Can it be that an animal should possess a sense of humor and a sense of shame, without having also some elementary sense of right and wrong? But even if it be thought that he is devoid of that sense, it is certain that he has those kindly impulses from which it has been developed. All that is best in man springs from something which is practically the same in the dog that it is in him, namely, the instinct of pity or benevolence. To that instinct, as it exists in the lower animals, Darwin attributed the origin of conscience in man; and there are now few, if any, philosophers who would give a different account of it.
I have seen a pup not six months old run to comfort another pup that cried out from pain; and the impulse that prompted this act was essentially the same as that which impels the noblest of mankind when they befriend the poor or the afflicted. We are akin to the lower animals morally, as well as physically and mentally.
But this is a modern discovery. It is astonishing and confusing to realize how little organized Christianity has done for the lower animals. The ecclesiastical conception of them was simply that they were creatures without souls, and therefore had no rights as against, or at the hands of, mankind.
To this day that conception remains, although it is qualified, of course, by other and more humane considerations. Even Cardinal Newman said, —
"We have no duties toward the brute creation; there is no relation of justice between them and us. Of course, we are bound not to treat them ill, for cruelty is an offense against the holy law which our Maker has written on our hearts, and it is displeasing to Him. But they can claim nothing at our hand; into our hand they are absolutely delivered. We may use them, we may destroy them at our pleasure: not our wanton pleasure, but still for our own ends, for our own benefit and satisfaction, provided that we can give a rational account of what we do".
This position, though not perhaps cruel in itself, inevitably results in unlimited cruelties. When an English traveler remonstrated with a Spanish lady for throwing a sick kitten out of the second-story window, she justified herself by saying that the kitten had no soul; and that is the national point of view.
Protestantism has been almost as indifferent as Catholicism to the lower animals. In fact, the conscience which exists outside of the church, Catholic or Protestant, has in this matter outstripped the conscience of the church.
"Cruelty," said Du Maurier, "is the only unpardonable sin "; and the world is slowly but surely coming to that opinion. The long-deferred awakening of mankind to the sufferings of dumb animals was not due to a decline of the ecclesiastical conception of them, although it has declined; nor even to the new knowledge concerning the common origin of man and beast; indeed, it slightly preceded that knowledge; but it was due to the gradual enlightenment and moral improvement of the race, especially of the English-speaking race.
The nineteenth century, as we are often told, saw more discoveries and inventions than had been made in the preceding six thousand years; but I believe that in future ages not one of those discoveries and inventions, nor all together, will bulk so large as factors in the development and uplifting of man, as will those humane laws and societies which first came into existence in that century.
We overvalue intellectual as compared with moral and emotional gifts. The material civilization upon which we pride ourselves is almost wholly the achievement of the intellect. Fame and wealth, luxury, cultivation, and leisure, — all the big prizes of the world, in fact, — are obtained by the successful exercise of the intellect The moral qualities, of themselves, can procure us nothing but a clear conscience, and the approval, perhaps mixed with contempt, of our neighbors.
And yet, when the intellectual qualities are brought to the test of reality; when one's view of them is not clouded by pride, avarice, or passion, how amazingly does their value shrink and shrivel! When a man lies on his deathbed, for example, his intellectual achievements, though of the highest order, will seem as nothing to him, — he will ask himself simply whether he has lived a good or a bad life; and after his death his family and his friends will look at the matter in precisely the same way.
Even the progress of mankind is far more moral than intellectual. Competent authorities tell us that the Anglo-Saxon of to-day is mentally inferior to the Greek who lived two thousand years ago: and if the human race has improved during that time, it is not so much because man has advanced in knowledge as because he has acquired more sympathy with his inferiors, be they brute or human, more generosity, more mercy toward them. Not Stephenson, nor Faraday, nor Morse, nor Fulton, nor Bell, did so much for the human race, to say nothing of the other animals, as did that dueling Irishman 1 who, in the year 1822, proposed in the English Parliament, amidst howls and shrieks of derision, what afterward became the first law for the protection of dumb animals ever placed on the statute-books of any country. Every movement for the relief of the brute creation has originated in England ; and when we damn John Bull for one thing and another, as we righteously may, let us remember this fact to his eternal honor !
It is hard to part from an old dog-friend with no hope of ever meeting him again, hard to believe that the spirit of love which burned so steadfastly in him is quenched forever. But for those who hold what I have called the ecclesiastical conception of the lower animals, no other view is possible. That devout Catholic and exquisite poet, Dr. Parsons, has beautifully expressed this fact: —
1 Richard Martin, whom his friend George IV nicknamed "Humanity Martin".
When parents die there's many a word to say — Kind words, consoling — one can always pray; When children die 't is natural to tell Their mother, "Certainly with them't is well" But for a dog, 't was all the life he had, Since death is end of dogs, or good or bad. This was his world, he was contented here; Imagined nothing better, naught more dear, Than his young mistress; sought no higher sphere;
Having no sin, asked not to be forgiven; Ne'er guessed at God nor ever dreamed of heaven. Now he has passed away, so much of love Goes from our life, without one hope above!
But is there no hope ? Is there not as much — or, if the reader prefers, as little — hope for the dog as there is for man ? Years ago I remember reading in a prominent magazine the statement that doubtless a few men, the very wickedest, will become extinct at death, whereas the rest of mankind will be immortal. This view had some adherents then, but would now be regarded by almost everybody as irrational. Who can believe that between the best and the worst man there is any such gulf as would justify so diverse a fate! Moreover we have learned that there are no chasms or jumps in nature. One thing slides into another; every creature is a link between two other creatures; and man himself can be traced back physically, mentally, and morally, to the lower animals. Is it not then reasonable to suppose that immortality belongs to all forms of life or to none ? that, if man is immortal, the dog is immortal, too? Even to speculate upon this subject seems almost ridiculous, our knowledge is so limited; and yet it is hard to refrain from speculating. The transmigration of souls may be a fact, or men and dogs and all other forms of life may be simply forms, temporary phases, proceeding from one source, and returning thereto. But alas! every supposition that we can make is rendered almost, if not quite untenable, by the mere fact that the human intellect has conceived of it, — it is so unlikely that we should hit upon the right solution!
In this situation, what we seem bound to do is to refrain from hasty, and especially from egotistic conclusions, to keep our minds open, to regard the lower animals not only with pity but with a certain reverence. We do not know what or whence they are; but we do know that their nature resembles ours; that they have Individuality, as we have it; that they feel pain, both physical and mental; that they are capable of affection; that, although innocent, as we believe, their sufferings have been, and are, unspeakable. Is there no mystery here ?
To many men, to most men, perhaps, a dog is simply an animated machine, developed or created for the convenience of the human race. It may be so; and yet again it may be that the dog has his own rightful place in the universe, irrespective and independent of man, and that an injury done to him is an insult to the Creator.