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 Review

Pacifist, July 1989

THE SAVOUR OF SALT.
Edited by George and Willene Hendrick. (Centaur Press, 1989. £12.95.)

Socialist, pacifist, animal rights and anti-hunting campaigner, vegetarian, humanitarian; such were the progressive and radical causes actively supported throughout his long life by Henry Salt, who was born in India in 1851, the son of a colonel.

In this presentation, with its clever, though perhaps misleading title, the editors have prepared a feast of reading from the extensive writings of this fearless exponent of the truth, whose views were anathema to all those who for reasons of power, pleasure or profit were continuing to hoodwink the public into believing that what had always been must therefore be for the best, both in the present, and in the future. It is not surprising that Salt called one of his books “Seventy Years among Savages”, the savages being his own unenlightened countrymen.

WAR WILL CEASE WHEN MEN REFUSE TO FIGHT is a slogan popularised by the PPU. Salt had three other answers. That people shall have a ‘genuine’ desire for peace, and that their feelings shall have been humanised in regard not to fighting only, but to the other conditions of life: echoing the message  — “Peace is the Way”.

Among the conclusions reached in his remarkable book “The Creed of Kinship” (1935) was that warfare will not be discontinued until we have ceased to honour soldiering as heroic. This is a statement of deep significance, likely to infuriate the wearers of the Old School Tie, but only too clearly exemplified by the individual and mass euphoria deliberately encouraged during the Falklands War.

Salt writes strongly on the immorality and hypocrisy that accompanies the celebration of victory and martial sacrifice. At one time it was said of Nelson, as of other heroes since, that he disliked war as much as any pacifist. One is reminded of the glib words of present politicians, who claim that they would wish the world free of all weapons, only to inform us that the world is not that kind of place. Salt also exposes reference to armed neutrality between powers as if it were that friendly state to which pacifists aspire.

Among the many well-known people with whom Henry Salt corresponded was M K Gandhi, who had learned about the British writer from reading “The Logic of Vegetarianism” (1899). They were both ad-mirers of Henry David Thoreau, the American essayist, and hermit of Walden Woods, whose biography Salt had written, and whose practical illustration of civil disobedience considerably influenced Gandhi in his struggle for Indian independence. Salt and Gandhi met in London in 1932.

Salt proclaims that it is useless to write of peace, and to pray for it as we do, so long as all the sentiments that people can muster are expended on war, or on ceremonies related to war. It is war, not peace, he emphasises, that should be the subject of reprobation, ridicule, and disdain. Even when a war is defined as justifiable, forced on us, and so forth, and it is possible to admit its truth in a particular instance, as ex-service people argue about the “Hitler War”, which Salt, who died in 1939, was spared, a modern war, he insists, is none the less an offence against humanity.

Readers of this compelling book will find many topical arguments from Salt’s frank and uninhibited pen. Though progress has been made in the causes he advocated, they are still far from won. He was thinking of World War One when he wrote:

“Let those who have been horrified by the spectacle of an atrocious war resolve to support the peace movement more strongly than ever; but let them also support the still wider and deeper humanitarian movement of which pacifism is but a part, inasmuch as all humane causes, though seemingly separate, are ultimately and essentially one.”

Cyril Wright