The Animal’s Almanac: On Dogs (1807)

I’ve been reading a fascinating historical document. It’s a book, published in 1807 in Philadelphia, called The General Character of the Dog: Anecdotes of that Beautiful and Useful Animal. The author, Joseph Taylor, aimed to highlight “various instances of sagacity and faithful attachment” that he observed among members of the canine species. He did so, he explained, to “prevent future mistreatment.”

A sample quote: “When I see the several actions and designs of my Dog, I profess it is impossible to avoid being amazed. His passions are more quiet than those of many men. There are some [men] whose joy or grief at accidents, give them so little emotion , and are so dull, as to render it difficult to say which it is that affects them: but, in this honest animal, both are lively and strong. When any of the family return home, he discovers great gladness in caressing and skipping about them, and seems dull and concerned at their going out.”  (12)

The logic behind Taylor’s intention is worth appreciating: he was writing about the emotional and intellectual lives of dogs in order to prevent humans from abusing them.  In so doing, Taylor was affirming an important truth—the more we know about the inner lives of non-human animals, the more inclined we are to behave in a way that’s consistent with their intrinsic worth.  Much of our instrumentalist approach to animals is due to the simple fact that we know so little about them. What was true in 1807 is, alas, still true today.


About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

2 Responses to The Animal’s Almanac: On Dogs (1807)

  1. Carolle says:

    Hear, hear!

  2. CQ says:

    So true.

    When we focus our five senses only on the money-making and/or food-and-fashion producing physical aspects of animals — muscles for plowing our fields or winning our races or feeding our faces, fur for our raiments, skins for our rugs, feathers for our pillows — we inevitably lose sight of the real, intrinsic worth of each creature.

    Yet it’s the vast array of intellectual and emotional, moral and spiritual components comprising each individual animal that make him/her valuable — an essential, irreplaceable, timeless piece of the universe made and governed by the one Mind.

    Only those who, like Joseph Taylor, look closely and care deeply, without prejudice, without pride, without possessiveness, can recognize the noble qualities that creatures are endowed with, and will go to any length to preserve, alive, the animals who embody those great gifts.

    A few applicable quotes from

    CHAPTER 2: “All living beings love their life, desire pleasure, and are averse to pain; they dislike any injury to themselves; everybody is desirous of life, and to every being, his own life is very dear. This is the quintessence of wisdom: Not to injure any living being.” ~ Arabian proverb

    CHAPTER 3: “See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?” … “In the majority of cases the slaughtering of innocent living beings is done for pride and very rarely for other causes.” ~ Buddha Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 B.C.E.) Nepalese founder of Buddhism

    “The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is different.” ~ Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.E.) Greek physician, “The Father of Medicine”

    CHAPTER 5: “It should not be believed that all beings exist for the sake of the existence of man. On the contrary, all the other beings too have been intended for their own sakes and not for the sake of anything else.” … “There is no difference between the pain of humans and the pain of other living beings, since the love and tenderness of the mother for the young are not produced by reasoning, but by feeling, and this faculty exists not only in humans but in most living beings.” ~ Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) North African physician, philosopher, Talmud codifier

    “See, Christ makes the birds our masters and teachers! so that a feeble sparrow, to our great and perpetual shame, stands in the gospel as a doctor and preacher to the wisest of men.” ~ Martin Luther (1483-1546) German founder of the Protestant movement

    CHAPTER 6: “[Animals] express their desire of honour, generosity, industrious sagacity, courage, magnanimity, and the love and fear; neither are they void of subtlety and wisdom.” … “[They are] able to understand and express themselves in the language of gesture, teaching us by learning of us, that capable they be not only of the inward discourse of reason, but of the outward gift of utterance by gesture.” ~ John Bulwer (1606-1656) English physician

    “[Animals may not speak or do ciphers, yet their] perceptions and observations [may] be as wise as men’s, and they may have as much intelligence and commerce betwixt each other, after their own manner and way, as men have after theirs.” … “[T]he ignorance of men concerning other creatures [permits them to despise animals and consider themselves] …petty Gods in Nature.” … “Who knows whether fish do not know more of the nature of water, and ebbing and flowing, and the saltness of the sea? or whether birds do not know more of the nature and degrees of air, or the cause of tempests: or whether worms do not know more of the nature of earth, and how plants are produced? or bees of the several sorts of juices of flowers, than men.” … “I should rather think it irreligious to confine sense and reason only to Man, and to say, that no Creature adores and worships God, but Man, which, in my judgment, argues a great pride, self-conceit, and presumption.” ~ Her Grace Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673) English Duchess of Newcastle upon Tyne, author of prose, poetry, plays, essays

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