T. H. Huxley
Letters and Diary 1874


[To Parker]

If you disbelieve in that pedicle again [of Axolotl], I shall be guilty of an act of personal violence. ... I am benevolent to all the world, being possessed of a dozen live axolotls and four or five big dead mesobranchs. Moreover, I am going to get endless Frogs and Toads by judicious exchange with Gunther. We will work up the Amphibia as they have not been done since they were crea–I mean evolved.

July 22, 1874

4 Marlborough Place

My dear Tyndall–I hope you have been taking more care of your instep than you did of your leg in old times. Don't try mortifying the flesh again.

I was uncommonly amused at your disgustful wind up after writing me such a compassionate letter. I am as jolly as a sandboy so long as I live on a minimum and drink no alcohol, and as vigorous as ever I was in my life. But a late dinner wakes up my demoniac colon and gives me a fit of blue devils with physical precision.

Don't believe that I am at all the places in which the newspapers put me. For example, I was not at the Lord Mayor's dinner last night. As for Lord Derby's statue, I wanted to get a lesson in the art of statue unveiling. I help to pay Dizzie's salary, so I don't see why I should not get a wrinkle from that artful dodger.

I plead guilty to having accepted the Birmingham invitation [to deliver Mason Colelge address on Joseph Priestley]. I thought they deserved to be encouraged for having asked a man of science to do the job instead of some noble swell, and, moreover, Satan whispered that it would be a good opportunity for a little ventilation of wickedness. I cannot say, however, that I can work myself up into much enthusiasm for the dry old Unitarian who did not go very deep into anything. But I think I may make him a good peg whereon to hang a discourse on the tendencies of modern thought.

I was not at the Cambridge pow-wow–not out of prudence, but because I was not asked. I suppose that decent respect towards a Secretary of the Royal Society was not strong enough to outweigh University objections to the incumbent of that office. It is well for me that I expect nothing from Oxford or Cambridge, having burned my ships so far as they were concerned long ago.

I sent your note on to Knowles as soon as it arrived, but I have heard nothing from him. I wrote to him again to-night to say he had better let me see it in proof if he is going to print it. I am right glad you find anything worth reading again in my old papers. I stand by the view I took of the origin of species now as much as ever.

Shall I not see the address? It is tantalising to hear of your progress, and not to know what is in it.

I am thinking of taking Development for the subject of my evening lecture, the concrete facts made out in the last thirty years without reference to Evolution. If people see that it is Evolution, that is Nature's fault, not mine.

We are all flourishing, and send our love.–Ever yours faithfully, T. H. Huxley.

August 20, 1874

[To Henrietta]

Johnny's address went off exceedingly well last night. There was a mighty gathering in the Ulster Hall, and he delivered his speech very well. The meeting promises to be a good one, as there are over 1800 members already, and I daresay they will mount up to 2000 before the end. The Hookers' arrangements [i.e. for the members of the x club and their wives to club together at Belfast] all went to smash as I rather expected they would, but I have a very good clean lodging well outside the town where I can be quiet if I like, and ont he whole I think that is better, as I shall be able to work up my lectures in peace. . . .

August 21–Everything is goig on very well here. The weather is delightful, and under these circumstances my lodgings here with John Ball for a companion turns out to be a most excellent arrangement. Ça va sans dire, though, by the way, that is a bull induced by the locality. I am not going on any of the excursions on Sunday. I am going to have a quiet day here when everybody will suppose that I have accepted everybody else's invitation to be somewhere else. The Ulster Hall, in which the addresses are delivered, seems to me to be a terrible room to speak in, and I mean to nurse my energies all Monday. I sent you a cutting from one of the papers containing an account of me that will amuse you. The writer is evidently disappointed that I am not a turbulent savage.

August 25–. . . My work is over and I start for Kingstown, where I mean to sleep to-night, in an hour. I have just sent you a full and excellent report of my lecture. ["On Animals as Automata"] I am glad to say it was a complete success. I never was in better voice in my life, and I spoke for an hour and a half without notes, the people listening as still as mice. There has been a great row about Tyndall's address, and I had some reason to expect that I should have to meet a frantically warlike audience. But it was quite otherwise, and though I spoke my mind with very great plainness I never had a warmer reception. And I am not without hope that I have done something to allay the storm, though, as you may be sure, I did not sacrifice plainspeaking to that end. . . . I have been most creditably quiet here, and have gone to no dinners or breakfasts or other such fandangoes except those I accepted before leaving home. Sunday I spent quietly here, thinking over my lecture and putting my peroration, which required a good deal of care, into shape. I wandered out into the fields in the afternoon, and sat a long time thinking of all that had happened since I was here a young beginner, two and twenty, and . . . you were largely in my thoughts, which were full of blessings and tender memories.

I had a good night's work last night. I dined with the President of the College, and then gave my lecture. After that I smoked a bit with Foster until eleven o'clock, and then I went to the Northern Whig office to see that the report of my lecture was all right. It is the best paper here, and the Editor had begged me to see to the report, and I was anxious myself that I should be rightly represented. So I sat there till a quarter past one having the report read and correcting it when necessary. Then I came home and got to bed about two. I have just been to the section and read my paper there to a large audience who cannot have understood ten words of it, but who looked highly edified, and now I have done. Our lodging has turned out admirably, and Ball's company has been very pleasant. So that the fiasco of our arrangements was all for the best.

December 28, 1874

My dear Haeckel–This must reach you in time to wish you and yours a happy New Year in English fashion. May your shadow never be less, and may all your enemies, unbelieving dogs who resist the Prophet of Evolution, be defiled by the sitting of jackasses upon their grandmothers' graves! an oriental wish appropriate to an ex-traveller in Egypt.

I have written a notice of the "Anthropogenie" for the Academy, but I am so busy that I am afraid I should never have done it–but for being put into a great passion–by an article in the Quarterly Review for last July, while I read only a few days ago. My friend Mr.––, to whom I had to administer a gentle punishment some time ago, has been at the same tricks again, but much worse than his former performance–you will see that I have dealt with as you deal with a "Pfaffe" [Parson]. There are "halb-Pfaffen" as well as "halb-Affen" [half-apes]. So if what I say about "Anthropogenie" seems very little–to what I say about the Quarterly Review–do not be offended.

It will all serve the good cause.

I have been working very hard lately at the lower vertebrata, and getting out results which will interest you greatly. Your suggestion that Rathke's canals in Amphioxus [The Lancelet] are the Wolffian ducts was a capital shot, but it just missed the mark because Rathke's canals do not exist. Nevertheless there are two half canals, the dorsal walls of which meet in the raphe described by Stieda, and the plaited lining of this wall (a) is, I believe, the renal organ. Moreover, I have found the skull and brain of Amphioxus, both of which are very large (like a vertebrate embryo's) instead of being rudimentary as we all have thought, and exhibit the primitive segmentaion of the "Urwirbelthier" [Primitive vertebrate] skull.

Thus the skull of Petromyxon answers to about fourteen segments of the body of Amphioxus, fused together and indistinguishable in even the earliest embryonic state of the higher vertebrata.

Does this take your breath away? Well, in due time you shall be convinced. I sent in a brief notice to the last meeting of the Royal Society, which will soon be in your hands.

I need not tell you of the importance of all this. It is unlucky for Semper that he has just put Amphioxus out of the Vertebrata altogether–because it is demonstrable that Amphioxus is nearer than could have been hoped to the condition of the primitive vertebrata–a far more regular and respectable sort of ancestor than ever you suspected. For you see "Acrania" will have to go.

I think we must have an English translation of the Anthropogenie. There is great interest in these questions now, and your book is very readable, to say nothing of its higher qualities.

My wife (who sends her kindest greetings) and I were charmed with the photograph. [As for our] publication in that direction, the seven volumes are growing into stately folios. You would not know them.–Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. Huxley

How will you read this scrawl now that Gegenbaur is gone?

Letters of 1873
Letters of 1875

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