Henry Salt - Eton School Master (1851-1939)

This article by J E Denison first appeared in the Eton Fives Association Annual Report 2005/06

Henry Stephens Salt (September 20, 1851 - April 19, 1939) was an influential English writer and campaigner for social reform in the fields of prisons, schools, economic institutions and the treatment of animals - he was a noted anti-vivisectionist and pacifist. He was also well-known as a literary critic, biographer, classical scholar and naturalist, and as the man who introduced Mahatma Ghandi to the influential works of Henry David Thoreau.

The son of an army colonel, Salt was born in India in 1851 but travelled to England while still an infant in 1852. He studied at Eton College, then graduated from Cambridge University in 1875, and returned to Eton as a schoolmaster to teach classics. Four years later, in 1879, he married Kate (Catherine Joynes), the daughter of a fellow master at Eton. He remained at Eton until 1884, when - inspired by classic ideals but disgusted by his fellow masters' meat-eating habits and reliance on servants - he and Kate moved to a small cottage in Surrey where they grew their own vegetable garden and sustained themselves through Salt's writing work.He was way ahead of his time on vegetarian and humanitarian issues (homo sapiens to him should be homo rapiens), and an interesting read is his autobiography "70 Years among Savages" published in 1921 (the "savages" are his fellow human beings!). Included in this is the passage quoted below concerning the time when his humanitarian and socialistic instincts compelled him after 10 years to abandon a teaching career at Eton:

"My one irreparable loss in leaving Eton was not that of culture or scholarship or social position, but of the game of Fives; for I used to think that the evolution of the Eton Fives court, the original of which was a flagged space between two buttresses of the Chapel ("Tax not the royal Saint with vain expense"), was the most valuable contribution ever made by the School to the well-being of mankind. Fives is a great game; and to have played it with such master hands as A.C.Ainger, E.C.Austen-Leigh, Edward Lyttelton, or C.T.Studd, was a privilege neither to be forgotten nor replaced. I used afterwards to dream at times that I was again engaged in the game - serving, perhaps, or taking the service, or enjoying a duel of long sweeping strokes on the outer court, or mixed up in one of those close-fought rallies that centred round the "pepper box"; until a perfect shot from one side or the other had sent the ball to its resting place in "dead man's hole"."