Henry Salt is one of the persons from the past (along with Socrates and Albert Schweitzer,) that I would most like to meet. Born in India in 1851, he was educated at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge. A master at Eton for nine years, he concluded that his peers “were but cannibals in cap and gown”. He left Eton and switched to a simple, servantless life, writing and editing over 40 books and entertaining friends like George Bernard Shaw. He served 29 years as honorary secretary and driving force of the Humanitarian League (an organization that today would probably be called “The Human and Animal Rights League”). He published Animals’ Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress in 1892, which is still in print in the U.K. and the U.S.A. His earlier book A Plea for Vegetarianism so profoundly influenced Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi that upon his arrival in England in 1931, Gandhi asked to see Salt immediately.
Henry Salt died on April 19, 1939. On his desk was found a message to be read by his friends at his cremation service. Included in it was the following statement: “I have a very firm religious faith of my own, a ‘Creed of Kinship’, I call it, a belief that in years to come there will be a recognition of the brotherhood between man and man, nation and nation, human and sub-human, which will transform a state of semi-savagery as we have it, into one of civilization, when there will he no barbarity such as warfare, or the robbery of the poor by the rich, or the ill-usage of the lower animals by mankind.”
The following essay is perhaps even more timely now than it was in 1900. In it, Salt squarely faces the difficulty of keeping one’s faith undimmed in determined pursuit of the final goal of animal liberation while being forced to accept a meager reform. The essay also touches on one of the oldest and most difficult questions facing a movement for social change: In the long run, does a particular reform weaken or fortify the status quo? Will the reform bring us a step closer to a solution, or does it represent a superficial concession by the oppressive system — relieving revolutionary pressures and thereby prolonging the life of the unjust system?
Restrictionists and Abolitionists by Henry S. Salt
The Animals' Agenda, November 1987, p. 42