The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973


The Kinship Library (Centaur Press)

Many readers will be surprised that two of the titles chosen to launch the first publishing venture dedicated solely to the subject of animal liberation were written more than 150 years ago. After all, according to fashionable media opinion, is not animal rights a potent symbol of disaffected youth in the late twentieth century: the product of a generation with too much time and choice on its hands?

Apparently not. For one of the four books which open the new Kinship Library is Humphry Primatt's, The Duty of Mercy, written as long ago as 1776. Primatt, a Christian Doctor of Divinity, could well be writing for a modern audience as he presents his case for kindness to animals as a Christian duty. "Pain is pain", he argues, "whether it be inflicted on man or beast; and the creature that suffers it, whether man or beast, being sensible of the misery of it while it lasts, suffers evil". It is a sad reflection of lack of progress in the church that Primatt's belief that, "our love and mercy are not to be confined within the circle of our own friends, acquaintance and neighbours; nor limited to the more enlarged sphere of human nature... but are to be extended to every object of the love and mercy of God", is still a matter of contention with some Christian thinkers. As the current Bishop of Salisbury remarks in a brave foreword to this new edition of The Duty of Mercy, "as far as animals is concerned, Christianity has on the whole the blackest record among religions".

For all Primatt's pioneering spirit, however, animals do not have reason according to The Duty of Mercy and it is perfectly acceptable to slaughter for food provided that, "when I kill him I ought to despatch him suddenly; and with the least degree of pain". Indeed, compared to Lewis Gompertz's Moral Inquiries on the Situation of Man and of Brutes, first published in 1824, many of Primatt's views appear positively conventional. Gompertz, a founder and early Secretary of what was to become the RSPCA, must have been one of the first practising vegans, refusing to drink milk because, "it was evidently provided for the calf and not man". He even declined to cross London by horse-drawn carriage - a principle which condemned him to travelling everywhere by foot. Writing more than 30 years before Darwin had established the physiological similarities between humans and animals, Gompertz argues that animals have "reason" as well as "instinct" and seeks to present a rational case for their release from human tyranny. Despite some tortuous Victorian philosophising in support of his treatise, Gompertz is emphatic in his assertion that it is, "a crime for man to kill other animals for food", and also in his opposition to hunting, the abuse of horses or even the wearing of wool and silk.

Another vital aspect of Moral Inquiries is that like most advocates of the rights of animals who have followed him, Gompertz views the emancipation of animals from human exploitation as an extension of the rights of humans. He argues as passionately for the freedom of women and the humane treatment of prisoners and vagabonds as for "scourged, scared and ill-treated" animals. His hatred is of cruelty "under whatever colouring it may appear" and "whether the victim be furnished with two legs or with four, with wings, with fins, or with arms".

Eighty years after Moral Inquiries came The Universal Kinship (1906) by American zoologist, J. Howard Moore. More significantly, Moore's book was written fifty years after Darwin had established his theory of evolution, so whereas Gompertz' plea for equal consideration for other animals is based upon his "trust in the goodness and power of the almighty", Moore mocks the biblical version of creation and centres his argument on the belief that, "man is not the pedestalled individual pictured by his imagination - towering apart from and above all other things". He presents the human being as, "a pain-shunning, pleasure seeking, death-dreading organism" who, "belongs to the same evolutional process as the horse, the toad that hops in the garden, the firefly that lights its twilight torch and the bivalve that reluctantly feeds him".

As a scientist, Moore was decades ahead of his time, quoting numerous examples of the sophisticated intelligence of non-human animal behaviour. He marvels at the natural abilities of animals, both physical and mental, and honours their rich emotional life. He also demonstrates their ability to communicate and to form language, labelling those who refuse to acknowledge such qualities as, "absurd".

Above all, he stresses the 'kinship' between people and non-human animals. Like Lewis Gompertz, who believed that human mistreatment of animals could be attributed to the fact that, "this still seems to be the age of infancy" where humans cry 'baby-like' that "this is made for me", Moore clung to the hope that social progress would be achieved and that "the same spirit of sympathy and fraternity that broke the black man's manacle and is today melting the white woman's chain will tomorrow emancipate the working man and the ox."

Yet underlying the compelling poetic prose of The Universal Kinship is a quiet despair at, this poor, suffering, ignorant, fear-filled world". It was this that urged Moore, at the age of 54, to walk into his beloved woods, "where the wild birds sing and the waters go on and on", and kill himself by pistol shot.

E S Turner's All Heaven In A Rage is the most modern of these titles. First published in 1964, it offers a fascinating piece of social history, tracing the history of human savagery towards animals, from the mass killings of the Roman amphitheatres through to the formation of the RSPCA and the improved legislation that has resulted over the past 150 years. Turner's style is far more detached than the others in the series, his task being to record disinterestedly our hideous cruelties and to pay tribute to the dissenting voices who have protested against them. He is particularly skillful at demonstrating human inconsistencies, from the nineteenth century campaigners who "believed themselves to be humane" yet "hunted and shot", to the modern age where "it can cost 50 to steal a thrush's egg, but subsidies have been given for creating hedgeless prairies where no bird can rest".

All Heaven In A Rage confirms a historic truth that "those who showed most concern for their fellow men tended to show most concern for animals", and whilst it demonstrates that animal abuse is still chillingly common, it also proves conclusively that progress is being made. In a new Afterword to this edition, Turner points optimistically to the fact that in the twenty-five years since his book first appeared the defence of animals has inspired, "more impassioned pleading than it had evoked for two thousand years".

The Kinship Library itself is the work of Jon Wynne-Tyson, whose own contribution to humane education has already been considerable. Author of the influential plea for vegetarianism, Food for a Future, and editor of the highly acclaimed Extended Circle: A Dictionary of Humane Thought, he has now developed The Kinship Library, "to meet the growing demand for those concerned by the rising tide of human and animal suffering and to offer works tracing the connection between our often lamentable behaviour towards each other and our thoughtless and cruel exploitation of non-human species". He hopes that as well as stimulating new generations, these powerful voices from the past will help to prove to doubting academics that the struggle for animal protection is a serious subject with its own tradition of inspired thought.

At the end of All Heaven In A Rage, E S Turner points out that in recent years "the cause of animals has disturbed the calm of company boardrooms, sown self-doubt in universities, driven airlines and airports to show respect for their animal freight...and caused unwanted rifts in bodies like the National Trust. As much as there still remains to archive, it is a tribute to the likes of Primatt, Gompertz and Moore that in the last two hundred years, animals have at least emerged forever from the dark ages where human abuse could be excused on the grounds that they are nothing more than machines without souls or feelings.

Mark Gold

Reproduced from the Jun/Jul 1993 edition of Outrage with thanks to Animal Aid

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