Henry Salt on Shelley: Literary Criticism and Ecological Identity
William Stroup, Keene State College
Two key stages in the development of Percy Shelley's posthumous reputation came a half century apart. In 1886, revival of interest in the poet expanded with the publication of Edward Dowden's massive biography and the founding of the Shelley Society. By the mid-1930's, famous and influential critiques of the poet by T.S. Eliot and others felled trees over Shelleyan paths it would take years to clear. What makes these dates remarkable here is how they frame the active career of Henry Stephens Salt (1851-1939), one of Shelley's most perceptive readers and a forerunner, I will argue, of contemporary Ecocriticism. From his first book (A Shelley Primer, 1887) to the final chapter of his last (The Creed of Kinship, 1935), Salt remained engaged with Shelley's ideas and cited Shelley as a key inspiration for his reformist efforts. Of the nearly forty books Salt wrote, a handful announce themselves as specifically about Shelley: the Primer, obviously, plus critical studies of Julian and Maddalo and Hogg's Life of Shelley, prepared for the Shelley Society. Some of this material became part of the often-reprinted Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Pioneer (1896), which Salt would supplement in later pamphlets like Shelley as a Pioneer of Humanitarianism (1902). Though much of Salt's discussion of Shelley's proto-ecological thought takes place in these volumes, others of his works, more resistant to classification, also have Shelley as a shaping force. In Seventy Years Among Savages (1921), The Story of My Cousins (1923) and The Creed of Kinship (1935), the mature Salt combined frequent citations from Shelley's poetry with sections on animal rights, wilderness protection, the fight against corporal punishment in schools, other forms of nonviolent change, and his own autobiography.1
Salt was born in India in 1851, where his father was a Colonel in the Royal Bengal Artillery. Sent back to England to be educated at Eton (years later his friend G.B. Shaw would write that "Eton was a matter of course in Salt's family"), he went on 's College at the University of Cambridge, where he excelled as a classics scholar. From 1875 to 1884 he returned to Eton in the position of a junior Master, and seemed to have a long and comfortable career ahead of him as a respectable scholar, being waited on in his rooms by many servants and expected to join his fellows at table for a daily feast of beef and other, more exotic meats. But by age 33 he could no longer tolerate the difference between this life and that which was described and imagined in the literature he found increasingly important: classical descriptions of joyous human life when freed from the custom of meat-eating, found in his studies and translations of Plutarch and Ovid; a life of deliberate simplicity as espoused by the American Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau (then still relatively obscure to British readers); and the combination of awe at the natural world, love for all creatures, and disdain for tyranny in any form that he found in the controversial, misrepresented, and under-appreciated Percy Bysshe Shelley. At the time Shelley was either read as a maker of wispy, ethereal lyrics about Skylarks and Clouds, or not read at all. Remembering his times at Eton, Salt later wrote that "[w]hen I commended Shelley to my Eton colleagues as not only an Etonian and a great poet, but a thinker and a prophet, I got little support" (Memories 191). Salt and his wife, Kate Joynes Salt, left Eton and took a cottage in Surrey, about twenty miles from London, where they put in a vegetable garden and lived without servants, a move which shocked their families and fellow Etonians, who had been worried about Salt since he started riding those "horrifying" new bicycles, but didn't imagine that he would so fully reject the life he had been born to. Never a best-selling author, never in the majority in his opinions, Salt nonetheless was a key organizer and articulate spokesperson for a range of movements collected under the name "humanitarian." The word seems to denote only an interest in humans, though Salt and his colleagues consistently used it for animals as well, in the sense that we still use "humane." His most famous book, which went through several editions, was Animals' Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress, the most thorough book of its kind until quite recently.2
With so many books, on such a range of important topics, why does Salt remain obscure? More, why we should care about Salt except as a transitional figure: given the difference between contemporary cultural studies and the pre-professional subjectivity of Salt's method, have not his books, especially on Shelley, been rendered obsolete? With these questions, the issue of Salt's class status matters as well: is it now appropriate, when class along with race and gender are finally central rather than peripheral to literary studies, to champion a respectable Etonian, sixty-years dead, as a contemporary hero? Answers to all three questions are related, and have everything to do with important shifts in the critical understanding of Shelley's works, as well as the disputed role of ecological consciousness within the practice of literary criticism.
What has emerged in recent years as Ecocriticism is in many ways quite different from what Salt wrote. Though no consensus need exist as to what Ecocriticism precisely means, in practice it includes any number of historical and philosophical approaches which make the implications of "the natural" central to the discussion of a given text. These discussions go on to investigate how these texts participate in proto-ecological discourse about the role and function of humans in the natural world, not merely to test whether a particular work or author is "green" or not, but rather to discern what can be learned through investigating the ideological uses to which "nature" has been employed. In nearly all cases, this work has sought to bring a more embodied sense back to criticism from the solipsism of post-structuralist theory at its most abstruse. In Shelley studies, the work of such Ecocritics as Timothy Morton, Onno Oerlemans, and Jennifer Lokash complicates our understanding of a poet and essayist whose political and philosophical beliefs cannot be extricated from his positions on natural diet and the limits of anthropocentric thought. In Shelley and the Revolution in Taste (1994), Morton went back to Shelley's immediate sources to locate "the poetics of natural diet" within the radical discourse of natural rights central to the revolutionary period. It is because so many people, including otherwise learned and helpful critics, have been predisposed to see vegetarianism like Shelley's as an adolescent affectation and a peripheral interest at best, that the context, implications, and legacy of these beliefs has for so long gone unanalyzed. Before the recent work of Morton and Oerlemans, the only Shelleyan since Salt to write about the importance of Shelley's vegetarianism was Kenneth Neill Cameron in 1950's The Young Shelley: Genesis of a Radical. Morton does make use of Cameron's work in his study; but surprisingly, given that his was the first book in decades to make Shelley's writings on diet a central issue, Morton does not mention Salt, or Shelley's legacy on the reforms of intervening years, at all.3
Salt's career developed concurrently with debates about the post-Darwinian status of humans in the natural world. Scholars of literature after the Romantic period, such as Gillian Beer, have explored in detail the implications of these debates, providing an historical model for ecologically-minded critics of any era. Salt is a Romantic, in the optimistically generic sense: he has a secular faith in the power of the sympathetic imagination, fueled by a love of the natural world, to change material conditions. But it is in his citation of texts from Romantic period that his work maps the active legacy of Romantic texts onto a later stage of evolutionary science. The following passages, for example, are from 1923's The Story of My Cousins, the subtitle of which, Brief Animal Biographies, gives a sense of why the word "cranky" often came to be used with Salt. The title comes from a line in ethicist J. Howard Moore's The Universal Kinship (1906): "They are not conveniences, but cousins." Salt dedicated this collection of fond stories about animal companions past and present to his late friend from the animal rights movement. The idea of belonging to a family, of recognizing kinship, is deceptively simple but endlessly important to Salt, and appears with increasing devotion throughout his career. Though adoration for domestic animals abounds in this book—"In the early morning she arrives on my bed, and with a tap of the softest of soft paws upon my face informs me that she is ready to be noticed"(56)—there is a difference in kind between what Salt takes from this feelingful contact and the familiar experience that many pet-lovers have had, especially since the Victorians, where their own animal attains a membership status unrelated to that of animals at large. In the final chapter "What My Cousins Taught Me," these stories prepare the way for Shelley's words to appear in the context of post-Darwinian circumspection:
It is surprising that so many persons should not only reject but resent the belief in evolution, in a common origin, which to some of us is the one sure consolation, the gospel of great joy. It is a question not of sentiment but of science; yet, as far as sentiment may be permitted, one would have expected human beings to welcome, not disdain, a theory which relieves them of a churlish isolation in a world of slaves and strangers, and leads them gradually to the true civilization which Shelley was inspired to foretell:—
All things are void of terror: man has lost
His terrible prerogative, and stands
An equal amidst equals: happiness
And science dawn, though late, upon the earth. (Story 69)
The lines are from Queen Mab (8: 225-8) and follow quickly upon those that Shelley glossed with his note on vegetarianism. "Science" as Shelley uses it here is a strikingly modern addition to a vision of a new Golden Age (Morton's coinage of "Ecotopia" for such aspects of Shelley's vision is apt) and Salt uses the word in similar fashion when he says that he speaks of matters "not of sentiment but of science." If the object of scientific observation is Nature, then what we learn from such study will be healthier than the world created by superstition and tyranny. The loss of an ontologically privileged status for humans, the collapsing of the Great Chain of Being, is only a problem if one has a low opinion of animals. To hold them in high regard, or to acknowledge that they have a standing of their own and a capacity for suffering even before the delineation of species becomes an issue, makes one's role as a member of the animal kingdom anything but a matter for anxiety. Sentiment remains, for Salt, also a fortunate elixir, one that promises companionship with agreeable cousins, some of whom are soft and furry. It is not difficult to construct a less advantageous version of nature than this, even if not "red in tooth and claw." Sentiment exists only in consciousness, and it is our awareness of death, whether the inevitability of our own or the lament for another's, that makes all easy claims for reconciliation with nature so fraught with difficulties. Shelley certainly took terror seriously, and for all his serenity Salt elsewhere writes of the violence in nature quite directly. Some struggles are inevitable, like bringing crops from rocky soil, but the struggle of admitting one's fundamental animalness need not be difficult, and this was Salt's message to his contemporaries. It was an unpopular opinion, of course, and even if Salt's certainty of "great joy" seems gloriously, inaccessibly pre-modern, the investment many of us have—as humans and as humanists—in defining ourselves in opposition to the Animal remains an active issue.
Immediately after quoting the previous lines from Queen Mab, Salt continues:
The relation that should exist between mankind and the lower races has been the subject of many controversies [but requires a] 'change of heart,' and when kinship has been not merely argued and demonstrated but felt, any further reasoning will be superfluous; there will be no more need for us to sit in committees and to spend time in contriving release for animals from intolerable wrongs—time that might be more fitly spent in the worship of nature or of art. For when the oneness of life shall be recognized, such practices as blood-sports will be not only childish but impossible; vivisection unthinkable; and the butchery of our fellow-animals for food an outgrown absurdity of the past. (Story 69-70)
The confidence here in something like Godwinian perfectibility demonstrates how thoroughly Salt identified his own goals and work with Shelley's: even his other favorite writers—Thoreau, Melville, Richard Jefferies, James Thomson—do not write like this. The lines from Queen Mab are not analyzed as they would be in a thematic discussion like Shelley's Principles (1892)—Salt does not even name the poem here—but they inspire such a heightened confidence in future progress. Salt enacts Shelley's own statement in the "Preface" to Prometheus Unbound that "the great writers of our own age are . . . the companions and forerunners of some unimagined change in our social condition or the opinions which cement it" (134). Salt's mild complaint about the time he had spent in committee meetings as an officer for the Humanitarian League and the Vegetarian Union—"time that might be more fitly spent in the worship of nature or of art"—itself echoes the wish for the future that Prometheus imagines for himself and Asia in his speech after Hercules unbinds him in Act III of Shelley's drama:
. . . There is a cave
All overgrown with trailing odorous plants
[. . . .] and all around are mossy seats
And the rough walls are clothed with long soft grass;
A simple dwelling, which shall be our own,
Where we will sit and talk of time and change
As the world ebbs and flows, ourselves unchanged—
[and there shall] visit us the progeny immortal
Of Painting, Sculpture and rapt Poesy
And arts, though unimagined, yet to be.
The wandering voices and the shadows these
Of all that man becomes, the mediators
Of that best worship, love, by him and us
Given and returned, swift shapes and sounds which grow
More fair and soft as man grows wise and kind,
And veil by veil evil and error fall . . .
Such virtue has the cave and place around. (III.iii.10-11, 20-24, 55-63).
Evil and error, put on through custom, keep us from worship. Is Salt's "worship of nature or of art" identical to Prometheus' "that best worship, love"? It is hard to imagine them being very different, though this also demands that we imagine what worship looks like. Is it careful scientific study, like Linnean taxonomy? The writing of poetry? Political action? It seems to be some mindful combination of all of these. The list of abuses at the end of the Salt quotation—vivisection, blood-sports, and butchery—were causes which he knew would not be won overnight, yet the Shelleyan model gave him a rhetoric of hope.
The recent work of environmentalist educator Mitchell Thomashow provides a flexible model for understanding Salt's goals as a Shelleyan, a reformer, and a person trying to live in accordance with his ideals. Thomashow calls for greater introspection on the part of those active in the contemporary environmental movement, so that one can guard against reacting with outrage to a particular situation—say, an oil spill—without realizing one's own participation in the culture that creates these situations. In the place of an automatically available, consumerist identity, Thomashow proposes a challenging path towards what he calls "Ecological Identity." The word "identity" signifies both sameness (as in identical objects), as well as the construction of a personality, both of which are ripe for misinterpretation. As Thomashow explains:
To have an identity crisis is to be lost in the world, lacking the ability (temporarily, one hopes) to connect the self to meaningful objects, people, or ideas—the typical sources of identification . . . . Ecological identity refers to all the different ways people construe themselves in relationship to the earth as manifested in personality, values, actions, and sense of self. Nature becomes an object of identification . . . . This can entail considerable ambiguity. After all, the nature we are referring to is a social construction, a human concept, varying from culture to culture and person to person. (3)
One of the clusters of concepts Thomashow proposes for developing ecological identity is the study of "ecological identity role models." The term sounds somewhat clumsy out of context, but the evidence he presents of students whose engagement with Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson has led them to ecologically responsible careers in forestry, agriculture, and biochemistry speaks to the power of language to inspire forms of sustainable action.4 Perhaps his examples also serve to remind teachers of literature that for all the dangers of offering writers to our students as cultural heroes—not the least of which is that all writers are human and therefore imperfect—students do often relate to them in this way, and occasionally with wonderful results. In Salt's case, he identified his goals for the increase of human sympathy and kinship with other forms of life with what he read in Shelley; his path of ecological identity further led him to create a way of life in accordance with his beliefs, following the enthusiasm for "the simple life" he responded to in Edward Carpenter and William Morris.5 Though this essay is clearly written in approval of such a marriage of life and work, the contrast between Salt's work and the standard for literary commentary as practiced in this era of professional criticism could hardly be greater. The historical intersection of T.S. Eliot's critiques of Shelley and the writings of Salt's later career form a pivotal juncture in the removal of ecological identity from critical discourse.
In The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933), Eliot distinguished three stages in the development of taste in poetry. The first is shared by "the majority of children," up to age twelve or so (32). Eliot does not name any poets in this category; presumably he means the enjoyment of nursery rhymes and poetic rhythm. Next, "the usual adolescent course with Byron, Shelley, Keats, Rosetti, Swinburne."(33) For himself, this stage went until age nineteen, but "it is one beyond which I dare say many people never advance; so that such taste for poetry as they retain in later life is only a sentimental memory of the pleasures of youth" (33-34). The third stage, from which he now speaks, is where "identity" becomes a negative term:
The third, or mature stage of enjoyment of poetry, comes when we cease to identify ourselves with the poet we happen to be reading; when our critical faculties remain awake; when we are aware of what one poet can be expected to give and what he cannot. The poem has its own existence, apart from us; it was there before us and will endure after us. It is only at this stage that the reader is prepared to distinguish between degrees of greatness in poetry[.] (34)
If we imagine the word "nature" in place of "poem" here, then the concept of objective individuality which Eliot presupposes comes into focus. Reading a poem, in this view, is like looking at a landscape, which one visits on expert advice. Other ways of experiencing the natural world, where one acknowledges one's own dependence upon a particular ecosystem, are not possible. Of course, we change our surroundings and are changed by them; poems, I would argue, operate on the mind in a similar way: we are not the same observer after the experience of living with a poem as we were before. If we were objective, then the experience could hardly seem to matter, would touch us only on the surface or not at all. The ultimate goal of reading in Eliot's description here is the apprehension of true greatness. Our individual self, salient though we might imagine it to be, witnesses the external reality of the poem; if great, the old poem "shall endure after us," not unlike we hope the cycles of nature will. Paradoxically, the same tribute to the endurance of Art which Eliot proclaims here—and which seems incompatible with "ecological identity"—also propels Shelley's confidence in the lines cited above from the Preface to Prometheus Unbound about the enduring and nourishing effects of great writers on future generations. In the end, though, Eliot's imperative that one equate "critical faculties" with the careful excision of indulgent subjectivity became the sine qua non of serious criticism for most of the ensuing decades.
But the practice of objectively responding to poems—for all these concerns an important and enabling skill—effectively transformed over time into a kind of antagonism between critic and artist, and ultimately the implicit view that the critic's objective understanding was superior to that of the subjective artist. The best and clearest Ecocriticism attempts to reverse this trend. For example, Jonathan Bate begins his Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition (1991) with a brief history of Wordsworth criticism up to the present moment, then states his unorthodox conviction that where "the critic's purposes are also the writer's . . . there can be a communion between living reader and dead writer which may bring with it a particular enjoyment and a perception about endurance" (5). Such a confident and accessible statement makes it clear why Bate's book instantly became a classic of the contemporary Ecocritical movement.6 The notably "non-communal" approaches of immediate concern to Bate included certain New Historicist and deconstructivist criticism, and these developments are obviously subsequent to Eliot. Yet the debate over when agreement between the commentator and primary writer transgresses into irresponsibility unfolds along comparable lines both in our moment and in Salt's.
Besides relegating Shelley—along with Byron and Keats—to a merely "adolescent" interest, additional comments of Eliot's on Shelley reveal exactly how deeply his disapprobation was rooted in matters of animal rights and ecological identity. Defending the canonical importance of Shelley's poetry against Eliot's attacks is a fait accompli, of course, but our attention to the precise terms of these famous attacks can be fruitfully understood in terms of the disgust that Shelley's vegetarianism engendered in Eliot. In the lecture on "Shelley and Keats" in The Use of Poetry, Eliot remarked that
With Shelley we are struck from the beginning by the number of things poetry is expected to do; from a poet who tells us, in a note on vegetarianism, that 'the orang-outang perfectly resembles man both in the order and the number of his teeth', we shall not know what to expect. The notes to Queen Mab express, it is true, only the views of an intelligent and enthusiastic schoolboy, but a schoolboy who knows how to write; and throughout his work, which is of no small bulk for a short life, he does not, I think, let us forget that he took his ideas seriously. The ideas of Shelley seem to me always to be the ideas of adolescence—as there is every reason why they should be. And an enthusiasm for Shelley seems to me also to be an affair of adolescence: for most of us, Shelley has marked an intense period before maturity, but for how many does Shelley remain the companion of age? I confess that I never open the volume of his poems simply because I want to read poetry, but only with some special reason for reference. I find his ideas repellent; and the difficulty of separating Shelley from his ideas and beliefs is still greater than with Wordsworth. (88-89)
Eliot is rather vague on the "ideas" he finds so repellent: the subsequent mention of how Shelley was "sometimes almost a blackguard" (89) seems to indicate a concern he shared with many readers about Shelley's views on marriage and his treatment of Harriet, although this comment is not developed. Vegetarianism is named, however, and its connotations of "adolescence" continue to have cultural currency. If the other Shelleyan ideas he found repellent included those which Salt enumerated in Shelley's Principles—disdain for tyranny of all sorts, whether of one class of humans over another, or of humans over other forms of life—then the maturity which Eliot commends painfully resembles the withered sensibility depicted in Gerontion: "Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season."
Eliot gave this talk in February of 1933; at that point Salt was eighty-two and had been writing about and returning to Shelley's poetry for fifty years. The book Salt was preparing would be his last, and in the title The Creed of Kinship he compressed the themes of his life and work into a succinct principle of the oneness of life. It is a short and strange autobiography, for his life story is told through the causes he worked for, the friends (some of them famous) who enriched his life, and the writers from Lucretius to Shaw who had been his intellectual company. All of this is developed without any personal details about his marriage, childhood, or other matters which have since become the core of modern memoir. The book deserves a wider audience: often when we hear someone express opinions held dear for half a century calcification has long since set in; but when those positions have been held on principle against outrage and hostility they can take on the grandeur of a painter's late style, and to me the book reads like the last canvasses of Titian and O'Keeffe. The final chapter, "One Who Understood," is a condensed version of all of Salt's writings about Shelley. Though I think he overstates the uniformity of Shelley's writings about animals, Salt's perception of how crucially interested Shelley was in the recognition by humans of both our animal nature and the need to use our power responsibly stands in marked contrast to virtually all other discussions of the poet:
There is nothing in [Shelley] more delightful than the utter absence of the 'superior person' (would that the same could be said of many of his critics!), both as regards his human and non-human fellow-beings. Whenever he speaks of animals, it is with an instinctive, childlike, and perfectly natural sense of kinship and brotherhood. Thus in Alastor, in the invocation of Nature [lines 13-15], we find him saying:
'If no bright bird, insect, or gentle beastMy kindred! Perhaps no feature of his philosophy has been more often ridiculed than his vegetarianism; yet here, too, he gave proof not only of personal humaneness but of practical foresight, for food-reform is now widely recognised as a necessary part of any well-considered scheme for humanising our relation toward the animals, and everyone who deals with the question of animals' rights is compelled to take some note of it. Alone among the poets of his generation, he was unwilling to sentimentalise about the beauty of kindness to animals, and at the same time 'to slay the lamb that looks him in the face,' or, what is no less immoral, to devolve that unpleasant process on another person. (Creed 114-115)
I consciously have injured, but still loved
And cherished these my kindred.'
In tone this resembles much of the breathless enthusiasm for Shelley among his apologists from the Victorians to Andre Maurois, but in its emphasis on Shelley's ideas in their historical context it is different in kind. Salt does not present an angelic Shelley, altogether lyrical and impractical, "not one of us"; but rather a poet who has anticipated issues which will remain challenging and controversial long after immediate concerns have been resolved. This kind of commentary distinguishes Salt's writings on Shelley even from those of other champions whose works first appeared in the late-nineteenth century. William E. Axon's Shelley's Vegetarianism (1891), for example, is a compendium of citations from Queen Mab, Alastor, The Revolt of Islam, and the two prose essays of 1813-14, but with very little discussion: enlightening for those who did not know about this aspect of Shelley, but adding very little to the historical understanding of a familiar reader. It is the kind of book that can be replaced by studies which examine the same passages in far more detail: readers of Morton's recent book are well beyond needing Axon. Salt, however, is up to something else, and his concerns went underground, in a sense, until the recent development of franker versions of autobiographical criticism.
Whether breathless or not, the attitudes described above by Salt have become fairly mainstream, and to the growing number of urbane new vegetarian readers the "ridicule" experienced by Salt in his time might seem surprising. This is where what Carol J. Adams has called "the sexual politics of meat" bears on the history of responses to Shelley:
People with power have always eaten meat. The aristocracy of Europe consumed large courses filled with every kind of meat while the laborer consumed the complex carbohydrates. Dietary habits proclaim class distinctions, but they proclaim patriarchal distinctions as well. Women, second-class citizens, are more likely to eat what are considered to be second-class foods in a patriarchal culture: vegetables, fruits, and grains rather than meat. The sexism in meat eating recapitulates the class distinctions with an added twist: a mythology permeates all classes that meat is a masculine food and meat eating a male activity. (Adams 26)
In Adams's analysis, attempts to dismiss the claims of vegetarians for the reduction of a meat-based diet—whether these claims are based on health concerns, the moral status of animals, or environmental destruction—inevitably participate in the reinscription of patriarchal power. The terms used in the "ridicule" of Shelley's vegetarianism are usually couched in terms of its unmanliness: either because it is feminized or, as we have already seen, "adolescent." I return to T.S. Eliot for further illustration, perhaps unfairly; yet because his influence was so formative, at least well into the 1960s, the diction of Eliot's derision remains essential:
[S]ome of Shelley's views I positively dislike, and that hampers my enjoyment of the poems in which they occur; and others seem to me so puerile that I cannot enjoy the poems in which they occur . . . . [It] is not the presentation of beliefs which I do not hold, or—to put the case as extremely as possible—of beliefs that excite my abhorrence, that makes the difficulty. Still less is it that Shelley is deliberately making use of his poetic gifts to propagate a doctrine; for Dante and Lucretius did the same thing. I suggest that the position is somewhat as follows. When the doctrine, theory, belief, or 'view of life' presented in a poem is one which the mind of the reader can accept as coherent, mature, and found on the facts of experience, in interposes no obstacle to the reader's enjoyment, whether it be one that he accept or deny, approve or deprecate. When it is one which the reader rejects as childish or feeble, it may, for a reader of well-developed mind, set up an almost complete check (91, 96; emphasis added).
Because the only belief which Eliot names in his essay concerns Shelley's vegetarianism (though he almost certainly means those on marriage, too), the anti-masculine words puerile, childish, and feeble reveal a culturally-endorsed hostility toward these beliefs. These terms resemble those used to patronize idealistic people of any era, including many currently involved in the environmental movement accused of intuiting an overly gentle view of nature. "Resist not the weakness / Such strength is in meekness" goes the Song of Spirits in Prometheus Unbound (II.iii.93-4), and this message of humility might make resistance to available forms of violence and acquisitiveness sustainable over a long and healthy life.
Ecological criticism, in its contemporary development, has come to include a variety of autobiographical approaches, most of which are written without Salt's characteristic reserve. Though Adams's feminist understanding of vegetarian discourse concurs with my argument about the cultural imperatives that kept Salt's beliefs unpopular and his works obscure, one could make a convincing case from feminist and Ecofeminist perspectives that Salt's nonetheless Victorian and upper-class reserve limits his contemporary importance as a model for Ecocriticism or for creative autobiography. Salt, after all, chose to live a simple life, without servants: most people have to. More, he never wrote about Kate, his wife, who Shaw used as the model for his Candida and later outed as a lesbian who lived with her husband as a like-minded intellectual companion. I think the important question is whether Salt's class position functioned as a prerequisite to his beliefs. Not having to earn his living by writing certainly enabled him to develop his interests in subjects then unpopular, but it does not negate the selfless devotion in which he found his life's meaning. It is never difficult—in Salt's time or our own—to find evidence to discourage pacifists and other reformers, but one thing we can celebrate in our time is the expansion of education and access to critical discussion far beyond the enclaves of male privilege in which Salt was first trained. Scholars developing a critical method answerable to the demands of a world in crisis should consider the history of criticism in this century, and its deliberate exclusion of earlier, effusive writers like Salt. Even among Shelleyans, Salt is rarely mentioned, despite his thorough knowledge of Shelley's works and clear discussions and translations of his classical sources, perhaps because we are trained to expect critics to be a specialist in one subject only, not committed to many.
This essay is not meant as a call for merely affective standards of inclusion in literary discussion: in Shelley studies, the need for consistently edited texts and skillful winnowing of a forest of impassioned secondary works is as essential to advancing our understanding of Shelley as it is for any other author. All who love the poems are grateful for this ongoing work. As critical discussion has become more specialized, the effort to be inclusive of students and non-professional readers also becomes a priority, and in this sense writings from the era we now call pre-professional offer old yet relevant models, like good gardening advice that never quite goes out of style. This approach to critical work requires not the slightest lapse in sophistication, and perhaps makes possible a greater elegance than what has become all-too-standard practice. The many versions of practices in contemporary Ecocriticism include a variety of autobiographical approaches that recall and resuscitate the best of Salt. A book like John Elder's Reading the Mountains of Home (1998) is representative of this trend, although such a nuanced and satisfying work as this is never "typical" of anything. In it, Elder combines an examination of the geological history of the Vermont country near his home with stories of his family, particularly the challenges and rewards of raising his teenage son. The book is structured around a series of walks taken in this area over the course of a year, and his interpretive guidebook is Robert Frost's long poem "Directive." The volume and acuity of Elder's insights on Frost make this one of the finest critical discussions of Frost since the pathclearing work of Louis Untermeyer, but is it literary criticism, exactly, and how should it be catalogued? Such a question at this stage in the ongoing process of "redrawing the boundaries" of cultural studies invites us to revisit the moment when arguments for the exacting, quantifiable practice of literary studies were first perceived as necessary to defend the status of modern literature in the university. Henry Salt was not objective; he wrote to praise or blame; and praise came more naturally to his disposition. But he did not hold his opinions about poetry or about the kinship of humans with other forms of life a priori; his half-century of writing about Shelley chronicles the extent to which the poetry had become a part of his inner life; the pressed in the poetry became part of his ecological identity. For Salt to analyze Shelley dispassionately, to engage with challenging ideas in his works and then fail to proceed on a course of reform and hopeful progress, would have been wholly inadequate to the experience of allowing himself to be so available to poetry's power. Whether one agrees with all that Salt stood for, or whether Percy Shelley is the poet to accompany one on such a sustained engagement, there remains something fundamentally sane about this way of talking about poetry, especially poetry which exists to inspire. Such a belief, taken to its logical extreme, opens literary studies to a number of charges: impressionism, associative reasoning, lack of reproducible method: but there will always be those who misuse an approach. One of the pleasures of literary study is finding deserving work whose audience didn't exist when it was first written, but later comes into being. Such we are now, through our shared and enduring attention to Percy Shelley, for Henry Salt.
Adams, Carol J. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. New York: Continuum, 1990.
Axon, William E. A. Shelley's Vegetarianism. London, 1891. Reprinted. New York: Haskell House, 1971.
Bate, Jonathan. Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition. London: Routledge, 1991.
Bennett, Betty and Stuart Curran, eds. Shelley: Poet and Legislator of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996.
Cameron, Kenneth Neill. The Young Shelley: Genesis of a Radical. London: Macmillan, 1950.
Carpenter, Edward. England's Ideal. London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1887.
Dowden, Edward. The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley. London: Kegan Paul, 1886.
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Foot, Paul. Red Shelley. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1980.
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Kipperman, Mark. "Absorbing a Revolution: Shelley Becomes a Romantic, 1889-1903." Nineteenth-Century Literature 47 (1992): 187-211.
Morton, Timothy. Shelley and the Revolution in Taste: The Body and the Natural World. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.
-----. "Shelley's Green Desert." Studies in Romanticism 35 (Fall 96): 409-430.
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-----. "Shelley's Ideal Body: Vegetarianism and Nature." Studies in Romanticism 32 (Winter 1995): 531-552.
Salt, Henry S. The Creed of Kinship. London: Constable, 1935.
-----. Life of Henry David Thoreau. Eds. George Hendrick, Willene Hendrick, and Fritz Oehlschlaeger. Revision of 1908. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1993.
-----. Memories of Bygone Eton. London: Hutchinson, 1928.
-----. Seventy Years Among Savages. London: Allen and Unwin, 1921.
-----. A Shelley Primer. 1887. Reprinted. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1969.
-----. Shelley's Principles: Has Time Refuted or Confirmed Them? London: Reeves & Turner, 1892.
-----. The Story of My Cousins: Brief Animal Biographies. London: Watts & Co., 1923.
Shaw, George Bernard. "Shaming the Devil About Shelley." 1892. Reprinted in Selected Non-Dramatic Writings of Bernard Shaw. Ed. Dan Laurence. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965.
Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Shelley's Poetry and Prose. Norton Critical Edition. Eds. Donald H. Reiman and Sharon B. Powers. New York: Norton: 1977.
Spencer, Colin. The Heretics' Feast: A History of Vegetarianism. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1995.
Thomashow, Mitchell. Ecological Identity: Becoming a Reflective Environmentalist. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995.
Walters, Kerry S. and Lisa Portmess, eds. Ethical Vegetarianism: From Pythagoras to Peter Singer. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1999.
Wasserman, Earl R. Shelley: A Critical Reading. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1971.
White, Newman Ivey. Shelley. 2 vols. New York: Knopf, 1940.
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Winsten, Stephen. Salt and His Circle. Preface by Bernard Shaw. London: Hutchison, 1951.
1 Two biographical studies of Salt exist, the most reliable being George Hendrick's Henry Salt: Humanitarian Reformer and Man of Letters (1977). This work seeks to introduce Salt to new readers, a task which is unfortunately still necessary. Hendrick also reprints a number of unpublished letters written by and addressed to Salt. Stephen Winsten's Salt and His Circle (1951) is made and marred by its association with G.B. Shaw, who wrote a preface for it at age 95 (!) and provided other materials in remembrance of his friend. Winsten's penchant for imagined dialogue and undocumented conjecture makes one appreciate the obsessive answerability of the best modern biographies.
2 See Walters and Portmess's Ethical Vegetarianism: From Pythagoras to Peter Singer for a long-overdue anthology that brings Salt's "The Humanities of Diet" (1914) back into print. This book also features a large section of Shelley's Vindication of Natural Diet after a selection of his classical sources.
3 Morton does, however, consider Shelley's importance for later aspects of the environmental movement, especially in "Shelley's Green Desert." Onno Oerlemans, in "Shelley's Ideal Body: Vegetarianism and Nature," helpfully discusses both Cameron's exceptionality as a biographer who takes diet seriously, and names Salt as the only serious defender of Shelley's vegetarianism (532).
4 Thomashow's historical tracings of "Trees of Environmentalism" (see chart on 26) shares with much American environmental writing a foreshortened sense of history, with Thoreau and Muir as the deep roots of the tree. Are Wordsworth, Clare, and Darwin then soil?
5 Morris certainly shared many of Salt's ideals, but asked crucial questions about the claims of the vegetarian movement: "Simplicity in life is good, most good, so long as it is voluntary; but surely there is enough involuntary simplification of life. To live poorly is no remedy against poverty but a necessity of it. If our whole system were to become vegetarian altogether the poor would be forced to live on vegetarian cag-mag, while the rich lived on vegetarian dainties" (qtd in Winsten 94).