For Merit

Notes composed at Athenæum Club (July 7, 1887)

Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley , vol. II

[175] Called on Lord Salisbury by appointment at 3 P.M., and had twenty minutes' talk with him about the "matter of some public interest" mentioned in his letter of the (29th).

This turned out to be a proposal for the formal recognition of distinguished service in Science, Letters, and Art by the institution of some sort of order analogous to the Pour le Mérite. Lord Salisbury spoke of the anomalous present mode of distributing honours, intimated that the Queen desired to establish a better system, and asked my opinion.

I said that I should like to separate my personal opinion from that which I believed to obtain among the majority of scientific men; that I thought many of the latter were much discontented with the present state of affairs, and would highly approve of such a proposal as Lord Salisbury shadowed forth.

That, so far as my own personal feeling was concerned, it was opposed to anything of the kind for Science. I said that in Science we had two advantages,–first, that a man's work is demonstrably either good or bad; and secondly, that the "con[176]temporary posterity" of foreigners judges us, and rewards good work by membership of Academies and so forth.

In Art, if a man chooses to call Raphael a dauber, you can't prove he is wrong; and literary work is just as hard to judge.

I then spoke of the dangers to which science is exposed by the undue prominence and weight of men who successfully apply scientific knowledge to practical purposes–engineers, chemical inventors, etc. etc.; said it appeared to me that a Minister having such order at his disposal would find it very difficult to resist the pressure brought by such people as against the man of high science who had not happened to have done anything to strike the popular mind.

Discussed the possibility of submission of names by some body for the approval and choice of the Crown. For Science, I thought the R.S. Council might discharge that duty very fairly. I thought that the Academy of Berlin presented people for the Pour le Mérite , but Lord S. thought not.

In the course of conversation I spoke of Hooker's case as a glaring example of the wrong way of treating distinguished men. Observed that though I did not personally care for or desire the institution of such honorary order, yet I thought it was a mistake in policy for the Crown as the fountain of honour to fail in recognition of that which deserves honour in the world of Science, Letters, and Art.

Lord Salisbury smilingly summed up. "Well, it seems that you don't desire the establishment of such an order, but that if you were in my place you would establish it," to which I assented.

Said he had spoken to Leighton, who thought well of the project.



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§ 1. THH: His Mark
§ 2. Voyage of the Rattlesnake
§ 3. A Sort of Firm
§ 4. Darwin's Bulldog
§ 5. Hidden Bond: Evolution
§ 6. Frankensteinosaurus
§ 7. Bobbing Angels: Human Evolution
§ 8. Matter of Life: Protoplasm
§ 9. Medusa
§ 10. Liberal Education
§ 11. Scientific Education
§ 12. Unity in Diversity
§ 13. Agnosticism
§ 14. New Reformation
§ 15. Verbal Delusions: The Bible
§ 16. Miltonic Hypothesis: Genesis
§ 17. Extremely Wonderful Events: Resurrection and Demons
§ 18. Emancipation: Gender and Race
§ 19. Aryans et al.: Ethnology
§ 20. The Good of Mankind
§ 21.  Jungle Versus Garden