Rotherhithe (September 17, 1870)

Leonard Huxley, Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley

[16] The last recorded speech of Professor Teufelsdrockh proposes the toast 'Die Sache der Armen in Gottes und Teufelsnamen' (The cause of the poor in Heaven's name and ––––'s. [the devil's]) The cause of the Poor is the burden of Past and Present, Chartism, and Latter-Day Pamphlets. To me ... this advocacy of the cause of the poor appealed very strongly ... because ... I had had the opportunity of seeing for myself something the way the poor live. Not much indeed, but still enough to give a terrible foundation of real knowledge to my speculations. ...

I saw strange things there [in Rotherhithe]–among the rest, people who came to me for medical aid, and who were really suffering from nothing but slow starvation. I have not forgotten–am not [17] likely to forget so long as memory holds–a visit to a sick girl in a wretched garret where two or three other women, one a deformed woman, sister of my patient, were busy shirt-making. After due examination, even my small medical knowledge sufficed to show that my patient was merely in want of some better food than the bread and bad tea on which these people were living. I said so as gently as I could, and the sister turned upon me with a kind of choking passion. Pulling out of her pocket a few pence and halfpence, and holding them out, "That is all I get for six and thirty hours' work, and you talk about giving her proper food."

Well, I left that to pursue my medical studies, and it so happened the shortest way between the school which I attended and the library of the College of Surgeons, where my spare hours were largely spent, lay through certain courts and alleys, Vinegar Yard and others, which are now nothing like what they were then. Nobody would have found robbing me a profitable employment in those days, and I used to walk through these wretched dens without let or hindrance. Alleys nine or ten feet wide, I suppose, with tall houses full of squalid drunken men and women, and the pavement strewed with still more squalid children. The place of air was taken by a steam of filthy exhalations, and the only relief to the general dull apathy was a roar of words–filthy and brutal beyond imagination–between the closed-packed neighbours, occasionally ending in a general row. All this almost within hearing of the traffic of the Strand, within easy reach of the wealth and plenty of the city.

I used to wonder sometimes why these people did not sally forth in mass and get a few hours' eating and drinking and plunder to their hearts' content, before the police could stop and hang a few of them. But the poor wretches had not the heart even for that. As a slight, wiry Liverpool detective once said to me when I asked him how it was he managed to deal with such hulking ruffians as we were among, "Lord bless you, sir, drink and disease leave nothing in them."



1.   THH Publications
2.   Victorian Commentary
3.   20th Century Commentary

1.   Letter Index
2.   Illustration Index

Gratitude and Permissions

C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University

§ 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