There may be thought, without memory: but memory there can be none, without thought. And the passions likewise are as strong in them, as in us.

    On the whole, needless cruelty to beasts is highly criminal. Especially if we take in these two additional observations; 1. that the same Deity, who has made them what they are, might have made us what they are: i. e. he might have imprisoned our spirits in their bodies, had it been his pleasure. And though I look upon the Pythagorean doctrine of transmigration to be in itself both groundless and absurd; yet its tendency was certainly a very good one, as it necessarily induced men to be tender of the lives and happiness, the being and the well-being of the animal creation. 2. As another very cogent motive to this benevolence of disposition and behaviour, let us never forget, that all the miseries and hardships under which the brute creation labour, together with mortality itself to which they are liable, are primarily owing to the sin of man: which reflection must influence every considerate and truly ingenious mind, to treat them with the greatest lenity upon that very account. Nor can I omit just mentioning an argument, which may be deduced from the care of providence. If God hath respect to the meanest of his creatures, and despises not the workmanship of his own hands; let us, whose supreme glory it is to resemble deity, imitate him in these amiable and graceful views. As Dr. Young truly and nobly observes, "There is not a fly, but infinite wisdom is concerned both in its structure and its destination." How dare we then be destroyers of their ease, which we ought to promote; or wantonly deprive them of that life, which we cannot restore?