Monday, July 20, 2015

Francis Wayland joins his voice to the bird protection cause (1841)

4. Would it be right to shoot a robin, to see how correctly you could take aim?
5. Under what circumstances, would it be innocent to shoot a bird? (The Elements of Moral Science, School Edition, 1835)
Francis Wayland, moral philosopher, Baptist minister, and Brown University president, was one of Rhode Island's most prominent citizens. His book, The Elements of Moral Science, which deduced moral principles from Natural Law and Christian values, was a popular text nationwide; its chapter on "Our Duties to Brutes" was an influence on early anti-cruelty movements. Under the general heading of "Benevolence," or our obligations to inferior beings, he laid down strict rules governing human relationships with animals. As had other writers on the same topic, he allowed killing for human necessities, but killing for amusement and causing unnecessary pain were not only morally untenable, but destructive influences on one's character.

On October 6, 1841, Wayland addressed the Rhode Island Society for the Promotion of Domestic Industry. Near the end of a wide-ranging speech, he turned his attention to birds.
While speaking of poultry, allow me to add a single word respecting birds. I am fully convinced that the indiscriminate warfare which we wage upon this most beautiful and most useful part of our Creator's works is exceedingly to our own detriment. Birds were made, so far as the farmer is concerned with them, to check the growth of insects. Most admirably are they adapted to this purpose. How diligently are they employed from morning to night at their appointed labor. Scarcely ever at rest, unless they pause to cheer us with a song, they are hopping from twig to twig and flying from tree to tree to seek out the nests of those vermin, which, when they increase in great numbers, carry universal destruction in their course. It is true these laborers do us considerable damage. They now and then eat our cherries, and sometimes tear up our seed corn, but they abundantly repay us by the service which they perform during the remainder of the season. When I see an idle fellow strolling through the fields, waging war upon the robins, and black birds, and thrushes, and woodpeckers, now and then stealing a shot at a quail, or partridge, I cannot but feel indignant, remembering as I do, that whenever he does not miss, he destroys a being vastly more useful to the creation and therefore more respectable than himself.
Just remember what myriads of grubs and worms a robin, or a crow, or a woodpecker destroys in a season, and remember what an amount of grain those insects would have destroyed if they had been suffered to come to maturity. Audubon is so impressed with the value of birds in this respect as to affirm, that were there no crows we could have no corn, for it would be all be destroyed by the insects which the crow feeds upon. So he adds, were there no birds that eat cherries, we should have no cherries--the the worms would eat them all before us. 
Wayland, it should be noted, was a fan and patron of Audubon himself, praising his moral temper and enthusiasm.
Let us learn a lesson of wisdom in this respect. I wish that a law were passed prohibiting the shooting of all birds except such as are carnivorous [the raptor exception again]. I believe that until this is done, we shall be able to make no headway against insects. We may encircle our trees with lead, or with tin, we may anoint them with tar, or entwine them with straw, it will be all of no avail. The birds will do the work for us far cheaper and more effectually, and will give us their music into the bargain, music as good as that of the piano, though it cost not so much in the learning. 
I believe that such a law as I have spoken of, exists in Massachusetts. Would it not be well for us to follow her example. But whether such a law be passed or not, I hope that every farmer of Rhode Island will drive every bird-killer off from his farm, and teach his children to protect and foster these invaluable assistants that Heaven has in kindness sent him. We spend a large sum of money every year in providing means of protecting our trees from insects. Suppose a young fellow should amuse himself by going through our fields with a hatchet and destroying these attempts at protection. We should cause him to be arrested and punished immediately. But we allow him to kill our birds, though every bird is incomparably more valuable a protection from insects than all the artificial means that we can possible devise.
There were really no new arguments in Wayland's address but his ability to isolate the essentials (no cherry eaters, no cherries; bird killers are vandals) and the fact that a figure of his prominence would support the cause make his contributions noteworthy. Large portions of the address were reprinted in the New England Farmer (January 12, 1842) and the bird portions (under the heading "Spare the birds") were reprinted in Mother's Monthly Journal (May 1842). 

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