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1847-1981 :

A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, by Julia Twigg
©AUTUMN 1981 - Thesis Index

The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.


[Numerical links are to the author's footnotes, use your back button to return to the same point in the text. Text links are to relevant items on the IVU website, all open in new windows]



The use of live animals for experimentation was not new in the nineteenth century: however, it was not until the 1870's, when medicine in Britain, partly under the influence of continental, especially French, example, began to change from a conservative emphasis on clinical experience and anatomy towards a more scientific approach, based increasingly on animal experimentation that the issue of vivisection and the agitation against it rose to public significance. The most important event in the period was the passing of the 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act, which still broadly regulates experimentation today. (1)

Anti-vivisection is an obvious candidate for vegetarian support, and a number of leading vegetarians - Newman, Kingsford, Maitland, Shaw, Salt, Carpenter, and slightly later, Lind-Af-Hagerby (2) - were involved in it. Though they share with the wider movement certain concerns beyond the simple issue of animal suffering, the vegetarians are in important senses rather different.

Anti-vivisection espoused a single issue to be implemented by legislation and this gave a focus to the cause and involved it deeply in the world of parliamentary tactics. The vegetarians, by contrast, aimed at far wider but less clear cut reforms. Frances Power Cobbe, one of the leading anti-vivisectionists, was hostile to vegetarianism, and particularly to Anna Kingsford, fearing a diffusion of purpose and alienation of the public should the causes become too closely associated.

The most significant difference, however, lay in what French has interpreted as the traditional and conservative social background of anti-vivisection, drawing on the old Tory values of a literary and religious elite, hostile to the claims of new medical and scientific groups to lead public opinion. This strain is not totally absent from the vegetarians, though their connections with liberal reform, with unorthodox versions of religion (the anti-vivisectionists had strong support from the Anglican clergy) and with middle- and working- class socialism makes the point of departure of their shared criticisms rather different. French endorses this distinction and regards the vegetarian supporters as an essentially different group. (3)

Revulsion from animal suffering was central to the vegetarian opposition to vivisection: this rested on the common sense knowledge that animals suffer as we do, and the intuitive sense of our brotherhood with them: 'I saw deep in the eyes of the animals the human soul look up at me'. (4) Anna Kingsford embarked upon her medical training with the hope of doing something for the animals. She admitted: 'I do not love men and women. I dislike them too much to care to do them any good.

It is not for them that I am taking up medicine and science; not to cure their ailments; but for the animals and for knowledge generally.' (5) By and large the vegetarians did not take this exaggerated attitude towards animals, but tended to see human and animal causes as united. Salt, for one, who held very strongly to the unity of humanitarianism, was horrified at Kingsford's reported attempts at the 'psychic murder' of a leading vivisectionist. (6) The vegetarians were also marked out in their attitudes towards animals by their inclusion of all sentient creatures without distinction, Among the anti-vivisectionists more generally the emotional charge comes very clearly from the identification of the vivisected animals with beloved pets; (7) though some vegetarians do respond to animals on the model of pets, their concerns were much wider. Salt scorned the sentimentalists who, responding to appeals for old cab horses, wept into their seal-skin coats and returned to their meat dinners. (8)

But the opposition was also concerned with the moral autonomy claimed by the vivisectors. The vegetarians attacked both the older ideas of man's dominion over nature as precluding the moral rights of animals, (9) and the newer appeals to the moral autonomy of scientific knowledge. (10) Anna Kingsford related how, when a medical student in France, her teacher argued that the real benefit of vivisection was as ‘a protest on behalf of the independence of science as against interference by clerics and moralists.' (11) The vegetarians denied that the pursuit of knowledge should be beyond moral strictures, whether religious in origin or humane.

Many of the vegetarian writers portray, with great passion, what they see as the moral hideousness of the vivisector, portraying him at worst as a perverted sadist, and at best as one lacking the true feelings and perceptions of humanity. (12) This latter sense is particularly strong in Maitland who sees modern science as destroying the humanity of man through the denial of deeper intuitive senses. (13)

Though the relationship of man and the animal kingdom is central to the issue, both sides display ambivalence on the point. I will look here only at the vegetarians. They attack materialist science for presenting man as a species of animal (and thus asserting the validity of extrapolation from animal experiments) while yet erecting an absolute barrier between man and the animals when it comes to the issue of suffering. The vegetarians stress here man's brotherhood with the creatures, drawing on evolutionary ideas for scientific support. But present also in their criticism of science is a strain that rejects the low, dark, animal picture of man, which they identify with the gross materialism of science, that would sacrifice moral and spiritual issues for the convenience of the body. French finds in anti-vivisection writings 'a particular horror of the corporeal and the bodily in which medical science "animalistically" grovelled'; (14) and this finds other echoes within vegetarianism in the fear of the animalisation of man, through the incorporation of animal flesh.

  1. 200. For anti-vivisection, see R.D. French, Anti-vivisection and Medical Science in Victorian Society, Princeton, 1975.
  2. 201. For Emelie Augusta Louise Lind-af-Hagerby and for the effect of her and L.K. Schartau's The Shambles of Science: Extracts from the Diary of Two Students of Physiology, 1903, and for the Second Royal Commission, convened in 1906, which broadly endorsed the conclusions of the First, see E. Westacott, A Century of Vivisection and Anti-Vivisection, Rochford, 1949. Lind-af-Hagerby, like a number of the women anti-vivisectionists, was also a feminist, see her, Women's Right to Work, 1920.
  3. 202. French, p230.
  4. 203. Carpenter, Towards Democracy, quoted at head of Salt's Animal Rights, 1892
  5. 204. Edward Maitland, Life of Anna Kingsford, Vol I, p48.
  6. 205. VR, Feb 1896, p73: 'the emancipation of animals can only be brought about through, and together with the emancipation of men'.
  7. 206. French, p374. The Act singles out dogs, cats and horses; a distinction Maitland deplored.
  8. 207. Salt, Humanitarianism: Its General Principle and Progress, 1893, p21; see also his Animal Rights, 1892, for discussion of issues concerning attitudes to different animals.
  9. 208. Salt attacked this position vigorously in his review of Monseigneur Vaughan's defence of vivisection (see VR, 1897, p468) and in his later debate with Chesterton (Seventy Years, p127). In both cases Salt rejected the argument that the difference between man and the animals was one of kind and not degree. Though Salt sees indifference as typifying the attitude of organised religion, especially Roman Catholicism, towards animal suffering, the actual position was slightly more complex. Cardinal Manning's open support of anti-vivisection tended to mean that the Catholic refusal to recognise animal rights – and particularly animal souls - in practice did not mean that cruelty as such was regarded as allowable. It remains the case, however, that, for this or other reasons, very few vegetarians are Roman Catholics, and Catholic countries have a poor reputation in England for their treatment of animals.
  10. 209. Shaw's Preface to The Doctor's Dilemma, 1910, for example, where he attacks the right to know when based upon cruel and immoral means, p44-55.
  11. 210. Edward Maitland, Anna Kingsford, 1896, p340.
  12. 211. See Salt's Animal Rights, and his play '~A Lover of Animals' 1895 reprinted in Hendrick appendix. See also a series of articles by Shaw in Shaw on Vivisection, ed. G.H.Bowker, 1949.
  13. 212. Maitland, Vegetarian Reformer, 1895, p46.Vivisection represents what he calls the New Beast of materialist science. This attack on science and. the growing dominance of its modes of thought is paralleled in Carpenter.
  14. 213. French, p385; see also Maitland, im, 1895, p46.

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