Quaker View of Hunting

[This is taken from Thomas Clarkson's A Portraiture of Quakerism.]

Diversions of the field—diversions of the field forbidden—general thoughtlessness on this subject—sentiments of Thomson—sentiments of George Fox—of Edward Burroughs—similar sentiments of Cowper—law of the society on the subject.

The diversions of the field are usually followed by people, without any consideration, whether they are justifiable, either in the eye of morality or of reason. Men receive them as the customs of their ancestors, and they are therefore not likely to entertain doubts concerning their propriety. The laws of the country also sanction them; for we find regulations and qualifications on the subject. Those also who attend these diversions, are so numerous, and their rank, and station, and character, are often such, that they sanction them again by their example, so that few people think of making any inquiry, how far they are allowable as pursuits.

But though this general thoughtlessness prevails upon this subject, and though many have fallen into these diversions as into the common customs of the world, yet benevolent and religious individuals have not allowed them to pass unnoticed, nor been backward in their censures and reproofs.

It has been matter of astonishment to some, how men, who have the powers of reason, can waste their time in galloping after dogs, in a wild and tumultuous manner, to the detriment often of their neighbors, and to the hazard of their own lives; or how men, who are capable of high intellectual enjoyments, can derive pleasure, so as to join in shouts of triumph, on account of the death of an harmless animal; or how men, who have organic feelings, and who know that other living creatures have the same, can make an amusement of that, which puts brute-animals to pain.

Good poets have spoken the language of enlightened nature upon this subject. Thomson in his Seasons, introduces the diversions of the field in the following manner.

“Here the rude clamor of the sportsman’s joy,
The gun fast-thund’ring, and the winded horn,
Would tempt the muse to sing the rural game.”

But further on he observes,

“These are not subjects for the peaceful muse;
Nor will she stain with such her spotless song;
Then most delighted, when she social sees
The whole mix’d animal-creation round.
Alive and happy; ‘Tis not joy to her
This falsely cheerful barbarous game of death.”

Cowper, in his task, in speaking in praise of the country, takes occasion to express his disapprobation of one of the diversions in question.

“They love the country, and none else, who seek
For their own sake its silence and its shade,
Delights, which who would leave, that has a heart
Susceptible of pity, or a mind,
Cultur’d, and capable of sober thought,
For all the savage din of the swift pack
And clamors of the field? Detested sport
That owes its pleasures to another’s pain,
That feeds upon the sobs and dying shrieks
Of harmless nature, dumb, but yet endued
With eloquence, that agonies inspire
Of silent tears, and heart-distending sighs! 
Vain tears alas! and sighs, that never find
A corresponding tone in jovial souls!”

In these sentiments of the poets the Quakers, as a religious body, have long joined. George Fox specifically reprobated hunting and hawking, which were the field diversions of his own time. He had always shown, as I stated in the introduction, a tender disposition to brute-animals, by reproving those who had treated them improperly in his presence. He considered these diversions as unworthy of the time and attention of men, who ought to have much higher objects of pursuit. He believed also, that real Christians could never follow them; for a Christian was a renovated man, and a renovated man could not but know the works of creation better, than to subject them to his abuse.

Edward Burroughs, who lived at the same time, and was an able minister of the society, joined George Fox in his sentiments with respect to the treatment of animals. He considered that man in the fall, or the apostate man, had a vision so indistinct and vitiated that he could not see the animals of the creation, as he ought, but that the man, who was restored, or the spiritual Christian, had a new and clear discernment concerning them, which would oblige him to consider and treat them in a proper manner.

This idea of George Fox and of Edward Burroughs seems to have been adopted or patronized by the Poet Cowper.

“Thus harmony, and family accord,
Were driven from Paradise; and in that hour
The seeds of cruelty, that since have swell’d
To such gigantic and enormous growth,
Were sown in human natures fruitful soil.
Hence date the persecution and the pain,
That man inflicts on all inferior kinds,
Regardless of their plaints. To make him sport,
To gratify the frenzy of his wrath,
Or his base gluttony, are causes good,
And just, in his account, why bird and beast
Should suffer torture—“ 

Thus the Quakers censured these diversions from the first formation of their society, and laid down such moral principles with respect to the treatment of animals, as were subversive of their continuance. These principles continued to actuate all true Quakers, who were their successors; and they gave a proof, in their own conduct, that they were influenced by them, not only in treating the different animals under their care with tenderness, but in abstaining from all diversions in which their feelings could be hurt. The diversions however, of the field, notwithstanding that this principle of the brute-creation had been long recognized, and that no person of approved character in the society followed them, began in time to be resorted to occasionally by the young and thoughtless members, either out of curiosity, or with a view of trying them, as means of producing pleasure. These deviations, however from the true spirit of Quakerism became at length known. And the Quakers, that no excuse might be left to any for engaging in such pursuits again, came to a resolution in one of their yearly meetings, giving advice upon the subject in the following words.

”We clearly rank the practice of hunting and shooting for diversion with vain sports; and we believe the awakened mind may see, that even the leisure of those whom providence hath permitted to have a competence of worldly goods, is but ill filled up with these amusements. Therefore, being not only accountable for our substance, but also for our time, let our leisure be employed in serving our neighbor, and not in distressing the creatures of God for our amusement.”

I shall not take upon me to examine the different reasons upon which we find the foundation of this law. I shall not enquire how far a man’s substance, or rather his talent, is wasted or misapplied, in feeding a number of dogs in a costly manner, while the poor of the neighborhood may be starving, or how far the galloping after these is in the eye of Christianity a misapplication of a person’s time. I shall adhere only to that part of the argument, how far a person has a right to make a pleasure of that, which occasions pain and death to the animal-creation: and I shall show in what manner the Quakers argue upon this subject, and how they persuade themselves, that they have no right to pursue such diversions, but particularly when they consider themselves as a body of professing Christians.


Section 2.

Diversions of the field judged first by the morality of the Old Testament—original charter to kill animals—condition annexed to it—sentiments of Cowper— rights and duties springing from this charter—violation of it the violation of a moral law—diversions in question not allowable by this standard. 

The Quakers usually try the lawfulness of field-diversions, which include hunting and shooting, by two standards, and first by the morality of the old Testament.

They believe in common with other Christians, that men have a right to take away the lives of animals for their food. The great creator of the universe, to whom every thing that is in it belongs, gave to Noah and his descendants a grant or charter for this purpose. In this charter no exception is made. Hence wild animals are included in it equally with the tame. And hence a hare may as well be killed, if people have occasion for food, as a chicken or a lamb.

They believe also that, when the creator of the universe gave men dominion over the whole brute-creation, or delivered this creation into their hands, he intended them the right of destroying such animals, as circumstances warranted them in supposing would become injurious to themselves. The preservation of themselves, which is the first law of nature, and the preservation of other animals under their care, created this new privilege.

But though men have the power given them over the lives of animals, there is a condition in the same charter, that they shall take them with as little pain as possible to the creatures. If the death of animals is to be made serviceable to men, the least they can do in return is to mitigate their sufferings, while they expire. This obligation the Supreme Being imposed upon those, to whom he originally gave the charter, by the command of not eating their flesh, while the life’s blood was in it. The Jews obliged all their converts to religion, even the proselytes of the gate, who were not considered to be so religious as the proselytes of the covenant, to observe what they called the seventh commandment of Noah, or that “they should not eat the member of any beast that was taken from it, while it was alive.” This law therefore of blood, whatever other objects it might have in view, enjoined that, while men were engaged in the distressing task of taking away the life of an animal, they should respect its feelings, by abstaining from torture, or all unnecessary pain.

On Noah, and in him on all mankind
The Charter was conferr’d, by which we hold
The flesh of animals in fee, and claim
O’er all we feed on pow’r of life and death. 
But read the instrument, and mark it well.
The oppression of a tyrannous control
Can find no warrant there.
Feed then, and yield
Thanks for thy food. Carnivorous, through sin,
Feed on the slain; but spare the living brute.
-- Cowper

From this charter, and from the great condition annexed to it, the Quakers are of opinion that rights and duties have sprung up; rights on behalf of animals, and duties on the part of men; and that a breach of these duties, however often, or however thoughtlessly it may take place, is a breach of a moral law. For this charter did not relate to those animals only, which lived in the particular country of the Jews, but to those in all countries wherever Jews might exist. Nor was the observance of it confined to the Jews only, but it was to extend to the Proselytes of the covenant and the gate. Nor was the observance of it confined to these Proselytes, but it was to extend to all nations; because all animals of the same species are in all countries organized alike, and have all similar feelings; and because all animals of every kind are susceptible of pain.

In trying the lawfulness of the diversions of the field, as the Quakers do by this charter, and the great condition that is annexed to it, I purpose, in order to save time, to confine myself to hunting, for this will appear to be the most objectionable, if examined in this manner.

It must be obvious then, that hunting, even in the case of hares, is seldom followed for the purposes of food. It is uncertain in the first place, whether in the course of the chase they can be preserved whole when they are taken, so as to be fit to be eaten. And, in the second, it may be observed, that we may see fifty horsemen after a pack of hounds, no one of whom has any property in the pack, nor of course any right to the prey. These cannot even pretend, that their object is food, either for themselves or others.

Neither is hunting, where foxes are the objects in view, pursued upon the principle of the destruction of noxious animals. For it may be observed, that rewards are frequently offered to those, who will procure them for the chase: that large woods or covers are frequently allotted them, that they may breed, and perpetuate their species for the same purposes, and that a poor man in the neighborhood of a foxhunter, would be sure to experience his displeasure, if he were caught in the destruction of any of these animals.

With respect to the mode of destroying them in either of these cases, it is not as expeditious, as it might be made by other means. It is on the other hand, peculiarly cruel. A poor animal is followed, not for minutes, but frequently for an hour, and sometimes for hours, in pain and agony. Its sufferings begin with its first fear. Under this fear, perpetually accompanying it, it flies from the noise of horses, and horsemen, and the cries of dogs. It pants for breath, till the panting becomes difficult and painful. It becomes wearied even to misery, yet dares not rest. And under a complication of these sufferings, it is at length overtaken, and often literally torn to pieces by its pursuers.

Hunting therefore does not appear, in the opinion of the Quakers, to be followed for any of those purposes, which alone, according to the original charter, give mankind a right over the lives of brutes. It is neither followed for food, nor for prevention of injury to man, or to the creatures belonging to him. Neither is life taken away by means of it, as mercifully as it ought to be, according to the meaning of the great condition. But if hunting be not justifiable, when examined upon these principles, it can never be justifiable in the opinion of the Quakers, when it is followed on the principle of pleasure, all destruction of animal-life upon this last principle, must come within the charge of wanton cruelty, and be considered as a violation of a moral law.


Section 3.

Diversions of the field judged by the morality of the New-Testament—the renovated man or Christian has a clearer knowledge of creation and of its uses—he views animals as the creatures of God—hence he finds animals to have rights independently of any written law—he collects again new rights from the benevolence of his new feelings—and new rights again from the written word of revelation. 

The Quakers try the lawfulness of these diversions again by the morality of the New-Testament They adopt, in the first place, upon this occasion, the idea of George Fox and of Edward Burroughs, which has been already stated; and they follow it up in the manner which I shall now explain.

They believe that a man under the new covenant, or one who is really a Christian, is a renovated man. As long as Adam preserved his primeval innocence, or continued in the image of his Maker, his spiritual vision was clear. When he lost this image, it became dim, short, and confused.  This is the case, the Quakers believe, with every apostate or wicked man. He sees through a vitiated medium. He sees of course nothing of the harmony of the creation. He has but a confused knowledge of the natures and ends of things. These natures and these ends he never examines as he ought, but in the confusion of his moral vision, he abuses and perverts them. Hence it generally happens, that an apostate man is cruel to his brute. But in proportion as he is restored to the divine image, or becomes as Adam was before he fell, or in proportion as he exchanges earthly for spiritual views, he sees all things through a clearer medium. It is then, the Quakers believe, that the creation is open to him, and that he finds his creator has made nothing in vain. It is then that he knows the natures of things; that he estimates their uses and their ends, and that he will never stretch these beyond their proper bounds. Beholding animals in this sublime light, he will appreciate their strength, their capacities, and their feelings; and he will never use them but for the purposes intended by providence. It is then that the creation will delight him. It is then that he will find a growing love to the animated objects of it. And this knowledge of their natures, and this love of them, will oblige him to treat them with tenderness and respect. Hence all animals will have a security in the breast of every Christian or renovated man against oppression or abuse. He will never destroy them wantonly, nor put them to unnecessary pain. Now the Quakers are of opinion, that every person, who professes Christianity, ought to view things as the man, who is renovated, would view them, and that it becomes them therefore in particular, as a body of highly professing Christians, to view them in the same manner. Hence they uniformly look upon animals, not as brute-machines, to be used at discretion, but as the creatures of God, of whose existence the use and intention ought always to be considered, and to whom duties arise out of this spiritual feeling, independently of any written law in the Old-Testament, or any grant or charter, by which their happiness might be secured.

The Quakers therefore, viewing animals in this light, believe that they are bound to treat them accordingly. Hence the instigation of two horses by whips and spurs for a trial of speed, in consequence of a moneyed stake, is considered by the Quakers to be criminal. The horse was made for the use of man, to carry his body and to transport his burdens; but he was never made to engage in painful conflicts with other horses on account of the avarice of his owner. Hence the pitting together of two cocks for a trial of victory is considered as equally criminal. For the cock, whatever may be his destined object among the winged creation, has been long useful to man in awakening him from unseasonable slumber, and in sounding to him the approach of day. But it was never intended, that he should be employed to the injury and destruction of himself, or to the injury and destruction of his own species. In the same manner the Quakers condemn the hunting of animals, except on the plea of necessity, or that they cannot be destroyed, if their death be required, in any other way. For whatever may be their several uses, or the several ends of their existence in creation, they were never created to be so used by man, that they should suffer, and this entirely for his sport. Whoever puts animals to cruel and unnatural uses, disturbs, in the opinion of the Quakers, the harmony of the creation, and offends God.

The Quakers in the second place, are of opinion that the renovated man must have, in his own benevolent spirit, such an exalted sense of the benevolent spirit of the Creator, as to believe, that he never constituted any part of animated nature, without assigning it its proper share of happiness during the natural time of its existence, or that it was to have its moment, its hour, its day, or its year of pleasure. And, if this be the case, he must believe also, that any interruption of its tranquility, without the plea of necessity, must be an innovation of its rights as a living being.

The Quakers believe also, that the renovated man, who loves all the works of the creator, will carry every divine law, which has been revealed to him, as far as it is possible to be carried on account of a similarity of natures through all animated creation, and particularly that law, which forbids him to do to another, what he would dislike to be done unto himself. Now this law is founded on the sense of bodily, and on the sense of the mental feelings. The mental feelings of men and brutes, or the reason of man and the instinct of animals, are different.  But their bodily feelings are alike; and they are in their due proportions, susceptible of pain. The nature therefore of man and of animals is alike in this particular. He can anticipate and know their feelings by his own. He cannot therefore subject them to any action unnecessarily, if on account of a similar construction of his own organs, such an action would produce pain to himself. His own power of feeling strongly commands sympathy to all that can feel: and that general sympathy, which arises to a man, when he sees pain inflicted on the person of any individual of his own species, will arise, in the opinion of the Quakers, to the renovated man, when he sees it inflicted on the body of a brute.


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