T. H. Huxley
Letters and Diary 1852

March 5, 1852

[To Mrs. Elizabeth Scott]

I told you I was very busy, and I must tell you what I am about and you will believe me. I have just finished a Memoir for the Royal Society ["On the Morphology of the Cephalous Mollusca"], which has taken me a world of time, thought, and reading, and is, perhaps, the best thing I have done yet. It will not be read till May, and I do not know whether they will print it or not afterwards; that will require care and a little manœuvering on my part. You have no notion of the intrigues that go on in this blessed world of science. Science is, I fear, no purer than any other region of human activity; though it should be. Merit alone is very little good; it must be backed by tact and knowledge of the world to do very much.

For instance, I know that the paper I have just sent in is very original and of some importance, and I am equally sure that if it is referred to the judgment of my "particular friend" [Owen] that it will not be published. He won't be able to say a world against it, but he will pooh-pooh it to a dead certainty.

You will ask with some wonderment, Why? Because for the last twenty years [Owen] has been regarded as the great authority on these matters, and has had no one to tread on his heels, until at last, I think, he has come to look upon the Natural World as his special preserve, and "no poachers allowed." So I must manœuvre a little to get my poor memoir kept out of his hands.

The necessity for these little strategems utterly disgusts me. I would so willingly reverence and trust any man of high standing and ability. I am so utterly unable to comprehend this petty greediness. And yet withal you will smile at my perversity. I have a certain pleasure in overcoming these obstacles, and fighting these folks with their own weapons. I do so long to be able to trust men implicitly. I have such a horror of all this literary pettifogging. I could be so content myself, if the necessity of making a position would allow it, to work on anonymously, but [Owen] I see is determined not to let either me or any one else rise if he can help it. Let him beware. On my own subjects I am his master, and am quite ready to fight half a dozen dragons. And although he has a bitter pen, I flatter myself that on occasions I can match him in that department also.

But I was telling you how busy I am. I am getting a memoir ready for the Zoological Society, and working at my lecture for the Royal Institution, which I want to make striking and original, as it is a good opportunity, besides doing a translation now and then for one of the Journals. Besides this, I am working at the British Museum to make a catalogue of some creatures there. All these things take a world of time and labour; and yield next to no direct profit; but they bring me into contact with all sorts of men, in a very independent position, and I am told, and indeed hope, that something must arise from it. So fair a prospect opens out before me if I can only wait. I am beginning to know what work means, and see how much mroe may be done by steady, unceasing, and well-directed efforts. I thrive upon it too. I am as well as ever I was in my life, and the more I work the better my temper seems to be.

April 30, 1852 11-1/2 P.M.

[To Mrs. Elizabeth Scott]

I have just returned from giving my lecture ["On Animal Individuality"] at the Royal Institution, of which I told you in my last letter.

I had got very nervous about it, and my poor mother's death had greatly upset my plans for working it out.

It was the first lecture I had ever given in my life, and to what is considered the best audience in London. As nothing ever works up my energies but a high flight, I had chosen a very difficult abstract point, in my view of which I stand almost alone. When I took a glimpse into the theatre and saw it full of faces, I did feel most amazingly uncomfortable. I can now quite understand what it is to be going to be hanged, and nothing but the necessity of the case prevented me from running away.

However, when the hour struck, in I marched, and began to deliver my discourse. For ten minutes I did not quite know where I was, but by degrees I got used to it, and gradually gained perfect command of myself, and upon the whole I think I may say that this essay was successful.

Thank Heaven I can say so, for though it is no great matter succeeding, failing would have been a bitter annoyance to me. It has put me comfortably at my ease with regard to all future lecturings. After the Royal Institution there is no audience I shall ever fear.

May 3, 1852

[To Mrs. Elizabeth Scott]

So much occupation has crowded upon me between the beginning of this letter and the present tiime that I have been unable to finish it. I had undertaken to give a lecture at the Royal Institution on the 30th April. It was on a difficult subject, requiring a good deal of thought; and as it was my first appearance before the best audience in London, you may imagine how anxious and nervous I was, and how completely I was obliged to abstract my thoughts from everything else.

However, I am happy to say it is well over. There was a very good audience–Faraday, Prof. Forbes, Dr. Forbes, Wharton Jones, and [a] whole lot of "mobs," among my auditors. I had made up my mind all day to break down, and then go and hang myself privately. And so you may imagine that I entered the theatre with a very pale face, and a heart beating like a sledge-hammer nineteen to the dozen. For the first five minutes I did not know very clearly what I was about, but by degrees I got possession of myself and of my subject, and did not care for anybody. I have had "golden opinions from all sorts of men" about it, so I suppose I may tell you I have succeeded. I don't think, however, that I ever felt so thoroughly used up in my life as I did for two days afterwards. There is one comfort. I shall never be nervous again about any audience; but at one's first attempt to stand in the place of Faraday and such big-wigs might excuse a little weakness.

The way is clear before me, if my external circumstances will only allow me to persevere; but I fully expect that I shall have to give up my dreams.

Science in England does everything–but pay. You may earn praise but not pudding.

I have helping hands held out to me on all sides, but there is nothing to help me to. Last year I became a candidate for a Professorship at Toronto. I took an infinity of trouble over the thing, and got together a mass of testimonials and recommendations, much better than I had any right to expect. From that time to this I have heard nothing of the business–a result for which I care the less, as I believe the chair will be given to a brother of one of the members of the Canadian ministry, who is, I hear, a candidate. Such as qualification as that is, of course, better than all the testimonials in the world.

I think I told you when I last wrote that I was expecting a grant from Government to publish the chief part of my work, done while away. I am expecting it still. I got tired of waiting the other day and wrote to the Duke of Northumberland, who is at present First Lord of the Admiralty, upon the subject. His Grace has taken the matter up, and I hope now to get it done.

With all this, however, Time runs on. People look upon me, I suppose, as a "very promising young man," and perhaps envy my "success," and I all the while am cursing my stars that my Pegasus will fly aloft instead of pulling slowly along in some respectable gig, and getting his oats like any other praiseworthy cart-horse.

It's a charming piece of irony altogether. It is two years yesterday since I left Sydney harbour–and of course as long since I saw Nettie. I am getting thoroughly tired of our separation, and I think she is, though the dear little soul is ready to do anything for my sake, and yet I dare not face the stagnation–the sense of having failed in the whole purpose of my existence–which would, I know, sooner or later beset me, even with her, if I forsake my present object. Can you wonder with all this, my dearest Lizzie, that often as I long for your brave heart and clear head to support and advise me, I yet rarely feel inclined to write? Pray write to me more often than you have done; tell me all about yourself and the Doctor and your children. They must be growing up fast, and Florry must be getting beyond the "Bird of Paradise" I promised her. Love and kisses to all of them, and kindest remembrances to the Doctor.–Ever your affectionate brother, T. H. Huxley.

November 13, 1852

[To Miss Heathorn]

Going last week to the Royal Society's library for a book, and like the boy in church "thinkin' o' naughten," when I went in, Weld, the Assistant Secretary, said, "Well, I congratulate you." I confess I did not see at that moment what any mortal man had to congratulate me about. I had a deuced bad cold, with rheumatism in my head; it was a beastly November day and I was very grumpy, so I inquired in a state of mild surprise what might be the matter. Whereupon I learnt that the Medal has been conferred at the meeting of the Council on the day before. I was very pleased . . . and I thought you would be so too, and I thought moreover that it was a fine lever to help us on, and if I could have sent a letter to you immediately I should have sat down and have written one to you on the spot. As it is I have waite for official confirmation and a convenient season.

And now . . . shall I be very naughty and make a confession? The thing that a fortnight ago (before I got it) I thought so much of, I give you my word I do not care a pin for. I am sick of it and ashamed of having thought so much of it, and the congratulations I get give me a sort of internal sardonic grin. I think this has come about partly because I did not get the official confirmation of what I had heard for some days, and with my habit of facing the ill side of things I came to the conclusion that Weld had made a mistake, and I went in thought through the whole enormous mortification of having to explain to those whom I had mentioned it that it was quite a mistake. I found that all this, when I came to look at it, was by no means so dreadful as it seemed–quite bearable in short–and then I laughed at myself and have cared for nothing about the whole concern ever since. In truth . . . . I do not think that I am in the proper sense of the word ambitious. I have an enormous longing after the highest and best in all shapes–a longing which haunts me and is the demon which ever impels me to work, and will let me have no rest unless I am doing his behests. The honours of men I value so far as they are evidences of power, but with the cynical mistrust of their judgment and my own worthiness, which always haunts me, I put very little faith in them. Their praise makes me sneer inwardly. God forgive me if I do them any great wrong.

. . . I feel and know that all the rewards and honours in the world will ever be worthless for me as soon as they are obtained. I know that always, as now, they will make me more sad than joyful. I know that nothing that could be done would give me the pure and heartfelt joy and peace of mind that your love has given me, and please God, shall give for many a long year to come, and yet my demon says work! work! you shall not even love unless you work.

Not limited by any vanity, then, I hope . . . . but viewing this stroke of fortune as respects its public estimation only, I think I must look upon the award of this medal as the turning-point of my life, as the finger-post teaching me as clearly as anything can what is the true career that lies open before me. For whatever may be my own private estimation of it, there can be no doubt as to the general feeling about this thing, and in case of my candidature for any office it would have the very greatest weight. And as you will have seen by my last letter, it only strengthens and confirms the conclusion I had come to. Bid me God-speed then . . . it is all I want to labour cheerfully.

Letters of 1853
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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