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26.The Views Of An Erewhonian Prophet Concerning
The Rights Of Animals
It will be seen from the foregoing chapters that the Erewhonians are a meek and long-
suffering people, easily led by the nose, and quick to offer up common sense at the shrine
of logic, when a philosopher arises among them, who carries them away through his
reputation for especial learning, or by convincing them that their existing institutions are
not based on the strictest principles of morality.
The series of revolutions on which I shall now briefly touch shows this even more plainly
than the way (already dealt with) in which at a later date they cut their throats in the
matter of machinery; for if the second of the two reformers of whom I am about to speak
had had his way--or rather the way that he professed to have--the whole race would have
died of starvation within a twelve-month. Happily common sense, though she is by nature
the gentlest creature living, when she feels the knife at her throat, is apt to develop
unexpected powers of resistance, and to send doctrinaires flying, even when they have
bound her down and think they have her at their mercy. What happened, so far as I could
collect it from the best authorities, was as follows:-
Some two thousand five hundred years ago the Erewhonians were still uncivilised, and
lived by hunting, fishing, a rude system of agriculture, and plundering such few other
nations as they had not yet completely conquered. They had no schools or systems of
philosophy, but by a kind of dog-knowledge did that which was right in their own eyes
and in those of their neighbours; the common sense, therefore, of the public being as yet
unvitiated, crime and disease were looked upon much as they are in other countries.
But with the gradual advance of civilisation and increase in material prosperity, people
began to ask questions about things that they had hitherto taken as matters of course, and
one old gentleman, who had great influence over them by reason of the sanctity of his
life, and his supposed inspiration by an unseen power, whose existence was now
beginning to be felt, took it into his head to disquiet himself about the rights of animals--a
question that so far had disturbed nobody.
All prophets are more or less fussy, and this old gentleman seems to have been one of the
more fussy ones. Being maintained at the public expense, he had ample leisure, and not
content with limiting his attention to the rights of animals, he wanted to reduce right and
wrong to rules, to consider the foundations of duty and of good and evil, and otherwise to
put all sorts of matters on a logical basis, which people whose time is money are content
to accept on no basis at all.
As a matter of course, the basis on which he decided that duty could alone rest was one
that afforded no standing-room for many of the old-established habits of the people.
These, he assured them, were all wrong, and whenever any one ventured to differ from
him, he referred the matter to the unseen power with which he alone was in direct