Thomas Henry Huxley.

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truth of which I venture to be exceedingly doubtful. How does
he know that what he saw was a snake ? The neighbourhood of
a creature of this kind, within axe-stroke, is hardly conducive to
calm scientific investigation, and I can answer for it that the
discrimination of genuine sea-snakes in their native element
from long-bodied fish is not always easy. Further, that " back
fin " troubles me ; looks, if I may say so, very fishy.

If the caution about mixing up observations with conclu-
sions, which I ventured to give yesterday, were better attended
to, I think we should hear very little either about antiquated
sea-serpents or new " mesmerism."

It is perhaps not superfluous to point out that in this,
as in other cases of the marvellous, he did not merely
pooh-pooh a story on the ground of its antecedent improba-
bility, but rested his acceptance or rejection of it upon the
strength of the evidence adduced. On the other hand, the
weakness of such evidence as was brought forward time
after time, was a justification for refusing to spend his time
in listening to similar stories based on similar testimony.

Among the many journalistic absurdities which fall in
the way of celebrities, two which happened this year are
worth recording ; the one on account of its intrinsic extrava-
gance, which succeeded nevertheless in taking in quite a
number of sober folk ; the other on account of the letter it
drew from Huxley about his cat. The former appeared in
the shape of a highly-spiced advertisement about certain
Manx Mannikins, which could walk, draw, play, in fact do

i8 9 3 HIS CATS 369

everything but speak were living pets which might be kept
by anyone, and indeed Professor Huxley was the possessor
of a remarkably fine pair of them. Apply, enclosing stamps
etc. Of course, the wonderful mannikins were nothing more
than the pair of hands which anybody could dress up
according to the instructions of the advertiser ; but it was
astonishing how many estimable persons took them for
some hisiis naturcc. A similar advertisement in 1880 had
been equally successful, and one exalted personage wrote
by the hand of a secretary to say what pleasure and interest
had been excited by the description of these strange crea-
tures, and begging Professor Huxley to state if the account
was true. Accordingly on January 27 he whites to his wife,
who was on a visit to her daughter :

Yesterday two ladies called to know if they could see the
Manx Mannikins. I think of having a board put up to say that
in the absence of the Proprietress the show is closed.

The other incident was a request for any remarks which
might be of use in an article upon the Home Pets of
Celebrities. I give the letter written in answer to this, as
well as descriptions of the same cat's goings-on in the
absence of its mistress.


HODESLEA, April 12, 1893.

A long series of cats has reigned over my household for the
last forty years, or thereabouts, but I am sorry to say that I have
no pictorial or other record of their physical and moral excel-

The present occupant of the throne is a large, young, grey
Tabby Oliver by name. Not that he is in any sense a protector,
for I doubt whether he has the heart to kill a mouse. However,
I saw him catch and eat the first butterfly of the season, and
trust that this germ of courage, thus manifested, may develop
with age into efficient mousing.

As to sagacity, I should say that his judgment respecting
the warmest place and the softest cushion in a room is infallible
his punctuality at meal times is admirable; and his pertinacity
in jumping on people's shoulders, till they give him some of the
best of what is going, indicates great firmness.





I wish you would write seriously to M . She is not

behaving well to Oliver. I have seen handsomer kittens, but
few more lively, and energetically destructive. Just now he

scratched away at something that M says cost 135. 6d. a

yard and reduced more or less of it to combings.

M therefore excludes him from the dining-room, and all

those opportunities of higher education which he would natu-
rally have in my house.

I have argued that it is as immoral to place 133. 6d. a yard-
nesses within reach of kittens as to hang bracelets and diamond
rings in the front garden. But in vain. Oliver is banished
and the protector (not Oliver) is sat upon. In truth and justice
aid your Pa.

[This letter is embellished with fancy portraits of

Oliver when most quiescent (tail up; ready for action).
O. as polisher (tearing at the table leg).
O. as plate basket investigator.
O. as gardener (destroying plants in a pot).
O. as stocking knitter (a wild tangle of cat and wool).
O. as political economist making good for trade at 135. 6d. a
yard (pulling at a hassock).]

The following to Sir John Evans refers to a piece of
temporary forgetfulness.


MY DEAR EVANS It is curious what a difference there is
between intentions and acts, especially in the matter of sending
cheques. The moment I saw the project of the Lawes and Gil-
bert testimonial in the Times, I sent my contribution in imagina-
tion and it is only the arrival of this circular which has waked
me up to the necessity of supplementing my ideal cheque by the
real one inclosed. Ever yours very faithfully,


Reference has been made to the writing of the Romanes
Lecture in 1892. Mr. Gladstone had already consented
to deliver the first lecture in that year ; and early in the
summer Professor Romanes sounded Huxley to find out


whether he would undertake the second lecture for 1893.
Huxley suggested a possible bar in his precarious health ;
but subject to this possibility, if the Vice-Chancellor did not
regard it as a complete disability, was willing to accept a
formal invitation.

Professor Romanes reassured him upon this point, and
further begged him, if possible, to be ready to step into the
breach if Mr. Gladstone should be prevented from lecturing
in the following autumn. The situation became irresistible,
and the second of the following letters to Mr. Romanes
displays no more hesitation.


HODESLEA, June 3, 1892.

I should have written to you yesterday, but the book did not
arrive till this morning. Very many thanks for it. It looks
appetising, and I look forward to the next course.

As to the Oxford lecture, "Verily, thou almost persuadest
me," though I thought I had finished lecturing. I really should
like to do it; but I have a scruple about accepting an engagement
of this important kind, which I might not be able to fulfil.

I am astonishingly restored, and have not had a trace of
heart trouble for months. But I am quite aware that I am,
physically speaking, on good behaviour and maintain my con-
dition only by taking an amount of care which is very distaste-
ful to me.

Furthermore, my wife's health is, I am sorry to say, ex-
tremely precarious. She was very ill a fortnight ago, and to
my very great regret, as well as hers, we are obliged to give up
our intended visit to Balliol to-morrow. She is quite unfit to
travel, and I cannot leave her here alone for three days.

I think the state of affairs ought to be clear to the Vice-
Chancellor. If, in his judgment, it constitutes no hindrance, and
he does me the honour to send the invitation, I shall accept it.


HODESLEA, Jime 7, 1892.

I am afraid that age hath not altogether cleared the spirit of
mischief out of rny blood; and there is something so piquant in
the notion of my acting as substitute for Gladstone that I will
be ready if necessity arises.



Of course I will keep absolutely clear of Theology. But I
have long had fermenting in my head, some notions about the
relations of Ethics and Evolution (or rather the absence of such
as are commonly supposed), which I think will be interesting to
such an audience as I may expect. ' Without prejudice," as the
lawyers say, that is the sort of topic that occurs to me.


HODESLEA, Oct. 30, 1892.

I had to go to London in the middle of last week about the
Gresham University business, and I trust I have put a very long
nail into the coffin of that scheme. For which good service you
will forgive my delay in replying to your letter. I read all about
your show why not call it " George's Gorgeous," tout court?

I should think that there is no living man, who, on such an
occasion, could intend and contrive to say so much and so well
(in form) without ever rising above the level of antiquarian

My lecture would have been ready if the G.O.M. had failed
you, but I am very glad to have six months' respite, as I now
shall be able to write and rewrite it to my heart's content.

I will follow the Gladstonian precedent touching cap and
gown but I trust the Vice-Chancellor will not ask me to take
part in a " Church Parade " and read the lessons. I couldn't

As to the financial part of the business, to tell you the honest
truth, I would much rather not be paid at all for a piece of work
of this kind. I am no more averse to turning an honest penny
by my brains than any one else in the ordinary course of things
quite the contrary ; but this is not an ordinary occasion. How-
ever, this is a pure matter of taste, and I do not want to set a
precedent which might be inconvenient to other people so I
agree to what you propose.

By the way, is there any type-writer who is to be trusted in
Oxford? Some time ago I sent a MS. to a London type-writer,
and to my great disgust I shortly afterwards saw an announce-
ment that I was engaged on the topic.

On the following day he writes to his wife, who was
staying with her youngest daughter in town :

The Vice-Chancellor has written to me and I have fixed May
exact day by and by. Mrs. Romanes has written a crispy little


letter to remind us of our promise to go there, and I have chir-
rupped back.

The " chirrup ' ran as follows :

HODESLEA, Nov. I, l8g2.

MY DEAR MRS. ROMANES I have just written to the Vice-
Chancellor to say that I hope to be at his disposition any time
next May.

My wife is " larking " I am sorry to use such a word, but
what she is pleased to tell me of her doings leaves me no alterna-
tive in London, whither I go on Thursday to fetch her back
in chains, if necessary. But I know, in the matter of being
" taken in and done for " by your hospitable selves, I may, for
once, speak for her as well as myself.

Don't ask anybody above the rank of a younger son of a
Peer because I shall not be able to go in to dinner before him
or her and that part of my dignity is naturally what I prize

Would you not like me to come in my P.C. suit? All ablaze
with gold, and costing a sum with which I could buy oh ! so
many books !

Only if your late experiences should prompt you to instruct
your other guests not to contradict me don't. I rather like it.
Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

Bon Voyage! You can tell Mr. Jones * that I will have him
brought before the Privy Council and fined, as in the good old
days, if he does not treat you properly.

This letter was afterwards published in Mrs. Romanes'
Life of her husband, and three letters on that occasion, and
particularly that in which Huxley tried to guard her from
any malicious interpretation of his jests, are to be found on
p. 403.

On the afternoon of May 18, 1893, he delivered at
Oxford his Romanes Lecture, on " Evolution and Ethics,"
a study of the relation of ethical and evolutionary theory in
the history of philosophy, the text of which is that while
morality is necessarily a part of the order of nature, still the
ethical principle is opposed to the self-regarding principle
on which cosmic evolution has taken place. Society is a

* The hotel-keeper in Madeira.



part of nature, but would be dissolved by a return to the
natural state of simple warfare among individuals. It fol-
lows that ethical systems based on the principles of cosmic
evolution are not logically sound. A study of the essays of
the foregoing ten years will show that he had more than
once enunciated this thesis, and it had been one of the
grounds of his long-standing criticism of Mr. Spencer's

Nevertheless, the doctrine seemed to take almost every-
body by surprise. The drift of the lecture was equally mis-
understood by critics of opposite camps. Huxley was popu-
larly supposed to hold the same views as Mr. Spencer
for were they not both Evolutionists ? On general attention
being called to the existing difference between their views,
some jumped to the conclusion that Huxley was offering a
general recantation of evolution, others that he had dis-
carded his former theories of ethics. On the one hand he
was branded as a deserter from free thought ; on the other,
hailed almost as a convert to orthodoxy. It was irritating,
but little more than he had expected. The conditions of the
lecture forbade any reference to politics or religion ; hence
much had to be left unsaid, which was supplied next year
in the Prolegomena prefacing the re-issue of the lecture.

After all possible trimming and compression, he still
feared the lecture would be too long, and would take more
than an hour to deliver, especially if the audience was likely
to be large, for the numbers must be considered in refer-
ence to the speed of speaking. But he had taken even more
pains than usual with it. " The Lecture," he writes to Pro-
fessor Romanes on April 19, " has been in type for weeks,
if not months, as I have been taking an immensity of trouble
over it. And I can judge of nothing till it is in type." But
this very precaution led to unexpected complications. When
the proposition to lecture was first made to him, he was not
sent a copy of the statute ordering that publication in the
first instance should lie with the University Press; and in
view of the proviso that " the Lecturer is free to publish on
his own behalf in any other form he may like," he had taken
Prof. Romanes' original reference to publication by the

Portrait from a Photograph by Mayall, 1893.





Press to be a subsidiary request to which he gladly assented.
However, a satisfactory arrangement was speedily arrived
at with the publishers ; Huxley remarking :

" All I have to say is, do not let the University be in any way
a loser by the change. If the V.-C. thinks there is any risk of
this, I will gladly add to what Macmillan pays. That matter
can be settled between us."

However, he had not forgotten the limitation of his sub-
ject in respect of religion and politics, and he repeatedly
refers to his careful avoidance of these topics as an " egg-
dance." And wishing to reassure Mr. Romanes on this
head, he writes on April 22 :

There is no allusion to politics in my lecture, nor to any
religion except Buddhism, and only to the speculative and ethical
side of that. If people apply anything I say about these matters
to modern philosophies, except evolutionary speculation, and
religions, that is not my affair. To be honest, however, unless
I thought they would, I should never have taken all the pains I
have bestowed on these 36 pages.

But these words conjured up terrible possibilities, and
Mr. Romanes wrote back in great alarm to ask the exact
state of the case. The two following letters show that the
alarm was groundless :

HODESLEA, April 26, 1893.

MY DEAR ROMANES I fear, or rather hope, that I have given
you a very unnecessary scare.

You may be quite sure, I think, that, while I should have
refused to give the lecture if any pledge of a special character
had been proposed to me, I have felt very strongly bound to
you to take the utmost care that no shadow of a just cause for
offence should be given, even to the most orthodox of Dons.

It seems to me that the best thing I can do is to send you the
lecture as it stands, notes and all. But please return it within
two days at furthest, and consider it strictly confidential between
us two (I am not excluding Mrs. Romanes, if she cares to look
at the paper). No consideration would induce me to give any
ground for the notion that I had submitted the lecture to anyone
but yourself.

If there is any phrase in the lecture which you think likely
to get you into trouble, out it shall come or be modified in form.


If the whole thing is too much for the Dons' nerves I am
no judge of their delicacy I am quite ready to give up the

In fact I do not know whether I shall be able to make myself
heard three weeks hence, as the influenza has left its mark in
hoarseness and pain in the throat after speaking.

So you see if the thing is altogether too wicked there is an
easy way out of it. Ever yours very faithfully,


HODESLEA, April 28, 1893.

MY DEAR ROMANES My mind is made easy by such a hand-
some acquittal from you and the Lady Abbess, your coadjutor in
the Holy Office.

My wife, who is my inquisitor and confessor in ordinary, has
gone over the lecture twice, without scenting a heresy, and if
she and Mrs. Romanes fail a fico for a mere male don's nose !

From the point of view of the complete argument, I agree
with you about note 19. But the dangers of open collision with
orthodoxy on the one hand and Spencer on the other, increased
with the square of the enlargement of the final pages, and I was
most anxious for giving no handle to anyone who might like to
say I had used the lecture for purposes of attack. Moreover, in
spite of all reduction, the lecture is too long already.

But I think it not improbable that in spite of my meekness
and peacefulness, neither the one side nor the other will let me
alone. And then you see, I shall have an opportunity of making
things plain, under no restriction. You will not be responsible
for anything said in the second edition, nor can the Donniest of
Dons grumble. Ever yours very faithfully,


The double negative is Shakspearian. See Hamlet, act
ii. sc. 2.

Unfortunately for the entire success of the lecture, he
was suffering from the results of influenza, more especially
a loss of voice. He writes (April 18) :

After getting through the winter successfully I have had
the ill-fortune to be seized with influenza. I believe I must have
got it from the microbes haunting some of the three hundred
doctors at the Virchow dinner.*

* On the i6th March.


I had next to no symptoms except debility, and though I am
much better I cannot quite shake that off. As usual with me it
affects my voice. I hope this will get right before this day month,
but I expect I shall have to nurse it. I do not want to interfere
with any of your hospitable plans, and I think if you will ensure
me quiet on the morning of the i8th (I understand the lecture
is in the afternoon) it will suffice. After the thing is over I am
ready for anything from pitch and toss onwards.

Two more letters dated before the :8th of May touch on
the circumstances of the lecture. One is to his son-in-law,
John Collier ; the other to his old friend Tyndall, the last he
ever wrote him, and containing a cheery reference to the
advance of old age.


MY DEAR JACK . . . M is better, and I am getting my

voice back. But may St. Ernulphus' curse descend on influenza
microbes ! They tried to work their way out at my nose, and
converted me into a disreputable Captain Costigan-looking per-
son ten days ago. Now they are working at my lips.

For the credit of the family I hope I shall be more reputable
by the i8th.

I hope you will appreciate my dexterity. The lecture is a
regular egg-dance. That I should discourse on Ethics to the
University of Oxford and say all I want to say, without a word
anybody can quarrel with, is decidedly the most piquant occur-
rence in my career. . . . Ever yours affectionately,

P.S. to be read first.

EASTBOURNE, May 15, 1893.

MY DEAR TYNDALL There are not many apples (and those
mostly of the crab sort) left upon the old tree, but I send you
the product of the last shaking. Please keep it out of any hands
but your wife's and yours till Thursday, when I am to " stand
and deliver " it, if I have voice enough, which is doubtful. The
sequelae of influenza in my case have been mostly pimples and
procrastination, the former largely on my nose, so that I have
been a spectacle. Besides these, loss of voice. The pimples are
mostly gone and the procrastination is not much above normal,
but what will happen when I try to fill the Sheldonian Theatre
is very doubtful.

Who would have thought thirty-three years ago, when the
great " Sammy ' fight came off, that the next time I should



speak at Oxford would be in succession to Gladstone, on " Evo-
lution and Ethics " as an invited lecturer?

There was something so quaint about the affair that I really
could not resist, though the wisdom of putting so much strain on
my creaky timbers is very questionable. Mind you wish me well
through it at 2.30 on Thursday.

I wish we could have better news of you. As to dying by
inches, that is what we are all doing, my dear old fellow; the only
thing is to establish a proper ratio between inch and time. Eight
years ago I had good reason to say the same thing of myself,
but my inch has lengthened out in a most extraordinary way.
Still I confess we are getting older ; and my dear wife has been
greatly shaken by repeated attacks of violent pain which seizes
her quite unexpectedly. I am always glad, both on her account
and my own, to get back into the quiet and good air here as fast
as possible, and in another year or two, if I live so long, I shall
clear out of all engagements that take me away. . . .


Not to be answered, and you had better get Mrs. Tyndall to
read it to you or you will say naughty words about the scrawl.

Sanguine as he had resolved to be about the recovery
of his voice, his fear lest " 1000 out of the 2000 won't hear '
was very near realisation. The Sheldonian Theatre was
thronged before he appeared on the platform, a striking
presence in his D.C.L. robes, and looking very leonine with
his long silvery gray hair sweeping back in one long wave
from his forehead, and the rugged squareness of his features
tempered by the benignity of an old age which has seen
much and overcome much. He read the lecture from a
printed copy, not venturing, as he would have liked, upon
the severe task of speaking it from memory, considering
its length and the importance of preserving the exact word-
ing. He began in a somewhat low tone, nursing his voice
for the second half of the discourse. From the more distant
parts of the theatre came several cries of " speak up " ; and
after a time a rather disturbing migration of eager under-
graduates began from the galleries to the body of the hall.
The latter part was indeed more audible than the first ; still
a number of the audience were disappointed in hearing im-
perfectly. However, the lecture had a large sale; the first


edition of 2000 was exhausted by the end of the month ;
and another 700 in the next ten days.

After leaving Oxford, and paying a pleasant visit to one
of the Fannings (his wife's nephew) at Tew, Huxley in-
tended to visit another of the family, Mrs. Crowder, in Lin-
colnshire, but on reaching London found himself dead beat
and had to retire to Eastbourne, whence he writes to Sir M.
Foster and to Mr. Romanes.

HODESLEA, May 26, 1893.

MY DEAR FOSTER Your letter has been following me about.
I had not got rid of my influenza at Oxford, so the exertion and
the dinner parties together played the deuce with me.

We had got so far as the Great Northern Hotel on our way
to some connections in Lincolnshire, when I had to give it up
and retreat here to begin convalescing again.

I do not feel sure of coming to the Harvey affair after all.
But if I do, it will be alone, and I think I had better accept the
hospitality of the college ; which will by no means be so jolly as
Shelford, but probably more prudent, considering the necessity
of dining out.

The fact is, my dear friend, I am getting old.

I am very sorry to hear you have been doing your influenza
also. It's a beastly thing, as I have it, no symptoms except going

Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 33 of 49)