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.

Henry Salt - Richard Jefferies, Shelley and Thoreau

by John F.C. Pontin

Relating to Richard Jefferies

In the correspondence of Dr. S. A. Jones, A.W.Hosmer, H.G.O. Blake and D. Ricketson, Henry Salt referred to Richard Jefferies between 1889-1904. Letter dated 11th August 1890 to Jones from Salt: "…talking of Carpenter and Thoreau reminds me of another kindred writer-Richard Jefferies. I wonder if you know his, "Story of My Heart"; it is a rare work of genius, rare even in the bibliopolist sense…".

Jones recommends Jefferies to Hosmer in a letter dated March 17th 1891. "…take a peep at them (Jefferies reprinted books) when you are next in town (Boston)". (my parenthesis)

Jones was born in Manchester (1834-1912) and went to the United States in 1842. He served with the Union Army and in 1875 was appointed Dean of the University of Michigan Homeopathic Medical College, until he returned to private practice and his literary studies. He wrote a book about Richard Jefferies.

Hosmer (1851-1903) devoted his life to working in a dry-goods store (Concord) when not pursing his photography, flora and fauna interests.

Ricketson (1813-1898) Quaker friend of Henry David Thoreau.
Blake (1816-1898) Thoreau's first disciple and his literary executor.

Dr. Raymond Adams the distinguished Thoreau scholar stated in 1951 that Henry Salt, Samuel Jones and Alfred Hosmer were responsible for laying the foundations of Thoreau's modern reputation.

Henry Salt's critical studies of Richard Jefferies promoted a re-evaluation of Jefferies writings, as a poet-naturalist, naturalist, thinker and as a man, not only in the U.K. but also in the U.S.A. Jones made his contribution following Salt's recommendation to read Jefferies, 'Story of My Heart'.

***See Hendrick's and Oehlschlaeger's "Towards the Making of Thoreau's Modern Reputation". University of Illinois Press 1979.

Of the books published by Jefferies the 1894 edition is the most important. It should also be noted, Salt's defence and support of Jefferies in letters and notices which appeared between 1888 and 1901. (The Anthenaeum, To-day, Pall Mall Gazette, Temple Bar, National Reformer and in the Humanitarian Leagues's journals (1891-1920).
Other references to Jefferies by Salt will be found in the 1890 and 1896 editions of "Life of H.D. Thoreau". "His (Thoreau) position among prose-writers is unique, no one, unless it be Richard Jefferies, can be placed in the same category with him."
Richard was a boy of 14 when Henry David Thoreau died. Henry Salt was 13.

Comment on Richard Jefferies:
Reporter, mystic, artist and naturalist, relating to Salt's enthusiasm and support for this distinguished writer.

Professor Keith's reference to Salt's dislike of Jefferies early politics and 'sport', was his disapproval of the class (from which Salt came - the people in control, the leaders) who did the hunting and shooting as much of the "seamy side of sportsmanship". This reference by Salt should be viewed more from Salt's general attitude towards the universal treatment of wild and domestic animals, by his own kind. Salt considered that the "privileged classes" should have known better. Salt was a social reformer first and foremost and his close association with ethical socialism was quite natural under the circumstances.

Professor Keith in his critical study "Richard Jefferies", rightly sees Jefferies according to the Blakeon distinction - a personal vision and a creative vision which transcended the limitations of the reporter/ writer. Salt would not have disagreed.

Much critical nonsense has been written about "The Story of My Heart". It is well to approach the book with Henry David Thoreau's statesment in mind. "There is no such thing as pure OBJECTIVE observation. Your observation to be interesting, i.e. to be significant, must be SUBJECTIVE…" (Journal of H.D. Thoreau: 14 volumes 1906 Riverside Edition).

It is worth recording that Spinoza, the Dutch philospher (1632-1677) with K. Polanyi and L. Mumford, attacked the idolatry of so called detached scientific objectivity and "automation of knowledge".

The influence of Shelley on Henry S. Salt

Shelley, in his youth and to a less degree throughout his life, was an eager scientist as well as a great and mature poet. He became a vegetarian before the age of twenty and his pamphlet, 'A Vindication of Natural Diet' was not published until 1929, somewhat more considered in tone, having been later edited by him. It was not published in his life-time.

While we may find romantic idealism as a condition within Shelley's circumstances, he was also prophetic in his inspiration. His idealism was never merely abstract for, if only men would awake to the perfection that could be theirs, earth would become a heaven.

He understood the ideal and himself practised the truth, that a vegetarian diet was both a spiritual and physical necessity if the 'good life' was to become a reality. His vision of 'sinless' mankind no longer at war with his own kind, with nature, and above all himself, would no longer divorce soul from body.

The enlightened would see that the sacredness of life would extend to the animal kingdom, and since a carnivorous appetite is itself a deeper cause, in time and predatory urge of man's divided nature would lead to the end of the brutalising "destroying and devouring animals".

In the division between spirit and body, the high and the low, the outward and inward man, Shelley saw organised Christianity as a prime offender. The way in which they celebrated the anniversary of their Saviour's birth, was no outburst, but like the Buddhist, the Church should acknowledge the sacredness of all life, the Church should acknowledge the sacredness of all life, as indeed with the enlightened Hindu.

Salt was aware of the Essenes and the stern asceticism of the Anchorites, as he was of the influence of the Transcendentalists of Concord - the simplicity of living as a 'way of life'. Salt was Shelley as an affirmer of the unity of life, both within man's own nature on all levels and in his relation with the whole of creation.

J.R. Ebbatson, in "Visions of Wild England: William Morris and Richard Jefferies" (1905:ed and 1894 of Salt's H. D. Thoreau are not the same) suggests that Salt was a Transcendentalist. He was not. However Transcendentalism proved to be one of the most powerful forces in American literature and politics. Emerson was one of the key figures in this New England Movement, and it was to appeal to a fearless and independent a thinker as Thoreau. He, like Salt did not maintain any special adherence to any religious formula, having an instinctive belief in the eternal goodness of Nature, the product of the Divine.

Shelley (1792-1822) was also to depart this life at the early age of 30. It was doctrine of the perfectibility of man, and his intuitive belief in the natural harmony with nature (all creation) that appealed to Henry Salt.

In 1917 Salt arranged for the League to commemorate the birth of H. D. Thoreau at Caxton Hall. The Mayor of Brighton, Sir John Otter was in the Chair. The hall was crowded to overflowing. Events took place throughout the country, many arranged by Field and Naturalist' Clubs. The Labour Party gave their full blessing to the formation of 'Walden Clubs. (1890's). (Can we see such events like the above happening to-day?)

Comment on "Animal Rights":

This is a further area of Salt's contribution, definitive in the sense that much of his writing on this subject is as relevant to-day as it was when it first appeared. Peter Singer, Professor of Philosophy, Monash University, Victoria, Australia, and Tom Regan, Professor of Philosophy, North Carolina University, both leading philosophers on the topic of animal rights, concluded, with Salt, that a basic universal sense of justice was required.

"Animals' Rights and Social Progress" was first published (1892) both in the U.K. and the States. The United States edition was supported by a Miss Eddy of Providence, Rhode Island, who paid for the book to be issued free to all American libraries. A further revised edition "Animals' Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress" (1894), reprinted in 1905 and 1922. The book also appeared in five other European countries. In 1980 the International Society for Animal Rights (U.S.A.) reprinted a new edition with a preface by Peter Singer, a bibliography updated by Professor Charles Magel, Moorhead University, Minnesota. Centaur Press published a British edition the same year.

Notes for the Richard Jefferies 1991 Annual Birthday Lecture

Published: Unpublished, 1991