Animal Rights: A History

Mark Twain 

The Deeper Minds Of All Ages Have Had Pity For Animals
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This page is part of the section: Animal Rights:A History

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910

It is just like man's vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions.  
Mark Twain

Referred to by William Faulkner as the father of American literature Mark Twain, 1835 – 1910, whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was an American author and humorist. He is best known for his novels: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) .

Twain was a supporter of emancipation and the abolition of slavery.  However less generally known was his stance on animal rights and his love of animals which was apparent in his youth.

Twain played a crucial role in raising public awareness about animal cruelty and exploitation. He was concerned about cruelty towards and the exploitation of animals in many circumstances such as in entertainment and sport. He strongly opposed vivisection. In a letter to the London Anti-Vivisection Society, May 26, 1899 he wrote:

DEAR SIR,—I believe I am not interested to know whether Vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or doesn't. To know that the results are profitable to the race would not remove my hostility to it. The pains which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity towards it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further. It is so distinctly a matter of feeling with me, and is so strong and so deeply-rooted in my make and constitution, that I am sure I could not even see a vivisector vivisected with anything more than a sort of qualified satisfaction. I do not say I should not go and look on ; I only mean that I should almost surely fail to get out of it the degree of contentment which it ought, of course, to be expected to furnish.

I find some very impressive paragraphs in a paper which was read before the National Individualist Club (1898) by a medical man. I have read and re-read these paragraphs, with always augmenting astonishment, and have tried to understand why it should be considered a kind of credit and a handsome thing to belong to a human race that has vivisectors in it. And I have also tried to imagine what would become of a race if it had to be saved by my practising vivisection on the French plan. Let me quote:—

"Vivisectors possess a drug called curare, which, given to an animal, effectually prevents any struggle or cry. A horrible feature of curare is that it has no anæsthetic effect, but, on the contrary, it intensifies the sensibility to pain. The animal is perfectly conscious, suffers doubly, and is able to make no sign. Claude Bernard, the notorious French vivisector, thus describes the effect of curare: 'The apparent corpse before us hears and distinguishes all that is done. In this motionless body, behind that glazing eye, sensitiveness and intelligence persist in their entirety. The apparent insensibility it produces is accompanied by the most atrocious suffering the mind of man can conceive.' It has been freely admitted by vivisectors that they have used curare alone in the most horrible experiments, that these admissions are to be found multiplied to any extent in the report of the Royal Commission. And though it is illegal at the present day to dispense with anæsthetics, experiments are going on in which curare is the real means of keeping the animals quiet while a pretence is made of anæsthetising them.

"I am not desirous of shocking you by reciting the atrocities of vivisection, but since the apologists try to deceive the public by vague statements that vivisectors would not, and do not, perpetrate cruelty, l wish to say sufficient to disprove their assertions.

"There is unfortunately abundant evidence that innumerable experiments of the following character have been performed on sensitive animals. They have been boiled, baked, scalded, burnt with turpentine, frozen, cauterized ; they have been partly drowned and brought back to consciousness to have the process repeated ; they have been cut open and mangled in every part of the body and have been kept alive in a mutilated state for experiments lasting days or weeks. If I wished, I could pile up mountains of evidence, to be found in the publications of physiologists and in the report of the Royal Commission.

"Here are some by Dr. Drasch in 1889 (Du Bois Reymond's Archives), 'The frogs, curarised or not, are prepared in the following manner. The animal is placed on its back on a piece of cork fastened by a needle through the end of the nose, the lower jaw drawn back and also fastened with pins. Then the mucous membrane is cut away in a circular form, the right eye-ball which protrudes into the back of the throat is seized, and the copiously bleeding vessels are tied. Next a tent hook is introduced into the cavity of the eye drawing out the muscles and optic nerves, which are also secured by a ligature. The eyeball is then split with a needle near the point where the optic nerve enters, a circular piece cut away from the sclerotic, and the crystalline lens, etc., removed from the eyeball. I may remark that my experiments lasted a whole year, and I have therefore tried frogs at all seasons.' He calmly gives directions for keeping the animals still. If the frog is not curarised the sciatic and crural nerves are cut through. It is, however, sufficient to fasten the head completely to the cork to immobilise the animal."

I could quote still more shameful vivisection records from this paper, but I lack the stomach for it.

Very truly yours,
(Signed) MARK TWAIN.

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During his childhood an informative  experience of shooting a bird , which he instantly regretted, may well have shaped his attitude concerning animals. He writes:
When I was a boy my mother pleaded for the fishes and the birds and tried to persuade me to spare them, but I went on taking their lives unmoved, until at last I shot a bird that sat in a high tree, with its head tilted back, and pouring out a grateful song from an innocent heart. It toppled from its perch and came floating down limp and forlorn and fell at my feet, its song quenched and its unoffending life extinguished. I had not needed that harmless creature, I had destroyed it wantonly, and I felt all that an assassin feels, of grief and remorse when his deed comes home to him and he wishes he could undo it and have his hands and his soul clean again from accusing blood. One department of my education, theretofore long and diligently and fruitlessly labored upon, was closed by that single application of an outside and unsalaried influence, and could take down its sign and put away its books and its admonitions permanently
Mark Twain, Helpful Hints for Good Living: A Handbook for the Damned Human Race

In a little known and unfinished sequel to Huckleberry Finn there is a passage where Hunk shoots a bird after which he feels immediate remorse, from the above passage it is clear that Twain based this account on his own experience.

Mark Twain's ideas concerning animals was influenced by the ideas of Charles Darwin presented in the latter's 1871 publication The Descent of Man. In particular Twain  was influenced by Darwin's idea that man and other animals were more  similar to ourselves than many people realised or wished to believe, particularly the idea put forward by Darwin that non human animals were like humans capable of the same emotions and varying degrees of reasoning. Twain believed, as many of his writings indicate, that animals could think and communicate despite their inability to speak. Twain did not consider that man was the centre of creation and that in many ways human beings were inferior to other animals

The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to the other creatures; but the fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creatures that cannot.
Mark Twain, What Is Man, 1906

Heaven is by favor; if it were by merit your dog would go in and you would stay out.  Of all the creatures ever made [man] is the most detestable.  Of the entire brood, he is the only one... that possesses malice.  He is the only creature that inflicts pain for sport, knowing it to be pain. 
Mark Twain

Twain was an  outspoken advocate for animals; It has been suggested that Twain may have been the first American to speak out against cockfighting and publicly came out against such abuses as bullfighting. Many of Twain's writings demonstrate his contempt for those who hunt for sport, in his book Man’s Place in the Animal World Twain wrote a scathing account about an English Earl who on an hunting expedition shot
seventy-two buffalo, while eating part of only one left the seventy-one to rot.  Comparing the Lord to an
anaconda in a London zooological gardens which ate only one young buffalo out of seven offered to him he said:

...the difference between an earl and an anaconda is, that the earl is cruel and the anaconda isn't; and that the earl wantonly destroys what he has no use for, but the anaconda doesn't.  This seemed to suggest that the earl was descended from the anaconda, and had lost a good deal in the transition.

Twain wrote an passionate anti-bullfighting In his Novella A Horse’s Tale

He wrote a profile of Henry Bergh founder of the ASPCA The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals . Founded in New York in 1866 the ASPCA was the first animal protection organisation in the USA. In this profile Twain gives account of witnessing Bergh’s protest to a theatre manager about the way a live animal was treated as part of a play “Cruelty to Animals”.

In later life Mark Twain became increasingly disillusioned with people for a variety of reasons one of which was man's treatment of animals.

You can read more about Mark Twain and his thoughts concerning the treatment of  animals:


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I am not an animal expert of any kind just your average person who loves animals, all animals, and feels deeply about the plight of many of our fellow creatures. Neither am I a writer, or any other expert. Therefore please keep in mind that the information included in this website has been researched to the best of my ability and any misinformation is quite by accident but of course possible.

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