Monday, July 6, 2015

William Drummond, Animal Rights, and Bird Protection

Some of the farm paper bird protection discussion in the late 1830s began to incorporate ideas and attitudes from the early 19th century animal rights/anti-cruelty movement.  Indeed, a letter to the Farmer's Monthly Visitor in October 1839 (reprinted the following year in the New England Farmer), titled "Cruelty to Animals," urged readers to go beyond the protection of birds to think about cruelty to other members of the animal kingdom. I thought it might be useful to look at the work of an influential writer of that era on the topic: William H. Drummond's The Rights of Animals and Man's Obligation to Treat them with Humanity (1838).  While anti-cruelty laws are generally thought of as applying mostly to domestic and work animals, Drummond made a surprising number of direct references to wild birds and the kinds of cruelties they were often subject to, suggesting (as with Pope earlier) that bird protection actually prefigured, to some extent, animal rights efforts.

Drummond, like Sarah Trimmer, found his justification for the humane treatment of animals in scripture. Indeed, he had published an earlier version of The Rights of Animals, titled Humanity for Animals the Christian's Duty (1830), that was a point for point use of bible passages to support his arguments. Mosaic Law in particular supplied examples of kindness toward animals such as oxen and nesting birds; while they were ultimately subordinate to humans, animals had their own role in Creation independent of their relations with humans. Drummond allowed for the eating of meat and was guardedly OK about some forms of hunting, but he was strongly against the "wanton" variety of killing and any practice that caused more pain to animals than necessary (e.g. vivisection).

With respect to birds, Drummond was particularly opposed to the (sometimes arbitrary) bounties put on putatively injurious species, starting with the Elizabethan "Act for the Preservation of
Why [it] should spread its meshes for the beautiful kingfisher, it is not easy to discover; and as for the poor bullfinch and its confreres, they might have been spared for their song, though at the expense of a little " blowth of fruit." The ignorance and barbarity evinced by such enactments are equally conspicuous. The crow, the rook, and the chough are warred against for destroying grain, whereas it is notorious that they live on insects, carrion, and worms ; beetles are the favourite food of the hedge- hog ; the mole feeds on worms, and the bullfinch renders great service to the garden and orchard by destroying insects in the young buds.
This was cruelty based on "ignorance and false pretences." Like many authors before him, he drew on Bradley's 3360 caterpillars and Franklin's New England blackbirds story as evidence of the usefulness of even suspect birds. House sparrows had a "special claim to humane consideration" given their close relationship with humans. The slaughter produced by "Sparrow clubs" horrified him:
The existence of such a horrible fraternity is a disgrace to the nation. Twelve Apostles of the Demon of Cruelty would be enough to pollute the land, and fix an indelible stigma on its character — were there not some society, like that for " the Prevention of Cruelty," to counteract their mischief and show that humanity is no stranger to the bosoms of Englishmen. May all such diabolical combinations as the Sparrow Club sink under the people's unmitigated abhorrence and execration ! Cruelty is the ally of every vice and every crime ; and the sparrow-butcher and the assassin are the progeny of the same parent. 
Drummond followed the conventional wisdom, that cruelty towards animals was strongly associated with cruelty towards one's fellow humans. 

The "wanton" killing of birds was another intolerable form of cruelty, but one that was celebrated in some circles:
Birds are often unmercifully slaughtered where not even the hope of a meal, of profit by "sale-victual" nor the pretext of injury, nor aught but the simple love of sport, operates as a motive for their destruction. Thus we read in the Kentish Chronicle : —
A countryman, one day last week, in three shots killed 64 sea gulls on the lands of Milestone farm near Bridge. The first shot he brought down 12, at the second 15, and at the third 27.
This was an act of wanton barbarity ; and such acts, we fear, are often perpetrated as glorious. Those poor birds had, probably, retired to the glebe-lands for shelter from the storms of their native element ; and if they rendered no service to the farmer, assuredly they did him no injury. The Chronicle which records the above achievement should also have stigmatized it with reprobation. 
Even naturalists seeking specimens for scientific purposes were to be cautious not to exceed absolute necessity, especially when dealing with rare species.
Some naturalists console themselves with the belief, that let them destroy what number they may of individuals, nature will take due care to preserve the species. But in this they fall into an egregious fallacy. All species are made up of individuals, and the destruction of the one is involved in that of the other. Some species indeed are so amazingly prolific, as to set all the arts of destruction at defiance. This is the case especially among the finny tribes. But in other species it is different, insomuch that in regions where certain animals were once numerous, they are now altogether extinct. The beaver, the wolf, and the bear were once inhabitants of England, as were the wolf and the wolf dog of Ireland; but not an individual of these animals is now to be found. Is there no danger of some species of birds sharing a similar fate, both abroad and at home? What has become of the dodo? The spoon-bill was once a native of Britain, and the capercaillie ... of Scotland, and of some parts of Ireland; but now they are gone. The bustard, too, and the bittern will probably, ere long, have to be classed with the things that were. 
Extinction was already a concern.

Finally, for those of you who may have noted the increased "gendering" of bird protection in the last few posts, it is worth noting that Drummond made his own pointed (and perhaps unwelcome) contribution:
We read of a certain Marchioness, who "took the field a few days ago, and in one battu brought down twelve brace of birds." How far it is consistent with the female character to take an active part in these murderous sports the reader may determine. For our own part we prefer the attar of roses to the smell of gunpowder, and think a needle, a thimble, and a crow-quill pen more ornamental to the delicate fingers of a lady than pistols, blunder-busses, and double-barrelled guns. The ''virtuous woman" of holy writ "seeketh (not snipes and partridges, but) wool and flax. She layeth her hands on the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. Her husband (whom she delighteth to honor) is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land" not by his ardor in the chase or his rank in the jockey club, but by his deliberative wisdom in the senate of his country: and he is distinguished by other trophies than foxes' tails appended to his wife's robes, and paraded at a public assembly. 
Drummond used some verses from the Scottish poet James Thomson to endorse this position:
But if the rougher sex by this fierce sport
is hurried wild, let not such horrid joy
E'er stain the bosom of the British fair.
Accordingly, it would be the special responsibility of women to protect birds from this slaughter.

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