T. H. Huxley
Letters and Diary 1894

January 18, 1894

My dear Knowles–Many thanks for the cheque, which reached me last night.

There has been such a chorus of approbation of the article that I suspect my faculties must be beginning to decay! However, I did my best.

February 4, 1894

[To Joseph Hooker]

I am toiling over my chapter about Owen, and I believe his ghost in Hades is grinning over my difficulties.

The thing that strikes me most is, how he and I and all the things we fought about belong to antiquity.

It is almost impertinent to trouble the modern world with such antiquarian business.

February 20, 1894


[To William Bateson]

My dear Mr. Bateson–I have put off thanking you for the volume On Variation which you have been so good as to send me in the hope that I should be able to look into it before doing so.

But I find that impossible, beyond a hasty glance, at present. I must content myself with saying how glad I am to see from that glance that we are getting back from the region of speculation into that of fact again.

There have been threatenings of late that the field of battle of Evolution was being transferred to Nephelococcygia.

I see you are inclined to advocate the possibility of considerable "saltus" on the part of Dame Nature in her variations. I always took the same view, much to Mr. Darwin's disgust, and we used often to debate it.

If you should come across my article in the Westminster (1860) you will find a paragraph on that question near the end. I am writing to Macmillan to send you the volume.–Yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

By the way, have you ever considered this point, that the variations of which breeders avail themselves are exactly those which occur when the previous wild stocks are subjected to exactly the same conditions?

March 1894

Hodeslea, Eastbourne

Dear Sir– I conceive that the leading characteristic of the nineteenth century has been the rapid growth of the scientific spirit, the consequent application of scientific methods of investigation to all the problems with which the human mind is occupied, and the correlative rejection of traditional beliefs which have proved their incompetence to bear such investigation.

The activity of the scientific spirit has been manifested in every region of speculation and of practice.

Many of the eminent men you mention have been its effective organs in their several departments.

But the selection of any one of these, whatever his merits as an adequate representative of the power and majesty of the scientific spirit of the age would be a grievous mistake.

Science reckons many prophets, but there is not even a promise of a Messiah.

March 23, 1894

Hodeslea, Eastbourne

[To Thomas Common]

Dear Sir–I ought to have thanked you before now for your letter about Nietzsche's works, but I have not much working time, and I find letter-writing a burden, which I am always trying to shirk.

I will look up Nietzsche's, though I must confess that the profit I obtain from German authors on speculative questions is not usually great.

As men of research in positive science they are magnificently laborious and accurate. But most of them have no notion of style, and seem to compose their books with a pitchfork.

There are two very different questions which people fail to discriminate. One is whether evolution accounts for morality, the other whether the principle of evolution in general can be adopted as an ethical principle.

The first, of course, I advocate, and have constantly insisted upon. The second I deny, and reject all so-called evolutional ethics based upon it.–I am yours faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

June 21, 1894

Hodeslea, Eastbourne

[To Secretary, Arbitration Alliance]

Dear Sir–I have taken some time to consider the memorial to which you have called my attention, and I regret that I do not find myself able to sign it.

Not that I have the slightest doubt about the magnitude of the evils which accrue from the steady increase of European armaments; but because I think that this regrettable fact is merely the superficial expression of social forces, the operation of which cannot be sensibly affected by agreements between Governments.

In my opinion it is a delusion to attribute the growth of armaments to the "exactions of militarism." The "exactions of industrialism," generated by international commercial competition, may, I believe, claim a much larger share in prompting that growth. Add to this the French thirst for revenge, the most just determination of the German and Italian peoples to assert their national unity; the Russian Panslavonic fanaticism and desire for free access to the western seas; the Papacy steadily fishing in the troubled waters for the means of recovering its lost (I hope for ever lost) temporal possessions and spiritual supremacy; the "sick man," kept alive only because each of his doctors is afraid of the other becoming his heir.

When I think of the intensity of the perturbing agencies which arise out of these and other conditions of modern European society, I confess that the attempt to counteract them by asking Governments to agree to a maximum military expenditure, does not appear to me to be worth making; indeed I think it might do harm by leading people to suppose that the desires of Governments are the chief agents in determining whether peace or war shall obtain in Europe.–I am, yours faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

August 12, 1894

The Spa, Tunbridge Wells

My dear Hooker–I wish, as everybody wished, you had been with us on Wednesday evening at Oxford when we settled accounts for 1860, and got a receipt in full from the Chancellor of the University, President of the Association, and representative of ecclesiastical conservatism and orthodoxy.

I was officially asked to second the vote of thanks for the address, and got a copy of it the night before–luckily–for it was a kittle business...

It was very queer to sit there and hear the doctrines you and I were damned for advocating thirty-four years ago at Oxford, enunciated as matters of course–disputed by no reasonable man!–in the Sheldonian Theatre by the Chancellor. . . .

Of course there is not much left of me, and it will take a fortnight's quiet at Eastbourne (whither we return on Tuesday next) to get right. But it was a pleasant last flare-up in the socket!

With our love to you both.–Ever yours affectionately,

T. H. Huxley.

August 18, 1894


]To George Douglas Campbell, Duke of Argyll]

My dear Campbell–I am setting you a good example. You and I are really too old friends to go on wasting ink in honorary prefixes.

I had a very difficult task at Oxford. The old Adam, of course, prompted the tearing of the address to pieces, which would have been a very easy job, especially the latter half of it. But as that procedure would not have harmonised well with the function of a seconder of a vote of thanks, and as, moreover, Lord S. was very just and good in his expressions about Darwin, I had to convey criticism in the shape of praise.

It was very curious to me to sit there and hear the Chancellor of the University accept, as a matter of course, the doctrines for which the Bishop of Oxford coarsely anathematised us thirty-four years earlier. E pur si muove!

I am not afraid of the priests in the long-run. Scientific method is the white ant which will slowly but surely destroy their fortifications. And the importance of scientific method in modern practical life–always growing and increasing–is the guarantee for the gradual emancipation of the ignorant upper and lower classes, the former of whom especially are the strength of the priests.

My wife had a very bad attack of her old enemy some weeks ago, and she thought she would not be able to go to Oxford. However, she picked up in the wonderful elastic way she has, and I believe was less done-up than I when we left on the Friday morning. I was glad the wife was there, as the meeting gave me a very kind reception, and it was probably the last flareup in the socket.

The Warden of Merton took great care of us, but it was sad to think of the vacuity of Balliol.

Please remember me very kindly to Father Steffens and the Steeles, and will you tell Herr Walther we are only waiting for a balloon to visit the hotel again?

With our affectionate regards to Mrs. Campbell and yourself–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

August 31, 1894


Dear Professor Seth–I have come to a stop in the issue of my essays for the present, and I venture to ask your acceptance of the set which I have desired my publishers to send you.

I hope that at present you are away somewhere, reading novels or otherwise idling, in whatever may be your pet fashion.

But some day I want you to read the "Prolegomena" to the reprinted Romanes Lecture.

Lately I have been re-reading Spinoza (much read and little understood in my youth).

But that noblest of Jews must have planted no end of germs in my brains, for I see that what I have to say is in principle what he had to say, in modern language.–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

September 20, 1894


[To Mrs. Romanes]

I do not think I can possibly have any objection to your using my letter if you think it worth while–but perhaps you had better let me look at it, for I remember nothing about it–and my letters to people whom I trust are sometimes more plain-spoken than polite about things and men. You know at first there was some talk of my possibly supplying Gladstone's place in case of his failure, and I would not be sure of my politeness in that quarter!

Pray do not suppose that your former letter was other than deeply interesting and touching to me. I had more than half a mind to reply to it, but hesitated with a man's horror of touching a wound he cannot heal.

And then I got a bad bout of "liver," from which I am just picking up.

Hodeslea, Sept. 22, 1894

It's rather a rollicking epistle, I must say, but as my wife (who sends her love) says she thinks she is the only person who has a right to complain (and she does not), I do not know why it should not be published.

P.S.–I rather fancy very few people will catch the allusion about not contradicting me. But perhaps it would be better to take the opinion of some impartial judge on that point.

I do not care the least on my own account, but I see my words might be twisted into meaning that you had told md something about your previous guest, and that I had referred to what you had said.

Of course you had done nothing of the kind, but as a wary old fox, experienced sufferer from the dodges of the misrepresenter, I feel bound not to let you get into any trouble if I can help it.

A regular lady's P. S. this.

P.S.–Letter returned herewith.

October 16, 1894

Dear Sir–I am one with you in hating "hush up" as I do all other forms of lying; but I venture to submit that the compromise of 1871 was not a "hush-up." If I had taken it to be such I should have refused to have anything to do with it. And more specifically, I said in a letter to the Times (see Times, 29th April 1893) at the beginning of the present controversy, that if I had thought the compromise involved the obligatory teaching of such dogmas as the Incarnation I should have opposed it.

There has never been the slightest ambiguity about my position in this matter; in fact, if you will turn to one paper on the School Board written by me before my election in 1870, I think you will find that I anticipated the pith of the present discussion.

The persons who agreed to the compromise, did exactly what all sincere men who agree to compromise, do. For the sake of the enormous advantage of giving the rudiments of a decent education to several generations of the people, they accepted what was practically an armistice in respect of certain matters about which the contending parties were absolutely irreconcilable.

The clericals have now "denounced" the treaty, doubtless thinking they can get a new one more favourable to themselves.

From my point of view, I am not sure that it might not be well for them to succeed, so that the sweep into space which would befall them in the course of the next twenty-three years might be complete and final.

As to the case you put to me–permit me to continue the dialogue in another shape.

Boy.– Please, teacher, if Joseph was not Jesus' father and God was, why did Mary say, "Thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing"? How could God not know where Jesus was? How could He be sorry?

Teacher.– When Jesus says Father, he means God; but when Mary says father, she means Joseph.

Boy.– Then Mary didn't know God was Jesus' father?

Teacher.– Oh, yes, she did (reads the story of the Annunciation ) .

Boy.– It seems to me very odd that Mary used language which she knew was not true, and taught her son to call Joseph father. But there's another odd thing about her. If she knew her child was God's son, why was she alarmed about his safety? Surely she might have trusted God to look after his own son in a crowd.

I know of children of six and seven who are quite capable of following out such a line of inquiry with all the severe logic of a moral sense which has not been sophisticated by pious scrubbing.

I could tell you of stranger inquiries than these which have been made by children in endeavouring to understand the account of the miraculous conception.

Whence I conclude that even in the interests of what people are pleased to call Christianity, though it is my firm conviction that Jesus would have repudiated the doctrine of the Incarnation as warmly as that of the Trinity, it may be well to leave things as they are.

All this is for your own eye. There is nothing in substance that I have not said publicly, but I do not feel called upon to say it over again, or get mixed up in an utterly wearisome controversy.

October 16, 1894'


[To Leslie Stephen]

My dear Stephen–I am very glad you like to have my omnium gatherum, and think the better of it for gaining me such a pleasant letter of acknowledgement.

It is a great loss to me to be cut off from all my old friends, but sticking closely to my hermitage, with fresh air and immense quantities of rest, have become the conditions of existence for me, and one must put up with them.

I have not yet paid all the debt incurred in my Oxford escapade yet–the last "little bill" being a sharp attack of lumbago, out of which I hope I have now emerged. But my deafness alone should bar me from decent society. I have not the moral courage to avoid making shots at what people say, so as not to bore them; and the results are sometimes disastrous.

I don't see there is any real difference between us. You are charitable enough to overlook the general immorality of the cosmos on the score of its having begotten morality in one small part of its domain.–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

October 31, 1894


Dear Mr. S–"Liver," "lumbago," and other small ills the flesh is heir to, have been making me very lazy lately, especially about letter-writing.

You have got into the depths where the comprehensible ends in the incomprehensible–where the symbols which may be used with confidence so far begin to get shaky.

It does not seem to me absolutely necessary that matter should be composed of solid particles. The "atoms" may be persistent whirlpools of a continuous "substance"–which substance, if at rest, could not affect us (all sensory impression being dependent on motion) and consequently would for us = O. The evolution of matter would be the getting under weigh of this "nothing for us" until it became the "something for us," the different motions of which give us the mental states we call the qualities of things.

But it needs a very steady head to walk safely among these abysses of thought, and the only use of letting the mind range among them is as corrective to the hasty dogmatism of the so-called materialists, who talk just as glibly of that of which they know nothing as the most bigoted of the orthodox.

November 6, 1894


My dear Farrer–Whenever you get over the optimism of your youthful constitution (I wish I were endowed with that blessing) you will see that the Gospels and I are right about the Devil being "Prince" (note the distinction–not "king") of the Cosmos.

The a priori road to scientific, political, and all other doctrine is H.R.H. Satan's invention–it is the intellectual, broad, and easy path which leadeth to Jehannum.

The King's road is the strait path of painful observation and experiment, and few they be that enter thereon.

R. G. Latham, queerest of men, had singular flashes of insight now and then. Forty years ago he gravely told me that the existence of the Established Church was to his mind one of the best evidences of the recency of the evolution of the human type from the simian.

How much there is to confirm this view in present public opinion and the intellectual character of those who influence it!

It explains all your difficulties at once, and I regret that I do not seem to have mentioned it at any of those mid-day symposia which were so pleasant when you and I were younger. Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

P.S.–Apropos of Athelstan Riley and his friends–I feel rather obliged to them. I assented to the compromise (1) because I felt that English opinion would not let us have the education of the masses at any cheaper price; (2) because, with the Bible in lay hands, I was satisfied that the teaching from it would gradually become modified into harmony with common sense.

I do not doubt that this is exactly what has happened, and is the ground of the alarm of the orthodox.

But I do not repent of the compromise in the least. Twenty years of reasonably good primary education is "worth a mass."

Moreover the Diggleites stand to lose anyhow, and they will lose most completely and finally if they win at the elections this month. So I am rather inclined to hope they may.

November 11, 1894

My dear Donnelly–Why on earth did I not answer your letter before? Echo (being Irish) says, "Because of your infernal bad habit of putting off; which is growing upon you, you wretched old man."

Of course I shall be very glad if anything can be done for S–. Howes has written to me about him since your letter arrived–and I am positively going to answer his epistle. It's Sunday morning, and I feel good.

You will have seen that the R.S. has been giving me the Darwin Medal, though I gave as broad a hint as was proper the last time I spoke at the Anniversary, that it ought to go to the young men. Nevertheless, with the ordinary inconsistency of the so-called "rational animal," I am well pleased.

I hope you will be at the dinner, and would ask you to be my guest–but as I thought my boys and boys-in-law would like to be there, I have already exceeded my lawful powers of invitation and had to get a dispensation from Michael Foster.

I suppose I shall be like a horse that "stands at livery" for some time after–but it is positively my last appearance on any stage.

We were very glad to hear from Lady Donnelly that you had had a good and effectual holiday. With our love–Ever yours,

T. H. Huxley.

I return Howes' letter in case you want it. I see I need not write to him again after all. Three cheers!

Please give Lady Donnelly this. A number of estimable members of her sex have flown at me for writing what I thought was a highly complimentary letter. But she will be just, I know.

"The best of women are apt to be a little weak in the great practical arts of give-and-take, and putting up with a beating, and a little too strong in their belief in the efficacy of government. Men learn about these things in the ordinary course of their business; women have no chance in home life, and the boards and councils will be capital schools for them. Again, in the public interest it will be well; women are more naturally economical than men, and have none of our false shame about looking after pence. Moreover, they don't job for any but their lovers, husbands, and children, so that we know the worst."

December 4, 1894

Hodeslea, Eastbourne

My dear old Man–See the respect I have for your six years seniority? I wished you had been at the dinner, but was glad you were not. Especially as next morning there was a beastly fog, out of which I bolted home as fast as possible.

I shall have to give up these escapades. They knock me out for a week afterwards. And really it is a pity, just as I have got over my horror of public speaking, and find it very amusing. But I suppose I should gravitate into a bore as old fellows do, and so it is as well I am kept out of temptation.

I will try to remember what I said at the Nature dinner. I scolded the young fellow pretty sharply for their slovenly writing

There will be a tenth vol. of Essays some day, and an Index rerum. Do you remember how you scolded me for being too speculative in my maiden lecture on Animal Individuality forty odd years ago? "On revient toujours," or, to put it another way, "The dog returns to his etc. etc."

So I am deep in philosophy, grovelling through Diogenes Laertius–Plutarch's Placita and sich–and often wondering whether the schoolmasters have any better ground for maintaining that Greek is a finer language than English than the fact that they can't write the latter dialect.

So far as I can see, my faculties are as good (including memory for anything that is not useful) as they were fifty years ago, but I can't work long hours, or live out of fresh air. Three days of London bowls me over.

I expect you are in much the same case. But you seem to be able to stoop over specimens in a way impossible to me. It is that incapacity has made me give up dissection and microscopic work. I do a lot on my back, and I can tell you that the later posture is an immense economy of strength. Indeed, when my head was troublesome, I used to spend my time either in active outdoor exercise or horizontally.

The Stracheys were here the other day, and it was a great pleasure to us to see them. I think he has had a very close shave with that accident. There is nobody whom I should more delight to honour–a right good man all round–but I am not competent to judge of his work. You are, and I do not see why you should not suggest it. I would give him a medal for being R. Strachey, but probably the Council would make difficulties.

By the day, do you see the Times has practically climbed down about the R.S.–came down backwards like a bear, growling all the time? I don't think we shall have any more first of December criticisms.

Lord help you through all this screed. WIth our love to you both–Ever yours affectionately,

T. H. Huxley.

Abram, Abraham became
    By will divine;
Let pickled Brian's name
   Be changed to brine!
         Poetae Minores.

Poor Brian.–Brutal jest!

[Sir Joseph's son, Brian, had fallen into a ban of brine.]

December 19, 1894

Athenæum Club

My dear Farrer–I am indebted to you for giving the recording angel less trouble than he might otherwise have had, on account of the worse than usual unpunctuality of the London and Brighton this morning. For I have utilised the extra time in reading and thinking over your very interesting address.

Thanks for your protest against the mischievous a priori method, which people will not understand is as gross an anachronism in social matters as it would be in Hydrostatics. The so-called "Sociology" is honeycombed with it, and it is hard to say who are worse, the individualists or the collectivists. But in your just wrath don't forget that there is such a thing as a science of social life, for which, if the term had not been so hopelessly degraded, Politics is the proper name.

Men are beings of a certain constitution, who, under certain conditions, will as surely tend to act in certain ways as stones will tend to fall if you leave them unsupported. The laws of their nature are as invariable as the laws of gravitation, only the applications to particular cases offer worse problems than the case of the three bodies.

The Political Economists have gone the right way to work–the way that the physical philosopher follows in all complex affairs–by tracing out the effects of one great cause of human action, the desire of wealth, supposing it to be unchecked.

If they, or other people, have forgotten that there are other potent causes of action which may interfere with this, it is no fault of scientific method but only their own stupidity.

Hydrostatics is not a "dismal science," because water does not always seek the lowest level–e.g. from a bottle turned upside down, if there is a cork in the neck!

There is much need that somebody should do for what is vaguely called "Ethics" just what the Political Economists have done. Settle the question of what will be done under the unchecked action of certain motives and leave the problem of "ought" for subsequent consideration.

For, whatever they ought to do, it is quite certain the majority of men will act as if the attainment of certain positive and negative pleasures were the end of action.

We want a science of "Eubiotics" to tell us exactly what will happen if human beings are exclusively actuated by the desire of well-being in the ordinary sense. Of course the utilitarians have laid the foundations of such a science, with the result that the nicknamer of genius called this branch of science "pig philosophy," making just the same blunder as when he called political economy "dismal science."

"Moderate well-being" may be no more the worthiest end of life than wealth. But if it is the best to be had in this queer world–it may be worth trying for

But you will begin to wish the train had been punctual !

Draw comfort from the fact that if error is always with us, it is, at any rate, remediable. I am more hopeful than when I was young. Perhaps life (like matrimony, as some say) should begin with a little aversion!–Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

Letters of 1893
Letters of 1895

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