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 Vegetarian Messenger

Observer, 16 January 1921

SEVENTY YEARS AMONG SAVAGES. By Henry S. Salt (Allen and Unwin. 12s. 6d. Net.)

To an experienced reader the most astonishing sentence in Mr. Salt’s book is the postscript which says that much of its substance has appeared “in the ‘Humane Review,’ ‘Humanitarian,’ ‘Literary Guide,’ ‘Rationalist Press Association’s Annual,’ ‘Vegetarian Messenger,’ or elsewhere.” Such propagandist organs are not commonly associated in the mind with light entertainment or humorous narration. Is it possible that the epicure is every week or moth allowing a feast of good things to go past him in his blind indifference to their appeal? For Mr. Salt is excellent reading, even to the “savages” of his title—that is to say, to people who eat meat, are grateful for the vast redemption of life and pain through vivisection, and are not convinced that all wars are wicked and all hunting is cruel.

Such powder as Mr. Salt administers will be readily forgiven for the sake of his jam—especially as he seems alive at times to the humour of his own quarrel with the majority of human institutions. As a boy and master at Eton, he offers some racy glimpses of that “stronghold of savagery.” It was one of his contemporaries who wrote that “a man who has never been at Eton has but a poor conception of what idleness is,” and there was one incompetent and retributive master under whom, according to Mr. Salt, “it was a dangerous to be a member of the class as it was for a well-disposed citizen to be mixed up in a street-riot”:—

It was currently reported, and I believe with truth, that “Swage” once set a punishment to a bird. To sing and to whistle were common practices in his Division; and when a bird perched near the window and chirruped in an interval of the din, he rounded on it blindly with a cry of “A hundred lines.”

The floggings administered by another master would seem to have been peculiarly without malice:—

It was said that during the punishment he would even enter into conversion with the offender, especially when he knew his “people” personally, and that on one occasion he was overheard to inquire of a boy on the block: “Have you seen your uncle lately?”

Mr. Salt appears to have chafed so much under school preachers that it is almost a wonder he did not make an addition under this heading to his own numerous Leagues:—

In this chapel sermons we suffered, year after year, under the whole Hagiology, until some of us, it must be confessed, sighed in secret for the time

When Reason’s ray, illuming all,
Shall put the Saints to rout,
And Peter’s holiness shall pall
And Paul’s shall peter out.

It was vegetarianism that severed Mr. Salt from his old school—“the conviction had been forced upon me that we Eton masters, however irreproachable our surroundings, were but cannibals in cap and gown”—and it is with a natural complacency that he notes the arrival of an actual Headmaster of the faith a quarter of a century later. If it is reputed a humourless creed, there are well-known instances of disproof, though it might be a nice question in which category to place the anecdote that follows:—

Mr. Kegan Paul told me that he had once heard a lady say to F. W. Newman: “But, Professor, don’t you feel very weak?” To which the Professor sturdily replied: “Madam, feel my calves.”

In his post-scholastic career the author has gained a wide knowledge of the personnel of intellectual Socialism, and some of his appreciations will be attentively followed. Among his more piquant recollections is that of preparing a poetic anthology. “One of my contributors, who had moved in high circles, was concerned to think that certain royalties of his acquaintance might feel hurt by his arraignment of tyrants; ‘but if the Czar,’ he wrote, ‘takes it home to himself, I shall be only too delighted,’ ”

But one must really look up what it costs to take in “The Vegetarian Messenger.”