Thomas Henry Huxley.

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Science, in the teeth of the row the anti-vivisection pack dogs
and doggesses are making.

May his shadow never be less.

We shall be off to the Maloja at the end of this week, if the
weather mends. Thunderstorms here every day, and sometimes
two or three a day for the last ten days. Ever yours very faith-
fully, T. H. HUXLEY.

MY LORD MAYOR I greatly regret my inability to be present
at the meeting which is to be held, under your Lordship's
auspices, in reference to M. Pasteur and his Institute. The un-
remitting labours of that eminent Frenchman during the last
half-century have yielded rich harvests of new truths, and are


models of exact and refined research. As such they deserve, and
have received, all the honours which those who are the best
judges of their purely scientific merits are able to bestow. But
it so happens that these subtle and patient searchings out of the
ways of the infinitely little of the swarming life where the
creature that measures one-thousandth part of an inch is a giant
have also yielded results of supreme practical importance.
The path of M. Pasteur's investigations is strewed with gifts of
vast monetary value to the silk trades, the brewer, and the wine
merchant. And this being so, it might well be a proper and
graceful act on the part of the representatives of trade and com-
merce in its greatest centre to make some public recognition
of M. Pasteur's services, even if there were nothing further
to be said about them. But there is much more to be said.
M. Pasteur's direct and indirect contributions to our knowl-
edge of the causes of diseased states, and of the means of pre-
venting their recurrence, are not measurable by money values,
but by those of healthy life and diminished suffering to men.
Medicine, surgery, and hygiene have all been powerfully affected
by M. Pasteur's work, which has culminated in his method of
treating hydrophobia. I cannot conceive that any competently
instructed person can consider M. Pasteur's labours in this direc-
tion without arriving at the conclusion that, if any man has
earned the praise and honour of his fellows, he has. I find it
no less difficult to imagine that our wealthy country should be
other than ashamed to continue to allow its citizens to profit by
the treatment freely given at the Institute without contributing
to its support. Opposition to the proposals which your Lord-
ship sanctions would be equally inconceivable if it arose out of
nothing but the facts of the case thus presented. But the opposi-
tion which, as I see from the English papers, is threatened has
really for the most part nothing to do either with M. Pasteur's
merits or with the efficacy of his method of treating hydro-
phobia. It proceeds partly from the fanatics of laissez faire,
who think it better to rot and die than to be kept whole and
lively by State interference, partly from the blind opponents
of 'properly conducted physiological experimentation, who prefer
that men should suffer than rabbits or dogs, and partly from
thos.e who for other but not less powerful motives hate every-
thing which contributes to prove the value of strictly scientific
methods of enquiry in all those questions which affect the wel-
fare of society. I sincerely trust that the good sense of the
meeting over which your Lordship will preside will preserve it


from being influenced by those unworthy antagonisms, and that
the just and benevolent enterprise you have undertaken may
have a happy issue. I am, my Lord Mayor, your obedient
servant, THOMAS H. HUXLEY.

July 8, 1889.

MY DEAR LANKESTER Many thanks for your letter. I was
rather anxious as to the result of the meeting, knowing the
malice and subtlety of the Philistines, but as it turned out they
were effectually snubbed. I was glad to see your allusion to
Coleridge's impertinences. It will teach him to think twice be-
fore he abuses his position again. I do not understand Stead's
position in the Pall Mall. He snarls but does not bite.

I am glad that the audience (I judge from the Times report)
seemed to make the points of my letter, and live in hope that
when I see last week's Spectator I shall find Hutton frantic.

This morning a letter marked " Immediate " reached me
from Bourne, date July 3. I am afraid he does not read the
papers or he would have known it was of no use to appeal to
me in an emergency. I am writing to him. Ever yours very
faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

On his return to England, however, a fortnight of
London, interrupted though it was by a brief visit to Mr.
and Mrs. Humphry Ward at the delightful old house of
Great Hampden, was as much as he could stand. " I begin
to discover," he writes to Sir M. Foster, ' I have a heart
again, a circumstance of which I had no reminder at the
Maloja." So he retreated at once to Eastbourne, which
had done him so much good before.

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, Sept. 24, 1889.

MY DEAR HOOKER How's a' wi' ye? We came back from
the Engadine early in the month, and are off to Eastbourne to-
morrow. I rejuvenate in Switzerland and senescate (if there is
no such verb, there ought to be) in London, and the sooner I
am out of it the better.

When are you going to have an x ? I cannot make out what
has become of Spencer, except that he is somewhere in Scot-
land. Ever yours, T. H. HUXLEY.

We shall be at our old quarters 3 Jevington Gardens, East-
bourne from to-morrow onwards.


The next letter shows once more the value he set upon
botanical evidence in the question of the influence of con-
ditions in the process of evolution.

Sept. 29, 1889.

MY DEAR HOOKER I hope to be with you at the Athenaeum
on Thursday. It does one good to hear of your being in such
good working order. My knowledge of orchids is infinitesimally
small, but there were some eight or nine species plentiful in the
Engadine, and I learned enough to appreciate the difficulties.
Why do not some of these people who talk about the direct
influence of conditions try to explain the structure of orchids on
that tack ? Orchids at any rate can't try to improve themselves
in taking shots at insects' heads with pollen bags as Lamarck ? s
Giraffes tried to stretch their necks !

Balfour's ballon d'essai* (I do not believe it could have
been anything more) is the only big blunder he has made, and
it passes my comprehension why he should have made it. But
he seems to have dropped it again like the proverbial hot potato.
If he had not, he would have hopelessly destroyed the Unionist
party. Ever yours, T. H. HUXLEY.

At the end of the year he thanks Lord Tennyson for
his gift of " Demeter."

Dec. 26, 1889.

MY DEAR TENNYSON Accept my best thanks for your very
kind present of " Demeter." I have not had a Christmas Box
I valued so much for many a long year. I envy your vigour, and
am ashamed of myself beside you for being turned out to grass.
I kick up my heels now and then, and have a gallop round the
paddock, but it does not come to much.

With best wishes to you, and, if Lady Tennyson has not
forgotten me altogether, to her also Believe me, yours very
faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

A discussion in the Times this autumn, in which he
joined, was of unexpected moment to him, inasmuch as it
was the starting-point for no fewer than four essays in
political philosophy, which appeared the following year in
the Nineteenth Century.

* i.e. touching a proposed Roman Catholic University for Ireland.



The correspondence referred to arose out of the heckling
of Mr. John Morley by one of his constituents at Newcastle
in November 1889. The heckler questioned him concern-
ing private property in land, quoting some early dicta from
the " Social Statics " of Mr. Herbert Spencer, which denied
the justice of such ownership. Comments and explanations
ensued in the Times; Mr. Spencer declared that he had
since partly altered that view, showing that contract has in
part superseded force as the ground of ownership ; and that
in any case it referred to the idea of absolute ethics, and
not to relative or practical politics.

Huxley entered first into the correspondence to point
out present and perilous applications of the absolute in
contemporary politics. Touching on a State guarantee of
the title to land, he asks if there is any moral right for
confiscation : In Ireland, he says, confiscation is justified
by the appeal to wrongs inflicted a century ago ; in England
the theorems of ' absolute political ethics ' are in danger
of being employed to make this generation of land-owners
responsible for the misdeeds of William the Conqueror and
his followers. (Times, November 12.)

His remaining share in the discussion consisted of a
brief passage of arms with Mr. Spencer on the main ques-
tion,* and a reply to another correspondent, f which brings
forward an argument enlarged upon in one of the essays,
viz. that if the land belongs to all men equally, why should
one nation claim one portion rather than another? For
several ownership is just as much an infringement of the
world's ownership as is personal ownership. Moreover,
history shows that land was originally held in several owner-
ship, and that not of the nation, but of the village com-

These signs of renewed vigour induced Mr. Knowles
to write him a ' begging letter," proposing an article for
the Nineteenth Century either in commendation of Bishop
Magee's recent utterances it would be fine for eulogy to
come from such a quarter after the recent encounter or

* November 18. f November 21.



on the general subject of which his Times letters dealt with
a part.

Huxley's choice was for the latter. Writing on Novem-
ber 21, he says :

Now as to the article. I have only hesitated because I want
to get out a new volume of essays, and I am writing an introduc-
tion which gives me an immensity of trouble. I had made up my
mind to get it done by Christmas, and if I write for you it won't
be. However, if you don't mind leaving it open till the end of
this month, I will see what can be done in the way of a screed
about, say, " The Absolute in Practical Life." The Bishop
would come in excellently ; he deserves all praises, and my only
hesitation about singing them is that the conjunction between
the " Infidel " and the Churchman is just what the blatant plat-
form Dissenters who had been at him would like. I don't want
to serve the Bishop, for whom I have a great liking and respect,
as the bear served his sleeping master, when he smashed his
nose in driving an unfortunate fly away !

By the way, has the Bishop published his speech or sermon?
I have only seen a newspaper report.

Soon after this, he proposed to come to town and talk
over the article with Mr. Knowles. The latter sent him
a telegram reply paid asking him to fix a day. The
answer named a day of the week and a day of the month
which did not agree ; whereupon Mr. Knowles wrote by
the safer medium of the post for an explanation, thinking
that the post-office clerks must have bungled the message,
and received the following reply :

Nov. 26, 1889.

MY DEAR KNOWLES May jackasses sit upon the graves of
all telegraph clerks ! But the boys are \vorse, and I shall have to
write to the P.-M. -General about the little wretch who brought
your telegram the other day, when my mind was deeply absorbed
in the concoction of an article for the Review of our age.

The creature read my answer, for he made me pay three
half-pence extra (I believe he spent it on toffy), and yet was
so stupid as not to see that meaning to fix next Monday or Tues-
day, I opened my diary to give the dates in order that there
should be no mistake, and found Monday 28 and Tuesday 29.


And I suppose the little beast would say he did not know I
opened it in October instead of November !

I hate such mean ways. Hang all telegraph boys ! Ever
yours very faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

Monday, December 2, if you have nothing against it, and
lunch if Mrs. Knowles will give me some.

The article was finished by the middle of December
and duly sent to the editor, under the title of " Rousseau
and Rousseauism." But fearing that this title would
scarcely attract attention among the working men for whom
it was specially designed, Mr. Knowles suggested instead
the ' Natural Inequality of Men," under which name it
actually appeared in January. So, too, in the case of a
companion article in March, the editorial pen was re-
sponsible for the change from the arid possibilities of
1 Capital and Labour ' to the more attractive title of
" Capital the Mother of Labour."

With regard to this article and a further project of
extending his discussion of the subject, he writes :

Dec. 14, 1889.

MY DEAR KNOWLES I am very glad you think the article
will go. It is longer than I intended, but I cannot accuse myself
of having wasted words, and I have left out several things that
might have been said, but which can come in by and by.

As to title, do as you like, but that you propose does not
seem to me quite to hit the mark. ' Political Humbug : Liberty
and Equality," struck me as adequate, but my wife declares it
is improper. " Political Fictions " might be supposed to refer
to Dizzie's novels ! How about " The Politics of the Imagina-
tion : Liberty and Inequality " ?

I should like to have some general title that would do for the
" letters " which I see I shall have to write. I think I will make
six of them after the fashion of my " Working Men's Lectures,"
as thus: (i) Liberty and Equality; (2) Rights of Man; (3)
Property; (4) Malthus; (5) Government, the province of the
State; (6) Law-making and Law-breaking.

I understand you will let me republish them, as soon as the
last is out, in a cheap form. I am not sure I will not put them
in the form of " Lectures " rather than " Letters."


Did you ever read Henry George's book " Progress and
Poverty " ? It is more damneder nonsense than poor Rousseau's
blether. And to think of the popularity of the book! But I
ought to be grateful, as I can cut and come again at this wonder-
ful dish.

The mischief of it is I do not see how I am to finish the
introduction to my Essays, unless I put off sending you a second
dose until March.

I will send back the revise as quickly as possible. Ever
yours very truly, T. H. HUXLEY.

You do not tell me that there is anything to which Spencer
can object, so I suppose there is nothing.

And in an undated letter to Sir J. Hooker, he says :

I am glad you think well of the " Human Inequality " paper.
My wife has persuaded me to follow it up with a view to mak-
ing a sort of " Primer of Politics " for the masses by and by.
" There's no telling what you may come to, my boy," said the
Bishop who reproved his son for staring at John Kemble, and I
may be a pamphleteer yet ! But really it is time that somebody
should treat the people to common sense.

However, immediately after the appearance of this first
article on Human Inequality, he changed his mind about
the Letters to Working Men, and resolved to continue what
he had to say in the form of essays in the Nineteenth

He then judged it not unprofitable to call public at-
tention to the fallacies which first found their way into
practical politics through the disciples of Rousseau ; one
of those speculators of whom he remarks (i. 312) that
' busied with deduction from their ideal ' ought to be,' they
overlooked the ' what has been/ the ' what is,' and the
' what can be.' " Many a long year ago," he says in
Natural Rights and Political Rights (i. 336), " I fondly im-
agined that Hume and Kant and Hamilton having slain
the ' Absolute,' the thing must, in decency, decease. Yet,
at the present time, the same hypostatised negation, some-
times thinly disguised under a new name, goes about in
broad daylight, in company with the dogmas of absolute
ethics, political and other, and seems to be as lively as


ever." This was to his mind one of those instances of wrong
thinking which lead to wrong acting the postulating a
general principle based upon insufficient data, and the de-
duction from it of many and far-reaching practical conse-
quences. This he had always strongly opposed. His essay
of 1871, ' Administrative Nihilism," was directed against
a priori individualism ; and now he proceeded to restate
the arguments against a priori political reasoning in gen-
eral, which seemed to have been forgotten or overlooked,
especially by the advocates of compulsory socialism. And
here it is possible to show in some detail the care he took,
as was his way, to refresh his knowledge and bring it up
to date, before writing on any special point. It is interest-
ing to see how thoroughly he went to work, even in a
subject with which he was already fairly acquainted. As
in the controversy of 1889 I find a list of near a score of
books consulted, so here one note-book contains an analysis
of the origin and early course of the French Revolution,
especially in relation to the speculations of the theorists ;
the declaration of the rights of man in 1789 is followed by
parallels from Mably's Droits ct Devoirs dit Citoyen and De
la Legislation, and by a full transcript of the 1793 Declara-
tion, with notes on Robespierre's speech at the Convention
a fortnight later. There are copious notes from Dunoyer,
who is quoted in the article, while the references to Roc-
quain's Esprit Rcvolutioniiiare led to an English translation
of the work being undertaken, to which he contributed
a short preface in 1891.

It was the same with other studies. He loved to vis-
ualise his object clearly. The framework of what he wished
to say would always be drawn out first. In any historical
matter he always worked with a map. In natural history
he well knew the importance of studying distribution and
its bearing upon other problems ; in civil history he would
draw maps to illustrate either the conditions of a period or
the spread of a civilising nation. For instance, among
sketches of the sort which remain, I have one of the Hel-
lenic world, marked off in 25-mile circles from Delos as
centre ; and a similar one for the Phoenician world, starting


from Tyre. Sketch maps of Palestine and Mesopotamia,
with notes from the best authorities on the geography of
the two countries, belong in all probability to the articles
on ( The Flood " and " Hasisadra's Adventure." To realise
clearly the size, position, and relation of the parts to the
whole, was the mechanical instinct of the engineer which
was so strong in him.

The four articles which followed in quick succession on
" The Natural Inequality of Man," " Natural and Political
Rights," " Capital the Mother of Labour," and " Govern-
ment," appeared in the January, February, March, and
May numbers of the Nineteenth Century, and, as was said
above, are directed against a priori reasoning in social
philosophy. The first, which appeared simultaneously with
Mr. Herbert Spencer's article on Justice ' in the Nine-
teenth Century, assails, on the ground of fact and history,
the dictum that men are born free and equal, and have
a natural right to freedom and equality, so that property
and political rights are a matter of contract. History de-
nies that they thus originated ; and, in fact, ' proclaim
human equality as loudly as you like, Witless will serve
his brother." Yet, in justice to Rousseau and the influ-
ence he wielded, he adds :

It is not to be forgotten that what we call rational grounds
for our beliefs are often extremely irrational attempts to justify
our instincts.

Thus if, in their plain and obvious sense, the doctrines
which Rousseau advanced are so easily upset, it is probable that
he had in his mind something which is different from that

When they sought speculative grounds to justify the
empirical truth

that it is desirable, in the interests of society, that all men should
be as free as possible, consistently with those interests, and that
they should all be equally bound by the ethical and legal obli-
gations which are essential to social existence, ' the philoso-
phers," as is the fashion of speculators, scorned to remain on
the safe if humble ground of experience, and preferred to
prophesy from the sublime cloudland of the a priori.



The second of these articles is an examination of Henry
George's doctrines as set forth in Progress and Poverty.
His relation to the physiocrats is shown in a preliminary
analysis of the term " natural rights which have no wrongs,"
and are antecedent to morality, from which analysis are
drawn the results of confounding natural with moral rights.

Here again is the note of justice to an argument in an
unsound shape (p. 369) : ; There is no greater mistake
than the hasty conclusion that opinions are worthless be-
cause they are badly argued." And a trifling abatement
of the universal and exclusive form of Henry George's
principle may make it true, while even unamended it may
lead to opposite conclusions to the justification of several
ownership in land as well as in any other form of property.

The third essay of the series, ' Capital the Mother of
Labour " (Coll. Ess. ix. 147), was an application of biologi-
cal methods to social problems, designed to show that the
extreme claims of labour as against capital are ill-founded.

In the last article, ' Government," he traces the two
extreme developments of absolute ethics, as shown in an-
archy and regimentation, or unrestrained individualism and
compulsory socialism. The key to the position, of course,
lies in the examination of the premises upon which these
superstructures are raised, and history shows that

So far from the preservation of liberty and property and the
securing of equal rights being the chief and most conspicuous
object aimed at by the archaic politics of which we know any-
thing, it would be a good deal nearer the truth to say that they
were federated absolute monarchies, the chief purpose of which
was the maintenance of an established church for the worship
of the family ancestors.

These articles stirred up critics of every sort and kind;
socialists who denounced him as an individualist, land
nationalisers who had not realised the difference between
communal and national ownership, or men who denounced
him as an arm-chair cynic, careless of the poor and ignorant
of the meaning of labour. Mr. Spencer considered the chief
attack to be directed against his position ; the regimental
socialists as against theirs, and


as an attempt to justify those who, content with the present, are
opposed to all endeavours to bring about any fundamental
change in our social arrangements (ib. p. 423).

So far from this, he continues :

Those who have had the patience to follow me to the end
will, I trust, have become aware that my aim has been altogether
different. Even the best of modern civilisations appears to me
to exhibit a condition of mankind which neither embodies any
worthy ideal nor even possesses the merit of stability. I do not
hesitate to express my opinion that, if there is no hope of a
large improvement of the condition of the greater part of the
human family; if it is true that the increase of knowledge, the
winning of a greater dominion over Nature which is its con-
sequence, and the wealth which follows upon that dominion,
are to make no difference in the extent and the intensity of
Want, with its concomitant physical and moral degradation,
among the masses of the people, I should hail the advent of
some kindly comet, which would sweep the whole affair away,
as a desirable consummation. What profits it to the human
Prometheus that he has stolen the fire of heaven to be his
servant, and that the spirits of the earth and of the air obey him,
if the vulture of pauperism is eternally to tear his very vitals and
keep him on the brink of destruction?

Assuredly, if I believed that any of the schemes hitherto
proposed for bringing about social amelioration were likely to
attain their end, I should think what remains to me of life well
spent in furthering it. But my interest in these questions did

Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 23 of 49)