Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Bergh, Henry

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BERGH, Henry, founder of the American society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, b. in New York city, 8 May, 1820; d. there, 12 March, 1888. His father, Christian, was ship-builder for several years in the service of the government, and died in 1843, leaving his fortune to his three children. Henry entered Columbia, but, before he had finished the course, made a visit to Europe, where he remained about five years. In 1862 he was appointed secretary of legation at St. Petersburg, and acting vice-consul. Being obliged by reason of the severity of the climate to resign his office in 1864, he travelled extensively in Europe and the east. On his return he determined to devote the remainder of his life to the interests of dumb animals. Alone, in the face of indifference, opposition, and ridicule, he began a reform that is now recognized as one of the beneficent movements of the age. Through his exertions as a speaker and lecturer, but above all as a bold worker in the street, in the court-room, and before the legislature, the cause he had espoused gained friends and rapidly increased in influence. Cruelties witnessed in Europe first suggested his mission. The legislature passed the laws prepared by him, and on 10 April, 1866, the society was legally organized, with him as president. The association moved steadily forward, and by August was in a flourishing condition financially, having received a valuable property from Mr. and Mrs. Bergh. The work of the society covers all cases of cruelty to all sorts of animals. It employs every moral agency, social, personal, and legislative; it touches points of vital concern to health as well as to humanity; it looks after the transportation of cattle intended for market; it examines into the purity of milk; and fixes the times and manner of slaughtering animals for food. The society has a large and influential membership, and it has made many friends and received many gifts. In the city of New York its officers are constituted special policemen, with authority to arrest any person found practising cruelty of any kind to animals. In 1871 a Parisian, Louis Bonard, who lived with extreme simplicity in New York, died and left $150,000 to the society, which permitted a removal to quarters larger and better adapted to the work. A building at the corner of Fourth avenue and 22d street, New York city, was purchased and altered to make it suitable for the purposes of the society. By the courtesy of the district attorney of New York Mr. Bergh was authorized by the attorney general to represent him in all cases appertaining to the laws for the protection of animals. During 1873 he made a lecturing tour in the west, which resulted in the formation of several societies similar to that in New York. He spoke before the Evangelical Alliance and Episcopal convention, and was the means of having a new canon confirmed, to the effect that Protestant Episcopal clergyman should at least once a year preach a sermon on cruelty and mercy to animals. One of the outgrowths of his work is the ambulance corps for removing disabled animals from the street, and a derrick to rescue them from excavations into which they may fall. He is also the originator of an ingenious invention, which substitutes artificial for live pigeons as marks for the sportsman's gun. Mr. Bergh receives no salary, but gives his time and energies freely to the work. At the beginning of this reform, no state or territory of the United States contained any statute relating to the protection of animals from cruelty. At present (1886) thirty-nine states of the Union have adopted substantially the original laws procured by him from the legislature of New York; to which may be added Brazil and the Argentine Republic. The society is now in the twenty-first year of its existence, is out of debt and self-sustaining. By reason of its fidelity, discretion, and humanity, it is everywhere recognized as a power in the land for good. In 1874 he rescued a little girl from inhuman treatment, and this led to the founding of a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Mr. Bergh has written several plays, one of which was acted in Philadelphia. He has also published a volume of tales and sketches entitled “The Streets of New York”; a drama entitled “Love's Alternative”; “The Portentous Telegram”; “The Ocean Paragon,” and “Married Off,” a poem (London, 1859).