The Mouse’s Petition

NPR had an article on an early animal rights poem. The article and poem were both quite cute, so I had to share.

In 1773, Anna Aikin was a lab assistant to Dr. Priestley, who was studying how animals’ bodies processed oxygen. Tuberculosis was running rampant, so lung research was very important at this time and Dr. Priestley dissected many animals, especially mice. Aikin thought that Dr. Priestley needed to have more respect and compassion for his subjects, so she penned “The Mouse’s Petition to Dr. Priestley, found in the trap where he’d been confined all night.” She folded the note and left in between the bars of the little subject’s cage, to be found by the doctor in the morning.

The Mouse’s Petition to Dr. Priestley, found in the trap where he’d been confined all night

by Anna Aikin

OH ! hear a pensive captive’s prayer,
For liberty that sighs ;
And never let thine heart be shut
Against the prisoner’s cries.

For here forlorn and sad I sit,
Within the wiry grate ;
And tremble at th’ approaching morn,
Which brings impending fate.

If e’er thy breast with freedom glow’d,
And spurn’d a tyrant’s chain,
Let not thy strong oppressive force
A free-born mouse detain.

Oh ! do not stain with guiltless blood
Thy hospitable hearth ;
Nor triumph that thy wiles betray’d
A prize so little worth.

The scatter’d gleanings of a feast
My scanty meals supply ;
But if thine unrelenting heart
That slender boon deny,

The cheerful light, the vital air,
Are blessings widely given ;
Let nature’s commoners enjoy
The common gifts of heaven.

The well taught philosophic mind
To all compassion gives ;
Casts round the world an equal eye,
And feels for all that lives.

If mind, as ancient sages taught,
A never dying flame,
Still shifts thro’ matter’s varying forms,
In every form the same,

Beware, lest in the worm you crush
A brother’s soul you find ;
And tremble lest thy luckless hand
Dislodge a kindred mind.

Or, if this transient gleam of day
Be all of life we share,
Let pity plead within thy breast,
That little all to spare.

So may thy hospitable board
With health and peace be crown’d;
And every charm of heartfelt ease
Beneath thy roof be found.

So when unseen destruction lurks,
Which men like mice may share,
May some kind angel clear thy path,
And break the hidden snare.

Now, I am a realist and know that animal research saves countless human lives. But I am also a tender-hearted person who hates that it’s necessary. I think that Ms. Aikin has so well expressed my sentiments on the subject. Research is valuable, but we should never, for a moment, lose sight that we owe a great deal to these innocent creatures. They deserve the kindest of treatment and, above all, our unending respect.

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