Thomas Henry Huxley.

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of the highest and best class of physical philosophers.

As for me, in part from force of circumstance and in part
from a conviction I could be of most use in that way, I have
played the part of something between maid-of-all-work and
gladiator-general for Science, and deserve no such prominence
as your kindness has assigned to me. With our united kind
regards to Mrs. Carpenter and yourself, ever yours very faith-

full y' T. H. HUXLEY. !

A brief note, also, to Lady Welby, dated July 25, is
characteristic of his attitude towards unverified speculation.

I have looked through the paper you have sent me, but I
cannot undertake to give any judgment upon it. Speculations
such as you deal with are quite out of my way. I get lost the
moment I lose touch of valid fact and incontrovertible demon-
stration and find myself wandering among large propositions,
which may be quite true but which would involve me in months
of work if I were to set myself seriously to find out whether,
and in what sense, they are true. Moreover, at present, what
little energy I possess is mortgaged to quite other occupations.



The following letter was in answer to a request which
I was commissioned to forward him, that he would consent
to serve on an honorary committee of the Societe des Pro-
fesseurs de Frangais en Angleterre.

Jan. 17, 1887.

I quite forgot to say anything about the Comite d'honneur,
and as you justly remark in the present strained state of foreign
politics the consequences may be serious. Please tell your col-
league that I shall be " proud an' 'appy." You need not tell him
that my pride and happiness are contingent on having nothing to
do for the honour.

In the meantime, the ups and downs of his health are
reflected in various letters of these six months. Much set
up by his stay in the Isle of Wight, he writes from Shanklin
on April 1 1 to Sir E. Frankland, describing the last meeting
of the x Club, which the latter had not been able to attend,
as he was staying in the Riviera :

Hooker, Tyndall, and I alone turned up last Thursday. Lub-
bock had gone to High Elms about used up by the House of
Commons, and there was no sign of Hirst.

Tyndall seemed quite himself again. In fact, we three old
fogies voted unanimously that we were ready to pit ourselves
against any three youngsters of the present generation in walk-
ing, climbing, or head-work, and give them odds.

I hope you are in the same comfortable frame of mind.

I had no notion that Mentone had suffered so seriously in
the earthquake of 1887. Moral for architects : read your Bible
and build your house upon the rock.

The sky and sea here may be fairly matched against Mentone
or any other of your Mediterranean places. Also the east wind,
which has been blowing steadily for ten days, and is nearly as
keen as the Tramontana. Only in consequence of the long cold
and drought not a leaf is out.

Shanklin, indeed, suited him so well that he had half a
mind to settle there. There are plenty of sites for build-
ing," he writes home in February, " but I have not thought
of commencing a house yet." However, he gave up the
idea ; Shanklin was too far from town.

But though he was well enough as long as he kept out
of London, a return to his life there was not possible for any



considerable time. On May 19, just before a visit to Mr.
F. Darwin at Cambridge, I find that he went down to St.
Albans for a couple of days, to walk; and on the 27th he
betook himself, terribly ill and broken down, to the Saver-
nake Forest Hotel, in hopes of getting " screwed up." This
' turned out a capital speculation, a charming spick-and-
span little country hostelry with great trees in front." But
the weather was persistently bad, " the screws got looser
rather than tighter," and again he was compelled to stay
away from the .r.

A week later, however, he writes :-

The weather has been detestable, and I got no good till
yesterday, which was happily fine. Ditto to-day, so I am picking
up, and shall return to-morrow, as, like an idiot as I am, I
promised to take the chair at a public meeting about a Free
Library for Marylebone on Tuesday evening.

I wonder if you know this country. I find it charming.

On the same day as that which was fixed for the meeting
in favour of the Free Library, he had a very interesting
interview with the Premier, of which he left the following
notes, written at the Athenaeum immediately after :-

June 7, 1887.

Called on Lord Salisbury by appointment at 3 P.M., and had
twenty minutes' talk with him about the " matter of some public
interest " mentioned in his letter of the (29th).

This turned out to be a proposal for the formal recognition
of distinguished services in Science, Letters, and Art by the
institution of some sort of order analogous to the Pour le Mcritc.
Lord Salisbury spoke of the anomalous present mode of dis-
tributing honours, intimated that the Queen desired to establish
a better system, and asked my opinion.

I said that I should like to separate my personal opinion from
that which I believed to obtain among the majority of scientific
men ; that I thought many of the latter were much discontented
with the present state of affairs, and would highly approve of
such a proposal as Lord Salisbury shadowed forth.

That, so far as my own personal feeling was concerned, it
was opposed to anything of the kind for Science. I said that in
Science we had two advantages first, that a man's work is
demonstrably either good or bad ; and secondly, that the " con-


temporary posterity " of foreigners judges us, and rewards good
work by membership of Academies and so forth.

In Art, if a man chooses to call Raphael a dauber, you can't
prove he is wrong; and literary work is just as hard to judge.

I then spoke of the dangers to which science is exposed by
the undue prominence and weight of men who successfully apply
scientific knowledge to practical purposes engineers, chemical
inventors, etc. etc. ; said it appeared to me that a Minister having
such order at his disposal would find it very difficult to resist the
pressure brought by such people as against the man of high
science who had not happened to have done anything to strike
the popular mind.

Discussed the possibility of submission of names by some-
body for the approval and choice of the Crown. For Science,
I thought the R.S. Council might discharge that duty very fairly.
I thought that the Academy of Berlin presented people for the
Pour le Merite, but Lord S. thought not.

In the course of conversation I spoke of Hooker's case as a
glaring example of the wrong way of treating distinguished men.
Observed that though I did not personally care for or desire the
institution of such honorary order, yet I thought it was a mis-
take in policy for the Crown as the fountain of honour to fail
in recognition of that which deserves honour in the world of
Science, Letters, and Art.

Lord Salisbury smilingly summed up. " Well, it seems that
you don't desire the establishment of such an order, but that if
you were in my place you would establish it," to which I as-

Said he had spoken to Leighton, who thought well of the

It was not long, however, before he received imperative
notice to quit town with all celerity. He fell ill with what
turned out to be pleurisy ; and after recruiting at Ilkley, went
again to Switzerland.

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, June 27, 1887.

MY DEAR FOSTER ... I am very sorry that it will be im-
possible for me to attend [the meeting of committee down for
the following Wednesday]. If I am well enough to leave the
house I must go into the country that day to attend the funeral
of my wife's brother-in-law and my very old friend Fanning,
of whom I may have spoken to you. He has been slowly sink-
ing for some time, and this morning we had news of his death.



Things have been very crooked for me lately. I had a con-
glomerate of engagements of various degrees of importance in
the latter half of last week, and had to forego them all, by reason
of a devil in the shape of muscular rheumatism of one side,
which entered me last Wednesday, and refuses to be wholly
exorcised (I believe it is my Jubilee Honour).* Along with it,
and I suppose the cause of it, a regular liver upset. I am very
seedy yet, and even if Fanning's death had not occurred I doubt
if I should have been ready to face the Tyndall dinner.

The reference to this ' Tyndall dinner' is explained in
the following letters, which also refer to a meeting of the
London University, in which the projects of reform which
he himself supported met with a smart rebuff.

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, May 13, 1887.

MY DEAR TYNDALL I am very sorry to hear of your gout,
but they say when it comes out at the toes it flies from the better
parts, and that is to the good.

There is no sort of reason why unsatisfied curiosity should
continue to disturb your domestic hearth; your wife will have
the gout too if it goes on. " They " can't bear the strain.

The history of the whole business is this. A day or two
before I spoke to you, Lockyer told me that various people had
been talking about the propriety of recognising your life-long
work in some way or other; that, as you would not have any-
thing else, a dinner had been suggested, and finally asked me
to inquire whether you would accept that expression of good-
will. Of course I said I would, and I asked accordingly.

After you had assented I spoke to several of our friends who
were at the Athenaeum, and wrote to Lockyer. I believe a strong
committee is forming, and that we shall have a scientific jubila-
tion on a large scale ; but I have purposely kept in the back-
ground, and confined myself, like Bismarck, to the business of
" honest broker."

But of course nothing (beyond preliminaries) can be done
till you name the day, and at this time of year it is needful to

* On the same day he describes this to Sir J. Evans : " I have
hardly been out of the house as far as my garden, and not much off
my bed or sofa since I saw you last. I have had an affection of the
muscles of one side of my body, the proper name of which I do not
know, but the similitude thereof is a bird of prey periodically digging
in his claws and stopping your breath in a playful way."


look well ahead if a big room is to be secured. So if you can
possibly settle that point, pray do.

There seems to have been some oversight on my wife's part
about the invitation, but she is stating her own case. We go on
a visit to Mrs. Darwin to Cambridge on Saturday week, and the
Saturday after that I am bound to be at Eton.

Moreover, I have sacrificed to the public Moloch so far as to
promise to take the chair at a public meeting in favour of a Free
Library for Marylebone on the 7th. As Wednesday's work at
the Geological Society and the soiree knocked me up all yester-
day, I shall be about finished I expect on the 8th. If you are
going to be at Hindhead after that, and would have us for a day,
it would be jolly; but I cannot be away long, as I have some
work to finish before I go abroad.

I never was so uncomfortable in my life, I think, as on

Wednesday when "L was speaking, just in front of me, at

the University. Of course I was in entire sympathy with the
tenor of his speech, but I was no less certain of the impolicy of
giving a chance to such a master of polished putting-down as
the Chancellor. You know Mrs. Carlyle said that Owen's sweet-
ness reminded her of sugar of lead. Granville's was that plus
butter of antimony ! Ever yours very faithfully,


N.B. Don't swear, but get Mrs. Tyndall, who is patient and
good-tempered, to read this long screed.

May 18, 1887.

MY DEAR TYNDALL I was very glad to get your letter
yesterday morning, and I conveyed your alteration at once to
Riicker, who is acting as secretary. I asked him to communi-
cate with you directly to save time.

I hear that the proposal has been received very warmly by
all sorts and conditions of men, and that is quite apart from any
action of your closer personal friends. Personally I am rather
of your mind about the " dozen or score " of the faithful. But
as that was by no means to the mind of those who started the
project, and, moreover, might have given rise to some heart-
burning, I have not thought it desirable to meddle with the
process of spontaneous combustion. So look out for a big bon-
fire somewhere in the middle of June ! I have a hideous cold,
and can only hope that the bracing air of Cambridge, where
we go on Saturday, may set me right. Ever yours very faith-
fully, T. H. HUXLEY.


To recover from his pleuritic " Jubilee Honour ' he
went for a fortnight (July 11-25) to Hkley, which had done
him so much good before, intending to proceed to Switzer-
land as soon as he conveniently could.

ILKLEY, July 15, 1887.

MY DEAR FOSTER I was very much fatigued by the journey
here, but the move was good, and I am certainly mending,
though not so fast as I could wish. I expect some adhesions
are interfering with my bellows. As soon as I am fit to travel
I am thinking of going to Lugano, and thence to Monte Gene-
roso. The travelling is easy to Lugano, and I know the latter

My notion is I had better for the present avoid the chances
of a wet, cold week in the high places.

M.B.A.* . . . As to the employment of the Grant, I think it
ought to be on something definite and limited. The Pilchard
question would be an excellent one to take up.

seems to have a notion of employing it on some geo-
logical survey of Plymouth Sound, work that would take years
and years to do properly, and nothing in the way of clear result
to show.

I hope to be in London on my way abroad in less than ten
days' time, and will let you know. Ever yours very faithfully,


And on the same day to Sir J. Donnelly :

I expect . . . that I shall have a slow convalescence. Lucky
it is no worse !

Much fighting I am likely to do for the Unionist cause or
any other ! But don't take me for one of the enrages. If any-
body will show me a way by which the Irish may attain all they
want without playing the devil with us, I am ready to give them
their own talking-shop or anything else.

But that is as much writing as I can sit up and do all at

* Marine Biological Association.



ON the last day of July he left England for Switzer-
land, and did not return till the end of September. A sec-
ond visit to Arolla worked a great change in him. He
renewed his Gentian studies also, with unflagging ardour.
The following letters give some idea of his doings and
interests :


Aug. 28, 1887.

MY DEAR FOSTER I know you will be glad to hear that I
consider myself completely set up again. We went to the Made-
raner Thai and stayed a week there. But I got no good out of
it. It is charmingly pretty, but damp ; and, moreover, the hotel
was 50 per cent too full of people, mainly Deutschers, and we
had to turn out into the open air after dinner because the salon
and fumoir were full of beds. So, in spite of all prudential con-
siderations, I made up my mind to come here. We travelled
over the Furca, and had a capital journey to Evolena. Thence
I came on muleback (to my great disgust, but I could not walk
a bit uphill) here. I began to get better at once; and in spite of
a heavy snowfall and arctic weather a week ago, I have done
nothing but mend. We have glorious weather now, and I can
take almost as long walks as last year.

We have some Cambridge people here : Dr. Peile of Christ's
and his family. Also Nettleship of Oxford. What is the myth
about the Darwin tree in the Pall Mall ? * Dr. Peile believes it
to be all a flam.

' A tree planted yesterday in the centre of the circular grass-plot
in the first court of Christ's College, in Darwin's honour, was ' spir-
ited ' away at night." P.M.G. August 23, 1887.
1 80


Forel has just been paying a visit to the Arolla glacier for
the purpose of ascertaining the internal temperature. He told
me he much desired to have a copy of the Report of the Krakatoa
Committee. If it is published, will you have a copy sent to him?
He is Professor at Lausanne, and a very good man.

Our stay here will depend on the weather. At present it is
perfect. I do not suppose we shall leave before 7th or 8th of
September, and we shall get home by easy stages not much
before the end of the month. Ever yours very faithfully,


Madder than ever on Gentians.

The following is in reply to Sir E. Frankland's enquiries
with reference to the reported presence of fish in the reser-
voirs of one of the water-companies.


We left Arolla about ten days ago, and after staying a day
at St. Maurice in consequence of my wife's indisposition, came
on here where your letter just received has followed me. I am
happy to say I am quite set up again, and as I can manage my
1500 or 2000 feet as well as ever, I may be pretty clear that my
pleurisy has not left my lung sticking anywhere.

I will take your enquiries seriatim. ( i ) The faith of your
small boyhood is justified. Eels do wander overland, especially
in the wet stormy nights they prefer for migration. But so far
as I know this is the habit only of good-sized, downwardly-mov-
ing eels. I am not aware that the minute fry take to the land
on their journey upwards.

(2) Male eels are now well known. I have gone over the
evidence myself and examined many. But the reproductive
organs of both sexes remain undeveloped in fresh water just
the contrary of salmon, in which they remain undeveloped in
salt water.

(3) So far as I know, no eel with fully-developed repro-
ductive organs has yet been seen. Their matrimonial operations
go on in the sea where they spend their honeymoon, and we
only know the result in the shape of the myriads of thread-like
eel-lets, which migrate up in the well-known " eel-fare."

(4) On general principles of eel-life I think it possible that
the Inspector's theory may be correct. But your story about the
roach is a poser. They certainly do not take to walking abroad.
It reminds me of the story of the Irish milk-woman who was


confronted with a stickleback found in the milk. " Sure, then,
it must have been bad for the poor cow when that came through
her teat."

Surely the Inspector cannot have overlooked such a crucial
fact as the presence of other fish in the reservoirs ?

We shall be here another week, and then move slowly back
to London. I am loth to leave this place, which is very beautiful
with splendid air and charming walks in all directions two or
three thousand feet up if you like.

Sept. 16, 1887.

MY DEAR DONNELLY We left Arolla for this place ten days
ago, but my wife fell ill, and we had to stay a day at St. Maurice.
She has been more or less out of sorts ever since until to-day.
However, I hope now she is all right again.

This is a very charming place at the east end of the Lake of
Geneva 1500 feet above the lake and you can walk 3000 feet
higher up if you like.

What they call a ' funicular railway ' hauls you up a
gradient of I in if from the station on the shore in ten minutes.
At first the sensation on looking down is queer, but you soon
think nothing of it. The air is very fine, the weather lovely,
the feeding unexceptionable, and the only drawback consists in
the "javelins," as old Francis Head used to call them stinks of
such wonderful crusted flavour that they must have been many
years in bottle. But this is a speciality of all furrin parts that
I have ever visited.

I am very well and extremely lazy so far as my head goes
legs I am willing to use to any extent up hill or down dale.
They wanted me to go and speechify at Keighley in the middle
of October, but I could not get permission from the authorities.
Moreover, I really mean to keep quiet and abstain even from
good words (few or many) next session. My wife joins with
me in love to Mrs. Donnelly and yourself.

She thought she had written, but doubts whether in the
multitude of her letters she did not forget. Ever yours,


From Glion also he writes to Sir M. Foster:

I have been doing some very good work on the Gentians in
the interests of the business of being idle.

The same subject recurs in the next letter :


Sept. 21, 1887.

MY DEAR HOOKER I saw in the Times yesterday the an-
nouncement of Mr. Symonds' death. I suppose the deliverance
from so painful a malady as heart-disease is hardly to be
lamented in one sense ; but these increasing gaps in one's inti-
mate circle are very saddening, and we feel for Lady Hooker
and you. My wife has been greatly depressed by hearing of
Mrs. Carpenter's fatal disorder. One cannot go away for a few
weeks without finding somebody gone on one's return.

I got no good at the Maderaner Thai, so we migrated to our
old quarters at Arolla, and there I picked up in no time, and
in a fortnight could walk as well as ever. So if there are any
adhesions they are pretty well stretched by this time.

I have been at the Gentians again, and worked out the de-
velopment of the flower in G. pur pur ea and G. campestris. The
results are very pretty. They both start from a thalamifloral
condition, then become corollifloral, G. purpurea at first re-
sembling G. lute a and G. campestris, an Ophelia, and then
specialise to the Ptychantha and Stephanantha forms respec-

In G. campestris there is another very curious thing. The
anthers are at first introrse, but just before the bud opens they
assume this position [sketch] and then turn right over and be-
come extrorse. In G. purpurea this does not happen, but the
anthers are made to open outwards by their union on the inner
side of the slits of dehiscence.

There are several other curious bits of morphology that have
turned up, but I reserve them for our meeting.

Beyond pottering away at my Gentians and doing a little
with that extraordinary Cynanchum I have been splendidly idle.
After three weeks of the ascetic life of Arolla, we came here to
acclimatise ourselves to lower levels and to fatten up. I go
straight through the table d'hote at each meal, and know not

My wife has fared not so well, but she is all right again
now. We go home by easy stages, and expect to be in Marlbor-
ough Place on Tuesday.

With all our best wishes to Lady Hooker and yourself
Ever yours, T. H. HUXLEY.

The second visit to Arolla did as much good as the first.
Though unable to stay more than a week or two in London


itself, he was greatly invigorated. His renewed strength
enabled him to carry out vigorously such work as he had
put his hand to, and still more, to endure one of the greatest
sorrows of his whole life which was to befall him this
autumn in the death of his daughter Marian.

The controversy which fell to his share immediately upon
his return, has already been mentioned (p. 168). This was
all part of the war for science which he took as his neces-
sary portion in life ; but he would not plunge into any other
forms of controversy, however interesting. So he writes
to his son, who had conveyed him a message from the
editor of a political review :

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, Oct. 19, 1887.

No political article from me ! I have had to blow off my
indignation incidentally now and then lest worse might befall
me, but as to serious political controversy, I have other fish to
fry. Such influence as I possess may be most usefully employed
in promoting various educational movements now afoot, and
I do not want to bar myself from working with men of all
political parties.

So excuse me in the prettiest language at your command
to Mr. A.

Nevertheless politics very soon drew him into a new
conflict, in defence, be it said, of science against the possi-
ble contamination of political influences. Prof, (now Sir)
G. G. Stokes, his successor in the chair of the Royal Society,
accepted an invitation from the University of Cambridge to
stand for election as their member of Parliament, and was
duly elected. This was a step to which many Fellows of
the Royal Society, and Huxley in especial, objected very

Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 16 of 49)