'Animals that are made use of as food,' wrote William Hazlitt in 182,6, 'should either be so small as to be imperceptible, or else we should ... not leave the form standing to reproach us with our gluttony and cruelty. I hate to see a rabbit trussed, or a hare brought to the table in the form which it occupied while living.' Killing animals for food was now an activity about which an increasing number of people felt furtive or uneasy. The concealment of slaughter-houses from the public eye had become a necessary device to avoid too blatant a clash between material facts and private sensibilities.
The embarrassment about meat-eating thus provides an example of the way in which, by the end of the eighteenth century, a growing number of people had come to find man's ascendancy over nature increasingly abhorrent to their moral and aesthetic sensibilities.
This was the human dilemma: how to reconcile the physical requirements of civilization with the new feelings and values which that same civilization had generated. It is too often assumed that sensibilities and morals are mere ideology: a convenient rationalization of the world as it is.
But in the early modern period the truth was almost the reverse, for, by an inexorable logic, there had gradually emerged attitudes to the natural world which were essentially incompatible with the direction in which English society was moving. The growth of towns had led to a new longing for the countryside. The progress of cultivation had fostered a taste for weeds, mountains and unsubdued nature. The new-found security from wild animals had generated an increasing concern to protect birds and preserve wild creatures in their natural state. Economic independence of animal power and urban isolation from animal farming had nourished emotional attitudes which were hard, if not impossible, to reconcile with the exploitation of animals by which most people lived. Henceforth an increasingly sentimental view of animals as pets and objects of contemplation would jostle uneasily alongside the harsh facts of a world in which the elimination of 'pests' and the breeding of animals for slaughter grew every day more efficient. Oliver Goldsmith wrote of his contemporaries that 'they pity and they eat the objects of their compassion'.
The same might be said of the children of today who, nourished by a meat diet and protected by a medicine developed by animal experiments, nevertheless take toy animals to bed and lavish their affection on lambs and ponies. For adults, nature parks and conservation areas serve a function not unlike that which toy animals have for children; they are fantasies which enshrine the values by which society as a whole cannot afford to live.
By 1800 the confident anthropocentrism of Tudor England had given way to an altogether more confused state of mind. The world could no longer be regarded as having been made for man alone, and the rigid barriers between humanity and other forms of life had been much weakened. During the religious upheavals of the 1640s and 1650s contemporaries had been shocked to hear sectaries like the Ranter Jacob Bauthumley asserting that 'God is in all creatures, man and beast, fish and fowl, and every green thing.' But, in a secularized form, this kind of pantheism was to become very general in the eighteenth century, when it was widely urged that all parts of creation had a right to live; and that nature itself had an intrinsic spiritual value. Not everyone now believed that mankind was uniquely sacred.