Henry Salt 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.
He is credited with being the first writer to argue explicitly in favour of animal rights in his book Animals' Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress, and in A Plea for Vegetarianism. The latter book gave him the greatest satisfaction of all his works because of its effect on Mahatma Gandhi who, during his student days in London (1888-91) had read Salt's book. At the meeting of the Vegetarian Society of 20th November 1931, Salt was honoured by Gandhi's opening remarks: “It was Mr. Salt's book, A Plea for Vegetarianism, which showed me why, apart from hereditary habit, and apart from my adherence to a vow administered to me by my mother, it was right to be a vegetarian. He showed me why it was a moral duty incumbent on vegetarians not to live upon fellow-animals.”
Salt was born on 20 September 1851 in Nynee Tal, India, the son of Colonel Thomas Henry Salt of the Royal Bengal Artillery.He was educated at Eton and Cambridge, before returning to Eton as a master. However, from about 1880, largely through his brother-in-law and fellow Eton master J.L. Joynes, he was introduced to the leading social reformers of the day including Henry George, William Morris and Edward Carpenter; and the then unknown George Bernard Shaw. Also, by gradual degrees he was beginning to question his diet and developing an interest in vegetarianism. By 1884 the conviction grew on him that Eton masters "were but cannibals in cap and gown - almost literally cannibals, as devouring the flesh and blood of animals … and indirectly cannibals, as living by the sweat and toil of the classes that do the hard work of the world".
During his lifetime Salt wrote almost 40 books, including a biography of philosopher Henry David Thoreau, and On Cambrian and Cumbrian Hills (1922), a book about the need for nature conservation to protect the natural beauty of the British countryside from commercial vandalism.
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).
As man is truly “humanised”, not by schools of cookery but by schools of thought, he will abandon the barbarous habit of his flesh-eating ancestors, and will make gradual progress towards a purer, simpler, more humane, and therefore more civilised diet-system.Henry Salt