T. H. Huxley
Letters and Diary 1890

February 24, 1890

3 Jevington Gardens, Eastbourne

My dear Tyndall–Put down the three half-pints and the two dozen to the partnership account. Ever since the "titled bride" business I have given up the struggle against the popular belief that you and I constitute a firm.

It's very hard on me in the decline of life to have a lively young partner who thinks nothing of rushing six or seven hundred miles to perform a war-dance on the sainted G.O.M., and takes the scalp of Historicus as a hors d'œuvre .

All of which doubtless goes down to my account just as my poor innocent articles confer a reputation for long-suffering mildness on you.

Well! well! there is no justice in this world! With our best love to you both–Ever yours,

T. H. Huxley.

June 10, 1890

4 Marlborough Place

Dear Dr. Pelseneer–I gave directions yesterday for the packing up and sending to your address of the specimens of Trigonia, and I trust that they will reach you safely.

I am rejoiced that you are about to take up the subject. I was but a beginner when I worked at Trigonia, and I had always promised myself that I would try to make good the many deficiencies of my little sketch. But three or four years ago my health gave way completely, and though I have recovered (no less to my own astonishment than to that of the doctors) I am compelled to live out of London and to abstain from all work which involves much labour.

Thus science has got so far ahead of me that I hesitate to say much about a difficult morphological question–all the more, as old men like myself should be on their guard against overmuch tenderness for their own speculations. And I am conscious of a great tenderness for those contained in my ancient memoir on the "Morphology of the Cephalous Mollusca." Certainly I am entirely disposed to agree with you that the Gasteropods and the Lamellibranchs spring from a common root–nearly represented by the Chiton–especially by a hypothetical Chiton with one shell plate.

I always thought Nucula the key to the Lamellibranchs, and I am very glad you have come to that conclusion on such much better evidence.–I am, dear Dr. Pelseneer, yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

July 21, 1890

Grand Hotel, Eastbourne

[To J. G. T. Sinclair]

Dear Sir–I knew Mr. Babbage, and am quite sure that he was not the man to say anything on the topic of calculating machines which he could not justify.

I do not see that what he says affects the philosophy of induction as rightly understood. No induction, however broad its basis, can confer certainty–in the strict sense of the word. The experience of the whole human race through innumerable years has shown that stones unsupported fall to the ground, but that does not make it certain that any day next week unsupported stones will not move the other way. All that it does justify is the very strong expectation, which hitherto has been invariably verified, that they will do just the contrary.

Only one absolute certainty is possible to man–namely, that at any given moment the feeling which he has exists.

All other so-called certainties are beliefs of greater or less intensity.

Do not suppose that I am following Abernethy's famous prescription, "take my pills," if I refer you to an essay of mine on "Descartes," and a little book on Hume, for the fuller discussion of these points. Hume's argument against miracles turns altogether on the fallacy that induction can give certainty in the strict sense.

We poor mortals have to be content with hope and belief in all matters past and present–our sole certainty is momentary. – I am yours faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

August 12, 1890

The Grand Hotel, Eastbourne

[To Sir John Evans]

My dear Evans–I have read your address returned herewith with a great deal of interest, as I happen to have been amusing myself lately with reviewing the "Aryan" question according to the new lights (or darknesses).

I have only two or three remarks to offer on the places I have marked A and B.

As to A, I would not state the case so strongly against the probabilities of finding pliocene man. A pliocene Homo skeleton might analogically be expected to differ no more from that of modern men than the Œningen Canis from modern Canes, or pliocene horses from modern horses. If so, he would most undoubtedly be a man–genus Homo –even if you made him a distinct species. For my part I should by no means be astonished to find the genus Homo represented in the Miocene, say the Neanderthal man with rather smaller brain capacity, longer arms, and more movable great toe, but at most specifically different.

As to B, I rather think there were people who fought the fallacy of language being a test of race before Broca–among them thy servant–who got into considerable hot water on that subject for a lecture on the forefathers and forerunners of the English people, delivered in 1870. Taylor says that Cuno was the first to insist upon the proposition that race is not co-extensive with language in 1871. That is all stuff. The same thesis had been maintained before I took it up, but I cannot remember by whom.

Won't you refer to the Blackmore Museum? I was very much struck with it when at Salisbury the other day.

Hope they gave you a better lunch at Gloucester than we did here. We'll treat you better next time in our own den. With the wife's kindest regards–Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. Huxley.

September 14, 1890

[To Hyde Clarke]

I am glad to see that you are as active-minded as ever. I have no doubt there is a great deal in what you say about the origin of the myths in Genesis. But my sole point is to get the people who persist in regarding them as statements of fact to understand that they are fools.

The process is laborious, and not yet very fruitful of the desired conviction.

September 29, 1890

Grand Hotel, Eastbourne

[To Unknown Correspondent]

Dear Sir:–I am of the opinion that the practice of performing experiments on living animals is not only reconcilable with true humanity, but under certain circumstances is imperatively demanded by it.

Experiments on living animals are of two kinds. First, those which are made upon animals which, although living, are incapable of sensation, in consequence of the destruction or the paralysis of the sentient machinery.

I am not aware that the propriety of performing experiments of this kind is seriously questioned, except in so far as they may involve some antecedent or subsequent suffering. Of course those who deny that under any circumstances it can be right to inflict suffering on other sentient beings for our own good, must object to even this much of what they call cruelty. And when they prove their sincerity by leaving off animal food; by objecting to drive castrated horses, or indeed to employ animal labour at all; and by refusing to destroy rats, mice, fleas, bugs and other sentient vermin, they may expect sensible people to listen to them, and sincere people to think them other than sentimental hypocrites.

As to experiments of the second kind, which do not admit of the paralysis of the sentient mechanism, and the performance of which involves severe prolonged suffering to the more sensitive among the higher animals, I should be sorry to make any sweeping assertion. I am aware of a strong personal dislike to them, which tends to warp my judgment, and I am prepared to make any allowance for those who, carried away by still more intense dislike, would utterly prohibit these experiments.

But it has been my duty to give prolonged and careful attention to this subject, and putting natural sympathy aside, to try and get at the rights and wrongs of the business from a higher point of view, namely, that of humanity, which is often very different from that of emotional sentiment.

I ask myself–suppose you knew that by inflicting prolonged pain on 100 rabbits you could discover a way to the extirpation of leprosy, or consumption, or locomotor ataxy, or of siccidal melancholia among human beings, dare you refuse to inflict that pain? Now I am quite unable to say that I dare. That sort of daring would seem to me to be extreme moral cowardice, to involve gross inconsistency.

For the advantage and protection of society, we all agree to inflict pain upon man–pain of the most prolonged and acute character–in our prisons, and on our battlefields. If England were invaded, we should have no hesitation about inflicting the maximum of suffering upon our invaders for no other object than our own good.

But if the good of society and of a nation is a sufficient plea for inflicting pain on men, I think it may suffice us for experimenting on rabbits or dogs.

At the same time, I think that a heavy moral responsibility rests on those who perform experiments of the second kind.

The wanton infliction of pain on man or beast is a crime; pity is that so many of those who (as I think rightly) hold this view, seem to forget that the criminality lies in the wantonness and not in the act of inflicting pain per se.

September 29, 1890

[To J. Hooker]

I wish quietude of mind were possible to me. But without something to do that amuses me and does not involve too much labour, I become quite unendurable–to myself and everybody else.

Providence has, I believe, specially devolved on Gladstone, Gore, and Co. the function of keeping " 'ome 'appy" for me.

I really can't give up tormenting ces drôles.

However, I have been toiling at a tremendously scientific article about the "Aryan question" absolutely devoid of blasphemy.

October 10, 1890

[To John Donnelly]

Bathybius is too convenient a stick to beat this dog with to be ever given up, however many lies may be needful to make the weapon effectual.

I told the whole story in my reply to the Duke of Argyll, but of course the pack give tongue just as loudly as ever. Clerically-minded people cannot be accurate, even the liberals.

October 11, 1890

Grand Hotel, Eastbourne

My dear Mr. Carpenter–Accept my best thanks for The First Three Gospels, which strikes me as an admirable exposition of the case, full, clear, and calm. Indeed the latter quality gives it here and there a touch of humour. You say the most damaging things in a way so gentle that the orthodox reader must feel like the eels who were skinned by the fair Molly–lost between pain and admiration.

I am certainly glad to see that the book has reached a second edition; it will do yeoman's service to the cause of right reason.

A quondam friend of mine was in the habit of sending me his proofs, and I sometimes wrote on them "no objection except to the whole"; and I am afraid that you will think what I am about to say comes to pretty much the same thing–at least if I am right in the supposition that a passage in your first preface (p. vii.) states your fundamental position, and that you conceive that when criticism has done its uttermost there still remains evidence that the personality of Jesus was the leading cause–the conditio sine qua non– of the evolution of Christianity from Judaism.

I long thought so, and having a strong dislike to belittle the heroic figures of history, I held by the notion as long as I could, but I find it melting away.

I cannot see that the moral and religious ideal of early Christianity is new–on the other hand, it seems to me to be implicitly and explicitly contained in the early prophetic Judaism and the later Hellenised Judaism; and though it is quite true that the new vitality of the old ideal manifested in early Christianity demands "an adequate historic cause," I would suggest that the word "cause" may mislead if it is not carefully defined.

Medical philosophy draws a most useful and necessary distinction between "exciting" and "predisposing" causes–and nowhere is it more needful to keep this distinction in mind than in history–and especially in estimating the action of individuals on the course of human affairs. Platonic and Stoical philosophy – prophetic liberalism–the strong democratic socialism of the Jewish political system–the existence of innumerable sodalities for religious and social purposes–had thrown the ancient world into a state of unstable equilibrium. With such predisposing causes at work, the exciting cause of enormous changes might be relatively insignificant. The powder was there–a child might throw the match which should blow up the whole concern.

I do not want to seem irreverent, still less depreciatory, of noble men, but it strikes me that in the present case the Nazarenes were the match and Paul the child.

An ingrained habit of trying to explain the unknown by the known leads me to find the key to Nazarenism in Quakerism. It is impossible to read the early history of the Friends without seeing that George Fox was a person who exerted extraordinary influence over the men with whom he came in contact; and it is equally impossible (at least for me) to discover in his copious remains an original thought.

Yet what with the corruption of the Stuarts, the Phariseeism of the Puritans, and the Sadduceeism of the Church, England was in such a state, that before his death he had gathered about him a vast body of devoted followers, whose patient endurance of persecution is a marvel. Moreover, the Quakers have exercised a prodigious influence on later English life.

But I have scribbled a great deal too much already. You will see what I mean.

October 15, 1890

Grand Hotel, Eastbourne

My dear Foster–Best thanks for the third part of the "Physiology," which I found when I ran up to town for a day or two last week. What a grind that book must be!

How's a' wi' you? Let me have a line.

We ought to have been in our house a month ago, but fitters, paperers, and polishers are like bugs or cockroaches, you may easily get 'em in, but getting 'em out is the deuce. However, I hope to clear them out by the end of this week, and get in by the end of next week.

One is obliged to have names for houses here. Mine will be "Hodeslea," which is as near as I can get to "Hodesleia," the poetical original shape of my very ugly name.

There was a noble scion of the house of Huxley who, having burgled and done other wrong things (temp. Henry IV.) asked for benefit of clergy. I expect they gave it to him, not in the way he wanted, but in the way they would like to "benefit" a later member of the family.

(Rough sketch of one priest hauling the rope taut over the gallows, while another holds a crucifix before the suspended criminal.)

Between this gentleman and my grandfather there is unfortunately a complete blank, but I have none the less faith in him as my ancestor.

My wife, I am sorry to say, is in town–superintending packing up–no stopping her. I have been very uneasy about her at times, and shall be glad when we are quietly settled down. With kindest regards to Mrs. Foster.–Ever yours, T. H. Huxley.

October 27, 1890

Grand Hotel, Eastbourne

[To Mr. William Platt Ball]

Dear Sir–I have been through your book, which has greatly interested me, at a hand-gallop; and I have by no means given it the attention it deserves. But the day after to-morrow I shall be going into a new house here, and it may be some time before I settle down to work in it–so that I prefer to seem hasty, rather than indifferent to your book and still more to your letter.

As to the book, in the first place. The only criticism I have to offer–in the ordinary drepeciatory sense of the word–is that pp. 128-137 seem to me to require reconsideration, partly from a substantial and partly from a tactical point of view. There is much that is disputable on the one hand, and not necessary to your argument on the other.

Otherwise it seems to me that the case could hardly be better stated. Here are a few notes and queries that have occurred to me.

P. 41. Extinction of Tasmanians–rather due to the British colonist, who was the main agent of their extirpation, I fancy.

P. 67. Birds' sternums are a great deal more than surfaces of origin for the pectoral muscles–e.g. movable lid of respiratory bellows. This not taken into account by Darwin.

P. 85. "Inferiority of senses of Europeans" is, I believe, a pure delusion. Prof. Marsh told me of feats of American trappers equal to any savage doings. It is a question of attention. Consider wool-sorters, tea-tasters, shepherds who know every sheep personally, etc. etc.

P. 85. I do not understand about the infant's sole; since all men become bipeds, all must exert pressure on sole. There is no disuse.

P. 88. Has not "muscardine" been substituted for "pebrine"? I have always considered this a very striking case. Here is apparent inheritance of a diseased state through the mother only, quite inexplicable till Pasteur discovered the rationale.

P. 155. Have you considered that State Socialism (for which I have little enough love) may be a product of Natural Selection? The societies of Bees and Ants exhibit socialism in excelsis.

The unlucky substitution of "survival of fittest" for "natural selection" has done much harm in consequence of the ambiguity of "fittest"–which many take to mean "best" or "highest"–whereas natural selection may work towards degradation vide epizoa.

You do not refer to the male mamma–which becomes functional once in many million cases, see the curious records of Gynæcomasty. Here practical disuse in the male ever since the origin of the mammalia has not abolished the mamma or destroyed its functional potentiality in extremely rare cases.

I absolutely disbelieve in use-inheritance as the evidence stands. Spencer is bound to it a priori–his psychology goes to pieces without it.

Now as to the letter. I am no pessimist–but also no optimist. The world might be much worse, and it might be much better. Of moral purpose I see no trace in Nature. That is an article of exclusively human manufacture–and very much to our credit.

If you will accept the results of the experience of an old man who has had a very chequered existence–and has nothing to hope for except a few years of quiet downhill–there is nothing of permanent value (putting aside a few human affections), nothing that satisfies quiet reflection–except the sense of having worked according to one's capacity and light, to make things clear and get rid of cant and shams of all sorts. That was the lesson I learned from Carlyle's books when I was a boy, and it has stuck by me all my life.

Therefore, my advice to you is go ahead. You may make more of failing to get money, and of succeeding in getting abuse–until such time in your life as (if you are teachable) you have ceased to care much about either. The job you propose to undertake is a big one and will tax all your energies and all your patience.

But, if it were my case, I should take my chance of failing in a worthy task rather than of succeeding in lower things.

And if at any time I can be of use to you (even to the answering of letters) let me know. But in truth I am getting rusty in science–from disuse.–Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. Huxley. P. S.–Yes–Mr. Gladstone has dug up the hatchet. We shall see who gets the scalps.

By the way, you have not referred to plants, which are a stronghold for you. What is the good of use inheritance, say, in orchids?

November 18, 1890 [HP]

My dear Knowles,

In re

Will you have room in December No. for just a few pages on this topic in reference to the G.O.M.'s remarkable hypothesis?–

Hasn't the 'Impregnable Rock' come out yet?

November 26, 1890

Grand Hotel, Eastbourne

My dear Lecky–Very many thanks for your two volumes, which I rejoice to have, especially as a present from you. I was only waiting until we were settled in our new house–as I hope we shall be this time next week–to add them to the set which already adorn my shelves, and I promise myself soon to enjoy the reading of them.

The Unionist cause is looking up. What a strange thing it is that the Irish malcontents are always sold, one way or the other, by their leaders.

I wonder if the G.O.M. ever swears! Pity if he can't have that relief just now.

With our united regards to Mrs. Lecky and yourself.–Ever yours very faithfully,T. H. Huxley.

Letters of 1889
Letters of 1891

Letter Index



1.   THH Publications
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3.   20th Century Commentary

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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