From: The Creed of Kinship (1935)
Author: Henry S. Salt
Published: Constable & Co Ltd 1935 London


Sound sense—deny them not a share,
For that were incivility.
They’ve tons of sense, but this I swear,
No scrap of Sensibility

  It is curious how certain English words, which spring from the same root, or are obviously related, so expand themselves as to acquire meanings that are not merely different, but actually opposed. In the foregoing chapter I have spoken of the “Sentimentalities,” that is, of those excesses of feeling, which, whether shown by persons opposed to humane progress or by those in favour of it, must on rational grounds be deprecated. I have now to speak of the present lack, or insufficiency, of peculiar qualities which from their name might be supposed, in careless minds to be allied to the Sentimental, but in truth are sharply antagonistic to it.

  There is no necessity for me to use many words, or to have recourse to bookish speech, in making plain what I mean by “sensibility.” Go out into the street, and walk a few hundred yards; and the chances are ten to one that the first lot of persons you encounter, whoever and whatever they be, men or women, old or young, will not deviate a couple of inches from their course in order to allow you to pass them with comfortable space; they will walk straight towards you, and you will have to turn aside, possibly into the gutter, though, where you meet a company of two or three, an easy passage would be secured by one merely dropping behind the other. I have noticed it repeatedly, and wondered. It is not that they have forgotten a grace that was taught them in childhood, for children are the most mannerless of all. They are doubtless good people enough in most respects; but of you, as of anyone who is not a member of their own little party, they are merely not cognisant at all. They are unaware of you. They have no sensibility.

  Why, then, do I trouble about them, you will perhaps ask. What do they matter? Only for this reason: that however carefully the foundations of a future society may be laid, on the lines that I have indicated, no really adequate result will ever be obtained until this missing or very rare quality is developed and acquired by mankind.

  Sensibility is the being aware of other persons. In its cruder and earlier forms it may be only physical, as when proximity is felt and apprehended, even when not made plain through the ordinary channels; but I believe it is going to play a much greater part in the progress that we foresee than is usually expected of it. That is the case even now; and eventually it is likely to lead to actions and sacrifices and renunciations that are not at present dreamed of. When we begin to understand how much we owe to the work of others in the past—often men quite unknown to us personally, and living in distant lands—it does not seem to me to demand any excessive hopefulness to think it probable that an increasing number of us will grow out of the wretched isolation in which we now pursue what we regard as our interests, and will see a wider horizon.

  For example: what really sensitive person would not feel uncomfortable at the thought, which many thousands of us ought to have, that his own comforts in life were provided by workers who lacked all such comforts themselves? The present social system, as between man and man, would be impossible if there were real sensibility. It is only because, ethically regarded, we have hides of walruses that we can go on as we do.

  So, likewise, between nation and nation; the very thought of the savagery which poets celebrate as “war” would be an absurdity to a refined race. We should see, in what we call an “Empire,” lands stolen, yes actually stolen, from less powerful races in the past, and held for purposes of revenue and profit, and a convenient dumping-ground for our idlers and younger sons, as sportsmen, judges, and rulers in various forms, at the expense of the territories annexed. It is always the subjugated who pay!

  Of the animals one is almost afraid to speak, so great is the wakening that has to come. It is only because Man is himself in such a savage state that he can treat his non-human kinsmen as he does, hunting and eating them as if they were mere commodities created for his pleasure, and I think the worst part of the whole business is that he is himself so unaware of the situation. If he ever develops a finer sense, as I believe he will do, given a sufficiency of centuries, he will long have left behind him the memory of hunting a fox, or of roasting an ox,1 and of a number of other beastly practices the story of which even now causes a few of us to shudder.

1 This very day (August 21st, 1934) the newspapers contain a report of an Ox roasted in public at a holiday centre, and to show how humour is as lacking in these savages as sensibility-for the sake of a hospital!

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