T. H. Huxley
Letters and Diary 1888

January 5, 1888

My dear Romanes–They say that liars ought to have long memories. I am sure authors ought to. I could not at first remember where the passage Schurman quotes occurs, but I did find it in the Encyclopædia Britannica article on "Evolution," reprinted in Science and Culture, p. 307.

But I do not find anything about the "whale" here. Nevertheless I have a consciousness of having said something of the kind somewhere.

If you look at the whole passage, you will see that there is not the least intention on my part to presuppose design.

If you break a piece of Iceland spar with a hammer, all the pieces will have shapes of a certain kind, but that does not imply that the Iceland spar was constructed for the purpose of breaking up in this way when struck. The atomic theory implies that of all possible compounds of A and B only those will actually exist in which the proportions of A and B by weight bear a certain numerical ratio. But it is mere arguing in a circle to say that the fact being so is evidence that it was designed to be so.

I am not going to take any more notice of the everlasting D–, as you appropriately call him, until he has withdrawn his slanders....

Pray give him a dressing–it will be one of those rare combinations of duty and pleasure.–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

January 9, 1888

My dear Donnelly–Here is my proof. Will you mind running your eye over it?

The article is long, and partly for that reason and partly because the general public wants principles rather than details, I have condensed the practical half.

H. Spencer and "Jus" will be in a white rage with me.–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

February 9, 1888

Casalini, West Cliff, Bournemouth

My dear Donnelly–No! I don't think softening has begun yet–vide "Nature" this week. I am glad you found the article worth a second go. I took a vast of trouble (as the country folks say) about it. I am afraid it has made Spencer very angry–but he knows I think he has been doing mischief this long time.

Bellows to mend! Bellow to mend! I am getting very regularly done for at the end of it. I expect there has been more mischief than I thought for.

How about the Bill?–Ever yours,

T. H. Huxley.

February 14, 1888


My dear Foster–No doubt the Treasury will jump at any proposition which relieves them from further expense–but I cannot say I like the notion of leaving some of the most important results of the Challenger voyage to be published elsewhere than in the official record. . . .

Evans made a deft allusion to Spirula, like a powder between two dabs of jam. At present I have no moral sense, but it may awake as the days get longer.

I have been reading the Origin slowly again; for the n th time, with the view of picking out the essentials of the argument, for the obituary notice. Nothing entertains me more than to hear people call it easy reading.

Exposition was not Darwin's forte–and his English is sometimes wonderful. But there is a marvellous dumb sagacity about him–like that of a sort of miraculous dog–and he gets to the truth by ways as dark as those of the Heathen Chinee.

I am getting quite sick of all the "paper philosophers," as old Galileo called them, who are trying to stand upon Darwin's shoulders and look bigger than he, when in point of real knowledge they are not fit to black his shoes. It is just as well I am collapsed or I believe I should break out with a final "Für Darwin."

I will think of you when I get as far as the fossils. At present I am poking over P. sylvestris and P. pinnata in the intervals of weariness.

My wife joins with me in love to you both.–Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. Huxley.

Snow and cold winds here. Hope you are as badly off at Cambridge.

March 9, 1888

My dear Hooker–Having nothing to do plays the devil with doing anything, and I suppose that is why I have been so long about answering your letter.

There is nothing the matter with me now except want of strength. I am tired out with a three-mile walk, and my voice goes if I talk for any time. I do not suppose I shall do much good till I get into high and dry air, and it is too early for Switzerland yet. . . .

You see I was honoured and gloried by a trusteeship of the B.M. These things, I suppose, normally come when one is worn-out. When Lowe was Chancellor of the Exchequer I had a long talk with him about the affairs of the Nat. Hist. Museum, and I told him that he had better put Flower at the head of it and make me a trustee to back him. Bobby no doubt thought the suggestion cheeky, but it is odd that the thing has come about now that I don't care for it, and desire nothing better than to be out of every description of bother and responsibility.

Have not Lady Hooker and you yet learned that a large country house is of all places the most detestable in cold weather? The neuralgia was a mild and kindly hint of Providence not to do it again, but I am rejoiced it has vanished.

Pronouns got mixed somehow.

With our kindest regards–Ever yours,

T. H. Huxley.

More last words:–What little faculty I have has been bestowed on the obituary of Darwin for R.S. lately. I have been trying to make it an account of his intellectual progress, and I hope it will have some interest. Among other things I have been trying to set out the argument of the "Origin of Species," and reading the book for the n th time for that purpose. It is one of the hardest books to understand thoroughly that I know of, and I suppose that is the reason why even people like Romanes get so hopelessly wrong.

If you don't mind, I should be glad if you would run your eye over the thing when I get as far as the proof stage–Lord knows when that will be.

March 15, 1888


[To Mrs. Humphrey Ward]

My dear Mrs. Ward–My wife thanked you for your book [Robert Elsmere] which you were so kind as to send us. But that was grace before meat, which lacks the "physical basis" of after-thanksgiving–and I am going to supplement it, after my most excellent repast.

I am not going to praise the charming style, because that was in the blood and you deserve no sort of credit for it. Besides, I should be stepping beyond my last. But as an observer of the human ant-hill–quite impartial by this time–I think your picture of one of the deeper aspects of our troubled time admirable.

You are very hard on the philosophers. I do not know whether Langham or the Squire is the more unpleasant–but I have a great deal of sympathy with the latter, so I hope he is not the worst.

If I may say so, I think the picture of Catherine is the gem of the book. She reminds me of her namesake of Siena–and would as little have failed in any duty, however gruesome. You remember Sodoma's picture.

Once more, many thanks for a great pleasure.

My wife sends her love.–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

March 23, 1888

[To Hooker]

I suppose Dana has sent you his obituary of Asa Gray.

The most curious feature I note in it is that neither of them seems to have mastered the principles of Darwin's theory. See the bottom of p. 19 and the top of p. 20. As I understand Darwin there is nothing "Anti-Darwinian" in either of the two doctrines mentioned.

Darwin has left the causes of variation and the question whether it is limited or directed by external conditions perfectly open.

The only serious work I have been attempting lately is Darwin's obituary. I do a little every day, but get on very slowly. I have read the life and letters all through again, and the Origin for the sixth or seventh time, becoming confirmed in my opinion that it is one of the most difficult books to exhaust that ever was written.

I have a notion of writing out the argument of the Origin in systematic shape as a sort of primer of Darwinismus. I have not much stuff left in me, and it would be as good a way of using what there is as I know of. What do you think?–Ever yours,

T. H. Huxley.

May 4, 1888

My dear Hooker–Best thanks for your notes and queries.

I remember hearing what you say about Darwin's father long ago, I am not sure from what source. But if you look at p. 20 of the Life and Letters you will see that D. himself says his father's mind "was not scientific." I have altered the passage so as to use these exact words.

I used "malice" rather in the French sense, which is more innocent than ours, but "irony" would be better if "malice" in any way suggests malignity. "Chaff" is unfortunately beneath the dignity of an R. S. obituary.

I am going to add a short note about Erasmus Darwin's views.

It is a great comfort to me that you like the thing. I am getting nervous over possible senility–63 to-day, and nothing of your evergreen ways about me.

I am decidedly mending, chiefly to all appearance by allowing myself to be stuffed with meat and drink like a Strasburg goose. I am also very much afraid that abolishing tobacco has had something to do with my amendment.

But I am mindful of your maxim–keep a tight hold over your doctor.–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

P. S. 1.–Can't say I have sacrificed anything to penmanship, and am not at all sure about lucidity!

P. S. 2.–It is "Friday"–there is a dot over the i–reopened my letter to crow!

June 1, 1888

4 Marlborough Place, N. W.

My dear Knowles–I have been living the life of a prize pig for the last six weeks–no exercise, much meat and drink, and as few manifestations of intelligence as possible, for the purpose of persuading my heart to return to its duty.

I am astonished to find that there is a kick left in me–even when your friend Krapotkin [sic] pitches into me without the smallest justification. Vide XIX., June, p. 820.

Just look at XIX., February, p. 168. I say, "At the present time, the produce of the soil does not suffice," etc.

I did not say a word about the capabilities of the soil if, as part and parcel of a political and social revolution on the grandest scale, we all took to spade husbandry.

As a matter of fact, I did try to find out a year or two ago, whether the soil of these islands could, under any circumstances, feed its present population with wheat. I could not get any definite information, but I understood Caird to think that it could.

In my argument, however, the question is of no moment. There must be some limit to the production of food by a given area, and there is none to population.

What a stimulus vanity is!–nothing but the vain dislike of being thought in the wrong would have induced me to trouble myself or bore you with this letter. Bother Krapotkin!

I think his article very interesting and important nevertheless.

I am getting better but very slowly.–Ever yours very truly, T. H. Huxley.

October 7, 1888

Schweitzerhof, Neuhausen

Dearest Babs–I will sit for you like "Pater on a monument smiling at grief" for the medallion. As to the photographs, I will try to get them done to order either at Stuttgart or Nuremberg, if we stay at either place long enough. But I am inclined to think they had better be done at home, and then you could adjust the length of the caoutchoue visage to suit your artistic convenience.

We have been crowing and flapping our wings over the medal and trimmings. The only thing I lament is that "your father's influence" was not brought to bear; there is no telling what you might have got if it had been. Thoughtless–very!!

So sorry we did not come here instead of stopping at Ragatz. The falls are really fine, and the surrounding county a wide tableland, with the great snowy peaks of the Oberland on the horizon. Last evening we had a brilliant sunset, and the mountains were lighted up with the most delicate rosy blush you can imagine.

To-day it rains cats and dogs again. You will have seen in the papers that the Rhine and the Aar and the Rhone and the Arve are all in flood. There is more water here in the falls than there has been these ten years. However, we have got to go, as the hotel shuts up to-morrow, and there seems a good chance of reaching Stuttgart without water in the carriage.

Long railway journeys do not seem to suit either of us, and we have fixed the maximum at six hours. I expect we shall be home sometime in the third week of this month. Love to Hal and anybody else who may be at home.–Ever your


November 15, 1888

10 Southcliff Terrace, Eastbourne

My dear Hooker–You would have it that the R.S. broke the law in giving you the Copley, and they certainly violate custom in giving it to me the year following. Who ever hear of two biologers getting it one after another? It is very pleasant to have our niches in the Pantheon close together. It is getting on for forty years since we were first "acquent," and considering with what a very considerable dose of tenacity, vivacity and that glorious firmness (which the beasts who don't like us call obstinacy) we are both endowed, the fact that we have never had the shadow of a shade of a quarrel is more to our credit than being ex-Presidents and Copley medallists.

But we have had a masonic bond in both being well salted in early life. I have always felt I owed a great deal to my acquaintance with the realities of things gained [in] the old Rattlesnake.

I am getting on pretty well here, though the weather has been mostly bad. All being well I shall attend the meeting of the Society on the 30th, but not the dinner. I am very sorry to miss the latter, but I dare not face the fatigue and the chances of a third dose of pleurisy.

My wife sends kindest regards and thanks for your congratulations.–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

November 27, 1888

Dear Lady Welby–Many thanks for the article in the Church Quarterly, which I return herewith. I am not disposed to bestow any particular attention upon it; as the writer, though evidently a fair-minded man, appears to me to be entangled in a hopeless intellectual muddle, and one which has no novelty. Christian beliefs profess to be based upon historical facts. If there was no such person as Jesus of Nazareth, and if His biography given in the Gospels is a fiction, Christianity vanishes.

Now the inquiry into the truth or falsehood of a matter of history is just as much a question of pure science as the inquiry into the truth or falsehood of a matter of geology and the value of evidence in the two cases must be tested in the same way. If any one tells me that the evidence of the existence of man in the miocene epoch is as good as that upon which I frequently act every day of my life, I reply that this is quite true, but that it is no sort of reason for believing in the existence of miocene man.

Surely no one but a born fool can fail to be aware that we constantly, and in very grave conjunctions, are obliged to act upon extremely bad evidence, and that very often we suffer all sorts of penalties in consequence. And surely one must be something worse than a born fool to pretend that such decision under the pressure of the enigmas of life ought to have the smallest influence in those judgments which are made with due and sufficient deliberation. You will see that these considerations go to the root of the whole matter. I regret that I cannot discuss the question more at length and deal with sundry topics put forward in your letter. At present writing is a burden to me.

December 6, 1888

[To Ray Lankester]

I think it would be a very good thing both for you and for Oxford if you went there. Oxford science certainly wants stirring up, and notwithstanding your increase in years and wisdom, I think you would bear just a little more stoning down, so that the conditions for a transfer of energy are excellent!

Seriously, I wish you would let an old man, who has had his share of fighting, remind you that battles, like hypotheses, are not to be multiplied beyond necessity. Science might say to you as the Staffordshire collier's wife said to her husband at the fair, "Get thee foighten done and come whoam." You have a fair expectation of ripe vigour for twenty years; just think what may be done with that capital.

No use to tu quoque me. Under the circumstances of the time, warfare has been my business and duty.–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

December 30, 1888 [LETTERS]

My dear Knowles–I think I must have a stag among my remote ancestors, for I get mischievous late in the year. Not however for the stag's reason, I beg to remark.

But I have been stirred up to the boiling point by Wace, Laing and Harrison, in re Agnosticism, and I really can't keep the lid down any longer. Are you minded to admit a goring article into the February Nineteenth ?

I have amended wonderfully in the course of the last six weeks, and my doctor tells me I am going to be completely patched up–seams caulked and made sea-worthy, so that the old hulk may yet make another cruise.

We shall see. At any rate, I have been able and willing to write lately, and that is more than I can say for myself for the first three-quarters of the year.

With all good wishes for the New Year to you all, from us all–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

I was so pleased to see you were in trouble about your house. Good for you to have a taste of it for yourself.

Letters of 1887
Letters of 1889

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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