Henry Salt Archive

Henry Salt (1853-1939) was the author of the Life of Henry David Thoreau, Animals Rights and A Plea for Vegetarianism which inspired Gandhi for follow a vegetarian diet.

Thoreau and Jefferies

Nature Notes, 1900

I regret that the author of the article on “Literature and Field and Hedgerow” should have tried to exalt Jefferies at the expense of Thoreau, for either of these great writers is supreme in his own way, and nothing can be gained by pitting one against the other. The passage, moreover, that is cited from Thoreau is an unimportant and obscure one (his true masterpieces being overlooked), while the “Pageant of Summer,” with which we are asked to compare it, is one of the most brilliant things that Jefferies wrote. Again, it is hardly fair to say of Thoreau, “we fear he was no more a genuine naturalist than he was a genuine hermit.” He did not pretend to be either a hermit or a naturalist—in the sense imputed. It was not his vocation, like that of Gilbert White, merely to record observations of animals and plants. He was not a naturalist but a “poet-naturalist”; and so too, as a matter of fact, was Jefferies, whose descriptions of nature are as deeply coloured by his own personality as those of Thoreau himself. As far as Field and Hedgerow are concerned, the true contrast appears to me to be between the simple and the complex, between the naturalist, White, on the one hand, and the poet-naturalists, Jefferies and Thoreau, on the other. On the question of thought and style it is impossible here to enter, though scant justice has been done to Thoreau in the article referred to, where Lowell’s ill-natured and often-refuted criticism seems to have been taken for granted throughout.

Henry S. Salt