T. H. Huxley
Letters and Diary 1891

Hodeslea, Eastbourne

L. Huxley, Life and Letters

January 8, 1891

Hodeslea, Eastbourne

Dear Lens–It is very jolly to think of J. and you paying us a visit. It is proper, also, the eldest son should hansel the house.

Is the Mr. Sidgwick who took up the cudgels for me so gallantly in the St. James' one of your Sidgwicks? [William C. Sidgwick, "Professor Huxley as Titus Oates," the Speaker, January 4, 1890.] If so, I wish you would thank him on my account. (The letter was capital.) Generally people like me to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them, but don't care to take any share in the burning of the fingers.

But the Boothites are hard hit, and may be allowed to cry out.

I begin to think that they must be right in saying that the Devil is at work to destroy them. No other theory sufficiently accounts for the way they play into my hands. Poor Clibborn-Booth has a long–columns long–letter in the Times to-day, in which, all unbeknownst to himself, he proves my case.

I do believe it is a veritable case of the herd of swine, and I shall have to admit the probability of that miracle.

Love to J. and Co. from us all.–Ever your affectionate


January 10, 1891

My dear Foster–I am trying to bring the Booth business to an end so far as I am concerned, but it's like getting a wolf by the ears; you can't let him go exactly when you like.

But the result is worth the trouble. Booth, Stead, Tillett, Manning and Co. have their little game spoilt for the present.

You can't imagine the quantity of letters I get from the Salvation Army subordinates, thanking me and telling me all sorts of stories in strict confidence. The poor devils are frightened out of their lives by headquarters spies. Some beg me not to reply, as their letters are opened.

I knew that saints were not bad hands at lying before; but these Booth people beat Banagher.

Then there is –– awaits skimming, and I believe the G. O. M. is to be upon me! Oh for a quiet life–Ever yours faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

January 11, 1891

Hodeslea, Eastbourne

My dear Mr. Clodd–I am very much obliged to you for the number of the St. James's Gazette, which I had not seen. The leading article expresses exactly the same conclusions as those at which I had myself arrived from the study of the deed of 1878. But of course I was not going to entangle myself in a legal discussion. However, I have reason to know that the question will be dealt with by a highly qualified legal expert before long. The more I see of the operations of headquarters the worse they look. I get some of my most valuable information and heartiest encouragement from officers of the Salvation Army; and I knew, in this way, of Smith's resignation a couple of days before it was announced! But the poor fellows are so afraid of spies and consequent persecution, that some implore me not to notice their letters, and all pledge me to secrecy. So that I am Vice-Fontanelle with my hand full of truth, while I can only open my little finger.

It is a case of one down and t'other come on, just now. "––" will get his deserts in due time. But, oh dear, what a waste of time for a man who has not much to look to. No; "waste" is the wrong word; it's useful, but I wish that somebody else would do it and leave me to my books.

My wife desires her kind regards. I am happy to say she is now remarkably well. If you are this way, pray look in at our Hermitage.–Yours very faithfully, T. H. Huxley.

January 13, 1891

Hodeslea, Eastbourne

My dear Skeleton–Many thanks to you for reminding me that there are such things as 'Summer Isles' in the Universe. The memory of them has been pretty well blotted out here for the last seven weeks. You see some people can retire to 'Hermitages' as well as other people; and though even Argyll cum Gladstone powers of self-deception could not persuade me that the view from my window is as good as that from yours, yet I do see a fine wavy chalk down and soft turfy ridges over which an old fellow can stride as far as his legs are good to carry him.

The fact is that I discovered that staying in London any longer meant for me a very short life and by no means a merry one. So I got my son-in-law to build me a cottage here where my wife and I may go down-hill quietly together, and 'make our sowls' as the Irish say–solaced by an occasional visit from children and grandchildren.

The deuce of it is that, however much the weary want to be at rest, the wicked won't cease from troubling. Hence the occasional skirmishes and alarms which may lead my friends to misdoubt my absolute detachment from sublunary affairs.–Perhaps peace dwells only among the fork-tailed Petrels!

I trust Mrs. Skelton and you are flourishing, and that trouble will keep far from the hospitable doors of Braid throught he New Year.–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

January 30, 1891

Hodeslea, Eastbourne

My dear Hooker–I trust I have done with Booth and Co. at last. What an ass a man is to try to prevent his fellow-creatures from being humbugged! Surely I am old enough to know better. I have not been so well abused for an age. It's quite like old times.

And now I have to settle accounts with the duke and the G.O.M. I wonder when the wicked will let me be at peace.–Ever yours affectionately, T. H. Huxley.

March 11, 1891 [HP 26.82]

[To John Simon]

. . . If there is anything I thank the Gods for (I am not sure there is, for as the old woman said when reminded of the goodness of Providence–'Ah, but he takes it out of me in the corns') it is a wide diversity of tastes. Barred from scientific work, I should be miserable, if thee were not heaps of other topics that interest me, from Gadarene pigs and Gladstonian psychology upwards. . . . the cosmos remains always beautiful and profoundly interesting in every corner–and if I had as many lives as a cat I would leave no corner unexplored.

March 17, 1891

Hodeslea, Eastbourne

[To Rev. E. McClure]

Dear Mr. McClure–I am very much obliged for your letter, which belongs to a different category from most of those which I receive from your side of the hedge that, unfortunately, separates thinking men.

So far as I know myself, after making due deduction for the ambition of youth and a fiery temper, which ought to (but unfortunately does not) get cooler with age, my sole motive is to get at the truth in all things.

I do not care one straw about fame, present or posthumous, and I loathe notoriety, but I do care to have that desire manifest and recognised.

Your paper deals with a problem which has profoundly interested me for years, but which I take to be insoluble. It would need a book for full discussion. But I offer a remark only on two points.

The doctrine of the conservation of energy tells neither one way nor the other. Energy is the cause of movement of body, i.e. things having mass. States of consciousness have no mass, even if they can be conceded to be movable. Therefore even if they are caused by molecular movements, they would not in any way affect the store of energy.

Physical causation need not be the only kind of causation, and when Cabanis said that thought was a function of the brain, in the same way as bile secretion is a function of the liver, he blundered philosophically. Bile is a product of the transformation of material energy. But in the mathematical sense of the word "function," thought may be a function of the brain. That is to say, it may arise only when certain physical particles take on a certain order.

By way of a coarse analogy, consider a parallel-sided piece of glass through which light passes. It forms no picture. Shape it so as to be bi-convex, and a picture appears in its focus.

Is not the formation of the picture a "function" of the piece of glass thus shaped?

So, from your own point, of view, suppose a mind-stuff–logos–a noumenal cosmic light such as is shadowed in the fourth gospel. The brain of a dog will convert it into one set of phenomenal pictures, and the brain of a man into another. But in both cases the result is the consequence of the way in which the respective brains perform their "functions."

Yet one point.

The actions we call sinful are as much the consequence of the order of nature as those we call virtuous. They are part and parcel of the struggle for existence through which all living things have passed, and they have become sins because man alone seeks a higher life in voluntary association.

Therefore the instrument has never been marred; on the contrary, we are trying to get music out of harps, sacbuts, and psalteries, which never were in tune and seemingly never will be.–Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. Huxley.

April 29, 1891

[To Romanes]

In a review of Darwin's Origin published in the Westminster for 1860 (Lay Sermons, pp. 323-24), you will see that I insisted on the logical incompleteness of the theory so long as it was not backed by experimental proof that the cause assumed was competent to produce all the effects required. In fact, Darwin used to reproach me sometimes for my pertinacious insistence on the need of experimental verification.

But I hope you are going to choose some other title thatn "Institut transformiste," which implies that the Institute is pledged to a foregone conclusion, that it is a workshop devoted to the production of a particular kind of article. Moreover, I should say that as a matter of prudence, you had better keep clear of the word "experimental." Would not "Biological Observatory" serve the term? Of course it does not exclude experiment any more than "Astonomical Observatory" excludes spectrum analysis.

Please think over this. My objection to "Transformist" is very strong.

May 17, 1891

[To H. de Varigny]

I am writing to my publishers to send you Lay Sermons, Critiques, Science and Culture, and American Addresses, pray accept them in expression of my thanks for the pains you are taking about the translation. Man's Place in Nature has been out of print for years, so I cannot supply it.

I am quite conscious that the condensed and idiomatic English into which I always try to put my thoughts must present many difficulties to a translator. But a friend of mine who is a much better French scholar than I am, and who looked over two or three of the essays, told me he thought you had been remarkably successful.

The fact is that I have a great love and respect for my native tongue, and take great pains to use it properly. Sometimes I write essays half-a-dozen times before I can get them into the proper shape; and believe I become more fastidious as I grow older.

June 27, 1891

[To Francis Darwin]

I should say that Freemantle's account is substantially correct, but that Green has the substance of my speech more accurately. However, I am certain I did not use the word, "equivocal."

The odd part of the business is, that I should not have been present except for Robert Chambers. I had heard of the Bishop's intention to utilise the occasion. I knew he had the reputation of being a first-class controversialist, and I was quite aware that if he played his cards properly, we should have little chance, with such an audience, of making an efficient defence. Moreover, I was very tired, and wanted to join my wife at her brother-in-law's country house near Reading, on the Saturday. On the Friday I met Chambers in the street, and in reply to some remark of his, about his going to the meeting, I said that I did not mean to attend it–did not see the good of giving up peace and quietness to be episcopally pounded. Chambers broke out into vehement remonstrances, and talked about my deserting them. So I said, "Oh! if you are going to take it that way, I'll come and have my share of what is going on."

So I came, and chanced to sit near old Sir Benjamin Brodie. The Bishop began his speech, and to my astonishment very soon showed that he was so ignorant that he did not know how to manage his own case. My spirits rose proportionately, and when he turned to me with his insolent question, I said to Sir Benjamin, in an undertone, "The Lord hath delivered him into mine hands."

That sagacious old gentleman stared at me as if I had lost my senses. But, in fact, the Bishop had justified the severest retort I could devise, and I made up my mind to let him have it. I was careful, however, not to rise to reply, until the meeting called for me–then I let myself go.

In justice to the Bishop, I am bound to say he bore no malice, but was always courtesy itself when we occasionally met in after years. Hooker and I walked away from the meeting together, and I remember saying to him that this experience had changed my opinion as to the practical value of the art of public speaking, and that from that time forth I should carefully cultivate it, and try to leave off hating it. I did the former, but never quite succeeded in the latter effort.

I did not mean to trouble you with such a long scrawl when I began about this piece of ancient history.–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley

August 14, 1891

Hodeslea, Eastbourne

[To Ethel]

Dearest Babs–1. "Ornary " or not "ornary" B is merely A turned upside down and viewed with the imperfect appreciation of the mere artistic eye!

2. Your little yellow things are, I expect, egg-cases of dog whelks. You will find a lot of small eggs inside them, one or two of which grow faster than the rest, and eat up their weaker brothers and sisters.

The dog whelk is common on the shores. If you look for something like this [sketch of a terrier coming out of a whelk shell], you will be sure to recognise it.

3. Starfish are not born in their proper shape and don't come from your whitish yellow lumps. The thing that comes out of a starfish egg is something like this [sketch], and swims about by its cilia. The starfish proper is formed inside, and it is carried on its back this-uns.

Finally starfish drops off carrying with it t'other one's stomach, so that the subsequent proceedings interest t'other one no more.

4. The ropy sand tubes that make a sort of banks and reefs are houses of worms, that they build up out of sand, shells, and slime. If you knock a lot to pieces you will find worms inside.

5. Now, how do I know what the rooks eat? But there are a lot of unconsidered trifles about, and if you get a good telescope and watch, you will have a glimpse as they hover between sand and rooks' beaks.

It has been blowing more or less of a gale here from the west for weeks–usually cold, often foggy–so that it seems as if summer were going to be late, probably about November.

But we thrive fairly well. L. and J. and their chicks are here and seem to stand the inclemency of the weather pretty fairly. The children are very entertaining.

M– has been a little complaining, but is as active as usual.

My love to Joyce, and tell her I am glad to hear she has not forgotten her astronomy.

In answer to your enquiry, Leonard says that Trevenen has twenty-five teeth. I have a sort of notion this can be hardly accurate, but never having been a mother can't presume to say.–Our best love to you all.–Ever your loving


August 26, 1891

Hodeslea, Eastbourne

Dearest Babs–'Pears to me your friend is a squid or pen-and-ink fish. Loligo among the learned. Probably Loligo media which I have taken in that region. They have ten tentacles with suckers round their heads, two much longer than the others. They are close to cuttle-fish, but have a thin horny shell inside them instead of the "cuttle-bone." If you can get one by itself in a tub of water, it is pretty to see how they blush all over and go pale again, owing to little colour-bags in the skin, which expand and contract. Doubtless they took you for a heron, under the circumstances [sketch of a wader].

With slight intervals it has been blowing a gale from the west here for some months, the memory of man indeed goeth not back to the calm. I have not been really warm more than two days this so-called summer. And everybody prophesied we should be roasted alive here in summer.

We are all flourishing, and send our best love to Jack and you. Tell Joyce the wallflowers have grown quite high in her garden.–Ever your loving


November 25, 1891

[To H. de Varigny]

I am very glad you have found your task pleasant, for I am afraid it must have cost you a good deal of trouble to put my ideas into the excellent French dress with which you have provided them. It fits so well that I feel almost as if I might be a candidate for a seat among the immortal forty!

As to the new volume you shall have the refusal of it if you care to have it. But I have my doubts about its acceptability to a French public which I imagine knows little about Bibliolatry and the ways of Protestant clericalism, and cares less.

These essays represent a controversy which has been going on for five or six years about Genesis, the deluge, the miracle of the herd of swine, and the miraculous generally, between Gladstone, the ecclesiastical principal of King's College, various bishops, the writer of Lux Mundi, that spoilt Scotch minister the Duke of Argyll, and myself.

My object has been to stir up my countrymen to think about these things; and the only use of controversy is that it appeals to their love of fighting, and secures their attention.

I shall be very glad to have your book on Experimental Evolution. I insisted on the necessity of obtaining experimental proof of the possibility of obtaining virtually infertile breeds from a common stock in 1860 (in one of the essays you have translated). Mr. Tegetmeier made a number of experiments with pigeons some years ago, but could obtain not the least approximation to infertility.

From the first, I told Darwin this was the weak point of his case from the point of view of scientific logic. But, in this matter, we are just where we were thirty years ago, and I am very glad you are going to call attention to the subject.

Letters of 1890
Letters of 1892

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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