This article argues that that during the political upheaval of the 1790s, the discourse of rights was mobilised to discuss the social, legal and political status of animals and humans. Notions of animal rights were just beginning to take shape towards the end of the eighteenth century. Changing beliefs about animal sentience, rationality and feelings, and social and moral concerns about animal cruelty, slowly brought the issue of animal welfare before the public. Historians have been inclined to view animal rights as the logical conclusion of the extension of the ‘rights of man’ down the social scale. This article contends that in print culture, animals were used as cyphers for their human owners. By giving voices to animals and characterising them as politically active and informed, a variety of literary productions demonstrated the methods of social, legal and political resistance available to their readers. Continue reading →
Amy E. Weldon discusses the emerging animal rights movement of the long eighteenth century and the benefits of didacticism in the emerging genre of children’s literature. Examining the moral tenor of Anna Letitia Barbauld’s ‘The Mouse’s Petition’ and ‘The Caterpillar’ with respect to writing on children and morality by her contemporaries, Mary Wollstonecraft and Alexander Pope, the article charts the dissenting underpinnings of both the anti-slavery and anti-animal cruelty movements. It argues that both the language of sensibility and Christian moral education (which calls for love and mercy) could be effected through literature and taught through the presence of animal characters in Barbauld’s writing. Barbauld’s construction of clemency in the domestic war against animals, whether mice or caterpillars, speaks to the empathy possible on an international scale where widespread clemency could lead to the reconfiguration of existing political orders. Signposting the real problem of animal cruelty in eighteenth-century Britain in entertainments such as horse and bull-baiting, Barbauld’s writing can be seen as a point of intersection between Christian ideology and middle-class moral education. Ultimately, this article argues that the Dissenters’ moral and philosophical beliefs harmonise with the animal rights movement. Continue reading →
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