T. H. Huxley
Letters and Diary 1884

April 8, 1884

[To Lady Welby]

Your letter requires consideration, and I have had very little leisure lately. Whether motion disintegrates or integrates is, I apprehend, a question of conditions. A whirlpool in a stream may remain in the same spot for any imaginable time. Yet it is the effect of the motion of the particles of the water in that spot which continually integrate themselves into the whirlpool and disintegrate themselves from it. The whirlpool is permanent while the conditions last, though its constituents incessantly change. Living bodies are just such whirlpools. Matter sets into them in the shape of food,–sets out of them in the shape of waste products. Their individuality lies in the constant maintenance of a characteristic form, not in the preservation of material identity. I do not know anything about "vitality" except as a name for certain phenomena like "electricity" or "gravitation." As you get deeper into scientific questions you will find that "Name ist Schall und Rauch" even more emphatically than Faust says it is in Theology. Most of us are idolators, and ascribe divine powers to the abstractions "Force," "Gravity," "Vitality," which our own brains have created. I do not know anything about "inert" things in nature. If we reduce the world to matter and motion, the matter is not "inert," inasmuch as the same amount of motion affects different kinds of matter in different ways. To go back to my own illustration. The fabric of the watch is not inert, every particle of it is in violent and rapid motion, and the winding-up simply perturbs the whole infinitely complicated system in a particular fashion. Equilibrium means death, because life is a succession of changes, while a changing equilibrium is a contraction in terms. I am not at all clear that a living being is comparable to a machine running down. On this side of the question the whirlpool affords a better parallel than the watch. If you dam the stream above or below, the whirlpool dies; just as the living being does if you cut off its food, or choke it with its own waste products. And if you alter the sides or bottom of the stream you may kill the whirlpool, just as you kill the animal by interfering with its structure. Heat and oxidation as a source of heat appear to supply energy to the living machine, the molecular structure of the germ furnishing the "sides and bottom of the stream," that is, determining the results which the energy supplied shall produce.

Mr. Ashby writes like a man who knows what he is talking about. His exposition appears to me to be essentially sound and extremely well put. I wish there were more sanitary officers of the same stamp. Mr. Spencer is a very admirable writer, and I set great store by his works. But we are very old friends, and he has endured me as a sort of "devil's advocate" for thirty-odd years. He thinks that if I can pick no holes in what he says he is safe. But I pick a great many holes, and we agree to differ.

August 26, 1884

Highcroft House, Milford, Godalming

[To Michael Foster]

Dearly Beloved–I have been going over the ear chapter this morning, and, as you will see, have suggested some additions. Those about the laimina spirilis are certainly necessary–illus. substitution of trihedral for triangular. I want also very much to get into the heads of students that in sensation it is all modes of motion up to and in sensorium, and that the generation of feeling is the specific reaction of a particle of the sensorium when stimulated, just as contraction, etc., is the specific reaction of a muscular fibre when stimulated by its nerve. The psychologists make the fools of themselves they do because they have never mastered this elementary fact. But I am not sure whether I have put it well, and I wish you would give your mind to it. As for me I have not had much mind to give lately–a fortnight's spoon-meat reduced me to inanity, and I am only just picking up again. However, I walked ten miles yesterday afternoon, so there is not much the matter.

I will see what I can do about the histology business. I wanted to re-write it, but I am not sure yet whether I shall be able.

Between ourselves, I have pretty well made up my mind to clear out of everything next year, R. S. included. I loathe the thought of wasting any more of my life in endless distractions–and so long as I live in London there is no escape for me. I have half a mind to live abroad for six months in the year.

I enclose letter from Deutsch lunatic to go before Council and be answered by Foreign Secretary.

August 29, 1884

Highcroft House, Milford, Godalming

[To Michael Foster]

Dearly Beloved–I enclose the proofs, having mustered up volition enough to go over them at once. I think the alterations will be great improvements. I see you interpret yourself about the movements of the larynx.

As to the histology, I shall have a shot at it, but if I do not send you MS. in a week's time, go ahead. I am perplexed about the illustrations, but I see nothing for it but to have new ones in all the cases which you have marked. Have you anybody in Cambridge who can draw the things from preparations?

You are like Trochu with your "plan," and I am anxious to learn it. But have you reflected, 1st, that I am getting deafer and deafer, and that I cannot hear what is said at the council table and in the Society's rooms half the time people are speaking? and 2nd, that so long as I am President, so long must I be at the beck and call of everything that turns up in relation to the interests of science. So long as I am in the chair, I cannot be a fainéant or refuse to do anything and everything incidental to the position.

My notion is to get away for six months, so as to break with the "world, the flesh, and the devil" of London, for all which I have conceived a perfect loathing. Six months is long enough for anybody to be forgotten twice over by everybody but personal friends.

I am contemplating a winter in Italy, but I shall keep on my house for Harry's sake and as a pied à terre in London, and in the summer come and look at you at Burlington House, as the old soap-boiler used to visit the factory. I shall feel like the man out of whom the legion of devils departed when he looked at the gambades of the two thousand pigs going at express speed for the waters of Tiberias.

By the way, did you ever read that preposterous and immoral story carefully? It is one of the best attested of the miracles....

When I have retired from the chair (which I must not scandalise) I shall write a lay sermon on the text. It will be impressive.

My wife sends her love, and says she has her eye on you. She is all for retirement.–Ever yours.–Ever yours,

I am very sorry to hear of poor Mangles' death, but I suppose there was no other chance. THH

September 10, 1884

My dear Donnelly–Many thanks for your kind letter. I feel rather like a deserter, and am glad of any crumbs of comfort.

Cartwright has done wonders for me, and I can already eat most things (I draw the line at tough crusts). I have not even my old enemy, dyspepsia–but eat, drink, and sleep like a top.

And withal I am as tired as if I were hard at work, and shirk walking.

So far as I can make out there is not the slightest sign of organic disease anywhere, but I will get Clark to overhaul me when I go back to town. Sometimes I am inclined to suspect that it is all sham and laziness–but then why the deuce should I want to sham and be lazy.

Somebody started a charming theory years ago–that as you get older and lose volition, primitive evil tendencies, heretofore mastered, come out and show themselves. A nice prospect for venerable old gentlemen!

Perhaps my crust of industry is denuded, and the primitive rock of sloth is cropping out.

But enough of this egotistical invalidism.

How wonderfully Gordon is holding his own. I should like to see him lick the Mahdi into fits before Wolseley gets up. You despise the Jews, but Gordon is more like one of the Maccabees of Bar-Kochba than any sort of modern man.

My wife sends love to both of you, and says you are (in feminine language) "a dear thing in friends."–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

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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