Thomas Henry Huxley.

Life and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley online

. (page 10 of 49)
Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 10 of 49)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


perched more than a thousand feet above the sea, looking over



104 LIFE OF PR O FE SSOR HUXLEY CHAP, vi

the Tuscan hills for twenty or thirty miles every way. It is
warm enough to sit with the window wide open and yet the air
is purer and more bracing than in any place we have visited.
Moreover, the hotel (Grande Albergo) is very comfortable.

Then there is one of the most wonderful cathedrals to be
seen in all North Italy free from all the gaudy finery and
atrocious bad taste which have afflicted me all over South Italy.
The town is the quaintest place imaginable built of narrow
streets on several steep hills to start with, and then apparently
stirred up with a poker to prevent monotony of effect.

Moreover, there is Catherine of Siena, of whom I am read-
ing a delightful Catholic life by an Italian father of the Oratory.
She died 500 years ago, but she was one of twenty-five children,
and I think some of them must have settled in Kent and allied
themselves with the Heathorns. Otherwise, I don't see why her
method of writing to the Pope should have been so much like
the way my daughters (especially the youngest) write to their
holy father.

I wish she had not had the stigmata I am afraid there must
have been a leetle humbug about the business otherwise she
was a very remarkable person, and you need not be ashamed
of the relationship.

I suppose we shall get to Florence some time this week; the
address was sent to you before we left Rome Hotel Milano,
Via Cerretti. But I am loth to leave this lovely air in which,
I do believe, I am going to pick up at last. The misfortune is
that we did not intend to stay here more than three days, and so
had letters sent to Florence. Everybody told us it would be very
cold, and, as usual, everybody told taradiddles.

M. unites in fondest love to you all. Ever your loving
father, T. H. HUXLEY.

To HIS SON

SIENA, Feb. 25, 1885.

... If you had taken to physical science it would have been
delightful to me for us to have worked together, and I am half
inclined to take to history that I may earn that pleasure. I could
give you some capital wrinkles about the physical geography
and prehistoric history (excuse bull) of Italy for a Roman His-
tory primer ! Joking apart, I believe that history might be, and
ought to be, taught in a new fashion so as to make the meaning
of it as a process of evolution intelligible to the young. The
Italians have been doing wonders in the last twenty years in



LETTERS FROM FLORENCE

prehistoric archaeology, and I have been greatly interested in
acquainting myself with the general results of their work.

We moved here last Friday, and only regret that the reports
of the weather prevented us from coming sooner. More than
1000 ft. above the sea, in the midst of a beautiful hill country,
and with the clearest and purest air we have met with in Italy,
Siena is perfectly charming. The window is wide open and I
look out upon a vast panorama, something like that of the
Surrey hills, only on a larger scale " Raw Siena," " Burnt
Siena," in the foreground, where the colour of the soil is not
hidden by the sage green olive foliage, purple mountains in the
distance.

The old town itself is a marvel of picturesque crookedness,
and the cathedral a marvel. M. and I have been devoting our-
selves this morning to St. Catarina and Sodoma's pictures.

I am reading a very interesting life of her by Capecelatro,
and, if my liver continues out of order, may yet turn Dominican.

However, the place seems to be doing me good, and I may
yet, like another person, decline to be a monk.

To HIS DAUGHTER, MRS. ROLLER

March 8.

The great merit of Rome is that you have never seen the end
of it. M. and I have not worked very hard at our galleries and
churches, but I have got so far as a commencing dislike for the
fine arts generally. Perhaps after a week or two I shall take to
science out of sheer weariness.

HOTEL DE MILANO, FLORENCE, March 12, 1885.

MY DEAR FOSTER My wife and I send you our hearty good
wishes (antedated by four days). I am not sure we ought not
to offer our best thanks to your mother for providing us with
as staunch a friend as people ever \vere blessed with. It is
possible that she did not consider that point nine and forty
years ago ; but we are just as grateful as if she had gone through
it all on our own account.

We start on our way homeward to-morrow or next day, by
Bologna to Venice, and then to England by the way we came
taking it easy. The Brenner is a long way round and I hear
very cold. I think we may stay a few days at Lugano, which I
liked very much when there before. Florence is very charming,
but there is not much to be said for the climate. My wife has
been bothered with sore throat, to which she is especially liable,



106 LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, vi

ever since we have been here. Old residents console her with
the remark that Florentine sore throat is a regular thing in the
spring. The alternations of heat and cold are detestable. So we
stand thus Naples, bad for both Rome, good for her, bad for
me Florence, bad for her, baddish for me. Venice has to be
tried, but stinks and mosquitoes are sure to render it impos-
sible as soon as the weather is warm. Siena is the only place
that suited both of us, and I don't think that would exactly
answer to live in. Nothing like foreign travel for making one
content with home.

I shall have to find a country lot suited to my fortunes when
I am paid off. Couldn't you let us have your gardener's cottage ?
My wife understands poultry and I shall probably have sufficient
strength to open the gate and touch my hat to the Dons as they
drive up. 1 am afraid E. is not steady enough for waiting-maid
or I would offer her services.

... I am rejoiced to hear that the lessons and the questions
are launched. They loom large to me as gigantic undertakings,
in which a dim and speculative memory suggests I once took
part, but probably it is a solar myth, and I am too sluggish to
feel much compunction for the extra trouble you have had.

Perhaps I shall revive when my foot is on my native heath
in the shady groves of the Evangelist.*

My wife is out photograph hunting nothing diminishes her
activity otherwise she w r ould join in love and good wishes to
Mrs. Foster and yourself. Ever yours, T. H. HUXLEY.

The two worst and most depressing periods of this vain
pilgrimage in pursuit of health, were the stay at Rome and
at Florence. At the latter town he was inexpressibly ill
and weak ; but his daily life was brightened by the sympathy
and active kindness of Sir Spencer Walpole, who would
take him out for short walks, talking as little as possible,
and shield him from the well-meant but tactless attentions
of visitors who would try to " rouse him and do him good '
by long talks on scientific questions.

His physical condition, indeed, was little improved.

As for my unsatisfactory carcase (he writes on March 6,
to Sir J. Donnelly), there seems nothing the matter with it now
except that the brute objects to work. I eat well, drink -well,

* St. John's Wood.



LETTERS FROM FLORENCE IO/

sleep well, and have no earthly ache, pain or discomfort. I can
walk for a couple of hours or more without fatigue. But half
an hour's talking wearies me inexpressibly, and " saying a few
words," would finish me for the day. For all that, I do not mean
to confess myself finally beaten till I have had another try.

That is to say, he was still bent upon delivering his
regular course of lectures at South Kensington as soon as
he returned, in spite of the remonstrances of his wife and
his friends.

In the same letter he contrasts Florence with Siena and
its " fresh, elastic air," its " lovely country that reminds one
of a magnified version of the Surrey weald." The Floren-
tine climate was trying.* " And then there is the awful
burden of those miles of l treasures of art.' He had been
to the Uffizii ; " and there is the Pitti staring me in the face
like drear fate. Why can't I have the moral courage to
come back and say I haven't seen it ? I should be the most
distinguished of men."

There is another reference to Gordon :

What an awful muddle you are all in in the bright little,
tight little island. I hate the sight of the English papers. The
only good thing that has met my eye lately is a proposal to raise
a memorial to Gordon. I want to join in whatever is done, and
unless it will be time enough when I return, I shall be glad if
you will put me down for 5 to whatever is the right scheme.

The following to his daughter, Mrs. Roller, describes the
stay in Florence.

HOTEL DE MILANO, FLORENCE, March 7, 1885.
We have been here more than a week and have discovered
two things, first that the w r onderful " art treasures," of which

* A week later he writes to Sir J. Evans " I begin to look forward
with great satisfaction to the equability of English weather to that
dear little island where doors and windows shut close where fires
warm without suffocating where the chief business of the population
in the streets is something else than expectoration and where I shall
never see fowl with salad again.

"You perceive I am getting better by this prolonged growl. . . .
But half an hour's talking knocks me up, and I am such an effete
creature that I think of writing myself p. R. S. with a small p."



IOS LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, vi

all the world has heard, are a sore burden to the conscience if
you don't go to see them, and an awful trial to the back and
legs if you do; and thirdly, that the climate is productive of a
peculiar kind of relaxed throat. M.'s throat discovered it, but
on enquiry, it proved to be a law of nature, at least, so the oldest
inhabitants say. We called on them to-day.

But it is a lovely place for all that, far better than Rome as a
place to live in, and full of interesting things. We had a morn-
ing at the Uffizii the other day, and came back with minds en-
larged and backs broken. To-morrow we contemplate attacking
the Pitti, and doubt not the result w r ill be similar. By the end
of the week our minds will probably [be] so large, and the small
of the back so small that we should probably break if we stayed
any longer, so think it prudent to be off to Venice. Which Fri-
day is the day we go, reaching Venice Saturday or Sunday.
Pension Suisse, Canal Grande, as before. And mind we have
letters waiting for us there, or your affectionate Pater will
emulate the historical " cocky."

I got much better at Siena, probably the result of the medici-
nal nature of the city, the name of which, as a well-instructed
girl like you knows, is derived from the senna, which grows wild
there, and gives the soil its peculiar pigmentary character.

But unfortunately I forgot to bring any with me, and the
effect went off during the first few days of our residence here,
when I was, as the Italians say, " molto basso nel bocca." How-
ever I am picking up again now, and if people wouldn't call
upon us, I feel there might be a chance for me.

I except from that remark altogether the dear Walpoles who
are here and as nice as ever. Mrs. Walpole's mother and sister
live here, and the W.'s are on a visit to them but leave on
Wednesday. They go to Venice, but only for two or three days.

We shall probably stay about a fortnight in Venice, and then
make our way back by easy stages to London. We are wae to
see you all again.

Doctor M [Mrs. Huxley] has just been called in to a

case of sore throat in the person of a young lady here, and is
quite happy. The young lady probably will not be, when she
finds herself converted into a sort of inverted mustard-pot, with
the mustard outside ! She is one of a very nice family of girls,
who (by contrast) remind us of our own. Ever your loving
(to all) father, PATER.

Mrs. M has just insisted on seeing this letter.



AT SAN REMO IOQ

To HIS YOUNGEST DAUGHTER

HOTEL BEAU SEJOUR, SAN REMO, March 30, 1885.

DEAREST BABS We could not stand " beautiful Venice the
pride of the sea " any longer. It blew and rained and colded for
eight-and-forty hours consecutively. Everybody said it was a
most exceptional season, but that did not make us any warmer
or prevent your mother from catching an awful cold. So as
soon as she got better we packed up and betook ourselves here
by way of Milan and Genoa. At Milan it was so like London
on a wet day, that except for the want of smoke we might have
been in our dear native land. At Genoa we arrived late one
afternoon and were off early in the morning but by dint of
taking a tram after dinner (not a dram) and going there and
back again we are able to say we have seen that city of palaces.
The basements we saw through the tram windows by mixed
light of gas and moon may in fact all have belonged to palaces.
We are not in a position to say they did not.

The quick train from Genoa here is believed to go fully
twenty-five miles an hour, but starts at 7 A.M., but the early
morning air being bad for the health, we took the slow train at
9.30, and got here some time in the afternoon. But mind you
it is a full eighty miles, and when we were at full speed be-
tween the stations very few donkeys could have gone faster.
But the coast scenery is very pretty, and we didn't mind.

Here we are very w r ell off and as nearly warm as I expect to
be before reaching England. You can sit out in the sun with
satisfaction, though there is a little knife-edge of wind just to
remind us of Florence. Everybody, however, tells us it is quite
an exceptional season, and that it ought to be the most balmy air
imaginable. Besides there are no end of date-palms and cac-
tuses and aloes and odorous flowers in the garden and the
loveliest purple sea you can imagine.

Well, we shall stop some days and give San Remo a chance
at least a week, unless the weather turns bad.

As to your postcards which have been sent on from Venice

and are really shabby, I am not going to any dinners whatsoever,

either Middle Temple or Academy. Just write to both that

' Mr. H. regrets he is unable to accept the invitation with which

have honoured him." *

* " It's like putting the shutters up," he said sadly to his wife,
when he felt unable to attend the Royal Academy dinner as he had
done for many years.



IIO LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, vi

I have really nothing the matter with me now but my stock
of strength is not great, and I can't afford to spend any on
dinners.

The blessedest thing now will be to have done with the
nomadic life of the last five months and see your ugly faces
(so like their dear father) again. I believe it will be the best
possible tonic for me.

M has not got rid of her cold yet, but a few warm days

here will, I hope, set her up.

I met Lady Whitworth on the esplanade to-day she is here
with Sir Joseph, and this afternoon we went to call on her. The
poor old man is very feeble and greatly altered since I saw
him last.

Write here on receiving this. We shall take easy stages
home, but I don't know that I shall be able to give you any
address.

M sends heaps of love to all (including Charles*)

Ever your loving father, T. H. HUXLEY.

Tell the " Micropholis " man that it is a fossil lizard with an
armour of small scales.

* The cat.



CHAPTER VII
1885

ON April 8, he landed at Folkestone, and stayed there
a day or two before going to London. Writing to Sir
J. Donnelly, he remarks with great satisfaction at getting
home :

We got here this afternoon after a rather shady passage
from Boulogne, with a strong north wind in our teeth all the
way, and rain galore. For all that, it is the pleasantest journey
I have made for a long time so pleasant to see one's own dear
native mud again. There is no foreign mud to come near it.

And on the same day he sums up to Sir M. Foster the
amount of good he has gained from his expedition, and
the amount of good any patient is likely to get from
travel :

As for myself I have nothing very satisfactory to say. By
the oddest chance we met Andrew Clark in the boat, and he says
I am a very bad colour which I take it is the outward and
visible sign of the inward and carnal state. I may sum that up
by saying that there is nothing the matter but weakness and in-
disposition to do anything, together with a perfect genius for
making mountains out of molehills.

After two or three fine days at Venice, we have had nothing
but wet or cold or hot and cold at the same time, as in that
prodigious imposture the Riviera. Of course it was the same
story everywhere, " perfectly unexampled season."

Moral. If you are perfectly well and strong, brave Italy
but in search of health stop at home.

It has been raining cats and dogs, and Folkestone is what

in



H2 LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, vii

some people would call dreary. I could go and roll in the mud
with satisfaction that it is English mud.

It will be jolly to see you again. Wife unites in love. Ever
yours, T. H. HUXLEY.

To return home was not only a great pleasure ; it gave
him a fillip for the time, and he writes to Sir M. Foster,
April 12:

It is very jolly to be home, and I feel better already. Clark
has just been here overhauling me, and feels very confident that
he shall screw me up.

I have renounced dining out and smoking (!!!) by way of

preliminaries. God only knows whether I shall be permitted

more than the smell of a mutton chop for dinner. But I have

great faith in Andrew, who set me straight before when other

' physicians' aid was vain."

But his energy was fitful ; lassitude and depression again
invaded him. He was warned by Sir Andrew Clark to lay
aside all the burden of his work. Accordingly, early in
May, just after his sixtieth birthday, he sent in his formal
resignation of the Professorship of Biology, and the In-
spectorship of Salmon Fisheries ; while a few days later he
laid his resignation of the Presidency before the Council of
the Royal Society. By the latter he was begged to defer
his final decision, but his health gave no promise of suffi-
cient amendment before the decisive Council meeting in
October.

He writes on May 27 :

I am convinced that what with my perennial weariness and
my deafness I ought to go, whatever my kind friends may say.

A curious effect of his illness was that for the first time
in his life he began to shrink involuntarily from assuming
responsibilities and from appearing on public occasions ; thus
he writes on June 16:

I am sorry to say that the perkiness of last week * was only
a spurt, and I have been in a disgusting state of blue devils lately.
Can't make out what it is, for I really have nothing the matter,

* i.e. at the unveiling of the Darwin statue at South Kensington.
See p. 120.



CONTINUED ILL-HEALTH U^

except a strong tendency to put the most evil construction upon
everything.

I am fairly dreading to-morrow \i.e. receiving the D.C.L.
degree at Oxford *] but why I don't know probably an attack
of modesty come on late in life and consequently severe.

Very likely it will do me good and make me " fit " for Thurs-
day [i.e. Council and ordinary meetings of Royal Society],

And a month later:

I have been idling in the country for two or three days
but like the woman with the issue, " I am not better but rather
worse " blue devils and funk funk and blue devils. Liver, I
expect. [An ailment of which he says to Prof. Marsh, " I rather
wish I had some respectable disease it would be livelier."]

And again :

Everybody tells me I look so much better, that I am really
ashamed to go growling about, and confess that I am continually
in a blue funk and hate the thought of any work especially of
scientific or anything requiring prolonged attention.

At the end of July he writes to Sir W. Flower

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, July 27, 1885.

MY DEAR FLOWER I am particularly glad to hear that things
went right on Saturday, as my conscience rather pricked me for
my desertion of the meeting.f But it was the only chance we
had of seeing our young married couple before the vacation
and you will rapidly arrive at a comprehension of the cogency of
that argument now.

I will think well of your kind words about the Presidency.
If I could only get rid of my eternal hypochondria the work of
the R.S. would seem little enough. At present, I am afraid of
everything that involves responsibility to a degree that is simply
ridiculous. I only wish I could shirk the inquiries I am going
off to hold in Devonshire !

P.R.S. in a continual blue funk is not likely to be either
dignified or useful; and unless I am in a better frame of mind
in October I am afraid I shall have to go. Ever yours very
faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

A few weeks at Filey in August did him some good at
first ; and he writes cheerfully of his lodgings in ' a place

* See p. 118. f British Museum Trustees, July 25.

44



LIFE OF PR OFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, vii

with the worst-fitting doors and windows, and the hardest
chairs, sofas, and beds known to my experience."
He continues :

I am decidedly picking up. The air here is wonderful, and
as we can set good cookery against hard lying (I don't mean in
the Munchausen line) the consequent appetite becomes a mild
source of gratification. Also, I have not met with more than
two people who knew me, and that in my present state is a
negative gratification of the highest order.

Later on he tried Bournemouth ; being no better, he
thought of an entirely new remedy.

The only thing I am inclined to do is to write a book on
Miracles. I think it might do good and unload my biliary
system.

In this state of indecision, so unnatural to-him, he writes
to Sir M. Foster :

I am anything but clear as to the course I had best take
myself. While undoubtedly much better in general health, I
am in a curious state of discouragement, and I should like noth-
ing better than to remain buried here (Bournemouth) or any-
where else, out of the way of trouble and responsibility. It dis-
tresses me to think that I shall have to say something definite
about the Presidency at the meeting of Council in October.

Finally on October 20, he writes :

I think the lowest point of my curve of ups and downs is
gradually rising but I have by no means reached the point
when I can cheerfully face anything. I got over the Board of
Visitors (two hours and a half) better than I expected, but my
deafness was a horrid nuisance.

I believe the strings of the old fiddle will tighten up a good
deal, if I abstain from attempting to play upon the instrument
at present but that a few jigs now will probably ruin that
chance.

But I will say my final word at our meeting next week. I
would rather step down from the chair than dribble out of it.
Even the devil is in the habit of departing with a " melodious
twang," and I like the precedent.

So at the Anniversary meeting on November 30, he
definitely announced in his last Presidential address his



RETIREMENT



I 1 5



resignation of that " honourable office ' which he could
no longer retain " with due regard to the interests of
the Society, and perhaps, I may add, of self-preserva-
tion."

I am happy to say (he continued) that I have good reason
to believe that, with prolonged rest by which I do not mean
idleness, but release from distraction and complete freedom from
those lethal agencies which are commonly known as the pleas-
ures of society I may yet regain so much strength as is com-
patible with advancing years. But in order to do so, I must,
for a long time yet, be content to lead a more or less anchoritic
life. Now it is not fitting that your President should be a hermit,
and it becomes me, who have received so much kindness and
consideration from the Society, to be particularly careful that
no sense of personal gratification should delude me into holding
the office of its representative one moment after reason and con-
science have pointed out my incapacity to discharge the serious
duties which devolve upon the President, with some approach to
efficiency.

I beg leave, therefore, with much gratitude for the crowning
honour of my life which you have conferred upon me, to be per-
mitted to vacate the chair of the Society as soon as the business
of this meeting is at an end.

The settlement of the terms of the pension upon which,
after thirty-one years of service under Government, he re-
tired from his Professorship at South Kensington and the
Inspectorship of Fisheries, took a considerable time. The
chiefs of his own department, that of Education, wished
him to retire upon full pay, 1500 (see p. 21). The Treas-
ury were more economical. It was the middle of June



Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 10 of 49)