T. H. Huxley
Letters and Diary 1886


[To Sir E. Frankland]

As for the filling up the vacancies in the x, I am disposed to take Tyndall's view of the matter. Our little club had no very definite object beyond preventing a few men who were united by strong personal sympathies from drifting apart by the pressure of busy lives.

Nobody could have foreseen or expected twenty odd years ago when we first met, that we were destined to play the parts we have since played, and it is in the nature of things impossible that any of the new members proposed (much as we may like and respect them all), can carry on the work which has so strangely fallen to us.

An axe with a new head and a new handle may be the same axe in one sense, but it is not the familiar friend with which one has cut one's way through wood and brier.


[To Hooker]

What with the lame dog condition of Tyndall and Hirst and Spencer and my own recurrent illnesses, the x is not satisfactory. But I don't see that much will come from putting new patches in. The x really has no raison d'être beyond the personal attachment of its original members. Frankland told me of the names that had been mentioned, and none cou1d be more personally welcome to me .. . . but somehow or other they seem out of place in the x.

However, I am not going to stand out against the general wish, and I shall agree to anything that is desired.

[ ...]

The club has never had any purpose except the purely personal object of bringing together a few friends who did not want to drift apart. It has happened that these cronies had developed into big-wigs of various kinds, and therefore the club has incidentally–I might say accidentally–had a good deal of influence in the scientific world. But if I had to propose to a man to join, and he were to say, Well, what is your object? I should have to reply like the needy knife-grinder, "Object, God bless you, sir, we've none to show."

January 11, 1886

[To John Skelton] [John Skelton, The Table-Talk of Shirley]

I took a thought and began to mend (as Burns's friend, and my prototype (G.O.M.) is not yet reported to have done) about a couple of months ago, and then Gladstone's first article caused such a flow of bile that I have been the better of it ever since. I need not tell you that I am entirely crushed by his reply–still the worm will turn, and there is a faint squeak (as of a rat in the mouth of a terrier) about to be heard in the next 'XIX .'

Seriously it is to me a grave thing that the destinies of this country should at present be seriously influenced by a man who, whatever he may be in the affairs of which I am no judge, is nothing but a copious shuffler in those which I do understand.

January 13, 1886

My dear Farrer–My contribution to the next round was finished and sent to Knowles a week ago. I confess it to have been a work of supererogation; but the extreme shiftiness of my antagonist provoked me, and I was tempted to pin him and dissect him as an anatomico-psychological exercise. May it be accounted unto me for righteousness, though I laughed so much over the operation that I deserve no credit.

I think your notion is a very good one, and I am not sure that I shall not try to carry it out some day. In the meanwhile, however, I am bent upon an enterprise which I think still more important.

After I have done with the reconcilers, I will see whether theology cannot be told her place rather more plainly than she has yet been dealt with.

However, this between ourselves, I am seriously anxious to use what little stuff remains to me well, and I am not sure that I can do better service anywhere than in this line, though I don't mean to have any more controversy if I can help it.

(Don't laugh and repeat Darwin's wickedness.)–Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. Huxley.

January 15, 1886

My dear Knowles–I will be with you at 1.30. I spent three mortal hours this morning taming my wild cat. He is now castrated; his teeth are filed, his claws are cut, he is taught to swear like a "mieu"; and to spit like a cough; and when he is turned out of the bag you won't know him from a tame rabbit.

January 16, 1886

4 Marlborough Place, N.W.

[To Sir Joseph Prestwich]

My dear Prestwich–Accept my best thanks for the volume of your Geology, which has just reached me.

I envy the vigour which has led you to tackle such a task, and I have no doubt that when I turn to your book for information I shall find reason for more envy in the thoroughness with which the task is done.

I see Mr. Gladstone has been trying to wrest your scripture to his own purposes, but it is no good. Neither the fourfold nor the fivefold nor the sixfold order will wash.–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

January 20, 1886

My dear Knowles–Here is the debonnaire animal finally titivated, and I quite agree, much improved, though I mourn the loss of some of the spice. But it is an awful smash as it stands–worse than the first, I think.

I shall send you the MS. of the Evolution of Theology today or to-morrow. It will not do to divide it, as I want the reader to have an aperçu of the whole process from Samuel of Israel to Sammy of Oxford.

I am afraid it will make thirty or thirty-five pages, but it is really very interesting, though I say it as shouldn't.

Please have it set up in slip, though, as it is written after the manner of a judge's charge, the corrections will not be so extensive, nor the strength of language so well calculated to make a judicious editor's hair stand on end, as was the case with the enclosed (in its unregenerate state).–Ever yours very truly,

T. H. Huxley.

January 21, 1886

My dear Skelton–Thanks for your capital bit of chaff. I took a thought and began to mend (as Burns' friend and my prototype (G.O.M.) is not yet recorded to have done) about a couple of months ago, and then Gladstone's first article caused such a flow of bile that I have been the better for it ever since.

I need not tell you I am entirely crushed by his reply–still the worm will turn and there is a faint squeak (as of a rat in the mouth of a terrier) about to be heard in the next Nineteenth.

But seriously, it is to me a grave thing that the destinies of this country should at present be seriously influenced by a man, who, whatever he may be in the affairs of which I am no judge–is nothing but a copious shuffler, in those which I do understand.–With best wishes to Mrs. Skelton and yourself, ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

February 19, 1886

[To Edward Bagnall Poulton]

Dear Mr. Poulton–I return herewith the number of the Expositor with many thanks. Canon Driver's article contains as clear and candid a statement as I could wish of the position of the Pentateuchal cosmogony from his point of view. If he more thoroughly understood the actual nature of paleontological succession–I mean the species by species replacement of old forms by new,–and if he more fully appreciated the great gulf fixed between the ideas of "creation" and of "evolution," I think he would see (1) that the Pentateuch and science are more hopelessly at variance than even he imagines, and (2) that the Pentateuchal cosmogony does not come so near the facts of the case as some other ancient cosmogonies, notably those of the old Greek philosophers.

Practically, Canon Driver, as a theologian and Hebrew scholar, gives up the physical truth of the Pentateuchal cosmogony altogether. All the more wonderful to me, therefore, is the way in which he holds on to it as embodying theological truth. So far as this question is concerned, on all points which can be tested, the Pentateuchal writer states that which is not true. What, therefore, is his authority on the matter–creation by a Deity–which cannot be tested? What sort of "inspiration" is that which leads to the promulgation of a fable as divine truth, which forces those who believe in that inspiration to hold on, like grim death, to the literal truth of the fable, which demoralises them in seeking for all sorts of sophistical shifts to bolster up the fable, and which finally is discredited and repudiated when the fable is finally proved to be a fable? If Satan had wished to devise the best means of discrediting "Revelation" he could not have done better.

Have you not forgotten to mention the leg of Archæopteryx as a characteristically bird-like structure? It is so, and it is to be recollected that at present we know nothing of the greater part of the skeletons of the older mesozoic mammals–only teeth and jaws. What the shoulder-girdle of Stereognathus might be like is uncertain.

March 22, 1886

Casalini, W. Bournemouth

My dear Spencer–More power to your elbow! You will find my blessing at the end of the proof.

But please look very carefully at some comments which are not merely sceptical criticisms, but deal with matters of fact.

I see the difference between us on the speculative question lies in the conception of the primitive protoplasm. I conceive it as a mechanism set going by heat–as a sort of active crystal with the capacity of giving rise to a great number of pseudomorphs; and I conceive that external conditions favour one or the other pseudomorph, but leave the fundamental mechanism untouched.

You appear to me to suppose that external conditions modify the machinery, as if by transferring a flour-mill into a forest you could make it into a saw-mill I am too much of a sceptic to deny the possibility of anything–especially as I am now so much occupied with theology–but I don't see my way to your conclusion.

And that is all the more reason why I don't want to stop you from working it out, or rather to make the "one erasure" you suggest. For as to stopping you, "ten on me might," as the navvy said to the little special constable who threatened to take him into custody.–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

March 21, 1886

Casalini, W. Bournemouth

[To Albert Grey]

Dear Mr. Grey–I am as much opposed to the Home Rule scheme as any one can possibly be, and if I were a political man I would fight against it as long as I had any breath left in me; but I have carefully kept out of the political field all my life, and it is too late for me now to think of entering it.

Anxious watching of the course of affairs for many years past has persuaded me that nothing short of some sharp and sweeping national misfortune will convince the majority of our countrymen that government by average opinion is merely a circuitous method of going to the devil; and that those who profess to lead but in fact slavishly follow this average opinion are simply the fastest runners and the loudest squeakers of the herd which is rushing blindly down to its destruction.

It is the electorate, and especially the Liberal electorate, which is responsible for the present state of things. It has no political education. It knows well enough that 2 and 2 won't make 5 in a ledger, and that sentimental stealing in private life is not to be tolerated; but it has not been taught the great lesson in history that there are like verities in national life, and hence it easily falls a prey to any clever and copious fallacy-monger who appeals to its great heart instead of reminding it of its weak head.

Politicians have gone on flattering and cajoling this chaos of political incompetence until the just penalty of believing their own fictions has befallen them, and the average member of Parliament is conscientiously convinced that it is his duty, not to act for his constituents to the best of his judgment, but to do exactly what they, or rather the small minority which drives them, tells him to do.

Have we a real statesman? a man of the calibre of Pitt or Burke, to say nothing of Strafford or Pym, who will stand up and tell his countrymen that this disruption of the union is nothing but a cowardly wickedness–an act bad in itself, fraught with immeasurable evil–especially to the people of Ireland; and that if it cost his political existence, or his head, for that matter, he is prepared to take any and every honest means of preventing the mischief?

I see no sign of any. And if such a man should come to the front what chance is there of his receiving loyal and continuous support from a majority of the House of Commons? I see no sign of any.

There was a time when the political madness of one party was sure to be checked by the sanity, or at any rate the jealousy of the other. At the last election I should have voted for the Conservatives (for the first time in my life) had it not been for Lord Randolph Churchill; but I thought that by thus jumping out of the Gladstonian frying-pan into the Churchillian fire I should not mend matters, so I abstained altogether.

Mr. Parnell has great qualities. For the first time the Irish malcontents have a leader who is not eloquent, but who is honest; who knows what he wants and faces the risks involved in getting it. Our poor Right Honourable Rhetoricians are no match for this man who understands realities. I believe also that Mr. Parnell's success will destroy the English politicians who permit themselves to be his instruments, as soon as bitter experience of the consequences has brought Englishmen and Scotchmen (and I will add Irishmen) to their senses.

I suppose one ought not to be sorry for that result, but there are men among them over whose fall all will lament.–I am, yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

May 3, 1886

4 Marlborough Place

My dear Foster–I cannot find Hughes' letter, and fancy I must have destroyed it. So I cannot satisfy Newton as to the exact terms of his question.

But I am quite clear that my answer was not meant to recommend any particular course for Cambridge, when I know nothing about the particular circumstances of the case, but referred to what I should like to do if I had carte blanche.

It is as plain as the nose on one's face (mine is said to be very plain) that Zoological and Botanical collections should illustrate (1) Morphology, (2) Geographical Distribution, (3) Geological Succession.

It is also obvious to me that the morphological series ought to contain examples of all the extinct types in their proper places. But I think it will be no less plain to any one who has had anything to do with Geology and Paleontology that the great mass of fossils is to be most conveniently arranged stratigraphically. The Jermyn St. Museum affords an example of the stratigraphical arrangement.

I do not know that there is anywhere a collection arranged according to Provinces of Geographical Distribution. It would be a great credit to Cambridge to set the example of having one.

If I had a free hand in Cambridge or anywhere else I should build (A) a Museum, open to the public, and containing three strictly limited and selected collections; one morphologically, one geographically, and one stratigraphically arranged; and (B) a series of annexes arranged for storage and working purposes to contain the material which is of no use to any but specialists. I am convinced that this is the only plan by which the wants of ordinary people can be supplied efficiently, while ample room is afforded for additions to any extent without large expense in building.

On the present plan or no plan, Museums are built at great cost, and in a few years are choked for want of room.

If you have the opportunity, I wish you would explain that I gave no opinion as to what might or might not be expedient under present circumstances at Cambridge. I do not want to seem meddlesome.–Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. Huxley.

Don't forget Cayley.

N.B.–As my meaning seems to have been misunderstood I wish, if you have the chance, you would make it clear that I do not want three brick and mortar museums–but one public museum–containing a threefold collection of typical forms, a biological Trinity in Unity in fact.

It might conciliate the clerics if you adopted this illustration. But as your own, mind. I should not like them to think me capable of it.

June 4, 1886

My dear Skelton–A civil question deserves a civil answer–Yes. I am sorry to say I know–nobody better–"what it is to be unfit for work." I have been trying to emerge from that condition, first at Bournemouth, and then at Ilkley, for the last five months, with such small success that I find a few days in London knocks me up, and I go back to the Yorkshire moors next week.

We have no water-hens there–nothing but peewits, larks, and occasional grouse–but the air and water are of the best, and the hills quite high enough to bring one's muscles into play.

I suppose that Nebuchadnezzar was quite happy so long as he grazed and kept clear of Babylon; if so, I can hold him for my Scripture parallel.

I wish I could accept your moral No. 2, but there is amazingly little evidence of "reverential care for unoffending creation" in the arrangements of nature, that I can discover. If our ears were sharp enough to hear all the cries of pain that are uttered in the earth by men and beasts, we should be deafened by one continuous scream!

And yet the wealth of superfluous loveliness in the world condemns pessimism. It is a hopeless riddle.–Ever yours,

T. H. Huxley.

Please remember me to Mrs. Skelton.

June 4, 1886'

My dear Spencer–Here's a screed for you! I wish you well through it.

Mind I have no a priori objection to the transmission of functional modifications whatever. In fact, as I told yøu, I should rather like it to be true.

But I argued against the assumption (with Darwin as I do with you) of the operation of a factor which, if you forgive me for saying so, seems as far off support by trustworthy evidence now as ever it was.–Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. Huxley.

September 16, 1886

My dear Hooker–I have sucked Grisebach's brains, looked up Flora B. Americana , and F. Antarctica and New Zealand, and picked about in other quarters. I found I knew as much as Grisebach had to tell me (and more) about lutea, purpureopunctata, acaulis, campestris, and the verna lot, which are all I got hold of at Arolla. But he is very good in all but classification, which is logically "without form and void, and darkness on the face of it."

I shall have to verify lots of statements about gentians I have not seen, but at present the general results are very curious and interesting. The species fall into four groups, one primary least differentiated–three, specialised.

1. Lobes of corolla fringed. 2. Coronate. 3. Interlobate (i.e. not the "plica" between the proper petals).

Now the interesting point is that the Antarctic species are all primary and so are the great majority of the Andean forms. Lutea is the only old-world primary, unless the Himalayan Moorcroftiana belongs here. The Arctic forms are also primary, but the petals more extensively united.

The specialised types are all Arctogeal with the exception of half a dozen or so Andean species including prostrata .

There is a strange general parallelism with the cray-fishes! which also have their primary forms in Australia and New Zealand, avoid E. S. America and Africa, and become most differentiated in Arctogæa. But there are also differences in detail.

It strikes me that this is uncommonly interesting; but, of course, all the information about the structure of the flowers, etc., I get at second hand, wants verifying.

Have you done the gentians of your Flora Indica yet? Do look at them from this point of view.

I cannot make out what Grisebach means by his division of Chondrophylla. What is a "cartilaginous" margin to a leaf?–"Folia margine cartilaginea !" He has a lot of Indian sp. under this head.

I send you a rough scheme I have drawn up. Please let me have it back. Any annotations thankfully received. Shan't apologise for bothering you.

I hope the pension is settled at last.–Ever yours,

T. H. Huxley.

November 25, 1886

My dear Spencer–In spite of all prohibition I must write to you about two things. First, as to the proof returned herewith–I really have no criticisms to make (miracles, after all may not be incredible). I have read your account of your boyhood with great interest, and I find nothing there which does not contribute to the understanding of the man. No doubt about the truth of evolution in your own case.

Another point which has interested me immensely is the curious similarity to many recollections of my own boyish nature which I find, especially in the matter of demanding a reason for things and having no respect for authority.

But I was more docile, and could remember anything I had a mind to learn, whether it was rational or irrational, only in the latter case I hadn't the mind.

But you were infinitely better off than I in the matter of education. I had two years of a Pandemonium of a school (between 8 and l0) and after that neither help nor sympathy in any intellectual direction till I reached manhood. Good heavens! if I had had a father and uncle who troubled themselves about my education as yours did about your training, I might say as Bethell said of his possibilities had he come under Jowett, "There is no knowing to what eminence I might not have attained." Your account of them gives me the impression that they were remarkable persons. Men of that force of character, if they had been less wise and self-restrained, would have played the deuce with the abnormal chicken hatched among them.

The second matter is that your diabolical plot against Lilly has succeeded–vide the next number of the Fortnightly. I was fool enough to read his article, and the rest followed. But I do not think I should have troubled myself if the opportunity had not been good for clearing off a lot of old scores.

The bad weather for the last ten days has shown me that I want screwing up, and I am off to Ilkley on Saturday for a week or two. Ilkley Wells House will be my address. I should like to know that you are picking up again.–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

December 1886

[To Henrietta]

December 2–Have you had the Fortnightly ? How does my painting of the Lilly look?

December 8–Harris . . . says that my article "simply made the December number," which pretty piece of gratitude means a lively sense of favours to come.

December 13–I had a letter from Spencer yesterday chuckling over the success of his setting me on Lilly.

December 13, 1886

My dear Spencer–I am very glad to have news of you which on the whole is not unsatisfactory. Your conclusion as to the doctors is one I don't mind telling you in confidence I arrived at some time ago. . . .

I am glad you liked my treatment of Mr. Lilly. . . . I quite agree with you that the thing was worth doing for the sake of the public.

I have in hand another bottle of the same vintage about Modern Realism and the abuse of the word Law, suggested by a report I read the other day of one of Liddon's sermons.

The nonsense these great divines talk when they venture to meddle with science is really appalling.

Don't be alarmed about the history of Victorian science. I am happily limited to the length of a review article or thereabouts, and it is (I am happy to say it is nearly done) more of an essay on the history of science, bringing out the broad features of the contrast between past and present, than the history itself. It seemed to me that this was the only way of dealing with such a subject in a book intended for the general public.

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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