Henry Stephens Salt

Henry Shakespear Stephens Salt (/sɔːlt, sɒlt/; 20 September 1851 – 19 April 1939) was an English writer and campaigner for social reform in the fields of prisons, schools, economic institutions, and the treatment of animals. He was a noted ethical vegetarian, anti-vivisectionist, socialist, and pacifist, and was well known as a literary critic, biographer, classical scholar and naturalist. It was Salt who first introduced Mohandas Gandhi to the influential works of Henry David Thoreau, and influenced Gandhi's study of vegetarianism.[1][2]

Henry Salt
Henry Stephens Salt.jpg
Born(1851-09-20)20 September 1851
Died19 April 1939(1939-04-19) (aged 87)
Surrey, England
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge
OccupationWriter, teacher, social reformer
Known forAnimal rights advocacy
Founder of the Humanitarian League
Catherine (Kate) Leigh Joynes (m. 1879)
Henry S. Salt signature.svg

Salt is credited with being the first writer to argue explicitly in favour of animal rights, in his Animals' Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress (1892), rather than focusing on improvements to animal welfare. He wrote: "If we are ever going to do justice to the lower races, we must get rid of the antiquated notion of a 'great gulf' fixed between them and mankind, and must recognize the common bond of humanity that unites all living beings in one universal brotherhood."[3]

Early life and careerEdit

The son of a British army colonel, Salt was born in Naini Tal in India in 1851, but returned with his family to England in 1852 while still an infant. He studied the classical tripos at Eton College and King's College, Cambridge, and graduated with a first-class degree in 1875.[4]

After Cambridge, Salt returned to Eton as an assistant schoolmaster to teach classics. Four years later, in 1879, he married the scholar Catherine (Kate) Leigh Joynes, the daughter of a fellow master at Eton.[4] He remained at Eton until 1884, when, inspired by classic ideals and disgusted by his fellow masters' meat-eating habits and reliance on servants, he and Kate moved to a small cottage at Tilford, Surrey where they grew their own vegetables and lived very simply, sustained by a small pension Salt had built up. Salt engrossed himself in writing and began work on the pioneering Humanitarian League.


Writing and influenceEdit

During his lifetime Salt wrote almost 40 books.[5] His first, A Plea for Vegetarianism (1886) was published by the Vegetarian Society, and in 1890, he produced an acclaimed biography of philosopher Henry David Thoreau, two interests that later led to a friendship with Mahatma Gandhi. He also wrote, in On Cambrian and Cumbrian Hills (1922), about the need for nature conservation to protect the natural beauty of the British countryside from commercial vandalism.

His circle of friends included many notable figures from late-19th and early-20th century literary and political life, including writers Algernon Charles Swinburne, John Galsworthy, James Leigh Joynes (brother-in-law), Edward Carpenter, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Havelock Ellis, Count Leo Tolstoy, William Morris, Arnold Hills, Peter Kropotkin, Ouida, J. Howard Moore, Ernest Bell, George Bernard Shaw and Robert Cunninghame-Graham, as well as Labour leader James Keir Hardie and Fabian Society co-founders Hubert Bland and Annie Besant.[6][7]

Humanitarian LeagueEdit

Salt formed the Humanitarian League in 1891. Its objectives included the banning of hunting as a sport (in this respect it can be regarded as a fore-runner of the League Against Cruel Sports). In 1914, the League published a whole volume of essays on Killing for Sport, the preface was written by George Bernard Shaw. The book formed in summary form the Humanitarian League's arraignment of blood-sports.[5]

Animal rightsEdit

Keith Tester writes that, in 1892, Salt created an "epistemological break," by being the first writer to consider the issue of animal rights explicitly, as opposed to better animal welfare.[8] In Animals' Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress, Salt wrote that he wanted to "set the principle of animals' rights on a consistent and intelligible footing, [and] to show that this principle underlies the various efforts of humanitarian reformers ...":

Even the leading advocates of animal rights seem to have shrunk from basing their claim on the only argument which can ultimately be held to be a really sufficient one—the assertion that animals, as well as men, though, of course, to a far less extent than men, are possessed of a distinctive individuality, and, therefore, are in justice entitled to live their lives with a due measure of that 'restricted freedom' to which Herbert Spencer alludes.[3]

He wrote that there is no point in claiming rights for animals if we subordinate their rights to human interests, and he argued against the presumption that a human life necessarily has more value than a nonhuman one:

[The] notion of the life of an animal having 'no moral purpose,' belongs to a class of ideas which cannot possibly be accepted by the advanced humanitarian thought of the present day—it is a purely arbitrary assumption, at variance with our best instincts, at variance with our best science, and absolutely fatal (if the subject be clearly thought out) to any full realization of animals' rights. If we are ever going to do justice to the lower races, we must get rid of the antiquated notion of a 'great gulf' fixed between them and mankind, and must recognize the common bond of humanity that unites all living beings in one universal brotherhood.[3]

Selected publicationsEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Hendrick, George. Henry Salt: Humanitarian Reformer and Man of Letters (1977)
  • Hendrick, George and Hendrick, Willene Hendrick. (eds.) The Savour of Salt: A Henry Salt Anthology. Centaur Press, 1989. ISBN 0-900001-30-5

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "My faith in vegetarianism grew on me from day to day. Salt's book Plea for Vegetarianism whetted my appetite for dietetic studies. I went in for all books available on vegetarianism and read them". Mohandas Gandhi, An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Part I, chapter XV.
  2. ^ Ashe, Geoffrey. Gandhi, a Biography. New York: Cooper Square Press, 2000
  3. ^ a b c Salt, Henry S. Animals' Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress, Macmillan & Co., 1894, chapter 1. He cited Spencer's definition of rights: "Every man is free to do that which he wills, provided he infringes not the equal liberty of any other man ... Whoever admits that each man must have a certain restricted freedom, asserts that it is right he should have this restricted freedom.... And hence the several particular freedoms deducible may fitly be called, as they commonly are called, his rights."
  4. ^ a b H. F. Oxbury, ‘Salt, Henry Shakespear Stephens (1851–1939)’, rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 15 Aug 2017
  5. ^ a b Henry S. Salt - Biography by Simon Wild Archived 5 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Friends". Henry S. Salt Society. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  7. ^ Winsten, Stephen, Salt and His Circle, 1951.
  8. ^ Tester, Keith (1991) cited in Taylor, Angus. Animals and Ethics. Broadview Press, 2003, p. 61.

External linksEdit