Whatever the substance is that attracted the flies to the papers, it was not fatal to them; for twelve hours later I discovered, by poking them, that the flies, though quiescent and no doubt exhausted, were still alive. Some of them had contrived, I don’t know how, to land on the papers on their backs, with their legs in the air, so to speak. If I touched their legs, they kicked them vigorously for a few seconds before returning to their hopeless torpor and entrapment. I almost began to feel sorry for them.
Is there a movement anywhere in the world for the prevention of cruelty to flies? Surely the first thing it would do, if it existed, is campaign for the outlawing of fly papers such as those we used. After all, it is not the fault of a fly that it is a fly and not, say, a kitten. If things had been otherwise, we could all have been born flies instead of humans. There (that is to say the fly papers) but for the grace of God go we.
I discovered something very odd, and perhaps slightly disconcerting, about myself when hanging up the fly papers, and after they had been hung—that is to say, I enjoyed watching the flies arrive on them and engage in a struggle that could lead only to their slow death. My enjoyment had nothing to do with the imposition of hygiene or cleanliness in our bedroom; I don’t mind dust and I don’t mind it when the dragonflies or the bats fly in. No, the terrible fact is that I enjoyed witnessing the suffering of the flies and indeed could happily watch it for many minutes on end.
“As flies to wanton boys/Are we to the gods,” wrote Shakespeare, but the child is father to the man and in some aspects the man does not fully grow up. That is why we have always to keep a hold of ourselves, and temper our inclinations by conscious thought and self-control. The fact is that the Kingdom of Cruelty is within you.
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