In “The First Step,” Tolstoy wrote:
Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828-1910), usually referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy,
was a Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time.
I had wished to visit a slaughterhouse, in order to see with my own eyes
the reality of the question raised when vegetarianism is discussed. But at
first I felt ashamed to do so, as one is always ashamed of going to look at
suffering which one knows is about to take place, but which one cannot
avert; and so I kept putting off my visit.
But a little while ago I met on the road a butcher returning to Toúla
after a visit to his home. He is not yet an experienced butcher, and his
duty is to stab with a knife. I asked him whether he did not feel sorry for
the animals that he killed. He gave me the usual answer: “Why should
I feel sorry? It is necessary.” But when I told him that eating flesh
is not necessary, but is only a luxury, he agreed; and then he admitted
that he was sorry for the animals.
“But what can I do? I must earn my bread,” he said. “At
first I was afraid to kill. My father, he never even killed a
chicken in all his life.” The majority of Russians cannot kill; they
feel pity, and express the feeling by the word “fear.” This man
had also been “afraid,” but he was so no longer.
Not long ago I also had a talk with a retired soldier, a butcher, and he,
too, was surprised at my assertion that it was a pity to kill, and said the
usual things about its being ordained; but afterwards he agreed with me:
“Especially when they are quiet, tame cattle. They come, poor things!
trusting you. It is very pitiful” (Tolstoy 1883).
Tolstoy, L. (1883). The First Step. Preface to Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet. In Essays and Letters, trans. Aylmer
Maude. NY: H. Frowde 1909.