Report to BAAS

Nature (August 1879)
Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley , vol. 2

[6] I will ask you to allow me to say one word rather upon my own account, in order to prevent a misconception which, I think, might arise, and which I should regret if it did arise. I daresay that no one in this room, who has attained middle life, has been so fortunate as to reach that age without being obliged, now and then, to look back upon some acquaintance, or, it may be, intimate ally of his youth, who has not quite verified the promises of that youth. Nay, let us suppose he has done quite the reverse, and has become a very questionable sort of character, and a person whose acquaintance does not seem quite so desirable as it was in those young days, his way and yours have separated; you have not heard much about him; but eminently trustworthy persons have assured you he has done this, that, or the other; and is more or less of a black sheep, in fact.

The President, in an early part of his address, alluded to a certain thing–I hardly know whether I ought to call it a thing or not –of which he gave you the name Bathybius, and he stated, with perfect justice, that I had brought that thing into notice; at any rate, indeed, I christened it, and I am, in a certain sense, its earliest friend. For some time after that interesting Bathybius was launched into the world, a number of admirable persons took the little thing by the hand, and made very much of it, and as the President was good enough to tell you, I am glad to be able to repeat and verify all the statements, as a matter of fact, which I had ventured to make about it. And so things went on, and I thought my young friend Bathybius would turn out a credit to me. But I am sorry to say, as time has gone on, he has not altogether verified the promise of his youth.

In the first place, as the President told you, he could not be found when he was wanted, and in the second place, when he was found, all sorts of things were said about him. Indeed, I regret to be obliged to tell you that some persons of severe minds went so far as to say that he was nothing but simply a gelatinous precipitate of slime, which had carried down organic matter. If that is so, I am very sorry for it, for whoever may have joined in this error, I am undoubtedly primarily responsible for it. But I do not know at the present time of my own knowledge how the matter stands. Nothing would please me more [7] than to investigate the matter afresh in the way it ought to be investigated, but that would require a voyage of some time, and the investigation of this thing in its native haunts is a kind of work for which, for many years past, I have had no opportunity, and which I do not think I am very likely to enjoy again. Therefore my own judgment is in an absolute state of suspension about it. I can only assure you what has been said about this friend of mine, but I cannot say whether what is said is justified or not. But I feel very happy about the matter. There is one thing about us men of science, and that is, no one who has the greatest prejudice against science can venture to say that we ever endeavour to conceal each other's mistakes. And, therefore, I rest in the most entire and complete confidence that if this should happen to be a blunder of mine, some day or other it will be carefully exposed by somebody. But pray let me remind you whether all this story about Bathybius be right or wrong, makes not the slightest difference to the general argument of the remarkable address put before you to-night. All the statements your President has made are just as true, as profoundly true, as if this little eccentric Bathybius did not exist at all.


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University