New York Tribune
Extra, No. 36 25 CENTS

Impressions of America

Professor Huxley’s Speech at Buffalo.


Prof. Huxley was present at the Buffalo meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. On the morning of Friday, Aug. 25, he was introduced to the Association in a few fitting remarks by the President, Prof. Wm. B. Rogers. Prof. Huxley replied as follows:

MR. PRESIDENT AND LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE: Permit me, in the first place, to offer you my most hearty thanks for your exceedingly cordial–I will not say unexpected–welcome, because everything I have experienced in America since my landing has been something of this kind. But I thank yon for this hearty welcome. Yon will forgive me if my words are inadequate to express how much I feel on this occasion. I am not by nature a man of many words, and have thought the highest eloquence was in condensing what one has to say., I have been told that it would be gratifying to you to have me say something, but emotion will make my speaking a difficult task. Also, I have no scientific matter especially to communicate here; and I am quite unprepared to occupy your attention on such an occasion as this. Since my arrival in America I have discovered that the great instinct of curiosity is not altogether undeveloped among you. I experienced something of this at the time of my landing, by being interviewed by two active and intelligent representatives of your press. They were good enough to put before me in writing a series of inquiries of deepest and most profound interest, each of which would require a treatise in reply; and I am afraid I had to dismiss them with scant courtesy.

It may satisfy this curiosity if I state briefly some of my general impressions of this country. Since my arrival I have learned a great many things, more, I think, than ever before in an equal space of time in my life. In England we have always taken a lively interest in America, and have our occasional controversies with her; but I think that no Englishman who has not had the good fortune to visit this country can form a real idea of what that word America means. We have no adequate idea of the extent of your country, its enormous resources, the distances from center to center of population, and we least of all understand how identical is the great basis of character on both sides of the Atlantic. A friend of mine in England went abroad for the purpose of seeing foreign countries, and has come to America. I have been talking with him since my arrival here. He says: "I cannot find that I am abroad." I am similarly impressed. The great features of your country are all such as I am familiar with in parts of England and Scotland. Your beautiful Hudson reminds me of a Scotch lake. The marks of glaciation in your hills remind me of those in Scottish high lands.

I had heard of the degeneration of your stock from the English type. I have not perceived it. Some years ago one of your most distinguished men of letters, equally loved and admired in England and America, expressed an. opinion which touched English feeling somewhat keenly–that there was a difference between your women and ours after reaching a certain age. He said our English women were "beefy." That is his word, not mine. Well, I have studied the aspect of the people that I have met here in steamboats and railway carriages, and I meet with just the same faces. the main difference as to the men being in the way of shaving. As to stature, perhaps your men have rather the best of ours. Though I should be sorry to use the word which Hawthorne did, yet in respect to the size of your fine portly women, I think the average here fully as great as on the other side. Some people talk of the injurious influence of climate. I have seen no trace of' the "North American type," to which, it was said, you were reverting. You have among you the virtue which is most notable among savages. that of hospitality. I have visited your wigwams–and they are pretty good wigwams too. You entertain us with your best, and not only give us a good dinner, but are not quite happy unless we take the spoons and plates away with us.

Another feature has impressed itself upon me. I have visited some of your great universities, and meet men as well known in the old world as in the new. I find certain differences here. The English universities are the product of Government, yours of private munificence. The latter among us is almost unknown. The general notion of an Englishman when he gets rich is to found an estate and benefit his family. The general notion of an American, when fortunate, is to do something for the good of the people and from which benefits shall continue to flow. I need hardly say which I regard as the nobler of these ambitions.

It is commonly said there are no antiquities in America, and you have to come to the old world to see the past. That may be, so far as regards the trumpery 3,000 or 4,000 years of human history. But in the larger sense, referring to the times before man made his momentary appearance on the globe, America is the country to study antiquity. I confess that the reality has somewhat exceeded my expectations. It was my great good fortune to study in New Haven the excellent collection made by my good friend, Prof. Marsh. There does not exist in Europe anything approaching it as regards extent, and the geological time it covers, and the wonderful [3] light it throws on the problem of evolution, which has been so ably discussed before you by Prof. Morse, and which has occupied so much attention since Darwin's great work on species. Before the gathering of such materials as those to which I have referred, evolution was more a matter of speculation and argument, though we who adhered to the doctrine had good grounds for our belief. Now things are changed, and it has become a matter of fact and history as much as the monuments of Egypt. In that collection are the facts of the succession of forms and the history of their evolution. All that now remains to be asked is how the development was effected, and that is a subordinate question. With such matters as this before my mind, You will excuse me if I cannot find thoughts appropriate to this occasion. I would that I might have offered something more worthy. I hope that your Association may do what the British Association is doing–may sow the seeds of scientific inquiry in your cities and villages, whence by a process of natural selection those minds best fitted for the task may be led to help on the work in which we are all interested. Again I thank you for your excessive courtesy, and, I may almost say, affectionate reception.


Testimony of the Rocks.


On the evening of Sept. 7 Prof. Huxley delivered a lecture at Nashville, Tenn., to a large audience. he was introduced by Dr. T. O. Summers, jr., as follows::

The appearance of the distinguished visitor before you to-night is an event of no ordinary occurrence in the annals of our city. We welcome him to our midst, and trust the magnetic influence of his person and his speech may awaken impulses which have been already kindled by the electric fire of his ready pen. No eulogium is needed from me. Upon this occasion an introduction is a grand impertinence. It is therefore to me a profound pleasure, as it is a distinguished honor, to present to you, without further remarks, the great apostle of modern science, Thomas Henry Huxley.


Prof. Huxley said:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: When I left England some five weeks ago, I did so with very many determined resolutions as to the manner in which I would spend my holidays in the United States. Having just completed a season of long and laborious work of various kinds, I was more than willing to look upon this journey of mine as one in part dictated by the desire to renew family ties which had been interrupted, though unbroken, for a space of the ordinary life of a generation of men. I found, however, it would not be best for me to leave this country without addressing an audience of Americans, though it certainly did not enter into my plans to have the honor of making an appearance before the citizens of Nashville. The signal kindness and courtesy, however, with which I have been received here, would have prevailed upon me; indeed, it would have been unbecoming of me not to have met your wishes in any way that would have been practicable; and, therefore, seeing that it is your strong desire that I should address you, I have undertaken to do so this evening.

I think I made that engagement with the proviso that I had no set speech or address to make, and that all I would undertake to do would be to communicate to you such observations and such reflections as had suggested themselves to me during my unfortunately brief residence here. I find myself in what I believe is the principal city (I speak under correction) of a State the area of which is not far inferior to that of England, and which possesses within itself a variety of surfaces which is only paralleled by that which we find in England–a diversity of geological formations only to be found in the same surface of my native country–and blessed by Nature with singular fertility, literal]y a land flowing with milk and honey, producing upon the greatest scale those cereals which, with cattle and sheep and the like, are the main support of man; a land which, in addition, possesses an unequaled mineral wealth–fields of coal which, as I understand, equal in area those of the mother country; inexhaustible resources in iron and copper and various building stones and minerals; and which, also, carries within itself all those variations of temperature, climate–perhaps a little warmer than we Englishmen are accustomed to–which are needed to create a great and wealthy population. In my visits to the institutions of your city, I have become acquainted with your admirable schools, have seen there expressions of intelligence upon the faces of the children and the young men and women who are being educated; I have seen enough of your population to convince me that, in addition to those material resources, those possibilities of wealth and well-being, there is that human element of intelligence and labor which is needed to stir such resources to sufficient development. Whether under these circumstances, the wealth placed at your disposal is to be turned to its best account, must undoubtedly depend upon the education which you are giving your young people. My brief inspection has enabled me to say that, judging by all the standards, the education is such as to produce–I will not say produce intelligence, for one cannot do that–to cultivate the intelligence which may be pos[4]sessed, I have been glad to see that an indispensable element of that education is a training in the elements of the physical sciences. I don't know bow far your education is carried, but I can undertake to say this much–that while a thorough and efficient development of your resources must depend, other things being equal, on the diligence, the general activity of your population, it is also true that the development must depend upon the thoroughness and completeness of instruction in the elements of the physical sciences which is given to the masses of your population. Whether it is important to the development of your agriculture; whether it is important to the development of your mineral resources; whether it is important to the development of your mines; whether it is important for improving your means of transportation, or under whatever other aspect you choose to consider the means by which these resources can be brought to their full account, a little reflection will convince you that the development of these resources turns entirely upon the intelligent application of physical science whether it be the practice of mechanics, chemistry or biology.

My opportunity of examining is far too slight to render it otherwise than presumptuous for me to say whether the measures you have taken are sufficient for their purpose or not. I hope you will permit me to insist upon the fact that it is only by the increase and development of the kind of education I have mentioned that these resources can be turned to a thorough and effectual account. And there is no difficulty. let me say, in the acquirement of the physical sciences in the ordinary schools. I don’t speak of that matter as a theorist; I speak as having had an intimate acquaintance for the last 20 years with the educational system of the mother country. There the system by which the elements of physical science are taught in all the primary schools that have been in active operation, has scarcely acquired perfect development until now. In some branches we have 5,000, 7,000, and 12,000 or more young people under examination annually. We have organized methods of instruction. Our elementary teachers have been so instructed in the means of teaching, that at length I think it may be said that we have organized machinery by which elementary scientific teaching has been secured through the length and breadth of the land.

It is for you to say whether the same thing shall be done, whether your population will be placed in n position to enable them to take advantage of these vast material resources which are placed within your reach. No doubt such advantages as these are not to be despised; no doubt the increase in wealth and in material well-being is a great and important object to the legislator and the citizen who wishes well for his nationality; but there is another aspect under which the widespread training in the elements of the physical sciences is to be considered, and in urging upon yon the importance of developing that mode of teaching in your schools, I should like to illustrate, as far as I may, this side of the question.. You are aware–every one who has taught at all is aware–that a vast interest attaches in the mind of every intelligent man to the: history of the past; that we all form some kind of conception of the past history of the world; and that to many of us what has taken place in the history of the world is only what has been told us. In fact, it is impossible that one's practical life should not be more or less influenced by the views which we may hold as to what has been the past history of things. Now, there are two sources from which we obtain a knowledge of the past history of things. One of them is human testimony in its various shapes–all testimony of eye-witnesses, traditional testimony from the lips of those who have been eye-witnesses, and the testimony of those who have put their impressions into writing or into print.

First, we may consider the elements obtained in that way–human historical evidence. It is upon that we depend for the greater part of our knowledge of the doings of the past. (l should like to place this subject before you as clearly as I can, but the extreme heat of this climate does not contribute to the clarification of my intellect.) I should like to state to you, in the first place, on what principles our convictions as to the validity of historical evidence depend, because there is often a broad distinction drawn between different kinds of evidence. To suppose that one kind is more valuable than the other upon grounds which are not clear–upon grounds illogically stated, and which do not bear thorough and careful inspection–always lies at the bottom of our errors in the acceptation of testimony. That which justifies us in our belief in conclusions drawn from historical evidence is, if you can sift it, but at the bottom the uniformity of nature.

For example, if I read in your history of Tennessee, "Ramsey's History," that a hundred years ago this country was peopled by wandering savages, my belief in that statement rests upon the conviction that I have that Mr. Ramsey was actuated by the same sort of motives that men are now, and that all the persons from whom Mr. Ramsey derived his information were actuated by the same sort of motives; in other words, that the men from whom he derived this information, and he himself, were, like ourselves, not inclined to make false statements, at any rate when such statements would be detected, and we might apply to them the same standards of truth and falsehood as we apply to ourselves. If you read Caesar's Commentaries, wherever he gives an account of his battles with the Gauls, you place a certain amount of confidence in his statements. You take his testimony upon this. You feel that Caesar would not have made those statements unless he had believed them to be true. In other words, the motives which actuated men In Caesar’s time are assumed to be the same as those which actuate men now. If it were possible to suppose that at any time the past history of the order of nature, so far as regards men, was different; if it were possible to suppose that men did not [5] care about the truth, or about the detection of falsehood, then you would know that their testimony could not be depended upon. So you see that a belief in testimony implies a belief in the constant order of nature.

This history of Ramsey's, of the State of Tennessee, takes you back for a very short period–not more than a hundred years or so; as far as the immediate case of Tennessee is concerned, not more than a century or so; and so far as America is concerned, not more than three hundred at the outside or thereabouts. But now let us consider the other sources of information and what has taken place in a country of this kind. We find scattered about on the soil of Tennessee–indeed, I had the fortune to see specimens in your museum at the Capitol–specimens of worked flints–perhaps not true flints, but at at rate closely similar. These flints are plainly, obviously worked by the hand or man. There are also bones and tools of various kinds that are testimony as to the former population.

If the former inhabitants had died out and become lost, the discovery of these implements in the soil would, notwithstanding, be evidence of the existence of a population totally distinct from that which colonized it of late years. We might with a degree of certainty draw a conclusion from the character of these implements as to the nature of the people who were their fabricators, and the order of succession or the time of that operation could be defined by the mode of their construction. So, again, scattered over the surface of your State there are mounds wherein is exhibited the work of the so-called "Mound Builders," that has been built up by human ingenuity. They are indications of the existence of men different from those who now inhabit the land, and open some of these mounds are found growing great trees which have taken several hundred years for their development, and it is quite clear that the "Mound Builders" had finished their work long before the time when those trees had planted themselves and grown to their present development. Now that evidence of the past history of this country is archaeological. It is evidence obtained upon testimony–upon written, recorded testimony–not upon tradition, but upon material facts, which carry within themselves the evidence of their nature. And you see that this archaeological evidence, as I call it, although it is much scantier–much less full than historical evidence–is incapable of false indication. I do not mean to say that ingenious people may not fabricate these stones, and l do not mean to say that people may not make mounds, but surely the fabricators would not distribute these stones over the breadth and depth of the land, nor would they employ an army of navvies to go all over this country and erect mounds. We are quite safe that they are free from human interference–from human tampering with them. And although the archaeologica1 evidence is scantier than the historical, it is the surer evidence of the two.

It might be that the different indications of those who inhabited this country before white immigration have been falsified or modified by the persons who wrote the history; but these difficulties cannot affect the conclusions we draw from such monuments evidence as that of mounds and of marked stones. If Caesar's Commentaries had never been written the evidence of tumult, scattered all over Gaul would be ample to prove the existence of an ancient race of people exceedingly different in their civilization and in their customs from the French who now cover the territory of Gaul. This archaeological evidence not only has the advantage of its freedom from interferences by man, but it has the further advantage that it carries us into regions which human testimony cannot reach–which lie far beyond the utmost limit of tradition, and thus require an amount of evidence that it is almost inconceivable to suppose either oral or written testimony could furnish.

The rocky soil upon which the city stands is full of evidence of that kind. It is, as you are aware, a hard limestone. That hard limestone contains au abundance of fossils which bear more or less resemblance to animals which are living at the present day. Examine your museum and you can find any quantity of these remains. You can satisfy yourselves that they are animal remains, and the biological student can very readily convince himself that they are the remains of creatures which only inhabited the ocean at a time antecedent to the existence of the savage people whose implements are scattered over the soil, and when the ground and solid rock upon which these are scattered was a something totally different from what it is now. In fact, it was the bottom of the ocean, and on the bottom of the ocean these creatures flourished and left their remains as a monument of an era which has long since passed. So you can turn back in the history of the globe, end yon will perceive that the evidence is of tile simplest possible character. It is an evidence that cannot be challenged by any person of common sense who will take the trouble to look at the question. And, what is more important, it is a kind of evidence that has not been tampered with– cannot be tampered with by any sort of human interference.

I am indebted to this most admirable work–of which a copy was presented to me yesterday, a report of the " Resources of Tennessee," which, in my judgment, does infinite credit to the State which paid for it and the person who put it together– which I do not profess to have read since yesterday, yet out of which I have contrived to pick the sort of information I want of the structure of the region where we now stand.

I find that there is a large limestone plain on part of which Nashville stands. Then there are your lumberland highlands, away eastward. Then westward there is also a highland, some long distance west, that tips in to a gulf, and on that gulf there rest other beds until you come to the valley of the Mississippi. Here we have beds which form the present foundation upon which the city stands. Upon each side you have beds of rock superposed one above the other. These (pointing to a diagram on the blackboard) being deposited upon those below, must [6] naturally be more recent. You may say in general terms (in any other country than America) a house is more recent than its foundation. Here I have discovered that this is not always the case, for you sometimes move your houses and put new foundations under them. Then a bed of rock which lies over another is younger–more recent than the bed of rock upon which it lies. So, when we say these beds are younger than those, we do so because these have been deposited upon the others. What do we find here? Animal remains, masses of clay, shale, limestone, stamped with the unquestionable evidence of being formed of the mud at the bottom of the ocean. You have your thick beds of coal which can be demonstrated to be the charred and altered remains of forests which grew upon the same surface when it had become dry land. You may amuse yourselves by calculating the enormous periods it took to grow these forests upon that soil and then turn them back to beds of coal. It is quite easy to see that tines forests were not trees like our present trees, and the surface which we now call Tennessee was something totally different from what we now know. See how simple these calculations are. There can be no doubt that the beds of rock were formed one above another in the order of their date–the oldest at the bottom, the newest at the toy. There is not the slightest difficulty in drawing conclusions as to the conditions under which these beds of rock were formed; and in drawing all these conclusions, you make no greater assumption whatever than you make in historical evidence. That is to say, you assume that the course of nature has been generally uniform, just as your belief of ancient testimony depends upon your belief that the motives of the men in ancient times were similar to those we now see. So plants, forests, and trees did not grow in the sea, and shell and star fish no more grew upon the land than they do now. In other words there is no greater assumption 1n archaeological than in the historical conclusion. But the difference is this, the archaeological is, on the whole, more trustworthy than the other, because no human hand has been able to meddle with the evidence which is in the rocks. We may pursue this course of inquiry further and we find that while all this great plain which forms the foundation of the city belongs to some of the oldest rocks on the globe, this high land of the Cumberland district belongs to what is called the carboniferous formation, both silurian and carboniferous being parts of an extremely ancient period of the world's history. But when we come to these beds which lie westward toward the Mississippi, we come to something quite different. There is evidence here of this land having been worn away, and that these beds were originally the bottom of the sea. Then they have been upheaved. That evidence is clear, because we find upon these beds shellfish and others which can only live at the bottom of the sea. These belong to a much later period of the world’s history, what we call the period of tertiary formation. Among these beds is what is known as green sand, prized by your agriculturists on account of its fertilizing qualities. To show how perfectly trustworthy our conclusion are with reference to this green sand being formed at the bottom of the sea, in that remarkable. cruise in which the Challenger, a British vessel has just completed a tour of discovery they have brought beck abundant evidence that in some parts of the existing sea bottom green sand is formed, not different in its character from that which forms the ancient crust of the earth, and it is actually being formed now under these conditions. And though we had no reason to doubt the genuineness of geological evidence, it is now supplemented by observations not confined to one locality, but extending over the whore globe, by means of which we fill up this evidence that exists here and elsewhere. For example, that shows us that the ancient history of the world presents no sudden appearance of animal or vegetable formation–no great catastrophe or deluges, but a slow and even and gradual progress extending through periods of time of which it is almost impossible for even the most vivid imagination to form an adequate conception.. I know it is thought very often that men of science are in the habit of drawing largely from their imagination, but it's real]y not so. The most sober, careful consideration of facts forces upon you more and more determinedly the conviction that the theory respecting which we have this geological evidence of a period of the past history of the world is of a duration which, in comparison with our human standard, may be regarded as almost absolutely infinite.

Take, for example, the case of the cataract of Niagara, where I have been recently spending some time, so that I might fill myself with the grandeur and beauty of that extraordinary natural phenomenon; it is quite easy to see that the Niagara River has formed its own valley, has cut its way beck through the plateau of rock from which it falls, for some six miles. There is not the slightest difficulty in seeing that. The great cliff from which it tumbles is formed of two kinds of rock–hard rock at the top and soft rock underneath. The water undermines the soft rock below, when the solid stratum above falls over. You can trace the gradual excavation of that valley for six miles from that marvelous bluff, which, from Proctor's monument, overlooks the plain of Ontario. Now, the rate at which that work is going on, has not yet been positively ascertained; but we may be perfectly certain (I am now speaking largely within limits) that the work of cutting back does not go on at the rate of a yard in a year. We have six miles of such cutting, which will bring you to a period of 10,000 years for the cutting back of Niagara alone. It is an immaterial matter to me how many years it takes, but it would be nearer probability, much nearer the truth, if I said three or four times that amount. What relation does a period of that kind bear to the vast duration expressed by these great ledges of strata which form the globe? We are a people curious enough to form a very distinct calculation of this. The sides of the ravine through which Niagara is cutting its way are formed by masses of [7] alluvial matter, which must be older than the river which has cut through it. In that alluvial matter you find the remains of shell-fish undistinguishable from those which now inhabit the lake, and along with them you find–as have been found–the teeth of the mastodon, which we know, from abundant evidence, was an inhabitant of the continent of North America at a comparatively recent period–the very last step of that long series of changes, of which the limestone upon which you are now standing indicates one of the older ones.

Thus it follows that the whole work of Niagara occupies less than one period of this vast duration. In relation to this duration of time, that of 10,000 years, or whatever else it may have been, is but an infinitesimal fragment of time, so far as the great phenomena of the globe are concerned. During that greater time the population of the globe has undergone a slow, constant, and gradual change, one species giving away to another. We have passed, by slow and gradual methods, without vast and sudden changes, into that state of things which obtain at present. I need not say that this view of the pest history of the globe is a very different one from that which is commonly taken. It is so widely different that it is absolutely impossible to affect any kind of community, any kind of parallel, far less any sort of reconciliation between these two. One of these must be true. The other is not.

Then we may apply our talents to determine that one rests upon a record that cannot be interfered with–cannot be tempered wish, cannot be altered by the stupidity or malice of man, and I think that it is in that one we must place our faith. If this be so, it is perfectly clear that the teaching of physical science in our schools has a much higher, much more important bearing upon the advancement of physical and material well-being. It is by the due and proper and practical teaching of the laws of science that men are rendered competent to judge of whet we call the evidence of the past. It is quite useless for persons who have not been so trained to attempt to pick out of books what is said of those matters–they will simply cut their fingers by using tools which they are not competent to handle.

It is highly important that we should believe that which is true and not that which is false. So I put in these arguments as a plea for a thorough and careful training in science in the elementary education of our youth.

It is a curious thing, ladies and gentlemen, but I suppose I am a sort of fanatic in this matter, for I generally find, in addressing a public audience, whatever I begin upon, if the topic be a general one, I come back to this subject of scientific instruction. It is to me, upon practical grounds, of such vast importance, that I am sure you will forgive me on this occasion if I ride my hobby before you. And if I can do nothing else than leave you something else to think about as the result of my visit to Nashville, all that remains to me on this my first occasion of addressing an audience in the United States, is to thank you, not only for yourselves, but for your fellow-countrymen, for the extreme kindness with which I have been received everywhere in this country. I was wholly unprepared to find so great a body of friends and kindly disposed persons as I have met here, and I can only hope that whatever it may be permitted to me to do n the future, I may be enabled to render some justification for your abundant kindness. I wish you farewell.

[University Education - see Address on University Education, Collected Essays III

The Direct Evidences of Evolution - see Lectures on Evolution, Collected Essays IV.]


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University