A Tale of Two Islands

“Inhumane Humanitarianism:” The Work of Caroline Earle White and H.G. Wells

“Many good people who abhor ordinary cruelty stultify their judgment concerning the extraordinary and feel rebuked when “the good of humanity” is hurdled at them as a telling argument; and when it is hinted that they are hysterical and indulge sickly sentimentality, they are silenced.”
American Anti-Vivisection Society
Journal of Zoophily , Volume IV, No. 4, 1895, Pg. 46

“To be kind to the race – to save it from self-destructive over-individuation.… This kind-to-be-cruel policy they formulate as that of “inhumane humanitarianism”…In a word, they are pitilessly benevolent (1933b:346). As ethical revolutionaries, they “see things unfeelingly” (1937c:72), with “cold inhuman clearness” (1933c:46). Given scientific self-discipline, they possess the “rational insensitiveness to get facts as facts and not as dreads and horrors” *1937c:72)” (49)
Leon Stover on the Works and Philosophies of H.G. Wells pg. 49

A number of theories have been brought forward by historians of the anti-vivisection and animal rights movements to explain its apparent disappearance from the annals of American and English culture, in the early-twentieth century. Some attempted to explain this disappearance as a result of the Great War, while others would argue that it was the advent of anesthesia that had taken the ‘sting’ out of the opposition to the practice. In comparing the works, both fictional and non-fictional, of Caroline Earle White, the founder of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Women’s Branch of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Anti-Vivisection Society, alongside the fictional and non-fictional works of the well-known H.G. Wells, another factor presents itself for consideration, and one that would have implications far beyond the perception of the ‘worth’ of animals, but would have terrible implications for human relations as well – eugenics-based beliefs that would take root in the United States and ultimately manifest itself horrifically in the Holocaust. In both fictional and nonfictional works, are reflected their differing beliefs on what it mean to be “humanitarian” to all life. 

In the consideration of both pain and the ‘humane motive’ in the nineteenth-century England and the United States, the  morality of slavery became a point of fiery contention, featuring two sides that each claimed “God” and “humanity” were on their side. Historian Margaret Abruzzo aptly observes in her book, Polemical Pain, that “[T]he messy history of humanitarianism within the slavery debate reveals the limitations of a humanitarian ethic and the difficulty of resting moral judgments solely on objections to pain.” However, even after ethics of the slavery question had resolved, the Gilded Age would bring more sharply racial, economic, ethnic and gender divides than ever before, and, combined with Darwin’s recent theory of natural selection, emerging eugenicists continued where the pro-slavers left off. Opacity became the new rule, and those who would continue to vivisect both animals and people depended on the ability to cloak their behaviors; something never available to the slaveholder.  H.G. Wells, although a ‘staple’ of science-fiction reading lists, considered himself a ‘new Puritan,’ and believed firmly in “inhumane humanitarianism.” His Island of Doctor Moreau was not a cautionary tale, as had been Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but, rather, a novelization of some of his most deeply held beliefs in what he felt would create the ‘perfect society.’ An ardent vivisectionist, he was the antithesis of Caroline Earle White and her allies, whose work to world cultural values. 

Prendick, the leading character of The Island of Doctor Moreau, and Hargrave, of Love in the Tropics bear similar may feelings toward their fates at first glance, but even then their inner resolve shows some hint of things to come. Whereas Hargrave weeps, but “[A]fter a time, however, different feelings awoke in my breast. I was young and strong, and the love of life stirred within me, impelling me to preserve my existence,” Prendick bears less resilience and more bitterness. “I was empty and very faint, or I should have had more heart. But as it was I suddenly began to sob and weep, as I had never done since I was a little child. The tears ran down my face. In a passion of despair I struck with my fists at the water in the bottom of the boat, and kicked savagely at the gunwale. I prayed aloud for God to let me die…..,” read the words of Prendick. Each speaks of heart, but within Hargrave, there is, indeed, ‘love of life.’ At the surface, it may seem that these two passages may bear little reflection on the stories to come, however, their significance in regard to the way in which both writers saw ‘life’ would become far more clear. 

In dealing first with the issue of cruelty to animals, the views of these two Gilded Age thinkers, there is certainly transparency. Wells had gone as far as to debate George Bernard Shaw on the issue of animal experimentation. Wells and his beliefs would remain a target of criticism of thinkers such as George Orwell. In response to Wellsian theory that “The modern state must apply the “good, scientifically caused pain” (1901a:325) of “social surgery” for the “maximum elimination of its feeble and spiritless folk” (1905c:141f),”  Orwell replied that in Wellsian literature: “”one finds the same idea constantly recurring: the supposed antithesis between the man of science who is working towards a planned World State and the reactionary who is trying to restore a disorderly past…. History as he sees it is a series of victories won by the scientific man over the romantic man. [Orwell 1941: 169] (26)”” In an interesting twist, Wells once considered himself the defender of vivisection in a debate against George Bernard Shaw, who he termed a sentimentalist. However, in this debate, Wells would consider Pavlov the better many because of his animal experimentation. In truth, Pavlov was a great advocate for overhauling the vivisection system, opposing it not only for ethical reasons, but because pain would contaminate the results. Moreau showed no such concern with his House of Pain. White may have consistently reminded opponents that she was opposed only to ‘painful’ vivisection on animals, Wells gave absolutely no ground. 

In regard to the issue of pain, it is not only a question of whether pain is allowed to be inflicted, but rather, what the very nature of pain was. White’s view, incorporating her feelings regarding the practice as follows:

“No one would maintain that we were justified in either robbing or murdering a large number of poor people in order to confer a great benefit upon a large portion of the human race; then why are we justified in inflicting such indescribable tortures upon poor, helpless animals that happen to be in our power? It is just as much of one of God’s laws that we should be merciful as that we should not steal or murder; and is it merciful to cut up sentient creatures alive and torment them in every possible way that the imagination of the vivisector can devise? (9)” 

Prendick, who does, to the reader, offer a modicum of resistance to Moreau, at first, does ask Moreau the application of such infliction of pain. Moreau replies in a way that both agrees and yet denies the presence of pain as it exists in Moreau’s work:

“So long as visible or audible pain turns you sick; so long as your own pains drive you; so long as pain underlies your propositions about sin,—so long, I tell you, you are an animal, thinking a little less obscurely what an animal feels. This pain… Oh, but it is such a little thing! A mind truly opened to what science has to teach must see that it is a little thing. It may be that save in this little planet, this speck of cosmic dust, invisible long before the nearest star could be attained—it may be, I say, that nowhere else does this thing called pain occur.”

The Tale of Two Islands

A compatriot of Wells in the fight against the anti-vivisection movement, and an equally enthusiastic proponent of eugenics was Dr. Alexis Carrel. Carrel received the Nobel Prize despite protests from members of the  anti-vivisection movement. Carrel’s own former medical brethren constantly challenged his results, however, he found a home with the Rockefeller Institute, and, later, in Vichy France where it is believed he continued his open avocation of eugenics. The Rockefeller Farm, a bugbear of White’s, became one of the sources of her most bitter defeat. Her protests against the ‘lab animal farm’ were banned from discussion by political intrigue between Dr. W.W. Keen, a fierce White opponent, President Taft and the complicit cooperation of the President of the American Humane Association. 

Slavery may have ended, but imperialism certainly hadn’t, and as imperialism was a mainstay of both England and the United States, it isn’t terribly surprising that the idea of valuing one human life over another wouldn’t be extinguished along with formal practices of slavery. Despite the common accusations that the anti-vivisectionists did not care about humanity, and placed animals above them, consistent research of the movement reveals otherwise. Caroline Earle White was constantly refuting this idea, and a poignant example of her compassion toward people can be found in the introduction to her (FIRST) novel, Love in the Tropics:

“As I know… that a book stands of falls upon its merits alone, I will merely say that, whatever be its fate, it will not have entirely failed if it bring home to the minds of my readers what I believe to be certain truth, that as warm a heart, as noble a nature, and as bright an intellect may be found under a yellow, or brown, or a black skin as under a white one. (iii-iv)” 

As in The Island of Doctor Moreau, Love in the Tropics begins with a shipwreck near islands generally inhabited by Polynesians. White portrays them as a kind and beautiful people. Wells may remain neutral (at best) when it comes to the  Kanakas of Moreau’s Isle, derogatory terms, but his real world feelings toward the people of Polynesia are not so subtle, saying that “That large, naked, virtuous, pink, Natural Man, drinking pure spring water, eating the fruits of the earth, and living to ninety in the open air is a fantasy; he never was nor will be. The real savage is a nest of parasites within and without, he smells, he rots, he starves… As for his moral integrity, let the curious inquirer seek an account of the Tasmanian, or the Australian, or the Polynesian before “sophistication” came. (16)””

Even as the indigenous peoples in both of these books would have been perceived as significantly different in the eyes of White and Wells, the idea of ‘womanhood’ would also bear marked differences. Moreau’s Prendick even sees gendered differences among the beast people, ascribing to them descriptions such as “these weird creatures—the females, I mean—had in the earlier days of my stay an instinctive sense of their own repulsive clumsiness, and displayed in consequence a more than human regard for the decency and decorum of extensive costume.” White’s ‘leading lady’ of Love in the tropics, on the other hand, is treated positively. The native woman “wore a sulu of the finest native cloth, which reached from her waist below her knees, and was ornamented with the feathers of various birds. Around her wrists and ankles she had circlets of shells. (29)” Polygamy too is addressed, and though neither White nor Wells condone it, there is a distinctly different flavor to the choices of wording made to approve or disapprove of the choices. White, who was certainly the more religiously affiliated of the two, is kinder regarding the practice in Paloa, stating that “polygamy was practiced among the men of distinction in Paloa, but that Owahi, with the good sense and moderation which distinguished all his proceedings, chose to confine himself to two wives. (25)” Wells, however, not only leaves the males out of the system of polygamy, but unsubtly implicates the females as the instigators. “Some of them—the pioneers in this, I noticed with some surprise, were all females—began to disregard the injunction of decency, deliberately for the most part. Others even attempted public outrages upon the institution of monogamy. The tradition of the Law was clearly losing its force. I cannot pursue this disagreeable subject.”

As one investigates more deeply into both stories, and the passions that drove each of these ‘humanitarians,’ the religious focus of Wells versus the minimal reference of religion to the otherwise more religious White starts to lose much of its mystery.  In The Island of Doctor Moreau, the idea that even humanity should be subject to shaping and vivisection is but alluded to. However, Wells himself put no such subtleties into his words when expressing his own beliefs. Whereas he stated that  “the new Puritans are necessarily cruel to individuals. This kind-to-be-cruel policy they formulate as that of “inhumane humanitarianism” which , in their “obliteration of out-of-date moral values,” White, for her part was confronting a Christian clergyman (and doctor) who preached that vivisection with a worthy purpose was not cruel, White replied by asking: 

“But who, I will ask, is to be the judge of the purpose and the motive?  Are a few powerful men united in the pursuit of any object, who claim that their motive sanctifies their action, to be allowed to inflict atrocities upon helpless creatures, either human beings or the lower animals? Do we think at the present time that Philip II of Spain was justified in burning alive heretics and schematics, as it is said he did? Yet he had a far greater motive than the vivisectors of today, for they say they are only trying to save our bodies, while he hoped to save souls. Were Cotton Mather and his colleagues justified in burning or in defending the burning of witches at the stake, and were our Puritan ancestors who fled from religious persecution in England justified, after they had obtained power in this country, in flogging and even putting to death the innocent, gentle Quakers?

However, Wells was far from alone as an advocate for scientific betterment of mankind at any cost. White reported, in her Journal of Zoophily, that the “cruelty of the dog and ear grafting in which Dr. Carrel cut off dogs’ legs and ears and put legs and ears from other animals in their stead was described by sworn witnesses who were at the Rockefeller, who mentioned it was “awful.” Indeed, one or two of the attendants left the institute because they could not endure the sight of so much suffering.” This was not a false flag, and that can be seen clearly through Moreau. When questioned by Prendick regarding the scope of his work and his goals, the vivisectors replies: 

“All in good time,” said he, waving his hand at me; “I am only beginning. Those are trivial cases of alteration. Surgery can do better things than that. There is building up as well as breaking down and changing…This is a kind of grafting in a new position of part of an animal upon itself. …,—monsters manufactured.”

In examining the works and beliefs of both sides of the vivisection debate, one sees some of the same arguments which led to two sides of a story claiming moral victory, and arguing pain in disturbingly flexible terms. However, once slavery disappeared, the movement to alleviate the pain and suffering of both animals and the marginalized members of society continued. The key to implementing ‘inhumane humanitarianism’ was not openly asking people to believe that pain was good, rather, it was to be achieved either by convincing people to look the other way either out of selfishness and fear or to never give them the choice at all.  In a world of ag-gag laws and distant sweatshops, we can see what appears to be a primarily successful outcome of silencing, discrediting or keeping evidence of what could be considered ‘unethical’ behavior out of the hands of those whom would share it. Fortunately for society, that level of opacity is becoming more and more difficult to maintain. 

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Martin Niemöller

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