T. H. Huxley
Letters and Diary 1885

January 8, 1885

Hotel Victoria, Via dei du Macelli, Rome

My dear Foster–We have been here a fortnight very well lodged–south aspect, fireplace, and all the rest of the essentials except sunshine. Of this last there is not much more than in England, and the grey skies day after day are worthy of our native land. Sometimes it rains cats and dogs all day by way of a change–as on Christmas Day–but it is not cold. "Quite exceptional weather," they tell us, but that seems to be the rule everywhere. We have done a respectable amount of gallery-slaving, and I have been amusing myself by picking up the topography of ancient Rome. I was going to say Pagan Rome, but the inappropriatness of the distinction strikes me, papal Rome being much more stupidly and childishly pagan than imperial. I never saw a sadder sight than the kissing a wretched bedizened doll of a Bambino that went on in the Ara Coeli on Twelfth Day. Your puritan soul would have longed to arise and slay. . . .

As to myself, though it is a very unsatisfactory subject and one I am very tired of bothering my friends about, I am like the farmer at the rent-dinner, and don't find myself much "forwarder." That is to say, I am well for a few days and then all adrift, and have to put myself right by dosing with Clark's pills, which are really invaluable. They will make me believe in those pills I saw advertised in my youth, and which among other things were warranted to cure "the indecision of juries." I really can't make out my own condition. I walked seven or eight miles this morning over Monte Mario and out on the Campagna without any particular fatigue, and yesterday I was as miserable as an owl in sunshine. Something perhaps must be put down to the relapse which our poor girl had a week ago, and which became known to us in a terrible way. She had apparently quite recovered, and arrangements were made for their going abroad, and now everything is upset. I warned her husband that this was very likely, but did not sufficiently take the warning to myself.

You are taking a world of trouble for me, and Donnelly writes I am to do as I like so far as they are concerned. I have heard nothing from the Home Office, and I suppose it would be proper for me to write if I want any more leave. I really hardly know what to do. I can't say I feel very fit for the hurly-burly of London just now, but I am not sure that the wholesomest thing for me would not be at all costs to get back to some engrossing work. If my poor girl were well, I could perhaps make something of the dolce far niente , but at present one's mind runs to her when it is not busy in something else.

I expect we shall be here a week or ten days more–at any rate, this address is safe–afterwards to Florence.

What am I to do in the Riviera? Here and at Florence there is always some distraction. You see the problem is complex.

My wife, who is very lively, thanks you for your letter (which I have answered) and joins with me in love to Mrs. Foster and yourself.–Ever yours,

T. H. Huxley.

January 18, 1885

Hotel Victoria, Via dei du Macelli

My dear Donnelly–Official sentence of exile for two months more (up to May 12) arrived yesterday. So if my lords will be so kind as to concur I shall be able to disport myself with a clear conscience. I hope their lordships won't think that I am taking things too easy in not making a regular application, and I will do so if you think it better. But if it had rested with me, I think I should have got back in February and taken my chance. That energetic woman that owns me, and Michael Foster, however, have taken the game out of my hands, and I have nothing to do but to submit

On the whole, I feel it is wise. I shall have more chance if I escape not only the cold but the bother of London for a couple of months more.

I was very bad a week ago, but I have taken to dosing myself with quinine, and either that or something else has given me a spurt for the last two days, so that I have been more myself than any time since I left, and begin to think that there is life in the old dog yet. If one could only have some fine weather! To-day there is the first real sunshine we have been favoured with for a week.

We are just back from a great function at St. Peter's. It is the festa of St. Peter's chair, and the ex-dragoon Cardinal Howard has been fugleman in the devout adorations addressed to that venerable article of furniture, which, as you ought to know, bu† probably don't, is inclosed in a bronze double and perched up in a shrine of the worst possible taste in the Tribuna of St. Peter's. The display of man-millinery and lace was enough to fill the lightest-minded woman with envy, and a general concert–some of the music very good–prevented me from feeling dull, while the ci-devant guardsman–big, burly, and bullet—headed–made God and then eat him. I must have a strong strain of Puritan blood in me somewhere, for I am possessed with a desire to arise and slay the whole brood of idolators whenever I assist at one of these ceremonies. You will observe that I am decidedly better, and have a capacity for a good hatred still.

The last news about Gordon is delightful. The chances are he will rescue Wolseley yet.

With our love–Ever yours,

T. H. Huxley.

January 20, 1885


[To Leonard Huxley]

I need hardly tell you that I find Rome wonderfully interesting, and the attraction increases the longer one stays. I am obliged to take care of myself and do but little in the way of sight-seeing, but by directing one's attention to particular objects one can learn a great deal without much trouble. I begin to understand Old Rome pretty well, and I am quite learned in the Catacombs, which suit me, as a kind of Christian fossils out of which one can reconstruct the body of the primitive Church. She was a simple maiden enough and vastly more attractive than the bedizened old harridan of the modern Papacy, so smothered under the old clothes of Paganism which she has been appropriating for the last fifteen centuries that Jesus of Nazareth would not know her if he met her.

I have been to several great papistical functions–among others to the festa of the Cathedra Petri in St. Peter's last Sunday and I confess I am unable to understand how grown men can lend themselves to such elaborate tomfooleries–nothing but mere fetish worship–in forms of execrably bad taste, devised, one would think, by a college of ecclesiastical man-milliners for the delectation of school-girls. It is curious to note that intellectual and æsthetic degradation go hand in hand. You have only to go from the Pantheon to St. Peter's to understand the great abyss which lies between the Roman of paganism and the Roman of the papacy. I have seen nothing grander than Agrippa's work–the popes have stripped it to adorn their own petrified lies, but in its nakedness it has a dignity with which there is nothing to compare in the ill-proportioned, worse decorated tawdry stone mountain on the Vatican.

The best thing, from an æsthetic point of view, that could be done with Rome would be to destroy everything except St. Paolo fuor le Mure, of later date than the fourth century.

But you will have had enough of my scrawl, and your mother wants to add something. She is in great force, and is gone prospecting to some Palazzo or other to tell me if it is worth seeing.–Ever your loving father,

T. H. Huxley.

January 25, 1885

Hotel Victoria, Rome, Via de due-Macelli

My dear Donnelly–Best thanks for the telegram which arrived the day before yesterday and set my mind at ease.

I have been screwing up the old machine which I inhabit, first with quinine and now with a form of strychnia (which Clark told me to take) for the last week, and I have improved a good deal whether post hoc or proper hoc in the present uncertainty of medical science I decline to give any opinion.

The weather is very cold for Rome–ice an eighth of an inch thick in the Ludovisi Garden the other morning, and every night it freezes, but mostly fine sunshine in the day. (This is a remarkable sentence in point of grammar, but never mind.) The day before yesterday we came out on the Campagna, and it then was as fresh and bracing a breeze as you could get in Northumberland.

We are very comfortable and quiet here, and I hold on–till it gets warmer. I am told that Florence is detestable at present. As for London, our accounts make us shiver and cough.

News about the dynamiting gentry just arrived. A little more mischief and there will be an Irish massacre in some of our great towns. If an Irish Parnellite member were to be shot for every explosion I believe the thing would soon stop. It would be quite just, as they are practically accessories.

I think –– would do it if he were Prime Minister. Nothing like a thorough Radical for arbitrary acts of power!

I must be getting better, as my disgust at science has ceased, and I have begun to potter about Roman geology and prehistoric work. You may be glad to learn that there is no evidence that the prehistoric Romans had Roman noses. But as I cannot find any particular prevalence of [them] among the modern–or ancient except for Cæsar–Romani, the fact is not so interesting as it might appear, and I would not advise you to tell –– of it.

Behold a Goak–feeble, but promising of better things.

My wife unites with me with love to Mrs. Donnelly and yourself.–Ever yours, T. H. Huxley.

February 14, 1885


My dear Foster–Voilà the preface–a work of great labour! and which you may polish and alter as you like, all but the last paragraph. You see I have caved in. I like your asking to have your own way "for once." My wife takes the same line, does whatever she pleases, and then declares I leave her no initiative.

If I talk of public affairs, I shall simply fall a-blaspheming. I see the Times holds out about Gordon, and does not believe he is killed. Poor fellow! I wish I could believe that his own conviction (as he told me) is true, and that death only means a larger government for him to administer. Anyhow, it is better to wind up that way than to go growling out one's existence as a venose hypochondriac, dependent upon the condition of a few square inches of mucous membrane for one's heaven or hell.

As to private affairs, I think I am getting solidly, but very slowly, better. In fact, I can't say there is much the matter with me, except that I am weaker than I ought to be, and that a sort of weary indolence hangs about me like a fog. M[arian] is wonderfully better, and her husband has taken a house for them at Norwood. If I could be rejoiced at anything, I should be at that; but it seems to me as if since that awful journey when I first left England, "the springs was broke," as that vagabond tout said at Naples.

It has turned very cold here, and we are uncertain when to leave for Florence, but probably next week. The Carnival is the most entirely childish bosh I have ever met with among grown people. Want to finish this now for post, but will write again speedily. Moseley's proposition is entirely to my mind, and I have often talked ot it. The R.S. rooms ought to be house-of-call and quasi-club for all F.R.S. people in London.

Wife is bonny, barring a cold. It is as much as I can do to prevent her sporting a mask and domino!

With best love–Ever yours,

T. H. Huxley.

February 16, 1885

Hotel Victoria, Rome, Via dei due Macelli

My dear Donnelly–I have had it on my mind to write to you for the last week–ever since the hideous news about Gordon reached us. But partly from a faint hope that his wonderful fortune might yet have stood him in good stead, and partly because there is no great satisfaction in howling with rage, I have abstained.

Poor fellow! I wonder if he has entered upon the "larger sphere of action" which he told me was reserved for him in case of such a trifling accident as death. Of all the people whom I have met with in my life, he and Darwin are the two in whom I have found something bigger than ordinary humanity–an unequalled simplicity and directness of purpose–a sublime unselfishness.

Horrible as it is to us, I imagine that the manner of his death was not unwelcome to himself. Better wear out than rust out, and better break than wear out. The pity is that he could not know the feeling of his countrymen about him.

I shall be curious to see what defence the superingenious Premier has to offer for himself in Parliament. I suppose, as usual, the question will drift into a brutal party fight, when the furious imbecility of the Tories will lead them to spoil their case. That is where we are; on the one side, timid imbecility "waiting for instructions from the constituencies"; furious imbecility on the other, looking out for party advantage. Oh! for a few months of William Pitt.

I see you think there may be some hope that Gordon has escaped yet. I am afraid the last telegram from Wolseley was decisive. We have been watching the news with the greatest anxiety, and it has seemed only to get blacker and blacker.

[Touching a determined effort to alter the management of certain Technical Education business.]

I trust he may succeed, and that the unfitness of these people to be trusted with anything may be demonstrated. I regret I am not able to help in the good work. Get the thing ou† of their hands as fast as possible. The prospect of being revenged for all the beastly dinners I sat ou† and all the weary discussions I attended to on purpose, really puts a little life into me. Apropos of that, I am better in various ways, but curiously weak and washed out; and I am afraid that not even the propsect of a fight would screw me up for long. I don't understand it, unless I have some organic disease of which nobody can find any trace (and in which I do not believe myself), or unless the terrible trouble we have had has accelerated the advent of old age. I rather suspect that the last speculation is nearest the truth. You will be glad to hear that my poor girl is wonderfully better, and, indeed, to all appearance quite well. They are living quietly at Norwood.

I shall be back certainly by the 12th April, probably before. We have found very good quarters here, and have waited for the weather to get warmed before moving; but at last we have made up our minds to begin nomadising again next Friday. We go to Florence, taking Siena, and probably Pisa, on our way, and reaching Florence some time next week. Address–Hotel Milano, Via Cerretani.

For the last week the Carnival has been going on. It strikes me as the most elaborate and dreariest tomfoolery I have ever seen, but I doubt if I am in the humour to judge it fairly. It is only just to say that it entertains my vigorous wife immensely. I have been expecting to see her in mask and domino, but happily this is the last day, and there is no sign of any yet. I have never seen any one so much benefited by rest and change as she is, and that is a good thing for both of us.

After Florence we shall probably make our way in Venice, and come home by the Lago di Garda and Germany. But I will let you know when our plans are settled.

With best love from we two to you two.–Ever yours,

H. Huxley.

February 25, 1885


[To Leonard]

... If you had taken to physical science it would have been delightful for me for us to have worked together, and I am half inclined to take to history that I may earn that pleasure. I could give you some capital wrinkles about the physical geography and prehistoric history (excuse bull) of Italy for a Roman History primer! Joking apart, I believe that history might be, and ought to be, taught in a new fashion so as to make the meaning of it a process of evolution–intelligible to the young. The Italians have been doing wonders in the last twenty years in prehistoric archæology, and I have been greatly interested in acquainting myself with the general result of their work.

We moved here last Friday, and only regret that the reports of the weather prevented us from coming sooner. More than 1000 ft. above the sea, in the midst of a beautiful hill country, and with the clearest and purist air we have met with in Italy, Siena is perfectly charming. The window is wide open and I look out upon a vast panorama, something like that of the Surrey hills, only on a larger scale–"Raw Siena," "Burnt Siena," in the foreground, where the colour of the soil is not hidden by the sage green olive foliage, purple mountains in the distance.

The old town itself is a marvel of picturesque crookedness, and the cathedral a marvel. M. and I have been devoting ourselves this morning to St. Catarina and Sodoma's pictures.

I am reading a very interesting life of her by Capecelatro, and if my liver continues out of order, may yet turn Dominican.

However, the place seems to be doing me good, and I may yet, like another person, decline to be a monk.

August 16, 1885

Filey, Yorkshire

[John Skelton, The Table-Talk of Shirley]

[To John Skelton]

I am not quite sure about giving up work–but I am giving up pay, which is more serious. Not that I have anything to complain of–H.M. Treasury having acted as generously as could be expected. Age, bad health, and anxiety came arm in arm, and marched straight over me this time last year–so that there was nothing for me but to bolt to Italy according to doctor's orders and try to get better.

But all the king's horses and all the king's men have not put Humpty Dumpty exactly where he was before. I cannot stand the racket of the last twenty years any longer; and the only thing was to get out of all official burthens. So I am absolutely relieved; but I have retained a certain connexion with my old school at S. Kensington, and I have not yet renounced the Presidency of the Royal Society. What I shall do by-and-bye depends very much on what happens here. We came ten days ago; and I have so distinctly improved that I hope by-and-bye to be fit for something.

November 12, 1885

[To St. George Jackson Mivart ]

My dear Mr. Mivart–I return your proof with many thanks for your courtesy in sending it. I fully appreciate the good feeling shown in what you have written, but as you ask my opinion, I had better say frankly that my experience of Darwin is widely different from yours as expressed in the passages marked with pencil. I have often remarked that I never knew any one of his intellectual rank who showed himself so tolerant to opponents, great and small, as Darwin did. Sensitive he was in the sense of being too ready to be depressed by adverse comment, but I never knew any one less easily hurt by fair criticism, or who less needed to be soothed by those who opposed him with good reason.

I am sure I tried his patience often enough, without ever eliciting more than a "Well there's a good deal in what you say; but–" and then followed something which nine times out of ten showed he had gone deeper into the business than I had.

I cannot agree with you, again, that the acceptance of Darwin's views was in any way influenced by the strong affection entertained for him by many of his friends. What that affection really did was to lead those of his friends who had seen good reason for his views to take much more trouble in his defence and support, and to strike out much harder at his adversary than they would otherwise have done. This is pardonable if not justifiable–that which you suggest would to my mind be neither.

I am so ignorant of what has been going on during the last twelvemonth, that I know nothing of your controversy with Romanes. If he is going to show the evolution of intellect from sense, he is the man for whom I have been waiting, as Kant says.

In your paper about scientific freedom, which I read some time ago with much interest, you alluded to a book or article by Father Roberts on the Galileo business. Will you kindly send me a postcard to say where and when it was published?

I looked into the matter when I was in Italy, and I arrived at the conclusion that the Pope and the College of Cardinals had rather the best of it. It would complete the paradox if Father Roberts should help me to see the error of my ways.–Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. Huxley.

December 4, 1885

[To Spencer]

Do read my polishing off of the G.O.M. I am proud of it as a work of art, and evidence that the volcano is not yet exhausted.

December 6, 1885

4 Marlborough Place

My dear Farrer–From a scientific point of view Gladstone's article was undoubtedly not worth powder and shot. But, on personal grounds, the perusal of it sent me blaspheming about the house with the first healthy expression of wrath known for a couple of years–to my wife's great alarm–and I should have "busted up" if I had not given vent to my indignation; and secondly, all orthodoxy was gloating over the slap in the face which the G.O.M. had administered to science in the person of Réville.

The ignorance of the so-called educated classes in this country is stupendous, and in the hands of people like Gladstone it is a political force. Since I became an official of the Royal Society, good taste seemed to me to dictate silence about matters on which there is "great division among us." But now I have recovered my freedom, and I am greatly minded to begin stirring the fire afresh.

Within the last month I have picked up wonderfully. If dear old Darwin were alive he would say it is because I have had a fight, but in truth the fight is consequence and not cause. I am infinitely relieved by getting rid of the eternal strain of the past thirty years, and hope to get some good work done yet before I die, so make ready for the part of the judicious bottleholder which I have always found you.–Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. Huxley.

December 26, 1885

My dear Foster–Please read the enclosed letter from Jowett (confidentially). I had suggested the possibility of diminishing the Greek and Latin for the science and medical people, but that, you see, he won't have. But he is prepared to load the classical people with science by way of making things fair.

It may be worth our while to go in for this, and trust to time for the other. What say you ?

Merry Christmas to you. The G.O.M. is going to reply, so I am likely to have a happy New Year! I expect some fun, and I mean to make it an occasion for some good earnest.

Letters of 1884
Letters of 1886

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