Thomas Henry Huxley.

Life and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley online

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best services to a cause he had always had at heart, though
he wrote :

There are some points in which I go further than your pro-
posals, but they are so much, to my mind, in the right direction
that I gladly support them.

And again :

The Association scheme is undoubtedly a compromise but
it is a compromise which takes us the right way, while the
former schemes led nowhere except to chaos.

He writes to Sir W. H. Flower :

professions, a fair sprinkling of one-idea'd fanatics, ignorant of the
commonest conventions of official relation, and content with nothing
if they cannot get everything their own way. It is these persons
who, with the very highest and purest intentions, would ruin any
administrative body unless they were counterpoised by non-profes-
sional, common-sense members of recognised weight and authority in
the conduct of affairs." Furthermore, against the adoption of a Ger-
man university system, he continues, " In holding up the University
of Berlin as our model, I think you fail to attach sufficient weight to
the considerations that there is no Minister of Public Instruction in
these realms ; that a great many of us would rather have no university
at all than one under the control of such a minister, and whose high-
est representatives might come to be, not the fittest men, but those
who stood foremost in the good graces of the powers that be, whether
Demos, Ministry, or Sovereign."



MY DEAR FLOWER I had quite given up the hope that any-
thing but some wretched compromise would come of the Univer-
sity Commission, w r hen I found, to my surprise, no less than
gratification, that a strong party among the younger men were
vigorously taking the matter up in the right (that is, my) sense.

In spite of all my good resolves to be a " hermit old in
mossy cell," I have enlisted for ambulance service if nothing

The move is too important to spare oneself if one can be of
any good. Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

Of his work in this position Professor Karl Pearson says,
in a letter to me :

Professor Huxley gallantly came to lead a somewhat forlorn
hope, that of establishing a really great university in London.
He worked, as may naturally be supposed, with energy and per-
sistence, and one, who like myself was not in full sympathy with
the lines he took, can but admire the vigour he threw into the
movement. Nothing came of it practically; . . . but Professor
Huxley's leadership did, at any rate, a great deal to unite the
London teachers, and raise their ideal of a true university, while
at the same time helping to repress the self-interests of many
persons and institutions which had been before very much to the

Clearly this is the sort of thing referred to in a letter of
December 20 :

Got through the Association business very well, but had to
show that I am the kind of head that does not lend itself to
wagging by the tail.

The Senate of the University of London showed practi-
cal unanimity in accepting the idea of taking on teaching
functions if the Commission should think it desirable,
though the Medical Schools were still desirous of getting
their degree granted on the mere license examination of the
Royal Colleges, without any evidence of general culture or
academical training, and on July 28 Huxley writes :

The decision of the representatives of the Medical Schools
is just such as I should have expected. I always told my col-
leagues in the Senate of the University of London that such



was their view, and that, in the words of Pears' advertisement,
they " would not be happy till they got it."

And they won't get it unless the medical examining bodies
are connected into a distinct degree-giving body.

In the course of the autumn matters seemed to be pro-
gressing. He writes to Sir M. Foster, November 9 :

I am delighted to say that Paget has taken up the game, and
I am going to a committee of the University this day week to try
my powers of persuasion. If the Senate can only be got to see
where salvation lies and strike hard without any fooling over
details, we shall do a great stroke of business for the future
generations of Londoners.

And by the end of the year he writes :

I think we are going to get something done, as the Senate
of the U.L. has come into line with us, and I hope University
College will do the same.

Meanwhile he was asked if he would appear before the
Commission and give evidence to " talk without interroga-
tion " so as to convince the Commission of the inadequacy
of the teaching of science in general and of the absence of
means and appliances for the higher teaching. This he did
early in January 1893, representing partly his own views,
partly those of the Association, to whom he read what he
proposed to say, before being authorised to speak on their

His position is finally defined by the following letter :

Feb. 9, 1893.

DEAR PROFESSOR WELDON I wish anything I have said or
shall say about the organisation of the new University to be
taken in connection with the following postulates which I con-
ceive to be of primary importance :

1. The New University is not to be a separate body from
the present University of London.

2. All persons giving academic instruction of a certain rank
are to be " University Professors."

3. The Senate is to contain a large proportion of representa-
tives of the " University Professors ' : with a limited term of
office (say five years).


4. The University chest is to receive all fees and other funds
for University purposes; and the Professors are to be paid out
of it, according to work done for the University thus putting
an end to the present commercial competition of teaching insti-

5. In all questions of Teaching, Examination, and Discipline
the authority of the Senate is to be supreme (saving appeal to
the Privy Council).

Your questions will be readily answered if these postulates
are kept in view.

In the case you put, the temptation to rivalry would not
exist; and I should imagine that the Senate would refuse funds
for the purpose of duplicating an existing Institution, unless
very strong grounds for so doing could be shown. In short,
they would adopt the plan which commends itself to you.

That to which I am utterly opposed is the creation of an
Established Church Scientific, with a hierarchical organisation
and a professorial Episcopate. I am fully agreed with you that
all trading competition between different teaching institutions
is a thing to be abolished (see No. 4 above).

On the other hand, intellectual competition is a very good
thing, and perfect freedom of learning and teaching the best of
all things.

If you put a physical, chemical, or biological bishop at the
head of the teachers of those sciences in London, you will do
your best to destroy that freedom. My bar to any catastrophe
of that sort lies in No. 3. Let us take the case of Biology. I
suppose there will be, at least, half a dozen Professoriates in
different branches of this subject; each Professor will be giving
the same amount of time and energy to University work, and
will deserve the same pay. Each, if he is worth his salt, will
be a man holding his own views on general questions, and hav-
ing as good a right as any other to be heard. Why is one to be
given a higher rank and vastly greater practical influence than
all the rest ? Why should not each be a " University Professor ' :
and have his turn on the Senate in influencing the general policy
of the University? The nature of things drives men more and
more into the position of specialists. Why should one specialist
represent a whole branch of science better than another, in
Council or in Administration ?

I am afraid we cannot build upon the analogy of Cambridge.
In the first place London is not Cambridge ; and, in the second,
Michael Fosters do not grow on every bush.


The besetting sin of able men is impatience of contradiction
and of criticism. Even those who do their best to resist the
temptation, yield to it almost unconsciously and become the tools
of toadies and flatterers. '* Authorities," ' disciples," and
" schools " are the curse of science ; and do more to interfere
with the work of the scientific spirit than all its enemies.

Thus you will understand why I have so strongly opposed
" absorption." No one can feel more strongly than I the need of
getting the present chaos into order and putting an end to the
absurd waste of money and energy. But I believe that end may
be attained by the method of unification which I have suggested ;
without bringing in its train the evils which will inevitably flow
from " absorptive ' ' regimentation.

What I want to see is such an organisation of the means
and appliances of University instruction in all its branches, as
will conduce to the largest possible freedom of research, learn-
ing, and teaching. And if anybody will show me a better way
to that end than through the measures I have suggested, I will
gladly leave all and follow him. I am yours very faithfully,


P.S. Will you be so kind as to let Professor Lankester see
this letter, as I am writing to him and shirk the labour of going
over the whole ground again.

His last public activity, indeed, was on behalf of Univer-
sity reform, when in January 1895 he represented not only
the Association, but, in the enforced absence of Sir James
Paget, the Senate of the University also, on a deputation
to Lord Rosebery, then Prime Minister, to whom he wrote
asking if he were willing to receive such a deputation.


DEAR LORD ROSEBERY A number of scientific people, in fact
I think I may say all the leading men of science, and especially
teachers in the country, are very anxious to see the University of
London reorganised upon the general principles set forth in the
Report of the last Royal Commission.

To this end nothing is wanted but the institution of a strong
Statutory Commission ; and we have all been hoping that a Bill
would be introduced for that purpose.

It is rumoured that there are lions in the path. But even
lions are occasionally induced to retreat by the sight of a large


body of beaters. And some of us think that such a deputation
as would willingly wait on you, might hasten the desired move-

We proposed something of the kind to Mr. Acland months
ago, but nothing has come of the suggestion not, I am sure,
from any want of good will to our cause on his part.

Within the last few days I have been so strongly urged to
bring the matter before you, that in spite of some doubts as to
the propriety of going beyond my immediate chief the V.P. even
in my private capacity I venture to make this appeal. I am,
dear Lord Rosebery, faithfully yours,



SEVERAL letters of this year touch on educational sub-
jects. The following advice as to the best training for a boy
in science, was addressed to Mr. Briton Riviere, R.A. :

HODESLEA, June 19, 1892.

MY DEAR RIVIERE Touching the training of your boy who
wants to go in for science, I expect you will have to make a
compromise between that which is theoretically desirable and
that which is practically most advantageous, things being as
they are.

Though I say it that shouldn't, I don't believe there is so
good a training in physical science to be got anywhere as in our
College at South Kensington. But Bernard could hardly with
advantage take this up until he is seventeen at least. What he
would profit by most as a preliminary, is training in the habit
of expressing himself well and clearly in English; training in
mathematics and the elements of physical science ; in French and
German, so as to read those languages easily especially Ger-
man; in drawing not for hifalutin art, of which he will prob-
ably have enough in the blood but accurate dry reproduction
of form one of the best disciplines of the powers of observation

On the other hand, in the way of practical advantage in
any career, there is a great deal to be said for sending a clever
boy to Oxford or Cambridge. There are not only the exhibitions
and scholarships, but there is the rubbing shoulders with the
coming generation which puts a man in touch with his contem-
poraries as hardly anything else can do. A very good scientific
education is to be had at both Cambridge and Oxford, especially
Cambridge now.

In the case of sending to the university, putting through



the Latin and Greek mill will be indispensable. And if he is
not going to make the classics a serious study, there will be a
serious waste of time and energy.

So much in all these matters depends on the x contained in
the boy himself. If he has the physical and mental energy to
make a mark in science, I should drive him straight at science,
taking care that he got a literary training through English,
French, and German. An average capacity, on the other hand,
may be immensely helped by university means of flotation.

But who in the world is to say how the x will turn out,
before the real strain begins ? One might as well prophesy the
effect of a glass of " hot-with ' when the relative quantities of
brandy, water, and sugar are unknown. I am sure the large
quantity of brandy and the very small quantity of sugar in my
composition were suspected neither by myself, nor any one else,
until the rows into which wicked men persisted in involving
me began !

And that reminds me that I forgot to tell the publishers to
send you a copy of my last peace-offering, and that one will be
sent you by to-morrow's post. There is nothing new except the
prologue, the sweet reasonableness of which will, I hope, meet
your approbation.

It is not my fault if you have had to toil through this fright-
fully long screed ; Mrs. Riviere, to whom our love, said you
wanted it. " Tu 1'as voulu, Georges Dandin." Ever yours very
faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

The following deals with State intervention in inter-
mediate education :

(For Sunday morning's leisure, or take it to church and read
it in your hat.)


MY DEAR DONNELLY Best thanks for sending on my letter.
I do not suppose it will do much good, but, at any rate, I thought
I ought to try to prevent their making a mess of medical edu-

I like \vhat I have seen of Acland. He seemed to have both
intelligence and volition.

As to intermediate education I have never favoured the
notion of State intervention in this direction.

I think there are only two valid grounds for State meddling
with education : the one the danger to the community which



arises from dense ignorance; the other, the advantage to the
community of giving capable men the chance of utilising their

The first furnishes the justification for compulsory ele-
mentary education. If a child is taught reading, writing, draw-
ing, and handiwork of some kind; the elements of mathematics,
physics, and history, and I should add of political economy and
geography; books will furnish him with everything he can pos-
sibly need to make him a competent citizen in any rank of life.

If w 7 ith such a start, he has not the capacity to get all he
needs out of books, let him stop where he is. Blow him up with
intermediate education as much as you like, you will only do
the fellow a mischief and lift him into a place for which he has
no real qualification. People never will recollect, that mere
learning and mere cleverness are of next to no value in life,
while energy and intellectual grip, the things that are inborn
and cannot be taught, are everything.

The technical education act goes a long way to meet the
second claim of the State ; so far as scientific and industrial
capacities are concerned. In a few years there will be no reason
why any potential Whitworth or Faraday, in the three king-
doms, should not readily obtain the best education that is to
be had, scientific or technical. The same will hold good for Art.
So the question that arises seems to me to be whether the State
ought or ought not to do something of the same kind for Litera-
ture, Philosophy, History, and Philology.

I am inclined to think not, on the ground that the univer-
sities and public schools ought to do this very work, and that
as soon as they cease to be clericalised seminaries they probably
will do it.

If the present government would only give up their Irish
fad and bring in a bill to make it penal for any parson to hold
any office in a public school or university or to presume to teach
outside the pulpit they should have my valuable support !

I should not wonder if Gladstone's mind is open on the sub-
ject. Pity I am not sufficiently a persona grata with him to
offer to go to Hawarden and discuss it.

I quite agree with you, therefore, that it will play the deuce
if intermediate education is fossilised as it would be by any Act
prepared under present influences. The most I should like to
see done, would be to help the youth of special literary, linguistic
and so forth, capacity, to get the best training in their special


It was lucky we did not go to you. My wife got an awful
dose of neuralgia and general upset, and was laid up at the
Hotel. The house was not quite finished inside, but we came
in on Tuesday, and she has been getting better ever since in
spite of the gale.

I am sorry to hear of the recurrence of influenza. It is a
beastly thing. Lord Justice Bowen told me he has had it every
time it has been in the country. You must come and try East-
bourne air as soon as we are settled. With our love to you and
Mrs. Donnelly Ever yours, T. H. HUXLEY.

Better be careful, I return all letters on which R.H. is not
in full.

The next is to a voting man with aspirations after an
intellectual career, who asked his advice as to the propriety
of throwing up his business, and plunging into literature or
science :


DEAR SIR I am very sorry that the pressure of other occu-
pations has prevented me from sending an earlier reply to your

In my opinion a man's first duty is to find a way of support-
ing himself, thereby relieving other people of the necessity of
supporting him. Moreover, the learning to do work of prac-
tical value in the world, in an exact and careful manner, is of
itself a very important education, the effects of which make
themselves felt in all other pursuits. The habit of doing that
which you do not care about when you would much rather be
doing something else, is invaluable. It would have saved me a
frightful waste of time if I had ever had it drilled into me in

Success in any scientific career requires an unusual equip-
ment of capacity, industry, and energy. If you possess that
equipment you will find leisure enough after your daily com-
mercial work is over, to make an opening in the scientific ranks
for yourself. If you do not, you had better stick to commerce.
Nothing is less to be desired than the fate of a young man, who,
as the Scotch proverb says, in " trying to make a spoon spoils a
horn," and becomes a mere hanger-on in literature or in science,
when he might have been a useful and a valuable member of
Society in other occupations.

I think that your father ought to see this letter. Yours
faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.



The last of the series, addressed to the secretary of a
free-thought association, expresses his firmly rooted disgust
at the use of mere ribaldry in attacking the theological
husks which enclose a religious ideal.

May 22, 1892.

DEAR SIR I regret that I am unable to comply with the
wish of your committee. For one thing, I am engaged in work
which I do not care to interrupt, and for another, I always
make it a rule in these matters to " fight for my own hand." 1
do not desire that anyone should share my responsibility for
what I think fit to say, and I do not wish to be responsible for
the opinions and modes of expression of other persons.

I do not say this with any reference to Mr. , who is a

sober and careful writer. But both as a matter of principle and
one of policy, I strongly demur to a great deal of what appears
as "free thought" literature, and I object to be in any way
connected with it. Heterodox ribaldry disgusts me, I confess,
rather more than orthodox fanaticism. It is at once so easy;
so stupid ; such a complete anachronism in England, and so
thoroughly calculated to disgust and repel the very thoughtful
and serious people whom it ought to be the great aim to attract.
Old Noll knew what he was about when he said that it was of
no use to try to fight the gentlemen of England with tapsters
and serving-men. It is quite as hopeless to fight Christianity
with scurrility. We want a regiment of Ironsides.

This summer brought Huxley a most unexpected dis-
tinction in the shape of admission to the Privy Council.
Mention has already been made (Vol. I. p. 386) of his rea-
sons for refusing to accept a title for distinction in science,
apart from departmental administration. The proper recog-
nition of science, he maintained, lay in the professional rec-
ognition of a man's work by his peers in science, the mem-
bers of the learned societies of his own and other countries.

But, as has been said, the Privy Councillorship was an
office, not a title, although with a title attaching to the office ;
and in theory, at least, a scientific Privy Councillor might
some day play an important part as an accredited repre-
sentative of science, to be consulted officially by the Govern-
ment, should occasion arise.

Of a selection of letters on the subject, mostly answers


to congratulations, I place first the one to Sir M. Foster,
which gives the fullest account of the affair.


MY DEAR FOSTER I am very glad you think I have done
rightly about the P.C. ; but in fact I could hardly help myself.

Years and years ago I was talking to Donnelly about these
things, and told him that so far as myself was concerned, I
would have nothing to do with official decorations didn't object
to other people having them, especially heads of offices, like
Hooker and Flower but preferred to keep clear myself. But
I added that there was one thing I did not mind telling him,
because no English Government would ever act upon my opinion
and that was that the P.C. was a fit and proper recognition
for science and letters. I have no doubt that he has kept this
in mind ever since in fact Lord Salisbury's letter (which was
very handsome) showed he had been told of my obiter dictum.
Donnelly was the first channel of inquiry whether I would ac-
cept, and was very strong that I should.

So you see if I had wished to refuse it, it would have been
difficult and ungracious. But, on the whole, I thought the
precedent good. Playfair tells me he tried to get it done in the
case of Faraday and Babbage thirty years ago, and the thing
broke down. Moreover a wicked sense of the comedy of ad-
vancing such a pernicious heretic, helped a good deal.

The worst of it is, I have just had a summons to go to
Osborne on Thursday and it is as much as I shall be able
to do.

We have been in South Wales, in the neighbourhood of
the Colliers, and are on our way to the Wallers for the Festival
week at Gloucester. We hope to get back to Eastbourne in the
latter half of September and find the house clean swept and
garnished. After that, by the way, it is not nice to say that we
shall hope to have a visit from Mrs. Foster and you.

With our love to you both Ever yours,


I am glad you are resting, but oh, why another Congress !


MY DEAR DONNELLY You have been and done me at last,
you betrayer of confidence. This is what comes of confiding
one's pet weakness to a bosom-friend !

But I can't deny my own words, or the accuracy of your



devil of a memory and, moreover, I think the precedent of
great importance.

I have always been dead against orders of merit and the
like, but I think that men of letters and science who have been
of use to the nation (Lord knows if I have) may fairly be

Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 30 of 49)