15 OCTOBER 1977, Page 21


Jan Morris

Animals and Men Lord Clark (Thames and Hudson E10.50) Of the dead, Lord Clark, and the World Wildlife Fund one speaks only good, and I must begin this review of the Master's bestiary, benefiting the Fund and containing animal portraiture by scores of artists, all dead but two — I must start by declaring it to be a lovely thing. It is full of magnificent works, from the pre-historical to the almost contemporary. It is rich in Lord Clark's humane and worldly insights. Thames and Hudson have produced it most handsomely, at a proper price, and if you buy it you will not only be helping the Fund and the animals, you will be giving yourself much delight too.

But if we may not denigrate, at least we may argue, and there is plenty in this book to argue about, and much more (I found) to set us arguing with ourselves. There is the title, for instance. This is of an exquisite arrogance, for Animals and Men totally ignores any animals, or any men, that ever existed east of Mesopotamia, south of Egypt — only just recognises, come to that, any living creature west of the Book of Kells. A sub-title acknowledges the limitation, but it is an irony nonetheless that a book professing to examine the immemorial relationship between man and beast should disregard the very territories where they have come closest to understanding one another.

Lord Clark is a humanist, of course, not a zoologist, but in this book he is also a polemicist. He is pleading for a new attitude towards the animal kingdom, and supporting that plea by his expertise in the human condition: all the sadder that the relationship he discusses in his essay, illustrates in his 200 plates, is essentially a selfconscious one. Elsewhere on this planet we may still find human beings living with wild creatures on terms of everyday equality. In Europe that kind of intimacy vanished centuries ago, to be reflected in these pages only in the dim scratches of the cave men, or the lingering suggestions of myth.

Instead we see 'civilised' men approaching the animals, and recording that approach, always de haut en bas, whether the intention is patronising, murderous, exploitative or doting. Lord Clark divides his essay into five, dealing with animals as objects of religious fervour, as objects of analytical observation, as objects of admiration, as objects of love, and as victims of destruction. All these impulses are lavishly illustrated in. the plates, from Assyrian hunting scenes to a Degas racecourse, but the only pictures that display, I think, a truly egalitarian attitude to animals are two, one by Veronese, one by Reynolds, that show small children clasping their beloved dogs as naturally as they might clasp their mothers or their teddy-bears. Lord Clark quotes a passage from Edith Wharton to explain this sense of — what, embarrassment? The questing expression one sees in animals' eyes, she once wrote, is a reminder of the time when human beings "branched off and left them to eternal inarticulateness and slavery-. Was she right? Do we really suffer from some atavistic sense of guilt, at having abandoned the animals long ago? Was there once a Golden Age, when man and beast walked together in God's sunshine? What rights have we over the animals? What claims have they on us?

Lord Clark drifts engagingly but not very enlighteningly through these mysteries. Ambivalences abound, among the studied generalisations (and not so studied — arguably the best is a construction that carries pragmatism too far). Is hunting for sport, for instance, ever permissible? POOT Lord Clark almost thinks so, because of its aesthetic appendages — if all hunting were like Uccello's 'Hunt in the Forest', he wistfully suggests, we would all love the sport. What about eating meat? Though Lord Clark evidently tends to the generous view that when an animal is beautifully portrayed it reflects a sense of compassion in the artist, it is revealing that the only vegetarian identified in these pages is that champion of champions, da Vinci himself.

Do we have a duty to the animals? The book says we do, but you would not know it from the pictures. There is no illustration here, from all the centuries of western art, of a man disinterestedly helping an animal in distress. Horrible little dogs, it is true, are encouraged to gobble their victuals on the banqueting tables of the Tres Riches Heures, and there are pampered animals all the way from Karnak to the Shires: but the human attitudes here portrayed are really altogether self-indulgent (unless you count Botticelli's Minerva, bestowing upon a rightly dubious centaur the ambiguous gift of reason).

In fact to my mind the most reassuring of these artefacts are not those displaying affection or admiration for animals, but those which show man and beast sharing, for better or for worse, the cycle of daily existence. Slaves the domestic creatures may be, and all too often doomed to early slaughter: but still there is comfort to Millet's grand and tragic scenes of farmyard life, The Death of a Pig', 'The Birth of a Calf. We are fellow-sufferers, after all, these sad scenes seem to say, in the face of the last enigma.

Lord Clark does not dwell upon this nuance, and he is immune too to the allegory of the bullfight, towards which, as he stoutly says, he shares 'the conventional English feelings'. He resents, in a characteristic subtlety of response, the certain sense of condescension, of charity, which attends the efforts of the animal conservationists, but he is frankly baffled by the instincts of the ritualists who have, through every age, seen in the spilling of animal blood some token of redemption. Here we differ.

I do not in the least want to cut a goat's throat on a High Place, and I am very nearly a vegetarian, but I do dimly discern, in the daily sacrifice of the bulls to the abbatoir, the chickens to the pot, an act not of cruelty, but of communion.

Arcane stuff, for a 1000-word review! But Animals and Men is a provoking and even a perturbing book. Lord Clark con eludes with the thought that we must recognise our responsibilities to the animals, and so gain a sense of kinship with them. He does not say how, but I have a suggestion to offer, for a start, that might at least ring up those bells of heaven: abolish the public zoos, those temples of inhumanity, those Dachaus in our midst, through whose bars we of the human race stare so insolently at our imprisoned and degraded comrades!