Thomas Henry Huxley.

Life and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley online

. (page 2 of 49)
Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 2 of 49)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


so often before, these lectures were the outcome of the care-



i88o DOGS AND THEIR HISTORY H

ful preparation of a course of instruction for his students.
The dog had been selected as one of the types of mammalian
structure upon which laboratory work was to be done.
Huxley's own dissections had led him on to a complete
survey of the genus, both wild and domestic. As he writes
to Darwin on May 10 :

I wish it were not such a long story that I could tell you all
about the dogs. They will make out such a case for ' Dar-
winismus " as never was. From the South American dogs at
the bottom (C. vetulus, cancrivorns, etc.) to the wolves at the
top, there is a regular gradual progression, the range of varia-
tion of each " species ' overlapping the ranges of those below
and above. Moreover, as to the domestic dogs, I think I can
prove that the small dogs are modified jackals, and the big dogs
ditto wolves. I have been getting capital material from India,
and working the whole affair out on the basis of measurements
of skulls and teeth.

However, my paper for the Zoological Society is finished,
and I hope soon to send you a copy of it. ...

Unfortunately he never found time to complete his work
for final publication in book form, and the rough, unfin-
ished notes are all that remain of his work, beyond two
monographs * On the Epipubis in the Dog and Fox '
(Proc. Roy. Soc. xxx. 162-63), and ' On the Cranial and
Dental Characters of the Canidae ' (Proc. Zool. Soc. 1880,
pp. 238-288).

The following letters deal with the collection of speci-
mens for examination :

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, Jan. 17, 1880.

MY DEAR FLOWER I happened to get hold of two foxes this
week a fine dog fox and his vixen wife; and among other
things, I have been looking up Cowper's glands, the supposed
absence of which in the dogs has always ; ' gone agin' me."
Moreover, I have found them (or their representatives) in the
shape of two small sacs, which open by conspicuous apertures
into the urethra immediately behind the bulb. If your Icticyon
was a male, I commend this point to your notice.

Item. If you have not already begun to macerate him, do
look for the " marsupial ' fibro-cartilages, which I have men-
tioned in my " Manual," but the existence of which blasphemers



12 LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, i

have denied. I found them again at once in both Mr. and Mrs.
Vulpes. You spot them immediately by the pectineus which is
attached to them.

The dog-fox's caecum is so different from the vixen's that
Gray would have made distinct genera of them. Ever yours
very faithfully, T H HUXLEY.

4 MARYBOROUGH PLACE, N.W., May 2, 1880.

MY DEAR FAYRER I am greatly obliged for the skulls, and I
hope you will offer my best thanks to your son for the trouble
he has taken in getting them.

The " fox " is especially interesting because it is not a fox,
by any manner of means, but a big jackal with some interesting
points of approximation towards the cuons.

I do not see any locality given along with the specimens.
Can you supply it?

I have got together some very curious evidence of the
wider range of variability of the Indian jackal, and the " fox"
which your son has sent is the most extreme form in one direc-
tion I have met with.

I wish I could get some examples from the Bombay and
Madras Presidencies and from Ceylon, as well as from Central
India. Almost all I have seen yet are from Bengal. Ever
yours very faithfully, T R HuXLEY .

Between the two lectures on the Dog, mentioned above,
on April 9, Huxley delivered a Friday evening discourse, at
the same place, " On the Coming of Age of the Origin of
Species' 1 (Coll. Ess. ii. 227). Reviewing the history of the
theory of evolution in the twenty-one years that had elapsed
since the Origin of Species first saw the light in 1859, ne
did not merely dwell on the immense influence the " Origin '
had exercised upon every field of biological inquiry. ' Mere
insanities and inanities have before now swollen to porten-
tous size in the course of twenty years." ' History warns
us that it is the customary fate of new truths to begin as
heresies, and to end as superstitions." There was actual
danger lest a new generation should " accept the main doc-
trines of the Origin of Species with as little reflection, and
it may be with as little justification, as so many of our con-
temporaries, years ago, rejected them."



iSSo COMING OF AGE OF THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES 13

So dire a consummation, he declared, must be prevented
by unflinching criticism, the essence of the scientific spirit,
" for the scientific spirit is of more value than its products,
and irrationally held truths may be more harmful than
reasoned errors."

What, then, were the facts which justified so great a
change as had taken place, which had removed some of the
most important qualifications under which he himself had
accepted the theory? He proceeded to enumerate the
" crushing accumulation of evidence ' during this period,
which had proved the imperfection of the geological record ;
had filled up enormous gaps, such as those between birds
and reptiles, vertebrates and invertebrates, flowering and
flowerless plants, or the lowest forms of animal and plant
life. More : paleontology alone has effected so much the
fact that evolution has taken place is so irresistibly forced
upon the mind by the study of the Tertiary mammalia
brought to light since 1859, that " if the doctrine of evolu-
tion had not existed, paleontologists must have invented it."
He further developed the subject by reading before the
Zoological Society a paper " On the Application of the Laws
of Evolution to the Arrangement of the Vertebrata, and
more particularly of the Mammalia "' (Proc. Z. S. 1880,
pp. 649-662). In reply to Darwin's letter thanking him
for the " Coming of Age " (Life and Letters, iii. 24), he wrote
on May 10:

MY DEAR DARWIN You are the cheeriest letter-writer I
know, and always help a man to think the best of his doings.

I hope you do not imagine because I had nothing to say
about " Natural Selection," that I am at all weak of faith on
that article. On the contrary, I live in hope that as palaeon-
tologists work more and more in the manner of that " second
Daniel come to judgment," that wise young man M. Filhal, we
shall arrive at a crushing accumulation of evidence in that
direction also. But the first thing seems to me to be to drive
the fact of evolution into people's heads; when that is once
safe, the rest will come easy.

I hear that ce chcr X. is yelping about again ; but in spite of
your provocative messages (which Rachel retailed with great
glee), I am not going to attack him nor anybody else.



!4 LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, i

Another popular lecture on a zoological subject was that
of July i on " Cuttlefish and Squids," the last of the " Davis '
lectures given by him at the Zoological Gardens.

More important were two other essays delivered this
year. The " Method of Zadig " (Coll. Ess. iv. i), an address
at the Working Men's College, takes for its text Voltaire's
story of the philosopher at the Oriental court, who, by
taking note of trivial indications, obtains a perilous knowl-
edge of things, which his neighbours ascribe either to
thievery or magic. This introduces a discourse on the
identity of the methods of science and of the judgments of
common life, a fact which, twenty-six years before, he had
briefly stated in the words, " Science is nothing but trained
and organised common sense" (Coll. Ess. iii. 45).

The other is " Science and Culture " (Coll. Ess. iii. 134),
which was delivered on October i, as the opening address
of the Josiah Mason College at Birmingham, and gave its
name to a volume of essays published in the following year.
Here was a great school founded by a successful ironworker,
which was designed to give an education at once practical
and liberal, such as the experience of its founder approved,
to young men who meant to embark upon practical life.
A " mere " literary training i.e. in the classical languages
was excluded, but not so the study of English literature and
modern languages. The greatest stress was laid on training
in the scientific theory and practice on which depend the
future of the great manufactures of the north.

The question dealt with in this address is whether such
an education can give the culture demanded of an educated
man to-day. The answer is emphatically Yes. English
literature is a field of culture second to none, and for solely
literary purposes, a thorough knowledge of it, backed by
some other modern language, will amply suffice. Combined
with this, a knowledge of modern science, its principles and
results, which have so profoundly modified society and have
created modern civilisation, will give a "criticism of life,"
as Matthew Arnold defined culture, unattainable by any
form of education which neglects it. In short, although the
" culture " of former periods might be purely literary, that



i88o CIVIL LIST PENSION FOR WALLACE j^

of to-day must be based, to a great extent, upon natural
science.

This autumn several letters passed between him and
Darwin. The latter, contrary to his usual custom, wrote a
letter to Nature, in reply to an unfair attack which had
been made upon evolution by Sir Wyville Thomson in his
Introduction to The Voyage of the Challenger (see Darwin,
Life and Letters, iii. 242), and asked Huxley to look over
the concluding sentences of the letter, and to decide whether
they should go with the rest to the printer or not. " My
request," he writes (Nov. 5), ' will not cost you much
trouble i.e. to read two pages for I know that you can
decide at once." Huxley struck them out, replying on the
I4th, ' Your pinned-on paragraph was so good that, if I had
written it myself, I should have been unable to refrain from
sending it on to the printer. But it is much easier to be
virtuous on other people's account ; and though Thomson
deserved it and more, I thought it would be better to re-
frain. If I say a savage thing, it is only ' pretty Fanny's
way ' ; but if you do, it is not likely to be forgotten."

The rest of this correspondence has to do with a plan of
Darwin's, generous as ever, to obtain a Civil List pension for
the veteran naturalist, Wallace, whose magnificent work for
science had brought him but little material return. He
wrote to consult Huxley as to what steps had best be taken ;
the latter replied in the letter of November 14 :

The papers in re Wallace have arrived, and I lose no time in
assuring you that all my " might, amity, and authority," as
Essex said when that sneak Bacon asked him for a favour, shall
be exercised as you wish.

On December n he sends Darwin the draft of a
memorial on the subject, and on the 28th suggests that
the best way of moving the official world would be for
Darwin himself to send the memorial, with a note of his own,
to Mr. Gladstone, who was then Prime Minister and First
Lord of the Treasury :

Mr. G. can do a thing gracefully when he is so minded, and
unless I greatly mistake, he will be so minded if you write
to him.



X 6 LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, i

The result was all that could be hoped. On January 7
Darwin writes : " Hurrah ! hurrah ! read the enclosed.
Was it not extraordinarily kind of Mr. Gladstone to write
himself at the present time ? . . . I have written to Wallace.
He owes much to you. Had it not been for your advice
and assistance, I should never have had courage to go on."

The rest of the letter to Darwin of Dec. 28 is charac-
teristic of his own view of life. He was no pessimist any
more than he was a professed optimist. If the vast amount
of inevitable suffering precluded the one view, the gratuitous
pleasures, so to speak, of life, preclude the other. Life
properly lived is worth living, and would be even if a
malevolent fate had decreed that one should suffer, say, the
pangs of toothache two hours out of every twenty-four. So
he writes :

We have had all the chicks (and the husbands of such as
are therewith provided) round the Christmas table once more,
and a pleasant sight they were, though I say it that shouldn't.
Only the grand-daughter left out, the young woman not having
reached the age when change and society are valuable.

I don't know what you think about anniversaries. I like
them, being always minded to drink my cup of life to the bottom,
and take my chance of the sweets and bitters. Infinite benevo-
lence need not have invented pain and sorrow at all infinite
malevolence would very easily have deprived us of the large
measure of content and happiness that falls to our lot. After
all, Butler's Analogy is unassailable, and there is nothing in
theological dogmas more contradictory to our moral sense, than
is to be found in the facts of Nature. From which, however,
the Bishop's conclusion that the dogmas are true doesn't follow.

The following is to his Edinburgh friend Dr. Skelton,
whose appreciation of his frequent companionship had found
outspoken expression in the pages of The Crookit Meg.

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, N.W., Nov. 14, i8So.

MY DEAR SKELTON When the Crooked Meg reached me I
made up my mind that it would be a shame to send the empty
acknowledgment which I give (or don't give) for most books
that reach me.

But I am over head and ears in work time utterly wasted



i88o LETTERS ij

in mere knowledge getting and giving and for six weeks not
an hour for real edification with a wholesome story.

But this Sunday afternoon being, by the blessing of God, as
beastly a November day as you shall see, I have attended to
my spiritual side and been visited by a blessing in the shape of
some very pretty and unexpected words anent mysel'.*

In truth, it is a right excellent story, though, distinctly in love
with Eppie, I can only wonder how you had the heart to treat
her so ill. A girl like that should have had two husbands one
' wisely ranged for show " and t'other de par amours.

Don't ruin me with Mrs. Skelton by repeating this, but
please remember me very kindly to her. Ever yours very faith-
fully, T. H. HUXLEY.

The following letter to Tyndall was called forth by an
incident in connection with the starting of the Nineteenth
Century. Huxley had promised to help the editor by look-
ing over the proofs of a monthly article on contemporary
science. But his advertised position as merely adviser in
this to the editor was overlooked by some who resented
what they supposed to be his assumption of the role of
critic in general to his fellow-workers in science. At a
meeting of the .v Club, Tyndall made a jesting allusion
to this ; Huxley, however, thought the mere suggestion too
grave for a joke, and replied with all seriousness to clear
himself from the possibility of such misconception. And
the same evening he wrote to Tyndall :

* The passage referred to stands on p. 72 of The Crookit Meg, and
describes the village naturalist and philosopher, Adam Meldrum,
" who in his working hours cobbled old boats, and knew by heart the
plays of Shakespeare and the Pseudodoxia Epidemica of Sir Thomas
Browne."

" For the rest it will be enough to add that this long, gaunt, bony
cobbler of old boats was was (may I take the liberty, Mr. Pro-
fessor?) a village Huxley of the year One. The colourless brilliancy
of the great teacher's style, the easy facility with which the drop of
light forms itself into a perfect sphere as it falls from his pen, belong
indeed to a consummate master of the art of expression, which Adam
of course was not ; but the mental lucidity, justice, and balance, as
well as the reserve of power, and the Shakespearian gaiety of touch,
which made the old man one of the most delightful companions in the
world, were essentially Huxleian."
38



1 8 LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, i

ATHEN^UM CLUB, PALL MALL, S.W.,
Dec. 2, 1880.

MY DEAR TYNDALL I must tell you the ins and outs of this
Nineteenth Century business. I was anxious to help Knowles
when he started the journal, and at his earnest and pressing
request I agreed to do what I have done. But being quite aware
of the misinterpretation to which I should be liable if my name
" sans phrase " were attached to the article, I insisted upon the
exact words which you will find at the head of it; and which
seemed, and still seem to me, to define my position as a mere
adviser of the editor.

Moreover, by diligently excluding any expression of opinion
on the part of the writers of the compilation, I thought that
nobody could possibly suspect me of assuming the position of
an authority even on the subjects with which I may be sup-
posed to be acquainted, let alone those such as physics and
chemistry, of which I know no more than anyone of the public
may know.

Therefore your remarks came upon me to-night with the
sort of painful surprise which a man feels who is accused of
the particular sin of which he flatters himself he is especially
not guilty, and " roused my corruption " as the Scotch have it.
But there is no need to say anything about that, for you were
generous and good as I have always found you. Only I pray
you, if hereafter it strikes you that any doing of mine should be
altered or amended, tell me yourself and privately, and I promise
you a very patient listener, and what is more a very thankful
one. Ever yours, T. H. HUXLEY.

Tyndall replied with no less frankness, thanking him for
the friendly promptitude of his letter, and explaining that
he had meant to speak privately on the matter, but had
been forestalled by the subject coming up when it did.
And he wound up by declaring that it would be too absurd
to admit the power of such an occasion ' to put even a
momentary strain upon the cable which has held us together
for nine and twenty years."

At the very end of the year, George Eliot died. A
proposal was immediately set on foot to inter her remains
in Westminster Abbey, and various men of letters pressed
the matter on the Dean, who was unwilling to stir without
a very strong and general expression of opinion. To Mr.




Engraved by O. Lacour.

T. H. HUXLEY.



i88o DEATH OF GEORGE ELIOT

Herbert Spencer, who had urged him to join in memorialis-
ing the Dean, Huxley replied as follows :

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, Dec. 27, 1880.

MY DEAR SPENCER Your telegram which reached me on
Friday evening caused me great perplexity, inasmuch as I had
just been talking with Morley, and agreeing with him that the
proposal for a funeral in Westminster Abbey had a very ques-
tionable look to us, who desired nothing so much as that peace
and honour should attend George Eliot to her grave.

It can hardly be doubted that the proposal will be bitterly
opposed, possibly (as happened in Mill's case with less provoca-
tion), with the raking up of past histories, about which the
opinion even of those who have least the desire or the right to
be pharisaical is strongly divided, and which had better be for-
gotten.

With respect to putting pressure on the Dean of West-
minster, I have to consider that he has some confidence in me,
and before asking him to do something for which he is pretty
sure to ba violently assailed, I have to ask myself whether I
really think it a right thing for a man in his position to do.

Now I cannot say I do. However much I may lament the
circumstance, Westminster Abbey is a Christian Church and
not a Pantheon, and the Dean thereof is officially a Christian
priest, and we ask him to bestow exceptional Christian honours
by this burial in the Abbey. George Eliot is known not only
as a great writer, but as a person whose life and opinions were
in notorious antagonism to Christian practice in regard to mar-
riage, and Christian theory in regard to dogma. How am I to
tell the Dean that I think he ought to read over the body of a
person who did not repent of what the Church considers mortal
sin, a service not one solitary proposition in which she would
have accepted for truth while she was alive? How am I to
urge him to do that which, if I were in his place, I should most
emphatically refuse to do?

You tell me that Mrs. Cross wished for the funeral in the
Abbey. \Vhile I desire to entertain the greatest respect for her
wishes, I am very sorry to hear it. I do not understand the
feeling which could create such a desire on any personal
grounds, save those of affection, and the natural yearning to be
near even in death to those whom we have loved. And on
public grounds the wish is still less intelligible to me. One
cannot eat one's cake and have it too. Those who elect to be



20 LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, i

free in thought and deed must not hanker after the rewards, if
they are to be so called, which the world offers to those who
put up with its fetters.

Thus, however I look at the proposal it seems to me to be
a profound mistake, and I can have nothing to do with it.

I shall be deeply grieved if this resolution is ascribed to any
other motives than those which I have set forth at more length
than I intended. Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. HUXLEY.



CHAPTER II
1881

THE last ten years had found Huxley gradually involved
more and more in official duties. Now, with the beginning
of 1 88 1, he became yet more deeply engrossed in practical
and administrative work, more completely cut off from his
favourite investigations, by his appointment to an Inspector-
ship of Fisheries, in succession to the late Frank Buckland.
It is almost pathetic to note how he snatched at any spare
moments for biological research. No sooner was a long
afternoon's work at the Home Office done, than, as Professor
Howes relates, he would often take a hansom to the labora-
tory at South Kensington, and spend a last half-hour at his
dissections before going home.

The Inspectorship, which was worth 700 a year, he
held in addition to his post at South Kensington, the official
description of which now underwent another change. In
the first place, his official connection with the Survey ap-
pears to have ceased this year, the last report made by him
being in 1881. His name, however, still appeared in con-
nection with the post of Naturalist until his retirement in
1885, and it was understood that his services continued to
be available if required. Next, in October of this year, the
Royal School of Mines was incorporated with the newly
established Normal School or as it was called in 1890,
Royal College of Science, and the title of Lecturer on Gen-
eral Natural History was suppressed, and Huxley became
Professor of Biology and Dean of the College at a .salary
of 800, for it was arranged on his appointment to the In-
spectorship, that he should not receive the salary attached
to the post of Dean. Thus the Treasury saved 200 a year.

21



22 LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, n

As Professor of Biology, he was under the Lord Presi-
dent of the Council ; as Inspector of Fisheries, under the
Board of Trade ; hence some time passed in arranging the
claims of the two departments before the appointment was
officially made known, as may be gathered from the fol-
lowing letters :

To SIR JOHN DONNELLY

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, Dec. 27, 1880.

MY DEAR DONNELLY I tried hard to have a bad cold last
night, and though I blocked him with quinine I think I may as
well give myself the benefit of the Bank Holiday and keep the
house to-day.

There is a chance of your getting early salmon yet. I wrote
to decline the post on Friday, but on Saturday evening the
Home Secretary sent a note asking to see me yesterday. As
he had re-opened the question of course I felt justified in stating
all the pros and cons of the case as personal to myself and my
rather complicated official position. . . . He entered into the
affair with a warmth and readiness which very agreeably sur-
prised me, and he proposes making such arrangements as will
not oblige me to have anything to do with the weirs or the
actual inspection. Under these circumstances the post would
be lovely if I can hold it along with the other things. And
of his own motion the Home Secretary is going to write to Lord
Spencer about it to see if he cannot carry the whole thing
through.

If this could be managed I could get great things done in
the matter of fish culture and fish diseases at South Kensington,
if poor dear X.'s rattle trappery could be turned to proper
account, without in any way interfering with the work of the
School.

At any rate, my book stands not to lose, and may win the
innocence of the dove is not always divorced from the wisdom
of the sarpent. [Sketch of the " Sarpent."]

To LORD FARRER

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, Jan. 18, 1881.

MY DEAR FARRER I have waited a day or two before thank-



Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 2 of 49)