Thomas Henry Huxley.

Life and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley online

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The following letter also arises out of this controversy :

Its occasion (writes Mr. Taylor) was one which I had
written on seeing an article in which he referred to the Persian
sect of the Babis. I had read with much interest the account
of it in Count Gobineau's book, and was much struck with the
points of likeness to the foundation of Christianity, and the


contrast between the subsequent history of the two; I asked
myself how, given the points of similarity, to account for the
contrast; is it due to the Divine within the one, or the human
surroundings? This question I put to Professor Huxley, with
many apologies for intruding on his leisure, and a special re-
quest that he would not suffer himself to be further troubled
by any reply.


4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, N.W.,/* 3, 1889.

SIR In looking through a mass of papers, before I leave
England for some months among the mountains in search of
health, I have come upon your letter of 7th March. As a rule I
find that out of the innumerable letters addressed to me, the only
ones I wish to answer are those the w r riters of which are con-
siderate enough to ask that they may receive no reply, and yours
is no exception.

The question you put is very much to the purpose : a proper
and full answer would take up many pages ; but it will suffice
to furnish the heads to be filled up by your own knowledge.

1. The Church founded by Jesus has not made its way; has
not permeated the world but did become extinct in the country
of its birth as Nazarenism and Ebionism.

2. The Church that did make its way and coalesced with the
State in the 4th century had no more to do with the Church
founded by Jesus than Ultramontanism has with Quakerism.
It is Alexandrian Judaism and Neoplatonistic mystagogy, and
as much of the old idolatry and demonology as could be got in
under new or old names.

3. Paul has said that the Law was schoolmaster to Christ
with more truth than he knew. Throughout the Empire the
synagogues had their cloud of Gentile hangers-on those who
" feared God " and who were fully prepared to accept a
Christianity, which was merely an expurgated Judaism and the
belief in Jesus as the Messiah.

4. The Christian " Sodalitia ' were not merely religious
bodies, but friendly societies, burial societies, and guilds. They
hung together for all purposes the mob hated them as it now
hates the Jews in Eastern Europe, because they were more
frugal, more industrious, and lived better lives than their neigh-
bours, while they stuck together like Scotchmen.

If these things are so and I appeal to your knowledge of



history that they are so what has the success of Christianity to
do with the truth or falsehood of the story of Jesus ? I am,
yours very faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

The following letter was written in reply to one from
Mr. Clodd on the first of the articles in this controversy.
This article, it must be remembered, not only replied to
Dr. Wace's attack, but at the same time bantered Mr.
Frederic Harrison's pretensions on behalf of Positivism at
the expense alike of Christianity and Agnosticism.

Feb. 19, 1889.

MY DEAR MR. CLODD I am very much obliged to you for
your cheery and appreciative letter. If I do not empty all Har-
rison's vials of wrath I shall be astonished ! But of all the
sickening humbugs in the world, the sham pietism of the Posi-
tivists is to me the most offensive.

I have long been wanting to say my say about these ques-
tions, but my hands were too full. This time last year I was
so ill that I thought to myself, with Hamlet, " the rest is silence."
But my wiry constitution has unexpectedly weathered the storm,
and I have every reason to believe that with renunciation of the
devil and all his works (i.e. public speaking, dining and being
dined, etc.) my faculties may be unimpaired for a good spell yet.
And whether my lease is long or short, I mean to devote them
to the work I began in the paper on the Evolution of Theology.

You will see in the next Nineteenth a paper on the Evidence
of Miracles, which I think will be to your mind.

Hutton is beginning to drivel.* There really is no other
word for it. Ever yours very faithfully,



4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, April 15, 1889.

MY DEAR MR. CLODD The adventurous Mr. C. wrote to me
some time ago. I expressed my regret that I could do nothing

* This refers to an article in the Spectator on " Professor Huxley
and Agnosticism," Feb. 9, 1889, which suggests, with regard to
demoniac possession, that the old doctrine of one spirit driving out
another is as good as any new explanation, and fortifies this conclu-
sion by a reference to the phenomena of hypnotism.


for the evolution of tent-pegs. What wonderful people there
are in the world !

Many thanks for calling my attention to " Antiqua Mater."
I will look it up. I have such a rooted objection to returning
books, that I never borrow one or allow anybody to lend me
one if I can help it.

I hear that Wace is to have another innings, and I am very
glad of it, as it will give me the opportunity of putting the case
once more as a connected argument.

It is Baur's great merit to have seen that the key to the
problem of Christianity lies in the Epistle to the Galatians. No
doubt he and his followers rather overdid the thing, but that is
always the way with those who take up a new idea.

I have had for some time the notion of dealing with the
Three great myths" i. Creation; 2. Fall; 3. Deluge; but I
suspect I am getting to the end of my tether physically, and
shall have to start for the Engadine in another month's time.

Many thanks for your congratulations about my daughter's
marrrage. No two people could be better suited for one another,
and there is a charming little grand-daughter of the first mar-
riage to be cared for. Ever yours very faithfully,


One more piece of writing dates from this time. He
writes to his wife on March 2 :

A man who is bringing out a series of portraits of celebrities,
with a sketch of their career attached, has bothered me out of my
life for something to go with my portrait, and to escape the
abominable bad taste of some of the notices, I have done that.
I shall show it you before it goes back to Engel in proof.

This sketch of his life is the brief autobiography which
is printed at the beginning of vol i. of the Collected Essays.
He was often pressed, both by friends and by strangers, to
give them some more autobiography ; but moved either by
dislike of any approach to egotism, or by the knowledge that
if biography is liable to give a false impression, autobiog-
raphy may leave one still more false, he constantly refused
to do so especially so long as he had capacity for useful work.
I found, however, among his papers, an entirely different
sketch of his early life, half-a-dozen sheets describing the
time he spent in the East end, with an almost Carlylese


sense of the horrible disproportions of life. I cannot tell
whether this was a first draft for the present autobiography,
or the beginnings of a larger undertaking.

Several letters of miscellaneous interest were written
before the move to the Engadine took place. They touch
on such points as the excessive growth of scientific clubs,
the use of alcohol for brain workers, advice to one who was
not likely to " suffer fools gladly' about applying for the
assistant secretaryship of the British Association, and the
question of the effects of the destruction of immature fish,
besides personal matters.

March 22, 1889.

MY DEAR HOOKER I suppose the question of amalgamation
with the Royal is to be discussed at the Phil. Club. The sooner
something of the kind takes place the better. There is really no
raison d'etre left for the Phil. Club, and considering the hard
work of scientific men in these days, clubs are like hypotheses,
not to be multiplied beyond necessity. Ever yours,


4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, March 26, 1889.

MY DEAR HOOKER The only science to which X. has con-
tributed, so far as I know, is the science of self-advertisement;
and of that he is a master.

When you and I were youngsters, we thought it the great
thing to exorcise the aristocratic flunkeyism which reigned in
the R.S. the danger now is that of the entry of seven devils
worse than the first, in the shape of rich engineers, chemical
traders, and " experts ' ; (who have sold their souls for a good
price), and who find it helps them to appear to the public as if
they were men of science.

If the Phil. Club had kept pure, it might have acted as a
check upon the intrusion of the mere trading element. But there
seems to be no reason now against Jack and Tom and Harry
getting in, and the thing has become an imposture.

So I go with you for extinction, before we begin to drag in
the mud.

I wish I could take some more active part in what is going
on. I am anxious about the Society altogether. But though I
am wonderfully well so long as I live like a hermit, and get out



into the air of the Downs, either London, or bother, and still
more both combined, intimate respectfully but firmly, that my
margin is of the narrowest. Ever yours,


The following is to his daughter in Paris. Of course it
was the Tuileries, not the Louvre, which was destroyed in
1871 :

I think you are quite right about French women. They are
like French dishes, uncommonly well cooked and sent up, but
what the dickens they are made of is a mystery. Not but what
all womankind are masteries, but there are mysteries of godli-
ness and mysteries of iniquity.

Have you been to see the sculptures in the Louvre ? dear
me, I forgot the Louvre's fate. I wonder where the sculpture
is? I used to think it the best thing in the way of art in Paris.
There was a youthful Bacchus who was the main support of
my thesis as to the greater beauty of the male figure !

Probably I had better conclude.


4 MARYBOROUGH PLACE, April 9, 1889.

DEAR SIR I understand that you ask me what I think about
" alcohol as a stimulant to the brain in mental work " ?

Speaking for myself (and perhaps I may add for persons of
my temperament), I can say, without hesitation, that I would
just as soon take a dose of arsenic as I would of alcohol, under
such circumstances. Indeed on the whole, I should think the
arsenic safer, less likely to lead to physical and moral degrada-
tion. It would be better to die outright than to be alcoholised
before death.

If a man cannot do brain work without stimulants of any
kind, he had better turn to hand work it is an indication on
Nature's part that she did not mean him to be a head worker.

The circumstances of my life have led me to experience all
sorts of conditions in regard to alcohol, from total abstinence
to nearly the other end of the scale, and my clear conviction is
the less the better, though I by no means feel called upon to
forego the comforting and cheering effect of a little.

But for no conceivable consideration would I use it to whip
up a tired or sluggish brain. Indeed, for me there is no working


time so good as Between breakfast and lunch, when there is not
a trace of alcohol in my composition.


MY DEAR HOOKER I meant to have turned up at the x on
Thursday, but I was unwell and, moreover, worried and bothered
about Collier's illness at Venice, and awaiting telegram I sent
there. He has contrived to get scarlatina, but I hope he will
get safe through it, as he seems to be going on well. We were
getting ready to go out until we were reassured on that point.

I thought I would go to the Academy dinner on Saturday,
and that if I did not eat and drink and came away early, I might

It was pleasant enough to have a glimpse of the world, the
flesh (on the walls, nude!), and the devil (there were several
Bishops), but oh, dear! how done I was yesterday.

However, we are off to Eastbourne to-day, and I hope to
wash three weeks' London out of me before long. I think we
shall go to Maloja again early in June. Ever yours,


Capital portrait in the New Gallery, when I looked in for
a quarter of an hour on Saturday only you never were quite
so fat in the cheeks, and I don't believe you have got such a
splendid fur-coat !

May 22, 1889.

... As to the Assistant Secretaryship of the British Asso-
ciation, I have turned it over a great deal in my mind since
your letter reached me, and I really cannot convince myself that
you would suit it or it would suit you. I have not heard who
are candidates or anything about it, and I am not going to take
any part in the election. But looking at the thing solely from
the point of view of your interests, I should strongly advise you
against taking it, even if it were offered.

My pet aphorism " suffer fools gladly " should be the guide
of the Assistant Secretary, who, during the fortnight of his
activity, has more little vanities and rivalries to smooth over
and conciliate than other people meet with in a lifetime. Now
you do not " suffer fools gladly " ; on the contrary, you " gladly
make fools suffer." I do not say you are wrong No tu quoque
but that is where the danger of the explosion lies not in
regard to the larger business of the Association.


The risk is great and the 300 a year is not worth it. Foster
knows all about the place; ask him if I am not right.

Many thanks for the suggestion about Spirilla. But the
matter is in a state in which no one can be of any use but my-
self. At present I am at the end of my tether and I mean to
be off to the Engadine a fortnight hence most likely not to
return before October.

Not even the sweet voice of will lure me from my re-
tirement. The Academy dinner knocked me up for three days,
though I drank no wine, ate very little, and vanished after the
Prince of Wales' speech. The truth is I have very little margin
of strength to go upon even now, though I am marvellously
better than I was.

I am very glad that you see the importance of doing battle
with the clericals. I am astounded at the narrowness of view
of many of our colleagues on this point. They shut their eyes
to the obstacles which clericalism raises in every direction
against scientific ways of thinking, which are even more impor-
tant than scientific discoveries.

I desire that the next generation may be less fettered by the
gross and stupid superstitions of orthodoxy than mine has been.
And I shall be well satisfied if I can succeed to however small
an extent in bringing about that result. I am, yours very faith-
fully, T. H. HUXLEY.

4 MARYBOROUGH PLACE, May 25, 1889.

MY DEAR LANKESTER I cannot attend the Council meeting
on the 29th. I have a meeting of the Trustees of the British
Museum to-day, and to be examined by a Committee on Monday,
and as the sudden heat half kills me I shall be fit for nothing but
to slink off to Eastbourne again.

However, I do hope the Council will be very careful what
they say or do about the immature fish question. The thing has
been discussed over and over again ad nauseam, and I doubt if
there is anything to be added to the evidence in the blue-books.

The idee fixe of the British public, fishermen, M.P.'s and
ignorant persons generally is that all small fish, if you do not
catch them, grow up into big fish. They cannot be got to under-
stand that the wholesale destruction of the immature is the
necessary part of the general order of things, from codfish to

You seem to have some very interesting things to talk about
at the Royal Institution.


Do you see any chance of educating the white corpuscles of
the human race to destroy the theological bacteria which are
bred in parsons? Ever yours very faithfully,


May 19, 1889.

MY DEAR DONNELLY The Vice-President's letter has
brought home to me one thing very clearly, and that is, that I
had no business to sign the Report. Of course he has a right
to hold me responsible for a document to which my name is
attached, and I should look more like a fool than I ever wish
to do, if I had to tell him that I had taken the thing entirely
on trust. I have always objected to the sleeping partnership in
the Examination ; and unless it can be made quite clear that I
am nothing but a " consulting doctor," I really must get out of
it entirely.

Of course I cannot say whether the Report is justified by the
facts or not, when I do not know anything about them. But
from my experience of what the state of things used to be, I
should say that it is, in all probability, fair.

The faults mentioned are exactly those which always have
made their appearance, and I expect always will do so, and I
do not see why the attention of the teachers should not as con-
stantly be directed to them. You talk of Eton. Well, the reports
of the Examiners to the governing body, year after year, had
the same unpleasing monotony, and I do not believe that there
is any educational body, from the Universities downwards, which
would come out much better, if the Examiners' reports were
published and if they did their duty.

I am unable to see my way (and I suppose you are) to any
better method of State encouragement of science teaching than
payment by results. The great and manifest evil of that system,
however, is the steady pressure which it exerts in the develop-
ment of every description of sham teaching. And the only check
upon this kind of swindling the public seems to me to lie in the
hands of the Examiners. I told Mr. Forster so, ages ago, when
he talked to me about the gradual increase of the expenditure,
and I have been confirmed in my opinion by all subsequent ex-
perience. What the people who read the reports may say, I
should not care one 2d. d if I had to administer the thing.

Nine out of ten of them are incompetent to form any opinion
on an educational subject; and as a mere matter of policy, I


should, in dealing with them, be only too glad to be able to make
it clear that some of the defects and shortcomings inherent in
this (as in all systems) had been disguised, and that even the
most fractious of Examiners had said their say without let or

It is the nature of the system which seems to me to demand
as a corrective incessant and severe watchfulness on the part
of the Examiners, and I see no harm if they a little overdo the
thing in this direction, for every sham they let through is an
encouragement to other shams and pot-teaching in general.

And if the " great heart " of the people and its thick head
can't be got to appreciate honesty, why the sooner we shut up
the better. Ireland may be for the Irish, but science teaching
is not for the sake of science teachers. Ever yours,



FROM the middle of June to the middle of September,
Huxley was in Switzerland, first at Monte Generoso, then-,
when the weather became more settled, at the Maloja. Here,
as his letters show, he ' rejuvenated ' to such an extent
that Sir Henry Thompson, who was at the Maloja, scoffed
at the idea of his ever having had dilated heart.


MY DEAR HOOKER I am quite agreed with the proposed
arrangements for the x, and hope I shall show better in the
register of attendance next session.

When I am striding about the hills here I really feel as if
my invalidism were a mere piece of malingering. When I am
well I can walk up hill and down dale as well as I did twenty
years ago. But my margin is abominably narrow, and I am at
the mercy of " liver and lights." Sitting up for long and din-
ing are questions of margin.

I do not know if you have been here. We are close on 4000
feet up and look straight over the great plain of N. Italy on the
one side and to a great hemicycle of mountains, Monte Rosa
among them, on the other. I do not know anything more beauti-
ful in its way. But the whole time we have been here the
weather has been extraordinary. On the average, about two
thunderstorms per diem. I am sure that a good meteorologist
might study the place with advantage. The barometer has not
varied three-twentieths of an inch the whole time, notwith-
standing the storms.

I hear the weather has been bad all over Switzerland, but it
is not high and dry enough for me here, and we shall be off to
the Maloja on Saturday next, and shall stay there till we return
somewhere in September. Collier and Ethel will join us there
in August. He is none the worse for his scarlatina.


" Aged Botanist ! " marry come up ! * I should like to know
of a younger spark. The first time I heard myself called " the
old gentleman " was years ago when we were in South Devon.
A half-drunken Devonian had made himself very offensive, in
the compartment in which my wife and I were travelling, and
got some " simple Saxon " from me, accompanied, I doubt not,
by an awful scowl. " Ain't the old gentleman in a rage," says he.

I am very glad to hear of Reggie's success, and my wife
joins with me in congratulations. It is a comfort to see one's
shoots planted out and taking root, though the idea that one's
cares and anxieties about them are diminished, we find to be
an illusion.

I inclose cheque for my contributions due and to come.f If
I go to Davy's Locker before October, the latter may go for con-
solation champagne ! Ever yours affectionately,


He writes from the Maloja on August 16 to Sir M.
Foster, who had been sitting on the Vaccination Com-
mission :

I wonder how you are prospering, whether you have vaccina-
tion or anti-vaccination on the brain; or whether the gods have
prospered you so far as to send you on a holiday. We have been
here since the beginning of July. Monte Generoso proved lovely
but electrical. We had on the average three thunderstorms
every two days. Bellagio was as hot as the tropics, and we
stayed only a day, and came on here where, whatever else may
happen, it is never too hot. The weather has been good and I
have profited immensely, and at present I do not know whether
I have a heart or not. But I have to look very sharp after my
liver. H. Thompson, who has been here with his son Herbert
(clever fellow, by the way), treats the notion that I ever had a
dilated heart with scorn ! Oh these doctors ! they are worse
than theologians.

And again on August 31 :

I walked eighteen miles three or four days ago, and I think
nothing of one or two thousand feet up ! I hope this state of
things will last at the sea-level.

* Sir J. Hooker jestingly congratulated him on taking up botany
in his old age. t For tne x Club.


I am always glad to hear of and from you, but I have not
been idle long enough to forget what being busy means, so don't
let your conscience worry you about answering my letters.

... X. is, I am afraid, more or less of an ass. The opposi-
tion he and his friends have been making to the Technical Bill
is quite unintelligible to me. Y. may be, and I rather think is,
a knave, but he is no fool ; and if I mistake not he is minded to
kick the ultra-radical stool down now that he has mounted bv


it. Make friends of that Mammon of unrighteousness and
swamp the sentimentalists.

... I despise your insinuations. All my friends here have
been theological Bishop, Chief Rabbi, and Catholic Professor.
None of your Maybrick discussers.

On June 25 he wrote to Professor Ray Lankester, en-
closing a letter to be read at a meeting called by the Lord
Mayor, on July i, to hear statements from men of science
with regard to the recent increase of rabies in this country,
and the efficiency of the treatment discovered by M. Pasteur
for the prevention of hydrophobia.

I quote the latter from the report in Nature for July 4 :


MY DEAR LANKESTER I inclose herewith a letter for the
Lord Mayor and a cheque for 5 as my subscription. I wish I
could make the letter shorter, but it is pretty much " pemmican '
already. However, it does not much matter being read if it only
gets into print.

It is uncommonly good of the Lord Mayor to stand up for

Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 22 of 49)