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Catholic Concern for Animals


Selections From The Ark Number 214 - Spring 2010

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

English Catholic poet, and opponent of cruelty to animals

From the Guardian, No.61, 21 May 1713:

‘I cannot think it extravagant to imagine that mankind are no less in proportion accountable for the ill use of their dominion over the creatures of the lower ranks of beings, than for the exercise of tyranny over their own species. The more entirely the inferior creation is submitted to our power, the more answerable we should seem for our mismanagement of it; and the rather, as the very condition of nature renders these creatures incapable of receiving any recompense in another life for their ill-treatment in this. It is observable of those noxious animals, which have qualities most powerful to injure us, that they naturally avoid mankind, and never hurt us unless provoked or necessitated by hunger. Man, on the other hand, seeks out and pursues even the most inoffensive animals on purpose to persecute and destroy them. ... We should find it hard to vindicate the destroying of any thing that has life ...

But if our sports [namely, the ‘sanguinary sport’ of hunting] are destructive, our gluttony is more so, and in a more inhuman manner. Lobsters roasted alive, pigs whipped to death, fowls sewed up, are testimonies to our outrageous luxury. Those who (as Seneca expresses it) divide their lives betwixt an anxious conscience and a nauseated stomach, have a just reward of their gluttony in the diseases it brings with it ... I know nothing more shocking or horrid than the prospect of one of their kitchens covered with blood, and filled with the cries of creatures expiring in tortures.

Pope then cites Ovid, first in Latin, then in John Dryden’s translation of Book 15 of Metamorphoses:

...“The sheep was sacrificed on no pretence,
But meek and unresisting innocence,
A patient useful creature, born to bear
The warm and woolly fleece that cloth’d her murderer;
And daily to give down the milk she bred,
A tribute for the grass on which she fed.
Living, both food and raiment she supplies,
And is of least advantage when she dies.
How did the toiling ox his death deserve;
A downright simple drudge and born to serve
O tyrant!...
What more advance can mortals make in sin
So near perfection, who with blood begin?
Deaf to the calf that lies beneath the knife,
Looks up, and from her butcher begs her life;
Deaf to the harmless kid, that ere he dies
All methods to secure thy mercy tries,
And imitates in vain the children’s cries”

(Pope now:) Perhaps that voice or cry so nearly resembles the human, with which Providence has endued so many different animals, might purposely be given them to move our pity, and prevent those cruelties we are too apt to inflict on our fellow-creatures. There is a passage in the book of Jonas [Jonah], when God declares his unwillingness to destroy Nineveh, where methinks that compassion of the Creator, which extends to the meanest ranks of his creatures, is expressed with wonderful tenderness – “Should I not spare Nineveh that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons” – “and also much cattle?” ... To conclude, there is certainly a degree of gratitude owing to those animals that serve us. As for such as are mortal or noxious [i.e.lethal and harmful], we have a right to destroy them; and for those that are neither of advantage nor prejudice to us, the common enjoyment of life is what I cannot think we ought to deprive them of.’

Pope talks with his friend Joseph Spence, who recorded the following conversation (in, Anecdotes, Observations and Characters, 1830):

Spence: I shall be very glad to see Dr Hales [a surgeon and vivisectionist], and always love to see him, he is so worthy a man.

Pope: Yes, he is a very good man, only I’m sorry he has his hand so imbued with blood.

Spence: What! he cuts up rats!

Pope: Ay, and dogs too (With what emphasis and scorn he spoke it). Indeed, he commits most of these barbarities with the thought of being of use to man; but how do we know that we have a right to kill creatures that we are so little above as dogs for our curiosity, or even for some use to us?

In another conversation, Spence suggests that dogs may possess reason...

Pope: So they have to be sure. all our disputes about that, are only disputes about words. Man has reason enough only to know what is necessary for him to know; and dogs have just that too.

Spence: But then they must have souls too; as unperishable in their nature asours?

Pope: And what harm would that be to us? .

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