Thomas Henry Huxley.

Life and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley online

. (page 34 of 49)
Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 34 of 49)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


flop. Ever yours, T. H. HUXLEY.

Nobody sees that the lecture is a very orthodox production
on the text (if there is such a one), " Satan the Prince of this
world."

I think the remnant of influenza microbes must have held a
meeting in my corpus after the lecture, and resolved to recon-
quer the territory. But I mean to beat the brutes.



' I shall be interested," he writes to Mr. Romanes, " in
the article on the lecture. The papers have been asinine."
This was an article which Mr. Romanes had told him was
about to appear in the Oxford Magazine. And on the 3Oth
he writes again :

Many thanks for the Oxford Magazine. The writer of the
article is about the only critic I have met with yet who under-
stands my drift. My wife says it is a " sensible " article, but her
classification is a very simple one sensible articles are those



38o



LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, xxi



that contain praise, " stupid " those that show insensibility to
my merits !

Really I thought it very sensible, without regard to the plums
in the pudding.

But the criticism, t( sensible" not merely in the humor-
ous sense, which he most fully appreciated was that of
Professor Seth, in a lecture entitled ' Man and Nature."
He wrote to him on October 27 :

DEAR PROFESSOR SETH A report of your lecture on " Man
and Nature '' has just reached me. Accept my cordial thanks
for defending me, and still more for understanding me.

I really have been unable to understand what my critics have
been dreaming of when they raise the objection that the ethical
process being part of the cosmic process cannot be opposed to it.

They might as well say that artifice does not oppose nature,
because it is a part of nature in the broadest sense.

However, it is one of the conditions of the " Romanes Lec-
ture " that no allusion shall be made to religion or politics. I
had to make my omelette without breaking any of those eggs,
and the task was not easy.

The prince of scientific expositors, Faraday, was once asked,
" How much may a popular lecturer suppose his audience
knows ? ' : He replied emphatically, "Nothing" Mine was not
exactly a popular audience, but I ought not to have forgotten
Faraday's rule. Yours very faithfully,

T. H. HUXLEY.

A letter of congratulation to Lord Farrer on his eleva-
tion to the peerage contains an ironical reference to the
general tone of the criticisms on his lecture :

HODESLEA, June 5, 1893.

Ci DEVANT CITOYEN PETioN (autrefois le vertueux)- -You
have lost all chance of leading the forces of the County Council
to the attack of the Horse-Guards.

You will become an emigre, and John Burns will have to
content himself with the heads of the likes of me. As the
Jacobins said of Lavoisier, the Republic has no need of men of
science.

But this prospect need not interfere with sending our hearty
congratulations to Lady Farrer and yourself.



i8Q3 CRITICISMS ON THE ROMANES LECTURE 381

As for your criticisms, don't you know that I am become a
reactionary and secret friend of the clerics ?

My lecture is really an effort to put the Christian doctrine
that Satan is the Prince of this world upon a scientific founda-
tion.

Just consider it in this light, and you will understand why I
was so warmly welcomed in Oxford. (N.B. The only time I
spoke before was in 1860, when the great row with Samuel
came off!!) Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. HUXLEY.

HODESLEA, EASTBOURNE, July 15, 1893.

MY DEAR SKELTON I fear I must admit that even a Glad-
stonian paper occasionally tells the truth. They never mean to,
but we all have our lapses from the rule of life we have laid
down for ourselves, and must be charitable.

The fact is, I got influenza in the spring, and have never
managed to shake right again, any tendency that way being well
counteracted by the Romanes lecture and its accompaniments.

So we are off to the Maloja to-morrow. It mended up the
shaky old heart-pump five years ago, and I hope will again.

I have been in Orkney, and believe in the air, but I cannot
say quite so much for the scenery. I thought it just a wee little
bit, shall I say, bare? But then I have a passion for mountains.

I shall be right glad to know what your H.O.M.* has to say
about Ethics and Evolution. You must remember that my lec-
ture was a kind of egg-dance. Good manners bound me over
to say nothing offensive to the Christians in the amphitheatre
(I was in the arena), and truthfulness, on the other hand,
bound me to say nothing that I did not fully mean. Under these
circumstances one has to leave a great many i's undotted and t's
uncrossed.

Pray remember me very kindly to Mrs. Skelton, and believe
me Yours ever, T. H. HUXLEY.

And again on Oct. 17:

Ask your Old Man of Hoy to be so good as to suspend judg-
ment until the Lecture appears again with an appendix in that
collection of volumes the bulk of which appals me.

Didn't I see somewhere that you had been made Poor Law

* The "Old Man of Hoy," a pseudonym under which Sir J. Skel-
ton wrote.



382 LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, xxi

pope, or something of the sort? I congratulate the poor more
than I do you, for it must be a weary business trying to mend
the irremediable. (No, I am not glancing at the whitewashing
of Mary.)

Here may be added two later letters bearing in part
upon the same subject :

HODESLEA, EASTBOURNE, March 23, 1894.

DEAR SIR I ought to have thanked you before now for your
letter about Nietzsche's works, but I have not much working
time, and I find letter-writing a burden, which I am always
trying to shirk.

I will look up Nietzsche's, though I must confess that the
profit I obtain from German authors on speculative questions
is not usually great.

As men of research in positive science they are magnificently
laborious and accurate. But most of them have no notion of
style, and seem to compose their books with a pitchfork.

There are two very different questions which people fail to
discriminate. One is whether evolution accounts for morality,
the other whether the principle of evolution in general can be
adopted as an ethical principle.

The first, of course, I advocate, and have constantly insisted
upon. The second I deny, and reject all so-called evolutional
ethics based upon it. I am yours faithfully,

T. H. HUXLEY.

Thomas Common, Esq.

HODESLEA, August 31, 1894.

DEAR PROFESSOR SETH I have come to a stop in the issue of
my essays for the present, and I venture to ask your acceptance
of the set which I have desired my publishers to send you.

I hope that at present you are away somewhere, .read-
ing novels or otherwise idling, in whatever may be your pet
fashion.

But some day I want you to read the " Prolegomena " to the
reprinted Romanes Lecture.

Lately I have been re-reading Spinoza (much read and little
understood in my youth).

But that noblest of Jews must have planted no end of germs
in my brains, for I see that what I have to say is in principle
what he had to say, in modern language. Ever yours very faith-
fully, T. H. HUXLEY.



1893 COMPLETION OF THE "SPIRULA" MEMOIR 383

The following letters with reference to the long unfin-
ished memoir on ' Spirula ' for the Challenger reports tell
their own story. Huxley was very glad to find some com-
petent person to finish the work which his illness had in-
capacitated him from completing himself. It had been a
burden on his conscience ; and now he gladly put all his
plates and experience at the disposal of Professor Pelseneer,
though he had nothing written and would not write any-
thing. He had no wish to claim even joint authorship for
the completed paper ; when the question was first raised,
he desired merely that it should be stated that such and such
drawings were made by him ; but when Professor Pelseneer
insisted that both names should appear as joint authors, he
consented to this solution of the question.

HODESLEA, Sept. 17, 1893.

DEAR MR. MURRAY * If the plates of Spirula could be
turned to account a great burthen would be taken off my mind.

Professor Pelseneer is every way competent to do justice to
the subject; and he has just what I needed, namely another
specimen to check and complete the work; and besides that, the
physical capacity for dissection and close observation, of which
I have had nothing left since my long illness.

Will you be so good as to tell Professor Pelseneer that I
shall be glad to place the plates at his disposal and to give him
all the explanations I can of the drawings, whenever it may suit
his convenience to take up the work?

Nothing beyond mere fragments remained of the specimen.
I am, yours very faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

I return Pelseneer's letter.

HODESLEA, Sept. 30, 1893.

DEAR PROFESSOR PELSENEER I send herewith (by this post)
a full explanation of the plates of Spirula (including those of
which you have unlettered copies). I trust you will not be too
much embarrassed by my bad handwriting, which is a plague to
myself as well as to other people.

My hope is that you will be good enough to consider these
figures as materials placed in your hands, to be made useful in
the memoir on Spirilla, which I trust you will draw up, supply-
ing the defects of my work and checking its accuracy.

* Now K.C.B. ; Director of the " Reports of the Challenger."



LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, xxi

You will observe that a great deal remains to be done. The
muscular system is untouched; the structure and nature of the
terminal circumvallate papilla have to be made out; the lingual
teeth must be re-examined ; and the characters of the male deter-
mined. If I recollect rightly, Owen published something about
the last point.

If I can be of any service to you in any questions that arise,
I shall be very glad ; but as I am putting the trouble of the work
on your shoulders, I wish you to have the credit of it.

So far as I am concerned, all that is needful is to say that
such and such drawings were made by me. Ever yours very
faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

HODESLEA, Oct. 12, 1893.

DEAR PROFESSOR PELSENEER I am very glad to hear from
you that the homology of the cephalopod arms with the gas-
teropod foot is now generally admitted. When I advocated
that opinion in my memoir on the " Morphology of the Cepha-
lous Mollusca," some forty years ago, it was thought a great
heresy.

As to publication ; I am quite willing to agree to whatever
arrangement you think desirable, so long as you are kind enough
to take all trouble (but that of "consulting physician") off my
shoulders. Perhaps putting both names to the memoir, as you
suggest, will be the best way. I cannot undertake to write any-
thing, but if you think I can be of any use as an adviser or critic,
do not hesitate to demand my services. Ever yours very faith-
fully, T. H. HUXLEY.

Although in February he had stayed several days in
town with the Donnellys, who ' take as much care of me
as if I were a piece of old china," and had attended a
levee and a meeting of his London University Association,
had listened with interest to a lecture of Professor Dewar,
who " made liquid oxygen by the pint," and dined at Marl-
borough House, the influenza had prevented him during the
spring from fulfilling several engagements in London ; but
after his return from Oxford he began to recruit in the fine
weather, and found delightful occupation in putting up a
rockery in the garden for his pet Alpine plants.

In mid June he writes to his wife, then on a visit to
one of her daughters :



1893 INFLUENZA 385

What a little goose you are to go having bad dreams about
me who am like a stalled ox browsing in idle comfort in
fact, idle is no word for it. Sloth is the right epithet. I can't
get myself to do anything but potter in the garden, which is
looking lovely.

On June 21 he went to Cambridge for the Harvey
Celebration at Gonville and Caius College, and made a
short speech.

The dinner last night (he writes) was a long affair, and I
was the last speaker ; but I got through my speech very well,
and was heard by everybody, I am told.

But as is the way with influenza, it was thrown off in
the summer only to return the next winter, and on the eve
of the Royal Society Anniversary Dinner he writes to Sir
M. Foster:

I am in rather a shaky and voiceless condition, and unless
I am more up to the mark to-morrow morning I shall have to
forego the dinner, and, what is worse, the chat with you after-
wards.

One consequence of the spring attack of influenza was
that this year he went once more to the Maloja, staying
there from July 21 to August 25.

HODESLEA, EASTBOURNE, July 9, 1893.

MY DEAR HOOKER What has happened to the x meeting you
proposed? However, it does not matter much to me now, as
Hames, who gave me a thorough overhauling in London, has
packed me off to the Maloja again, and we start, if we can, on
the 1 7th.

It is a great nuisance, but the dregs of influenza and the hot
weather between them have brought the weakness of my heart
to the front, and I am gravitating to the condition in which I
was five or six years ago. So I must try the remedy which was
so effectual last time.

We are neither of us very fit, and shall have to be taken
charge of by a courier. Fancy coming to that !

Let me be a warning to you, my dear old man. Don't go
giving lectures at Oxford and making speeches at Cambridge,
and above all things don't, oh don't go getting influenza, the
61



386 LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, xxi

microbes of which would be seen under a strong enough micro-
scope to have this form.

[Sketch of an active little black demon.]

T. H. HUXLEY.

Though not so strikingly as before, the high Alpine air
was again a wonderful tonic to him. His diary still con-
tains a note of occasional long walks ; and once more he was
the centre of a circle of friends, whose cordial recollections
of their pleasant intercourse afterwards found expression in
a lasting memorial. Beside one of his favourite walks, a
narrow pathway skirting the blue lakelet of Sils, was placed
a gray block of granite. The face of this was roughly
smoothed, and upon it was cut the following inscription :

In memory of the illustrious English Writer and Naturalist,
Thomas Henry Huxley, who spent many summers at the Kur-
saal, Maloja.

In a letter to Sir J. Hooker, of October I, he describes
the effects of his trip, and his own surprise at being asked
to write a critical account of Owen's work :

HODESLEA, EASTBOURNE, Oct. i, 1893.

MY DEAR HOOKER I am no better than a Gadarene swine for
not writing to you from the Maloja, but I was too procrastinat-
ingly lazy to expend even that amount of energy. I found I
could walk as well as ever, but unless I was walking I was ever-
lastingly seedy, and the wife was unwell almost all the time. I
am inclined to think that it is coming home which is the most
beneficial part of going abroad, for I am remarkably well now,
and my wife is very much better.

I trust the impaled and injudicious Richard * is none the
worse. It is wonderful what boys go through (also what goes
through them).

You will get all the volumes of my screeds. I was horrified
to find what a lot of stuff there was but don't acknowledge
them unless the spirit moves you. ... I think that on Natural
Inequality of Man will be to your taste.

Three, or thirty, guesses and you shall not guess what I am
about to tell you.

* Sir J. Hooker's youngest son, who had managed to spike himself
on a fence.



i8 9 3 LETTERS 387

Rev. Richard Owen has written to me to ask me to write a
concluding chapter for the biography of his grandfather con-
taining a " critical " estimate of him and his work ! ! ! Says he
is moved thereto by my speech at the meeting for a memorial.

There seemed nothing for me to do but to accept as far as
the scientific work goes. I declined any personal estimate on
the ground that we had met in private society half a dozen times.

If you don't mind being bothered I should like to send you
what I write and have your opinion about it.

You see Jowett is going or gone. I am very sorry we were
obliged to give up our annual visit to him this year. But I was
quite unable to stand the exertion, even if Hames had not
packed me off. How one's old friends are dropping !

Romanes gave me a pitiable account of himself in a letter
the other day. He has had an attack of hemiplegic paralysis,
and tells me he is a mere wreck. That means that the worst
anticipations of his case are being verified. It is lamentable.

Take care of yourself, my dear old friend, and with our love
to you both, believe me, ever yours, T. H. HUXLEY.

Not long after his return he received a letter from a
certain G S , who wrote from Southampton detail-
ing a number of observations he had made upon the organ-
isms to be seen with a magnifying glass in an infusion of
vegetable matter, and as ' an ignoramus," apologised for
any appearance of conceit in so doing, while asking his
advice as to the best means of improving his scientific
knowledge. Huxley was much struck by the tone of the
letter and the description of the experiments, and he wrote
back :

HODESLEA, Nov. 9, 1893.

SIR We are all " ignoramuses " more or less and cannot
reproach one another. If there were any sign of conceit in your
letter, you would not get this reply.

On the contrary, it pleases me. Your observations are quite
accurate and clearly described and to be accurate in observa-
tion and clear in description is the first step towards good sci-
entific work.

You are seeing just what the first workers with the micro-
scope saw a couple of centuries ago.

Get some such book as Carpenter's " On the Microscope "
and you will see what it all means.



388



LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, xxi



Are there no science classes in Southampton? There used
to be, and I suppose is, a Hartley Institute.

If you want to consult books you cannot otherwise obtain,
take this to the librarian, give him my compliments, and say I
should be very much obliged if he would help you. I am, yours
very faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

Great was Huxley's astonishment when he learned in
reply that his correspondent was a casual dock labourer,
and had but scanty hours of leisure in which to read and
think and seek into the recesses of nature, while his means
of observation consisted of a toy microscope bought for a
shilling at a fair. Casting about for some means of lending
the man a helping hand, he bethought him of the Science
and Art Department, and wrote on December 30 to Sir J.
Donnelly :

The Department has feelers all over England has it any at
Southampton? And if it has, could it find out something about
the writer of the letters I enclose ? For a " casual docker " they
are remarkable ; and I think when you have read them you will
not mind my bothering you with them. (I really have had the
grace to hesitate.)

I have been puzzled what to do for the man. It is so much
easier to do harm than good by meddling and yet I don't like
to leave him to " casual docking."

In that first letter he has got on his own hook about as
far as Buff on and Needham 150 years ago.

And later to Professor Howes :

HODESLEA, EASTBOURNE, Feb. 12, 1894.

MY DEAR HOWES Best thanks for unearthing the volumes
of Milne-Edwards. I was afraid my set was spoiled.

I shall be still more obliged to you if you can hear of some-
thing for S . There is a right good parson in his neighbour-
hood, and from what he tells me about S I am confirmed

in my opinion that he is a very exceptional man, who ought
to be at something better than porter's work for twelve hours
a day.

The mischief is that one never knows how transplanting a
tree, much less a man, will answer. Playing Providence is a
game at which one is very apt to burn one's fingers.



1893 LETTER TO THE SPECTATOR 389

However, I am going to try, and hope at any rate to do no
harm to the man I want to help. Ever yours very faithfully,

T. H. HUXLEY.

He was eventually offered more congenial occupation
at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, but
preferred not to enter into the bonds of an unaccustomed
office.

Meanwhile, through Sir John Donnelly, Huxley was
placed in communication with the Rev. Montague Powell,
who, at his request, called upon the docker; and finding
him a man who had read and thought to an astonishing
extent upon scientific problems, and had a considerable
acquaintance with English literature, soon took more than
a vicarious interest in him. Mr. Powell, who kept Huxley
informed of his talks and correspondence with G. S., gives
a full account of the circumstances in a letter to the Spec-
tator of July 13, 1895, from which I quote the following
words :

The Professor's object in writing was to ask me how best
such a man could be helped, I being at his special request the
intermediary. So I suggested in the meanwhile a microscope
and a few scientific books. In the course of a few days I re-
ceived a splendid achromatic compound microscope and some
books, which I duly handed over to my friend, telling him it was
from an unknown hand. '* Ah," he said, " I know who that must
be; it can be no other than the greatest of living scientists; it is
just like him to help a tyro."

One small incident of this affair is perhaps worth pre-
serving as an example of Huxley's love of a bantering
repartee. In the midst of the correspondence Mr. Powell
seems suddenly to have been seized by an uneasy recollec-
tion that Huxley had lately received some honour or title,
so he next addressed him as " My dear Sir Thomas." The
latter, not to be outdone, promptly replied with ' My dear
Lord Bishop of the Solent."

About the same time comes a letter to Mr. Knowles,
based upon a paragraph from the gossiping column of some
newspaper which had come into Huxley's hands :



390 LIFE OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY CHAP, xxi

HODESLEA, EASTBOURNE, Nov. 9, 1893.
Gossip of the Town.

" Professor Huxley receives 200 guineas for each of his
articles for the Nineteenth Century."

MY DEAR KNOWLES I have always been satisfied with the
Nineteenth Century in the capacity of paymaster, but I did not
know how much reason I had for my satisfaction till I read the
above !

Totting up the number of articles and multiplying by 200 it
strikes me I shall be behaving very handsomely if I take 2000
for the balance due.

So sit down quickly, take thy cheque-book, and write five
score, and let me have it at breakfast time to-morrow. I once
got a cheque for 1000 at breakfast, and it ruined me morally.
1 have always been looking out for another.

I hope you are all flourishing. We are the better for Maloja,
but more dependent on change of weather and other trifles than
could be wished. Yet I find myself outlasting those who started
in life along with me. Poor Andrew Clark and I were at Haslar
together in 1846, and he was the younger by a year and a half.
Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

All my time is spent in the co-ordination of my eruptions
when I am an active volcano.

I hope you got the volumes which I told Macmillan to send
you.

The following letter to Professor Romanes, whose failing
eyesight was a premonitory symptom of the disease which
proved fatal the next year, reads, so to say, as a solemn
prelude to the death of three old friends this autumn of
Andrew Clark, his old comrade at Haslar, and cheery
physician for many years ; of Benjamin Jowett, Master of
Balliol, whose acquaintance he had first made in 1851 at
the Stanleys' at Harrow, and with whom he kept up an
intimacy to the end of his life, visiting Balliol once or twice
every year ; and, heaviest blow, of John Tyndall, the friend
and comrade whose genial warmth of spirit made him almost
claim a brother's place in early struggles and later success,
and whose sudden death was all the more poignant for the
cruel touch of tragedy in the manner of it :



iS 9 3 DEATH OF TYNDALL 30,1

HODESLEA, Sept. 28, 1893.

MY DEAR ROMANES We are very much grieved to hear such
a bad account of your health. Would that we could achieve
something more to the purpose than assuring you and Mrs.
Romanes of our hearty sympathy with you both in your troubles.
I assure you, you are much in our thoughts, which are sad
enough with the news of Jowett's, I fear, fatal attack.

I am almost ashamed to be well and tolerably active when
young and old friends are being thus prostrated.

However, you have youth on your side, so do not give up,
and wearisome as doing nothing may be, persist in it as the
best of medicines.

At my time of life one should be always ready to stand at
attention when the order to march comes; but for the rest I



Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 34 of 49)