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.

The Savour of Salt - League Review

Wildlife Guardian, Spring 1990

The Savour of Salt
Edited by George Hendrick and Willene Hendrick
Centaur Press £12.95

Few League Against Cruel Sports supporters will have heard of Henry Salt and yet he was one of the early pioneers in the campaign against cruelty to animals and assisted in the early days of the League.

The League Against Cruel Sports grew out of the Humanitarian League which, founded in 1891 by Henry Salt and H Williams, saw the beginnings of an organised campaign against hunting. The forerunner of Wildlife Guardian, then called Cruel Sports, paid tribute to the Humanitarian League on the front page of its first issue in 1927:

The most effective and organised effort we know against bloodsports was that made by the Humanitarian League from 1891-1919.’

The Humanitarian League concerned itself with a range of radical issues—perhaps too many for the organisation to be effective. They published pamphlets supporting the abolition of capital punishment and flogging; in favour or women’s rights, vegetarianism, socialism and pacifism and vehemently opposed hunting and vivisection. Following the demise of the Humanitarian League, Henry Amos and Ernest Bell formed the League Against Cruel Sports in 1924.

However, it was the foresight of Henry Salt in 1891 which paved the way yet he is largely forgotten today. The Humanitarian League and Salt’s contribution led the debate on radical issues. Even Gandhi visited the Humanitarian League’s offices in London and later wrote to Salt. George Bernard Shaw, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Kier Hardie and G K Chesterton were among those contemporaries of Salt with whom he discussed and debated the issues of the day.

Henry Salt was born in 1851. A guiding principle of his life was the animals as well as people should be: ‘...exempt from unnecessary suffering or serfdom.’ Yet he must have been disappointed. In 1921 he published his biography and called it Seventy Years Among Savages. The Editors of The Savour of Salt write:

He died in obscurity, but fifty years later, in a time perhaps more barbaric than his own, his ethical concerns are as powerful as when he wrote them. This anthology brings together some of his best writings, illuminating for a new generation of readers Salt’s vision of a better world.’

The Savour of Salt is drawn from Salt’s own writings on a range of issues. He was above all, concerned with progress. In arguing against the ‘all or nothing’ position he wrote:

But surely it is rational to deal with the worst abuses first. To insist on an all or nothing policy would be fatal to any reform whatever. Improvements never come in the mass, but always by instalments; and it is only reactionists who deny that half a loaf is better than no bread.’

The abolition of hunting was a passion of Henry Salt’s. He campaigned against the Royal Buckhounds as a way of exposing the cruelty of staghunting—and was gratified to discover that Queen Victoria was strongly opposed to staghunting, although this was not published until after her death.

Salt’s writings in this book give an insight into a man who was said to have ‘died fifty years before his time’. His passions, his commitment, his disappointments and his humour are all evident in his writings. He clearly wrote from the heart, but with intellect. His vivid writings will lead the reader through a range of emotions. His comments are as relevant today as they ever were and deserve to be widely read.

Angela Smith