T. H. Huxley
Letters and Diary 1847

January 4, 1847

To continue (if indeed I shall be able to rake together any thoughts in this hot noisy berth):

On our descent we made many unsuccessful forays upon the buckets of the country people in search of proviant, until at length crossing the bridge we met a woman prettier than usual carrying a bucket of oranges and a quantity of bread. Along with her were several other country people, a horridly ugly old mendicant and the usual accompaniment of ragged boys. We dismounted and sat on the parapet while the people formed a circle round and doubtless stared to see that the Ingleses really had mouths and appetites like other people. One broad-shouldered fellow especially, was particularly attentive and polite. He seemed to have some authority among the others and I regret to believe, exercised it by plundering the woman of the greater part of the small remuneration we gave her. We cantered off in the midst of a high dispute among them and reached the house of our hospitable friend by five, dined, and in the evening went to a public ball.

This was to me a most stupid affair–quadrilles and waltzes badly played at intervals of half an hour, and in these intervals the males arrayed on one side, the females on the other. However, some English girls there were conversible enough, and so the time passed.

On the twenty-fourth Dec. I made a quiet excursion by myself. The people make a great day of Christmas Eve. Everybody is to be seen in the streets and the market places are filled with country people, buying pork and fish for the morrow's feast, so that it is a good opportunity for studying the costumes. The streets were very crowded but at no time did I see any drunken or disorderly people. After wandering about for some time I made a bargain for a horse wh. turned out a very bad one (memo: never bargain for a horse without seeing him again) to take me to the Camera de Lobos, to wh. place an English gentleman whom I met at the reading rooms recommended me to go, as being at once pleasant and accessible. The road to this village is by no means so dangerous looking as that to the Corral but in its intimate constitution is decidedly worse, being made up of rough stones set on edge. My beast, however, took precious good care to endanger neither my bones nor his own, by resisting all my efforts to work him up to a canter.

Vegetation on the whole appeared more luxuriant than in my previous journey, and some little spots of land embayed in trap dykes were beautifully clothed with cactuses, oranges and bananas. I met with one strong evidence of the destructive nature of the torrents here, in three half-ruined arches stretching into the bed of what must be at times a wide river, though, when I crossed, the brook was hardly two steps across for my horse, and had to wind its way humbly among the very boulders it had torn down in its prosperous days. These arches were evidently the remains of a strong narrow bridge.

Walking up one hill to relieve my horse, I picked up many shells of a species of Monodonta among the stones. I suppose the people eat them as we do periwinkles.

Camera de Lobos offers nothing remarkable in itself but the view from a promontory just beyond it is exceedingly beautiful. There is a still higher cliff just beyond but time would not permit of my ascending it.

At night I went to the Cathedral where I understood great things were to be done. I stood two hours of it and then bad music, heat, and the insufferable stink of garlicky humanity drove me out. I consider that stink as one of the most remarkable circumstances in my travels.

We sailed on the morning of the 26th. And now we have passed the Cap de Verd Islands, passing between St Jago and Mayo, and have reached 6.85° Lat. and 22° 38' long. West, right into the region of Trade Winds and flying fishes. In passing the Cap de Verd I looked particularly after the dust mentioned by Darwin, but although the atmosphere is never particularly hazy, no dust has been seen.

Every day except Sunday we heave to at 1 p.m. and take soundings, and at the same time a towing net is put overboard. Its contents have been Diphydes, Ascidians, Entomostraca in great numbers, nearly allied to Daphnia, and for three days past great numbers of transparent lanceolate bullheaded animals about 3/4 in. long wh. resemble Epizoa more than anything else. [Underneath, added later: Sagitta.] These animals possess a pair of strong comblike jaws moving similarly to those in the gizzard of Rotifera, a simple intestinal canal with a pair of long tubular glands filled with cells (ovaries?) on either side. The tail is provided on each side with radiating filaments, so as to resemble that of a fish. There are no other appendages nor trace of eyes. They are exceedingly voracious and swim about frequently with their heads buried in some unfortunate ascidian.

The phosphorescence of the sea at night has been decidedly less since we left Madeira than before. The light is only visible when the water is violently disturbed round the ship, is in quite distinct globules, and ceases at a very short distance. I ascertained before we reached Madeira that it arose from a small medusa, and from its similar appearance I should imagine the case to be the same still.

I look forward to "schöne Tagen". I have a corner in the Chart Room to myself, and when I have once persuaded people that Microscopy is a thing requiring a great deal of attention and quite incompatible with being bothered to show something pretty, I shall get on capitally. I mean for the present to show them nothing but "interesting" [? elementary] structures in wh. they can see nothing and of wh. they will soon become thoroughly tired and so leave me to myself.

"At Booral, Port Stephens Ae 27"

"Professor Huxley (picking a turkey's legbone)"
Library of New South Wales

January 24, 1847

Rio de Janeiro

My dear Mother–Four weeks of lovely weather and uninterrupted fair winds brought us to this southern fairyland. In my last letter I told you a considerable yarn about Madeira I guess, and so for fear lest you should imagine me scenery mad I will spare you any description of Rio Harbour. Suffice it to say that it contends with the Bay of Naples for the title of the most beautiful place in the world. It must beat Naples in luxuriance and variety of vegetation, but from all accounts, to say nothing of George's [his eldest brother] picture, falls behind it in the colours of sky and sea, that of the latter being in the harbour and for some distance outside of a dirty olive green like the washings of a painter's palette.

We have come in for the purpose of effecting some trifling repairs, which, though not essential to the safety of the ship, will nevertheless naturally enhance the comfort of its inmates. This you will understand when I tell you that in consequence of these same defects I have had water an inch or two deep in my cabin, wish-washing about ever since we left Madeira.

We crossed the line on the 13th of this month, and as one of the uninitiated I went through the usual tomfoolery practised on that occasion. The affair has been too often described for me to say anything about it. I had the good luck to be ducked and shaved early, and of course took particular care to do my best in serving out the unhappy beggars who had to follow. I enjoyed the fun well enough at the time, but unquestionably it is on all grounds a most pernicious custom. It swelled our sick list to double the usual amount, and one poor fellow, I am sorry to say, died of the effects of pleurisy then contracted.

We have been quite long enough at sea now to enable me to judge how I shall get on in the ship, and to form a very clear idea of how it fits me and how I fit it. In the first place I am exceedingly well and exceedingly contented with my lot. My opinion of the advantages lying open to me increases rather than otherwise as I see my way about me. I am on capital terms with all the superior officers, and I find them ready to give me all facilities. I have a place for my books and microscope in the chart room, and there I sit and read in the morning much as though I were in my rooms in Agar Street. My immediate superior, Johnny Thompson, is a long-headed good fellow without a morsel of humbug about him–a man whom I thoroughly respect, both morally and intellectually. I think it will be my fault if we are not fast friends through the commission. One friend on board a ship is as much as anybody has a right to expect.

It is just the interval between the sea and the land breezes, the sea like glass, and not a breath stirring. I shall become soup if I do not go on deck. Temp. in sun at noon 86 in shade, 139 in sun. N.B.–It has been up to 89 in shade, 139 in sun since this.

February 7, 1847

We staid at Rio a week, that is to say we did not sail until the first of this month. During all this period it was exceedingly hot. The thermometer in the sun on Rat Island (where observations were going on) rose as high as 140° and on board the ship it was not infrequently 86° in the shade and I do not think that at any time it was below 80°. The weather was fine most of the time, but always in the evening a bank of clouds collected about the Organ Mts and the lightning played about their peaks. One evening a complete storm of thunder, lightning and tropical rain descended upon us from the same quarter. It was lovely to see the solid zigzag rods of fire descending upon the high points of land, repeatedly striking the same place, and for the instant lighting up the whole scene.

Probably on account of the little time during wh. I have been exposed to the undermining influences of a hot climate, I have been in no way inconvenienced by the heat, at least not so much so as to interfere with my occupations. I have been about, on shore and in boats, without troubling myself about time of day, and so long as the ground was level walked at my usual pace with ease and comfort. Climbing, however, was a puzzler, and although the dense bush of the hill-sides kept the temperature comfortable, I found myself getting hors de combat before many yards were accomplished.

All my rambles at Rio were in the company of the Naturalist and therefore had or pretended to have a more or less naturalistic tendency. However, singular to relate, our investigations always took in the end a chemical turn, to wit, the examination of the nature and properties of a complex liquid called Sherry Cobbler. Oh Rio, thou Sodom-and-Gomorrah in one, town of stinks and beastliness, thou shalt be saved not because of one just man, but because of the excellence of the iced drink of the man [?]. We have a tradition, McG. and I, that one evening we consumed nine pigeons and eighteen Sherry Cobblers! Can these things be?

Cobblers or no cobblers, however, our liege lady Nature was not neglected. No end of curios have been collected, partly by our own activity in dredging and otherwise, partly by the golden hook on shore. I took part in two of the dredging expeditions, and the most noteworthy fact about these is that we procured immense numbers of a species of Amphioxus. They appeared literally to swarm in the sand in both Three-fathom and Botafogo bays, depth never more than 4 fathoms. They had just the habit and appearance of those I had seen at the Brit. Association procured by Prof. Forbes, but from Gamble's description of the British species it seems to me distinct. Of course I looked upon these as a great prize and employed the first specimens I procured in a reëxamination of the blood; to my great annoyance, however, I was unable to procure a specimen of blood sufficiently pure for the purpose. All I can say is, negatively, that I saw nothing to contradict my previous account.

These Amphioxus appeared to me to die sooner than those I had seen in England. Mine began to stink by the time that they had been 24 hours in my jar and even sooner than that, so that I prospered better in an investigation wh. did not require the animal to be alive. I mean that of the generative organs, of whose structure I have obtained a very clear idea. I rather reproach myself with not having made out the circulation in these live specimens. But I only had two sets of specimens. The first were fruitlessly employed in the attempt to procure blood, the second were entirely taken up in the examination of the generative organs wh. occupied the whole of the last day we were in Harbour. Besides I thought we should not sail until the Tuesday when I shd. have had another day for the examination of many points I had put off.

The market place here is worth attention from those whose stomachs are strong enough to stand the combined stinks of fish and nigger. They must eat queer things, as we saw numbers of cuttlefish (Loligo) and hammer-headed sharks, exposed in the stalls. The latter were small, none exceeding I should think three feet in length.

The only other notable thing in the town is the Rua do Ouvidor, wh. is the principal street for shops. The curiosity shops for feather-flowers, shells, insects etc. are the most remarkable among these. We patronized one Madame Finot, a talkative ricketty Frenchwoman. I procured a few peculiar curios from her. Notwithstanding the label in the interior of these she would persist in asserting them to be native but very rare, and consequently valuable. The trade in feather-flowers must I should think be somewhat considerable, as she had some forty females of various ages and colours busily at work in the large back part of her shop.

As for the Emperor's Palace and the Churches, they are heaps of brick and mortar in the usual Portuguese no-style of architecture–masses of ugly tawdriness.

It is a huge pity that the old Norse fashion of squatting is out of date. A few of the hungry Saxon millions now famishing in England, had they possession of such a country as this, and the Brazilians extirpated, might found a second Indian Empire. There are two things that forcibly strike anyone going into the country here. Ist the enormous number, variety and beauty of the butterflies, 2nd the noise of the cicadas. These fellows are as big as a man's thumb and fly about the trees like locusts. They emit a very acute loud continuous note, and when numbers of them are together it is really deafening. Singularly enough they seem to agree to short intervals of silence, then the note begins, at first weakly, then swelling into a grand chorus and gradually dying away again.

The harbour never looked more beautiful than the morning we sailed. The mountains stood out sharp and well defined, and the singularity of the Sugar-loaf was heightened by a band of clouds wh. trailed along about half-way down. We put the dredge down when we were well out, and in [left blank in MS.] fathoms got up a number of shells, mostly Terebratula; of these the larger were all dead but the small ones were alive.

March 28, 1847

[To Mrs. Rachel Huxley]

–I see I concluded with a statement of temp. Since then it has been considerably better–140 in sun; however, in the shade it rarely rises above 86 or so, and when the sea or land breezes are blowing this is rather pleasant than otherwise.

I have been ashore two or three times. The town is like most Portuguese towns, hot and stinking, the odours here being improved by a strong flavour of nigger from the slaves, of whom there is an immense number. They seem to do all the work, and their black skins shine in the sun as though they had been touched up with Warren, 30 Strand. They are mostly in capital condition, and on the whole look happier than the corresponding class in England, the manufacturing and agricultural poor, I mean. I have a much greater respect for them than for their beastly Portuguese masters, than whom there is not a more vile, ignorant, and besotted nation under the sun. I only regret that such a glorious country as this should be in such hands. Had Brazil been colonised by Englishmen, it would by this time have rivalled our Indian Empire.

The naturalist Macgillivray and I have had several excursions under pretence of catching butterflies, etc. On the whole, however, I think we have been most successful in imbibing sherry cobbler, which you get here in great perfection. By the way, tell Cooke [his brother-in-law], with my kindest regards, that ––is a lying old thief, many of the things he told me about Macgillivray, e.g., being an ignoramus in natural history, etc. etc., having proved to be lies. He is at any rate a very good ornithologist, and, I can testify, is exceedingly zealous in his vocation as a collector. As in these (points) Mr.–– 's statements are unquestionably false, I must confess I feel greatly inclined to disbelieve his other assertions.

April 16, 1847

Precisely a month I see since my last entry–truly journalising is not my forte. We remained at Simons Bay until the 9th of this month for the sole purpose so far as I can judge of being present at a ball given by the Admiral on the 7th. This was a very creditable affair. The fair "Afrikanders" did honour in point of good looks to their native land and danced bravely. Considering it was a dignity ball too there was a remarkable absence of formality. Nevertheless I chiefly remember that I was very seedy all next day and wished I hadn't been such an ass as to go.

I care not how long it may be before I see Simons Bay again–so far as the town goes–for a more dull, dreary platitude never met my eyes. Nothing but officials, stall-keepers and Malays to be seen, and very few of these. The Malay habitations too are as noisome as any Portuguese huts and the place looks altogether unwholesome.

The surrounding scenery is grand and rugged, but very arid and sad looking, the vegetation being mainly confined to low dusty-leaved shrubs and heaths which show their beauty only on a near approach. But perhaps to this very circumstance, the absence of any foliage to interfere with the deeper and warmer tints of the soil, may be owing the gorgeousness of the tints assumed by the high mountain of the Cape Hanglip side of the bay, when lighted up by the rising or the setting sun. I have never seen anything more beautiful in paintings, where indeed until now I always judged their more scenic effects to be mere painter's licences.

Several of our officers made visits to Cape Town but the accounts I received from them of Cape Town and the things to be done there held out no prospect sufficiently inviting to induce me to undertake the journey. So my rambles in South Africa have been chiefly confined to zoological foraging among the holes in the rocks on the seashore. These offer a great quantity of marine animals but no very great variety. It was curious to meet with Comatulae and Terebratulae above low water mark. The former however were abundant and very beautiful. A large [?] was very common in the same localities. Several species of Haliotis too were found of good size and tolerably abundant. During our stay I made several very careful and satisfactory drawings and dissections of Haliotis, Sipunculus, Bullœa, Patella, Fissurella. I examined a large Turbo also, but not very carefully in consequence of his being too much contracted. In every case I paid particular attention to the anatomy of the nervous system and was more and more confirmed in the ideas I had previously formed as to the unity of organization to be detected in it throughout the mollusca. It is not time yet to draw conclusions, but twenty or thirty careful dissections must decide the point and then, Corpo di Baccho, we will have a paper.

I have a grand project floating through my head, of working up a regular monograph of the Mollusca, anatomy, physiology and histology, based on examination of at least one species of every genus. But I fear me much that, as the old saying goes, my eyes are bigger than my belly. In any case, however, I think I will draw up a plan for such an undertaking, as it will at worst prove a useful guide in the study of such molluscs as I do work at. What other notions have I floating in my head just at present?

No. 1. A thorough account of all the Acalephae we meet with.

No. 2. The determination of the homologies of the parts of the head in Insects, for my own private satisfaction at any rate. Inasmuch as I am not at all satisfied with Newport's account as applied to the big Cape grasshopper (locust?). This, to do it properly, will require an examination of the principal types of head in Crustacea, Insecta, Myriapoda, Arachnida, Annelida, in the adult and embryonic states.

*** Modest notion this and about enough for the five years in itself.

No. 3. Mollusca monograph as aforesaid. Enough for five years and a half.

No. 4. An anatomy of the Actiniae and of the Polype animal if Mr MacGillivray does not take the latter up. D° Velella and Porpita.

With all these on my mind I think it will be a hard case if I am obliged to be without occupation anywhere. God defend me from idleness! I should assuredly go clean daft, shortly, in my present environment had I nothing to do.

I finished up my paper on the Physalia at Simons Bay although not quite so completely as might have been wished and sent it home. I had at first thought of transmitting it to Forbes that he might do what he pleased with it. But the Captain suggesting that it should go to his father as President of the Linnæan, it has been thus disposed of, I stipulating only that it should go to Forbes in the second place. I think it is not improbable that the Bishop will get it printed in the Linn. Trans., by no means on account of any inherent merit, but because it is the first-fruits of his son's cruise. They may do as they like with it. The working up the subject has done me all the real good that lies in the thing and I feel no more interest in it, particularly as I cannot possibly know anything about its fate for the next six months.

To-day I have been very busy upon the Diphyda, Aglaisma and Diphyes–the former was perfect, the latter only possessed the nuclear piece. These transparent creatures are vastly troublesome to depict, even in outline. You have to turn them about and study them for a long while before you can properly understand their strange and whimsical forms.

May 4, 1847

We made Mauritius last afternoon and having sailed round the northern extremity of the island were towed into Port Louis this morning by the handsomest of tugs. Towing was necessary on account of a fresh offshore breeze which would have precluded any mode of approach beside beating up, a process dangerous by reason of the narrow entrance of the harbour which is flanked on each side by a fringing coral reef. The aspect presented by the island as you approach its shores, is very beautiful, but will not give that idea of luxuriant fertility I had formed from the descriptions of Darwin and others. At a distance the character of the landscape reminded me partly of Rio and partly of Madeira, resembling the former in the shape of the mountains (one of wh. was singularly like the Corcovado), and the latter in the dry red volcanic-looking appearance of the high land. But as we gradually neared the land the rich plain of the Pamplemousses became a more prominent feature of the landscape, and its bright green richly wooded undulations, fully redeemed the character of the country. I have not yet been ashore but great things are spoken of the Town by those who have.

This is my twenty-second birthday–these birthdays are strange things to reflect on. Twenty-two years ago I entered this world a pulpy mass of capabilities, as yet unknown and save by motherly affection uncared for. And had it not been better altogether had I been crushed and trodden out at once? Nourishing me up, was as though one should pick up a stray egg, unconscious whether dove's or serpent's, and carefully incubate it. And here I am what a score of years in the world have made me–such a bundle of glorious and inglorious contradictions as men call a man.

"Ich kann nicht anders! Gott hilfe mir!" Morals and religion are one wild whirl to me–of them the less said the better. In the region of the intellect alone can I find free and innocent play for such faculties as I possess. And it is well for me that my way of life allows me to get rid of the "malady of thought" in a course of action so suitable to my tastes, as that laid open to me by this voyage. [Is it better with me now? A little. Jany. 1849]

May 15, 1847

[To Mrs. Rachel Huxley]

After a long and somewhat rough passage from the Cape, we made the highland of the Isle of France on the afternoon of the 3rd of this month, and passing round the northern extremity of the island, were towed into Port Louis by the handsomest of tugs about noon on the 4th. In my former letter I have spoken to you of the beauty of the places we have visited, of the picturesque ruggedness of Madeira, the fine luxuriance of Rio, and the rude and simple grandeur of South Africa. Much of my admiration has doubtless arisen from the novelty of these tropical or semitropical scenes, and would be less vividly revived by a second visit. I have become in a manner blasé with fine sights and something of a critic. All this is to lead you to believe that I have really some grounds for the raptures I am going into presently about Mauritius. In truth it is a complete paradise, and if I had nothing better to do, I should pick up some pretty French Eve (and there are plenty) and turn Adam. N.B. There are no serpents in the island.

This island is, you know, the scene of St. Pierre's beautiful story of Paul and Virginia, over which I suppose most people have sentimentalised at one time or another of their lives. Until we reached here I did not know that the tale was like the lady's improver–a fiction founded on fact, and that Paul and Virginia were at one time flesh and blood, and that their veritable dust was buried at Pamplemousses in a spot considered as one of the lions of the place, and visited as classic ground. Now, though I never was greatly given to the tender and sentimental, and have not had any tendencies that way greatly increased by the elegancies and courtesies of a midshipman's berth,–not to say that, as far as I recollect, Mdlle. Virginia was a bit of a prude, and M. Paul a pump,–yet were it but for old acquaintance sake, I determined on making a pilgrimage. Pamplemousses is a small village about seven miles from Port Louis, and the road to it is lined by rows of tamarind trees, of cocoanut trees, and sugarcanes. I started early in the morning in order to avoid the great heat of the middle of the day, and having breakfasted at Port Louis, made an early couple of hours' walk of it, meeting on my way numbers of the coloured population hastening to market in all the varieties of their curious Hindoo costume. After some trouble I found my way to the "Tombeaux" as they call them. They are situated in a garden at the back of a house now in the possession of one Mr. Geary, an English mechanist, who puts up half the steam engines for the sugar mills in the island. The garden is now an utter wilderness, but still very beautiful; round it runs a grassy path, and in the middle of the path on each side towards the further extremity of the garden is a funeral urn supported on a pedestal, and as dilapidated as the rest of the affair. These dilapidations, as usual, are the work of English visitors, relic-hunters, who are as shameless here as elsewhere. I was exceedingly pleased on the whole with my excursions, and when I returned I made a drawing of the place, which I will send some day or other.

Since this I have made, in company with our purser and a passenger, Mr. King, a regular pedestrian trip to see some very beautiful falls up the country.

June 22, 1847

Since my last entry we have had quite another sort of thing to the "quiet river". It has been cold miserable weather with occasional hard close-reefed topsail breezes, and to add to our discomfort the fuel was all of a sudden found to have fallen short some ten days ago. By way of meeting this alarming deficiency the galley fire was put out at twelve every day, and lately there has been no galley fire at all, all cooking being done in the coppers, and the fire in these even put out at 4 P.M. [Poor Denison! He thought himself a real martyr. I should like him to have tried three months on the reefs. Jan. 49.] It is astonishing what a difference this makes in one's small stock of ship's comforts. No hot grog, tea at half-past three, and other abominations. If the present state of things continues however we shall soon have an end of these things. We are within 200 miles of Van Diemens Land with a glorious 8-1/2 knot breeze and expect to see land to-morrow evening at farthest.

I had one of my melancholy fits this evening and as usual had recourse to my remedy–a good "think" to get rid of it. It took me an hour and a half walking on the poop however to accomplish the cure. Among other thoughts that I thought I sketched out the plan of my next paper, "On the Diphydae and their relations with the Physophoridae". I have the material all ready and will send it from Sydney. It shall consist, 1. of a slight sketch of what is already known about the Diphydae. 2. The terminology I use compared with that of authors. 3rd. a general description of the Diphydae and of the typical genera of Physophoridae. 4th. an anatomical and genetical account of the organs of the two classes with comparison.

Suppose I finish my account of our trip in Mauritius. I left off where we started, provided with eatables and drinkables and altogether three "proper men". Away we trudged, full of life and spirits, and I confess that the whole scene, the bright sunlight, the brilliant foliage, the firm earth, so refreshing in its very resistance to the foot of one who has been for weeks reeling at sea, intoxicated me, and I would have readily undertaken to walk to Jericho if required. As it was we put a good ten miles between us and the town before calling a halt. By this time the sun was getting hot, and never was anything so sweet as the water of the little Belle Isle river on whose banks we rested.

But there are seven miles to go and we must not rest here. So on we go, asking our way from the innocent blacknesses who cross our path in the best French we can command, as it turned out to little purpose, for after crossing the Rivière du Tamarin and being quite elated at the prospect of leaving our carriage friends in the lurch, we took the turn to the Black River instead of that to the Cascades. We walk on some way and then inquire of a Frenchman who keeps a sort of wayside auberge for further directions. We get capital vin ordinaire at sixpence a bottle and our good friend, seeing us I suppose look somewhat vexed at having come out of the road, assured us that the Cascade du Tamarin is nothing so very grand–he himself has seen that, but that if we want to see the real beauty of the island we should go on to Chamarelle which is only twelve miles off. We must sleep somewhere, and there is nowhere else to sleep at but the Military Post at Black River from whence it is an easy stage to Chamarelle. Our friend assures us that we need be under no apprehension about a reception as M. le docteur at the Porte is a "tres joli petit docteur". Could we do else? No, so we agree to go on.

Meanwhile the appetite gets urgent and we get off the road to seek for a convenient resting and dining place. We descend towards the river, pass a very tempting looking banyan tree, cross a rude bridge, and get into a sort of waste garden in wh. stands a house. Here I found fast asleep in one of the rooms a Frenchman whom I laid under contribution for cold water. He provided us with this, and with first rate pillows on wh. we reclined at our ease "sub tegmine fagi". After lightening our pockets very materially of the store of eatables Brady and I went to sleep while King as usual conchologized and sketched in the neighbourhood. We did not get under way again till just three o'clock, when somewhat heavy and stiff we bent our way towards Black River. Our progress was somewhat slower than in the morning so that the sun was setting as we reached the port, and the rich colours of the evening sky gave a peculiar beauty to the exquisite little bay at the head of which the station is situated. In the absence of the officers the soldiers brought out coffee and bread, the best they had; after a while the little doctor, who fully merited the epithet "jolly", returned and we were immediately invited into his house and provided with a capital dinner. We slept there that night and did not get fairly on our way again till eight the next morning, thus exposing ourselves far more to the heat of the day than was necessary. Our friend the doctor provided us with a letter of introduction to M. Dinneuville and accompanied us himself as far as the first river, where he derived considerable amusement from seeing me wade over with Brady on my back, the feet of the latter being rather too sore to admit of his walking over the rough stones at the bottom. We had to cross two or three streams in this way.

At length we came to a high table-land rising abruptly out of the plain we had been traversing. Here we had to take to a mountain path which led for about 1800 feet up the steep side of a hill clothed with a thick wood. What between the heat and our previous walk, this seemed a most tremendous exertion, and I got such repeated attacks of violent palpitation of the heart with consequent faintness that I should never have got up at all but for that invaluable pocket pistol. At last we reached the crest and lay down awhile on the other side contemplating the land of promise before us. The elevation made a sensible difference in the heat, and the rest of our walk was more agreeable. We found M. D.'s establishment to be a large square of buildings in not the best condition. The centre was provided with a large verandah and was inhabited by the master, the sides were occupied by outhouses and buildings for the servants. M. Dinneuville himself was stockingless and unshaven, but received us with all the courtesy of a French gentleman. We found him to be a most agreeable well-informed man, who had seen much of the world. He treated us most hospitably and would I believe have kept us for a month had we been so inclined.

After lunching with him we proceeded to the falls which are situated about a mile from his house. I shall never forget them –the scene struck me as the most extraordinary I had ever beheld. The Rivière du Cap rises among the high land towards the centre of the island, thence winds its way as a quiet rivulet, till it reaches Chamarelle, when it precipitates itself over the edge of a huge chasm, sheer down for 350 feet; at the bottom it breaks into rainbows of foam against the rocks and then becomes a dark still pool of many acres in extent, ultimately finding its way to the sea by a fissure in one side of the rocky basin. An old tree overhangs one edge of the precipice and hanging on by this you can look down and see the birds wheeling and soaring below you. A little Asmodeus of a boy, Sewan by name, accompanied us and I made him hang on to the tree for a foreground while I sketched. The sides of the pit are all covered with large trees and the whole aspect of the place conveys to the mind at once the strongest ideas of wildness and of richness. We bathed in the rivulet just above the falls and had a sort of small washing day so as to get rid of any rate the superficial layer of dust with wh. we were enveloped. In the afternoon King and I made another visit to the falls and saw them under a different point of view. At dinner we met the ladies of our host's family, and I fear that we did not represent the navy creditably in consequence of our imperfect knowledge of French. Chess-playing and conversation whiled away the evening, and we started early on the morrow on our way back to Port Louis, taking a somewhat different course to the way we came.

At noon we were going to bivouac at the bottom of a long avenue wh. led up to a gentleman's house, but he spying us out came down, and carried us up to lunch with him. M. Butte was not contented with entertaining us in first rate style, but seeing that Brady walked rather lame, he insisted upon his riding on a donkey for some miles, sending a black servant to bring the said donkey back. We reached Port Louis that night at ten, having walked thirty odd miles. Brady was disabled for some days, but the rest of us were ready for anything the next morning. And so ended one of the most pleasant trips I ever had.

The Little Asmodeus of a boy, Sewan by name

August 1, 1847

To Lizzie

In my last letter I think I mentioned to you that I had worked out and sent home to the President of the Linnæan Soc., through Capt. Stanley, an account of Physalia, or Portuguese man-of-war as it is called, an animal whose structure and affinities had never been properly worked out. The careful investigation I made gave rise to several new ideas covering the whole class of animals to which this creature belongs, and these ideas I have had the good fortune to have had many opportunities of working out in the course of our subsequent wanderings, so that I am provided with materials for a second paper far more considerable in extent, and embracing an altogether wider field. This second paper is now partly in esse–that is, written out–and partly in posse– that is, in my head; but I shall send it before leaving. Its title will be "Observations upon the Anatomy of the Diphydæ, and upon the Unity of Organisation of the Diphydæ and Physophoridæ," and it will have lots of figures to illustrate it. Now when we return from the north I hope to have collected materials for a much bigger paper than either of these, and to which they will serve as steps. If my present anticipations turn out correct, this paper will achieve one of the great ends of Zoology and Anatomy, viz. the reduction of two or three apparently widely separated and incongruous groups into modifications of the single type, every step of the reasoning being based upon anatomical facts. There! Think yourself lucky you have only got that to read instead of the slight abstract of all three papers with which I had some intention of favouring you.

But five years ago you threw a slipper after me for luck on my first examination, and I must have you to do it for everything else.

October 1847

[To Henrietta Heathorn]

I have thought much of our afternoon conversation, and I am ill at ease as to the impression I may have left on your mind regarding my sentiments. If there be one fact in a man's character rather than another, which may be taken as a key to the whole, it is the tendency of his religious speculations. Not by any means, is the absolute nature of his opinions in themselves a matter of so much consequence, as the temper and tone of mind which he brings to the inquiry. Opinion is the result of evidence. From a given amount and strength of evidence, as cause, a certain belief must, in all minds, always follow as effect. The intellect here acts passively, and is as irresponsible for its conclusion as a jury, who convict a man on the strength of certain evidence are irresponsible for their conclusion should that evidence turn out to have been unworthy of trust. For the verdict they are not responsible, for the manner in which they found it they are deeply & heavily so. It is the same with individuals. The opinion a man has, once more, neither is nor can be a matter of moral responsibility. The extent to which he deserves approbation or reprobation depends on the mode in which he has founded his opinion–and of this the Almighty search of hearts can alone be the efficient judge. May his fellowmen then form no judgment upon the point? Surely they must and will do so, and so long as they confine themselves to their proper sphere of judgment nothing can be more fit than that they should do so. But let them not judge him by his agreement or disagreement with their own ideas however venerable and raised the latter may appear to them–let them rather inquire whether he be truthful and earnest–or vain and talkative–whether he be one of those who would spend years of silent investigation in the faint hope of at length finding truth, or one of those who conscious of capability would rather gratify a selfish ambition by adopting and defending the first fashionable error suited to his purpose.

Whether again he be one who says I doubt, in all sadness of heart, and from solemn fear to tread where the fools of the day boldly rush in–or whether he be one of those miserable men, whose scepticism is the result of covetousness & who pitifully exhibit their vain ingenuity for the mere purpose of puzzling and disturbing the faith of others.

On grounds of this kind only can a judgment be justly formed. On these my own dear one must you form your judgment of me.

As for my opinions themselves, I can only say in Martin Luther's ever famous words, "Hier Steh Ich–Gott helfe mir–Ich kann nicht anders". Perhaps after all they are not so different from yours as you may imagine....

Had I space I would write you much more on this matter which so deeply interests us both....

November 25, 1847

Yet another month. I'll make an effort. Van Diemen's Land was without question one of the best places we have sojourned in. The people were very hospitable–really hospitable, and not inviting you to their home merely for the sake of your coat as they do at Sydney. Our introduction (by Capt. Stanley) to Dr Bedford gave me some very agreeable acquaintances there and except that I was rather confined to the ship by the Surgeon's absence, I enjoyed myself very much. I entered into all that was going on, much more than I should have done by the bye. And what between Balls, dinners and other things my residence there was little less than a round of lesser and greater debaucheries. At Hobart Town I saw an ether operation for the first time; it was quite successful, so far as the patient's declaration went, although he kept up a kind of reflex (?) moaning the whole time. He answered questions quite rationally.

So much for Hobarton. I trust we shall return there some day or other. (God forbid! Jany. 1849.)

We left on the 8th of July and arrived in Sydney on the 16th. I procured some very fine specimens of Diphyes by the way and completed the materials for my paper upon them.

We beat up that splendid harbour Port Jackson and as we neared Sydney and its homes and shipping became gradually more and more defined my heart throbbed with joy at the near prospect of obtaining news from home after seven long months of absence. The boat went off to the Post Office, and returned with a cartload of letters and newspapers, but no line for me. I damned everything and everybody but sat down to dinner in a temper that Satan need not have envied, vowing I would never write home again. After all, this explosion was little necessary as when my letters arrived a month afterwards I found my disappointment was purely accidental.

In the meanwhile began a round of humbug–ship scrubbing, painting, calling, and being called upon–Govt. Balls and the like. If I remember right I managed three balls and two dinners in the course of a week. I can't say I liked all this. For the nonce it was an agreeable change enough, and I justified it to myself on the principle of the expediency of acquiring a few pleasant acquaintances–perhaps even one or two friends–but on the whole it was a dog's life, altogether making a toil of pleasure. At first, too, I must needs join a considerable amount of private dissipation to all this. But this, thank God, was checked by a serious and painful illness which lasted some three weeks. To recruit my strength when I had recovered, I went to Tahlee [ ?] and from thence with Philip King to Stroud. Here misfortune followed me–I had not been three days on my visit when I was attacked with severe rheumatism in the foot, not to say gout, which kept me partly in bed and partly on the sofa for the ensuing ten days. And had it not been for Philip King's unremitting and most kindhearted attention, I believe I might have suffered far more severely. I was greatly annoyed to find myself helpless and thrown entirely upon the kindness of utter strangers, but I really believe the annoyance was confined to myself. An indifferent person might have thought I was the brother of my host and hostess.

Consequent on this calamity was another, which to say truth I did not feel–viz., I was absent from the Rattlesnake picnic, which as everybody said went off with so much éclat. I thought that the Fannings would be there, and a shade of disappointment passed over my mind, why I could not tell–what were they to me except very pleasant people?

In returning through the bush to Raymond Terrace I met McClatchie and urged by him changed my intention of leaving for Sydney, putting it off until Saturday and in the meanwhile visiting old Caswell, which was done, and on Saturday evening I got on board, and the old life began again. I was particularly glad to find that I had been inquired after by the New Town folks. Cary B. had been particular in her inquiries, but, as she took the trouble to explain to her informant, not on her own behalf; I was still more pleased–by instinct I suppose, for I could not have told myself why at the time.

Then again, I remember, I was particularly anxious to make some very proper calls–very proper and polite doubtless, but they were at New Town, and so in reflection I doubt if politeness could have been the whole and sole motive. I made one or two appointments with S. which were each time prevented so that it was a week before I managed the matter and then I went alone after all.

I called at Fannings first (instinct again?) and a pleasant merry hour we had of it, Mrs Fanning, the three girls and I. And of all subjects the one under discussion was my reception into the family. Fraternization–Cary Bose would have none of it, professed to oppose me tooth and nail, in her liveliest way. Sister Alice was in my favour. And sister Henrietta, what said she? Cast down her eyes, smiled, and would take the matter into consideration. So it was agreed at last that the decision of the matter should lie in her hand. My heart leaped. But I thought to myself, Tom, you are a fool, what on earth is there in you, and you have only seen one another four times, besides, it is wrong. So time passed on. The sisters were going to walk to Tempe, whereupon I found it highly expedient that I too should have a walk, and proposed myself as chevalier on the occasion. We set out and Sister Henrietta was my companion, not by my contriving I vow. The other two mischievous girls could find nothing better to do than plait a wreath of white flowers for her–and there was some hint about orange flowers. [Why, you said you could not offer an arm to three and so offered one to me! And you twined the flowers yourself round my bonnet and observed they looked very like orange-blossoms! –Nettie.]

We called at Mrs Steele's on our way, and renewed our discussion. I proposed myself as a son, but Mamma gave me no hope of adoption–inquired even with a very sly look whether there were no other relation I would prefer. (Tom, Tom, where art thou going to, like a lamb to the slaughter?) And then came the rest of the walk. H.H. was my companion as before and I began to find that there was something inexplicably pleasing to me in the expression of her mild "seelenvoll" countenance, in the tone of her voice, and still more in her sensible and yet thoroughly womanly conversation. I strongly suspect I was in love without knowing it, for after I left Tempe (when to my everlasting credit for discretion be it said I did not stop two minutes, the lady of the house being absent) I do remember looking back more than once. And, ass that I was, feeling half disappointed when I no longer saw her at the window.

I got back to Fannings' about four o'clock and immediately requested to have my horse brought round, but F. requested me with so much frank courtesy to dine with them that I could not refuse. And I never spent a happier evening. [Before, perhaps–but since (?). '49.] We sat round the fire and I told no end of auld wives tales–there was something that put me in mind of the happy old days at S's. I saw Mr. H[eathorn] there too, a curious man of strong natural talent evidently, but rather ingenious than sound. On the whole I rather liked him. On my ride home that night I felt happier than I had for months. Time wore away. We were in the last days of September and were to sail early in October. Some days after my visit, M. told me that he had seen H.H. in a carriage and had received a very polite bow. We were then very good friends (i.e. laughed and talked together) but I felt disgusted and half angry at hearing her name from the mouth of a heartless profligate, [Too strong–too strong–though there is little love lost between us now. '49.] such as he. Whether this, or the increased value that purity and worth were attaining in my eyes as I insensibly felt a more personal interest in them, made me less disposed to put up with his humours than before I cannot say, but certain it is we quarrelled in a day or two, and spoke no more. Nor shall we, unless I strangely alter, again meet on friendly terms. My eyes are open to the influence he had on my disposition, bad enough naturally.

A French frigate came into harbour and a grand final ball was to be given at Government House. A full dress affair. A number of us went, I among the rest, for I knew H.H. was to be there, and that night settled my fate. We danced together and when we did not dance we walked up and down the hall under pretence of getting cool. Without intention, without thought, our conversation became more and more interesting. We found corresponding events in our past life, we found that taste and habit of thought in each harmonised, and more than all each found that the other was loved.

Her hand trembled on my arm, but when, half mad with excitement as I was, I would have taken it, it was drawn back with such shrinking maidenly modesty that I feared after all I had mistaken. No word of love was spoken but we understood one another. [Very presumptuous statement that–scratch it out if you think so, darling. '49.] As I handed her to the carriage we appointed to meet again on Monday. Those miserable three days. I was half mad, unable to apply myself to any occupation or to rest anywhere. I felt that my happiness depended upon the issue of our next interview. I felt that I had already in honour pledged myself, and yet I would have given worlds to be able at any personal sacrifice to retract. What had I, a young man, poor, prospectless, I had almost said hopeless, to do with her? What right had I to disturb the even quiet tenor of her life, to give her new anxieties and undeserved cares, to take her from her pleasant friendly circle, to what, even after years, must be the hearth of a poor and struggling man? At times I cursed myself, and then as I thought over each look and word I felt so happy in the belief she loved me that all obstacles were forgotten. Anxiety brought on my old nervous palpitation and I became less and less fit for quiet thought. Her image was ever before my eyes waking and sleeping, and her voice, sounding softly in my ears: "We shall see you on Monday?" In utter perplexity I determined to consult McClatchie who introduced me to the New Town folks, and had I not had other reasons I should have acquainted him with my state of the case as I strongly suspected him of leanings in the same direction. His advice was that of a friend of us both, advising strongly to let the matter drop, as a matter of duty, so after I had had some hours' conversation with him the end was as might have been expected. "Go on Monday I must and will, come what will of it." Poor fellow, I fear he had sadly wasted his breath. But I rather look upon him as a particeps criminis as he promised to ride over with me–and not stop.

But I, on my part, promised to behave very prudently. And so I did. For blessed be the Gods (and Mrs Fanning), Netta came down alone to receive me. She tried very hard to look indifferently at some prints on the table, but it was no good. My secret (and hers too) was soon out and we were both very, very happy when–when what? why that abominable soft-stepping butler came in to announce lunch. But I admire that man–he never changed countenance a muscle.

And this is what you call prudence, Signor Tom, is it? Certainly. Waste of time is the highest improvidence, and I lost none.

Happy day, short happy week that followed. I thank the Almighty humbly and heartily for this one bright spot [Succeeded by how many, many more happy ones. '49.] if it should so happen even that another never occurs in my life. I felt awakened to a new life, pledged by all the confiding tender love of that dear girl, to a new course of action–nobler and purer. My personal character, my personal devotion is all I have to offer her in return. And shall not that be made worthy of her? The thought that it is my duty to discipline myself for her sake, that she may have less reason hereafter to repent her choice, nerves my better feelings–and often her image is my good genius, banishing evil from my thoughts and actions. Bless you, bless you, dearest, a thousand times. You have purified and sweetened the very springs of my being which were before but waters of Marah, dark and bitter were they. And strangely enough, too, not merely is your influence powerful over my heart, but my intellect is stronger, my thoughts more rapid, my energy less exhaustible, I never could acquire more rapidly or reason more clearly. Wicked little witch, you would have been burnt for sorcery in our great-grandfather's days.

(Courteous Reader. [Dec. 4th. All this discussion means simply that I was tired of writing. This journal was never meant to be read by any one but myself. '49.] My good sir, this is doubtless all very interesting to you–very–but to me rather dull. You have given us some six pages of your love-making, forsooth, and not one word about the ship or the expedition in general. Be pleased to go on with the narrative, the really important events. Were the Rattlesnake and Bramble wrecked or did they go on their journey while you were in the clouds (?) Courteous reader–you are an ass. Not events merely but those which influence a man, are of importance. These formed a new era in my life, a matter to me of much more importance than all H.M. navy put together. And for your impertinence not another word from me to-night.)


Darling Downs, Australia
December 5, 1847
J. Huxley, Diary

December 24, 1847

Not so fast. We have had strong contrary breezes for some days past and are now only off Curtis Island. The ship has been knocking about and everything at the minimum rate of comfort. I feel especially disgusted this evening, Christmas Eve! a time that one has been used to consider as sacred to social pleasures and an occasion of pleasant meeting among friends. And here I am in this atrocious berth without a soul to whom I can speak an open friendly word. But it is all good discipline doubtless and I am indeed already reaping the benefit, for I find myself getting more and more satisfied and content with my own sweet society and that of my books, not by any means forgetting dear Netta's letters. Only the process is somewhat painful at times–the very eels don't get used to being skinned without a writhe or two. [Grumble, grumble–but it's ower true. '49.]

When I feel very rebellious and discontented I take up Carlyle and read the Life of Heyne or Jean Paul, and when I think of the old father writing church music and composing sermons with the children cutting about on the table, I feel ashamed of myself and try once more to abstract myself from the neighbour's noise and balderdash.

December 25, 1847

I will not think it Christmas day. There shall be no more Christmas days or festive days of any kind for me in a ship. It is cruel mockery to call a drinking bout among a parcel of people thrown together by the Admiralty "spending a merry Christmas". It is a more than Egyptian feast, for all the guests are skeletons. Where is the social ease, the comfort, the heartfelt kind words, the friendly influences of a home circle? It is now two years since I formed part of such an one and that one alas I was but the last ray of a happy sun, followed by a dark night of misfortunes. Oh Lizzie! dear Lizzie, dearer to me than any but one in this world, what endless misery hast thou seen since then–would that I could have been ever by you–I would have tended you and cheered you with a care passing that of a brother–for of all of us, you and I were the only two I believe who really loved and therefore understood one another.

Where shall I ever find another sister like you at once endowed with more than man's firmness and courage in adversity and yet gifted with tenderest heart, and mind and taste capable of the highest cultivation? And yet we may never meet again, nay in all human probability never shall.

But you once said "my highest hopes are centred in that boy" and may the Almighty forget me when I forget you or shrink from serving you or yours.

Next summer it will be six years since I made my first trial in the world–my first public competition. Small as it was, it was an epoch in my life. I had been attending (it was my first summer session ) the botanical lectures at Chelsea. One morning I observed a notice stuck up, a notice of a public competition for medals etc. to take place on the 1st of August (if I recollect aright). It was then the end of May or thereabouts. I remember looking longingly at the notice and some one said to me "Why don't you go in and try for it?" I laughed at the idea for I was very young and my knowledge of Botany somewhat of the vaguest. Nevertheless I mentioned the matter to S. [Dr. Scott, Lizzie's husband] when I returned home. He likewise decidedly advised me to try and so I determined I would. I set to work in earnest, and perseveringly applied myself to such works as I could lay hands upon–Lindley's and Decandolle's systems and the Annales des Sciences Naturelles in the British Museum. I tried to read Schleiden, but my German was insufficient.

For a young hand I worked really hard, from eight or nine in the morning until twelve at night besides a long hot summer's walk over to Chelsea two or three times a week to hear Lindley. The day of examination came and as I went along the passage to go out I well remember dear Lizzie half in jest half in earnest throwing her shoe after me, as she said for luck. She was alone (beside S.) in the secret and almost as anxious as I was. How I reached the examination room I hardly know, but I recollect finding myself at last with pen ink and paper before me and five other beings, all older than myself, at a long table. We stared at one another like strange cats in a garret, but at length the examiner (Ward) entered and before each was placed his paper of questions and sundry plants. I looked at my questions but for some moments could hardly hold my pen, so extreme was my nervousness, but when I once fairly began my ideas crowded upon me almost faster than I could write them. And so we all sat, nothing heard but the scratching of the pens and the occasional crackle of the examiner's Times as he quietly looked over the news of the day. The examination began at eleven. At two they brought in lunch. It was a good meal enough, but the circumstances were not particularly favourable for enjoyment, so after a short delay we renewed our work. It began to be evident between whom the contest lay, and the others determined that I was one main competitor and Stocks (he is now in the E. India service) the other. Scratch, scratch, scratch. Four o'clock came, the usual hour of closing the examination, but Stocks and I had not half done, so with the consent of the others we petitioned for an extension. The examiner was willing to let us go on as long as we liked. Never did I see man write like Stocks one might have taken him for an attorney's clerk writing for his dinner. We went on. I had finished a little after eight, he went on till near nine and then we had tea and dispersed.

Great were the greetings I received when I got home where my long absence had caused some anxiety; the decision would not take place for some weeks and many were the speculations made as to the probabilities of success. I for my part managed to forget all about it and went on my ordinary avocations without troubling myself more than I could possibly help about it. I knew too well my own deficiencies to have been either surprised or disappointed at failure, and I made a point of shattering all involuntary "castles in the air" as soon as possible. My worst anticipations were realized. One day S. came to me with a sorrowful expression of countenance. He had inquired of the Beadle as to the decision and ascertained on the latter's authority that all the successful candidates were University College men–whereby of course I was excluded. I said "Very well, the thing was not to be helped", put my best face upon the matter, and gave up all thought of it. Lizzie too came to comfort me and I believe felt it more than I did. What then was my surprise on returning home one afternoon to find myself suddenly seized and the whole female household vehemently insisting on kissing me. It appeared an official-looking letter had arrived for me, and Lizzie, as I did not appear, could not restrain herself from opening it. I was second, was to receive a medal accordingly and dine with the Guild on the 9th November to have it bestowed. I dined with the company and bore my share in both-pudding and praise, [All this will interest you if ever I succeed in the path I wish to follow, Dear Nettie, and if I fail, perhaps still it may interest you, though to any one else it might seem puerile. Jany. '49.] but the charm of success lay in Lizzie's warm congratulation and sympathy. Since then she always took on herself to prophesy touching the future fortunes of "the boy".

Letters of 1848
Letters of 1846

Letter Index



1.   THH Publications
2.   Victorian Commentary
3.   20th Century Commentary

1.   Letter Index
2.   Illustration Index

Gratitude and Permissions

C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University

§ 1. THH: His Mark
§ 2. Voyage of the Rattlesnake
§ 3. A Sort of Firm
§ 4. Darwin's Bulldog
§ 5. Hidden Bond: Evolution
§ 6. Frankensteinosaurus
§ 7. Bobbing Angels: Human Evolution
§ 8. Matter of Life: Protoplasm
§ 9. Medusa
§ 10. Liberal Education
§ 11. Scientific Education
§ 12. Unity in Diversity
§ 13. Agnosticism
§ 14. New Reformation
§ 15. Verbal Delusions: The Bible
§ 16. Miltonic Hypothesis: Genesis
§ 17. Extremely Wonderful Events: Resurrection and Demons
§ 18. Emancipation: Gender and Race
§ 19. Aryans et al.: Ethnology
§ 20. The Good of Mankind
§ 21.  Jungle Versus Garden