Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Brother Mortal

From 'Inscription for the tomb of my old dog Shargs'
by Thomas Ignatius Maria Forster

Beneath these trees I've buried my old dog.
Who, nine years by my side was wont to jog.
With him I loved the weary day to spend,
My brother mortal and my only friend.
But now his tongue is mute, his bones are old,
His nerves are quiet and his blood is cold.
Yet warmer still, though cold, than those who find
A pride to boast themselves of human kind.
Nor emptier I find his hollow head,
Now laid, as whilome, on his master's bed,
Than stupid man's who takes such fruitless pains
To make me think his skull possessed of brains :
For Shargs was Nature's dearest sweetest child,
His ways were simple and his temper mild,
His faithful heart alone knew no deceit ;
And, when his tongue his master's hand would greet,
No squint suspicion filled the cautious mind,
Such as one feels when greeted by mankind.
That venom lurks behind each fond embrace
While hypocrite is written in the face !
But, my dear dog, endow'd with simple grace,
Carried his heart upon his honest face;
With friendship, not by sordid lucre gained,
His faith unpurchas'd and his love uufeign'd,
He, unlike man, who courts where he can pick,
Lick'd where belov'd, not lov'd where he could lick;
And prov'd himself, to life's remotest end,
My only trusty and confiding friend.
But now he's gone and all his pranks are o'er;
And Poski plays where Shargs had play'd before.
God wot how soon a third may take his place,
And grace the kennel he was wont to grace;
How soon may Zampa wag his merry tail
O'er their twin graves; for dogs, like men, are frail,
At least in body, though they're firm in mind
As in these records trac'd by love we find.
Like waves at sea, or flowers in the mead,
Man follows man, and dogs to dogs succeed.
Where'er the mind can rove, or body range,
The universe is one wide ceaseless change:
Nor where we come from, nor yet where we go,
Have the Gods giv'n to prying man to know.
Nature for each fond dog from Jove had stole
Some special grace to animate his soul,
To SHARGS alone were higher titles given,
Which Justice registers to day in heaven.

Forster is an interesting character. He was an early nineteenth-century scientific jack of all trades, very well known at the time for his work. Today he is most famous for the fact that he invented the word 'phrenology' (of which he was a practitioner), although you can also sometimes find traces of Forster's botanical work here and there. Forster believed that all animals had immortal souls, and because of this he was famously kind to any animal he met; he was a strong advocate of vegetarianism, a major opponent of vivisection, and one of the earliest unequivocal advocates for animal rights. He insists very firmly that animals should be included in the scope of the Golden Rule, and that we should do to them as we would have them do to us. One of his interesting arguments is that because many animals are influenced by education we have a responsibility to educate them so that they are morally better rather than worse. He also wrote and published a eulogy for Shargs; so when I tell you the man really and truly loved his dog as a brother and friend, you will believe me, and not take it to be some idle figure of speech. You can read the full poem here.

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