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A Word for Brutes Against Brutes

by C. H. Spurgeon
From the June 1873 Sword and Trowel


THE NEWSPAPERS for the last few weeks have been a source of grievous affliction to humane minds. The brutalities which they have recorded have shown a diabolical refinement of cruelty which makes us blush to belong to the race of man. When we read of a wretch driving a poor horse for miles with its feet broken, bleeding at every step it took upon its poor stumps, we shudder and our blood runs cold; but when we hear a trifling sentence pronounced upon such a monster we feel that same blood tingling in our cheeks as our whole nature turns with indignation at such a failure of justice. If there be no law which would award the lash to such a fiend incarnate an Act ought to be passed at once, or Mr. Justice Lynch might for once be invoked to give the demon his reward in an irregular Manner. The hideous story brings to our mind the none too forcible lines of a much-abused poet,1 when he pleads for a worn-out horse:—

Liveth there no advocate for him? no judge to avenge his wrongs?
No voice that shall be heard in his defense? no sentence to be passed on his oppressor?
Yea, the sad eye of the tortured pleadeth pathetically for him;
Yea, all the justice in heaven is roused in indignation at his woes;
Yea, all the pity upon earth shall call down a curse upon the cruel;
Yea, the burning malice of the wicked is their own exceeding punishment.
The Angel of Mercy stoppeth not to comfort, but passeth by on the other side,
Anti hath no tear to shed, when a cruel man is damned."

    Close upon the heels of this torturing of a horse comes the case of a man who, as a matter of business, picks little birds' eyes out with a pin to make them sing better: whipcord is too good a thing for this being; and if we were not averse to all capital punishment we should suggest that nothing short of a rope with a noose in it would give him his deserts. Is this the nineteenth century? Then may we have patience to endure with our fellow men till we get out of it into a better century, if such will ever come. Swift is right, man is often a mere yahoo, a two-legged brute, and this yahoo proves himself to be the worst possible master to the other animals; he is a viler tyrant than the wolf or the hyæna would have been: unhappy are the creatures to be ruled by such a lord!
    Since it is useless to be indignant and declamatory, if we are nothing more, let every humane person bestir himself to put down the reign of terror towards the animate creation, wherever it comes under his notice. Cruelty to animals must be stamped out. Each case must be earnestly dealt with. Where the laws are violated humane persons must undertake the unpleasant duty of prosecuting the offenders, or must at least report them to the proper authorities: and where no law exists to protect the 'unhappy victims, instances of cruelty should be reported by the press, that shame may be aroused and a right public sentiment treated. Children should be taught to avoid everything approaching to unkindness; the wanton destruction of birds' nests, the atoning of birds, beating of donkeys, worrying of fowls, and a hundred petty cruelties in which boys are often encouraged, should be promptly denounced. The works issued by Messrs. Partridge and Co., in connection with "The British Workman" ought to be scattered "thick as leaves in Vallambrosa;" for the woodcuts are striking, and with the letterpress, make up an advocacy for animals of the noblest kind. Every other means which would come under the head of example or precept, reward or punishment, should be continually employed; and no exertion should be spared till cruelty to animals shall be an unknown vice, or at least shall be universally regarded as the distinguishing mark of the lowest and basest of the people.
    It is not only for the sake of the creature subject to cruelty that we would, plead for kindness, but with a view to the good of the person causing the pain; for cruelty hardens the heart, deadens the conscience, and destroys the finer sensibilities of the soul. The most eminently spiritual men display great delicacy towards all living things, and if it, be not always true that "he prayeth best who loveth best both male and bird and beast," yet the converse is assuredly the fact, for the man who truly loves his Maker becomes tender towards all the creatures his Lord has made. In gentleness and kindness our great Redeemer is our model. Our Lord would not deprive a poor ass of the company of its foal when he rode into Jerusalem, and he talked of the most common and insignificant of birds as the object of the Great Father's care. His best followers are gentle towards all things which live and feel, and, taught by his Spirit, they have learned—

"Never to blend their pleasure or their pride
With sorrow of the meanest thing that breathes."

    A holy mind sympathises with Cowper in his refusal to enter on his list of friends the man "who needlessly sets foot upon a worm," and fully agrees with Dr. Blair that it is "shameful to treat even the meanest insect with wanton cruelty." In proportion as men decline from the highest standard of goodness their sympathies become blunted, they lose delicacy, and tenderness, and becoming more selfish become also less considerate of others. He who dwells in God has a great heart which encompasses all creation, and as it were lives in it all like the soul in. the body, feeling akin with all, yea, one with all life, so that it joys in all true joy, and sorrows in all sorrow. The man of dead heart towards; God has a heart of stone towards the Lord's creatures, and cares for them only so far as he can make them minister to his own wealth or pleasure. Hardness of heart towards poor flies, so that he found amusement in piercing them with pins, was in Domitian a sure mark of a hard heart towards the Lord and all goodness. Cock-fighting and bull-baiting were not only detestable things as involving needless torturing of living things, but as corrupting, depraving, and preparing for eternal perdition all who delighted in them. A cruel action is as a hot iron to the soul searing it, and preventing its feeling the touch of the gentle hand of mercy's angel. We remember reading a story some, what to the following effect:—A lad while strolling through the fields with his sister found a nest of young rabbits. The sister was charmed with the, little creatures, but the rough boy seized them, mimicking their squeaks and their struggles. In vain his sister wept and entreated; he flung them up into the air, and shouted as each fell dead upon the stories. Ten years after, that sister sat weeping again by that lad's side. He was in chains, sentenced to be hanged for shooting a farmer whilst poaching: they were waiting for the awful procession to knock at the cell door. "Sister," he said, "do you remember the nest of rabbits ten years ago, how you begged and prayed, and I ridiculed? I verily believe, that, from that day, God forsook me, and left me to follow my own inclinations. If I had yielded to your tears, then, you and I would not be weeping these bitter tears now." There may have been a great deal more truth in this remorseful confession than at first blush some would imagine; at any rate, we will go the length of affirming that no person really penitent for sin can be cruel, that no man who feels the love of God shed abroad in his heart can find pleasure in giving pain, and furthermore that wanton cruelty to an animal may be that last deadening deed of ill which may for ever leave the heart callous to all the appeals of law and gospel.
    Perhaps we may each one do most to serve the cause of kindness to animals by setting a high example ourselves. Possibly we cannot like Cowper keep tame hares and sing about them, or like Dr. Elford Leach, walk about the streets, attended by an obsequious wolf, but we may set up a high ideal of treatment towards creatures both tame and wild, and act upon it. A famous saint was wont to call birds and beasts his brothers and sisters, and Mr. Darwin apparently goes in for that relationship most literally: we do not contend for anything so high as that, but we do ask to have them viewed as our Father's creatures, to be treated well for his sake, and to be regarded as our friends. There really can be no reason honorable to our humanity to account for the fact that; every living thing flees from ns the moment we appear, as if we were the ogres of creation who delight in doing mischief to all within reach. We have often felt as if we should like to tell the birds that they misunderstand us, that we have no wish to drive them away, that we beg their pardon for being so rough in our manners, for really we are their very good friends, and would like to cultivate their acquaintance. Pray, little sparrow, do not trouble yourself to leave those crumbs because we happen to be going by, we assure you we would not hurt you, and will even turn back and go round the garden by another path if you will only not be alarmed at us. What a pity that men should have deserved the bad opinion of so many of God's most lovely creatures! Long years of wrong—doing have gained for us the universal dread of beast and bird; only dogs and cats will trust us, and they do so probably because they are tolerably well able to take care of themselves, by biting or scratching us: the defenceless animals feel that they have no chance with us, and fly at our approach. Cannot we redeem our character, and persuade our furred and feathered friends to trust us, and learn at the same time to trust them? Can none of our fair readers ever become an Amoret to whom the river-god sings—

"Not a fish in all my brook
That shall disobey thy look,
But, when thou will:, come sliding by,
And from thy white hand take a fly."

Surely to that same privileged maiden it will be more than safe to say—

Do not fear to put feet
Naked in the river, sweet;
Think not leech, or newt, or toad,
Will bite thy foot, when thou hast trod."

The fancy picture may be realized. We once saw in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris a young lady take her seat, and in a few moments the air was fall of birds of every wing. They were all around and upon her, peeking crumbs from her shoulder, her hand, and her lips. They hawked for particles of bread which she threw into the air, they alighted on her bonnet, they perched upon her fingers. It was a pretty sight, though a sadly rare one, yet might it be common enough if we earned the love of our feathered friends as she had done by supplying their humble wants every day. The like, kindnesses will earn the like gratitude and confidence. Of this we are gathering evidence by daily experience. We do not allow a gun in our garden, feeling that we can afford to pay a few cherries for a great deal of music, and we now have quite a lordly party of thrushes, blackbirds, and starlings upon the lawn, with a parliament of sparrows, chaffinches, robins, and other minor prophets. Our summer-house is occupied by a pair of blue-martens, which chase our big eat out of the garden by dashing swiftly across his head one after the other, till he is utterly bewildered, and makes a bolt of it. In the winter the balcony of our study is sacred to a gathering of all the tribes; they have heard that there is corn in Egypt, and therefore they hasten to partake of it and keep their souls alive in famine. On summer evenings the queen of our little kingdom spreads a, banquet in our great green saloon which the vulgar call a lawn; it is opposite the parlor window, and her guests punctually arrive and cheerfully partake, while their hostess rejoices to gaze upon them. Some of them are now so tame that, when fresh provision is brought out to them, they take no more notice of the lady servitor than a child at table would of a servant who brings in a fresh joint. In a more secluded place, with more time to spare to look after them, we could educate the fera naturæ, or in plain words the wild creatures, into a high degree of confidence. They would very soon become as familiar with us as Alexander Selkirk found them to be with himself on his desert island: we should not, however, say as he did, "Their tameness is shocking to me." Kindness would speedily re-establish mankind in bird estimation and remove that ill opinion which makes them startle at our approach. If all around, children, servants and visitors, could be bound over to keep the peace, there might again be seen around the good man's house a sort of Paradise Regained, and of the husband and wife it might be said as of our yet unfallen parents—

"About them frisking played
All beasts of the earth, since wild and of all chase
In wood or wilderness, forest or den."

That such a state of things may be realised is clear, for to a large degree it has been produced by many persons of kindly spirit. Mr. Jacox in his very remarkable work entitled "Traits of Character"2 has a passage in which he mentions the power over animals possessed by several remarkable men. With that extract we shall dismiss the subject, hoping that we may not in vain have opened our mouth for the dumb.
    "Rousseau piqued himself on the liking manifested towards him by the pigeons., and he would spend hours at a time in teaching them to trust him. A very difficult bird to tame, to teach confidence, he affirms the pigeon to be; and all the greater the kudos claimed by Jean Jacques for succeeding in inspiring his window visitors with such confidence in him that they followed him whithersoever he went, and let themselves be taken whensoever he would. At last he could never make his appearance in the garden or yard, but instantly two or three of them were on his shoulder or his head; and their attentions of this kind became so pressing, and ce cortége became si incommode, that he was obliged to cheek their familiarity. But he ever took a singular pleasure in taming animals—those in particular which are wild and timid. It seemed to him a charming thing to inspire [hem with a confidence which he never betrayed or abused. His desire 'was to have them love him while they remained absolutely free. He carried on the like system of tactics with bees, and with like success.
    Mr. Froude declares 'all genuine men' to be objects of special attraction to animals (as well as to children): and in his biographical sketch of Bishop Hugh of Lincoln, he recounts the 'very singular instance' of the liking shown for that prelate by the big swan of Stone Manor, usually so unmanageable and savage: the bishop knew the way to his heart; fed him, and taught him to poke his head into the pockets of his frock to look for bread crumbs, which he did not fail to find there. Ever after, it is said, he seemed to know instinctively when the bishop was expected, and flew trumpeting up and down the lake, slapping the water with his wings; and on the arrival of his right reverend friend, he would, strut at his side, and sometimes follow him up stairs. It was a miracle of course, adds the biographer, to the general mind, though explicable enough to those who have observed the physical charm which men who take pains to understand animals are able to exercise over them.
    "Coleridge is the 'noticeable man with large grey eyes,' who, in the well-read description by his brother bard, would entice a congenial comrade to share his outdoor idlesse, the two together being as happy spirits as were ever seen:

'If but a bird, to keep them company,
Or butterfly sate down, they were I ween,
As pleased as if the same had been a maiden-queen.'

Professor Lowell would have made a happy third—even if he had quizzed them afterwards, and himself, His essay on his Garden Acquaintance told us how all the birds looked on him as if he were a mere tenant-at-will, and they were landlords. 'With shame I confess it, I have been bullied even by a humming-bird.' Scarce a tree of his but has had, at some time or other, a happy homestead among its boughs. 'I love to bring these aborigines back to the mansuetude they showed to the early voyagers, and before (forgive the involuntary pun) they had grown accustomed to man and knew his savage ways. Savage Landor had anything but savage ways with the creatures feræ naturæ on his estate, whether at Lanthony or at Fiesole; and proud he was to assert in octosyllabics his good fellowship with the good creatures in question, all and sundry:

'Cares if I had, I turned those cares
Toward my partridges and hares,
At every gun and dog I heard
Ill-auguring for some truant bird
Or whiskered friend of jet-tipt ear,
Until the frightened old limpt near.
These knew me, and 'twas quite enough.'"


  1. Martin Tupper
  2. Hodder and Stoughton

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