T. H. Huxley
Letters and Diary 1863

March 23, 1863

My dear Sir Charles–I suspect that the passage to which you refer must have been taken from my unrevised proofs, for it corresponds so nearly with what is written at p. 97 of my book.

Flower has recently discovered that the Siamang's brain affords an even more curious exception to the general rule than that of Mycetes, as the cerebral hemispheres leave part not only of the sides but of the hinder end of the cerebellum uncovered.

As it is one of the Anthropoid apes and yet differs in this respect far more widely from the gorilla than the gorilla differs from man, it offers a charming example of the value of cerebral characters.

Flower publishes a paper on the subject in the forthcoming number of the N. H. Review.

Might it not be well to allude to the fact that the existence of the posterior lobe, posterior cornu, and hippocampus in the Orang has been publicly demonstrated to an audience of experts at the College of Surgeons?–Ever yours faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

April 30, 1863

My dear Kingsley–I am exceedingly pleased to have your good word about the lectures,–and I think I shall thereby be encouraged to do what a great many people have wished–that is, to bring out an enlarged and revised edition of them.

The only difficulty is time–if one could but work five-and-twenty hours a day!

With respect to the sterility question, I do not think there is much doubt as to the effect of breeding in and in destroying fertility. But the sterility which must be obtained by the selective breeder in order to convert his morphological species into physiological species–such as we have in nature–must be quite irrespective of breeding in and in.

There is no question of breeding in and in between a horse and an ass, and yet their produce is usually a sterile hybrid.

So if Carrier and Tumbler, e.g., were physiological species equivalent to Horse and Ass, their progeny ought to be sterile or semi-sterile. So far as experience has gone, on the contrary, it is perfectly fertile–as fertile as the progeny of Carrier and Carrier or Tumbler and Tumbler.

From the first time that I wrote about Darwin's book in the Times and in the Westminster until now, it has been obvious to me that this is the weak point of Darwin's doctrine. He has shown that selective breeding is a vera causa for morphological species; he has not yet shown it a vera causa for physiological species.

But I entertain little doubt that a carefully devised system of experimentation would produce physiological species by selection–only the feat has not been performed yet.

I hope you received a copy of Man's Place in Nature, which I desired should be sent to you long ago. Don't suppose I ever expect an acknowledgment of a book–It is one of the greatest nuisances in the world to have that to do, and I never do it–but as you mentioned the Lectures and not the other, I thought it might not have reached you. If it has not, pray let me know and a copy shall be forwarded, as I want you very much to read Essay No. 2.

I have a great respect for all the old bottles, and if the new wine can be got to go into them and not burst them I shall be very glad–I confess I do not see my way to it; on the contrary, the longer I live and the more I learn the more hopeless to my mind becomes the contradiction between the theory of the universe as understood and expounded by Jewish and Christian theologians, and the theory of the universe which is every day and every year growing out of the application of scientific methods to its phenomena.

Whether astronomy and geology can or cannot be made to agree with the statements as to the matters of fact laid down in Genesis–whether the Gospels are historically true or not–are matters of comparatively small moment in the face of the impassable gulf between the anthropomorphism (however refined) of theology and the passionless impersonality of the unknown and unknowable which science shows everywhere underlying the thin veil of phenomena.

Here seems to me to be the great gulf fixed between science and theology–beside which all Colenso controversies, reconcilements of Scripture à la Pye Smith, etc., cut a very small figure.

You must have thought over all this long ago; but steeped as I am in scientific thought from morning till night, the contrast has perhaps a greater vividness to me. I go into society, and except among two or three of my scientific colleagues I find myself alone on these subjects, and as hopelessly at variance with the majority of my fellow-men as they would be with their neighbours if they were set down among the Ashantees. I don't like this state of things for myself–least of all do I see how it will work out for my children. But as my mind is constituted, there is no way out of it, and I can only envy you if you can see things differently.–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

May 5, 1863

Jermyn Street

My dear Kingsley–My wife and I are away at Felixstow on the Suffolk coast, and as I run down on Saturday and come back on Monday your MS. has been kept longer than it should have been. I am quite agreed with the general tenor of your argument; and indeed I have often argued against those who maintain the intellectual gulf between man and the lower animals to be an impassable one, by pointing to the immense intellectual chasm as compared to the structural differences between two species of bees or between sheep and goat or dog and wolf. So again your remarks upon the argument drawn from the apparent absence of progression in animals seem to me to be quite just. You might strengthen them much by reference to the absence of progression in many races of men. The West African savage, as the old voyagers show, was in just the same condition two hundred years ago as now–and I suspect that the modern Patagonian is as nearly as possible the unimproved representative of the makers of the flint implements of Abbeville.

Lyell's phrase is very good, but it is a simple application of Darwin's views to human history. The advance of mankind has everywhere depended on the production of men of genius; and that production is a case of "spontaneous variation" becoming hereditary, not by physical propagation, but by the help of language, letters and the printing press. Newton was to all intents and purposes a "sport" of a dull agricultural stock, and his intellectual powers are to a certain extent propagated by the grafting of the "Principia," his brain-shoot, on us.

Many thanks for your letter. It is a great pleasure to me to be able to speak out to any one who, like yourself, is striving to get at truth through a region of intellectual and moral influences so entirely distinct from those to which I am exposed.

I am not much given to open my heart to anybody, and on looking back I am often astonished at the way in which I threw myself and my troubles at your head, in those bitter days when my poor boy died. But the way in which you received my heathen letters set up a freemasonry between us, at any rate on my side; and if they make you a bishop I advise you not to let your private secretary open any letters with my name in the corner, for they are as likely as not to contain matters which will make the clerical hair stand on end.

I am too much a believer in Butler and in the great principle of the "Analogy" that "there is no absurdity in theology so great that you cannot parallel it by a greater absurdity of Nature" (it is not commonly stated in this way), to have any difficulties about miracles. I have never had the least sympathy with the a priori reasons against orthodoxy, and I have by nature and disposition the greatest possible antipathy to all the atheistic and infidel school.

Nevertheless, I know that I am, in spite of myself, exactly what the Christian world call, and, so far as I can see, are justified in calling, atheist and infidel. I cannot see one shadow or tittle of evidence that the great unknown underlying the phenomena of the universe stands to us in the relation of a Father–loves us and cares for us as Christianity asserts. On the contrary, the whole teaching of experience seems to me to show that while the governance (if I may use the term) of the universe is rigorously just and substantially kind and beneficent, there is no more relation of affection between governor and governed than between me and the twelve judges. I know the administrators of the law desire to do their best for everybody, and that they would rather not hurt me than otherwise, but I also know that under certain circumstances they will most assuredly hang me; and that in any case it would be absurd to suppose them guided by any particular affection for me.

This seems to me to be the relation which exists between the cause of the phenomena of this universe and myself. I submit to it with implicit obedience and perfect cheerfulness, and the more because my small intelligence does not see how any other arrangement could possibly be got to work as the world is constituted

But this is what the Christian world calls atheism, and because all my toil and pains does not enable me to see my way to any other conclusion than this, a Christian judge would (if he knew it) refuse to take my evidence in a court of justice against that of a Christian ticket-of-leave man.

So with regard to the other great Christian dogmas, the immortality of the soul, and the future state of rewards and punishments, what possible objection a priori can I–who am compelled perforce to believe in the immortality of what we call Matter and Force and in a very unmistakable present state of rewards and punishments for all our deeds–have to these doctrines. Give me a scintilla of evidence, and I am ready to jump at them.

But read Butler, and see to what drivel even his great mind descends when he has to talk about the immortality of the soul! I have never seen an argument on that subject which from a scientific point of view is worth the paper it is written upon. All resolve themselves into this formula:–The doctrine of the immortality of the soul is very pleasant and very useful, therefore it is true.

All the grand language about "human aspiration," "consistency with the divine justice," etc. etc., collapses into this at last–Better the misery of the "Vale! in æternum vale!" ten times over than the opium of such empty sophisms–I have drunk of that cup to the bottom.

I am called away and must close my letter. Don't trouble to answer it unless you are so minded.–Ever yours faithfully, T. H. Huxley.

May 22, 1863

Jermyn Street

My dear Kingsley–Pray excuse my delay in replying to your letter. I have been very much pressed for time for these two or three days.

First touching the action of the spermatozoon. The best information you can find on the subject is, I think, in Newport's papers in the Philosophical Transactions for 1851, 1853, and 1854, especially the 1853 paper. Newport treats only of the Frog, but the information he gives is very full and definite. Allen Thomson's very accurate and learned article "Ovum" in Todd's Cyclopædia is also well worth looking through, though unfortunately it is least full just where you want most information. In French there is Coste's Développement des Corps organisés and the volume on "Development" by Bischoff in the French translation of the last edition of Soemmering's Anatomy.

So much for your inquiries as to the matters of fact. Next, as to questions of speculation. If any expression of ignorance on my part will bring us nearer we are likely to come into absolute contact, for the possibilities of "may be" are, to me, infinite.

I know nothing of Necessity, abominate the word Law (except as meaning that we know nothing to the contrary), and am quite ready to admit that there may be some place, "other side of nowhere," par exemple, where 2 + 2 = 5, and all bodies naturally repel one another instead of gravitating together.

I don't know whether Matter is anything distinct from Force. I don't know that atoms are anything but pure myths. Cogito, ergo sum is to my mind a ridiculous piece of bad logic, all I can say at any time being "Cogito." The Latin form I hold to be preferable to the English "I think," because the latter asserts the existence of an Ego–about which the bundle of phenomena at present addressing you knows nothing. In fact, if I am pushed, metaphysical speculation lands me exactly where your friend Raphael was when his bitch pupped. In other words, I believe in Hamilton, Mansell and Herbert Spencer so long as they are destructive, and I laugh at their beards as soon as they try to spin their own cobwebs.

Is this basis of ignorance broad enough for you? If you, theologian, can find as firm footing as I, man of science, do on this foundation of minus nought–there will be nought to fear for our ever diverging.

For you see I am quite as ready to admit your doctrine that souls secrete bodies as I am the opposite one that bodies secrete souls–simply because I deny the possibility of obtaining any evidence as to the truth and falsehood of either hypothesis. My fundamental axiom of speculative philosophy is that materialism and spiritualism are opposite poles of the same absurdity– the absurdity of imagining that we know anything about either spirit or matter.

Cabanis and Berkeley (I speak of them simply as types of schools) are both asses, the only difference being that one is a black donkey and the other a white one.

This universe is, I conceive, like to a great game being played out, and we poor mortals are allowed to take a hand. By great good fortune the wiser among us have made out some few of the rules of the game, as at present played. We call them "Laws of Nature," and honour them because we find that if we obey them we win something for our pains. The cards are our theories and hypotheses, the tricks our experimental verifications. But what sane man would endeavour to solve this problem: given the rules of a game and the winnings, to find whether the cards are made of pasteboard or goldleaf? Yet the problem of the metaphysicians is to my mind no saner.

If you tell me that an Ape differs from a Man because the latter has a soul and the ape has not, I can only say it may be so; but I should uncommonly like to know how either that the ape has not one or that the man has.

And until you satisfy me as to the soundness of your method of investigation, I must adhere to what seems to my mind a simpler form of notation–i.e. to suppose that all phenomena have the same substratum (if they have any), and that soul and body, or mental and physical phenomena, are merely diverse manifestations of that hypothetical substratum. In this way, it seems to me, I obey the rule which works so well in practice, of always making the simplest possible suppositions.

On the other hand, if you are of a different opinion, and find it more convenient to call the x which underlies (hypothetically) mental phenomena, Soul, and the x which underlies (hypothetically) physical phenomena, Body, well and good. The two-fluid theory and the one-fluid theory of electricity both accounted for the phenomena up to a certain extent, and both were probably wrong. So it may be with the theories that there is only one x in nature or two x's or three x's.

For, if you will think upon it, there are only four possible ontological hypotheses now that Polytheism is dead.

I.There is no x = Atheism on Berkeleyan principles.
II.There is only one x = Materialism or Pantheism, according as
you turn it heads or tails.
III.There are two x's
Spirit and Matter
} = Speculators incertæ sedis.
IV.There are three x's
God, Souls, Matter
} = Orthodox Theologians.

To say that I adopt any one of those hypotheses, as a representation of fact, would to my mind be absurd; but No.2 is the one I can work with best. To return to my metaphor, it chimes in better with the rules of the game of nature than any other of the four possibilities, to my mind.

But who knows when the great Banker may sweep away table and cards and all, and set us learning a new game? What will become of all my poor counters then? It may turn out that I am quite wrong, and that there are no x's or 20 x's.

I am glad you appreciate the rich absurdities of the new doctrine of spontogenesis [?]. Against the doctrine of spontaneous generation in the abstract I have nothing to say. Indeed it is a necessary corollary from Darwin's views if legitimately carried out, and I think Owen smites him (Darwin) fairly for taking refuge in "Pentateuchal" phraseology when he ought to have done one of two things–(a) give up the problem, (b) admit the necessity of spontaneous generation. It is the very passage in Darwin's book to which, as he knows right well, I have always strongly objected.

The x of science and the x of genesis are two different x's, and for any sake don't let us confuse them together. Maurice has sent me his book. I have read it, but I find myself utterly at a loss to comprehend his point of view.–Ever yours faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

July 2, 1863

Jermyn Street

My Dear Darwin–I am horribly loth to say that I cannot do anything you want done; and partly for that reason and partly because we have been very busy here with some new arrangements during the last day or two, I did not at once reply to your note.

I am afraid, however, I cannot undertake any sort of new work. In spite of working like a horse (or if you prefer it, like an ass), I find myself scandalously in arrear, and I shall get into terrible hot water if I do not clear off some things that have been hanging about me for months and years.

If you will send me up the specimens, however, I will ask Flower (whom I see constantly) to examine them for you. The examination will be no great trouble, and I am ashamed to make a fuss about it, but I have sworn a big oath to take no fresh work, great or small, until certain things are done.

I wake up in the morning with somebody saying in my ear, "A is not done, and B is not done, and C is not done, and D is not done," etc., and a feeling like a fellow whose duns are all in the street waiting for him. By the way, you ask me what I am doing now, so I will just enumerate some of the A, B, and C's aforesaid.

A. Editing lectures on Vertebrate skull and bringing them out in the Medical Times.

B. Editing and re-writing lectures on Elementary Physiology, just delivered here and reported as I went along.

C. Thinking of my course of twenty-four lectures on the Mammalia at Coll. Surgeons in next spring, and making investigations bearing on the same.

D. Thinking of and working at a Manual of Comparative Anatomy (may it be d–d); which I have had in hand these seven years.

E. Getting heaps of remains of new Labyrinthodonts from the Glasgow coalfield, which have to be described.

F. Working at a memoir on Glyptodon based on a new and almost entire specimen at the College of Surgeons.

G. Preparing a new decade upon Fossil fishes for this place.

H. Knowing that I ought to have written long ago a description of a most interesting lot of Indian fossils sent to me by Oldham.

I. Being blown up by Hooker for doing nothing for the Natural History Review.

K. Being bothered by sundry editors just to write articles "which you know you can knock off in a moment."

L. Consciousness of having left unwritten letters which ought to have been written long ago, especially to C. Darwin.

M. General worry and botheration. Ten or twelve people taking up my time all day about their own affairs.

N. O. P. Q. R. S. T. U. V. W. X. Y. Z



Dinners, evening parties, and all the apparatus for wasting time called "Society." Colensoism and botheration about Moses. . . . Finally pestered to death in public and private because I am supposed to be what they call a "Darwinian."

If that is not enough, I could exhaust the Greek alphabet for heads in addition.

I am glad to hear that Wyman thinks well of my book, as he is very competent to judge. I hear it is republished in America, but I suppose I shall get nothing out of it.

Letters of 1864
Letters of 1862

Letter Index



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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