Thomas Henry Huxley.

Life and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley online

. (page 28 of 49)
Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 28 of 49)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


need of experimental verification.

But I hope you are going to choose some other title than
" Institut transformiste," which implies that the Institute is
pledged to a foregone conclusion, that it is a workshop devoted
to the production of a particular kind of article. Moreover, I
should say that as a matter of prudence, you had better keep
clear of the word " experimental." Would not " Biological Ob-
servatory" serve the turn? Of course it does not exclude ex-
periment any more than " Astronomical Observatory " excludes
spectrum analysis.

Please think over this. My objection to " Transformist " is
very strong.

In August his youngest daughter wrote to him to find
out the nature of various " objects of the sea-shore '' which
she had found on the beach in South Wales. His answers
make one wish that there had been more questions.

HODESLEA, EASTBOURNE, Aug. 14, 1891.

DEAREST BABS I. " Ornary " or not " ornary ' B is merely
A turned upside down and viewed with the imperfect apprecia-
tion of the mere artistic eye !

2. Your little yellow things are, I expect, egg-cases of dog
whelks. You will find a lot of small eggs inside them, one or
two of which grow faster than the rest, and eat up their weaker
brothers and sisters.

The dog whelk is common on the shores. If you look for
something like this [sketch of a terrier coming out of a whelk
shell], you will be sure to recognise it.

3. Starfish are not born in their proper shape and don't
come from your whitish yellow lumps. The thing that conies
out of a starfish egg is something like this [sketch], and swims





h-1

C/3

Q
O



Q

t>

H

m

w
^
H



1891 OBJECTS OF THE SEA-SHORE 3! I

about by its cilia. The starfish proper is formed inside, and it
is carried on its back this-uns.

Finally starfish drops off carrying with it t'other one's stom-
ach, so that the subsequent proceedings interest t'other one no
more.

4. The ropy sand tubes that make a sort of banks and reefs
are houses of worms, that they build up out of sand, shells, and
slime. If you knock a lot to pieces you will find worms inside.

5. Now, how do I know what the rooks eat? But there are
a lot of unconsidered trifles about, and if you get a good tele-
scope and watch, you will have a glimpse as they hover between
sand and rooks' beaks.

It has been blowing more or less of a gale here from the
west for weeks usually cold, often foggy so that it seems as
if summer were going to be late, probably about November.

But we thrive fairly well. L. and J. and their chicks are
here and seem to stand the inclemency of the weather pretty
fairly. The children are very entertaining.

M has been a little complaining, but is as active as

usual.

My love to Joyce, and tell her I am glad to hear she has
not forgotten her astronomy.

In answer to your enquiry, Leonard says that Trevenen has
twenty-five teeth. I have a sort of notion this can be hardly
accurate, but never having been a mother can't presume to say.
Our best love to you all. Ever your loving PATER.

HODESLEA, EASTBOURNE, Aug. 26, 1891.

DEAREST BABS Tears to me your friend is a squid or pen-
and-ink fish. Loligo among the learned. Probably Loligo media
which I have taken in that region. They have ten tentacles
with suckers round their heads, two much longer than the others.
They are close to cuttle-fish, but have a thin horny shell inside
them instead of the " cuttle-bone." If you can get one by itself
in a tub of water, it is pretty to see how they blush all over and
go pale again, owing to little colour-bags in the skin, which ex-
pand and contract. Doubtless they took you for a heron, under
the circumstances [sketch of a wader].

With slight intervals it has been blowing a gale from the
west here for some months, the memory of man indeed goeth not
back to the calm. I have not been really warm more than two
days this so-called summer. And everybody prophesied we
should be roasted alive here in summer.



312 LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP. XVH

We are all flourishing, and send our best love to Jack and
you. Tell Joyce the wallflowers have grown quite high in her
garden. Ever your loving PATER.

Politics are not often touched upon in the letters of this
period, but an extract from a letter of October 25, 1891, is
of interest as giving his reason for supporting a Unionist
Government, many of whose tendencies he was far from
sympathising with

The extract from the Guardian is wonderful. The Glad-
stonian tee-to-tum cannot have many more revolutions to make.
The only thing left for him now, is to turn Agnostic, declare
Homer to be an old bloke of a ballad-monger, and agitate for
the prohibition of the study of Greek in all universities. . . .

It is just because I do not want to see our children involved
in civil war that I postpone all political considerations to keep-
ing up a Unionist Government.

I may be quite wrong; but right or wrong, it is no question
of party. ' Rads delight not me nor Tories neither," as Hamlet
does not say.

The following letter to Sir M. Foster shows how little
Huxley was now able to do in the way of public business
without being knocked up :

HODESLEA, Oct. 2O, iSgl.

MY DEAR FOSTER If I had known the nature of the proceed-
ings at the College of Physicians yesterday, I should have
braved the tedium of listening to a lecture I could not hear in
order to see you decorated. Clark had made a point of my going
to the dinner,* and, worse luck, I had to u say a few words "
after it, with the result that I am entirely washed out to-day, and
only able to send you the feeblest of congratulations. Ever
yours, T. H. HUXLEY.

The same thing appears in the following to Sir W. H.
Flower, which is also interesting for his opinion on the
question of promotion by seniority :

HODESLEA, EASTBOURNE, Oct. 23, 1891.

MY DEAR FLOWER My " next worst thing " was promoting a
weak man to a place of responsibility in lieu of a strong one, on
the mere ground of seniority.

* i.e. at the College of Physicians.



iSgi SENIORITY AND PROMOTION 3^

Caeteris paribns, or with even approximate equality of quali-
fications, no doubt seniority ought to count; but it is mere ruin
to any service to let it interfere with the promotion of men of
marked superiority, especially in the case of offices which in-
volve much responsibility.

I suppose as trustee I may requisition a copy of Woodward's
Catalogue. I should like to look a little more carefully at it. ...
We are none the worse for our pleasant glimpse of the world
(and his wife) at your house; but I find that speechifying at
public dinners is one of the luxuries that I must utterly deny
myself. It will take me three weeks' quiet to get over my esca-
pade. Ever yours very faithfully,



T.



H. HUXLEY.



CHAPTER XVIII
1892

THE revival of part of the former controversy which he
had had with Mr. Gladstone upon the story of creation,
made a warlike beginning of an otherwise very peaceful
year. Since the middle of December a great correspond-
ence had been going on in the Times, consequent upon the
famous manifesto of the thirty-eight Anglican clergy touch-
ing the question of inspiration and the infallibility of the
Bible. Criticism, whether " higher " or otherwise, defended
on the one side, was unsparingly denounced on the other.
After about a month of this correspondence, Huxley's name
was mentioned as one of these critics ; whereupon he was
attacked by one of the disputants for " misleading the pub-
lic ' by his assertion in the original controversy that while
reptiles appear in the geological record before birds, Gene-
sis affirms the contrary ; the critic declaring that the word
for " creeping things ' (rehmes) created on the sixth day,
does not refer to reptiles, which are covered by the " mov-
ing creatures ' (shehretz) used of the first appearance of
animal life.

It is interesting to see how, in his reply, Huxley took
care to keep the main points at issue separate from the
subordinate and unimportant ones. His answer is broken
up into four letters. The first (Times, January 26) rehearses
the original issue between himself and Mr. Gladstone ;
wherein both sides agreed that the creation of the sixth day
included reptiles, so that, formally at least, his position was
secure, though there was also a broader ground of differ-
ence to be considered. Before proceeding further, he asks



1892 FURTHER CONTROVERSY ON GENESIS 315

his critic whether he admits the existence of the contra-
diction involved, and if not, to state his reasons therefor.
These reasons were again given on February I as the new
interpretation of the two Hebrew words already referred to,
an interpretation, by the way, which makes the same word
stand both for " the vast and various population of the wa-
ters ' and <4 for such land animals as mice, weasels, and
lizards, great and small."

On February 3 appeared the second letter, in which, set-
ting aside the particular form which his argument against
Mr. Gladstone had taken, he described the broad differences
between the teachings of Genesis and the teachings of evo-
lution. He left the minor details as to the interpretation
of the words in dispute, which did not really affect the main
argument, to be dealt with in the next letter of February 4.
It was a question with which he had long been familiar, as
twenty years before he had, at Dr. Kalisch's request, gone
over the proofs of his Commentary on Leviticus.

The letter of February 3 is as follows :

While desirous to waste neither your space nor my own time
upon mere misrepresentations of what I have said elsewhere
about the relations between modern science and the so-called
" Mosaic" cosmogony, it seems needful that I should ask for
the opportunity of stating the case once more, as briefly and
fairly as I can.

I conceive the first chapter of Genesis to teach (i) that the
species of plants and animals owe their origin to supernatural
acts of creation; (2) that these acts took place at such times
and in such a manner that all the plants were created first, all
the aquatic and aerial animals (notably birds) next, and all
terrestrial animals last. I am not aware that any Hebrew
scholar denies that these propositions agree with the natural
sense of the text. Sixty years ago I was taught, as most people
were then taught, that they are guaranteed by Divine authority.

On the other hand, in my judgment, natural science teaches
no less distinctly (i) that the species of animals and plants
have originated by a process of natural evolution; (2) that this
process has taken place in such a manner that the species of
animals and plants, respectively, have come into existence one
after another throughout the whole period since they began to
exist on the earth ; that the species of plants and animals known



316 LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, xvm

to us are, as a whole, neither older nor younger the one than the
other.

The same holds good of aquatic and aerial species, as a
whole, compared with terrestrial species; but birds appear in the
geological record later than terrestrial reptiles, and there is
every reason to believe that they were evolved from the latter.

Until it is shown that the first two propositions are not con-
tained in the first chapter of Genesis, and that the second pair
are not justified by the present condition of our knowledge, I
must continue to maintain that natural science and the "Mosaic"
account of the origin of animals and plants are in irreconcilable
antagonism.

As I greatly desire that this broad issue should not be ob-
scured by the discussion of minor points, I propose to defer
what I may have to say about the great ' shehretz ' and
' rehmes " question till to-morrow.

On February 1 1 he wrote once more, again taking cer-
tain broader aspects of the problem presented by the first
chapter of Genesis. He expressed his belief, as he had
expressed it in 1869, that theism is not logically an-
tagonistic to evolution. If, he continues, the account in
Genesis, as Philo of Alexandria held, is only a poem or
allegory, where is the proof that any one non-natural inter-
pretation is the right one? and he concludes by pointing out
the difficulties in the way of those who, like the famous
thirty-eight, assert the infallibility of the Bible as guaranteed
by the infallibility of the Church.

Apart from letters and occasional controversy, he pub-
lished this year only one magazine article and a single vol-
ume of collected essays, though he was busy preparing the
Romanes Lecture for 1893, the more so because there was
some chance that Mr. Gladstone would be unable to deliver
the first of the lectures in 1892, and Huxley had promised
to be ready to take his place if necessary.

The volume (called Controverted Questions) which ap-
peared in 1892, was a collection of the essays of the last few
years, mainly controversial, or as he playfully called them,
' endeavours to defend a cherished cause," dealing with
agnosticism and the demonological and miraculous element
in Christianity. That they were controversial in tone no one



1892 CONTROVERTED QUESTIONS 317

lamented more than himself ; and as in the letter to M. de
Varigny, of November 25, 1891, so here in the prologue
he apologises for the fact.

This prologue, of which he writes to a friend, " It cost
me more time and pains than any equal number of pages
I have ever written," was designed to indicate the main
question, various aspects of which are dealt with by these
seemingly disconnected essays.

The historical evolution of humanity (he writes), which is
generally, and I venture to think not unreasonably, regarded as
progress, has been, and is being, accompanied by a co-ordinate
elimination of the supernatural from its originally large occu-
pation of men's thought. The question How far is this process
to go ? is, in my apprehension, the controverted question of our
time.

This movement, marked by the claim for the freedom of
private judgment, which first came to its fulness in the
Renascence, is here sketched out, rising or sinking by turns
under the pressure of social and political vicissitudes, from
Wiclif's earliest proposal to reduce the Supernaturalism of
Christianity within the limits sanctioned by the Scriptures,
down to the manifesto in the previous year of the thirty-
eight Anglican divines in defence of biblical infallibility,
which practically ends in an appeal to the very principle
they reject.

But he does not content himself with pointing out the
destructive effects of criticism upon the evidence in favour
of a " supernature " " The present incarnation of the spirit
of the Renascence," he writes, " differs from its predecessor
in the eighteenth century, in that it builds up, as well as
pulls down. That of which it has laid the foundation, of
which it is already raising the superstructure, is the doctrine
of evolution," a doctrine that " is no speculation, but a gen-
eralisation of certain facts, which may be observed by any
one who will ta"ke the necessary trouble." And in a short
dozen pages he sketches out that common body of estab-
lished truths ' to which it is his confident belief that ' all
future philosophical and theological speculations will have
to accommodate themselves.'



3jS LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, xvm

There is no need to recapitulate these ; they may be read
in Science and Christian Tradition, the fifth volume of the
Collected Essays, but it is worth noticing that in conclusion,
after rejecting " a great many supernaturalistic theories and
legends which have no better foundations than those of
heathenism," he declares himself as far from wishing to
" throw the Bible aside as so much waste paper " as he was
at the establishment of the School Board in 1870. As Eng-
lish literature, as world-old history, as moral teaching, as
the Magna Charta of the poor and of the oppressed, the
most democratic book in the world, he could not spare it.
" I do not say," he adds, " that even the highest biblical ideal
is exclusive of others or needs no supplement. But I do be-
lieve that the human race is not yet, possibly may never be,
in a position to dispense with it."

It was this volume that led to the writing of the maga-
zine article referred to above. The republication in it of the
" Agnosticism," originally written in reply to an article of
Mr. Frederic Harrison's, induced the latter to disclaim in
the Fortnightly Review the intimate connection assumed to
exist between his views and the system of Positivism de-
tailed by Comte, and at the same time to offer the olive
branch to his former opponent. But while gratefully ac-
cepting the goodwill implied in the offer, Huxley still de-
clared himself unable to " give his assent to a single doctrine
which is the peculiar property of Positivism, old or new,"
nor to agree with Mr. Harrison when he wanted

to persuade us that agnosticism is only the Court of the Gentiles
of the Positivist temple; and that those who profess ignorance
about the proper solution of certain speculative problems ought
to call themselves Positivists of the Gate, if it happens that
they also take a lively interest in social and political questions.

This essay, " An Apologetic Irenicon," contains more
than one passage of personal interest, which are the more
worth quoting here, as the essay has not been republished.
It was to have been included in a tenth volume of collected
Essays, along with a number of others which he projected,
but never wrote.



1892 "AN APOLOGETIC IRENICON"

Thus, begging the Positivists not to regard him as a rival
or competitor in the business of instructing the human race,
he says :

I aspire to no such elevated and difficult situation. I declare
myself not only undesirous of it, but deeply conscious of a con-
stitutional unfitness for it. Age and hygienic necessities bind
me to a somewhat anchoritic life in pure air, with abundant
leisure to meditate upon the wisdom of Candide's sage aphorism,
" Cultivons notre jardin" especially if the term garden may
be taken broadly and applied to the stony and weed-grown
ground within my skull, as well as to a few perches of more
promising chalk down outside it. In addition to these effectual
bars to any of the ambitious pretensions ascribed to me, there is
another : of all possible positions that of master of a school, or
leader of a sect, or chief of a party, appears to me to be the
most undesirable ; in fact, the average British matron cannot
look upon followers with a more evil eye than I do. Such
acquaintance with the history of thought as I possess, has taught
me to regard schools, parties, and sects, as arrangements, the
usual effect of which is to perpetuate all that is worst and
feeblest in the master's, leader's, or founder's work; or else, as
in some cases, to upset it altogether; as a sort of hydrants for
extinguishing the fire of genius, and for stifling the flame of
high aspirations, the kindling of which has been the chief, per-
haps the only, merit of the protagonist of the movement. I
have always been, am, and propose to remain a mere scholar.
All that I have ever proposed to myself is to say, this and this
have I learned; thus and thus have I learned it: go thou and
learn better; but do not thrust on my shoulders the responsibility
for your own laziness if you elect to take, on my authority, con-
clusions, the value of which you ought to have tested for your-
self.

Again, replying to the reproach that all his public utter-
ances had been of a negative character, that the great prob-
lems of human life had been entirely left out of his purview,
he defends once more the work of the man who clears the
ground for the builders to come after him :

There is endless backwoodsman's work yet to be done. If

' those also serve who only stand and wait," still more do those

who sweep and cleanse; and if any man elect to give his strength

to the weeder's and scavenger's occupation, I remain of the opin-



320



LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, xvm



ion that his service should be counted acceptable, and that no
one has a right to ask more of him than faithful performance of
the duties he has undertaken. I venture to count it an improb-
able suggestion that any such person a man, let us say, who has
well-nigh reached his threescore years and ten, and has gradu-
ated in all the faculties of human relationships; who has taken
his share in all the deep joys and deeper anxieties which cling
about them; who has felt the burden of young lives entrusted
to his care, and has stood alone with his dead before the abyss
of the eternal has never had a thought beyond negative criti-
cism. It seems to me incredible that such an one can have done
his day's work, always with a light heart, with no sense of
responsibility, no terror of that which may appear when the
factitious veil of Isis the thick web of fiction man has woven
round nature is stripped off.

Challenged to state his "mental bias, pro or con," with
regard to such matters as Creation, Providence, etc., he re-
iterates his words written thirty-two years before :

So far back as 1860 I wrote :

" The doctrine of special creation owes its existence very
largely to the supposed necessity of making science accord with
the Hebrew cosmogony ;' : and that the hypothesis of special
creation is, in my judgment, a '' mere specious mask for our
ignorance." Not content with negation, I said :

" Harmonious order governing eternally continuous prog-
ress ; the web and woof of matter and force interweaving by
slow degrees, without a broken thread, that veil which lies be-
tween us and the infinite ; that universe which alone we know,
or can know; such is the picture which science draws of the
world."

. . . Every reader of Goethe will know that the second is
little more than a paraphrase of the well-known utterance of the
" Zeitgeist "' in Faust, which surely is something more than a
mere negation of the clumsy anthropomorphism of special cre-
ation.

Follows a query about " Providence," my answer to which
must depend upon what my questioner means by that substan-
tive, whether alone, or qualified by the adjective " moral."

If the doctrine of a Providence is to be taken as the expres-
sion, in a way " to be understanded of the people," of the total
exclusion of chance from a place even in the most insignificant
corner of Nature, if it means the strong conviction that the



1892 FORECAST OF THE ROMANES LECTURE 321

cosmic process is rational, and the faith that, throughout all
duration, unbroken order has reigned in the universe, I not only
accept it, but I am disposed to think it the most important of all
truths. As it is of more consequence for a citizen to know the
law than to be personally acquainted with the features of those
who will surely carry it into effect, so this very positive doc-
trine of Providence, in the sense defined, seems to me far more
important than all the theorems of speculative theology. If,
further, the doctrine is held to imply that, in some indefinitely
remote past aeon, the cosmic process was set going by some
entity possessed of intelligence and foresight, similar to our own
in kind, however superior in degree, if, consequently, it is held
that every event, not merely in our planetary speck, but in un-
told millions of other worlds, was foreknown before these worlds
were, scientific thought, so far as I know anything about it, has
nothing to say against that hypothesis. It is, in fact, an anthro-
pomorphic rendering of the doctrine of evolution.

It may be so, but the evidence accessible to us is, to my mind,
wholly insufficient to warrant either a positive or a negative con-
clusion.

He remarks in passing upon the entire exclusion of
" special ' providences by this conception of a universal
" Providence." As for " moral ' providence :



So far as mankind has acquired the conviction that the
observance of certain rules of conduct is essential to the main-
tenance of social existence, it may be proper to say that " Provi-
dence," operating through men, has generated morality. Within
the limits of a fraction of a fraction of the living world, there-
fore, there is a " moral '' providence. Through this small plot
of an infinitesimal fragment of the universe there runs a
" stream of tendency towards righteousness." But outside the
very rudimentary germ of a garden of Eden, thus watered, I am
unable to discover any " moral ' purpose, or anything but a
stream of purpose towards the consummation of the cosmic
process, chiefly by means of the struggle for existence, which is



Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 28 of 49)