A Gentle Crusader
The Guardian, October 5, 1951
Salt and His Circle. By Stephen Winsten. Hutchinson. Pp. 224. 16s.
Through more than half of a long life Henry Salt was the most conspicuous humanitarian in England. He was a single-minded crusader, scholarly, and invincibly good-tempered. Born a hundred years ago, he won a scholarship to Eton and at Cambridge was bracketed fifth in the Classical Tripos with A. J. Balfour’s brother Gerald. He returned to Eton as a master under Hornby, and was happy in a place that he also described as a privileged home of ignorance and savagery. In his thirties, having become a Socialist and vegetarian, he resigned, took a cottage in Surrey, and therefore never departed from the simple life.
In the cause of the harried and oppressed, human and subhuman, Salt founded the Humanitarian League and worked for it with restrained passion. The title of his autobiography, “Seventy Years Among Savages,” condensed his indictment of the age. His interests, however, were anything but narrow. He wrote on many subjects and composed verses of occasion with ease and grace. His translation of the Aeneid was published at the expense of Bernard Shaw, a lifelong friend. Salt’s wife was gifted and abnormal, deeply influenced by Edward Carpenter, long an intimate member of the Salt circle. The group was held together by devotion to music. The material for this book, in the way of letters and other records, was ample enough for the author to have avoided the trick of novelised biography. Mr Winsten’s major concern, as we know is Bernard Shaw. From him he obtained an introduction which, written when memory and pen were alike failing, is full of errors. Merivale for Melville and Cambridge for Eton should have been put right in the copy. Mr Winsten has underlined an old man’s slips by letting them stand and adding footnotes. Not seldom letters are printed without dates. This cannot be called sensible editing. Henry Salt was fine and generous, a model of loving kindness, a Victorian worthy of remembrance.S. K. R.