A supporter of the Walpole Administration, he represented the county of Cambridge, and during twenty-five years held the office of Commissioner of the Board of Trade. He wrote papers in The World and other periodicals, and published two volumes of Poems. His principal book is the Free Enquiry into the Origins of Evil, in which he seeks to reconcile the obvious evils in the constitution of things with his optimistic creed. Johnson, who, with all his orthodoxy, was pessimistic, severely criticised this apology for Theism. In striking contrast with the indifferentism of the vast majority of his class, his just and humane feeling is sufficiently remarkable. This line of reasoning, in his comprehensive arraignment of the various atrocities perpetrated, sanctioned, or condoned by English Society or English Law in the last century, and which, for the most part, still continues (it is scarcely necessary to add), logically leads to the abolition of the Slaughter House - the fountain and origin of the evil :-
"How will man, that sanguinary tyrant, be able to excuse himself from the charge of those innumerable cruelties inflicted on his unoffending subjects committed to his care, formed for his benefit, and placed under his authority by their common Father? To what horrid deviations from these benevolent intentions are we daily witnesses! No small part of mankind derive their chief amusements from the deaths and sufferings of inferior animals. A much greater, part still, consider them only as engines of wood, or iron, useful in their several occupations. The Carman drives his Horse, and the Carpenter his nail by repeated blows; and so long as these produce the desired effect, and they both go, they neither reflect or care whether either of them have any sense of feeling.
"The Butcher knocks down the stately Ox with no more compassion than the Blacksmith hammers a horse shoe; and plunges his knife into the throat of the innocent lamb, with as little reluctance as the Tailor sticks his needle into the collar of a coat. (1) If there are some few, who, formed in a softer mould, view with pity the sufferings of these defenceless beings, there is scarce one who entertains the least idea, that justice or gratitude can be due to their Merits, or their Services.
"The social and friendly Dog, if by barking, in defence of his master's person and property, he happens unknowingly to disturb his rest - the generous Horse, who has carried his ungrateful master for many years with ease and safety, worn out with age and infirmities contracted in his service, is by him condemned to end his miserable days in a dust-cart, where, the more he exerts his little remains of spirit, the more he is whipped, to save his stupid driver the trouble of whipping some other, less obedient to the lash. Sometimes, having been taught the practice of many unnatural and useless feats in a Riding-House, he is, at last, turned out, and consigned to the dominion of a hackney-coachman, by whom he is every day corrected for performing those tricks, which he has learned under so long and severe a discipline. [Add the final horrors of the Knackers' Yard, to which sort of hell the worn-out Horse is usually consigned.]
"The Sluggish Bear, in contradiction to his nature, is taught to dance for the diversion of an ignorant mob, by placing red-hot irons under his feet. The majestic Bull is tortured by every mode that malice can invent, for no offence but that he is unwilling to assail his diabolical tormentors. (2) These and innumerable other acts of Cruelty, Injustice, and Ingratitude, are every day committed - not only with impunity, but without censure and without observation . . .
"The law of self-defence undoubtedly justifies us in destroying those animals that would destroy us, that injure our properties, or annoy our persons; but not even these, whenever their situation incapacitates them from hurting us. . . .
"If there are any [there are vast numbers even now], whose tastes are so vitiated, and whose hearts are so hardened, as to delight in such inhuman sacrifices [the tortures of the Slaughter-House and of the Kitchen], and to partake of them without remorse, they should be looked upon as demons in human shapes, and expect a retaliation of those tortures which they have inflicted on the Innocent, for the gratification of their own depraved and unnatural appetites.
"So violent are the passions of anger and revenge in the human breast, that it is not wonderful that men should persecute their real or imaginary enemies with cruelty and malevolence. But that there should exist in Nature a being who can receive pleasure from giving pain, would be totally incredible, if we were not convinced, by melancholy experience, that there are not only many - but that this unaccountable disposition is in some manner inherent in the nature of men. (3) For, as he cannot be taught by example, nor led to it by temptation, or prompted to it by interest, it must be derived from his native constitution.(4)
" We see children laughing at the miseries which they inflict on every unfortunate animal which comes within their power. All savages are ingenious in contriving and executing the most exquisite tortures; and [not alone] the common people of all countries are delighted with nothing so much as Bull-Baitings, Prize-Fightings, 'Executions', and all spectacles of cruelty and horror . . . They arm Cocks with artificial weapons, which Nature had kindly denied to their malevolence, and, with shouts of applause and triumph, see them plunge them into each other's hearts. They view with delight the trembling Deer and defenceless Hare, flying for hours in the utmost agonies of terror and despair, and at last, sinking under fatigue, devoured by their merciless pursuers. They see with joy the beautiful Pheasant and harmless Partridge drop from their flight, weltering in their blood, or perhaps perishing with wounds and hunger, under the cover of some friendly thicket to which they have in vain retreated for safety. . . . And, to add to all this, they spare neither labour nor expense to preserve and propagate these innocent animals, for no other end but to multiply the objects of their persecution.
"What name should we bestow on a Superior Being, whose whole endeavours were employed, and whose whole pleasure consisted in terrifying, ensnaring, tormenting, and destroying mankind; whose superior faculties were exerted in fomenting animosities amongst them, in contriving engines of destruction, and inciting them to use them in maiming and murdering each other; whose power over them was employed in assisting the rapacious, deceiving the simple, and oppressing the innocent? who, without provocation or advantage, should continue from day to day, void of all pity and remorse, thus to torment mankind for diversion, and at the same time endeavour with his utmost care to preserve their lives, and to propagate their species, in order to increase the number of victims devoted to his malevolence? I say, what name detestable enough could we find for such a being? Yet, if we impartially consider the case, and our intermediate situation, we must acknowledge that, with regard to inferior animals, just such a being is a 'Sportsman'. [and let us add, by way of corollary, à fortiori one who consciously sanctions the daily and hourly cruelties of the Slaughter-House and the Butcher."] - Disquisition II. "On Cruelty to Animals," by Soame Jenyns.