Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The beast's cry

Holloway, Bath (painting by Valérie Pirlot)

[Image source:]

A day in Bath, for Laura and me, often ends with a galloping ascent (or sometimes a trudge) up Beechen Cliff via the steep lane known as Holloway, eventually to emerge on the surprising half-way plateau of Bear Flat.  Many years ago this lane was the main road into Bath from the south, but now it's just a local access road with minimal traffic and is good for striding out.

The Horse-trough, Holloway, Bath

[Image source:]

A renovated horse-trough, half-way along the lane, bears the following rhyme, commemorating a man's vicious treatment of his horse upon this spot. Perhaps it was a pack-horse carrying coal or other heavy goods into the city.

I learned the epigram by heart after repeated walks, but have corrected my memory from the image here. 

A man of kindness to his beast is kind,
But brutal actions show a brutal mind.
Remember! He who made thee, made the brute,
Who gave thee speech and reason, formed him mute.
He can't complain, but God's all-seeing eye
Beholds thy cruelty and hears his cry.
He was designed thy Servant, not thy Drudge.
Remember! his Creator is thy Judge.

The author is unknown.

According to the Preface of the Third Edition of the veterinarian James White's Compendium of Cattle Medicine, the poem appeared in the Bath Herald on March 31, 1821. I don't know the date of White's third edition, but I've read that the fifth edition was 1828, so this must be a fairly contemporary witness.

White quotes the poem, with interesting differences from the above text, and with a Biblical epitaph:

A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast. -- Prov. xii. 10

A man of kindness to his beast is kind,
But brutal actions show a brutal mind.
Remember He who made thee made the brute,
Who gave thee speech and reason form'd him mute.
He can't complain, but God's omniscient eye
Beholds thy cruelty -- HE hears his cry.
He was design'd thy servant and thy drudge ;
But know that his Creator is thy Judge.

White's version of the penultimate line convinced me; Servants in 1821 were usually drudges; pack-horses definitely were. "Not thy drudge", I thought, must belong to a later age of sentiment.

All wrong, as it turns out.  And the poem didn't originate in Bath, after all.


The Atheneum Vol II includes this notice (I think, though it isn't clear, from around Nov 1817, but certainly no later than April 1818) :


A master butcher, of Ipswich, named Beard, for a wager of 10l, undertook to ride his hackney mare, 14 hands high, from Ipswich to London and back again, a distance of 133 miles, in 19 hours! The barbarous owner, who weighed 10 stone, started from Ipswich at six o'clock in the the evening; he reached London at two in the morning, rested about two hours, and arrived in sight of Ipswich, and within half a mile of his own house, twenty five minutes within the time allowed, when the poor animal fell exhausted and soon expired. The following lines were printed and stuck up in various parts of the town of Ipswich the same evening :-

[Text  similar to White, except for "He was designed thy servant, not thy drudge ;". ]

So it's clear that the "not thy drudge" variant was already available in 1817, if the beast in question was a horse for riding rather than a pack-horse. And this became the more popular version, for instance in equestrian circles (see below).

A longer account of the Ipswich story, also under the heading "Cruelty to Animals" occurs in The Sportsman Magazine, from which it appears that Beard's attempt (which would no doubt have been treated as a sporting triumph if it had come off), occurred in Summer 1817. (His letter of grovelling apology was dated July 17th, 1817.)


A concourse of people -- horse-jockies, etc, who lined the road, to witness her arrival, attempted to cheer and stimulate the poor dying creature with their cries. One of them bled her. Still anxious for the completion of their sport, they, after that useless operation had been performed, placed her on her feet, and endeavoured to shoulder her forward. As they pulled the bridle, in this effort, the shrieks and groans of the agonized animal were distressing beyond all description. In this last act of barbarity, however, Beard did not participate. Death, at length, terminated the misery of this poor victim of human brutality. On examination, it was found, that the fore shoes were worn quite bare; that one of her hind shoes was broken in two; that the other was broken, and one half gone; and that her hind hoofs were stumped up to the nail-holes. 


But was this Ipswich story the origin of the poem? No!

The poem had already appeared in The American Magazine (August 1815 - vol I, p. 127) *

This is not only the earliest but the most persuasive text I've seen. (The poem is beginning to make me think of George Crabbe now.)


"The righteous man regardeth the life of his beast."

The man of kindness to his beast is kind,
But brutal actions show a brutal mind.
Remember, he who made thee, made the brute,
Who gave thee speech and reason, form'd him mute ;
He can't complain -- but GOD'S all-seeing eye
Beholds thy cruelty and hears his cry ;
He was designed thy servant and thy drudge,
But know that his Creator is thy JUDGE!

I was happy to rediscover, in this earliest text encountered so far, an aspect of the horse-trough text that had appealed to me: the assertion that God's eye can hear.

Can an eye hear? Not really: the only thing an eye can hear is silence.

And as we saw in Ipswich, the mute beast is certainly not a silent beast, only a wordless one. Even we, even the cruel jockies, can hear the cry, if it comes to that. But God hears in the Psalmist's sense: the sense in which a judge hears an appeal. The eye of God is no friend of the masters of this earth.


The poem in its various versions continued to circulate both in Britain and in America,.

The poem appears in J. Barker's The Christian Investigator and Evangelical Reformer (1841),  the text more or less the same as in White. It also appears in The Mother's Friend (New York, 1843); on the wall of a Shaker barn, belonging to the ex-Quaker Robert White,  in 1846; and in The Lady's Equestrian Guide (1857).


[ * For more about this publication, see my follow-up post:


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