With much effort and eyestrain on the blogger, the following selection was transcribed from an unpublished essay written by Ouida on the subject of animal cruelty. The essay is largely a rebuttal to her friend Lady Paget’s impressions of the lives of domesticated animals in late nineteenth century Florence. Ouida is widely regarded as an important early voice for animal rights; in particular, she is often noted for her lifelong defense of the humane treatment of dogs. This excerpt clearly shows, however, that she was also concerned with the conditions for equines in their use as work animals:
[Courtesy of UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library. Bound Manuscripts Collection *170/581. “Animals in Florence” - Original holograph bound in a large folio, full red morocco, rubbed, each page inlaid into a larger a page. A partial transcription, pages 1-23 out of 30]
I have read with astonishment the sweeping assertions of Lady Paget regarding the subject. I regret to say they are entirely unsupported by facts. I have lived twenty-three years near Florence and she has resided there only eight months. (2) Her statement regarding the horses fills me with amazement. Some millers and transporters of goods have indeed a few sturdy and large horses like Flemish day horses, but they are very few.
The chief part of the cart, and also the cab (3) horses we see are weak creatures, generally carriage horses which have been sold as past work. To enter Florence from Bellosguardo where she lives Lady Paget must always pass through the Romano or the Frediano gates. [Let her observe] the (4) wretched state of the cab horses at the gates; it is impossible for anything to be worse.
I would beg her also to look at the dust-carts with the tiny stunted, starved donkeys attached to them never eat anything except garbage (5) as may be found in the rubbish collected. These dust-carts are made of (correspondingly) enormous weight and when laden are very heavy. The municipality states that “decency requires that the dust should not be seen.” It would be well if it (6) also stated that decency should require the unhappy asses to be of proportional size and tolerably well-fed. Frequently these donkeys are so weak that they cannot drag the load: then there comes the use of the knife which Lady Paget imagines (7) has ceased to be the daily companion of every Florentine of the working classes.
I would request her also to observe and inquire into the condition of the horses employed by the Company which collects, and sends to the farm, the contents (8) of the cesspools [and the water closets] of the town. Nothing can be more pitiable than the life of these poor animals. The carters own the horses, they usually live five, six, seven miles in the country. The horses every day of their lives are forced (9) to drag the immense ballasts made of iron and shaped like a pendulum but made larger, the many miles which intervene between the carter’s house and the depot the city [where the filth is kept]; he is then kept at work all day standing in the streets while his cart (10) is filled [as the houses where cesspools want employing, with feces already created], as it is filled at the depot, and he has to carry it to some outlying farm often many miles up in the hills only to be reached by dreadful roads and steep assents. Then, worn as he is, he must drag the ballast back to the distant places where his carter (11) lives. More unfrequently he is forced to do this distance twice a day if his carter wishes to sleep and eat home at noonday. Be it remembered that these horses are all of extreme age, or lame or incapable of other work, for the carters do not buy any except warn (12) out animals which they can purchase for a trifling sum.
I declare, as I have done for years uselessly, that the whole of the condition in which this Società Annonima is allowed to work and use its beasts is the most infamous instance of organized torture which can (13) exist in any city of the world. The society is anonymous and is protected by the municipality.
As well as these poor equine victims of this mania for drenching the fields with human manure (never mind you by any chance disinfected), (14) there are many others not less to be pitied; if Lady Paget wait outside the Prato San Gallo or the Santa Croce gates on a Friday about sunset, or on any feast day; she will see carts with planks laid across them on which are seated sixteen or eighteen persons to each cart drawn by one small horse. I have frequently counted (15) eighteen persons to one frail old pony. These carts go to and fro to villages often as far as ten or twelve miles distant from the town. This is no isolated fact; it is (16) a regular practice at the gates the passengers of these carts generally dismount as in the city. There are some regulations against over loading. I once had my horses driven across the road when one of these carts was approaching, and having thus blocked the road, I (18) ordered the men to descend. They were so astonished that they obeyed and dispersed and the driver, swearing went on his way to the country alone. The fare is, I believe, ten centimes (a penny).
Lady Paget speaks of the “warm comfortable cloth cloaks” in which the horses of the peasantry are covered; alas! [These cloths] too often are put on to cover sores and raws, and are at all times, I believe, injurious to the horse. For as these weak over-laden horses sweat profusely, the perspiration (19) being unable to escape turns to a deadly cold on their drenched hair; and the peasant having once put on the cloth does not take the trouble to remove it, even when it is drenched by rainwater.
Lady Paget goes on to speak (20) of the dogs of Tuscany; she says that every Contadino has a Maremmano dog. [This] is far from the case, and the genuine Maremmano dog is rare. Many of the peasantry, however, have a big dog, a cross-breed, which they usually keep chained night and day, (21) and for which they consider a mouldy crust sufficient food.
The cats are never fed at all; for the people consider that a cat fed is spoiled as a mouser. I have often seen five or six cats on one farm, but they have never any food except small rodents or (22) birds as they can find for themselves. These cats are the most terrible devastators of birds’ nests.
The senseless and irritating dog laws which prevail nearly all over Italy have caused many people who really like dogs to cease to keep them. These laws, so vexatious to the rich, are still more (23) cruel to the poor, and to that large class of bourgeoisie who are fairly well off but who cannot pay perpetual heavy fines… (Ouida)