T. H. Huxley
Letters and Diary 1867

May 20, 1867

Jermyn Street

My dear Haeckel–Your letter, though dated the 12th, has but just reached me. I mention this lest you should think me remiss, my sin in not writing to you already being sufficiently great. But your book did not reach me until November, and I have been hard at work lecturing, with scarcely an intermission ever since.

Now I need hardly say that the Morphologie is not exactly a novel to be taken up and read in the intervals of business. On the contrary, though profoundly interesting, it is an uncommonly hard book, and one wants to read every sentence of it over.

I went through it within a fornight of its coming into my hands, so as to get at your general drift and purpose, but up to this time I have not been able to read it as I feel I ought to read it before venturing upon criticism. You cannot imagine how my time is frittered away in these accursed lectures and examinations.

There can be but one opinion, however, as to the knowledge and intellectual grasp displayed in the book; and, to me, the attempt to systemitize biology as a whole is especially interesting and valuable.

I shall go over this part of your work with great care by and by, but I am afraid you must expect that the number of biologists who will do so, will remain exceedingly small. Our comrades are not strong in logic and philosophy.

With respect to the polemic excursus, of course, I chuckle over them most sympathetically, and then say how naughty they are! I have done too much of the same sort of thing not to sympathise entirely with you; and I am much inclined to think that it is a good thing for a man, once at any rate in his life, to perform a public war-dance against all sorts of humbug and imposture.

But having satisfied one's love of freedom in this way, perhaps the sooner the war-paint is off the better. It has no virtue except as a sign of one's own frame of mind and determination, and when that is once known, is little better than a distraction.

I think there are a few patches of this kind, my dear friend, which may as well come out in the next edition, e.g. that wonderful note about the relation of God to gas, the gravity of which greatly tickled my fancy.

I pictured to myself the effect which a translation of this would have upon the minds of my respectable countrymen!

Apropos of translation. Darwin wrote to me on that subject, and with his usual generosity, would have made a considerable contribution towards the expense if we could have seen our way to the publication of a translation. But I do not think it would be well to translate the book in fragments, and, as a whole, it would be a very costly undertaking, with very little chance of finding readers.

I do not believe that in the British Islands there are fifty people who are competent to read the book, and of the fifty, five and twenty have read it or will read it in German.

What I desire to do is to write a review of it, which will bring it into some notice on this side of the water, and this I hope to do before long. If I do not it will be, you well know, from no want of inclination, but simply from lack of time.

In any case, as soon as I have been able to study the book carefully, you shall have my honest opinion about all points.

I am glad your journey has yielded so good a scientific harvest, and especially that you found my Oceanic Hydrozoa of some use. But I am shocked to find that you had no copy of the book of your own, and I shall take care that one is sent to you. It is my first-born work, done when I was very raw and inexperienced, and had neither friends nor help. Perhaps I am all the fonder of the child on that ground.

A lively memory of you remains in my house, and wife and children will be very glad to hear that I have news of you when I go home to dinner.

Keep us in kindly recollection, and believe me,–Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. Huxley.

November 12, 1867 [HP 8.57]

Athenaeum Club

My dear Tyndall–

Your argument is perfectly just–but would not meet the objections that would be raised by your grumbling reviewer.

Suppose a ganglionic corpuscle at a, and that the nerve from the toe e a is traceable into it. Then anatomically a might be called the origin of the nerve, though neither structurally nor physically need there be any break between the nerve a e and the nerve a x which places the ganglionic corpuscle in communication with the brain. So that your excitement might be transmitted as if there were only one continuous nerve fibre and yet anatomically speaking (or in a sense which might be employed by anatomists – though the practice is capricious and inconsequent) a might be the origin of the fibre. At present we really know very little with certainty about the origin of nerves in the anatomical sense.

If I say that some nerve fibres pass continuously from the end of the great toe to the surface of the brain, I say more than I can prove, but not more than is possible or probable and nobody can disprove the assertion. If I say that all the sensory or afferent nerve fibres are continous from the excitable surface to the brain without the interposition of a ganglionic cell, I say not only what I cannot prove but what is decidedly against probabilities as anatomy now stands.

If I say (as that blundering Pall Mall reviewer does) that no nerve fibres are continued from an excitable surface to the brain without the interposition of a ganglionic cell, I not only say what I cannot prove, but what can be disproved.

It must be Lewis, nobody else could be so clever and so ignorant. In which case I have put my foot into his good graces.

Ever yours, T. H. H.

Explanation of the Figure.

The Beautiful, the Good, and the True attitudinizing after the manner described in this note.
a, a ganglionic corpuscle to which the nerve a e is attached:

a x, nerve continued from corpuscle to brain: b, arachnoid fluid composed of pure alcohol (in the case of this subject), in which floats c, the brain (in the proper sense) here very small: d, appendage believed to exist by the clergy.

Letters of 1868
Letters of 1866

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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