« ZurückWeiter »
THE CLAIMS OF THE INFERIOR CREATURES ENFORCED BY A CON
THE DEBASING INFLUENCE OF CRUELTY ON
THE INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER, AND THE EVILS IT INFLICTS
WHILE we denounce cruelty, we must not imagine that its absence in any individual, or even the existence of the most sensitive consideration for animal suffering, is alone a sure indication of virtuous character. In the dialogues on “ The Amusements of Clergymen," the author introduces an instance to the contrary. “I would not have you always take the measure of a man's virtue by the extraordinary tenderness of his feelings. I knew a gentleman, so extremely tender towards the lives of animals, that when an earwig crept out of a log of wood which had been laid on his fire, he forbade any more logs to be taken from the pile, and left it to rot. Yet this very man, with all these nice feelings about him, lived avowedly in a state of immorality. Such tenderness, therefore, may or may not be allied to virtue.” It is founded merely in nature; but when any one affection of the mind is regulated by a religious principle, there is in that mind a controlling power which regulates other affections; thus, if we abstain from cruelty on religious principle, we may depend on that principle on other occasions. As to these delicate feelings they seldom reach beyond their immediate object. They are not unfrequently, indeed, in alliance with vice and baseness. "A man of warm passions,” says Coleridge, “may sacrifice half his estate to rescue a friend from prison, for he is naturally sympathetic, and the more social part of his nature happened to be uppermost.
man shall afterwards exhibit the same disregard of money in inflicting upon that friend's social happiness the deepest injury. So,” he observes, "must it needs be with all qualities that have their rise only in parts and
fragments of our nature.” Morbid sensibility is only a more subtle form of selfishness,
pampering the coward heart
If, however, sensibility may be separated from virtue, cruelty is essentially vicious, and is one of the seeds of evil which the depravity induced by the Fall has sown in the human bosom.
The good maintain with all the corrupt propensities of our nature perpetual warfare ; the bad indulge and stimulate them into sinful action, and the one which may happen to predominate, stamps the character of the individual. Cruelty, except among the monsters of the species who are the objects of universal execration, is seldom the ruling passion. But it exists in different degrees, is excited by a variety of causes, and in proportion to its indulgence, hardens the heart, and prepares for every atrocity which may promise any selfish gratification. In illustrating the subject of cruelty, so far as it relates to the inferior animals, and exerts a baneful influence in debasing individual character, and producing injury to society at large, it may be well to trace its various gradations, beginning at the lowest point.
This probably comprehends the most numerous and most influential class, for it is rather by implication that the charge of cruelty is applicable to them. We refer to those who are simply not humane; who are indifferent to the sufferings of animals, because they regard them in the light of property only, and have not been accustomed to acknowledge and to recognise man's dominion over them as a moral trust. Individuals of this description—and they are to be found in every rank of life, in every walk of society—labour under a defect of moral nature, which as much mars the beauty of their character, as the extinction of an eye would impair the perfection of their countenance. They are strangers to one whole department of morality, and deficient by one whole class
of moral sentiments. They know of no other world than that which is narrowed within the limits of their own species. The inferior animals are not enclosed within their boundary, and have no rights as sentient beings,' existing for their own sakes as well as ours; thus are they unconsciously separated from a large part of the economy of life. This separation deprives them of half their value as moral agents, and leaves them without any adequate qualifications to discharge the duties which they owe to their fellowcreatures. If it be said that persons habitually unfeeling towards animals are nevertheless kind to their relations, neighbours, and friends, we would ask, whether whim and caprice be not visible amidst that kindness? whether it may not be perceived to be uniformly subordinate to a decided selfishness, and whether slight causes are not enough to convert it into resentment and cruelty ?
Those who indulge cruelty thoughtlessly, and in sport, are so far unjust that they trifle with the happiness of the creatures of God, and so far selfish, as to do this for the mere purpose of amusement. Thus their injustice betrays a lurking impiety, and their selfishness a motive totally un