The Saturday Review and Professor Huxley

J. D. Christie (Pastrycook)
The Nonconformist Dec. 1871

[1] Nothing is more edifying in its way than a sermon on any moral subject by the Saturday Review. There is a piquancy in the tone of the qualities rarely united, which rivets attention, and fairly compels wakefulness to the very end–a curious mixture of Draco and Pecksniff, of sneering and snivelling, which, though unusual, is most highly entertaining. Last Saturday the discourse was against persecution in religion, with a special application to Professor Huxley; and the practical moral enforced was the duty of the municipality and of Catholics. Mr. Huxley had protested in the London School Board against rendering public financial support to schools in which the children will be taught according to the Syllabus and taught moreover by men who yield an enthusiastic assent to the Vatican dogma on infallibility. He said that it was–

One of the most fixed and distinct articles of his creed that there was no engine so carefully calculated for the destruction of all that was highest in the moral nature of mankind, as that engine which was at present wielded by the Ultramontane section of the Catholic Church. In common logical consistency they could never be satisfied with anything whatever but complete possession of the whole minds and souls of the children whom they had in their hands. He held that the predominance of their views was absolutely destructive of all that was highest in the nature of man. It was destructive of everything like freedom and intellectual progress, and he believed it was absolutely inconsistent with every possible form of free government. It was the duty of every man that cared for the elevation of his fellow men, for that intellectual freedom which had made this and every other country worthy of the name, and for that political freedom which was supposed to be dear to every Englishman, to beware of giving support to this system.

Professor Huxley, therefore, in giving utterance to these statements, has become a "persecutor." It is nothing but a matter of opinion by faith, or the Jermyn-street doctrine on the Hippocampus major, or the Papal doctrine on the Infallibility is the most pernicious to society; and if one opinion be assisted by the State all religious opinion may be so assisted, since no one of them is in a position to assume its own innocuousness, and to extrude its rivals from the patronage of the state.

The argument of the Saturday Review from beginning to end is plainly a misrepresentation of the scope of Professor Huxley’s protest. The position taken by him was not as is here alleged. "You may, for aught I care, endow every form of Protestantism, but you must not endow Ultramontane Romanism, because it is dangerous to the development of the mind"; but it is this: "If you begin to endow religious systems in the form of denominational schools you will be compelled on the ground of civil justice and political equality to endow Ultramontane Romanism, and even atheistical philosophy and no religions; and that in my judgment is an evil so great that it is suicidal for a State to offer them pecuniary support. Whence it follows that you ought to abandon the endowment of all denominational schools, so that on the one hand the State may take no damage from pernicious teaching, and on the other hand that the supporters of such teaching may not have just reason to complain of special disabilities." This, as we understand it, is the gist of Professor Huxley’s argument, and it stands on an unassailable foundation. To call this persecution is to trifle with language and with fact, and suggests the charitable wish that some school board would teach the Saturday Review the proper use of the English tongue. Foremost as we have been in advocating the doctrine of religious equality in relation to the State, we should regard as fatal to all real liberty and political equality the notion that it is intolerance for one man to express, as Professor Huxley had done, his conscientious conviction of the pernicious quality of his neighbour’s creed. In proportion as we uphold equality of confessions before the law, ought we to maintain the freedom of controversy between religion and no-religion. "Let truth and falsehood grapple." Canon Cromwell and Professor Huxley think each other’s religious views pernicious. Let them say so with all the vigour and eloquence of which they are masters. But let it not be said that it is intolerance to express their belief, or persecution if they are both prevented from teaching their religion at the expense of the State. …


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University