T. H. Huxley
Letters and Diary 1859

January 30, 1859 [HP 15.106]

[To Dyster]

What I earnestly maintain is, that thoroughly good work in Science cannot be done by any man who is deficient in high moral qualities.

It is the moral [?] which is essential to the right working of the intellect:–and the value of Science is that it compels man to know that such is the case.

I steadfastly deny that the pursuit of Science tends to elevate our estimation of the intellect at the expense of the other faculties. On the contrary it shews more than anything how narrow are the limits of the knowable–how hopeless the attempt to find out truth by any vulpine faculty.

Apropos of the origin of man I see no ground at present for pinning my faith to one theory or another. My purpose in mentioning the matter was simply that I might have an occasion of claiming my right to follow withersoever Science should lead and over and through whatever dares to stand in the way. After all it is as respectable to be modified monkey as modified dirt.

What I said about Genesis was after much consideration and I don't think I have been unfair about it. I do not believe that any meaning which would be put by a disinterested Hebrew scholar upon the words of Genesis is in any way reconcilable with the most elementary and best established facts of geology. If it be permissible to turn and twist the Scripture phraseology as the rationalistic orthodox do on Genesis, I for my part will undertake to prove that rape, murder and arson are positively enjoined in Exodus. So again with respect to Joshua. I can quite understand that the Jew who wrote that book believed what he said and used the phraseology of his time. . . . But if he did so–what evidence have I that all the patriarchs and all the prophets were not equally influenced by the myths and modes of expression of their time–and how am I secure that their statements as to moral fact are not as warped by their theoretical views and prejudices?

Depend upon it there is no safety in trying to put new wine into old bottles.

As to the methods by which the Biblical writers arrived at their great truths I do believe that they were in the truest and highest sense Scientific. I recognise in these truths the results of a long and loving, if sorrowful, study of man's nature and relations–the stored wisdom of many generations happily recognized as wisdom by those who recorded it.

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself is the law of Gravitation of society and if put into a precise form is as definite an inductive law as was ever established.

However it would take yards of paper to explain all I mean and all I don't mean.

In sum, I believe that there is but one method of finding out truth–and that things which are not discoverable in that way are not knowable, though they may exist.

My screed was meant as a protest against Theology and Parsondom in general–both of which are in my mind the natural and irreconcilable enemies of Science. Few see it but I believe we are on the eve of a new Reformation and if I have a wish to live thirty years, it is that I may see the foot of Science on the necks of her enemies. But the new religion will not be a worship of the intellect alone.

January 30, 1859'

The Government School of Mines

[To Professor Leuckart]

My dear Sir–Our mutual friend, Dr. Harley, informs me that you have expressed a wish to become possessed of a separate copy of my lectures, published in the Medical Times. I greatly regret that I have not one to send you. The publisher only gave me half a dozen separate copies of the numbers of the Journal in which the Lectures appeared. Of these I sent one to Johannes Müller and one to Professor Victor Carus, and the rest went to other friends.

I am sorry to say that a mere fragment of what I originally intended to have published has appeared, the series having been concluded when I reached the end of the Crustacea. To say truth, the Lectures were not fitted for the journal in which they appeared.

I did not know that anyone in Germany had noticed them until I received the copy of your Bericht for 1856, which you were kind enough to send me. I owe you many thanks for the manner in which you speak of them, and I assure you it was a source of great pleasure and encouragement to me to find so competent a judge as yourself appreciating and sympathising with my objects.

Particular branches of zoology have been cultivated in this country with great success, as you are well aware, but ten years ago I do not believe that there were half a dozen of my countrymen who had the slightest comprehension of morphology, and of what you and I should call "Wissenschaftliche Zoologie."

Those who thought about the matter at all took Owen's osteological extravaganzas for the ne plus ultra of morphological speculation.

I learned the meaning of Morphology and the value, of development as the criterion of morphological views–first, from the study of the Hydrozoa during a long voyage, and secondly, from the writings of Von Bär. I have done my best, both by precept and practice, to inaugurate better methods and a better spirit than had long prevailed. Others have taken the same views, and I confidently hope that a new epoch for zoology is dawning among us. I do not claim for myself any great share in the good work, but I have not flinched when there was anything to be done.

Under these circumstances you will imagine that it was very pleasant to find on your side a recognition of what I was about.

I sent you, through the booksellers, some time ago a copy of my memoir on Aphis. I find from Moleschott's Untersuchungen that you must have been working at this subject contemporaneously with myself, and it was very satisfactory to find so close a concordance in essentials between our results. Your memoirs are extremely interesting, and to some extent anticipated results at which my friend, Mr. Lubbock (a very competent worker, with whose paper on Daphnia you are doubtless acquainted), had arrived.

I should be very glad to know what you think of my views of the composition of the articulate head.

I have been greatly interested also in your Memoir on Pentastomum. There can be no difficulty about getting a notice of it in our journals, and, indeed, I will see to it myself. Pray do me the favour to let me know whenever I can serve you in this or other ways.

I shall do myself the pleasure of forwarding to you immediately, through the booksellers, a lecture of mine on the Theory of the Vertebrate Skull, which is just published, and also a little paper on the development of the tail in fishes.

I am sorry to say that I have but little time for working at these matters now, as my position at the School of Mines obliges me to confine myself more and more to Palaeontology.

However, I keep to the anatomical side of that sort of work, and so, now and then, I hope to emerge from amidst the fossils with a bit of recent anatomy.

Just at present, by the way, I am giving my disposable hours to the completion of a monograph on the Calycophoridæ and Physophoridæ observed during my voyage. The book ought to have been published eight years ago. But for three years I could get no money from the Government, and in the meanwhile you and Kölliker, Gegenbaur and Vogt, went to the shores oŁ the Mediterranean and made sad havoc with my novelties. Then came occupations consequent on my appointment to the chair I now hold; and it was only last autumn that I had leisure to take up the subject again.

However, the plates, which I hope you will see in a few months have, with two exceptions, been engraved five years.

Pray make my remembrances to Dr. Eckhard. I was sorry not to have seen him again in London.–Ever, my dear Sir, very faithfully yours, T. H. Huxley

April 22, 1859

14 Waverley Place, N. W.

My dear Hooker–I have read your proofs with a great deal of attention and interest. I was greatly struck with the suggestions in the first page, and the exposure of the fallacy "that cultivated forms recur to wild types if left alone" is new to me and seems of vast importance.

The argument brought forward in the note is very striking and as simple as the egg of Columbus, when one sees it. I have marked one or two passages which are not quite clear to me. . .

I have been accused of writing papers composed of nothing but heads of chapters, and I think you tend the same way. Please take the trouble to make the two lines I have scored into a paragraph, so that poor devils who are not quite so well up in the subject as yourself may not have to rack their brains for an hour to supply all the links of your chain of argument. . . .

You see that I am in a carping humour, but the matter of the essays seems to me to be so very valuable that I am jealous of the manner of it.

I had a long visit from Greene of Cork yesterday. He is very Irish, but very intelligent and well-informed, and I am in hopes he will do good service. He is writing a little book on the Protozoa, which (so far as I have glanced over the proof sheets as yet) seems to show a very philosophical turn of mind. It is very satiefactory to find the ideas one has been fighting for beginning to take root.

I do not suppose my own personal contributions to science will ever be anything very grand, but I shall be well content if I have reason to believe that I have done something to stir up others.–Ever yours faithfully, T. H. Huxley.

June 25, 1859

My dear Sir Charles –I have endeavoured to meet your objections in the enclosed.– Ever yours, very truly,

T. H. H.

The fixity and definite limitation of species, genera, and larger groups appear to me to be perfectly consistent with the theory of transmutation. In other words, I think transmutation may take place without transition.

Suppose that external conditions acting on species A give rise to a new species, B; the difference between the two species is a certain definable amount which may be called A-B. Now I know of no evidence to show that the interval between the two species must necessarily be bridged over by a series of forms, each of which shall occupy, as it occurs, a fraction of the distance between A and B. On the contrary, in the history of the Ancon sheep, and of the six-fingered Maltese family given by Réaumur, it appears that the new form appeared at once in full perfection.

I may illustrate what I mean by a chemical example. In an organic compound, having a precise and definite composition, you may effect all sorts of transmutations by substituting an atom of one element for an atom of another element. You may in this way produce a vast series of modifications–but each modification is definite in its composition, and there are no transitional or intermediate steps between one definite compound and another. I have a sort of notion that similar laws of definite combination rule over the modifications of organic bodies, and that in passing from species to species "Natura fecit saltum."

All my studies lead me to believe more and more in the absence of any real transitions between natural groups, great and small–but with what we know of the physiology of conditions [?] this opinion seems to me to be quite consistent with transmutation.

When I say that no evidence, or hardly any, would justify one in believing in the view of a new species of Elephant, e.g. out of the earth, I mean that such an occurrence would be so diametrically contrary to all experience, so opposed to those beliefs which are the most constantly verified by experience, that one would be justified in believing either that one's senses were deluded, or that one had not really got to the bottom of the phenomenon. Of course, if one could vary the conditions, if one could take a little silex, and by a little hocus-pocus `a la crosse, galvanise a baby out of it as often as one pleased, all the philosopher could do would be to hold up his hands and cry, "God is great." But short of evidence of this kind, I don't mean to believe anything of the kind.

How much evidence would you require to believe that there was a time when stones fell upwards, or granite made itself by a spontaneous rearrangement of the elementary particles of clay and sand? And yet the difficulties in the way of these beliefs are as nothing compared to those which you would have to overcome in believing that complex organic beings made themselves (for that is what creation comes to in scientific language) out of inorganic matter.

I know it will be said that even on the transmutation theory, the first organic being must have made itself. But there is as much difference between supposing the passage of inorganic matter into an amoeba, e.g., and into an Elephant, as there is between supposing that Portland stone might have built itself up into St. Paul's, and believing that the Giant's Causeway may have come about by natural causes.

True, one must believe in a beginning somewhere, but science consists in not believing the having reached that beginning before one is forced to do so.

It is wholly impossible to prove that any phenomenon whatsoever is not produced by the interposition of some unknown cause. But philosophy has prospered exactly as it has disregarded such possibilities, and has endeavoured to resolve every event by ordinary reasoning.

I do not exactly see the force of your argument that we are bound to find fossil forms intermediate between men and monkeys in the Rocks. Crocodiles are the highest reptiles as men are the highest mammals, but we find nothing intermediate between crocodilia and lacertilia in the whole range of the Mesozoic rocks. How do we know that Man is not a persistent type? And as for implements, at this day, and as, I suppose, for the last two or three thousand years at least, the savages of Australia have made their weapons of nothing but bone and wood. Why should Homo Eocenus or Ooliticus, the fellows who waddied the Amphitherium and speared the Phascolotherium as the Australian niggers treat their congeners, have been more advanced?

I by no means suppose that the transmutation hypothesis is proven or anything like it. But I view it as a powerful instrument of research. Follow it out, and it will lead us somewhere; while the other notion is like all the modifications of "final causation," a barren virgin.

And I would very strongly urge upon you that it is the logical development of Uniformitarianism, and that its adoption would harmonise the spirit of Paleontology with that of Physical Geology.

July 29, 1859

14 Waverley Place

My dear Hooker–I meant to have written to you yesterday, but things put it out of my head. If there is to be any fund raised at all, I am quite of your mind that it should be a scientific fund and not a mere naturalists' fund. Sectarianism in such matters is ridiculous, and besides that in this particular case it is bad policy. For the word "Naturalist" unfortunately includes a far lower order of men than chemist, physicist, or mathematician. You don't call a man a mathematician because he has spent his life in getting as far as quadratics; but every fool who can make bad species and worse genera is a "Naturalist"!–save the mark! Imagine the chemists petitioning the Crown for a Pension for P– if he wanted one I and yet he really is a philosopher compared to poor dear A–.

"Naturalists" therefore are far more likely to want help than any other class of scientific men, and they would be greatly damaging their own interests if they formed an exclusive fund for themselves.

–Ever yours faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

November 23, 1859

My dear Darwin–I finished your book yesterday, a lucky examination having furnished me with a few hours of continuous leisure.

Since I read Von Bär's essays, nine years ago, no work on Natural History Science I have met with has made so great an impression upon me, and I do most heartily thank you for the great store of new views you have given me. Nothing, I think, can be better than the tone of the book–it impresses those who know about the subject. As for your doctrine, I am prepared to go to the stake, if requisite, in support of Chapter IX [The Imperfection of the Geological Record], and most parts of Chapters X [The Geological Succession of Organic Beings], XI, XII [Geographical Distribution], and Chapter XIII [Classification, Morphology, Embryology, and Rudimentary Organs] contains much that is most admirable, but on one or two points I enter a caveat until I can see further into all sides of the question.

As to the first four chapters [Chapter I, Variation under Domestication; II, Variation under Nature; III, The Struggle for Existence; IV, Operation of Natural Selection; V, Laws of Variation], I agree thoroughly and fully with all the principles laid down in them. I think you have demonstrated a true cause for the production of species, and have thrown the onus probandi , that species did not arise in the way you suppose, on your adversaries.

But I feel that I have not yet by any means fully realised the bearings of those most remarkable and original Chapters–III, IV, and V, and I will write no more about them just now.

The only objections that have occurred to me are–1st, That you have loaded yourself with an unnecessary difficulty in adopting Natura non facit saltum so unreservedly; and 2nd, It is not clear to me why, if continual physical conditions are of so little moment as you suppose, variation should occur at all.

However, I must read the book two or three times more before I presume to begin picking holes.

I trust you will not allow yourself to be in any way disgusted or annoyed by the considerable abuse and misrepresentation which, unless I greatly mistake, is in store for you. Depend upon it, you have earned the lasting gratitude of all thoughtful men. And as to the curs which will bark and yelp, you must recollect that some of your friends, at any rate, are endowed with an amount of combativeness which (though you have often and justly rebuked it) may stand you in good stead.

I am sharpening up my claws and beak in readiness.

Looking back over my letter, it really expresses so feebly all I think about you and your noble book, that I am half-ashamed of it; but you will understand that, like the parrot in the story, "I think the more."–Ever yours faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

Horse Feathers:

Competition between Darwin College and Huxley College
CB Collection

December 31, 1859

My dear Hooker–I have not the least objection to my share in the Times article being known, only I should not like to have anything stated on my authority. The fact is, that the first quarter of the first column (down to "what is a species," etc.) is not mine, but belongs to the man who is the official reviewer for the Times (my "Temporal" godfather I might call him).

The rest is my ipsissima verba, and I only wonder that it turns out as well as it does–for I wrote it faster than ever I wrote anything in my life. The last column nearly as fast as my wife could read the sheets. But I was thoroughly in the humour and full of the subject. Of course as a scientific review the thing is worth nothing, but I earnestly hope it may have made some of the educated mob, who derive their ideas from the Times, reflect. And whatever they do, they shall respect Darwin.

Pray give my kindest regards and best wishes for the New Year to Mrs. Hooker, and tell her that if she, of her own natural sagacity and knowledge of the naughtiness of the heart, affirms that I wrote the article, I shall not contradict her–but that for reasons of state–I must not be supposed to say anything. I am pretty certain the Saturday article was not written by Owen. On internal grounds, because no word in it exceeds an inch in length; on external, from what Cook said to me. The article is weak enough and one-sided enough, but looking at the various forces in action, I think Cook has fully redeemed his promise to me.

I went down to Sir P. Egerton on Tuesday–was ill when I started, got worse and had to come back on Thursday. I am all adrift now, but I couldn't stand being in the house any longer. I wish I had been born an an-hepatous fœtus.

All sorts of good wishes to you, and may you and I and Tyndalides, and one or two more bricks, be in as good fighting order in 1861 as in 1860.–Ever yours, T. H. Huxley.

Letters of 1860
Letters of 1858

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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