Dissertation on the Duty of Mercy and Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animals


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Item#: 124306 price:$8,500.00

Dissertation on the Duty of Mercy and Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animals
Dissertation on the Duty of Mercy and Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animals
Dissertation on the Duty of Mercy and Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animals


PRIMATT, Humphry. A Dissertation on the Duty of Mercy and Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animals. London: Printed by R. Hett, 1776. Octavo, 19th-century full speckled brown calf, elaborately gilt-decorated spine, red morocco spine label, marbled endpapers. $8500.

First edition of this foundational philosophical text, one of the first works devoted entirely to an attack on cruelty to animals and preceding Bentham's landmark work by over a decade. Very rare, no copy has appeared at auction since 1968.

"The first articulation of concern for the moral and legal status of animals appearing in British writing" (Favre and Tsang, The Development of the Anti-Cruelty Laws During the 1800's). "One day in the 1770s a retired Anglican vicar, the Reverend Humphry Primatt, DD (Aberdeen), sat down in his library in Kingston-on-Thames and wrote a short devout book about the relationship between mankind and the rest of the animal world. Others of his century—Pope, Addison, Steele, Bentham—had deplored cruelty to animals. Dr Primatt's distinction was that he approached the subject from the standpoint of a clergyman of the Established Church; and Christianity being what it is, 116 years later his book is as topical as ever… Down the generations a small and often derided minority has opposed the conviction that man alone, among all the creatures, should enjoy rights. As an early activist in the cause Dr Primatt was remarkable because he was a priest of a faith so generally oblivious to the idea. He composed his book in the conventional form of an 18th-century theological treatise, but his attitudes were radical. Kindness to animals, Dr Primatt argued (or as he put it in the language of the day, 'mercy to brutes') was a doctrine of divine revelation. 'Every creature is to be considered,' he tells us, 'as a wheel in the great machinery of nature,' and thus no animal is contemptible—even the ugly ones, he rather desperately proposes, may have been created 'to set off the beauties of the perfect'… Dr Primatt was no sentimental idealist… He never goes so far as to claim that the animals are our equals before God, still less to suggest they are endowed with immortal souls. His proposal is simply that it is as wicked to make animals suffer as it is to make humans suffer" (Jan Morris). "One of the first works devoted entirely to an attack on cruelty to animals. It is the only known book written by Primatt, but its influence has been wide-ranging. Primatt was one of the first authors to argue that animals, like humans, feel pain, stating: 'pain is pain, whether it be inflicted on man or on beast; and the creature that suffers it… being sensible of the memory of it while it lasts, suffers evil.' He moves on to argue that even though animals come in all shapes and sizes it is immoral to harm one: 'whether we walk upon two legs or four; whether our heads are prone or erect; whether we are naked or covered in hair; whether we have tails or no tails, horns or no horns, long ears or round ears; or whether we bray like an ass, speak like a man, whistle like a bird, or are mute as a fish—nature never intended these distinctions as foundations for right of tyranny and oppression.' Most of the work consists of passages from the Bible, and the book may have been forgotten had a summary of it not been appended to sermons by John Toogood. It was reprinted in 1822 by Arthur Broome, and caught the attention of social reformers such as William Wilberforce, who, along with Broome, established the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1824 [which called this work its 'foundation stone']. The society gained its royal status in 1840 and continues to promote animal welfare throughout England and Wales to this day" (Royal Collection Trust). While Primatt did not advocate vegetarianism himself, his powerful arguments in favor of limiting cruelty to animals have been used by others to argue for the moral necessity of a vegetarian lifestyle. Henry Salt, the leading promoter of vegetarianism at the turn of the 20th century, praised this "quaint but excellent book" and recognized its groundbreaking message about animal rights. This work is exceedingly rare and has not appeared at auction since 1968. With half title. ESTC T140541.

Very faint occasional foxing, a few tiny spots of soiling to interior, binding quite lovely. An exceptional copy in near-fine condition.

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