T. H. Huxley
Letters and Diary 1853

February 6, 1853

4 Upper York Place, St. John's Wood

[To Mrs. Elizabeth Scott]

Many thanks, my dearest sister, for your kind and thoughtful letter–it went to my heart no little that you, amidst all your trials and troubles, should find time to think so wisely and so affectionately of mine. Though greatly tempted otherwise, I have acted in the spirit of your advice, and my reward, in the shape of honours at any rate, has not failed me, as the Royal Society gave me one of the Royal medals last year. It's a bigger one than I got under your auspices so many years ago, being worth 50, but I don't know that I cared so much about it.

It was assigned to me quite unexpectedly, and in the eyes of the world I, of course, am greatly the bigger–but I will confess to you privately that I am by no means dilated, and am the identical Boy Tom I was before I achieved the attainment of my golden porter's badge. Curiously it was given for the first Memoir I have in the Royal Society's Transactions, sent home four years ago with no small fear and trembling, and, "after many days," returning with this queer crust of bread. In the speech I had to make at the Anniversary Dinner I grew quite eloquent on that point, and talked of the dove I had sent from my ark, returning, not with the olive branch, but with a sprig of the bay and a fruit from the garden of the Hesperides–a simile which I thought decidedly clever, but which the audience–distinguished audience I ought to have said–probably didn't, as they did not applaud that, while they did some things I said which were incomparably more stupid. This was in November, and I ought to have written to you about it before, my dear Lizzie, but for one thing I am very much occupied, and for the other (shall I confess it?) I was rather puzzled that I had not heard from you since I wrote. Now my useless conscience, which never makes me do anything right in time, is pitching in to me when it is too late.

The medal, however, must not be jested at, as it is niost decidedly of practical use in giving me a status in the eyes of those charming people, "practical men," such as I had not before, and I am amused to find some of my friends, whose contempt for my "dreamy" notions was not small in time past, absolutely advising me to take a far more dreamy course than I dare venture upon. However, I take very much my own course now, even as I have done before–Huxley all over.

However, that is enough about myself just now. In the next letter I will tell you more at length about my plans and prospects, which are mostly, I am sorry to say, only provocative of setting my teeth hard and saying, "Never mind, I will." But what I write in a hurry about and want you to do at once, is to write to me and tell me exactly how money may be sent safely to you. It is inexpedient to send without definite directions, according to the character you give your neighbours. Don't expect anything vast, but there is corn in Egypt. . . .

Two classes of people can I deal with and no third. They are the good people–people after my own heart, and the thorough men of the world. Either of these I can act and sympathise with, but the others, who are neither for God nor for the Devil, but for themselves, as grim old Dante has it, and whom he therefore very justly puts in a most uncomfortable place, I cannot do with. . . .

So Florry is growing up into a great girl; the child will not remember me, but kiss her and my godson for me, and give my love to them all. The Lymph shall come in my next letter for the young Yankee. I hope the juices of the English cow will prevent him from ever acquiring the snuffle.

Tell the Doctor all about the medal, with my kindest regards, and believe me, my dearest Lizzie, your affectionate brother,


February 25, 1853

6 Upper York Place, St. John's Wood

My dear Tyndall–Having rushed into more responsibility than I wotted of, I have been ruminating and taking counsel what advice to give you. When I wrote I hardly knew what kind of work you had in your present office, but Francis has since enlightened me. I thought you had more leisure. One thing is very clear–you must come out of that. Your Pegasus is quite out of place ploughing. You are using yourself up in work that comes to nothing, and so far as I can see cannot be worse off.

Now what are your prospects? Why, as I told you before, you have made a succès here and must profit by it. The other night your name was mentioned at the Philosophical Club (the most influential scientific body in London) with great praise. Cassiot, who has great influence, said in so many words, "you had made your fortune," and I frankly tell you I believe so too, if you can only get over the next three years. So you see that quoad position, like Quintus Curtius, there is a "fine opening" ready for you, only mind you don't spoil it by any of your horrid modesty.

So much for glory–now for economics. I have been trying to ferret out more nearly your chances of a post, and here are my results (which, I need not tell you, must be kept to yourself ) .

At the Museum in Jermyn Street, Playfair, Forbes, Percy and I think Sir Henry would do anything to get you, and eliminate ––; but, so far as I can judge, the probability of his going is so small that it is not worth your while to reckon upon it. Nevertheless it may be comforting to you to know that in case of anything happening these men will help you tooth and nail. Cultivate Playfair when you have a chance–he is a good fellow, wishes you well, has great influence, and will have more. Entre nous, he has just got a new and important post under Government.

Next, the Royal Institution. This is where, as I told you, you ought to be–looking to Faraday's place. Have no scruple about your chemical knowledge; you won't be required to train a college of students in abstruse analyses; and if you were, a year's work would be quite enough to put you at ease. What they want, and what you have, are clear powers of exposition–so clear that people may think they understand even if they don't. That is the secret of Faraday's success, for not a tithe of the people who go to hear him really understand him.

However, I am afraid that a delay must occur before you can get placed at the Royal Institution, as you cannot hold the Professorship until you have given a course of lectures there, and it would seem that there is no room for you this year. However, I must try and learn more about this.

Under these circumstances the London Institution looks tempting. I have been talking over the matter with Forbes, whose advice I look upon as first-rate in all these things, and he is decidedly of the opinion that you should take the London Institution if it is offered you. He says that lecturing there and lecturing at other Institutions, and writing, you could with certainty make more than you at present receive, and that you would have the command of a capital laboratory and plenty of time.

Then as to position–of which I was doubtful–it appears that Grove has made it a good one.

It is of great importance to look to this point in London–to be unshackled by anything that may prevent you taking the highest places, and it was only my fear on this head that made me advise you to hesitate about the London Institution. More consideration leads me to say, take that, if it will bring you up to London at once, so that you may hammer your reputation while it is hot.

However, consider all these things well, and don't be hasty. I will keep eyes and ears open and inform you accordingly. Write to me if there is anything you want done, supposing always there is nobody who will do it better–which is improbable.–Ever yours,

T. H. Huxley.

April 22, 1853

4 Upper York Place, St. John's Wood

My dearest Lizzie–First let me congratulate you on being safe over your troubles and in possession of another possible President. I think it may be worth coming over twenty years hence on the possibility of picking up something or other from one of my nephews at Washington.

[He sends some money.] Would it were more worth your having, but I have not as yet got on to Tom Tiddler's ground on this side of the water. You need not be alarmed about my having involved myself in any way–such portion of it as is of my sending has been conquered by mine own sword and spear, and the rest came from Mary. [Mrs. George Huxley] . . .

[After giving a summary of his struggle with the Admiralty he proceeds]–If I were to tell you all the intriguing and humbug there has been about my unfortunate grant–which yet granted–it would occupy this letter, and though a very good illustration of the encouragement afforded to Science in this country, would not be very amusing. Once or twice it has fairly died out, only to be stirred up again by my own pertinacity. However, I have hopes of it at last, as I hear Lord Rosse is just about to make another application to the present Government on the subject. While this business has been dragging on of course I have not been idle. I have four memoirs (on various matters in Comparative Anatomy) in the Philosophical Transactions, and they have given me their Fellowship and one of the Royal medals. I have written a whole lot of things for the journals–reviews for the British and Foreign Quarterly Medical, etc. I am one of the editors of Taylor's Scientific Memoirs (German scientific translations). In conjunction with my friend Busk I am translating a great German book on the Microscopical Anatomy of Man, and I have engaged to write a long article for Todd's Cyclopædia. Besides this, have read two long memoirs at the British Association, and have given two lectures at the Royal Institution–one of them only two days ago, when I was so ill with infiuenza I could hardly stand or speak.

Furthermore, I have been a candidate for a Professorship of Natural History at Toronto (which is not even-yet decided); for one at Aberdeen, which has been given against me; and at present I am a candidate for the Professorship of Physiology at King's College, or, rather, for half of it–Todd having given up, and Bowman, who remains, being willing to take only half, and that he will soon give up. My friend Edward Forbes–a regular brick, who has backed me through thick and thin– is backing me for King's College, where he is one of the Professors. My chance is, I believe, very good, but nothing can be more uncertain than the result of the contest. If they don't take one of their own men I think they will have me. It would suit me very well, and the whole chair is worth 400 a year, and would enable me to live.

Something I must make up my mind to do, and that speedily. I can get honour in Science, but it doesn't pay, and "honour heals no wounds." In truth I am often very weary. The longer one lives the more the ideal and the purpose vanishes out of one's life, and I begin to doubt whether I have done wisely in giving vent to the cherished tendency towards Science which has haunted me ever since my childhood. Had I given myself to Mammon I might have been a respectable member of society with large watch-seals by this time. I think it is very likely that if this King's College business goes against me, I may give up the farce altogether–burn my books, and take to practice in Australia. It is no use to go on kicking against the pricks. . . .

July 6, 1853

[To Miss Heathorn]

I know that these three years have inconceivably altered me–that from being an idle man, only too happy to flow into the humours of t he moment, I have become almost unable to exist without active intellectual excitement. I know that in this I find peace and rest such as I can attain in no other way. From being a mere untried fledgling, doubtful whether the wish to fly proceeded from mere presumption or from budding wings, I have now some confidence in my well-tried pinions, which have given me rank among the strongest and the foremost. I have always felt how difficult it was for you to realise all this–how strange it must be to you that though your image remained as bright as ever, new interests and purposes had ranged themselves around it, and though they could claim no pre—eminence, yet demanded their share of my thoughts. I make no apology for this–it is man's nature and the necessary influence of circumstances which will so have it; and depend, however painful our present separation may be, the spectacle of a man who had given up the cherished purpose of his life, the Esau who had sold his birthright for a mess of pottage and with it his self—respect, would before long years were over our heads be infinitely more painful. Depend upon it, the trust which you placed in my hands when I left you–to choose for both of us–has not been abused. Hemmed in by all sorts of difficulties, my choice was a narrow one, and I was guided more by circumstances than by my own free will. Nevertheless the path has shown itself to be a fair one, neither more difficult nor less so than most paths in life in which a man of energy may hope to do much if he believes in himself, and is at peace within.

My course in life is taken. I will not leave London–I will make myself a name and a position as well as an income by some kind of pursuit connected with science, which is the thing for which nature has fitted me if she has ever fitted any one for anything. Bethink yourself whether you can cast aside all repining and all doubt, and devote yourself in patience and trust to helping me along my path as no one else could. I know what I ask, and the sacrifice I demand, and if this were the time to use false modesty, I should say how little I have to offer in return. . . .

I am full of faults, but I am real and true, and the whole devotion of an earnest soul cannot be overprized.

. . . It is as if all that old life at Holmwood had merely been a preparation for the real life of our love–as if we were then children ignorant of life's real purpose–as if these last months had merely been my old doubts over again, whether I had rightly or wrongly interpreted the manner and the words that had given me hope. . . .

We will begin the new love of woman and man, no longer that of boy and girl, conscious that we have aims and purposes as well as affections, and that if love is sweet life is dreadfully stern and earnest.

Letters of 1854
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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