Thomas Henry Huxley.

Life and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley online

. (page 15 of 49)
Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 15 of 49)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

stitute of the City and Guilds Technical Institute, " which
looks so portly outside and is so very much starved inside."

He wrote again to the Times on March 21 :

The Central Institute is undoubtedly a splendid monument of
the munificence of the city. But munificence without method
may arrive at results indistinguishably similar to those of stingi-
ness. I have been blamed for saying that the Central Institute
is " starved." Yet a man who has only half as much food as he
needs is indubitably starved, even though his short rations con-
sist of ortolans and are served upon gold plate.

Only half the plan of operations as drawn up by the
Committee was, or could be, carried out on existing funds.

The later part of his letter was printed by the Com-
mittee as defining the functions of the new Institute :

That with which I did intend to express my strong sympathy
was the intention which I thought I discerned to establish some-
thing which should play the same part in regard to the advance-
ment of industrial knowledge which has been played in regard
to science and learning in general, in these realms, by the Royal
Society and the Universities. ... I pictured the Imperial In-
stitute to myself as a house of call for all those who are con-
cerned in the advancement of industry ; as a place in which
the home-keeping industrial could find out all he wants to know


about colonial industry and the colonist about home industry;
as a sort of neutral ground on which the capitalist and the
artisan would be equally \velcome ; as a centre of intercommuni-
cation in which they might enter into friendly discussion of
the problems at issue between them, and, perchance, arrive at
a friendly solution of them. I imagined it a place in which
the fullest stores of industrial knowledge would be made acces-
sible to the public ; in which the higher questions of commerce
and industry would be systematically studied and elucidated ;
and where, as in an industrial university, the whole technical
education of the country might find its centre and crown. If
I earnestly desire to see such an institution created, it is not
because I think that or anything else will put an end to pauper-
ism and want as somebody has absurdly suggested, but be-
cause I believe it will supply a foundation for that scientific
organisation of our industries which the changed conditions of
the times render indispensable to their prosperity. I do not
think I am far wrong in assuming that we are entering, indeed,
have already entered, upon the most serious struggle for exist-
ence to which this country has ever been committed. The latter
years of the century promise to see us embarked in an industrial
war of far more serious import than the military wars of its
opening years. On the east, the most systematically instructed
and best-informed people in Europe are our competitors ; on the
west, an energetic off-shoot of our own stock, grown bigger than
its parent, enters upon the struggle possessed of natural re-
sources to which we can make no pretension, and with every
prospect of soon possessing that cheap labour by which they
may be effectually utilised. Many circumstances tend to justify
the hope that we may hold our own if we are careful to " organ-
ise victory." But to those who reflect seriously on the prospects
of the population of Lancashire and Yorkshire - - should the
time ever arrive when the goods which are produced by their
labour and their skill are to be had cheaper elsewhere - - to
those who remember the cotton famine and reflect how much
worse a customer famine would be, the situation appears very

On February 19 and 22, he wrote again to the Times
declaring against the South Kensington site. It was too
far from the heart of commercial organisation in the city,
and the city people were preparing to found a similar in-
stitution of their own. He therefore wished to prevent the


Imperial Institute from becoming a weak and unworthy
memorial of the reign.

A final letter to the Times on March 21, was evoked by
the fact that Lord Hartington, in giving away the prizes at
the Polytechnic Y.M.C.A., had adopted Huxley's position
as defined in his speech, and declared that science ought
to be aided on precisely the same grounds on which we
aid the army and navy.

In this letter he asks, how do we stand prepared for the
task thus imperatively set us? We have the machinery
for providing instruction and information, and for catching
capable men, but both in a disjointed condition " all mere
torsos fine, but fragmentary." " The ladder from the
School Board to the Universities, about which I dreamed
dreams many years ago, has not yet acquired much more
substantiality than the ladder of Jacob's vision," but the
Science and Art Department, the Normal School of Science,
and the Central Institute only want the means to carry out
the recommendations already made by impartial and inde-
pendent authority. ' Economy does not lie in sparing
money, but in spending it wisely."

He concluded with an appeal to Lord Hartington to
take up this task of organising industrial education and
bring it to a happy issue.

A proposal was also made to the Royal Society to co-
operate, and Sir M. Foster writes on February 19 : " We
have appointed a Committee to consider and draw up a
draft reply with a view of the R.S. following up your letter."

To this Huxley replied on the 22nd :

. . . My opinion is that the R.S. has no right to spend its
money or pledge its credit for any but scientific objects, and that
we have nothing to do with sending round the hat for other

The project of the Institute Committee as it stands con-
nected with the South Kensington site is condemned by all
the city people and will receive none but the most grudging sup-
port from them. They are going to set up what will be prac-
tically an Institute of their own in the city.

The thing is already a failure. I daresay it will go on and


be varnished into a simulacrum of success to become eventually
a ghost like the Albert Hall or revive as a tea garden.

The following letter also touches upon the function of
the Institute from the commercial side :

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, Feb. 20, 1887.

MY DEAR DONNELLY Mr. Law's suggestion gives admirable
definition to the notions that were floating in my mind when I
wrote in my letter to the Times, that I imagined the Institute
would be a " place in which the fullest stores of industrial
knowledge would be made accessible to the public." A man of
business who wants to know anything about the prospects of
trade with say, Boorioboola-gha (vide Bleak House) ought to
be able to look into the Institute and find there somebody, who
will at once fish out for him among the documents in the place
all that is known about Boorioboola.

But a Commer:ial Intelligence Department is not all that is
wanted, vide valuable letter aforesaid.

I hope your appetite for the breakfast was none the worse
for last night's doings mine was rather improved, but I am
dog-tired. Ever yours very faithfully,


I return Miss 's note. She evidently thinks my cage is

labelled " These animals bite."

Later in the year, the following letters show him con-
tinuing the campaign. But an attack of pleurisy, which
began the very day of the Jubilee, prevented him from
coming to speak at a meeting upon Technical Education.
In the autumn, however, he spoke on the subject at Man-
chester, and had the satisfaction of seeing the city ' go
solid," as he expressed it, for technical education. The cir-
cumstances of this visit are given later.

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, N.W., May i, 1887.
MY DEAR ROSCOE I met Lord Hartington at the Academy
Dinner last night and took the opportunity of urging upon him
the importance of following up his technical education speech.
He told me he had been in communication with you about the
matter, and he seemed to me to be very well disposed to your


I may go on crying in the wilderness until I am hoarse, with
no result, but if he and you and Mundella will take it up, some-
thing may be done. Ever yours very faithfully,


4 MARYBOROUGH PLACE, June 28, 1887.

MY DEAR ROSCOE Donnelly was here on Sunday and was
quite right up to date. I felt I ought to be better, and could not
make out why the deuce I was not. Yesterday the mischief
came out. There is a touch of pleurisy which has been covered
by the muscular rheumatism.

So I am relegated to bed and told to stop there with the
company of cataplasms to keep me lively.

I do not think the attack in any way serious but M. PI.
is a gentleman not to be trifled with, when you are over sixty,
and there is nothing for it but to obey my doctor's orders.

Pray do not suppose I would be stopped by a trifle, if my
coming to the meeting * would really have been of use. I hope
you will say how grieved I am to be absent. Ever yours very
faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, June 29, 1887.

MY DEAR ROSCOE I have scrawled a variety of comments on
the paper you sent me. Deal with them as you think fit.

Ever since I was on the London School Board I have seen
that the key of the position is in the Sectarian Training Colleges
and that wretched imposture, the pupil teacher system. As to
the former Dclendae sunt no truce or pact to be made with them,
either Church or Dissenting. Half the time of their students
is occupied with grinding into their minds their tweedle-dum
and tweedle-dee theological idiocies, and the other half in cram-
ming them with boluses of other things to be duly spat out on
examination day. Whatever is done do not let us be deluded by
any promises of theirs to hook on science or technical teaching
to their present work.

I am greatly disgusted that I cannot come to Tyndall's din-
ner to-night f but my brother-in-law's death would have
stopped me (the funeral to-day) even if my doctor had not
forbidden me to leave my bed. He says I have some pleuritic
effusion on one side and must mind my P's and O's. Ever
yours very faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

* Of July i, on Technical Education. f See p. 177.


A good deal of correspondence at this time with Sir
M. Foster relates to the examination of the Science and
Art Department. He was still Dean, it will be remembered,
of the Royal College of Science, and further kept up his
connection with the Department by acting in an honorary
capacity as Examiner, setting questions, but less and less
looking over papers, acting as the channel for official com-
munications, as when he writes (April 24), " I send you
some Department documents nothing alarming, only more
worry for the Asst. Examiners, and that ztv do not mind " ;
and finally signing the Report. But to do this after taking
so small a share in the actual work of examining, grew
more and more repugnant to him, till on October 12 he
writes :

I will read the Report and sign it if need be though there
really must be some fresh arrangement.

Of course I have entire confidence in your judgment about
the examination, but I have a mortal horror of putting my name
to things I do not know of my own knowledge.

In addition to these occupations, he wrote a short paper
upon a fossil, Ceratochelys, which was read at the Royal
Society on March 31 ; while on April 7 he read at the
Linnean (Botany: vol. xxiv. pp. 101-124), his paper, " The
Gentians : Notes and Queries," which had sprung from his
holiday amusement at Arolla.

Philosophy, however, claimed most of his energies. The
campaign begun in answer to the incursion of Mr. Lilly
was continued in the article " Science and Pseudo-Scientific
Realism ' (Coll. Essays, v. 59-89) which appeared in the
Nineteenth Century for February 1887. The text for this
discourse was the report of a sermon by Canon Liddon,
in which that eminent preacher spoke of catastrophes as
the antithesis of physical law, yet possible inasmuch as a
" lower law ' may be " suspended ' by the ' intervention
of a higher," a mode of reasoning which he applied to the
possibility of miracles such as that of Cana.

The man of science was up in arms against this incar-
nation of abstract terms, and offered a solemn protest against
that modern recrudescence of ancient realism which speaks


of " laws of nature " as though they were independent enti-
ties, agents, and efficient causes of that which happens, in-
stead of simply our name for observed successions of facts.

Carefully as all personalities had been avoided in this
article, it called forth a lively reply from the Duke of
Argyll, rebuking him for venturing to criticise the preacher,
whose name was now brought forward for the first time, and
raising a number of other questions, philosophical, geologi-
cal, and biological, to which Huxley rejoined with some
selections from the authentic history of these points in
" Science and Pseudo-Science ' (Nineteenth Century, April
1887, Coll. Essays, v. 90-125).

Moreover, judging from the vivacity of the Duke's reply
that some of the shafts of the first article must have struck
nearer home than the pulpit of St. Paul's, he was induced
to read " The Reign of Law," the second chapter of which,
dealing with the nature of " Law," he now criticised sharply
as " a sort of ' summa ' of pseudo-scientific philosophy," with
its confusions of law and necessity, law and force, ' ' law in
the sense, not merely of a rule, but of a cause."

He wound up with some banter upon the Duke's picture
of a scientific Reign of Terror, whereby, it seemed, all men
of science were compelled to accept the Darwinian faith,
and against which Huxley himself was preparing to rebel,
as if,

forsooth, I am supposed to be waiting for the signal of " revolt,"
which some fiery spirits among these young men are to raise
before I dare express my real opinions concerning questions
about which we older men had to fight in the teeth of fierce
opposition and obloquy of something which might almost justify
even the grandiloquent epithet of a Reign of Terror before our
excellent successors had left school.

Here for a while the debate ceased. But in the Sep-
tember number of the Nineteenth Century, the Duke of
Argyll returned to the fray with an article called " A Great
Lesson," in which he attempted to offer evidence in support
of his assertions concerning the scientific reign of terror.
The two chief pieces of evidence adduced were Bathybius
and Dr. (now Sir J.) Murray's theory of coral reefs. The


former was instanced as a blunder due to the desire of
finding support for the Darwinian theory in the existence
of this widespread primordial life; the latter as a case in
which a new theory had been systematically burked, for
fear of damaging the infallibility of Darwin, who had pro-
pounded a different theory of coral reefs !

Huxley's reply to this was contained in the latter half
of an article which appeared in the Nineteenth Century for
November 1887, under the title of ''Science and the Bish-
ops ' (reprinted both in Controverted Questions and in the
Collected Essays, v. 126, as 'An Episcopal Trilogy").
Preaching at Manchester this autumn, during the meeting
of the British Association, the Bishops of Carlisle, Bedford,
and Manchester had spoken of science not only with knowl-
edge, but in the spirit of equity and generosity. " These
sermons," he exclaims, " are what the Germans call Epoche-
machend ! '

How often was it my fate (he continues), a quarter of a
century ago, to see the whole artillery of the pulpit brought to
bear upon the doctrine of evolution and its supporters ! Anyone
unaccustomed to the amenities of ecclesiastical controversy
would have thought we were too wicked to be permitted to live.

After thus welcoming these episcopal advances, he once
more repudiated the a priori argument against the efficacy
of prayer, the theme of one of the three sermons, and then
proceeded to discuss another sermon of a dignitary of the
Church, which had been sent to him by an unknown cor-
respondent, for " there seems to be an impression abroad
I do not desire to give any countenance to it that I am
fond of reading sermons."

Now this preacher was of a very different mind from
the three bishops. Instead of dwelling upon the " supreme
importance of the purely spiritual in our faith," he warned
his hearers against dropping off any of the miraculous in-
tegument of their religion. ' Christianity is essentially
miraculous, and falls to the ground if miracles be impossi-
ble." He was uncompromisingly opposed to any accom-
modation with advancing knowledge, or with the high
standard of veracity, enforced by the nature of their pur-


suits, in which Huxley found the only difference between
scientific men and any other class of the community.

But it was not merely this misrepresentation of science
on its speculative side which Huxley deplored ; he was
roused to indignation by an attack on its morality. The
preacher reiterated the charge brought forward in the
' Great Lesson," that Dr. Murray's theory of coral reefs
had been actually suppressed for two years, and that by the
advice of those who accepted it, for fear of upsetting the
infallibility of the great master.

Hereupon he turned in downright earnest upon the
originator of the assertion, who, he considered, had no more
than the amateur's knowledge of the subject. A plain
statement of the facts was refutation enough. The new
theories, he pointed out, had been widely discussed ; they
had been adopted by some geologists, although Darwin him-
self had not been converted, and after careful and prolonged
re-examination of the question, Professor Dana, the greatest
living authority on coral reefs, had rejected them. As Pro-
fessor Judd said, '' If this be a ' conspiracy of silence,' where,
alas ! can the geological speculator seek for fame ? ' Any
warning not to publish in haste was but advice to a still
unknown man not to attack a seemingly well-established
theory without making sure of his ground.*

As for the Bathybius myth, Huxley pointed out that
his announcement of the discovery had been simply a state-
ment of the actual facts, and that so far from seeing in it
a confirmation of Darwinian hypotheses, he was careful to
warn his readers " to keep the questions of fact and the
questions of interpretation well apart." That which in-
terested me in the matter," he says, " was the apparent anal-
ogy of Bathybius with other well-known forms of lower
life," ..." if Bathybius were brought up alive from the
bottom of the Atlantic to-morrow, the fact would not have
the slightest bearing, that I can discern, upon Mr. Darwin's
speculations, or upon any of the disputed problems of biol-
ogy." And as for his " eating the leek ' afterwards, his

* Letter in Nature.


ironical account of it is an instance of how the adoption
of a plain, straightforward course can be described without

The most considerable difference I note among men (he
concludes) is not in their readiness to fall into error, but in their
readiness to acknowledge these inevitable lapses.

As the Duke in a subsequent article did not unequivo-
cally withdraw his statements, Huxley declined to continue
public controversy with him.

Three years later, writing (October 10, 1890) to Sir J.
Donnelly apropos of an article by Mr. Mallock in the Nine-
teenth Century, which made use of the ' Bathybius myth,"
he says :

Bathybius is far 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. Cleri-
cally-minded people cannot be accurate, even the liberals.

I give here the letter sent to the ' unknown corre-
spondent' 1 in question, who had called his attention to the
fourth of these sermons.

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, Sept. 30, 1887.

I have but just returned to England after two months' ab-
sence, and in the course of clearing off a vast accumulation of
letters, I have come upon yours.

The Duke of Argyll has been making capital out of the same
circumstances as those referred to by the Bishop. I believe that
the interpretation put upon the facts by both is wholly mislead-
ing and erroneous.

It is quite preposterous to suppose that the men of science of
this or any other country have the slightest disposition to sup-
port any view which may have been enunciated by one of their
colleagues, however distinguished, if good grounds are shown
for believing it to be erroneous.

When Mr. Murray arrived at his conclusions I have no
doubt he was advised to make his ground sure before he attacked
a generalisation which appeared so well founded as that of Mr.
Darwin respecting coral reefs.


If he had consulted me I should have given him that advice
myself, for his own sake. And whoever advised him, in that
sense, in my opinion did wisely.

But the theologians cannot get it out of their heads, that
as they have creeds, to which they must stick at all hazards, so
have the men of science. There is no more ridiculous delusion.
We, at any rate, hold ourselves morally bound to " try all things
and hold fast to that which is good " ; and among public bene-
factors, we reckon him who explodes old error, as next in rank
to him who discovers new truth.

You are at liberty to make any use you please of this letter.

Two letters on kindred subjects may appropriately fol-
low in this place. Thanking M. Henri Gadeau de Kerville
for his ' Causeries sur le Transformisme," he writes
(Feb. i):

DEAR SIR Accept my best thanks for your interesting
" causeries," which seem to me to give a very clear view of the
present state of the evolution doctrine as applied to biology.

There is a statement on p. 87 "Apres sa mort Lamarck fut
completement oublie," which may be true for France but cer-
tainly is not so for England. From 1830 onwards for more than
forty years Lyell's " Principles of Geology " was one of the most
widely read scientific books in this country, and it contains an
elaborate criticism of Lamarck's views. Moreover, they were
largely debated during the controversies which arose out of the
publication of the "Vestiges of Creation" in 1844 or thereabouts.
We are certainly not guilty of any neglect of Lamarck on this
side of the Channel.

If I may make another criticism it is that, to my mind,
atheism is, on purely philosophical grounds, untenable. That
there is no evidence of the existence of such a being as the God
of the theologians is true enough ; but strictly scientific reason-
ing can take us no further. Where we know nothing we can
neither affirm nor deny with propriety.

The other is in answer to the Bishop of Ripon, enclosing
a few lines on the principal representatives of modern sci-
ence, which he had asked for.

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, June 16, 1887.

MY DEAR BISHOP OF RIPON I shall be very glad if I can be
of any use to you now and always. But it is not an easy task to


put into half-a-dozen sentences, up to the level of your vigorous
English, a statement that shall be unassailable from the point of
view of a scientific fault-finder which shall be intelligible to
the general public and yet accurate.

I have made several attempts and enclose the final result.
I think the substance is all right, and though the form might
certainly be improved, I leave that to you. When I get to a
certain point of tinkering my phrases I have to put them aside
for a day or two.

Will you allow me to suggest that it might be better not to
name any living man? The temple of modern science has been
the work of many labourers not only in our own but in other
countries. Some have been more busy in shaping and laying the
stones, some in keeping off the Sanballats, some prophetwise in
indicating the course of the science of the future. It would be
hard to say who has done best service. As regards Dr. Joule,
for example, no doubt he did more than any one to give the doc-
trine of the conservation of energy precise expression, but
Mayer and others run him hard.

Of deceased Englishmen who belong to the first half of the
Victorian epoch, I should say that Faraday, Lyell, and Darwin
had exerted the greatest influence, and all three were models

Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 15 of 49)