No Compassion for 'The Brute Creation'

‘Kill not Moth nor Butterfly, For the Last Judgement draweth nigh’ wrote William Blake in Auguries of Innocence, reflecting the changing perception of man’s relation to the natural world.

When English travellers went abroad in the late eighteenth century they were frequently shocked to see how foreigners treated animals. The Spanish bull-fight had long been notorious for what the first Earl of Clarendon called its 'rudeness and barbarity'. English tourists always went to see it, but usually only once. 'Fifteen or sixteen wretched bulls were massacred,' wrote the fastidious William Beckford after a Portuguese fight in 1787, adding on another occasion, 'I was highly disgusted with the spectacle. It set my nerves on edge and I seemed to feel cuts and slashes the rest of the evening.' It was 'a damnable sport', agreed Robert Southey.

Continental methods of hunting were equally distasteful. When Sir Richard Colt Hoare went after wild boar with the King of Naples in 1786, he was appalled to discover that the boar, so far from being wild, came when whistled for, and that the hunters stuck it with spears when it was held fast by dogs. 'I was...thoroughly disgusted with this scene of slaughter and butchery... yet the King and his court seem[ed] to receive great pleasure from the acts of cruelty and to vie with each other in the expertness of doing them.'

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