Mr. H. S. Salt: Man of Letters and Reformer
The Times, 20 April 1939
The death occurred at Brighton yesterday of Mr. Henry Stephens Salt, author, scholar, journalist, and reformer, who for 29 years was hon. secretary of the Humanitarian League. He was 87 years of age.
In an amusing retrospect of his life, published in 1921, under the title of “Seventy Years Among Savages,” Mr. Salt left a record of his doings, writings, and opinions, and explained how from conventional ideas he grew to be a “faddist”—the word is his own—of a determined and militant type.
He was born in India in 1851, the son of Colonel T. H. Salt, of the Royal Bengal Artillery, and went to Eton, then under the rule of Hornby, and thence to King’s, Cambridge, where he won Sir William Browne’s medal for a Greek epigram and was bracketed with Gerald Balfour as 5th classic in the Tripos of 1875. He then returned to Eton as a master and remained there in that capacity until 1884. Meanwhile in 1879 he married Catherine Leigh Joynes, a daughter of a fellow-master, the Rev. J. L. Joynes. Mrs. Salt died in 1919; and in 1927 he married Catherine, daughter of Frederick Mandeville, of Brighton.
As he himself has related, it was not long before he began to view the world differently from his colleagues; he became acquainted with men and doctrines quite foreign to the circle in which Hornby and Warre moved, and the conviction came upon him that the Eton masters “were but cannibals in cap and gown.” He accordingly renounced flesh food, and feeling himself more and more to be living in partibus infidelium he resigned his mastership. Warre attributed his conduct to vegetarianism, but on learning that Socialism was also to blame cried in hearty tones:—“Socialism! Then blow us up, blow us up. There’s nothing left for it but that!” Though Salt did not blow Eton up, he criticized the system as he knew it under Hornby with some freedom in articles soon afterwards.
On leaving Eton he settled in Surrey, where he pursued a simple and servantless life, which was congenial to him, gardening, writing, and getting into tough with a variety of men whose opinions were more or less in accordance with his own. He read and admired a good deal of current revolutionary literature; attended diligently the doings of the Shelley Society, of which F. J. Furnivall was the leading spirit; got to know Meredith and Swinburne and other leaders of his time, and published books on Shelley, Tennyson, Thoreau, Jefferies, and James Thomson. Lucretius he always admired, and he translated in verse some of his finest passages.
In 1891 the Humanitarian League which was to promote under the general direction of Salt all the causes which he had at heart, was founded; and Salt directed it until it ceased to exist in 1920. From his office in Chancery Lane he proved himself a good-tempered but thoroughly resourceful agitator and antagonist, who could conduct a campaign against flesh-eating, or blood sports, or the vulgarization of scenery—wild flowers, he held, should be visited, not picked—or the keeping of wild animals in captivity, or the crueller aspects of the criminal law, without losing his temper even when the fortune of war least favoured him.
As a reformer he was happily gifted with a sense of humour and the power of seeing his opponent’s point of view; but these qualities did not detract from his sincerity. As his “Seventy Years Among Savages” shows, he could testify to a good many improvements in his lifetime, and “savages” as his fellowmen were, he admitted that he had found most of them to be kindly savages. When his league came to an end he uttered no unmanly lament and was under no illusions about the unpopularity of the opinions which he had endeavoured to advance.
In the autumn of 1928 Salt published two more books. One of these was a second volume of reminiscences—“Memories of Bygone Eton”—in which he set down things unknown except by hearsay to most living Etonians, for he was by then the oldest surviving of the Eton masters, with one exception. It was an enjoyable volume, in which the author’s dislikes were not too thinly veiled while his essential kindliness came out plainly. The other book was more ambitious, for it was a translation of the Aeneid, in English decasyllabic verse, in which rhyme is introduced by Milton into “Lycidas.” No other metre or rhyme system Salt thought possible for a modern version of Virgil’s epic, unless some supreme master of blank verse arose. Salt’s scholarship and good versification make this work highly readable, and it has received sincere praise from some of the best qualified judges. In parts it rises to a great dignity. This work Salt published with the Cambridge University Press. In 1930 he brought out another characteristic book about the “company” which he had “kept”; it went to some extent over familiar ground and was a happy retrospect of friends and books; and finally “The Creed of Kinship,” another confession of his philosophy, appeared in 1935.