Gustave Doré : Les Animaux malades de la peste
I have been rude elsewhere to Charles Timoney who has written a reasonable book about French that is amusing even if spotty. “Pardon my French” is good at interpreting various phrases but not always so good at getting to the bottom of them. He annoyed me with his entry on the word ‘haro’ which suggests to me that researches were shallow. (Does he have a copy of Le Petit Robert?) The celebrated usage is that of Jean de La Fontaine.
The word is also used by Baudelaire: Il est bon de hausser la voix et de crier haro sur la bêtise contemporaine. This is in Curiosités esthetiques, Salon de 1859.
So do not rely on Charles Timoney in this instance. However my researches led me back to the fable which was first introduced to me, of course, by my French mistress.
This is all as it happens amazingly topical on our island cursed as it is with animal plagues, and so I reproduce it gleefully below. An English translation is available here – also one in Italian!
This really is a remarkable fable and I would like to believe it is still taught to all French school children. It conveys the important lesson that life is very sad. The punishment of the innocent baudet, whose only crime was to have eaten grass, speaks of the exquisite cruelty of justice. Once again I reach for Gustave Doré (above), one of many who have illustrated this story but who really does pathos better than anyone.
Les Animaux malades de la Peste
Jean De La Fontaine (1621-1695)
Un mal qui répand la terreur,
Mal que le ciel en sa fureur
Inventa pour punir les crimes de la terre,
La peste (puisqu’il faut l’appeler par son nom),
Capable d’enrichir en un jour l’Achéron,
Faisait aux animaux la guerre.
Ils ne mouraient pas tous, mais tous étaient frappés:
On n’en voyait point d’occupés
A chercher le soutien d’une mourante vie;
Nul mets n’excitait leur envie,
Ni loups ni renards n’épiaient
La douce et l’innocente proie;
Les tourterelles se fuyaient:
Plus d’amour, partant plus de joie.
Le lion tint conseil, et dit: «Mes chers amis,
Je crois que le Ciel a permis
Pour nos péchés cette infortune;
Que le plus coupable de nous
Se sacrifie aux traits du céleste courroux;
Peut-être il obtiendra la guérison commune.
L’histoire nous apprend qu’en de tels accidents
On fait de pareils dévouements
Ne nous flattons donc point, voyons sans indulgence
L’état de notre conscience
Pour moi, satisfaisant mes appétits gloutons,
J’ai dévoré force moutons.
Que m’avaient-ils fait? Nulle offense;
Même il m’est arrivé quelquefois de manger
Je me dévouerai donc, s’il le faut: mais je pense
Qu’il est bon que chacun s’accuse ainsi que moi:
Car on doit souhaiter, selon toute justice,
Que le plus coupable périsse.
- Sire, dit le renard, vous êtes trop bon roi;
Vos scrupules font voir trop de délicatesse.
Eh bien! manger moutons, canaille, sotte espèce.
Est-ce un péché? Non, non. Vous leur fîtes, Seigneur,
En les croquant, beaucoup d’honneur;
Et quant au berger, l’on peut dire
Qu’il était digne de tous maux,
Etant de ces gens-là qui sur les animaux
Se font un chimérique empire.»
Ainsi dit le renard; et flatteurs d’applaudir.
On n’osa trop approfondir
Du tigre, ni de l’ours, ni des autres puissances
Les moins pardonnables offenses:
Tous les gens querelleurs, jusqu’aux simples mâtins,
Au dire de chacun, étaient de petits saints.
L’âne vint à son tour, et dit: «J’ai souvenance
Qu’en un pré de moines passant,
La faim, l’occasion, l’herbe tendre, et, je pense,
Quelque diable aussi me poussant,
Je tondis de ce pré la largeur de ma langue.
Je n’en avais nul droit, puisqu’il faut parler
A ces mots on cria haro sur le baudet.
Un loup, quelque peu clerc, prouva par sa harangue
Qu’il fallait dévouer ce maudit animal,
Ce pelé, ce galeux, d’où venait tout le mal.
Sa peccadille fut jugée un cas pendable.
Manger l’herbe d’autrui! quel crime abominable!
Rien que la mort n’était capable
D’expier son forfait: on le lui fit bien voir.
Selon que vous serez puissant ou misérable,
Les jugements de cour vous rendront blanc ou noir.
The ‘haro’ of Baudelaire (much more forgettable) is here in full otherwise the pertinent bit is more of a complaint about market failure in the sale rooms:
Non, je ne suis pas injuste à ce point; mais il est bon de hausser la voix et de crier haro sur la bêtise contemporaine, quand, à la même époque où un ravissant tableau de Delacroix trouvait difficilement acheteur à mille francs, les figures imperceptibles de Meissonier se faisaient payer dix fois et vingt fois plus. Mais ces beaux temps sont passés; nous sommes tombés plus bas, et M. Meissonier, qui, malgré tous ses mérites, eut le malheur d’introduire et de populariser le goût du petit, est un véritable géant auprès des faiseurs de babioles actuels.
Dans ce pays ci, c’est bon, de temps en temps, de tuer un amiral pour encourager les autres. The execution of Admiral Byng.
The Sunday Times which normally annoys me more with every passing week today produces an almost extremely good piece* Read The Sunday Times and weep.in which it is demonstrated that warnings were given more than a year ago of a dangerous biosecurity situation at Pirbright and these were ignored by Defra itself as well as the Institute for Animal Health and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. In any system in which officials and ministers were held remotely accountable for grotesque dereliction of duty, those responsible would be shot. They have probably cost the country £300 million. To save £50,000 on new drains.
*Almost because it does contain a glaring error – which is, however, immaterial to the conclusion. For details see the always reliable Warmwell.
Cattle Farming: The Herd Struck by Cattle Plague, Slaughtering the Infected Animals
Michael van der Guch, 1660-1725. Seventeenth-century disease control methods still being used by Defra.
And so it came to pass that the journalists, other than those of the BBC, with its direct line to Page Street, had enough of the pathetic lies told by Defra. And as the national food logistics chain felt the strain, Defra and its cast of clowns was finally to be smitten by the tougher media treatment they deserve. Because of the deficiencies of our faux-democratic system including the lack of transparency or accountability of the government and its servants and the short attention span of the media, barring even more new outbreaks, Defra may still get away with it. Wales and Scotland are both free to move animals to slaughter. The “stakeholders” (meat producers) are demanding Defra quickly ease restrictions in England, too. Defra has immediately capitulated to the demands of the stateholders. Defra is feeling lucky.
The idea that this new Defra shambles could all have been avoided is finally penetrating the consciousness of the journalists not that they are able to do much as interest has movewd on from this story even as the horrors emerge (panicked cattle shot down by Surrey police “marksmen” is just one such shambles of which more can be read at warmwell).
Some hacks are just smart enough to have figured out that Defra SW1 may be a long way from the rural muck but nevertheless it produces a line of pure bullshit and indeed this entire shambles began with a leaky toxic sewer pipe in Defra’s own back yard. Not to mention truck loads of contaminated soil taken off the Pirbright site to sites all over Surrey. Others are either not smart enough or simply report what they are told.
I dare the hacks – I double dare them – to pick up some of this material we call farm yard manure, and throw it in the face of the department and its vulnerable secretary of state. (We lack squeamishness here in Surrey). But it is doubtful the media will demonstrate the necessary persistance.
Still, if I was the PM I’d be bloody furious that the comrades had screwed this up. And I think the odds for vaccination are starting to shift, especially next time.
The distinguished vet Carl Boyd lives next door to the latest infected premise and they are coming this morning to test his cows. The cows are showing no symptoms. They are the perfect animals to vaccinate. I am hoping he will demand the right to do so. He is one of the smartest men I know (consultant to my Percheron horse Rodin, as it happens) and not a pushover. The government and its thugs have just run into someone who I personally would not wish to have as an enemy. So, the situation has come to an interesting pass…
George Herbert, the parson poet, whom we read on the recommendation of Emma Tennant, wrote:
The return of foot and mouth disease to Surrey has “baffled” ministers and provoked the usual reaction from the so-called National Farmers Union. (It’s not a union – but a producer cartel.) The new prime minister is clueless. The title of this blog announces why I must return to this subject.
Witless ministers today profess themselves incapable of understanding why the disease has come back just one day after they officially announced it was beaten!
“Baffled” says tonight’s Evening Standard. “Puzzled” admits the Environment Secretary responsible for animal health Hilary Benn, who graduated from Sussex in Russian and East European Studies and has the massive experience of having been in his job since June. The NFU’s president Peter Kendall sounds just like all previous NFU presidents and has demanded once again that the disease be “stamped out” (this being NFU/Defra code for slaughtering healthy animals, with full compensation paid by everyone else).*
Predictably, sticking to the script, slaughter “on suspicion” has already resumed. Why not slaughter pensioners with influenza? Oddly, this is the same government that offers flu vaccine, on the NHS. Like a broken record, our beloved Prime Minister Brown is promising to eliminate the disease. Just as he promised last time! The V word does not pass his lips.
Once again, those of us who have since the 2001 débâcle been demanding vaccination have been ignored. Once again, we have been proved right. Had Defra ring vaccinated immediately following the original outbreak this summer, the cows now infected in the shadow of Windsor Castle would not be infected. I told you so. By not vaccinating now they are making themselves look like idiots.
Nothing is very complicated here. The disease is back because ministers are scientifically illiterate and because Defra and the NFU, led by the glamorous film star turned hapless chief vet Debbie Reynolds, despite their proven track record of failure, remain firmly in control.
One needs hardly to be reminded that the latest outbreak like the one that proceeded it originated with the escape of the virus from a government laboratory with collapsing toxic drains that nobody could organise themselves to repair and lorry loads of contaminated spoil being trucked off the site in all directions.
God forbid this is the standard of biosecurity prevailing elsewhere on the government’s biochemical estate.
For anyone who still fails to understand the absurdity of this, I recommend Abigail Wood’s book, A Manufactured Plague.
Abigail’s book questions how foot and mouth came to be seen as one of the world’s worst animal plagues, although it poses little threat to human health (although in the UK without much doubt it seriously affects human mental health and has a negative human impact in many other ways). She asks why, in the epidemic of 2001, the government’s control strategy still relied on Victorian trade restrictions and mass slaughter. Her book is brilliant.
Abigail shows that for more than a century foot and mouth has brought fear, tragedy and sorrow – damaging businesses and affecting international relations. Yet these effects were neither inevitable nor caused by foot and mouth itself but were, rather, the product of the legislation used to control it, and so in this sense foot and mouth is a ‘manufactured’ plague rather than a natural one.
Abigail, like the rest of us, has been ignored. The NFU, which defends the exports of its members no matter how many billions it costs the rest of us, meanwhile retains statutory rights of consultation (in effect, so far, a veto) over government policy. Foot and Mouth has cost the country between £10 billion and £20 billion since 2001 in order to protect a trade worth a tiny fraction of this sum. Has our government, has the prime minister, the intelligence to do a simple cost-benefit calculation? This is madness.
The only good news is that the Queen’s pad at Windsor is in the middle of the control zone. She’s a countrywoman at heart. Maybe she could have a word with Mr Brown and tell him to stop his ministers and their officials acting like such stupid cows. Go for it ma’am – we peasants are depending on you.
Warmwell remains the indispensible source for hour-to-hour developments.
The estimable Matthew Weaver’s FMD blog is back in The Guardian.
Sheepdrove’s blog is also indispensible.
* This looks encouragingly like a potentially serious crisis for the NFU (known in my manor as “no fucking use”) whose traditional “line to take” is now out of step even amongst the growing disgruntled “members” of the NFU. There are numerous successful and humane British farmers (such as Sheepdrove) who are loudly pointing out that they also have rights, including the right to compete in the market if necessary with vaccinated meat. It must be asked – if we have to have a row with the EU, so what? In the meantime the NFU is dangerously exposed and revealed as the emperor with no clothes. Farmers are now really stuck and it is largely because the NFU has colluded in an antediluvian policy. Even the farmers who once towed the NFU line on vaccination have grown curiously silent.
Stop press: Friday morning, 14 September: It would be odd if we were about to win but the odds just increased a little bit, although they are still very long against us, Mary and I feel. We also think we are being read in Whitehall and the news offices and are starting to make a difference. I get the same feeling. I am still worried Defra might try to sabotage a vaccine trial.