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.

Salt and His Circle

Vegetarian Messenger, 1951

By Stephen Winsten, with a Preface by Bernard Shaw. Hutchinson & Co., Limited, London.

When Henry S. Salt passed away in the spring of 1939, the humanitarian movement lost its most outstanding advocate—outstanding in the sense that no other public figure was so thorough-going in the variety of humane reforms which he advocated or so logical in their presentation to a populace steeped in the traditions of so many outworn creeds and anachronisms. It is, therefore, very fitting that to mark the centenary of his birth in September, 1951, Stephen Winsten (a former neighbour of G.B.S.), has just issued a biographical sketch under the title of Salt and His Circle, with a preface by Bernard Shaw written just before his last accident.

Those who knew Henry Salt will be intensely interested in the biographical details which the author has collected, but would have liked to have heard more of his association with his many friends in the humanitarian and other movements—those who were not well-known public figures as in the brilliant array of friends and acquaintances shown in the index, but who were nevertheless part of “The Circle.”

One remarkable feature of Salt’s life was the large number of outstanding men and women with whom he became acquainted. This is to be expected in the case of most public figures, but, to quote the blurb on the cover of the book, “How is it that a man who was practically unknown attracted to his cottage the greatest figures of the age?”

“Influence” is a word which is bandied about in all manner of ways and finds concrete expression in the changes (both good and bad) in individual outlook and action. It is the work of the “reformer” to influence his hearers in favour of the particular reform advocated. This is a slow process as Henry Salt has so often reiterated. Yet how many reformers have been as successful as Salt in this particular direction? Among many others, he had a marked influence of Gandhi, who, in his turn, influenced literally millions of his countrymen in India to an extent which has been unparalleled in history. Writing from prison, Gandhi informed Salt that he owed a great deal to his books on Thoreau, and we know it was through reading Salt’s Plea for Vegetarianism that Gandhi, when wavering, became a convinced vegetarian. Ramsay MacDonald wrote: “I had a peep at your Seventy Years among Savages when I was fighting the Woolwich by-election, and it gave me courage to go on.” And Bernard Shaw likewise “admitted the source of much of his inspiration at a time when his novels were unwanted and his plays unrecognized.”

Another very interesting characteristic of Henry Salt was that even as a Rationalist he attracted so many “mystics” and was quite happy in their presence. Perhaps one solution of this lay in the fact that his own “creed” towered far above that which was practised by the followers of most of the religions of the world, coupled with the fact that he had the courage to follow it out.