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.

A Compendium of the Cranks

The Observer, 15 September, 1935

“The Creed of Kinship.” By Henry S. Salt. (Constable. 5s.)

The habit of sneering at humanitarians is now firmly established: it is so much easier to sneer at them than to demonstrate the error of their ways. Habit, however, it is: that is to say, it is more a matter of habit than of conviction. For the general opinion has somewhat changed during the last twenty years; and the general attitude, of which opinion is the tardy and imperfect expression, has changed still more. It can hardly have escaped the notice of people approaching the forties, to say nothing of their elders, that vegetarians, for example, are no longer so funny as they were just before the war: that people are in general are becoming more sensitive about the treatment of criminals; and, perhaps most significant of all, that the defenders of blood sports are now fighting a losing battle. The causes of this change are no doubt many and various; but, in so far as it is the result of propaganda by individual reformers, perhaps Mr. Salt, more than any other person, must be held responsible. This is a fact that must give him profound satisfaction.

Mr. Salt, now an octogenarian, goes the whole humanitarian hog, and in this book he sets down in simple and vigorous language a summary of this creed, with the special purpose of showing that the various reformers advocated by various humanitarians are all related to a central conviction. He deplores sectionalism, the one-eyed pursuit of particular reform to the neglect of others equally relevant and wishes to see “a fusion of certain great causes.” He felt flattered, he tells us, when a hostile journalist described him as “a compendium of the cranks,” by which, says Mr. Salt, “he apparently meant that I advocated not this or that humane reform, but all of them. That is just what I desire to do.” And that is what he does, with great clarity and cogency, in this attractive little book. Even the few who sincerely do not agree with him, as well as the many who (like the present reviewer) agree but are too lazy to mend their ways, will admire the vigour and humour with which Mr. Salt carries the war into the enemy’s camp.