Thomas Henry Huxley.

Life and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley online

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great problems which Mr. Darwin was the first person to set
before us in later times must base themselves upon the facts
which are stated in his great work, and, still more, must pursue
their inquiries by the methods of which he was so brilliant an
exemplar throughout the whole of his life. You must have his
sagacity, his untiring search after the knowledge of fact, his
readiness always to give up a preconceived opinion to that
which was demonstrably true, before you can hope to carry his
doctrines to their ultimate issue ; and whether the particular
form in which he has put them before us may be such as is
finally destined to survive or not is more, I venture to think,
than anybody is capable at this present moment of saying. But
this one thing is perfectly certain that it is only by pursuing
his methods, by that wonderful single-mindedness, devotion to
truth, readiness to sacrifice all things for the advance of definite
knowledge, that we can hope to come any nearer than we are
at present to the truths which he struggled to attain.



MY DEAR OLD MAN See the respect I have for your six
years seniority ! I wished you had been at the dinner, but
was glad you were not. Especially as next morning there


was a beastly fog, out of which I bolted home as fast as pos-

I shall have to give up these escapades. They knock me up
for a week afterwards. And really it is a pity, just as I have
got over my horror of public speaking, and find it very amusing.
But I suppose I should gravitate into a bore as old fellows do,
and so it is as well I am kept out of temptation.

I will try to remember what I said at the Nature dinner.*
I scolded the young fellows pretty sharply for their slovenly

There will be a tenth vol. of Essays some day, and an Index
rerum. Do you remember how you scolded me for being too
speculative in my maiden lecture on Animal Individuality forty
odd years ago? " On revient tou jours," or, to put it another
way, " The dog returns to his etc. etc."

So I am deep in philosophy, grovelling through Diogenes
Laertius Plutarch's Placita and sich and often wondering
whether the schoolmasters have any better ground for maintain-
ing that Greek is a finer language than English than the fact
that they can't write the latter dialect.

So far as I can see, my faculties are as good (including
memory for anything that is not useful) as they were fifty years
ago, but I can't work long hours, or live out of fresh air. Three
days of London bowls me over.

I expect you are in much the same case. But you seem to be
able to stoop over specimens in a way impossible to me. It is
that incapacity has made me give up dissection and microscopic
work. I do a lot on my back, and I can tell you that the latter
posture is an immense economy of strength. Indeed, when my
head was troublesome, I used to spend my time either in active
outdoor exercise or horizontally.

The Stracheys were here the other day, and it was a great
pleasure to us to see them. I think he has had a very close
shave with that accident. There is nobody whom I should more
delight to honour a right good man all round but I am not
competent to judge of his work. You are, and I do not see why
you should not suggest it. I would give him a medal for being
R. Strachey, but probably the Council would make difficulties.

By the way, do you see the Times has practically climbed
down about the R.S. came down backwards like a bear, growl-

* A brief report of this speech is to be found in the British Medical
Journal for December 8, 1894, p, 1262.

iS 9 4 LETTERS 4! 5

ing all the time? I don't think we shall have any more first of
December criticisms.

Lord help you through all this screed. With our love to you
both Ever yours affectionately, T. H. HUXLEY.

Abram, Abraham became

By will divine ;
Let pickled Brian's name
Be changed to Brine !*

Poetae Minores.
Poor Brian. Brutal jest !

The following was written to a friend who had alluded
to his painful recollection of a former occasion when he was
Huxley's guest at the anniversary dinner of the Royal
Society, and was hastily summoned from it to find his wife

I fully understand your feeling about the R.S. Dinner. I
have not forgotten the occasion when you were my guest : still
less my brief sight of you when I called the next day.

These things are the " lachrymae rerum " the abysmal
griefs hidden under the current of daily life, and seemingly for-
gotten, till now and then they come up to the surface a flash
of agony like the fish that jumps in a calm pool.

One has one's groan and goes to work again.

If I knew of anything else for it, I would tell you ; but all
my experience ends in the questionable thanksgiving, " It's
lucky it's no worse."

With which bit of practical philosophy, and our love, believe
me, ever yours affectionately, T. H. HUXLEY.

Before speaking of his last piece of work, in the vain
endeavour to complete which, he exposed himself to his old
enemy, influenza, I shall give several letters of miscellane-
ous interest.

The first is in reply to Lord Farrer's inquiry as to where
he could obtain a fuller account of the subject tersely dis-
cussed in the chapter he had contributed to the Life of
Owen, f

* Sir Joseph's son, Brian, had fallen into a pan of brine,
f "Which," wrote Lord Farrer, "is just what I wanted as an out-
line of the Biological and Morphological discussion of the last 100


HODESLEA, Jan. 26, 1895.

MY DEAR FARRER Miserable me ! Having addressed myself
to clear off a heap of letters that have been accumulating, I find
I have not answered an enquiry of yours of nearly a month's
standing. I am sorry to say that I cannot tell you of any book
(readable or otherwise) that will convert my " pemmican " into
decent broth for you.

There are histories of zoology and of philosophical anatomy,
but they all of them seem to me to miss the point (which you
have picked out of the pemmican). Indeed, that is just why
I took such a lot of pains over these 50 or 60 pages. And I am
immensely tickled by the fact that among all the critical notices
I have seen, not a soul sees what I have been driving at as you
have done. I really wish you would write a notice of it, just to
show these Gigadibses (vide Right Rev. Bloughram) what blind
buzzards they are !

Enter a maid. ' Please sir, Mrs. Huxley says she would be
glad if you would go out in the sun." " All right, Allen." Anec-
dote for your next essay on Government !

The fact is, I have been knocked up ever since Tuesday,
when our University Deputation came off; and my good wife
(who is laid up herself) suspects me (not without reason) of
failing to take advantage of a gleam of sunshine.

By the way, can you help us over the University business ?
Lord Rosebery is favourable, and there is absolutely nobody on
the other side except sundry Philistines, who, having got their
degrees, are desirous of inflating their market value. Yours
very truly, T. H. HUXLEY.

The next is in answer to an appeal for a subscription,
from the Church Army.

Jan. 26, 1895.

I regret that I am unable to contribute to the funds of the
Church Army.

I hold it to be my duty to do what I can for the cases of
distress of which I have direct knowledge ; and I am glad to be
able now and then to give timely aid to the industrious and
worthy people with whom, as a householder, I am brought into
personal relation ; and who are so often engaged in a noiseless
and unpitied but earnest struggle to do well.

years. But it is ' Pemmican ' to an aged and enfeebled digestion. Is
there such a thing as a diluted solution of it in the shape of any read-
able book?"





In my judgment, a domestic servant, who is perhaps giving
half her wages to support her old parents, is more worthy of
help than half a dozen Magdalens.

Under these circumstances, you will understand that such
funds as are at my disposal are already fully engaged.

The following is to a gentleman an American, I think
who sent him a long manuscript, an extraordinary farrago
of nonsense, to read and criticise, and help to publish. But
as he seemed to have acted in sheer simplicity, he got an
answer :

HODESLEA, Jan. 31, 1895.

DEAR SIR I should have been glad if you had taken the
ordinary, and, I think convenient couise of writing for my per-
mission before you sent the essay which has reached me, and
which I return by this post. I should then have had the oppor-
tunity of telling you that I do not undertake to read, or take
any charge of such matters, and we should both have been
spared some trouble.

I the more regret this, since being unwilling to return your
work without examination, I have looked at it, and feel bound
to give you the following piece of advice, which I fear may be
distasteful, as good counsel generally is.

Lock up your essay. For two years if possible, three
read no popular expositions of science, but devote yourself to a
course of sound practical instruction in elementary physics,
chemistry, and biology.

Then re-read your essay; do with it as you think best; and,
if possible, regard a little more kindly than you are likely to do
at present, yours faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

The following passage from a letter to Sir J. D. Hooker
refers to a striking discovery made by Dubois :


The Dutchmen seem to have turned up something like the
' missing link ' : in Java, according to a paper I have just re-
ceived from Marsh. I expect he was a Socratic party, with his
hair rather low down on his forehead and warty cheeks.

Pithecanthropus ercctus Dubois (fossil)

rather Aino-ish about the body, small in the calf, and cheese-
cutting in the shins. Le voici !


Two months of almost continuous frost, during which
the thermometer fell below zero, marked the winter of 1894-
95. Tough, if not strong, as Huxley's constitution was,
this exceptional cold, so lowering to the vitality of age,
accentuated the severity of the illness which followed in the
train of influenza, and at last undermined even his powers
of resistance.

But until the influenza seized him, he was more than
usually vigorous and brilliant. He was fatigued, but not
more so than he expected, by attending a deputation to the
Prime Minister in the depth of January, and delivering a
speech on the London University question ; and in February
he was induced to write a reply to the attack upon agnosti-
cism contained in Mr. Arthur Balfour's Foundations of
Belief. Into this he threw himself with great energy, all
the more because the notices in the daily press were likely
to give the reading public a wrong impression as to its
polemic against his own position. Mr. Wilfrid Ward gives
an account of a conversation with him on this subject :

Some one had sent me Mr. A. J. Balfour's book on the
Foundations of Belief early in February 1895. We were very
full of it, and it was the theme of discussion on the I7th of
February, when two friends were lunching with us. Not long
after luncheon, Huxley came in, and seemed in extraordinary
spirits. He began talking of Erasmus and Luther, expressing
a great preference for Erasmus, who would, he said, have im-
pregnated the Church with culture, and brought it abreast of the
thought of the times, while Luther concentrated attention on


individual mystical doctrines. " It was very trying for Erasmus
to be identified with Luther, from whom he differed absolutely.
A man ought to be ready to endure persecution for what he
does hold ; but it is hard to be persecuted for what you don't
hold." I said that I thought his estimate of Erasmus's attitude
towards the Papacy coincided with Professor R. C. Jebb's. He
asked if I could lend him Jebb's Rede Lecture on the subject.
I said that I had not got it at hand, but I added, " I can lend
you another book, which I think you ought to read Balfour's
Foundations of Belief."

He at once became extremely animated, and spoke of it as
those who have read his criticisms, published in the following
month, would expect. ; You need not lend me that. I have
exercised my mind with it a good deal already. Mr. Balfour
ought to have acquainted himself with the opinions of those he
attacks. One has no objection to being abused for what one
does hold, as I said of Erasmus ; at least, one is prepared to put
up with it. An attack on us by some one who understood our
position would do all of us good myself included. But Mr.
Balfour has acted like the French in 1870: he has gone to war
without any ordnance maps, and without having surveyed the
scene of the campaign. No human being holds the opinions
he speaks of as ' naturalism.' He is a good debater. He knows
the value of a word. The word ' Naturalism ' has a bad sound
and unpleasant associations. It would tell against us in the
House of Commons, and so it will with his readers. ' Natural-
ism ' contrasts with ' supernaturalism.' He has not only attacked
us for what we don't hold, but he has been good enough to draw
out a catechism for ' us wicked people,' to teach us what we
must hold."

It was rather difficult to get him to particulars, but we did
so by degrees. He said, " Balfour uses the word phenomena as
applying simply to the outer world and not to the inner world.
The only people his attack would hold good of would be the
Comtists, who deny that psychology is a science. They may be
left out of account. They advocate the crudest eighteenth-cen-
tury materialism. All the empiricists, from Locke onwards,
make the observation of the phenomena of the mind itself quite
separate from the study of mere sensation. No man in his
senses supposes that the sense of beauty, or the religious feel-
ings (this with a courteous bow to a priest who was present),
or the sense of moral obligation, are to be accounted for in terms
of sensation, or come to us through sensation." I said that, as



I understood it, I did not think Mr. Balfour supposed they would
acknowledge the position he ascribed to them, and that one of
his complaints was that they did not work out their premises
to their logical conclusions. I added that so far as one of Mr.
Balfour's chief points was concerned the existence of the
external world Mill was almost the only man on their side in
this century who had faced the problem frankly, and he had
been driven to say that all men can know is that there are
" permanent possibilities of sensation." He did not seem in-
clined to pursue the question of an external world, but said
that though Mill's " logic " was very good, empiricists were not
bound by all his theories.

He characterised the book as a very good and even brilliant
piece of work from a literary point of view; but as a helpful
contribution to the great controversy, the most disappointing he
had ever read. I said, "There has been no adverse criticism of it
yet." He answered with emphasis, " No ! but there soon will be."
" From you ? " I asked. ' I let out no secrets," was the reply.

He then talked with great admiration and affection of Mr.
Balfour's brother, Francis. His early death, and W. K. Clif-
ford's (Huxley said), had been the greatest loss to science
not only in England, but in the world in our time. " Half a
dozen of us old fogies could have been better spared." He re-
membered Frank Balfour as a boy at Eton, and saw his unusual
talent there. " Then my friend, Michael Foster, took him up
at Cambridge, and found out that he had real genius for biology.
I used to say there was science in the blood," but this new book
of his brother's, he added, smiling, " shows I was wrong."

Apropos to his remark about the Comtists, one of the com-
pany pointed out that in later life Comte recognised a science
of " the individual," equivalent to what Huxley meant by psy-
chology. ( That," he replied, " was due to the influence of Clo-
tilde de Vaux. You see," he added, " with a kind of Sir Charles
Grandison bow to my wife, " what power your sex may have.""
As Huxley was going out of the house, I said to him that Father
A. B. (the priest who had been present) had not expected to
find himself in his company. " No ! I trust he had plenty of
holy water with him," was the reply.

. . . After he had gone, we were all agreed as to the ex-
traordinary vigour and brilliancy he had shown. Some one
said, 'He is like a man who is what the Scotch call 'fey.'"
We laughed at the idea, but we naturally recalled the remark
later on.


The story of how the article was written is told in the
following letters. It was suggested by Mr. Knowles, and
undertaken after perusal of the review of the book in the
Times. Huxley intended to have the article ready for the
March number of the Nineteenth Century, but it grew longer
than he had meant it to be, and partly for this reason, partly
for fear lest the influenza, then raging at Eastbourne, might
prevent him from revising the whole thing at once, he di-
vided it into two instalments. He writes to one daughter
on March I :

I suppose my time will come; so I am "making hay while
the sun shines' (in point of fact it is raining and blowing a
gale outside) and finishing my counterblast to Balfour before
it does come.

Love to all you poor past snivellers from an expectant

And to another :

I think the cavalry charge in this month's Nineteenth will
amuse you. The heavy artillery and the bayonets will be
brought into play next month.

Dean Stanley told me he thought being made a bishop de-
stroyed a man's moral courage. I am inclined to think that the
practice of the methods of political leaders destroys their intel-
lect for all serious purposes.

No sooner was the first part safely sent off than the
contingency he had feared came to pass ; only, instead of
the influenza meaning incapacity for a fortnight, an unlucky
chill brought on bronchitis and severe lung trouble.* The
second part of the article was never fully revised for press.

HODESLEA, EASTBOURNE, February 8, 1895.

MY DEAR KNOWLES Your telegram came before I had
looked at to-day's Times and the article on Balfour's book, so
I answered with hesitation.

* As he wrote on February 28 to Sir M. Foster : " If I could com-
pound for a few hours' neuralgia, I would not mind ; but those long
weeks of debility make me very shy of the influenza demon. Here
we are practically isolated. ... I once asked Gordon why he didn't
have the African fever. 'Well,' he said, ' you see, fellows think they
shall have it, and they do. I didn't think so, and didn't get it.' Ex-
ercise your thinking faculty to that extent."


Now I am inclined to think that the job may be well worth
doing, in that it will give me the opportunity of emphasising the
distinction between the view I hold and Spencer's, and perhaps
of proving that Balfour is an agnostic after my own heart. So
please send the book.

Only if this infernal weather, which shrivels me up soul and
body, lasts, I do not know how long I may be over the business.
However, you tell me to take my own time. Ever yours very
faithfully, ' T. H. HUXLEY.

HODESLEA, EASTBOURNE, February 18, 1895.

MY DEAR KNOWLES I send you by this post an instalment
(the larger moiety) of my article, which I should be glad to
have set up at once in slip, and sent to me as speedily as may be.
The rest shall follow in the course of the next two or three days.

I am rather pleased with the thing myself, so it is probably
not so very good ! But you will judge for yourself. Ever yours
very faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

HODESLEA, EASTBOURNE, February 19, 1895.

MY DEAR KNOWLES We send our best congratulations to
Mrs. Knowles and yourself on the birth of a granddaughter. I
forget whether you have had any previous experience of the
" Art d'etre Grandpere " or not but I can assure you, from 14
such experiences, that it is easy and pleasant of acquirement,
and that the objects of it are veritable "' articles de luxe," in-
volving much amusement and no sort of responsibility on the
part of the possessor.

You shall have the rest of my screed by to-morrow's post.
Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

HODESLEA, EASTBOURNE, February 20, 1895.

MY DEAR KNOWLES Seven mortal hours have I been hard at
work this day to try to keep my promise to you, and as I find
that impossible, I have struck work and will see Balfour and his
Foundations, and even that ark of literature the Nineteenth, at
Ballywack, before I do any more.

But the whole affair shall be sent by a morning's post to-
morrow. I have the proofs. I have found the thing getting
too long for one paper, and requiring far more care than I could
put into the next two days so I propose to divide it, if you see
no objection.

And there is another reason for this course. Influenza is
raging here. I hear of hundreds of cases, and if it comes my


way, as it did before, I go to bed and stop there " the world
forgetting and by the world forgot " until I am killed or cured.
So you would not get your article.

As it stands, it is not a bad gambit. We will play the rest
of the game afterwards, D.V. and K.V.

Hope mother and baby are doing well. Ever yours,


February 23, 1895, 12.30 P.M.

MY DEAR KNOWLES I have just played and won as hard a
match against time as I ever knew in the days of my youth.
The proofs, happily, arrived by the first post, so I got to work at
them before 9, polished them off by 12, and put them into the
post (myself) by 12.5. So you ought to have them by 6 P.M.
And, to make your mind easy, I have just telegraphed to you to
say so. But, Lord's sake ! let some careful eye run over the
part of which I have had no revise for I am " capable de tout '
in the way of overlooking errors.

I am very glad you like the thing. The second instalment
shall be no worse.

I grieve to say that my estimation of Balfour, as a thinker,
sinks lower and lower, the further I go.

God help the people who think his book an important con-
tribution to thought ! The Gigadibsians who say so are past
divine assistance !

We are very glad to hear the grandchild and mother are
getting on so well. Ever yours very truly,



MY DEAR KNOWLES The proofs have just arrived, but I am
sorry to say that (I believe for the first time in our transactions)
I shall have to disappoint you.

Just after I had sent off the MS. influenza came down upon
me with a swoop. I went to bed and am there still, with no
chance of quitting it in a hurry. My wife is in the same case ;
item one of the maids. The house is a hospital, and by great
good fortune we have a capital nurse.

Doctors says it's a mild type.* in which case I wonder what

* " But in the matter of aches and pains, restless paroxysms of
coughing and general incapacity, I can give it a high character for
efficiency." (To M. Foster, March 7.)



severe types may be like. I find coughing continuously for
fourteen hours or so a queer kind of mildness.

Could you put in an excuse on account of influenza?

Can't write any more. Ever yours, T. H. H.


MY DEAR KNOWLES I am making use of the pen of my dear
daughter and good nurse, in the first place to thank you for your
cheque, in the second place to say that you must not look for
the article this month. I haven't been out of bed since the ist,
but they are fighting a battle with bronchitis over my body.
Ever yours very faithfully, For T. H. H.,


The next four months were a period of painful struggle
against disease, borne with a patience and gentleness which
was rare even in the long experience of the trained nurses
who tended him. To natural toughness of constitution he
added a power of will unbroken by the long strain ; and for
the sake of others to whom his life meant so much, he wished
to recover and willed to do everything towards recovery.
And so he managed to throw off the influenza and the
severe bronchitis which attended it. What was marvellous
at his age, and indeed would scarcely have been expected in
a young man, most serious mischief induced by the bron-
chitis disappeared. By May he was strong enough to walk
from the terrace to the lawn and his beloved saxifrages,

Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 37 of 49)