IN addition to the completion and publication of The Keys of the Creeds, (1)
my work during the past year had comprised an examination, largely made at the
British Museum, of the various religious systems of antiquity, with a view
mainly to the determination of two points – (1) How far they possessed any
common central dominating idea; and (2) How far such idea, if possessed by them,
was related to man’s consciousness of his own nature and needs. It seemed
obvious to me that man must regard religion as having for its end the
perfectionment of himself and his conditions, since only in such case could it
have any concern for him. But how to reconcile such conception of the end of
religion with the systems which made that end the exaltation of beings who,
whether real or imaginary, were in no wise near himself, but were altogether
removed from him in kind, as do all religions, which make religion consist in
the worship of God or the gods as ordinarily conceived of?
From this inquiry into what actually were the subject and object of religion, I
presently passed to the inquiry into what these ought to be, judged from
the standpoint of pure reason. Doing which, it became evident to me that if
designed – as it must necessarily be designed – for the benefit of man
considered as a permanent being, religion must have for its subject and object
man’s permanent part, namely, that which is implied by the term “Soul.” Posit
the soul as the real and enduring principle in man, and therefore as the supreme
subject and object of regard, and religion at once becomes intelligible and
necessary as the culture of that principle, and so only. Wherefore that alone is
religion in any true and worthy sense which consists in the culture of the soul.
And whatever in religion fails to fulfil
this definition is not really religion, but
only superstition and folly.
As, with this clue to the meaning and intention of religion in itself, I pursued
my analysis of the various systems of religion, steadfastly following the while
my reformed mode of diet, I found myself, to my inexpressible delight, coming
into possession of a strangely enhanced faculty of ideation, which manifested
itself in a power of insight into problems which had hitherto baffled me. It was
as if my mental surfaces had been cleansed and sensitised in such wise as to
render them accessible to impressions and suggestions which formerly had been
too subtle and refined to obtain recognition. And to such extent was the level
of my thought and perception raised, that I was sanguine of developing a faculty
capable of the sure discernment of all truth, even the highest, and even of
finding for it expression so luminous as to enable the generality also to
discern it, to the world’s incalculable advantage. And conspicuous among the
convictions which burst upon me as indefeasible verities, was the conviction
that to this end the whole scene and modus of religion must be shifted and
its process inverted, so that, instead of representing something extraneous to
the individual, and done for him from without, it should become a process
interior to him and be accomplished from within, having for its two terms
purification and unfoldment in respect of that which, by virtue of his nature
and constitution, he has and is in himself. It was thus that the vicarious
principle, against which I had from the beginning instinctively revolted, came
to disclose itself to me as demonstrably false and pernicious.
A. returned home for Christmas, taking their little girl to her grandmother at
well, and added that it was the first
condition of health with her that she be congenially companioned. I felt myself
fortunate in being able to comply, and in little more than three weeks after
starting I returned home, having shown her Turin, Milan, Verona, Venice,
Bologna, Florence, Pisa, and Genoa, and left her at her quarters in Paris
thoroughly restored, and filled with ecstatic delight at the revelations of
beauty and truth in Art, Nature, and Idea which had been opened to her view.
For, once beneath the clear skies, and amid the manifold glories of Italy, freed
from toil and anxiety, and instead of the depressing associations of her
student-life, finding sympathetic response to every suggestion and impulse, – it
seemed as if the moment had arrived for which her spirit had waited to descend
upon her in fullness and illumine her whole being. And so it came that, as we
explored palace and gallery and temple – and, notably, the Venetian San Marco,
where the access culminated – every symbol and emblem wherein had been at once
concealed and revealed mysteries too deep for vulgar apprehension, disclosed its
meaning, enabling us to recognise the great medieval adepts in architecture,
sculpture, and painting as seers and prophets of the doctrine we were learning
to discern as being the fundamental truth of which all religions are but veils.
And this was no other than that Higher Pantheism which, while insisting on the
substantial identity of God, the World, and Man, makes all Being essentially
divine, and sees in the distinctions which pervade it differences only of
condition. No longer doubtful for either of us was the significance of the
expression “in the Spirit.” And yet, as the event proved, it was but a
preliminary sprinkling of the fuller baptism we were to receive before the year
was out, a dawn to be succeeded by full day. And not only were the previsions
confirmed which led me to see in her and her faculty the destined supplement and
complement of myself and my faculty, but it was made clear to me what precisely
was the nature of the work we were to accomplish together. It was summed up in
the word “Interpretation.”
The return to our respective abodes and occupations involved a descent from
these altitudes. Moreover, the cares of the situation were manifold, and the
matters many concerning which counsel was sought of me. Her letters to me at
this juncture are not available for reproduction; for, owing to their many
family and other personal allusions, she
reclaimed and destroyed them some years later. Some of my replies to them,
however, were spared; and as they will exhibit the difficulties of her position,
and the manner in which they were met, more vividly than any formal narrative, I
will act on the dictum that a person may be known as well by letters received as
by letters sent, and accordingly give some extracts from them: –
“As for your professor’s angry insistence on being allowed to vivisect at your lessons, you must be less of the mere pupil and more of the woman with him, and show that you can be angry too. He has no particle of authority over you, having been simply hired by yourself to give you instruction in certain subjects of which he has knowledge, and concerning which you desire to learn. Those subjects are purely scientific and physical, and do not properly involve any violation of morality, concerning which you have your own views, and do not intend to renounce them. Tell him plainly, with all dignity and firmness, that your objection is profound and fixed, and not to be abandoned at anyone’s dictation, being a matter of principle, involving at once morality, religion, and humanity; and that, so far from its being a ‘folie’ on your part, as he says it is, it is a ‘folie’ and worse than that, on the part of those who degrade their humanity by having recourse to such methods; and that, if he persists in worrying you about it, you will seek another instructor, or even renounce the study of medicine altogether. Of course, it would not be safe to let it be known that it is part of your fixed design to prove that a diploma can be obtained without having witnessed a vivisectional experiment; for they might pass a rule making it obligatory.”
• • • • • • • • • • •
“As for that troublesome acquaintance at the hospital, I fear, from what you tell me, there will be what the Americans call a ‘difficulty’ between him and his rival, unless you use great tact. How about saying frankly to him, ‘Monsieur, you paid me compliments. I am here as a student, not as a woman. Unless you recognise me in that capacity only, we cannot be acquaintances, much less friends.’ It would only damage you were the two men to come to open conflict. Can they not be made to understand how unkind and distressing to you their conduct is?”
• • • • • • • • • • •
“My objection to your story, The Turquoise Ring, is that it represents an immature stage in a woman’s development, and one that you yourself have outgrown. Your Ariel is all head and little heart, and sees ideas to the exclusion of persons, and exercises her will at the expense of her affections. Her dismissal for a whole year of the man she professes to love, and her refusal even to correspond with him, are things which no affectionate nature would do. Fancy yourself in such case! Nothing so tends to the mental development and revelation of love as correspondence. The very absence of the bodily presence fosters the spiritual tie. The motive of the prohibition is the unworthy one of distrust, and represents a survival of what, I
hope, is a past phase in yourself. Your early work was better than your present, because then you believed. Faith is essential to love. “It is a mistake, too, to make her array herself in jewels and finery to receive her lover after such a separation, as if he could have eyes for anything but herself. Plain white and a single flower on breast or in hair would be better, and nothing to remind him – a poor man – of her wealth.”
• • • • • • • • • • •
“I send you to-day’s Times, with a report of the debate on the Women’s Suffrage Bill, which will show you how much you are needed in that movement. For the debate shows why it does not advance. They are all on the wrong tack, supporters and opponents alike. The franchise is claimed in hostility, not sought in love. The women are demanding it as a means of defence and offence against men, instead of as a means of aiding and perfecting men’s work. They want a level platform with man expressly in order to fight him on equal terms. And, of course, the instinct of the majority – both of men and women – revolts against such a view.”
• • • • • • • • • • •
“You will have to conceal your indignation at the doings in the hospitals until you are safe through your course. Meanwhile make ample notes of them against the time when you are free to denounce vivisection not only for its cruelty to the animals, but for its brutalising influence on hospital practice. And do not fret about the attacks made on you by persons such as Mrs. L.L., on the score of medicine being an ‘indelicate’ pursuit for a woman. It is not a bit more so than nursing, even from the point of view of the objectors, and no one has ever objected to women being nurses. The real ‘indelicacy’ is on the part of those who find it indelicate. They are not the most ‘proper’ folk who have the keenest sense of impropriety.”
• • • • • • • • • • •
“I walked home in a snowstorm last night, from a big dinner-party in Belgrave Square, where the hostess, old Lady Combermere, insisted on my sitting next to her, in order, she loudly informed her guests, that she might keep me from spoiling her entrées, by scooping out all the vegetables and leaving only the meat! And great was her surprise to learn that the vegetables were already spoilt for me by the gravy. I went reluctantly, so greatly do I prefer the solitude of my chambers and my work to conventional society. But I came away sensible of having rather enjoyed the evening. For I met some interesting people, and that rara avis, one who was appreciative of me! The fun of the occasion consisted in the delivery by E.F., the Colonial Office man – of whom you have heard me speak – of a capital piece of mimicry of the speakers and speeches at the Dialectical Society on the night of my paper, at the reading of which you were present. He took us all off admirably. I had no idea how amusing we had been. He was most successful in reproducing the Scotch and Irish speakers.
“Among other notabilities present was old Mrs. Greville, who is a great friend
of Tennyson and of
wanting to know if I accepted His mediation, as she had ‘heard that I was one of the intellects of the day, and she saw that I had a soul.’ She was earnest to a degree, and would not be put off by my saying that all such doctrines have a spiritual meaning which differs for different minds, and that the popular way of regarding them is pretty sure to be not only false, but gross, idolatrous, and even blasphemous. She herself was a ‘Universalist,’ she said, and did I not believe that the benefits of Christ’s death would be extended to all? To this I could safely say, as I did say, that I could not imagine the Deity as damning any portion of Himself. Whereupon she straightway shed tears, and declared that I must not say another word on the subject, as nothing could exceed the beauty of that remark. It expressed all she felt in a way she had never known it expressed before. Whether she would have been so pleased if she had detected in it the cloven hoof of Pantheism, I have my doubts.
“At another reception I was at lately Lord Houghton insisted on my reciting an
epigram which I had written at the time of the Disestablishment of the
“Here is the epigram, in case you don’t know it: –
‘From empty fane and idle priest
Their wealth to take away,
And use in works of charity,
Is robbing God, they say.
And yet the Good Book plainly says,
In words which none can mend,
That ‘whoso giveth to the poor,
Unto the Lord doth lend.’
“Lord H. also recounted with huge glee a joke I had once perpetrated at a great
public meeting at
• • • • • • • • • • •
“I do not believe you are ill in the way De L–– imagines. But it may come to that if you allow the exciting causes to continue long enough. And the delay of six or seven more weeks of which you
speak is a very serious matter. On no account should you risk your life to pass any examen at any particular time, or even to get your degree at all.
“A medical diploma is not necessary to enable you to do good work in the world, and there is no doubt that it will be obtainable here before long. My fear is that you are just the last person to associate with sick folk, owing to your excessive sensibility to external influences, and that either you cannot hold out until your examen, or you will not do yourself justice at it if you do. (...) As for your professor’s notions on life and immortality, I would as soon take a dog’s – nay, sooner, if it could express them; for its instincts would not have been obscured and perverted by its reason.”
Her persistent refusal to allow her tutor to experiment on live animals at her
lessons led at length to his withdrawal, compelling her to engage another; but
not until she had attempted to dispense with private tuition by attending the
official classes at the schools. But these had soon to be renounced. For
although experimentation was not performed at them, at least during her term of
attendance, the laboratories were in such close proximity to the lecture-rooms
that the cries of the animals under torture were plainly audible, and were so
distressing to her as to compel her to give up her attendance and again have
recourse to private tuition.
Respecting her visits to the schools, she related the following incident in an
article written some years later in a periodical called The Heretic: –
“Very shortly after my entry as a student at the Paris Faculté, and when as yet I was new to the horrors of the vivisectional method, I was one morning, while studying alone in the Natural History Museum, suddenly disturbed by a frightful burst of screams, of a character more distressing than words can convey, proceeding from some chamber on another side of the building. I called the porter in charge of the museum, and asked him what it meant. He replied with a grin, ‘It is only the dogs being vivisected in M. Béclard’s laboratory.’ I expressed my horror; and he retorted, scrutinizing me with surprise and amusement – for he could never before have heard a student speak of vivisection in such terms – ‘Que voulez-vous? C’est pour Ia science.’ Therewith he left me, and I sat down alone and listened. Much as I had heard and said, and even written, before that day about vivisection, I found myself then for the first time in its actual presence, and there swept over me a wave of such extreme mental anguish that my heart stood still under it. It was not sorrow, nor was it indignation merely, that I felt; it was nearer despair than these. It seemed as if suddenly all the laboratories of torture throughout Christendom stood open before me, with their manifold unutterable agonies exposed, and the awful future an atheistic science was everywhere making for the world
rose up and stared me in the face. And then and there, burying my face in my hands, with tears of agony I prayed for strength and courage to labour effectually for the abolition of so vile a wrong, and to do at least what one heart and one voice might to root this curse of torture from the land.
“Two ways lie before every man – the path of good and the path of evil – and man is free to choose between them. Men of science must choose, just as must traders, writers, or artists. Semblance of success may lure him who enters on the track of evil, but it is the glamour of a phantom decoy, and will sooner or later end in collapse; for it was no evil principle that built the universe. A method which is morally wrong cannot be scientifically right. The test of conscience is the test of soundness.”
Meanwhile, despite her hard work and the distressful conditions under which it
was performed, she did not fail to report to me from time to time such of her
hospital experiences as were calculated to throw light on the practice and its
consequences; and these I turned to account in a letter which appeared in the
Examiner, June 17, 1876, of which the following is a condensation. As
the first-fruits of our collaboration, as well as because no less applicable to
the present day than when it was written, it merits a place in this history: –
“THE DOCTORS AND THE VIVISECTION BILL
“The action just taken by the Medical Council in opposition to Legislative interference with the practice of vivisection – for to this does their remonstrance amount – makes it necessary that the public should be further enlightened on the subject.
“The whole case is comprised in the two following questions: –
“1. Is the practice conducive to the physical good of man? and
“2. Is it legitimate for man to seek his own good by such means?
“In regard to the first question, it may be urged that several medical men who have had the courage to break through professional reserve have declared that not a single discovery of value for the prevention of disease has been made by means of vivisection which could not have been made by careful anatomy of the dead subject, and the exercise of that quality of the mind which is known as sagacity.
“We have the testimony of the works of physiologists themselves that, owing to the abnormal condition induced in the animals operated on, the results are most uncertain and misleading. In M. Béclard’s work, which is the authorised handbook of the French schools, the descriptions of the most terrible experiments are constantly followed by a query implying the impossibility of attaching any value to any conclusions which might be drawn from them. The indications are numerous, and some of the more thoughtful students admit, that the practice is actually injurious to the mental perceptions, by leading the student to discard the mind in favour of the senses, as the real instrument of truth; and that it is destructive to that faculty of sympathy by virtue of which alone the secrets of nature are to be
got at, and the art of healing, like any other art, becomes possible. The following report of an actual conversation held not long since between a foreign professor of physiology and one of his pupils will throw some light on the real nature of the practice, and on the character of at least some of those who pursue it. A question had arisen respecting the character of some organ, and the pupil had given an answer which the professor had pronounced to be wrong.
“‘But I found it in the book you told me to study from – Béclard’s Physiology.’
“‘Well, he knows nothing about it.’
“‘But he got it by vivisecting!’
“‘Possibly. What says M. Robin?’
“The statement of this authority was given, and pronounced to be wrong also. ‘He, too, got it by vivisecting,’ said the pupil.
“‘Very likely. What says your English Huxley?’
“Huxley is found to differ from the two others, and is pronounced to be wrong also, although, as the pupil urges, he got it by vivisection. Then stating his views, the teacher is met by the rejoinder –
“‘Here are your four vivisectors all holding different opinions, and you insist that I shall vivisect also!’
“‘Certainly I do; and the chances are that you will find something different from any of us. That is the way science gets on.’
“A remonstrance against the practice as cruel and immoral elicited the declaration that sympathy is a weakness and morality an hallucination; that one soon gets over the former by practice; and that, as for the latter, a man’s business is to get on, and that the only obstacle to be considered by a rational being is the fear of what other men may do to him. This, and this only, is the sensible rule of conduct.
“To get rid of the illusions which prevail on this question, it is essential to combat the notion that the practice of medicine is in itself an humanising one. Very many people think that doctors both choose their profession from humane motives, and that its practice makes them more humane. These notions no doubt derive support from the gentleness and suavity of the demeanour usually observed by doctors towards their private patients.
“To doctors themselves, and to medical students, this notion is ridiculous in the extreme; they would be the last to claim such superiority for themselves as a body, and it involves no attack on the profession to expose its fallacy. The chief object of professional men, in medicine as elsewhere, is professional advancement. And it is absurd to cite their profession, or the manners necessary to gain success in it, in proof of their superior humanity. It would be just as sensible to credit soldiers with being more patriotic and courageous than other people; policemen with having more civic virtue; or lawyers with being greater lovers of justice, on account of the nature of their vocations, as to credit doctors with being more humane on account of the nature of theirs. They neither choose medicine because they are more humane than other people, nor do they become so by the practice of it. They are average men, and like their fellows in all respects.
“But if we wish to know what are the effects likely to be produced on them by the practice of vivisection, we must look to the countries
where it has been pursued without restraint either of law or of feeling. And in regard to this aspect of the question, I can assert that English students in foreign hospitals have expressed to me their astonishment and horror at finding the practice of vivisection virtually extended to the patients themselves, and the principle freely recognised that the chief function of the pauper patient is to enable the doctor to learn how to treat the paying patient. The following is an exact description of actual practice in some of these institutions. Accompanied by a large party of students, the professor of surgery approaches a bed where the case is that of a broken wrist.
“‘Just as I told you yesterday, gentlemen,’ he says to the class, ‘this particular fracture has the peculiarity of reproducing itself if not bandaged on being set. It was because I wished you to see the fact for yourselves that I left the limb unbandaged yesterday after I set it.’ In this case, the patient has had, for the sake of affording this paltry lesson, to undergo the pain of a second setting aggravated by twenty-four hours’ delay. Coming to the case of a man whose leg and arm have been broken by his being run over in rescuing a child, the surgeon contents himself with rubbing together the ends of the broken bones in order to hear the ‘crepitation,’ and passes to another bed. A number of students remain behind to practise for themselves; and each in his turn rubs together the ends of the broken bones, of arm and leg at once, while the cries of the victim resound through the ward. The only notice taken of this by the surgeon is to call out to the students from the bed where he is occupied, not an order to release the sufferer, but ‘Hold him down! Hold him down!’ And when they rejoin him an admonition is given to the effect that they are never on any account to do things of that sort in their private practice, as it would ruin their chance with paying patients.
“It is the same in the medical wards. On entering one devoted to diseases of the chest, the students are to be found regarding the patients simply as subjects for practice. They freely open their bed-dresses, and sound their chests, and run pins into them in various parts of their bodies, to test the sensibility of their nerves, and then walk off, leaving them to readjust themselves as they may. Nor is the example set them by their instructors any better. A woman is dying of consumption. She is in the last stage. Both lungs are destroyed, and the chest is filled with liquid. She has been almost insensible for several hours. If left alone she will die in comparative ease, without returning to consciousness. But this must not be. She must afford yet another lesson in return for the charity she has received, and as a penalty for being a pauper. Bending over her, the physician shouts at her to make her open her eyes. She tries in vain to obey him. Taking a pin from his coat, he thrusts it into the under surface of each lid. She utters a cry, and he withdraws the pin, saying, ‘You feel that, do you? Why don’t you open your eyes, then?’ He then pricks her hands and legs, each puncture eliciting a faint cry and effort at resistance. Then with the aid of a student he lifts her up in the bed; for she is dying, and is utterly unable to move herself. Putting his ear to her back, he shakes her violently with both hands, in order to hear the fluctuations of the liquid in the chest, an operation which has already been repeated daily for the
same purpose. At each shake the patient puts out her emaciated hands, and cries piteously in a feeble voice, ‘Oh, sir! Oh, sir!’
“The dietary is in keeping with the rest of the treatment. The staple is flesh nearly or wholly raw, which, in spite of the aversion manifested towards it by the patients, is forced upon them by violence. Where paupers are thus classed with animals as fitting subjects for painful experiment, and no regard is shown to the feelings of either, it is not surprising that the use of anaesthetics for the benefit of the patient is wholly rejected. Even the excruciating operation of cautery with a red-hot iron is performed without the alleviation of an anaesthetic. This operation was recently performed on a man’s neck for aneurism. The case was hopeless, and the patient was put to the torture for the benefit of ‘science’ far more than for his own; his cries are described as most fearful; half the back of his head was burned off, and he died six hours afterwards. These operations are performed in the wards in the midst of the other patients.
“The moral to be learnt from these examples can hardly be mistaken. They show that, whether medicine is or is not in itself a humanising profession, it certainly is not so in the hands of vivisecting students and professors. They show also that medical charities ought not to be left without lay supervision; and they suggest the fear that, unless the fast-growing practice of vivisection in this country be checked, we also may see our hospitals converted into institutions for the benefit of those who desire to learn how to treat the rich at the expense of the poor.
“With regard to the second question: Whether it is legitimate for man to seek his own good by such means? I find it impossible to resist the conclusion that, even were it certain that mankind is benefited by the knowledge obtained by vivisection, the practice is indefensible on moral grounds, and that the moral loss entailed by it is beyond compensation.
“This is a part of the question which lies wholly beyond the province of the merely scientific specialist. The absorbing pursuit of knowledge, like that of anything else, is apt to blind the seeker to the existence of moral limits in his own department. The case before us is no exception. Precisely as a Nero recognises no moral limits to the pursuit of pleasure; a Napoleon, to the pursuit of power; a Thomassen, to the pursuit of gain; so a Schiff, a Ferrier, or a Rutherford recognises no moral limits to the pursuit of physiological knowledge. The appeal in this case is from the specialist to the more evenly developed conscience of the community at large. It is for us as a people to declare that there are moral limits to every pursuit; that there are means which no end can justify. In the axiom that the infliction of torture upon any innocent creature whatever for the benefit of others is absolutely unjustifiable, we have an indefeasible rule by which to decide the case in point. The plea that it is for our own good rather aggravates the offence. For it is then no other than the apotheosis of that worst of devils, the devil of selfishness, in his most detestable form, that of cruelty.
“The practice of vivisection involves the reversal of every principle by following which man develops those higher planes of consciousness which exalt him above the animals. It means the abandonment of
all our moral
gains, and a return to the lowest rudiments of existence. If vivisection be
right, then has the world existed and mankind striven and suffered in vain. If
the sacrifice of others to self is to be the rule for ever, let us at once
declare might to be right, and vivisect our women and children – any who are
unable to protect themselves. But the history of man shows that this is not the
method of nature. Man has risen out of the rudiments, and has learnt that not in
the sacrifice of others to self, but in the sacrifice of self for others, and of
one’s own lower to one’s own higher nature, consists the sole method of
progression. What, it may be asked, should we think of a person who should
consent to have an animal brought to his bedside and there tortured in order to
minister to his own cure? We should say, and say truly, that he was not worth
the saving. The same is true of humanity. Mankind is not worth the saving at the
cost of the feelings which alone exalt mankind. To plead that the knowledge
gained will be well applied, is to justify every swindling financier that ever
plundered the confiding; it is to justify the author of the
“Pain is pain, and injustice is injustice, whoever the victim. The fact that the victims of vivisection are not of our own grade does not lessen the horror with which the practice is regarded by every man and woman whose sympathies extend beyond the narrow range of self and kind. For these the knowledge that throughout Christendom almost every physiological laboratory has been converted into a torture-chamber, in which multitudes of our highly organised, warm-blooded, acutely sensitive fellow-creatures are perpetually undergoing the most fearful tortures which scientific skill can devise, goes far to render life hideous and convert earth into a hell. When science came in with its loud promise of triumphs unbought by cruelty, and its proclamation of a bloodless crusade against pain and misery in whatever shape, it was welcomed as a much-needed, long-sought-for deliverer. The disappointment of those who trusted that of this junction of knowledge and sympathy would be born anew the world’s redemption is more bitter than words can tell. The friends of science are reduced to the humiliating confession that it can only shift the seat of the suffering that is in the world, not lessen the sum; and that it can only shift it from the stronger to the weaker, and this on the condition of increasing its volume and intensity.
There is, however, too much reason to believe that not humanity, not a desire to diminish suffering, but a reckless competition for knowledge, lies at the bottom of this gigantic wrong. Dealing with facts merely physical, and appealing to faculties which are merely of the senses, science has fallen almost exclusively into the hands of a class of men whose faculties for perceiving the external aspects of
things have been developed at the expense of the higher qualities of the mind. Keeping their eyes ever focussed on phenomena, they have become incapable of seeing beyond phenomena to their relations and significance. And denying, as they for the most part do, that there is any meaning in the facts presented to us by the universe, or that we can see it if there be one, they have neglected the use of the higher imagination by which alone it is possible to understand facts, and have reduced science to a bare catalogue of isolated events. Making perception and acquisition everything, and reflection and sympathy nothing, they have forced science to minister to the production of an order of human carnivora eager to seize and devour any fact that comes in their way, no matter at what cost of blood and agony to others. It should be vain now for physiologists to appeal to their character and attainments, and declare that the attempt to restrain them by legislation is a superfluity and an affront. They have shown plainly that they are not to be trusted, and that the honour of humanity is not safe in their hands, inasmuch as they are wont to take cowardly advantage of the weak and helpless. The very eminence of some of them does but enhance the necessity for measures to counteract the evil of their practice and example. They have to learn that in the matter of morals the appeal is not to a physical standard, but to the consciences of men. The very attempt to obscure the question by comparing it with that of field sports shows the insincerity of the pretence to humanity. If legislation cannot deal with every brutal or careless act committed by the multitude of rudimentary intelligences existing among us, whose delight is in baiting, killing, or tormenting every wild animal that comes in their way, that is no reason why it should abstain from dealing with a well-defined, palpable, and accessible atrocity like vivisection. For science to plead the example of sport is to make the practice of the lowest the rule of the highest.
“One word respecting the exemptions proposed in Lord Carnarvon’s Bill. Too plainly does the cloven foot of selfishness appear in the fact that, by the exemption from torture of domestic animals only, or of those for which we ourselves individually chance to care, we are still thinking of our own feelings rather than of those of the animals. This half-hearted way of redressing a wrong is utterly unworthy of us. Let England shake off the moral lethargy which has fallen upon her, and rise in full determination to cast out this hideous thing from her midst, as half a century ago she rose to cast out slavery, and by this one act she will do much both to gain her own approbation, and to restore her credit with the world as a nation that still has an ideal of perfection, and strives to realise it even at the risk of her own prejudice. – I am, Sir, etc.,
“June 16, 1876.”
The following is my rejoinder, also condensed, to the letters evoked by the
foregoing in defence of this practice: –
“I do not think that your correspondents, Dr. Thomson and ‘C.,’ are free from the liability of specialists to overlook the broad ethical
aspects of their own pursuits. Each of them employs in defence of vivisection arguments from which they would certainly recoil if applied to something so remote from their own avocation as, let us say, the Inquisition. The torturers and burners of men for the sake of souls were also no doubt ‘a respectable body of men who followed an unselfish career with sincerity, humanity, and singleness of aim.’ They considered that ‘the measures proposed to control heretic-burning would be a calamity to religion, and would inevitably give a shock to its progress that Christendom would in all probability never recover.’ The lay mind, however, ventured on ‘one of the most astounding assertions ever made in a public controversy,’ and setting at naught ‘the names of those eminent members of the ecclesiastical profession who were opposed to its view of the case,’ maintained ‘that the practice was not conducive to the good, physical or other, of man.’ Here is Dr Thomson’s argument in his own words; and what is it worth? Will he deny that the lay view of the case was the right one, and that the abolition of the practice which followed was a most happy thing for all parties, though carried against the judgment of ‘the highest professional authorities?’
“The instance I have just given teaches us to distrust all hierarchies whatever,
physiological as well as ecclesiastical. Even were they unanimous, they would
not necessarily be infallible; and were they infallible, they would not
necessarily be impeccable. With regard to vivisection as beneficial even in a
physical point of view, there is, as Dr. Thomson must be aware, no unanimity to
which appeal can be made. The great historic names of Gall and
“Even if there were no other reason to distrust the verdict of the majority of the medical profession in this question, the way in which the controversy has been conducted by the doctors is not one that is calculated to gain the confidence of the laity. Only those who are behind the scenes know the difficulties which have been thrown in the way of obtaining a fair statement of the case.
• • • • • • • • • • •
“The argument drawn from the prevalence of cruelty in sport is but an illustration of the desire of the vivisectionists to win a victory rather than to elucidate the truth or succour humanity. So far from reprobating and discouraging the cruelties of sport, they seek to legitimatise them by erecting them into a plea for the commission of cruelties infinitely greater. There is a certain confusion in the public mind on this point which I think I can remove. I shall not dwell upon the distinction, though it is an important one, that the endeavour of the sportsman is to kill his game as quickly and painlessly as possible, while in the case of the vivisector’s victim the sufferings are protracted and enhanced to the utmost extent. The essential distinction consists in the fact that the sportsman acts solely
on his own account, and, if cruel, commits no one but himself by his practice. The physiologist, on the contrary, acts in the name of society at large, and so makes all who avail themselves of medical skill a party to his proceedings. The one is brutal on his own account, the other is brutal on my account. And I have a right to insist that the knowledge of which I am compelled to avail myself be not contaminated by barbarous practices, just as I have a right to refuse to subsist upon means obtained by vice or fraud. The sportsman, if cruel, is in the position of one who poisons his own private well-spring. The vivisector is in the position of one who poisons the well-spring to which the whole community resorts. Medical science is the common property of all. The constitution of modern life makes it impossible to avoid coming into contact with it in some form, even though one may wholly abjure the use of drugs. Hence, no one is justified in employing, in its pursuit, means which render it in the eyes of anyone unhallowed and accursed. There are evils from responsibility for which individuals may exempt themselves, even while unable to procure their abolition. The cruelties practised in the preparation of veal and of pâté de foie gras, for instance, are chargeable, only upon those who use those articles, and many abstain from them in order to escape the responsibility, and also to do what they can to abolish the abuse. But it is impossible to carry this principle of abstinence into medicine. Hence, the claim of doctors and physiologists to be the sole judges in the matter is utterly untenable, since the result and the responsibility cannot be confined to themselves or to a few.
“The question is a moral as well as a physical one, and if we decline to acknowledge the infallibility of an exclusively religious caste in matters involving the public conscience, it cannot be expected that we shall acknowledge that of an exclusively scientific caste. It was in the teeth of the experts that we refused to make any compromise with the Inquisition or with slavery, and no amount of professional pleading shall induce us to make a compromise with vivisection. We feel that it is wrong, hopelessly, absolutely wrong, as we felt that they were wrong; and we shall not rest until it be, like them, utterly abolished; and, for my part, I am convinced that there are numbers of medical men who, when they shall have been sufficiently enlightened on the subject, will be most thankful to have their profession relieved of the dreadful reproach which now attaches to it on this account.
“Your correspondent ‘C.’ argues in favour of perpetuating the divorce now subsisting between knowledge and sympathy. He would have them exercised apart and alternately. As I read the world’s history, it is precisely of this divorce that all its evils have come. Male and female, qualities as well as persons, are meant to be wedded to the world’s end. Of their harmonious union springs every possible blessing. Their separation means agony, despair, and death. Sympathy without knowledge ends in tears, and knowledge without sympathy ends in blood. I seek their re-marriage. Vivisection means their everlasting estrangement.
“June 28, 1876.”
The effect produced by these letters was immense. They were reprinted by a
number of societies and private persons, and distributed in tens of thousands,
and procured me numerous letters of ardent thanks, one of which was from Miss
Frances Power Cobbe, in which she pronounced it –
“The most important strike on our side made for many a day, and one that will tell perhaps more than anything which could nave been said; since, by its exhibition of the treatment accorded by practitioners trained in the experimental school to the poor patients in the hospitals, it brought the demoralising effects of the practice home to all.”
The following are two of numerous letters to the same purport evoked b y these
“I read your letter to the Examiner on vivisection at my breakfast this morning, and feel that I cannot begin my day’s work without first dropping you a note to express my respect and gratitude. It is at once temperate and irresistible, and to be temperate on a subject that disturbs the human heart more than any other has ever troubled it is a hard task. Your letter is of more value to humanity than all the hospitals put together. If vivisection be recognised by law, nothing of humanity will be left but the empty name. The thing so shocks me that I have decided none of my sons shall enter the medical profession. For if any child of mine ever looked on vivisection, I could never look on him again.
“I am a hard-worked lawyer in large practice, and have to do much more with facts than feelings; but my deliberate conclusion is, that if vivisection is to prevail, the sooner the world is destroyed the better.”
“MY DEAR MISS COBBE, – Have I to thank you for sending me the Examiner of yesterday? If so, I do thank you most sincerely. The letter signed ‘Edward Maitland’ is the grandest thing of the kind I have ever read. It expresses precisely my own views on the subject, put in such a manner as I could never hope to express them. I have long felt, and this letter only confirms my conviction, that no terms are to be made with the vivisectors, but that we must go in for the whole thing. – Very sincerely yours, D.W.”
It was with great regret that I withheld my colleague’s name; but the
publication of it would have made her position as an aspirant for a diploma
untenable. In return for a copy of the paper, she wrote to me as follows: –
“I have read your article in the Examiner, and am grateful to Heaven for giving me such a man for a friend. If I felt a passing pang of jealousy as I read it, it was a pardonable weakness, for had I not hoped to have done what you are doing? However, when one truly desires a noble end one does not indulge selfish motives. My real desire is, that by some means this horrible stain on humanity
should be wiped away, what matter by whose hand? And if by the hand of a friend of mine, why, then, for that too I thank God. It would, perhaps, I think, do good to the cause and reputation of women physicians were it known that the most active assailant – and, as I believe, the first assailant – of vivisection was a woman student of medicine. But one must be careful that no ignoble desire for praise be mixed up with this wish. I have tried hard to be free from base things.
• • • • • • • • • • •
“In the hospital yesterday – at the surgical consultation of
“‘Describe to me the accident which caused this,’ said I.
“‘I slipped. My leg slid under me, and I fell.’
“‘How came you to slip?’
“‘The floor was swimming in blood, and I slipped on the blood.’
“‘Madame, I am a slaughter-man by trade. I had just been killing, and all the slaughter-house was covered with blood.’
“Oh, then, my heart was hardened. I looked in the man’s face. It was of the lowest type, deep beetle-brows, a wide, thick, coarse mouth, a red skin – ‘savage’ was stamped on every line of it.
“The world revolts me. My business is not here. All the earth is full of violence and cruel habitations. Elsewhere I shall find peace, and there will I go to wait for you, and for the few pure and merciful souls yet remaining here. I do not wish to save myself by bringing another child made after my likeness into this hell of iniquity” (a reference to certain medical advice recently received), “to suffer as I have done, to be tortured slowly as I have been by the knowledge of the world’s ineffable wickedness and stupidity, and by my own impotence to interfere in the matter. What of life remains to me I will live in doing my utmost against every form of cruelty; but it would be cruelty in me to condemn another like myself to the fruitless strife. So at least it seems to me. More and more every day it appears to my mind that I am not of this world. Visions float about me in the night that seem to warn me of some unknown change perhaps awaiting me. I do not know; but my state of mind of late has been singularly clear and expectant. I fancy that there is a Future, and that I am meant to have some special work beyond this plane of existence, something for which I have been put to school here.”
Although sinking again into a low state of health, and on the eve of an
she could not refrain from writing largely on the discussion raised by our
articles. One of these Communications has a perennial value, being as applicable
now as then. It is a criticism on the memorial addressed by the medical
profession to the Government praying for unrestricted liberty of
experimentation, as against the Bill then before Parliament, which has since
become law: –
“I observe, first, that the doctors’ memorial urges, in its outset, that the number of persons engaged in vivisecting is very insignificant; yet they appear to feel the matter a very much wider business, to judge by the vigour of their protest, and speak afterwards as if every scientific man were personally to be affected by the Bill. The continual harping on the alleged cruelties of butchers and sportsmen is ridiculous, and their allegations are false. And to cite the practices – when cruel – of sportsmen and others as a plea for vivisection is absurd, because one cruelty does not justify another; and certainly the minor cruelties of sportsmen cannot be held a justification of the great cruelties of physiologists.
“The charge of exaggeration which the doctors lay upon us is their special sin. We have never exaggerated, for we have taken out of their own books, and from their own lips histories of barbarity which no lay imagination could have invented. But they exaggerate grossly in the inverse when they speak of laying penalties on a physiologist for ‘scratching the tail of a tadpole under the microscope.’ Not that, but for administering to horses and dogs hyper-aesthetics, and for inflicting on them, when in this state of exalted sensitiveness, what is described by one of themselves, Claude Bernard, as the ‘most atrocious suffering the mind of man can conceive;’ – for laying bare and dissecting in this terrible condition the facial, spinal, and thoracic nerves, and burning the roots with red-hot irons and corrosive acids, – for such hellish devices as these are the physiologists justly arraigned.
“The memorial speaks also of the Bill as an insulting restriction on the labours of scientific men. Yet that Bill – with far more indulgence to the doctors than I should like to see – permits vivisection for all purposes of physiological knowledge! They are not content. What more do they want?
“Next, they speak sneeringly of ‘sentiment.’ The outcry against vivisection is mere ‘sentiment’! Why, in God’s name, what is so great, so noble, as human sentiment! What is religion, what is morality, but sentiment? On what divine feeling are based the laws which bid men to respect the lives, the property, the feelings, of their fellow-men? Sentiment is but another name for that moral feeling which alone has made man the best that he now is, and which alone can make him better and purer in the future.
“Don’t go on fighting with Dr. T. about the painfulness of cautery in particular cases. It is all a ruse on his part to get you off the real subject – vivisection. Of this I am convinced. It is an apple thrown to Atalanta to make her lose the race. I have myself seen this operation performed under very distressing circumstances. A young man of twenty, suffering from aneurism of the arteries, was burnt with hot irons many times in succession. No anaesthetic was administered; the operation was performed in the open ward, and the cries of the poor fellow were heart-rending. He appealed to God and to all the saints with piteous energy. And he died a few days afterwards. Dr. T. cannot pretend that in such cases, or in many others in which actual cautery is used – such as Pott’s disease of the spine, or in ostéite – when the iron is pierced through all the soft parts to the bone itself, no suffering is produced. The absurdity of the comparison he thinks fit to suggest between dissection and vivisection is so evident
that it is hardly necessary to point it out. A child would reply, ‘One does not hurt, and the other does.’ And it is just the morality of hurting for such purposes that we are discussing.
“I come now to the oyster, and must again accuse Dr. T. of the wiliness which is so observable as characteristic of the advocates of vivisection. He knows well enough how ridiculous is the comparison between an invertebrate molluscous creature like the oyster and a highly organised animal such as the horse, the dog, or any other of the favourite subjects of professional vivisection. The nervous system of the oyster – as that of all its class – has by some physiologists been assimilated to the system of the organic nerves in invertebrate animals, and from this point of view it has been supposed that the oyster is devoid of the nervous system corresponding to that of the cerebro-spinal system in creatures possessing a spine. Others again have asserted that the two systems are alike represented by the chain of ganglions which are all the oyster has to show by way of nerves. This chain – so rudimentary that the animal possessing it has not even a head – consists of only three or four little ganglions united together in a circle; while the manner in which the functions of nutrition are carried on among the molluscs assimilates them so nearly to plants that in these days, when Mr. Darwin has enlightened us so much about plant-movement, it might puzzle a physiologist to define the exact terms of separation between the oyster and the plant. But who would experience the least difficulty in distinguishing the horse or the dog from the most sensitive plant that ever astonished botanist?
“You may inform your opponents that, so far from your informant having failed to pass his examination, he – meaning she – has passed with the highest note, save one, attainable.
“About myself. I have not gone to Meudon for the proposed change and rest, as the examen will take place too soon. I am very poorly, but a few degrees better than I was, I think. My malady has resolved itself entirely into three symptoms, – bleeding from the lungs, sickness, and weakness. No cough, no sweats, save such as are justified and accounted for by this hot weather; no expectoration of pus such as I have had. I have a painful suppuration of my finger, which I keep poulticed night and day, and I believe Nature is throwing off the internal complaint as much as she can by this external means.”
This bad account was soon afterwards confirmed by a letter from A., who had just
joined her, saying that she was “in an utterly bad state,” and asking me to meet
them and relieve him at
A month at the seaside, passed largely in open-air exercise on cliff and beach,
with entire cessation of work, proved the best of physicians, and a few more
weeks, divided between her home
and her mother’s, brought her to the time
when it was needful to return to
My forebodings were justified with a promptitude which took me by surprise. Four
days after their departure word came from A. of their intention to return as
soon as she was able to travel. Everything had gone persistently and violently
wrong ever since their arrival in
returned home, and when sufficiently
recovered to resume her studies, took up her abode with a relative at
By such compulsion of circumstances we were again brought within reach of each
other, though still separated by a distance incompatible with close association.
But, as the event proved, this was but a preliminary step to that end. What the
remaining step was, how it was brought about, and what its results, will appear
after the explanation first to be rendered of the allusion above made to the
point reached in our preparation for our joint mission, and especially as
regards myself. For, as proved to be the case, the manifestation of her peculiar
gift was made dependent upon the development of a corresponding faculty on my
(69:1) This book was published in 1875 (Light,
1893, p. 103). – S.H.H.