From Kingsley’s The Boys’ and Girls’ Book of Science (London: Strahan and Co. Ltd., 1881, via Googlebooks):
“Of course I wish to say nothing against the keeping of rabbits; it is a good thing to have animals about you, for it is good to think that there are creatures weaker, and yet, in their way, stronger than yourself. Yet as you get on in age, rabbits get more and more unsatisfactory. The eternal contemplation of utterly selfish noodles is not always pleasant, and you may rest assured that if you were to die to-morrow, your pet rabbit would never miss you, so long as he was fed, any more than your horse would.
“The habits of these animals are by no means agreeable in detail. A few hints may be necessary. Never, for instance, attempt to look at or tough the young ones until they begin to show for themselves. Give them mostly dry food, but always let them have water besides greenstuff. Take them up always behind the ears, and do not squeeze their bodies; see that they are continually fed, and judiciously; and lastly, when you are tired of them, sell them to some one who wants them, and spend the money on something more satisfactory.
“… when you have said the best about these animals as pets, what are they? Mere stupid crawling creatures. The meanest fowl or pigeon which ever strutted or flew about your house is worth fifty of such things. Dogs, cats, fowls, and pigeons are worth having; rabbits I hardly think are.”
To Kingsley, rabbits made for worthless pets because (1) they are utterly selfish (i.e., would not care if you died tomorrow) and (2) they are stupid. (I googled “are rabbits stupid.” Apparently this is a popular question. See this page and this page for contemporary opinions on rabbit sagacity.)
I am not sure how commonly shared this sentiment was. Rabbits were fairly popular pets, and the same charge of selfishness was typically levied against the cat.
I was particularly struck with the following remark: “it is a good thing to have animals about you, for it is good to think that there are creatures weaker, and yet, in their way, stronger than yourself.” Is this some insight into the logic of how we used animals during this period? A foreshadowing of Carl Jung’s line, memorialized in NYC’s 42nd Street/6th Ave. subway station: “Nature must not win the game, but she cannot lose”?
UPDATE: Serendipitously, the wonderful National Museum of Animals & Society has posted a link to these beautiful pictures that illustrate the sagacity of a hare.