25 June 2012

Freedom, slavery or extinction



Reminded by Paul Evans's The Cave Horse of this from Thoreau's journal:
3 September 1851. I saw a man working with a horse in a field by the river, carting dirt; and the horse and his relation to him struck me as very remarkable. There was the horse, a mere animated machine — though his tail was brushing off the flies — his whole existence subordinated to the man’s, with no tradition, perhaps no instinct, in him of independence and freedom, of a time when he was wild and free — completely humanized. No compact made with him that he should have the Saturday afternoons, or the Sundays, or any holidays. His independence never recognized, it being now quite forgotten both by men and by horses that the horse was ever free. For I am not aware that there are any wild horses known surely not to be descended from tame ones. Assisting that man to pull down that bank and spread it over the meadow; only keeping off the flies with his tail, and stamping, and catching a mouthful of grass or leaves from time to time, on his own account — all the rest for man. It seemed hardly worth while that he should be animated for this... Now and forever he is man’s slave. [And] the more I considered, the more the man seemed akin to the horse...

2 comments:

Nicola Baird said...

Well that's a very sad passage, I need to read more. Much as I love Thoreau, he does also have a history of getting things wrong (burning down the woods, say). Perhaps that horse and man were friends? No doubt that's not your point.

Caspar Henderson said...

Surely there have been many people kinder and more loving to domesticated horses than Thoreau sees the man he describes here as being. In the days when almost all horses really were for work and far fewer were glorified pets in the way they are today, such cruelty was probably more common. I think Thoreau's larger point was that Man was turning all creatures into machines. And, yes, perhaps he got this wrong.