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.

Company I Have Kept

The Vegetarian Messenger, Vol. 27 No. 9, September 1930

It is always refreshing to read the works of so eminent a humanitarian as Henry S. Salt, and his recent book under the above heading is no exception. Mr. Salt’s “company” is not, by any means, restricted to the human creation only, for it includes animals, flowers, mountains, books, poetry, and “any associations from which comfort and enjoyment have been derived.”

To vegetarians and other reformers there is much of interest within the pages of the volume. As a master of Eton, Mr. Salt’s adoption of a vegetarian diet did not please the authorities. Such a practice was considered to be “out of keeping with the manliness of a great public school.” The Science Master asked him if he did not think the animals were sent as food, and the Head and his successor both expressed their disapproval of his “dietetic heresies.” Little did they realise that a few years later they would have a vegetarian Headmaster in the person of Dr. Edward Lyttelton.

Under the heading “Humours of a Tea-Table,” the story is told of the weekly meetings (some twenty-five years ago) in a London vegetarian restaurant of the Humanitarian League of which Mr. Ernest Bell was Chairman, and Mr. Salt the Honorary Secretary. The meetings were arranged for the purpose of discussing the various questions in which they were interested and brought together such writers and reformers as W. H. Hudson, Edward Carpenter, Lord Olivier, Sir George Greenwood, R. W. Trine, and Gandhi. The author influence upon the great Indian leader is worthy of mention. In Gandhi’s autobiography, after mentioning the fact that he purchased a copy of Salt’s “Plea for Vegetarianism,” he continues: “I read Salt’s book from cover to cover, and was very much impressed by it. From the date of reading I may claim to have become a vegetarian by choice. I blessed the day on which I had taken the vow before my mother. . . . .  The choice was now made in favour of vegetarianism, the spread of which hence-forward became my mission.” Another interesting visitor was Harold Begbie who at that time was the Editor of “The Vegetarian,” but who later forsook the humane for a carnivorous diet. Of Harold Begbie the author says, “Begbie was a clever fellow and I liked him well for his humorous, devil-may-care temperament; but I think the vegetarian journals were hardly justified in lamenting, as they did after his death, his abandonment of their cause, as if it were a matter for great surprise. I had always thought that he took up diet reform less as a life mission than as an interesting episode in this career–I will not say as a job, but as something which coincided with one.” The weekly meetings were carried on for some ten years before being abandoned.

There is a very interesting chapter entitled “Two Anti-Vegetarian Sages,” in which Mr. Salt refers to G. K. Chesterton and Dean Inge. The author, in his opening remarks, mentions that when he is involved in controversy with eminent disputants such as the two gentlemen in question, what alone has upheld him in such encounters is the fact that at times “even great wits slumber.” Of all the present well-known writers Mr. Salt finds Chesterton’s attitude towards the humanitarian movement the most difficult to define, for no one, he declares, has denounced the “filthy torture” of flogging more trenchantly than G.K.C., or vindicated “sentiment” more nobly. “The people who call compassion ‘sentimentalism’,” says Chesterton, “deserve nothing but contempt.” “But where vegetarianism is the theme, Mr. Chesterton has drawn a marked distinction between our moral duties to men and our mere compassion for animals, on the grounds that mankind is a Society to which we owe allegiance which we do not owe to the lower races; from which he infers that cruelty to animals, detestable though it be, is a quite different thing from cruelty to men.”

That the vegetarian is generally looked upon as a crank there is little doubt. Mr. Salt says in this respect, “Who is in reality the crank–the person who wants a beautiful and bloodless environment, or one who does not want it?” “To anyone who, like myself, during a fifty years’ experience of the system, has had many vegetarian friends, men and women whom it has been a pleasure and honour to know, the idea that a fleshless diet is merely a “fad” is entirely ridiculous. On the contrary, I firmly believe that the time will come when kreophagy will seem as queer to a civilized age as cannibalism already does to our half-barbaric one.”

It is a pity that Mr. Salt’s writings are not better known among the general public.