Saturday, February 04, 2012

The compassionate madness of the Reverend Granger

Outside my ‘early modern’ beat for this one, partly because my research isn’t pointing me at EEBO quite so often these days. Instead, my text is off ECCO: An apology for the brute creation, or Abuse of Animals censured; In a sermon on Proverbs xii. 10. Preached in the Parish Church of Shiplake, in Oxfordshire, October 18, 1772, By James Granger.

I can imagine (my copy isn’t to hand) that Keith Thomas included this in his great trawl of sources in Man and the Natural World 1500-1800, but it is worth a more extended look. The interest is local, so my image is of James Granger’s memorial wall tablet in Shiplake Church, where I met the present incumbent earlier today.

The sermon seems to me to be delivered (I am not an experienced reader of 18th century sermons) in the manner of a Spectator essay - with a strong admixture of the Age of Sensibility. This pulpit discourse brings to my mind memories of Sterne, or of Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling, published just the year before. The title page is indicative: This Discourse is not only intended for such as have the Care of Horses, and other useful Beasts; but also for Children, and those that are concerned in forming their Hearts” – to be solemnly concerned in ‘forming your heart’!

The published sermon starts with an explanation of the events which prompted it, in an address to T. B., ‘drayman’, whose team must have worked the road between Reading and Henley: “Neighbour Tom, Having seen thee exercise the lash with greater rage, and heard thee swear, at the same time, more roundly and forcibly than I ever saw, or heard, and of thy brethren of the whip in London, I cannot help thinking that thou hast the best right to this discourse …”

The drayman, drunk, seems to have fallen asleep, and so his fore-horse led the team along a habitual route, incurring the unreasonable wrath of his driver for doing so: “For God’s sake and thy own, have some compassion upon these poor beasts; and especially the fore-horse of thy team. He is as sensible of blows as thou art; and ought not to have been so outrageously punished for turning aside into a road to which he was long accustomed, when thou wast asleep upon thy dray.”

Granger’s manner is politely suave, and not without steel: he tells Tom B. that if he breaks any more whips upon the horse, or utters any more “horrid oaths … I will take care that thou be punished by a Justice of the Peace, as well as thy own master, in this world; and give thee fair warning, that a worse punishment waits for thee in the next; and that damnation will certainly come, according to thy call.”

What follows is a surprise, and we perhaps sense an impetuosity in Granger: “It is not likely that thy soul when separated from thy body, will sleep till the day of judgment: According to the doctrine of a very sensible man, it may inhabit the fore-horse of a dray, and suffer all the pain that guilt and whip-cord can give.” I am aware of the ‘mortalist heresy’ (as in the poems of Donne), but who was this ‘sensible man’ who thought that human souls may transmigrate at death into animals as temporary homes until judgment day? It seems to me a notion as much Pythagorean as Christian, and an odd suggestion to make in the pulpit. Anyway, Tom B. is left with stern words: “ask God forgiveness for thy cruelty and oaths … drink less ale, and no drams … save thy whips and thy horses, thy body and thy soul”.

For the sermon itself, Granger took his text from Proverbs xii. 10: “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast”. He starts by expressing a sense of surprise that he may be the first cleric to speak of such matters: “It is strange that beasts, especially those of the most useful kind, that do so much for, and suffer so much from man, have never, at least to my knowledge, had an advocate from the pulpit”. It’s worth pausing over this: we are seeing part of a revolution in sentiment happening. If any of his congregation had read Mackenzie (and by their reaction to this sermon, it is actually doubtful that sensibility had in 1772 made it as far as Henley-on-Thames), they might have remembered the pathetic narration of Harley (the titular ‘man of feeling’) hearing old Edwards tell of his eviction from the farm that had long been in his family, and how his blind old dog Trusty, turned out with him, had made it as far as the gooseberry bush, howled once, and died. Harley’s face is bathed in tears after hearing this. Mackenzie may be exploiting his readers, but such stuff was read in earnest.

Granger reminded his congregation about their merciful God, and what He had entrusted to man, so that for a man “wantonly to provoke, punish, and put to torture, any animal that Providence hath placed in his care, is to betray his trust”. The merciful man “is of a gentle and benevolent temper, who rejoices with them that rejoice, and weeps with them that weep … whose mercy, like that of the deity, extends itself to every living object of it … Blessed, says our Saviour, are the merciful”.

This would have been familiar enough as Christian exhortation. But Granger then goes on with a eulogy of the horse, and follows up with a round condemnation of how horses are treated in England: “the horse, a gentle, docile, generous, and useful beast; to which we owe a very great part of the necessities, conveniencies, and ornaments of life; and which contributes, more than any other, to our health, ease, and security … yet how often is this noble animal … the victim of youth, wantonness, ignorance, stupidity, and cruelty? How often is he whipped, spurred, battered, and starved to death? … It hath been observed, that there is no country upon the face of the whole earth … where this beast is so ill treated: hence England is proverbially called, ‘The hell of Horses’.”

Granger goes on to condemn “our barbarous customs of baiting and worrying animals”, especially in some Shrove Tuesday atrocities (he does not specify what or where). Though such festive cruelties as these, he says, are practiced by the “stupid, ignorant, and uncivilized part of our countrymen. Those of higher rank and knowledge are far more humane and benevolent”.

One senses that Granger, in such class distinctions, was trying to keep his congregation sympathetic to his case. But he was soon running back towards trouble, remarking that many people quite simply “think [beasts] should be treated with harshness and severity”, for to do so is simply a matter of good practice. This insight into general opinion provokes him to another extended ‘Man of Feeling’ moment, a discourse upon dogs: “I think myself also obliged to say something of the dog, the servant, the companion, and the friend of man. He defends his property, contributes to his diversion, and helps supply his table; is grateful for the smallest favour bestowed upon him, and is ever ready to protect and fight for the tyrant who abuses him … how often is he taught to be fierce and cruel, which is foreign to his nature…

Granger had been unusually particular about dogs (not an animal that gets a good press in the Bible, as far as I am aware). He next moves to the general issue about all killing of animals, raising the question (which he says is put by some), “whether we have a right to destroy so many creatures as we daily do for our necessary conveniency, or sport”. His response to this extreme view is a surprisingly robust one. He reiterates the doctrine of subjection Keith Thomas describes as typical of the Bible-influenced culture in England, and sees killing animals not as something to be avoided, but as a moral necessity: “This is easily answered: all inferior creatures were, by the creator, subjected to the dominion of man: And it is certain, that if he does not exercise this power, in taking away their lives, upon many occasions, that we should be over-run by them; and it would be impossible for us to subsist: So that we are compelled to destroy them by the great law of necessity”.

For all that he is writing against of his congregation’s prejudices, we can see that Granger remains a man of his time. God’s animals must be (humanely) culled to prevent their numbers becoming deleterious to the prime human good. He does not specify particular pests, say rats or mice. He has no sense that there might be a natural balance in animal populations; nor that the numbers of some animals are anyway a product of human intervention. His argument about this necessary culling might have come out of the mouth of Milton’s Comus (who argues to the Lady that if we didn’t consume without restraint, Nature “would be quite surcharged with her own weight, / And strangl’d with her waste fertility; / Th’earth cumber’d, and the wing’d air dark’t with plumes, / The herds would over-multitude their Lords, / The Sea o’refraught would swell … ”).

Granger’s heart actually doesn’t seem to me to be in this part of the argument. He is soon far away from the strictures of ‘necessity’, arguing that “God intended the preservation of the meanest of his animals” and happily citing a text from Deuteronomy: ‘If thou find a bird’s nest in the way, thou shalt not take the dam with the young …” Granger rushes on to give his view that small cruelties cauterize the development of proper feelings, and this leads to ever-worse actions: “To deprive the meanest insect of life, without a good reason for so doing, is certainly criminal … If a child dismembers a bee, or an ant, he may, for any thing we know to the contrary, distress a whole common-wealth … cruelty, like other vices, steals upon human nature by slow and imperceptible degrees”. The printed text has a footnote, referring the reader to the same sentiment “admirably exemplified in ‘The Four Stages of Cruelty’ a set of prints designed and engraved by Mr Hogarth” (1751).

The sermon ends with a belated, and perhaps rather uneasy switch back towards pious thoughts about the more customary objects for pity, as he enjoins his listeners to show kindness ‘to every living creature under our eye, and beneath our roof, especially to those beasts to whose labour we owe so much in cultivating the earth: And may we treat our poor servants and labourers in these times of dearth and scarcity, and especially when they are advanced in years, and worn out with drudgery, with still greater kindness than we treat our dogs and horses”.

But the shock for the present day reader comes in Granger’s postscript, which tells us how this well-meaning sermon (it seems he gave it twice) was received. Considering how difficult this reception must have been for him, he tells it with an unflinching directness:

“The foregoing discourse gave almost universal disgust to two considerable congregations. The mention of dogs and horses, was censured as a prostitution of the dignity of the pulpit, and considered as a proof of the Author’s growing insanity. It was written in great haste, of which, indeed, it carries the marks; but it was dictated by his heart, and is published as it fell from his pen. It is, with great humility, submitted to the judgment and candour of the public; and particularly, to the cool consideration of those who were pleased to censure it, and by whose disapprobation, without any premeditated design of the Author, it now sees the light.”

It looks to me from that last sentence as though Granger decided to put his sermon into print as an appeal over the heads of those two congregations to a wider public. And if they were readers of Sterne and Mackenzie, they might have been more attuned to what he had argued than (perhaps) the local Phillimores (the gentry family of Shiplake Hall, who fill a large part of the graveyard at the Church). As the sermon went to four editions, Granger may have been right about finding a more receptive audience in the reading public. The fourth edition contains his real vindication, though: “Advertisement (4th edition). The poor wretch, to whom this sermon is dedicated, was killed by the kick of a horse since the third edition was printed. I shall only observe upon this event; that it is a truth … that when there is an apparent connection between a crime and its punishment, we are naturally struck with surprise and horror.” Providence had given its own verdict.

Granger’s other work was a biographical dictionary, one that is arranged reign by reign, and then by a scheme of rank: royalty, great officers of state, clergy, ‘commoners who have born great Employments’, ‘Men of the Robe’; ‘Men of the Sword’; ‘Physicians, poets, and other ingenious Persons’; ‘Painters, Artificers, Mechanics, and all inferior Professions’ – and the final class ‘Ladies, and others, of the Female Sex, according to their Rank, &c’. Nothing quite so suspect about that, and it was frequently reprinted.


Gil S said...

Interesting that 1772 was the year that the American Quaker John Woolman was visiting England. He walked everywhere rather than use "those coaches which run so fast as oft to oppress the horses."

DrRoy said...

I read that at the very height of coaching, from 1810 onwards, they could move at an average speed of 11mph, and you could travel 150 miles a day. (TV ought to do one of those reconstruction programmes: 'The Georgian Traveller'.) But as you imply, this must have involved a lot of whipping. In my ignorance, I do not know whether this would have been a regular Quaker scruple. Would other Quakers have behaved like Woolman, do you think?