Today on Project Gutenberg #60

Today on Project Gutenberg, we have…

Those Other Animals by G.A. Henty

Ohhhh, this bastard. We meet again.

A little background is required. G.A. Henty was a prolific English novelist and war correspondent who was most active in the late Victorian era. His most famous works by far are his historical adventure novels: he wrote over a hundred of them, covering many different locations and time periods. When I was in school, I studied three or four of Henty’s novels. And I HATED them. I hated that all his protagonists were bland, unlikable boys who stumbled their way into wealth and power by doing nothing, and how all the female characters were helpless damsels who existed only to get rescued by the heroes and then marry them. It was insufferable. So you can imagine how I feel encountering another of his books today.

But Those Other Animals, published in 1891, is not one of Henty’s adventure novels. It’s about…well, other animals. Literally a bunch of essays about various animals. Dogs, cats, pigs, parrots, dragons…wait, what?

Like the dodo, the moa, and the great auk, the dragon is admittedly an extinct animal, but that is no reason why his characteristics should not be considered in these pages. The question that has long agitated scientific men is, first, as to the extent to which the personal peculiarities of the dragon have been exaggerated by popular tradition, and in the second place as to the period at which he became extinct. There have been those who have even asserted that his existence was purely apocryphal, but with men so mentally constituted argument is useless. The traditions of almost all nations point to the fact that not only did the dragon exist as a race, but that individual dragons continued to exist down to comparatively modern times.

I think this is supposed to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but still.

In his introduction to the book, Henty asserts that humans tend to view and judge other animals through the lens of how useful they are to us. For example, “we admire the Bee because we benefit by his labours, while we have not a good word to say for the Wasp, who is, in point alike of industry and intelligence, the Bee’s superior.” Henty then declares that “an attempt has been here made to view some of the animal creation from a broader point of view, and to endeavour to do justice to those whose good points have been hitherto persistently ignored, and to take down others from the pedestal upon which they have been placed, as it would seem, unfairly and unreasonably. If some of the conclusions at which we have arrived are not in accordance with those propounded by men of science, we can only say that we are sorry for the men of science.”

This is all well and good, but in my book, there’s only one test that Henty has to pass here. Let’s see what he says about cats.

The question why the cat should of all creatures be selected by ladies as a domestic pet has occasioned high debate among philosophers of all ages. The animal possesses many vices. It is erratic in its habits, noisy, and thievish. It has no real affection for its mistress. It has but one virtue—it is soft, but many other things are soft which are free from drawbacks. Some have pretended to see a resemblance between the natures of the cat and the woman, but no sufficiently strong analogy can be traced to support so libellous an assertion. The fact that both love the fireside and hate going out into the wet, and that it is dangerous to rub either the wrong way, can scarcely be considered as of sufficient importance to warrant the suggestion of general similarity. The feeble plea that cats catch mice cannot be admitted as an argument in favour of their general acceptance. There are not mice to catch in a great many houses, and it is notorious that where there are, not one cat in fifty will trouble itself to catch them. The cat who can get milk given it in a saucer is not going to trouble itself by catching mice; and the knowledge that it is expected to pay for its board by keeping down mice troubles it not at all. Even as a mouse-catcher the cat is a poor creature—taking half an hour over a job which a terrier of the same size will perform in a second.

It has been urged that without cats there could be no cat shows, and this may be conceded frankly, but mankind might get on without these exhibitions. Were cats unobjectionable in their ways, the onus of proving why they should be abolished would rest with those who do not keep them; but as they are most objectionable, owing to the torture of nerves caused by their midnight assemblages, to say nothing of their destructiveness to well-kept gardens, it is for those who own them to prove that there is some compensation, some good quality, some advantage arising from the keeping of pets which are a pest and an annoyance to neighbours. A man is not allowed to hire an organ or a German band to play in front of his house, even in the day time, if a neighbour object; why, then, should he be allowed to keep a creature which renders night hideous with its caterwaulings? The legislation which taxes man’s faithful friend and companion, the dog, allows his wife to keep two or three cats, and to populate the whole of the district with their progeny, if she choose to do so. Over and over again has the desirability of placing a tax upon these animals been pressed upon successive Chancellors of the Exchequer, but they have hitherto turned deaf ears to the suggestion; and the reason is clear: Chancellors of the Exchequer are but mortal, and have wives. No man having a wife would venture to propose a tax upon cats, and until we have a minister who is without either a wife or other female relations, sisters, aunts, or cousins, the cat will remain master of the situation.

And yet we are not altogether without hope. The present is essentially an age of association. There are Salvation Armies, Blue Ribbon Armies, Good Templars, Vegetarians, and Anti-tobacconists. Every one is interested in the well-doing of every one else. It cannot be doubted that sooner or later there will be an Association for the Suppression of Bad Language, and the very first step which such a body must take would be the suppression of the cat nuisance. It is calculated that at least 90 per cent. of those who have fallen into the lamentable habit of using strong expressions have been driven thereto, in the first place, by the voice of the midnight cat; and a pious divine has gone so far as to admit that at least mental profanity is absolutely universal, even among the best of men, under these circumstances. Even ladies of irreproachable morals and conduct have admitted the use of mental bad language, under the irritation caused by hours of sleeplessness through the infliction of a concert on the tiles. A society which would take the matter in hand would command an enormous support, although the great proportion of the subscriptions and donations in furtherance of its object would be anonymous, for few men would venture upon an open adherence to a society which, as a first step towards the suppression of swearing, would undertake to put down the domestic cat.

Ha ha ha, fuck this guy.

This book might be worth looking at if you’re a little curious. See if there’s a section about your favorite animal and see what Henty has to say about it. Some of the book is funny, and some of that is even intentional. There are several nice pictures throughout as well. But that’s all I really feel like saying about today’s book. I’ll be honest, my enthusiasm for this one died as soon as I saw Henty’s name on it. But I would never want to pass up an opportunity to roast this dumbass. And believe me, some of this book being kind of cute does not exempt him from being a dumbass.

And that’s what we found today on Project Gutenberg! See you next time!

— Dana

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