Item 27 - Paper by F. W. Lawrence entitled ‘Our Treatment of Animals’; read before the Cambridge Nonconformist Union on 18 Oct. 1896

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Paper by F. W. Lawrence entitled ‘Our Treatment of Animals’; read before the Cambridge Nonconformist Union on 18 Oct. 1896


  • [1896] (Creation)

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1 wrapper, 39 sheets (numbered 1–17, 19–27, 28 & 29 (1 sheet), 30, 31 & 32 (1 sheet), 33–42)

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Our treatment of animals

I make no apology for my choice of subject, for it seems to me that in these days when the reasons for our actions, & the justification of them are being discussed on every hand a fair consideration of our treatment of animals is essential to a true life. Everywhere the question is attracting increased interest, & I may perhaps mention that in a recent examination which I underwent in my own college “The ethical relations of man to the lower animals” formed one of the subjects upon which an essay might be written.

But I would claim that there are two especial reasons for bringing the question into prominence in the present day.

In the first place civilised man has now realised—in theory—his duty towards his fellow man. He is still in many cases very far from putting it into practice, but since the days of the great Earl Shaftesbury he would be a bold man who would deny, theoretically, the claim which every member of the human race has upon him—the claim which the idea of brotherhood has introduced.

Now the idea of brotherhood is one which is for ever extending its borders. It was considered sufficient in olden days that the feeling of brotherhood should exist between men of the same caste in the same clan. It was deliberately contended that the slave population were of a different order of beings & required little or no consideration. In more recent times, even while such a tenet as this would not have been accepted, one code of morality prevailed between men of the so called upper classes in their dealings with one another, & a different code between them & members of the lower classes. These distinctions have now—in theory at any rate—been swept away & the brotherhood of man as a whole has been vindicated. But the great discovery of evolution has carried the process still further. However much the exclusive pride of man may have rebelled at the idea, he has now been forced to recognise his brotherhood to the whole living race. Hand in hand with this great theory of brotherhood must come the theory of kind treatment. This has been realised in the case of man (remember I am only speaking of theory), it now comes up for discussion in the case of animals. The great Earl S. was to the front in advocating the former, & we must not forget that he was strenuous also in aiding the latter.

Kindness to animals! Be frank! Do not the words almost cause a smile?—a thought of goody goody stories of impossible or improbable tales in books for young children? Do not mince matters—do not evade the truth—I suppose that all of us have at some time or other felt a certain sense of shame in desiring to be kind to animals—certainly I have myself—when I wanted to stop my cabman from overdriving his horse—when I wrote this paper & even now as I read what I have written—there arises a feeling of shame—a fear of being thought silly—of making oneself ludicrous—of becoming (in a word) impossible.

Now if you mention this feeling of shame to some people what do they say? They either ignore it or they say it is wrong & ought not to be. But in very truth they cannot deny its existence, & while they do not attempt to explain it, they fail to eradicate it from the mind of man. What is the good of these general condemnations of things inherently stamped in man. To me the question is extremely important. Let us face it bold[l]y & fearlessly. Why is it that we are ashamed of attempted kindness to animals; or perhaps we may go a step further & ask why are we ashamed in a less degree of all service rendered to the weak? I believe that the main causes are three: {1} inherited instinct, fear of ridicule, fear of doing future harm.

The first two combined seem to form a very powerful check not only to all attempts to assist the weak but to all altruistic desire whatever.

It is not difficult to see how the instinct of neglect of the weak arose; in self preservation each individual could only succeed in so far as it was able to overreach others, & further the time spent in rendering assistance would be so much time lost in the struggle for self preservation.

But as individuals began to herd together in groups, the social instincts arose, whereby within the limits of the society it was essential that one individual should assist another, & thus came the feeling of brotherhood which as I have pointed out, above, is gradually extending its borders. But it is evident that at each stage of the development with regard to those outside the pale of the society no such feeling will exist; & moreover to the natural feeling of the individual against wasting energies upon others will be superadded the fear that members of his own society will object to his conduct as detrimental to their united interests; & thus comes in the fear of ridicule.

Somewhat loosely connected with this feeling is the thought that by assisting or pitying those feebler than ourselves we are actually tending perhaps to weaken our own position.

We remember the lines of T[ennyson].

Yet pity for a horse o’erdriven
And love in which my hound hath part
Can hang no weight upon my heart
In its assumptions up to heaven {2}

Here the suggestion, though rebutted, is originally present.

I think these thoughts account very largely for the feeling of shame, & in so far as it is due to them, we see that it† we must look for a cure in the extension of the idea of brotherhood while this itself offers an explanation why our feeling of shame is much greater in the case of animals than in that of the weaker members of the human race.

But there is yet a third idea which must in part be held responsible & that is the fear of doing future harm. People are beginning to be aware that feelings of pity & sympathy often lead to actions which produce far greater suffering in the future, than that which they momentarily avert; & they are beginning to see that they ought to be ashamed of these short sighted attempts at kindness. In so far as shame is of this nature it is to be encouraged. The man who gives a penny to the first beggar in the street because he can’t refuse him though he knows he is doing harm has need to be ashamed of himself. Perhaps I shall be excused if I relate an anecdote.
A friend of mine one of the kindest men I know, had a little dog which had not yet learned to follow him; one day intending to give the dog a lesson, he was holding it in one hand with a stick in the other in a menacing attitude, when an old lady rushed up & exclaimed “You nasty cruel man how can you be so unkind to a poor little dog.” “After that” said my friend “there was nothing left to do but to strike the dog which I had not originally intended to do.”

This is illustrative of the harm which may often be done by people with the best intention, who are busy bodies.

And within the fear of doing harm must therefore be included the dread of making matters worse by interference.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

I have discussed at some length this question of shame because I believe it offers one of the greatest stumbling blocks to successful achievement.

[There is a space here in the MS.]

To sum up what I have wished to express as one reason for pressing the whole question at the present day, I would urge that before the days of the great E[arl] of S[haftesbury] we neglected in our cosmogony a part of the race of human beings; that now while this error has been rectified, we still neglect a part of the whole living race, & whatever be our ultimate theory of life it is essential that the whole should be included within its scope.

But there is another cause which tends to place this question in especial prominence to-day. This cause is the wonderful knowledge man has obtained of the laws of heredity & his power of putting them into practice. Breeders speak of the characteristics of the animal as something which they can mould to pleasure. {3} It only requires the demand to call forth in a short time a whole race of horses or of cattle, or to summon into existence a whole tribe of fowl or of other animals for food. It may almost be said of man He has become a G[od] he can kill & he can make alive. When man has reached this position it is incumbent upon him to look round & test his actions from an ethical standpoint.

So long as he merely took into his poss[essio]n a wild animal & taught it to serve himself, he was able to throw the whole responsibility of creation upon the Supreme Being. For his own part it was only necessary if he troubled himself about the matter at all, that he only subject the animal to a not more cruel existence than it appeared to have in nature.

But now the issue has changed. Everyday we deliberately call into existence thousands perhaps millions of the brute creation. Can we justify our action on the same grounds. Their bodily form we have adjusted, their characteristics we have produced, we are responsible for their adaptation to their surroundings. Our responsibility is almost that of the creator. And yet I do not deny that, behind, is the responsibility of God not only for the millions of creatures which exist for the service of man but for those countless myriads which throng this earth & the other worlds of the universe. And this is a question which we must be prepared to face with awe & reverence when we try to think of life as a whole. We cry with Tennyson in In memoriam

Yet …

But for the moment this question is not within our scope. We are not discussing the responsibility of God but the responsibility of man & I repeat my prop[ositio]n that the resp[onsibilit]y of man has entered upon a new phase now that he has become a God who can make {4} alive.

We are now met with a very real difficulty; what standard are we going to adopt by which to judge our actions?

It has been proposed by some that we shall be justified in our acts if we add to the sum total happiness of all the beings concerned; & the saying is att[ribute]d to C[harles] Lamb that if he could prove that the pleasure to him of eating a pig roasted alive exceeded the possible pain which could be caused to the pig, his action would be justified. {5} Apart from the mere difficulty of estimating the several amounts of pleasure & pain, I would contend that even if such estimation were possible, conduct founded upon it would not be moral.

Though it is an object of morality to add to the sum of total happiness, I should demur to the sugg[estio]n that we are justified in deliberately taking away hap[piness] from or adding suffering to one being in order to add hap[piness] to another.

It seems then that after all we shall have to come back to some such vague ideas as are implied by saying that the creature shall not live a more unhappy life than appears to be led by other free members of the brute creation. Or we may reason as follows:—

This is a world in which pain & suffering are always before us; human beings are subject to them everywhere. It is not to be expected that we should free the brute creation who serve us from much of both; all we can hope to do, is (taking account of their differing capabilities for suffering & enjoyment) to place them (relatively to ourselves) in a position not incompatible with our theories of the brotherhood of the whole race of sentient beings.

In putting these ideas into practice we must endeavour to avoid a form of sickly sentimentality shown by some who endeavour to shelve responsibility & who while speaking in disparaging terms of acts of cruelty permit & even force others to do them on their behalf. But in saying this I hasten to explain that I do not mean that it is necessary that we should always be willing to do without compunction things of which in theory we approve, & in practice allow others to do for us.—The difference comes in as to whether we do or do not approve of them in theory.

These general statements may seem somewhat unsatisfactory, especially to those who aim at crystallising morality into a permanent & definite set of rules. I think however that indefinite as they are they will be nearly sufficient to enable us to pass judgment for or against most of the particular cases which may happen to arise. I may point out however that a complete solution of the question may be regarded as impossible, inasmuch as if it were achieved half the problem of life itself would be solved.

We may now proceed to consider in some detail how far the actually existing treatment of animals with which man comes in contact fulfills the principles which we have indicated should guide him in his conduct.

For this purpose we divide the animals with which we are concerned into four main divisions.

Animals for man’s pleasure,
———————— food
———————— convenience
———————— instruction.

  1. Animals for pleasure.

In this category we include two almost distinct classes; those animals whose pleasure is mans pleasure, those animals whose pain is man’s pleasure—or perhaps more correctly those whose pain is essential to man’s pleasure.

The first class requires some few comments; where cruelty in any form exists it mainly arises from ignorance or thoughtlessness, & it has only to be pointed out to command redress. On the whole the life of the dog or cat or even of the caged bird or tame rabbit is one of enjoyment & pleasure. And the effect of contact with them is on the whole elevating & tends to broaden the mind.

But when we come to the second class we find ourselves beating about in a rather hopeless way for an excuse. What can we say of bull baiting or bear baiting or cock fighting? {6} It would seem in these as though man was deliberately cruel for pleasure, that he delib[erately] delighted in torture. Is this a fact? Is it true that there is an instinct which delights directly in suffering? Tennyson says

Who trusted God was love indeed
& Love creation’s final law
while Nature r[ed] in t[ooth] & c[law]
With ravine shriek’d, against his creed {7}

The feline tribe are regarded by some as especially cruel, & to watch a cat torturing a mouse is said to have made many a man refuse to believe in the goodness of God.

But why sh[oul]d this be in man. I have attempted to account above for his feeling of shame at attempting to render assistance to the weak by hereditary instinct, founded upon a definite necessary basis, but I cannot see what should have originated this love of torture. That it exists can hardly be denied if we call to mind the evident delight it gives a boy to twist a cockchafer on a pin, or the numerous devices of our ancestors to invent fresh tortures for their human victims. We may perhaps assume however that the feeling really consists in enjoyment at watching a strougle† especially if prowess is is displayed, and 2nd the delight of power & thirdly direct pleasure in taking part in a struggle; & this latter element is that which is most prominent in such a thing as of† pigeon shooting. I do not wish to seem churlish but I find it difficult to find approbation for some of the milder forms of sports practised among us today. {8} If we attempt to shirk the responsibility of our modern forms of cruelty by pleading that some of the animals are wild or that those of them which are domestic have for the rest of the time an agreeable existence . . . . . . . if this excuse be admitted, there stills remain† the brutalising effect of witnessing with equanimity the sufferings of others deliberately caused for the pleasure of man.

It is possible that in the present age some of them must be condoned, & permitted, but I can feel no doubt that as morality progresses these things must be done away.

Turning ton† our 2nd main div[isio]n an[imals] for f[ood] it seems to me that we can fulfill the principles which I have indicated above.

Death comes to all sometime, & I cannot see why death by violence is anything more horrible & cruel than death in any other manner.

If then we assure to animals which are subsequently to serve as food, a happy existence during life—& it is in general to our own advantage to do so—there is little to complain of from their point of view.

I think it may be said that in Chicago the great slaughter house of the world, the animals are extremely well looked after & seem extremely happy up to a few minutes before their deaths; while in the case of cattle & sheep insensibility is almost instantaneous.

There remains the possible brutalising effect upon man, if not upon the consumers, at any rate upon the butchers. I suppose this cannot be denied. But so long as animal food is essential to some men—& I believe it is—& no suitable substitute can be found, I fear this evil must remain.

Coming to the great division of animals for the convenience of man we must take account of the great number of draught animals employed by him.

As a whole their treatment throughout the world is so shocking that it requires but a moment’s thought to condemn it.

In England happily a spirit of humanity has arisen of late years which forbids open illtreatment, but that in a reduced number of cases—still large enough to be intolerable—barbarities are still practised in secret, is attested by the reports of that society which sets itself to unearth them {9}.

I do not propose to detail to you any of these atrocities or of that much larger, viler class which are every day rampant upon the continent. The mind grows sick in contemplation of them, so loathsome (so damnable) do they seem. I suppose every right-minded man in this country is opposed to them absolutely & unqualifyingly. But I do intend to take up a few minutes in dealing with the more general theory of our treatment of draught animals, even where no accepted barbarities are practised. I shall perhaps be pardoned if for a short space I appear to preach a sermon instead of discussing the question.

I take exception to the treatment of the horse.

I do not complain because the life of the bus horse is proverbially short, or of the tram horse unusually severe; provided they are treated well during their life & it is now being found out that it is advantageous as well as humane to do so. But I do complain of the theory which suggests that while it is cruel to illtreat a fine young horse, it is only to be expected that you should illtreat a weary old one. I do complain that a spirit of humanity is not sufficient which forces people to treat kindly their carriage horses so long as they are their own, but does not prevent them from selling them—when too old for respectable carriage work—for some small pittance, to an owner who will work them to death.

Who will attempt seriously to justify the tyrannies which are practised on horses when old or tired. Or again who will justify the cruelties with which they are treated in order to gratify the vanity of their owners or to save a few minutes trouble to their coachmen. I doubt whether anyone could seriously defend the common practice of docking tales† of horses, or of fastening up their heads with a bearing rein & so preventing the free action of their limbs. Personally I believe the bearing rein practically always to be disadvantageous even where not absolutely cruel. And this is attested to by many who have far more right to speak on the question than I have. But however that may be, it no doubt causes a position of discomfort while standing. 2 or 3 months ago I went to Hurlingham to see some ladies’ bicycle race, & I was shocked to find that of the great crowd of fair spectators & competitors the majority had left their carriage horses to stand all the afternoon in a blazing sun with their heads fixed up in a position of extraordinary discomfort. And of these many no doubt were among the number of those who at the pet dog show at Ranelagh said it was so cruel that they were not able to stay all the time with their little dogs, they wanted fanning poor little things.

Yet do not let it be supposed that I would cast blame on the upper classes & not on the lower. Each in their own way is guilty of cruelty.

One thing more on the subject relating to ourselves. Cabhorses are often the object of illtreatment, it is certainly cruel to leave so short a time for a cab drive that it [is] necessary for the driver to “hurry up” all the way to get us to our destination in time.

But enough! There are many cases to be recorded of great kindness; & as I have already noticed a spirit of humane treatment is rapidly progressing over England. I cannot but mention in passing that in Norway the treatment, {10} & perhaps we may look forward to the time when autocars will supplant horse in all heavy work.

This brings us to our fourth division of animals for man’s knowledge; & passing over the animals rapidly killed & preserved for mans instructed† we reach the much vexed question of vivisection. On this question so much has been said that only a few remarks will suffice. There can be no doubt that the conditions & line of conduct suggested above are not fulfilled in this case. Yet we cannot blink our eyes to the fact that a great amount of knowledge, saving incalculable suffering has been acquired by means of this practice. And it is on these ground justification must be based[.] I remember reading in The Descent of Man a description by the great Charles Darwin, of an experiment on a dog in which he tells how at the moment of intense suffering the dog licked the operator’s hand as a sign of affection, & he adds “That man if he had not a heart of stone must have had remorse to his dying [day]”, {12} why remorse if he only did his duty? The question remains unsolved. And those of us who would hesitate to perform such operations ourselves may yet be content to regulate but not forbid those who see in it their means of benefiting the human race.


The wrapper is marked ‘Treatment of animals | Oct 18 1896 | before Camb. Non. Con. Union.’ Lawrence read a paper on evolution (5/26) to the same body (the Cambridge Non-Conformist Union) in 1892. The text is hastily written in parts and includes a number of revisions.

{1} Colon supplied in place of a full stop.

{2} In Memoriam, § LXIII. The printed text has commas at the end of the first three lines and a full stop at the end of the fourth.

{3} Full stop supplied in place of a semi-colon.

{4} The words printed as ‘who can make’ (following the phrasing of an earlier passage) are very indistinct.

{5} See ‘A Dissertation upon Roast Pig’ (Essays of Elia).

{6} Question-mark supplied in place of a semi-colon.

{7} In Memoriam, § LVI. The printed text runs:

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law—
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed—

{8} Full stop supplied in place of a question-mark.

{9} Presumably the RSPCA, founded in 1824.

{10} ‘I cannot … treatment’ appears to be the reading, but the meaning is unclear. Perhaps something is missing after ‘treatment’.

{11} Followed (on the next page) by ‘come to the much vexed question of vivisection.’, which ought to have been deleted when the passage was revised.

{12} Darwin’s exact words were as follows: ‘In the agony of death a dog has been known to caress his master, and every one has heard of the dog suffering under vivisection, who licked the hand of the operator; this man, unless the operation was fully justified by an increase of our knowledge, or unless he had a heart of stone, must have felt remorse to the last hour of his life.’ (The Descent of Man, Chapter III.)

† Sic.

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