Freeing The Jailers

Freeing The Jailers

The Savour of Salt: A Henry Salt Anthology. Edited by George Hendrick and Wilene Hendrick. Fontwell: Centaur Press, 1989.

The author of more than forty books, Henry Salt (1851-1939) was both a scholar and a social activist. The two were not unrelated. The aim of his activism was the creation of a kinder, gentler, and more just world, and his contributions as a scholar were at their best when he devoted his attention to those who shared his visions: Thoreau, Shelley, and Richard Jeffries, for example.

Salt was no mere sentimentalist. The emerging world he foresaw was rooted in reason and science, not unexamined or unrestrained emotion. Biology teaches that humans are “cousins” of every other life form. Salt wished only to make our moral kinship plainer, especially in the case of all sentient life. Although this was not his only, this was his prime objective. His 1892 Animals’ Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress (reprinted by the International Society for Animal Rights in 1980, and published by Centaur Press) is an enduring classic in the field.

That Salt considered animals’ rights “in relation to social progress” reflects the larger perspective in which he viewed the oppression of other animals. This oppression not only is a moral crime against the victims, it enslaves the victimizers. Human social progress is hindered by the same chains of selfishness and greed, indifference and cruelty that bind our animal kin. Salt labored throughout his life to liberate the prisoners and free their jailers.

“Humanitarianism” was the name he gave to the constellation of principles to which he, and other progressive thinkers of his day, subscribed. Animals’ rights was but one. Salt also labored for economic reform (he was a socialist), for peace (he was a pacifist), for the preservation of nature (he was a socialist), for peace (he was a pacifist), for the preservation of nature (he was a wildflower enthusiast), and against flogging and other forms of corporeal punishment. He saw no contradiction in his many labours. Just the opposite. Each was related to all, and all to each.

This admirable collection, with excerpts from his most important humanitarian and scholarly writings, along with some of his poetry and a few letters, is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the man and his times. The editors and publishers are to be thanked for offering this timely “savour” of Salt. For he has much to teach, and we, much to learn.

Tom Regan

Draft Version (Unpublished), 1991