Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Golden Quotebook (5): Gibbon on Blood Sports

So I hear that David Cameron is planning to re-introduce the foxhunt. Ah, yes, this is indeed an important priority for our day, seeing that there are no other pressing matters which need to be addressed. All the world is at peace, the economy is booming, the environment is in tiptop shape and Britain’s prosperous population is happy, healthy and holy. Time to put the finishing touches on our Earthly Paradise! Bring out the pack of famished beagles, the swift-footed thoroughbreds, and the meat cleavers for a Kultur Fest!

It is funny, dear reader. Give ‘m a chance, and upper class aristocrats will herald for all to hear that they represent society’s true vessel of Civilised Behaviour. Oh, no: you’ll get no vulgarity from them! Only courtesy, charity and morality. Until it comes to the pleasures of killing. Then they behave no better than a psychopath Cockney with a chain saw and a tied-up dog. They merely smear a veneer of ritual and dress code over their carnage, and call it Culture… 

I am old now, reader. I have argued too often and too long against all blood sports, in person and on paper, to believe that arguments make a difference. No savage, posh or plebs, will ever be kept from satisfying his bloodlust by a civilised contention. But there is one argument in favour of these barbarities which I find so very insulting that I wish to wring its neck here and now, namely: the notion that it is ever a fair fight. It never is. If the bull fight, for instance, were a fair contest, the score at the end of every season would not stand at 7,000 dead bulls against 0,3 defunct toreros. In a truly fair fight between mighty beast and courageous man something quite different would happen. Edward Gibbon described one such occasion in chapter 71 of his monumental Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, from which I offer you today’s instructive quote.

In the year 1332, a bull-feast, after the fashion of the Moors and Spaniards, was celebrated in the Coliseum itself; and the living manners are painted in a diary of the times. A convenient order of benches was restored; and a general proclamation, as far as Rimini and Ravenna, invited the nobles to exercise their skill and courage in this perilous adventure. The Roman ladies were marshalled in three squadrons, and seated in three balconies, which, on this day, the third of September, were lined with scarlet cloth. (…)

The lots of the [seventy-two] champions were drawn by an old and respectable citizen; and they descended into the arena, or pit, to encounter the wild bulls, on foot as it should seem, with a single spear (…) The combats of the amphitheatre were dangerous and bloody. Every champion successively encountered a wild bull; and the victory may be ascribed to the quadrupeds, since no more than eleven were left on the field, with the loss of nine wounded and eighteen killed on the side of their adversaries. Some of the noblest families might mourn, but the pomp of the funerals, in the churches of St. John Lateran and St. Maria Maggiore, afforded a second holiday to the people.

Doubtless it was not in such conflicts that the blood of the Romans should have been shed; yet, in blaming their rashness, we are compelled to applaud their gallantry; and the noble volunteers, who display their magnificence, and risk their lives, under the balconies of the fair, excite a more generous sympathy than the thousands of captives and malefactors who were reluctantly dragged to the scene of slaughter.

Yes: so it goes when men of true valour face their adversary in a fair fight! Which is another thing from the circus act in which a perfectly trained butcher in clown’s costume, taught to predict the animal’s every move and response, meets a drugged, bewildered bull to whom everything that comes at him is new.

Alfred B. Mittington is no petition-peddler, dear reader. All those millenarian crusades against evils small and great say more about the crusaders than about the evils of the world. But there are some exceptions to my scepticism. Therefore: if you feel called upon to join the fray against barbarity, here is the web address of a petition again the re-introduction of the foxhunt.

Do with it as you please. You will have my blessing any one way.

[PS By the by: did you know that the European Union subsidizes the breeding of fighting bulls and have written its perennial continuation into their “Constitution”? Yes, those fine Beurocrats of ours are also true vessels of civilisation, aren’t they?!]


  1. But my dear Mister, your argument, no doubt inspired by the highest humanitarian (should I say "animalarian" principles) might have more effect if, to begin with, you understood that a bullfight is not a fight, it is a ritualised fight. If it was a fight, and if the point of it all was to kill the bull as safely as possible, there would be no bullfights: there are plenty of slaughterhouses around which would do-and do- the job more quickly and efficiently.
    Now, if the core of the argument is that an animal gets killed, and suffers before the killing,the slaughterhouses of the world should be included in your indignation.
    There is no denying that there is cruelty and blood involved, only fools who argue the bull is anaesthesized by the effort of the struggle do so.
    However, the "clown" is not judged because of his cruelty, were it so, bad bullfighters who at the end of each bull fail to kill him in the first attempt and make a mess of needing several stabbings, would get the highest cheer from the presumably sadistic crowd.In fact the very opposite is the case.
    And how does this supposed sadistic pleasure in the blood and suffering of the bull fit in with the sophisticated evaluation of different "pases" and "suertes", in themselves alien to the amount of blood spilled? And those passes, the elegance, control, serenity, rhythm and courage shown in them by the bulfighter are what the crowd examines and praises or condemns with the utmost passion.
    Even if one is not enamoured with the cruelty of the ritual one should face up to all the crucial elements, external to the suffering so to say, which are what the real "aficionados" value and pay to see.
    By depicting bullfights in the way you do you will never make an impression with your arguments among "aficionados", who will never recognise themselves in your portrait.
    As for the romans, their bullfights were fights and the crowds, by the way, would have been terribly disappointed if the gladiators always won or won in the same proprtion that bullfighters do. The spiled blood, human and animal, true sadism, seemed to be the main object in their case, unlike in the bullfight, where it is only an element, and not the main one.
    Sure, that element alone might make them objectionable enough and sufficient to override the others and justify the banning.
    However, one is in serious doubt whether that element is any worse than the cruelty that goes on in slaughterhouses.
    And, finally, one is a bit shocked by people who make a song and dance about cruelty to animals while they live in societies where the blood and suffering of unborn children is legalised in abortion and doctors and nurses make a living out of it.And they don´t say a word about it, or worse, campaign for it.

  2. I believe you'll find that many members of the hunts are middle class. Or even, God forfend, the even-lower working class. You are peddling a myth about it being an aristocratic pursuit (Geddit?), however to the point (point--to-point. Geddit?) the rest of your polished rant may be. I haven't finished it yet. And may never do so, if I die before I (eventually) get to the end.


  3. My dear Davies,

    Even if the partitioners are middle or lower class, they aspire to an aristocratic lifestyle, which turns them into honorary blue bloodsporters (gettit?) in my humble view.

    The text is not about the class structure of Great Britain. It is about the vulgarity of fun, and the fairness of the bull fight.

    Yours, ABM