Thomas Henry Huxley.

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genius in some directions, more than I do; but, in my judgment,
nobody could be less fitted to do the work which ought to be

done in Oxford I mean to give biological science a status in

the eyes of the Dons, and to force them to acknowledge it as a
part of general education. Moreover, his knowledge, vast and
minute as it is in some directions, is very imperfect in others,
and the attempt to qualify himself for the post would take him
away from the investigations, which are his delight and for
which he is specially fitted. . . .

I was very much interested in your account of the poor dear
Dean's illness. I called on Thursday morning, meeting Jowett
and Grove at the door, and we went in and heard such an
account of his state that I had hopes he might pull through.
We shall not see his like again.

The last time I had a long talk with him was about the
proposal to bury George Eliot in the Abbey, and a curious reve-
lation of the extraordinary catholicity and undaunted courage
of the man it was. He would have done it had it been pressed
upon him by a strong representation.

I see he is to be buried on Monday, and I suppose and hope
I shall have the opportunity of attending. Ever yours very
faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

This letter refers to the death of his old friend Dean
Stanley. The Dean had long kept in touch with the leaders
of scientific thought, and it is deeply interesting to know
that on her death-bed, five years before, his wife said to him
as one of her parting counsels, " Do not lose sight of the
men of science, and do not let them lose sight of you."
" And then," writes Stanley to Tyndall, " she named yourself
and Huxley."

Strangely enough, the death of the Dean involved an-
other invitation to Huxley to quit London for Oxford. By
the appointment of Dean Bradley to Westminster, the Mas-



tership of University College was left vacant. Huxley, who
was so far connected with the college that he had examined
there for a science Fellowship, was asked if he would accept
it, but after careful consideration declined. He writes to
his son, who had heard rumours of the affair in Oxford :

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, Nov. 4, 1881.

MY DEAR LENS There is truth in the rumour ; in so far as
this that I was asked if I would allow myself to be nominated
for the Mastership of University, that I took the question into
serious consideration and finally declined.

But I was asked to consider the communication made to me
confidential, and I observed the condition strictly. The leakage
must have taken place among my Oxford friends, and is their
responsibility, but at the same time I would rather you did not
contribute to rumour on the subject. Of course I should have
told you if I had not been bound to reticence.

I was greatly tempted for a short time by the prospect of
rest, but when I came to look into the matter closely there were
many disadvantages. I do not think I am cut out for a Don
nor your mother for a Donness we have had thirty years' free-
dom in London, and are too old to put in harness.

Moreover, in a monetary sense I should have lost rather
than gained.

My astonishment at the proposal was unfeigned, and I begin
to think I may yet be a Bishop. Ever your loving father,


His other occupations this year were the Medical Acts
Commission, which sat until the following year, and the
International Medical Congress.

The Congress detained him in London this summer later
than usual. It lasted from the 3rd to the Qth of August,
on which day he delivered a concluding address on " The
Connection of the Biological Sciences with Medicine " (Coll.
Ess. iii. p. 347). He showed how medicine was gradually
raised from mere empiricism and based upon true patho-
logical principles, through the independent growth of physi-
ological knowledge, and its correlation to chemistry and
physics. ' It is a peculiarity," he remarks, " of the physical
sciences that they are independent in proportion as they
are imperfect." Yet ' there could be no real science of


pathology until the science of physiology had reached a de-
gree of perfection unattained, and indeed unattainable, until
quite recent times." Historically speaking, modern physi-
ology, he pointed out, began with Descartes' attempt to
explain bodily phenomena on purely physical principles ;
but the Cartesian notion of one controlling central mechan-
ism had to give way before the proof of varied activities
residing in various tissues, until the cell-theory united some-
thing of either view. The body is a machine of the nature
of an army, not that of a watch or of a hydraulic appara-
tus." On this analogy, diseases are derangements either of
the physiological units of the body, or of their co-ordinating
machinery : and the future of medicine depends on exact
knowledge of these derangements and of the precise altera-
tion of the conditions by the administration of drugs or
other treatment, which will redress those derangements with-
out disturbing the rest of the body.

A few extracts from letters to his wife describe his oc-
cupation at the Congress, which involved too much " soci-
ety " for his liking.

August 4. The Congress began with great eclat yesterday,
and the latter part of Paget's address was particularly fine.
After, there was the lunch at the Pagets' with the two Royalties.
After that, an address by Virchow. After that, dinner at San-
derson's, with a confused splutter of German to the neighbours
on my right. After that a tremendous soiree at South Kensing-
ton, from which I escaped as soon as I could, and got home at
midnight. There is a confounded Lord Mayor's dinner this
evening (" the usual turtle and speeches to the infinite bewilder-
ment and delight of the foreigners," August 6), and to-morrow
a dinner at the Physiological Society. But I have got off the
Kew party, and mean to go quietly down to the Spottiswoodes
[i.e. at Sevenoaks] on Saturday afternoon, and get out of the
way of everything except the College of Surgeons' soiree, till
Tuesday. Commend me for my prudence.

On the 5th he was busy all day with Government Com-
mittees, only returning to correct proofs of his address
before the social functions of the evening. Next morning
he writes : '-


I have been toiling at my address this morning. It is all
printed, but I must turn it inside out, and make a speech of it if
I am to make any impression on the audience in St. James' Hall.
Confound all such bobberies.

August 9. I got through my address to-day as well as I
ever did anything. There was a large audience, as it was the
final meeting of the Congress, and to my surprise I found myself
in excellent voice and vigour. So there is life in the old dog
yet. But I am greatly relieved it is over, as I have been getting
rather shaky.

When the Medical Congress was over, he joined his
family at Grasmere for the rest of August. In September
he attended the British Association at York, where he read
a paper on the " Rise and Progress of Paleontology," and
ended the month with fishery business at Aberystwith and

The above paper is to be found in Collected Essays, iv.
p. 24. In it he concludes an historical survey of the views
held about fossils by a comparison of the opposite hy-
potheses upon which the vast store of recently accumulated
facts may be interpreted ; and declaring for the hypothesis
of evolution, repeats the remarkable words of the " Coming
of Age of the Origin of Species," that " the paleontological
discoveries of the last decade are so completely in accord-
ance with the requirements of this hypothesis that, if it
had not existed, the paleontologist would have had to in-
vent it."

In February died Thomas Carlyle. Mention has al-
ready been made of the influence of his writings upon
Huxley in strengthening and fixing once for all, at the
very outset of his career, that hatred of shams and love
of veracity, which were to be the chief principle of his
whole life. It was an obligation he never forgot, and
for this, if for nothing else, he was ready to join in a
memorial to the man. In reply to a request for his sup-
port in so doing, he wrote to Lord Stanley of Alderley
on March 9 :

Anything I can do to help in raising a memorial to Carlyle
shall be most willingly done. Few men can have dissented more


strongly from his way of looking at things than I ; but I should
not yield to the most devoted of his followers in gratitude for
the bracing wholesome influence of his writings when, as a very
young man, I was essaying without rudder or compass to strike
out a course for myself.

Mention has already been made (p. 31) of his ill-health
at the end of the year, which was perhaps a premonition of
the breakdown of 1883. An indication of the same kind
may be found in the following letter to Mrs. Tyndall, who
had forwarded a document which Dr. Tyndall had meant to
send himself with an explanatory note.

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, March 25, 1881.

MY DEAR MRS. TYNDALL But where is his last note to me?
That is the question on which I have been anxiously hoping for
light since I received yours and the inclosure, which contains
such a very sensible proposition that I should like to know how
it came into existence, abiogenetically or otherwise.

As I am by way of forgetting everything myself just now,
it is a comfort to me to believe that Tyndall has forgotten he
forgot to send the letter of which he forgot the inclosure. The
force of disremembering could no further go. In affectionate
bewilderment, ever yours, ^ H< HuXLEY _

His general view of his health, however, was much more
optimistic, as appears from a letter to Mrs. May (wife of the
friend of his boyhood) about her son, whose strength had
been sapped by typhoid fever, and who had gone out to
the Cape to recruit.


MY DEAR MRS. MAY I promised your daughter the other
day that I would send you the Bishop of NataFs letter to me.
Unfortunately I had mislaid it, and it only turned up just now
when I was making one of my periodical clearances in the chaos
of papers that accumulates on my table.

You will be pleased to see how fully the good Bishop appre-
ciates Stuart's excellent qualities, and as to the physical part
of the business, though it is sad enough that a young man should
be impeded in this way, I think you should be hopeful. Delicate
young people often turn out strong old people I was a thread


paper of a boy myself, and now I am an extremely tough old
personage. . . .

With our united kind regards to Mr. May and yourself
Ever yours very faithfully, T> R HUXLEY.

Perhaps if he had been able each year to carry out the
wish expressed in the following letter, which covered an
introduction to Dr. Tyndall at his house on the Bel Alp, the
breakdown of 1883 might have been averted.

July 5 (1881 ?)

MY DEAR SKELTON It is a great deal more than I would say
for everybody, but I am sure Tyndall will be very much obliged
to me for making you known to him; and if you, insignificant
male creature, how very much more for the opportunity of
knowing Mrs. Skelton !

For which last pretty speech I hope the lady will make a
prettier curtsey. So go boldly across the Aletsch, and if they
have a knocker (which I doubt), knock and it shall be opened
unto you.

I wish I were going to be there too ; but Royal Commissions
are a kind of endemic in my constitution, and I have a very bad
one just now.*

With kind remembrances to Mrs. Skelton Ever yours very
faithfully, T R HuxLEy>

The ecclesiastical sound of his new title of Dean of the
College of Science afforded him a good deal of amusement.
He writes from Grasmere, where he had joined his family
for the summer vacation :

Aug. 18, iSSi.

MY DEAR DONNELLY I am astonished that you don't know
that a letter to a Dean ought to be addressed ' The Very Revd."
I don't generally stand much upon etiquette, but when my sacred
character is touched I draw the line.

We had athletics here yesterday, and as it was a lovely day,
all Cumberland and Westmoreland sent contingents to see the
fun. . . .

* The Medical Acts Commission, iSSi-2.



This would be a grand place if it were drier, but the rain it
raineth every day yesterday being the only really fine day since
our arrival.

However, we all thrive, so I suppose w r e are adapting our-
selves to the medium, and shall be scaly and finny before long.

Haven't you done with Babylon yet? It is high time you
were out of it. Ever yours very faithfully,



THE year 1882 was a dark year for English science. It
was marked by the death of both Charles Darwin and of
Francis Balfour, the young investigator, of whom Huxley
once said, " He is the only man who can carry out my
work." The one was the inevitable end of a great career,
in the fulness of time ; the other was one of those losses
which are the more deplorable as they seem unnecessary,
the result of a chance slip, in all the vigour of youth. I
remember his coming to our house just before setting out
on his fatal visit to Switzerland, and my mother begging
him to be careful about risking so valuable a life as his in
dangerous ascents. He laughingly replied that he only
wanted to conquer one little peak on Mont Blanc. A few
days later came the news of his fatal fall upon the precipices
of the Aiguille Blanche. Since the death of Edward Forbes,
no loss outside the circle of his family had affected my
father so deeply. For three days he was utterly prostrated,
and was scarcely able either to eat or sleep.

There was indeed a subtle affinity between the two men.


My mother, who was greatly attached to Francis Balfour,
said once to Sir M. Foster, " He has not got the dash and
verve, but otherwise he reminds me curiously of what my
husband was in his ' Rattlesnake ' days.''' ' How strange,"
replied Sir Michael, " when he first came to the front, Lan-
kester wrote asking me, ' Who is this man Balfour you are
always talking about?' and I answered, 'Well, I can only
describe him by saying he is a younger Huxley.'

Writing to Dr. Dohrn on September 24, Huxley says :


Heavy blows have fallen upon me this year in losing Darwin
and Balfour, the best of the old and the best of the young. I am
beginning to feel older than my age myself, and if Balfour had
lived I should have cleared out of the way as soon as possible,
feeling that the future of Zoological Science in this country was
very safe in his hands. As it is, I am afraid I may still be of
use for some years, and shall be unable to sing my ' Nunc
dimittis " with a good conscience.

Darwin was in correspondence with him till quite near
the end ; having received the volume Science and Culture,
he wrote on January 12, 1882:

With respect to automatism,* I wish that you could review
yourself in the old, and, of course, forgotten, trenchant style,
and then you would have [to] answer yourself with equal in-
cisiveness ; and thus, by Jove, you might go on ad infinitum to
the joy and instruction of the world.

And again on March 27 :

Your most kind letter has been a real cordial to me. . . .
Once again accept my cordial thanks, my dear old friend. I
wish to God there were more automata in the world like you.

Darwin died on April 19, and a brief notice being re-
quired for the forthcoming number of Nature on the 27th,
Huxley made shift to write a brief article, which is printed
in the Collected Essays, ii. p. 244. But as neither he nor Sir
Joseph Hooker could at the moment undertake a regular
obituary notice, this was entrusted to Professor Romanes,
to whom the following letters were written.

4 MARYBOROUGH PLACE, April 26, 1882.

MY DEAR ROMANES Thank you for your hearty letter. I
spent many hours over the few paragraphs I sent to Nature, in
trying to express what all who thoroughly knew and therefore
loved Darwin, must feel in language which should be absolutely
free from rhetoric or exaggeration.

I have done my best, and the sad thing is that I cannot look
for those cheery notes he used to send me in old times, when I
had written anything that pleased him.

* The allusion is to the 1874 address on "Animals as Automata,"
which was reprinted in Science and Culture.


In case we should miss one another to-day, let me say that
it is impossible for me to undertake the obituary in Nature. I
have a conglomeration of business of various kinds upon my
hands just now. I am sure it will be very safe in your hands.
Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

Pray do what you will with what I have written in Nature.


MY DEAR ROMANES I feel it very difficult to offer any useful
criticism on what you have written about Darwin, because,
although it does not quite please me, I cannot exactly say how
I think it might be improved. My own way is to write and re-
write things, until by some sort of instinctive process they ac-
quire the condensation and symmetry which satisfies me. And
I really could not say how my original drafts are improved
until they somehow improve themselves.

Two things however strike me. I think there is too much
of the letter about Henslow. I should be disposed to quote only
the most characteristic passages.

The other point is that I think strength would be given to
your panegyric by a little pruning here and there.

I am not likely to take a low view of Darwin's position in
the history of science, but I am disposed to think that Buffon
and Lamarck would run him hard in both genius and fertility.
In breadth of view and in extent of knowledge these two men
were giants, though we are apt to forget their services. Von
Bar was another man of the same stamp ; Cuvier, in a somewhat
lower rank, another; and J. Miiller another.

" Colossal " does not seem to me to be the right epithet for
Darwin's intellect. He had a clear rapid intelligence, a great
memory, a vivid imagination, and what made his greatness was
the strict subordination of all these to his love of truth.

But you will be tired of my carping, and you had much
better write what seems right and just to yourself. Ever yours
very faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

Two scientific papers published this year were on sub-
jects connected with his work on the fisheries, one ' A
contribution to the Pathology of the Epidemic, known as
the ' Salmon Disease ' read before the Royal Society on
the occasion of the Prince of Wales being admitted a Fellow
(February 21; Proc. Roy. Soc. xxxiii. pp. 381-389); the


other on " Saprolegnia in relation to the Salmon Disease '
(Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science, xxii. pp. 311-333).
A third, at the Zoological Society, was on the " Respiratory
Organs of Apteryx " (Proc. Z. S. 1882, pp. 560-569). He
delivered an address before the Liverpool Institution on
" Science and Art in Relation to Education" (Coll. Ess. iii.
p. 1 60), and was busy with the Medical Acts Commission,
which reported this year.

The aim of this Commission * was to level up the varying
qualifications bestowed by nearly a score of different licens-
ing bodies in the United Kingdom, and to establish some
central control by the State over the licensing of medical

The report recommended the establishments of Boards
in each division of the United Kingdom containing repre-
sentatives of all the medical bodies in the division. These
boards would register students, and admit to a final examina-
tion those who had passed the preliminary and minor ex-
aminations at the various universities and other bodies
already granting degrees and qualifications. Candidates
who passed this final examination would be licensed by the
General Medical Council, a body to be elected no longer by
the separate bodies interested in medical education, but by
the Divisional Boards.

The report rejected a scheme for joint examination by
the existing bodies, assisted by outside examiners appointed
by a central authority, on the ground of difficulty and ex-
pense, as well as one for a separate State examination. It
also provided for compensation from the fees to be paid by
the candidates to existing bodies whose revenues might
suffer from the new scheme.

To this majority report, six of the eleven Commissioners
appended separate reports, suggesting other methods for
carrying out the desired end. Among the latter was Hux-
ley, who gave his reasons for dissenting from the principle
assumed by his colleagues, though he had signed the main

* For a fuller account of this Commission and the part played in it
by Huxley, see his " State and Medical Education " (Coll. Ess. iii. 323),
published 1884.


report as embodying the best means of carrying out a re-
form, that principle being granted.

The State examination," he thought, " was ideally
best, but for many reasons impossible." But the " con-
joint scheme " recommended in the report appeared to pun-
ish the efficient medical authorities for the abuses of the
inefficient. Moreover, if the examiners of the Divisional
Board did not affiliate themselves to any medical authority,
the compensation to be provided would be very heavy ; if
they did, ' either they will affiliate without further exami-
nation, which will give them the pretence of a further
qualification, without any corresponding reality, or they
will affiliate in examination, in which case the new ex-
amination deprecated by the general voice of the profes-
sion will be added, and any real difference between the
plan proposed and the ' State examination ' scheme will

The compensation proposed, too, would chiefly fall to the
discredited bodies, who had neglected their duties.

The scheme (he writes in his report), which I ventured to
suggest is of extreme simplicity; and while I cannot but think
that it would prove thoroughly efficient, it interferes with no
fair vested interest in such a manner as to give a claim for
compensation, and it inflicts no burden either in the way of
taxation or extra examination on the medical profession.

This proposal is, that if any examining body satisfies the
Medical Council (or other State authority), that it requires full
and efficient instruction and examination in the three branches
of medicine, surgery, and midwifery; and if it admits a certain
number of coadjutor examiners appointed by the State au-
thority, the certificate of that authority shall give admission to
the Medical Register.

I submit that while the adopting this proposal would secure
a practically uniform minimum standard of examination, it
would leave free play to the individuality of the various existing
or future universities and medical corporations; that the reve-
nues of such bodies derived from medical examinations would
thenceforth increase or diminish in the ratio of their deserts ;
that a really efficient inspection of the examinations would be
secured, and that no one could come upon the register without a
complete qualification.



That there was no difficulty in this scheme was shown
by the experience of the Scotch Universities ; and the ex-
pense would be less than the proposed compensation tax.

The chief part of the summer vacation Huxley spent at
Lynton, on the north coast of Devonshire. " The Happy
Family," he writes to Dr. Dohrn, " has been spending its
vacation in this pretty place, eighteen miles of up hill and
down dale from any railway." It was a country made for
the long rambles he delighted in after the morning's due
allowance of writing. And although he generally preferred
complete quiet on his holidays, with perfect freedom from all
social exigencies, these weeks of rest were rendered all the
pleasanter by the unstudied and unexacting friendliness of
the family party which centred around Mr. and Mrs. F.
Bailey of Lee Abbey hard by Lady Tenterden, the Julius,
and the Henry Pollocks, the latter old friends of ours.

Though his holiday was curtailed at either end, he was
greatly set up by it, and writes to chaff his son-in-law for
taking too little rest

I was glad to hear that F. had stood his fortnight's holiday
so well ; three weeks might have knocked him up !

On the same day, September 26, he wrote the letter to
Dr. Dohrn, mentioned above, answering two inquiries one

Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 4 of 49)