Henry Stephens Salt (1851-1939)

Henry Stephens Salt (1851-1939)

A fortnight ago this country lost one of her foremost humanitarians, and many of us lost one whom we loved and respected above all men. Let it suffice for me here to say a few words on his lifelong struggle against blood-sports. While an ardent vegetarian and anti-vivisectionist, inasmuch as he did specialise it was his dealing with the cruelty of the Chase.

While still an assistant master at Eton, Salt was a critic and opponent of the Eton College Hunt (‘beagles’), which he held up to ridicule as well as direct attack. In conjunction with the late Sir George Greenwood, another Old Etonian, he ran a paper called “The Beagler Boy,” whose mode of attack was so subtle that many of the upholders of the Beagles took it as pro-beagling.

In 1891 he founded the Humanitarian League, to combat all the “inhumanities” whether inflicted on man (as the Death Penalty) or on animals (as Vivisection), whose activities led, among other things, to the discontinuation of the Royal Buckhounds in 1901. To Salt, treatment of fellow-animals could  neither morally nor logically be separated from treatment of fellow humans, nor did he consider it worthwhile to dispute which was “the worst” form of cruelty to animals, and refused to fall a prey to the trap of playing off one form of cruelty against another. Consequently he regarded ‘Sport’ as great a blot on our treatment of animals as any other. He has in fact described ‘Sport’ “the last and dearest stronghold of the savage.” In his book “Animals’ Rights” (1922) out of eight chapter, six of which are devoted to specific malpractices, the third and fifth are entitled “The Case of Wild Animals” and “Sport, or Amateur Butchery.” When his great friend Mr. H. B. Amos founded the League for the Prohibition of Cruel Sports, of which Sir George Greenwood was the first President, Salt was foremost in those who encouraged and inspired him and collaborated actively, writing many pamphlets for the League notably one on the Eton Hare-Hunt.

He was acquainted with all the great literary figures of the last quarter of the nineteenth century—Ruskin, Swinburne, Meredith, W. H. Hudson and Thomas Hardy—and wrote biographies of Shelley, Thoreau, De Quincey, James Thomson (‘B.V.’) and Richard Jefferies. All these men “were humanitarians or nature-lovers and Shelley, Hardy, Hudson and Jefferies especially evince sympathy for animals and were champions of their rights. Salt also counted among his friends Edward Carpenter, Bernard Shaw and Lord Olivier—all of whom are noteworthy in their active opposition to blood-sport. The same humane message pervades his other works “Seventy Years among Savages,” “Memories of Eton,” “The Call of the Wildflower,” “Company I have Kept” and his last work, “The Creed of Kinship,” which summarises all his life work and teaching. And we who loved him can pay no greater tribute than in trying to carry on that work. And we shall find this uphill work, for as Salt reminds us, in more humorous vein “there are always those who would rather follow the hounds than follow an argument . . . .”

“What the churches have believed in the past,” he wrote in his last work, ‘The Creed of Kinship’ (1935), “or what the scientists may discover in the future, is of infinitely less moment than what the human heart shall ultimately approve as beautiful and gracious.”

I am certain that whatever else the human heart shall “ultimately approve,” it will find few things more beautiful and gracious than the work and life of Henry Salt.

Basil M. Harvey-James

Cruel Sports, June 1939, p. 48