Henry David Thoreau / Henry S. Salt

Henry David Thoreau / Henry S. Salt

Henry S. Salt first read Thoreau’s Walden while he was teaching at Eton College, no doubt influenced by his very close friendship with Edward Carpenter. In 1888 he wrote Literary Sketches which referred to Thoreau and two years later came his biography The Life of Henry David Thoreau, which is still considered the most objective, sympathetic and balanced work on one of America’s greatest writers. In those days Walden was distributed as a paperback to “Walden Clubs” with the full blessing of the Labour Party. In 1891 Salt founded the Humanitarian League and became the editor of Humanity in 1895. It was through the League that he continued to influence and attract many of the famous people of his day to Thoreau and his writings.

On July 12th 1917 Henry S. Salt arranged for the Humanitarian League to commemorate and honour the birth of H.D. Thoreau. The meeting was held at Caxton Hall, Westminster. The chair was taken by Sir John L. Otter, J.P., who, as Mayor of Brighton, gave a lecture on Thoreau, “The Desire for a Simple Life.” The meeting at Caxton Hall was well supported; indeed, the hall was crowded to overflowing.

The Chairman gave an outline of the character and philosophy of Henry Thoreau. Mr. Dugald Semple, speaking from his personal experience paid tribute to the wisdom of Thoreau’s advocacy of a more hardy and humane life. Mr. Alfred Oke brought a message from the Anti-Slavery Society and Henry Salt spoke on the subject of Thoreau’s remarkable anticipation of the modern humanitarian movement. The meeting concluded after some discussion with a vote of thanks proposed by Captain Carpenter R.N.

The Chairman had received numerous letters from members of the League who could not be present, including:

W.H. Hudson:
He (Thoreau) will be regarded as simply himself, as Thoreau one without master or mate, who was ready to follow his own genius whithersoever it might lean him...

Edward Carpenter:
It seems peculiarly appropriate just now, when political tempests are sweeping over the earth and every social institution is on its trail, that we should be celebrating the Centenary of H.D. Thoreau...

W.J. Jupp:
... (Thoreau) was before all else a man among his fellow-men..., he was Revolution; his life was a renewal of life...

The Selbourne Society also arranged a lecture on July 10th, while the Bolton Field Naturalists and Manchester Field Club arranged a joint meeting and ramble at Rivington on July 21st. Mr. Walters, the Editor of the Manchester City News presented a paper on H.D. Thoreau. Articles appeared in many national publications; e.g. Times Literary Supplement, Daily News, Manchester Guardian, Glasgow Herald, Labour Leader, Literary World, Nation, and the Bookman issue for the month of June 1917 was mainly devoted to H.D.T. Two articles are of special interest one by Dr. Edward Waldo Emerson, the other by Walter T. Haydon. F.L.S.

Following the Thoreau Centenary meeting in London, the League published a special pamphlet, the supply which was quickly exhausted due to considerable demand. The address given by Henry Salt at the Meeting was later published under the title “Thoreau as Pioneer.” The following articles also appeared: “H.D.T. (July 12th 1817-May 6th 1862)”; “The Apostle of Simplicity”; “The Humane Naturalist.”

John F.C. Pontin

Thoreau Journal Quarterly, Vol. VII No. 3, July 1975