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From The Ark Number 195 - Winter 2003

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This extract is from possibly the earliest example (in English) of a book (of letters, published in 1742) devoted to man’s relationship with animals

by Revd. John Hildrop MA

[Hildrop, Rector of Wath, near Ripon in Yorkshire, had heard a speech in which it was announced that ‘all the animal functions and operations of the brute-creation ... were entirely owing to the operation of evil spirits’. Hildrop had traced the origin of these ideas to a 1739 pamphlet written by a French Jesuit, Fr Bougeant, whom Hildrop considered ‘has done no credit to his order’. As he refutes Bourgeant’s theory, Hildrop also pours scorn on Descartes’ ideas of animals being mere unfeeling machines. In his second letter, Hildrop quotes the account of Creation in Genesis, and asks:]

‘Is there any thing in this account that seems either impossible or improbable? Does not the whole appear consistent, reasonable, worthy of God, and agreeable to Scripture? On the other hand, how mean, how trifling, how unworthy of God, how repugnant to Scripture, is the philosophy of those, who suppose [animals] to be either animated by Evil Spirits, or else allowing them no spiritual principle of motion or action, suppose them to be mere machines, to have no more sense or perception than a clock, or a watch; that though they have some motion, some appearance of sense and shadow of reason, yet it is no more than what arises from the structure of their organs, and the mechanism of their frame; that they are therefore no more the objects of our compassion than any other piece of machinery ... Is not this offering violence to reason, nature, and common sense? Is it not making a mock of God’s creatures?’

Editor’s note: Hildrop then quotes Scripture passages showing God’s care for animals, and gives an answer to the question of why, then, animals suffer, by referring to the original sin of ‘our first parent’:

‘[Adam] stood in the place of God to the world below him ... thecreated image of the ever-blessed Trinity ... till man by his transgression lost the favour of his Maker, and forfeited both for us and them the blessed privileges of our primitive state and condition; the communication of divine light and life betwixt God and man being suspended, he had no more power to direct and govern the creatures below him … He had no blessing to receive, and therefore none to bestow …. The state of the brute-creation, therefore, has, ever since the Fall of Man, been very different from what it was at the first.’

[Hildrop goes on to affirm the intelligence and language abilities of animals:]

‘Now I would venture to say, that the partition betwixt the lowest degree of human and the highest degree of brute understanding, is so very slender, that it is hardly perceptible, and could not in any degree be distinguished but by a greater fluency of language; which though in the main it may be considered an advantage to our species in general, yet is it none to those who seldom make any other use made of it, than to discover the emptiness of their heads, the perverseness of their wills, or the iniquity of their hearts, and show how little the real difference is (shape only excepted) betwixt a sagacious, good-natured, governable, useful animal, which we agree to call a brute; and a wrong-headed, vicious, ungovernable, mischievous brute, whom we agree to call a man; and what authority we have to strike out of the system of immortality so great a part of the creation, without an absolute and evident necessity, exceeds my comprehension. If both reason and revelation assure us, that in their first creation they were all very good: as perfect in their several kinds, as beautiful in their several orders, as necessary to the universal harmony, as infinite power and wisdom could make them; if by the special benediction of their Maker they were to increase and multiply, and perpetuate their several species, before sin and death entered into the world; how dare we pretend to reverse this blessing, to correct infinite wisdom, to alter the established order of things, and pronounce a sentence of utter extinction upon numerous ranks and orders of beings, created by infinite wisdom …

Is not this pronouncing a curse where God has pronounced a blessing? And in effect declaring that Infinite Wisdom and Power were idly employed in forming, supporting, feeding, and blessing numberless species, tribes and families of useless and unnecessary beings? Is it not more reasonable, more consistent with the nature of God, and the scripture-account of the creation, to suppose that the immaterial forms, the incorruptible essences of the whole system, notwithstanding its present ruinous and deplorable appearance under the bondage of corruption and death, are immoveably fixed in their proper rank and order in the invisible world, according to the eternal archetypal model in the divine mind, in and by which, as their efficient and exemplary cause, every being in heaven and earth, from the most exalted seraph to the lowest vegetable, was made, in which they now subsist, and shall for ever subsist, in a glorious immortality?

From: Free thoughts upon the brute creation or, an examination of Father Bougeant’s Philosophical Amusements, etc in Two Letters to a Lady, Printed for R. Minors, Booksellers and Stationer, in St Clement’s Church-yard.

 Return to The Ark Number 195 - Winter 2003

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