Thomas Henry Huxley.

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in the same way as bile secretion is a function of the liver, he
blundered philosophically. Bile is a product of the transforma-
tion of material energy. But in the mathematical sense of the
word " function," thought may be a function of the brain. That
is to say, it may arise only when certain physical particles take
on a certain order.

By way of a coarse analogy, consider a parallel-sided piece
of glass through which light passes. It forms no picture. Shape
it so as to be bi-convex, and a picture appears in its focus.

Is not the formation of the picture a ' function " of the
piece of glass thus shaped?

So, from your own point of view, suppose a mind-stuff \6yos
a noumenal cosmic light such as is shadowed in the fourth
gospel. The brain of a dog will convert it into one set of
phenomenal pictures, and the brain of a man into another. But
in both cases the result is the consequence of the way in which
the respective brains perform their " functions."

Yet one point.

The actions we call sinful are as much the consequence of



the order of nature as those we call virtuous. They are part and
parcel of the struggle for existence through which all living
things have passed, and they have become sins because man
alone seeks a higher life in voluntary association.

Therefore the instrument has never been marred ; on the
contrary, we are trying to get music out of harps, sacbuts, and
psalteries, which never were in tune and seemingly never will
be. Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

Few years passed without some utterance from Huxley
on the subject of education, especially scientific education.
This year we have a letter to Professor Ray Lankester
touching the science teaching at Oxford.


DEAR LANKESTER I met Foster at the Athenaeum when 1
was in town last week, and we had some talk about your " very
gentle " stirring of the Oxford pudding. I asked him to let you
know when occasion offered, that (as I had already said to
Burdon Sanderson) I drew a clear line apud biology between
the medical student and the science student.

With respect to the former, I consider it ought to be kept
within strict limits, and made simply a Vorschule to human
anatomy and physiology.

On the other hand, the man who is going out in natural
science ought to have a much larger dose, especially in the direc-
tion of morphology. However, from what I understand from
Foster, there seems a doubt about the " going out " in Natural
Science, so I had better confine myself to the medicos. Their
burden is already so heavy that I do not want to see it increased
by a needless weight even of elementary biology.

Very many thanks for the " Zoological articles ' : just ar-
rived. Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

Don't write to the Times about anything ; look at the trouble
that comes upon a harmless man for two months, in consequence.

The following letter, which I quote from the Yorkshire
Herald of April n, 1891, was written in answer to some
enquiries from Mr. J. Harrison, who read a paper on Tech-
nical Education as applied to Agriculture, before the Eas-
ingwold Agricultural Club :

I am afraid that my opinion upon the subject of your enquiry
is worth very little my ignorance of practical agriculture being


profound. However, there are some general principles which
apply to all technical training; the first of these, I think, is that
practice is to be learned only by practice. The farmer must be
made by and through farm work. I believe I might be able to
give you a fair account of a bean plant and of the manner and
condition of its growth, but if I were to try to raise a crop of
beans, your club would probably laugh consumedly at the result.
Nevertheless, I believe that you practical people would be all
the better for the scientific knowledge which does not enable
me to grow beans. It would keep you from attempting hope-
less experiments, and would enable you to take advantage of the
innumerable hints which Dame Nature gives to people who live
in direct contact with things. And this leads me to the second
general principle which I think applies to all technical teaching
for school-boys and school-girls, and that is, that they should
be led from the observation of the commonest facts to general
scientific truths. If I were called upon to frame a course of
elementary instruction preparatory to agriculture, I am not sure
that I should attempt chemistry, or botany, or physiology or
geology, as such. It is a method fraught with the danger of
spending too much time and attention on abstraction and theo-
ries, on words and notions instead of things. The history of a
bean, of a grain of wheat, of a turnip, of a sheep, of a pig, or
of a cow properly treated with the introduction of the ele-
ments of chemistry, physiology, and so on as they come in
would give all the elementary science which is needed for the
comprehension of the processes of agriculture in a form easily
assimilated by the youthful mind, which loathes everything in
the shape of long words and abstract notions, and small blame
to it. I am afraid I shall not have helped you very much, but I
believe that my suggestions, rough as they are, are in the right

The perversion of the new Chair of English Literature
at Oxford to " Middle English " philology was the occasion
of the following letter, which appeared in the Pall Mall
Gazette of October 22, 1891 :

I fully agree with you that the relation of our Universities
to the study of English literature is a matter of great public
importance; and I have more than once taken occasion to ex-
press my conviction Firstly, that the works of our great Eng-
lish writers are pre-eminently worthy of being systematically
studied in our schools and universities as literature ; and second-


ly, that the establishment of professional chairs of philology,
under the name of literature, may be a profit to science, but is
really a fraud practised upon letters.

That a young Englishman may be turned out of one of our
universities, ' epopt and perfect " so far as their system takes
him, and yet ignorant of the noble literature which has grown
up in those islands during the last three centuries, no less than
of the development of the philosophical and political ideas which
have most profoundly influenced modern civilisation, is a fact
in the history of the nineteenth century which the twentieth
will find hard to believe ; though, perhaps, it is not more in-
credible than our current superstition that whoso wishes to write
and speak English well should mould his style after the models
furnished by classical antiquity. For my part, I venture to
doubt the wisdom of attempting to mould one's style by any other
process than that of striving after the clear and forcible expres-
sion of definite conceptions; in which process the Glassian pre-
cept, " first catch your definite conceptions," is probably the
most difficult to obey. But still I mark among distinguished
contemporary speakers and writers of English, saturated with
antiquity, not a few to \vhom, it seems to me, the study of
Hobbes might have taught dignity; of Swift, concision and
clearness ; of Goldsmith and Defoe, simplicity.

Well, among a hundred young men whose university career
is finished, is there one whose attention has ever been directed
by his literary instructors to a page of Hobbes, or Swift, or
Goldsmith, or Defoe? In my boyhood we were familiar with
Robinson Crusoe, The Vicar of Wakefield, and Gulliver's
Travels; and though the mysteries of 'Middle English' were
hidden from us, my impression is we ran less chance of learning
to write and speak the " middling English " of popular orators
and headmasters than if we had been perfect in such mysteries
and ignorant of those three masterpieces. It has been the fash-
ion to decry the eighteenth century, as young fops laugh at their
fathers. But we \vere there in germ ; and a ' Professor of
Eighteenth Century History and Literature ' who knew his
business might tell young Englishmen more of that which it is
profoundly important they should know, but which at present
remains hidden from them, than any other instructor; and, in-
cidentally, they would learn to know good English when they
see or hear it perhaps even to discriminate between slipshod
copiousness and true eloquence, and that alone would be a great

1891 LETTERS 303

The remaining letters of the year are of miscellaneous
interest. They show him happily established in his retreat
at Eastbourne in very fair health, on his guard against any
further repetition of his 'jubilee honour' in the shape of
his old enemy pleurisy ; unable to escape the more insidious
attacks of influenza, but well enough on the whole to be in
constant good spirits.

HODESLEA, EASTBOURNE, y<7. 13, 1891.

MY DEAR SKELTON Many thanks to you for reminding me
that there are such things as " Summer Isles " in the universe.
The memory of them has been pretty well blotted out here for
the last seven weeks. You see some people can retire to " Her-
mitages " as well as other people; and though even Argyll cum
Gladstone powers of self-deception could not persuade me that
the view from my window is as good as that from yours, yet I
do see a fine wavy chalk down with ' cwms ' and soft turfy
ridges, over which an old fellow can stride as far as his legs are
good to carry him.

The fact is, that I discovered that staying in London any
longer meant for me a very short life, and by no means a merry
one. So I got my son-in-law to build me a cottage here, where
my wife and I may go down-hill quietly together, and " make
our sowls " as the Irish say, solaced by an occasional visit from
children and grandchildren.

The deuce of it is, that however much the weary want to be
at rest the wicked won't cease from troubling. Hence the occa-
sional skirmishes and alarms which may lead my friends to mis-
doubt my absolute detachment from sublunary affairs. Perhaps
peace dwells only among the fork-tailed Petrels !

I trust Mrs. Skelton and you are flourishing, and that
trouble will keep far from the hospitable doors of Braid through
the New Year. Ever yours very faithfully,


No sooner had he settled down in his new country home,
than a strange piece of good fortune, such as happens more
often in a story-book than in real life, enabled him at one
stroke to double his little estate, to keep off the unwelcome
approach of the speculative builder, and to give himself
scope for the newly-discovered delights of the garden. The
sale of the house in Marlborough Place covered the greater



part of the cost of Hodeslea ; but almost on the very day
on which the sale was concluded, he became the possessor
of another house at Worthing by the death of Mr. Anthony
Rich, the well-known antiquarian. An old man, almost
alone in the world, his admiration for the great work done
recently in natural science had long since led him to devise
his property to Darwin and Huxley, to the one his private
fortune, to the other his house and its contents, notably a
very interesting library. x

As a matter of feeling, Huxley was greatly disinclined
to part with this house, Chapel Croft, as soon as it had come
into his hands. A year earlier, he might have made it his
home ; but now he had settled down at Eastbourne, and
Chapel Croft, as it stood, was unlikely to find a tenant.
Accordingly he sold it early in July, and with the proceeds
bought the piece of land adjoining his house. Thus he
writes to Sir J. Hooker:


MY DEAR HOOKER My estate is somewhat of a white ele-
phant. There is about a couple of acres of ground well situated
and half of it in the shape of a very pretty lawn and shrubbery,
but unluckily, in building the house, dear old Rich thought of
his own convenience and not mine (very wrong of him!), and
I cannot conceive anybody but an old bachelor or old maid living
in it. I do not believe anybody would take it as it stands. No
doubt the site is valuable, and it would be well worth while to
anybody with plenty of cash to spare to build on to the house and
make it useful. But I neither have the cash, nor do I want the
bother. However, Waller is going to look at the place for me
and see what can be done. It seems hardly decent to sell it at
once ; and moreover the value is likely to increase. I suppose at
present it is worth 2000, but that is only a guess.

Apropos of naval portrait gallery, can you tell me if there
is a portrait of old John Richardson anywhere extant? I always
look upon him as the founder of my fortunes, and I want to
hang him up (just over your head) on my chimney breast.
Voici ! [sketch showing the position of the pictures above the
fireplace] :

By your fruits ye shall judge them ! My cold was influenza,
I have been in the most preposterously weak state ever since;

1891 LETTERS 305

and at last my wife lost patience and called in the doctor, who is
screwing me up with mix vomica.

Sound wind and limb otherwise. Ever yours affectionately,


And again on July 3 :

I have just been offered 2800 for Anthony Rich's place and
have accepted it. It is probably worth 3000, but if I were to
have it on my hands and sell by auction I should get no more out
of the transaction.

I am greatly inclined to put some of the money into a piece
of land a Naboth's vineyard in front of my house and turn
horticulturist. I find nailing up creepers a delightful occupation.

In the same letter he describes two meetings with old
friends :

Last Friday I ran down to Hindhead to see Tyndall. He
was very much better than I hoped to find him, after such a long
and serious illness, quite bright and " Tyndalloid," and not aged
as I feared he would be. ... The local doctor happened to be
there during my visit and spoke very confidently of his speedy
recovery. The leg is all right again, and he even talks of Swit-
zerland, but I begged Mrs. Tyndall to persuade him to keep
quiet and within reach of home and skilled medical attendance.

Saturday to Monday we were at Down, after six or seven
years' interruption of our wonted visits. It was very pleasant if
rather sad. Mrs. Darwin is wonderfully well naturally aged
but quite bright and cheerful as usual. Old Parslow turned up
on Sunday, just eighty, but still fairly hale. Fuimus fuimus!

[Parslow was the old butler who had been in Mr. Darwin's
service for many years.]



You dear people must have entered into a conspiracy, as I
had letters from all yesterday. I have never been so set up
before, and begin to think that fathers (like port) must improve
in quality with age. (No irreverent jokes about their getting
crusty, Miss.)

Julian and Joyce taken together may perhaps give a faint
idea of my perfections as a child. I have not only a distinct
recollection of being noticed on the score of my good looks, but


my mother used to remind me painfully of them in my later
years, looking at me mournfully and saying, " And you were
such a pretty boy ! '

Much as he would have liked to visit the Maloja again
this year, the state of his wife's health forbade such a long
journey. He writes just after his attack of influenza to Sir
M. Foster, who had been suffering in the same way :

HODESLEA, May 12, 1891.

MY DEAR FOSTER I was very glad to hear from you. Pray
don't get attempting to do anything before you are set up again.

I am in a ridiculous state of weakness, and bless my stars
that I have nothing to do. I find it troublesome to do even that.

I wish ballooning had advanced so far as to take people to
Maloja, for I do not think my wife ought to undertake such a
journey, and yet I believe the high air would do us both more
good than anything else. . . .

The University of London scheme appears to be coming to
grief, as I never doubted it would. Ever yours,


So instead of going abroad, he stayed in Eastbourne
till the end of August, receiving a short visit from his old
friend Jowett, who, though sadly enfeebled by age, still per-
sisted in travelling by himself, and a longer visit from his
elder son and his family. But from September n to the
26th he and his wife made a trip through the west country,
starting from Salisbury, which had so delighted him the
year before, and proceeding by way of the Wye valley, which
they had not visited since their honeymoon, to Llangollen.
The first stage on the return journey was Chester, whence
they made pious pilgrimage to the cradle of his name, Old
Huxley Hall, some 9 miles from Chester. Incorporated
with a modern farm-house, and forming the present kitchen,
are some solid stone walls, part of the old manor-house, now
no longer belonging to any one of the name. From here
they went to Coventry, where he had lived as a boy, and
found the house which his father had occupied still standing.

A letter to an old pupil contains reflections upon the
vears of work to which he had devoted so much of his





MY DEAR PARKER It is a long time since your letter reached
me, but I was so unwise as to put off answering it until the book
arrived and I had read it. The book did not reach me for a long
time, and what with one thing and another I have but just
finished it. I assure you I am very proud of having my name
connected with such a thorough piece of work, no less than
touched by the kindness of the dedication.

Looking back from the aged point of view, the life which
cost so much wear and tear in the living seems to have effected
very little, and it is cheering to be reminded that one has been
of some use.

Some years of continued ill-health, involving constant travel-
ling about in search of better conditions than London affords,
and long periods of prostration, have driven me quite out of
touch with science. And indeed except for a certain toughness
of constitution I should have been driven out of touch with ter-
restrial things altogether.

It is almost indecent in a man at my time of life who has had
two attacks of pleurisy, followed by a dilated heart, to be not
only above ground but fairly vigorous again. However, I am
obliged to mind my P's and Q's ; avoid everything like hard
work, and live in good air.

The last condition we have achieved by setting up a house
close to the downs here; and I begin to think with Candide that
' cultivons notre jardin " comprises the whole duty of man.

I was just out of the way of hearing anything about the
University College chair; and indeed, beyond attending the
Council of the school when necessary, and meetings of Trustees
of the British Museum, I rarely go to London.

I have had my innings, and it is now for the younger genera-
tion to have theirs. With best wishes, ever yours very faith-
fully, T. H. HUXLEY.

As for being no longer in touch with the world of sci-
ence, he says the same thing in a note to Sir M. Foster, for-
warding an inquiry after a scientific teacher (August i).

Please read the enclosed, and if you know of anybody suit-
able please send his name to Mr. Thomas.

I have told him that I am out of the way of knowing, and

3 o8


that you are physiologically omniscient, so don't belie the char-
acter !

This year a number of Huxley's essays were translated
into French. Nature for July 23, 1891 (vol. xliv, p. 272),
notes the publication of " Les Sciences Naturelles et 1'Edu-
cation," with a short preface by himself, dwelling upon the
astonishing advance which had been made in the recogni-
tion of science as an instrument of education, but warning
the younger generation that the battle is only half won, and
bidding them beware of relaxing their efforts before the
place of science is entirely assured. In the issue for Decem-
ber 31 (Nature, 46, 397), is a notice of " La Place de
I'Homme dans la Nature," a re-issue of a translation of
more than twenty years before, together with three ethno-
logical essays, newly translated by M. H. de Varigny, to
whom the following letters are addressed.


May 17, 1891.

I am writing to my publishers to send you Lay Sermons,
Critiques, Science and Culture, and American Addresses, pray
accept them in expression of my thanks for the pains you are
taking about the translation. Man's Place in Nature has been
out of print for years, so I cannot supply it.

I am quite conscious that the condensed and idiomatic Eng-
lish into which I always try to put my thoughts must present
many difficulties to a translator. But a friend of mine who is a
much better French scholar than I am, and who looked over two
or three of the essays, told me he thought you had been remark-
ably successful.

The fact is that I have a great love and respect for my native
tongue, and take great pains to use it properly. Sometimes I
write essays half-a-dozen times before I can get them into the
proper shape; and I believe I become more fastidious as I grow

November 25, 1891.

I am very glad you have found your task pleasant, for I am
afraid it must have cost you a good deal of trouble to put my
ideas into the excellent French dress with which you have pro-
vided them. It fits so well that I feel almost as if I might be
a candidate for a seat among the immortal forty !


As to the new volume you shall have the refusal of it if you
care to have it. But I have my doubts about its acceptability to
a French public which I imagine knows little about Bibliolatry
and the ways of Protestant clericalism, and cares less.

These essays represent a controversy which has been going
on for five or six years about Genesis, the deluge, the miracle
of the herd of swine, and the miraculous generally, between
Gladstone, the ecclesiastical principal of King's College, various
bishops, the writer of Lux Mundi, that spoilt Scotch minister
the Duke of Argyll, and myself.

My object has been to stir up my countrymen to think about
these things ; and the only use of controversy is that it appeals
to their love of fighting, and secures their attention.

I shall be very glad to have your book on Experimental Evo-
lution. I insisted on the necessity of obtaining experimental
proof of the possibility of obtaining virtually infertile breeds
from a common stock in 1860 (in one of the essays you have
translated). Mr. Tegetmeier made a number of experiments
with pigeons some years ago, but could obtain not the least ap-
proximation to infertility.

From the first, I told Darwin this was the weak point of his
case from the point of view of scientific logic. But, in this
matter, we are just where we were thirty years ago, and I am
very glad you are going to call attention to the subject.

Sending a copy of the translation soon after to Sir J.
Hooker, he writes :


MY DEAR HOOKER We have been in the middle of snow for
the last foui days. I shall not venture to London, and if you
deserve the family title of the " judicious," I don't think you will

I send you by this post a volume of the French translation
of a collection of my essays about Darwinism and Evolution,
1860-76, for which I have written a brief preface. I was really
proud of myself wnen I discovered on re-reading them that I
had nothing to alter.

What times those days were! Fuimus! Ever yours affec-
tionately, T. H. HUXLEY.

The same subject of experimental evolution reappears
in a letter to Professor Romanes of April 29. A project
was on foot for founding an institution in which experi-



ments bearing upon the Darwinian theory could be carried
out. After congratulating Professor Romanes upon his re-
cent election to the Athenaeum Club, he proceeds :

In a review of Darwin's Origin published in the Westminster
for 1860 (Lay Sermons, pp. 323-24), you will see that I insisted
on the logical incompleteness of the theory so long as it was not
backed by experimental proof that the cause assumed was com-
petent to produce all the effects required. See also Lectures to
Working Men, 1863, pp. 146, 147.) In fact, Darwin used to
reproach me sometimes for my pertinacious insistence on the

Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 27 of 49)