Henry Salt on Shelley: Literary Criticism and Ecological Identity

Henry Stephens Salt (1851-1939) engaged with Percy Shelley's poetry, prose, and ideas in a writing career that spanned a half-century. This essay considers the implications of using this pre-professional cultural critic as a model for contemporary Ecocriticism. Salt is known today as author of a biography of Thoreau and for several prescient books on animal rights; he valued Shelley as "a pioneer of humanitarianism," a term used expansively by Salt to include concerns about health and the natural world. Salt's subjective method became seen as outmoded after T.S. Eliot's infamous attacks on Shelley in The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933). This essay revisits the failure of the ecological imagination in Eliot's critique, and in the imperatives of much subsequent criticism on Shelley and Romanticism.