Address to the Royal Academy 1871

Medical Times and Gazette (May 1871)

[517] At the dinner of the Royal Academy, Professor Huxley, who returned thanks for the Royal Society, proposed a new and artistic division of the animal kingdom, and a new distinction between man and animals. His speech was so happy a specimen of the after-dinner kind that we make no apology for reproducing it. He said:–

"Your Royal Highness, my Lords, and Gentlemen,–I beg leave to offer you my hearty thanks for the great honour you have done me in connecting my name with the toast of the Royal Society, as the lieutenant of the venerable President of that body. Like the Academy, the Royal Society has its annual gathering of members and other guests; but I cannot say that our meeting is quite so numerously attended or as brilliant as this. The fact is that, though, I suppose, we could show work not inferior in quality or proportional in quantity to that which adorns these rooms, it wouldn't hang well in any light; an though we might be able to cover a large amount of wall—space with the pages of the Philosophical Transactions , I am afraid the public would not care to look at them when we had done. This is undoubtedly rather hard upon us, for our purpose is the same as yours–namely, to seize the idea which lies hidden beneath the shifting phenomena of nature, and to bind it in such fetters that it may increase the pleasure and the profit of endless generations of men. We both seek truth, and we both seek beauty. Even your terminology has a certain appropriateness to us. And he who has eyes to see will note in the dry pages of our Transactions the vast aërial perspectives of discovery, and the wonderful chiaroscuro of the intellectual world, as thought throws here and there a ray amid the shadows of the unknown. But, Sir, I will not complain of the unavoidable. Art is the elder sister of Science, and reached her maturity with Science was in leading-strings. Nay, I will be generous, and acquaint you with a fact not generally known; to wit, that the recent progress of biological speculation leads to the conclusion that the scale of being must be thus stated–minerals,

plants, animals, men who can't draw, artists. Thence I conclude, Sir, that you, as President of the Academy, are the crown and summit of creation. My statement, however complimentary, may be a little startling, and you will, therefore, I hope, permit me to state the grounds on which it takes rank as scientific truth. We have been long seeking, as you may be aware, for a distinction between men and animals. The old barriers have long broken away. Other things walk on two legs and have no feathers, caterpillars make themselves clothes, kangaroos have pockets. If I am not to believe that my dog reasons, loves, and hates, how am I to be sure that my neighbour does? Parrots, again, talk what deserves the name of sense as much as a great deal which it would be rude to call nonsense. Again, beavers and ants engineer as well as the members of the noblest of professions. But, as a friend of mine discovered a few years ago, man alone can draw or make unto himself a likeness. This, then, is the great distinction of humanity, and it follows that the most pre-eminently human of creatures are those who possess this distinction in the highest degree. Such, Sir, is the best return which at the present date Science can give you for your kind words about her. I trust you will not use your proud position too haughtily; but as before and now, so in future, permit such an one of the humble primates as myself to share in your triumph."


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University