Henry Salt was a major influence in bringing Thoreau to the attention of English readers. Only a few articles on the Concordian had appeared in England when Salt began to publish on Thoreau.
Salt’s first Thoreau essay was published in Justice in 1885, the following year he set out to reach a wide audience, placing an article on the poet-naturalist in Temple Bar. In the article, he noted a lack of a good biography, but he made careful use of much of the printed material on his subject.
As George Hendrick points out, Salt’s 1886 essay is a remarkably well-informed work for one who had to rely on printed sources only and who had never been in the United States. Within three years, Salt was to begin expanding this essay into a book-length study.
For his book Salt gathered new information from the likes of F. B. Sanborn, H. G. O. Blake, Daniel Ricketson, Dr. E. W. Emerson, Edward Hoar, Col. T. W. Higginson, Dr A. H. Japp(H. A. Page), John Burroughs, W. S. Kennedy, and Dr. Samual A. Jones. In exchange Salt was helpful to American Thoreauvians.
Salt’s Life of Henry David Thoreau was published by Richard Bentley in 1890 and a second edition was published in 1896. This edition contains subtle changes to draw a more sympathetic portrait of the parents and incorporates new information and corrects errors of fact from the 1890 edition.
What is most noteworthy in Salt’s biography of Thoreau is the sympathetic concern for Thoreau as a human being, as a writer, and as a social thinker. Salt was able to capture Thoreau’s distinctive qualities but did not turn his back on Thoreau’s perversities and failures.
Salt read Thoreau with rare understanding; almost everything of his own—his humanitarian articles, his biographies, his pamphlets pleading for social justice, his autobiographies—is infused with a Thoreauvian spirit.
In 1993, over a hundred years after the first edition was published, Salt’s third and previously unpublished edition of Life of Henry David Thoreau was published by Centaur Press, edited and introduced by George Hendrick, Willene Hendrick and Fritz Oehlshchlaeger.