Thoughts on Henry Salt

Thoughts on Henry Salt

Henry Stephens Shakespear Salt, of whom the vegetarian writer, Mr. Stephen Winsten, wrote an impressive biography fourteen years ago, was born in 1851 in India, his father being an army officer out there, but, as the parents did not get on well together, his mother took him back to England where, having returned to her family, she brought him up. After he had been tutored for the purpose by the Rev. C. Kegan Paul, Vicar of Sturminster Marshall, Dorset, he gained an Eton scholarship and later, while in the sixth form of that place of learning, he went to Lichfield to instruct a younger fellow pupil, the Bishop’s nephew. Eton days over, he proceeded to King’s College, Cambridge, at which in due course he got not only a good classical degree, his position in the tripos being fifth in the first class, but also the gold medal for Greek epigram and, as a result of these outstanding successes, he returned to Eton in 1875 to become a master. Soon afterwards he married Kate Joynes, the daughter of another Eton master.

In 1884, owing to his advanced opinions, he resigned his position, much to the disgust of his father-in-law and parents. He moved to a cottage at Tilford, Surrey, and there, to try to identify himself with the toiling masses, he lived the simple life, Kate in complete sympathy with him. A born writer both in prose and verse, he began to experience fame and, through his fortunate circumstance he gained the acquaintance of brilliant people, notably Edward Carpenter and George Bernard Shaw, the one seven years older than he, the other five years younger, both of whom became his life-long friends.

Eventually he moved first to London, then to Oxted, then back to London and then in 1910, in order to be near Carpenter, to Holmesfield in Derbyshire. When Kate died in 1919, he changed his place of residence yet again, this time going to Hove, and in that district he remained. After remarrying in 1927, he died in April 1939.

A quiet and unassuming man of great goodness, he was a lover of animals, wild flowers and natural scenery. Founder of the Humanitarian League, he became the author of forty-seven works, including two biographies, one of Thoreau and one of Shelley, and, by the force of his personality, he continually attracted the influential, Ramsay Macdonald, Olive Schreiner and Prince Kropotkin, Havelock Ellis, W. H. Hudson and John Galsworthy, G. K. Chesterton, William Morris and Mahatma Gandhi, to mention but a few, getting to know and admire him. He was a socialist, a pacifist and a penal reformer. He was vegetarian and teetotal and, an upholder of the rights of animals, he opposed both vivisection and cruel sports. While drawn to mysticism, he was actually an agnostic and, although this rationalism of his would hardly appeal to me, who am a Church of England clergyman, I nevertheless find, having myself abstained from flesh, fish and fowl for nearly seventeen years, his Creed of Kinship quite admirable.

“If there are light-waves, heat-waves, sound-waves”, he wrote, “may there not also be love-waves? How if we send out a daily succession of these to earth’s uttermost parts? . . . . It is pleasant to think that gentle thoughts, the ‘wireless’ of the heart, may penetrate and be picked up in regions beyond our ken, and so create a more favourable atmosphere for gentle deeds.”

Note to the following to be found in the address which, written by himself for use at his cremation,  was read at the ceremony by Bertram Lloyd. “I have a very firm religious faith of my own, a Creed of Kinship I call it, a belief that in years yet to come there will be a recognition of brotherhood between man and man, nation and nation, human and subhuman, which will transform a state of semi-savagery, as we have it, into one of civilisation, when there will be no such barbarity of warfare, or the robbery of the poor by the rich, or the ill-usage of the lower animals by mankind.”

The Rev. Thomas Hyslop, M.A., is Rector of Salford and Little Rollright, Priest in Charge of Great Rollright

Rev. Thomas Hyslop, M.A.

The British Vegetarian, July/August 1965