Bishop Wilberforce and Professor Huxley

The Times (December 1887)

Sir,–When Mr. Wilberforce succeeds in convincing reasonable men that a person who indulges in "flighty anticipations" is not a "flighty" person, I shall be happy to admit myself guilty of misquotation. Undoubtedly, in the autumn of 1860, a rumour was widely current that the writer of the Quarterly article was prompted by a bitter scientific antagonist of Mr. Darwin. But, until Mr. Wilberforce's letter appeared yesterday, there was no proof of the fact, and I should not have been justified in assuming the truth of a report which might, after all, be a baseless slander. Even after Mr. Wilberforce's revelation, I venture to doubt whether the prompter in question is responsible for the astounding statement that the poison apparatus of snakes is something "entirely separate from the ordinary laws of animal life." This is a question not merely of scientific accuracy, but of grammar and sense. Will Mr. Wilberforce be so kind as to tell me how "glands and ducts" can be "separate" from "laws"? If the intended meaning of the confused jumble under question is that there are no gradations between the poison apparatus of a viper and the ordinary arrangement of the jaws of reptiles, the assertion is untrue, whoever may have furnished the Quarterly Reviewer with it.

Those who were present at the famous meeting at Oxford, to which Mr. Wilberforce refers, will doubtless agree with him that an effectual castigation was received by somebody. But I have too much respect for filial piety, however indiscreet its manifestations, to trouble you with evidence as to who was the agent and who the patient in that operation.


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University