Page images
PDF
EPUB

because they found some satisfaction in the act. It may have been done originally as a protective act of ownership, with the same sort of delight as that which a little child feels in gathering all her playthings close round her, whether she wants to use them or not. But whatever may have been the original motive it must have involved pleasure, otherwise the act would never have been persisted in sufficiently to solidify into a permanent instinct. In animals, as in man, we cannot suppose that any act which involves work, or care, or attention would continue to be performed unless pleasure were associated with it. True, there are some primary instincts necessary to the preservation of the species which are actually destructive of the individual, but these constitute no objection to our theory, because the ultimate results are not at the time present to the mind of the individual, and the immediate act is purely one of pleasure. We may conclude with some degree of probability that all primary instinctive acts were originally highly pleasurable, and that in all flourishing orders of animals sufficient pleasure still attaches to them to ensure their continuance.

As to secondary instincts—those which are due to lapsing of intelligence—it is obvious that such must, when first performed, deliberately have been so performed under the influence of some pleasant stimulus, either as incentive or as reward. It is thus that man has succeeded in implanting in domestic animals those habits which he required for his own use, and which have hardened into permanent instincts. They have been implanted, in the first instance, by a system of rewards and punishments, and they are so maintained. Let the artificial stimulus be removed, let the animal be allowed to run wild, and such instincts—all instincts, in fact, which are enforced by no sanction-soon disappear. Nature must have furnished a corresponding motive either of pleasure in perform ance or pain in non-performance of all those acts wbich, originally intelligent and voluntary, have now become secondary instincts. At each subsequent performance of any such act there must be some revival of the pleasurable feelings originally associated with it, and, however faint these may be, yet, considering the frequency of repetition of such acts in the life of the individual, they must, on the whole, be something worth counting towards the total of happiness.

Now what is there to set off against this solid substratum of pleasure which we have found accompanying alike the activities preservative of individual life and those preservative of the species ?

Principally these four things—famine, exposure to weather, bodily injury, and violent death ; things not altogether unknown to man, but to which beings living from hand to mouth, and in many cases upon each other, are more especially liable. It is undoubtedly true that every year a certain number of animals are condemned to starvation, crowded out of existence by the pressure of surplus population, and this process must be attended by a certain amount of suffering. But it is exceedingly doubtful whether the suffering is of that intense and dramatic kind which is popularly associated with the struggle for existence and the working of natural selection. It is not the case of a strong healthy animal going out alone into the wilderness to struggle with the agonies of starvation. It is a process which takes effect principally on the very young or the very old. The very young perish because their mother is too ill nourished herself to supply them, or because they are not sufficiently vigorous to fend for themselves; the old go perhaps somewhat before their full time. In the one case life is stopped before much pain can have been felt, in the other case it is stopped after the greater part of its pleasure is past; in either case with very much less than the maximum of suffering. In the majority of the higher mammalia the operation of the Malthusian law very probably does no more than equal the rate of infant mortality in England 200 years ago, a rate which was then looked upon as a matter of course. Moreover, in animals the pressure of population upon subsistence is very much modified by frequent migration to fresh pastures or new hunting-grounds, a step taken much more easily than a similar step can be taken by man, and with much more certainty of result. It is only in carnivorous animals that hunger can come to assume alarming dimensions; in their case it, no doubt, frequently is responsible for considerable suffering; but in making that admission we must qualify it by the further observation that the carnivora are accustomed to go for a long period without food and then to make up for lost time by eating a meal of proportionate magnitude. We should probably greatly exaggerate their sufferings from want of food if we compared them to any of the more serious ailments which man suffers without permanent injury. We admit—we have already admitted—that the Malthusian process must be attended with misery to the members of an expiring group or species, but on the overplus of the members of a vigorous group its effect is insignificant when contrasted with the grand mass of healthy animal activity surrounding them.

The vicissitudes of the weather may be responsible for more suffering among the lower animals than in the case of man, but we who live in England are perhaps inclined to overrate the amount of inconvenience occasioned to the world at large by this cause. When our English winters are really rigorous, then we do see a certain amount of suffering both amongst flocks and birds, but that is due rather to the capriciousness than to the actual rigour of the season. The corresponding changes which over the greater portion of the large continents occur with more regularity are foreseen and provided for by animals as well as man. Either by change of coat, by migration, or by hybernation, most animals and birds contrive to endure or to avoid the cold of northern regions, and in those cases in which no corresponding instinct has been developed it may be safely inferred that the necessity has never been sufficiently felt. We are too apt to over-estimate the sensitiveness to cold of other organisations. We should remember that, with the exception of the hermit-crab, man is the only unclothed animal, and as a protection against cold man’s garments are a very poor substitute for a woolly or bairy hide covering the whole body without joint or opening. If any one will carefully notice a dog in his kennel after a night of intense frost, he will be surprised how little inconvenience the animal has suffered from the low temperature. As for rain and damp weather, the consequences to human beings are far more serious than any that trouble the animal world from that source.

We come, then, to what in the mind of the artist and of the casual observer occupies the chief place in the catalogue of animal miseriesthe physical injuries and violent deaths due either to conflict between individuals or to the capture and slaughter by carnivorous creatures of their prey, to which, perhaps, if animals themselves were consulted, they would add the ravages in their number committed by man. This is the aspect of animal life which was condensed for the instruction of children by the popular versifier who concluded that God had made them so,' which dismal doctrine we have tacitly assented to without inquiry whether it is really the ordinary occupation of bears and lions to fight, or whether, on the other hand, they are not very well content to get on without fighting so long as hunger or jealousy does not call for such exertion. Now we ought at least to try to be fair with those who cannot defend themselves; we need not endeavour to clothe the carnivora with the wool of the sheep, but let us try to see them as they are, let us endeavour to do them justice. And we do not do them justice when we accuse them of indiscriminate cruelty. Cruelty is rare in the animal world ; the present writer is very much inclined to doubt whether it exists at all, though the instances of the cat, the bawk, and the Javan loris are perhaps obstacles to the acceptance of such a statement.

Cruel in effect the carnivora no doubt are, but it is a cruelty such as that of the skilful butcher who takes the best and shortest way he knows to attain his purpose. It is cruelty in the way of business, either for food, or from anger or revenge, to maintain supremacy or protect the household. The lion kills its prey or its opponent in a straightforward, businesslike way, as an act which ought to be done, and must be got through as speedily as possible. The higher refinement of intentional, deliberate cruelty is reserved for the more intellectual being. If the history of the most bloodthirsty of the carnivora came to be related it would contain no chapter such as the one which tells how Einar, Earl of Orkney, with his sword carved the back of the captive Halfdan the long-legged into the form of an eagle, dividing the spine lengthwise and separating the ribs, and then lifted the lungs aloft in the air as an offering to Odin !

The victims of the carnivora have, then, at all events, this advantage, that they perish speedily; moreover, they perish under circumstances either of struggle or flight which probably minimise the suffering. Sudden death has not the terrors that it has for man, whom it deprives of his hour of preparation; to animals it is an unmixed benefit to die speedily, so that on the whole it is quite possible the operations of the carnivora result in a real economy of pain.

A more important consideration is this: how far is the suffering from wounds or sickness of one of the lower animals comparable with the suffering undergone by mankind from the like causes ? Is it not in all probability utterly insignificant in comparison, as insignificant as are the mental troubles of an animal when contrasted with ours ?

The nervous organisation of a wild animal is so much coarsergrained (to speak metaphorically), so much less delicately nurtured than that of civilised man, that the same wound which would cause intense pain in the latter will pass unheeded in the former. The wolf will give no cry of pain though a limb be severed, while the humanised dog cries out if his toe is trodden on. A corresponding difference can readily be observed in man himself, between the European and the North American Indian, or between civilised man in his drawing-room and the same man reducing himself to a semisavage state on the field of battle.

It needs not to go very far down the scale of existence before coming to creatures to whom, quite obviously, the loss of a limb is a matter of very small concern, and whose injuries are rapidly and completely repaired by regrowth : from this point there is, no doubt, a gradual, very gradual increase in susceptibility, until we reach the apes, or even, we might say, until we reach savage man, and then there is a wide gulf. With civilisation and regular habits comes a quite different scale of proportion hetween injuries and suffering. One daughter of Eve suffers, to bring her child into the world, more pain than is suffered by all the ewes on the Welsh hills during a whole season, and one man dying of cancer endures more than all the oxen slain for food in a whole month.

We have now instituted a comparison between the bodily pleasures and pains of men, and of animals, and with what result?

Starting with the proposition that man's total happiness depends principally on these local ganglionic pleasures, we have been led to the conclusion that all those very pleasures are present also in the organisation of the lower animals, undiminished, so far as we can see, in force, and even with some additional advantages. And as to physical suffering, we have inferred that its intensity is so much less

in animals than in man that, even if the individual instances of it are more frequent, the balance of advantage would probably remain with the brutes.

Briefly, therefore, our conclusion is that, so far as bodily pains and pleasures are concerned, if in humanity there be a surplus of pleasure over pain, there is in brutes a still greater surplus; if in humanity there be anything like an equality between pleasure and pain, there is in brutes a large preponderance of pleasure; if in humanity pain predominate, then in brutes the proportion should be reversed.

BRIGGS CARLILL.

« PreviousContinue »