Thomas Henry Huxley.

Life and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley online

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intellectual vigour and unflinching honesty than I. It pleases
me to remember that I lately said something of this to him, and
that he received what I said most heartily and kindly. But
what now dwells most in my mind is the memory of old kind-
ness, and of the days when I used to see him with you and his
children. I may safely say that I never came from your house
without thinking how good he is ; what a tender and affectionate
nature the man has ! It did me good simply to see him. The
recollection is sweet to me now, and I rejoice to think how
infinitely better you know what I must have been dull indeed
not more or less to perceive.

As he wrote to his son on his twenty-first birthday :

xxv HOME LIFE 459

You will have a son some day yourself, I suppose, and if you
do, I can wish you no greater satisfaction than to be able to say
that he has reached manhood without having given you a serious
anxiety, and that you can look forward with entire confidence
to his playing the man in the battle of life. I have tried to
make you feel your responsibilities and act independently as
early as possible but, once for all, remember that I am not only
your father but your nearest friend, ready to help you in all
things reasonable, and perhaps in a few unreasonable.

This domestic happiness which struck others so forcibly
was one of the vital realities of his existence. Without it
his quick spirit and nervous temperament could never have
endured the long and often embittered struggle not merely
with equanimity, but with a constant growth of sympathy
for earnest humanity, which, in early days obscured from
view by the turmoil of strife, at length became apparent to
all as the tide of battle subsided. None realised more than
himself what the sustaining help and comradeship of mar-
ried life had wrought for him, alike in making his life worth
living and in making his life's work possible. Here he
found the pivot of his happiness and his strength ; here
he recognised to the full the care that took upon itself all
possible burdens and left his mind free for his greater

He had always a great tenderness for children. ' One
of my earliest recollections of him," writes Jeffery Parker,
' is in connection with a letter he wrote to my father, on
the occasion of the death, in infancy, of one of my brothers.
: Why,' he wrote, * did you not tell us before that the child
was named after me, that we might have made his short life
happier by a toy or two.' I never saw a man more crushed
than he was during the dangerous illness of one of his
daughters, and he told me that, having then to make an
after-dinner speech, he broke down for the first time in his
life, and for one painful moment forgot where he was and
what he had to say. I can truly say that I never knew a
man whose way of speaking of his family, or whose manner
in his own home, was fuller of a noble, loving, and withal
playful courtesy."


After he had retired to Eastbourne, his grandchildren
reaped the benefit of his greater leisure. In his age his love
of children brimmed over with undiminished force, unim-
peded by circumstances. He would make endless fun with
them, until one little mite, on her first visit, with whom
her grandfather was trying to ingratiate himself with a vast
deal of nonsense, exclaimed : " Well, you are the curious'test
old man I ever seen."

Another, somewhat older, developed a great liking for
astronomy under her grandfather's tuition. One day a vis-
itor, entering unexpectedly, was astonished to find the pair
of them kneeling on the floor in the hall before a large sheet
of paper, on which the professor was drawing a diagram
of the solar system on a large scale, with a little pellet
and a large ball to represent earth and sun, while the
child was listening with the closest attention to an ac-
count of the planets and their movements, which he knew
so well how to make simple and precise without ever
being dull.

Children seemed to have a natural confidence in the
expression of mingled power and sympathy which, espe-
cially in his later years, irradiated his " square, wise, swarthy
face," * and proclaimed to all the sublimation of a broad
native humanity tried by adversity and struggle in the pur-
suit of noble ends. It was the confidence that an appeal
would not be rejected, whether for help in distress, or for
the satisfaction of the child's natural desire for knowl-

Spirit and determination in children always delighted
him. His grandson Julian, a curly-haired rogue, alternately
cherub and pickle, was a source of great amusement and
interest to him. The boy must have been about four years
old when my father one day came in from the garden, where
he had been diligently watering his favourite plants with a
big hose, and said : " I like that chap ! I like the way he

* " There never was a face, I do believe" (wrote Sir Walter Besant
of the portrait by John Collier), "wiser, more kindly, more beautiful
for wisdom and the kindliness of it, than this of Huxley." The
Queen, Nov. 16, 1895.

Portrait with his Grandson, from a Photograph by
Kent and Lacey, 1895.







looks you straight in the face and disobeys you. I told him
not to go on the wet grass again. He just looked up boldly,
straight at me, as much as to say, * What do you mean by
ordering me about ? ' and deliberately walked on to the

The disobedient youth who so charmed his grandfather's
heart was the prototype of Sandy in Mrs. Humphry Ward's
David Grieve. When the book came out my father wrote
to the author : ' ! We are very proud of Julian's apotheosis.
He is a most delightful imp, and the way in which he used
to defy me on occasion, when he was here, was quite refresh-
ing. The strength of his conviction that people who inter-
fere with his freedom are certainly foolish, probably wicked,
is quite Gladstonian."

A year after, when Julian had learned to write, and was
reading the immortal Water Babies, wherein fun is poked
at his grandfather's name among the authorities on water-
babies and water-beasts of every description, he greatly
desired more light as to the reality of water-babies. There
is a picture by Linley Sambourne, showing my father and
Owen examining a bottled water-baby under big magnify-
ing glasses. Here, then, was a real authority to consult.
So he wrote a letter of enquiry, first anxiously asking his
mother if he would receive in reply a " proper letter" that
he could read for himself, or a " wrong kind of letter " that
must be read to him.

DEAR GRANDPATER Have you seen a Waterbaby? Did you
put it in a bottle? Did it wonder if it could get out? Can I see

it some day? Your loving


To this he received the following reply from his grand-
father, neatly printed, letter by letter, very unlike the or-
derly confusion with which his pen usually rushed across
the paper time being so short for such a multitude of
writing to the great perplexity, often, of his foreign cor-





r '

"<*. //I



f > / 1 t ~


mi oa.


rt, M

a uev-c/

and u^rtt cc^i/



see .



To cu

ra</ *j c/

f" tki




j an



Others of his family would occasionally receive elab-
orate pieces of nonsense, of which I give a couple of speci-
mens. The following is to his youngest daughter:

ATHENAEUM CLUB, May 17, 1892.
DEAREST BABS As I was going along Upper Thames Street

primary parenthesis

just now, I saw between Nos. 170 and 211 (but you would like
to know what I was going along that odorous street for. Well,
it was to enquire how the pen with which I am now writing

2nd p.

(you see it is a new-fangled fountain pen, warranted to cure

2nd p

the worst writing and always spell properly) works, because it


would not work properly this morning. And the nice young

3rd p.

woman who took it from me (as who should say you old

3rd p. 4th p.

foodie!) inked her own fingers enormously (which I told her

4th p.

I was pleased they were her fingers rather than mine) But

5th p.

she only smole. (Close by was another shop where they sold

6 or 7 p. n. p.

hose (indiarubber, not knitted) (and warranted to let water
through, not keep it out) ; and I asked for a garden syringe,
thinking such things likely to be kept by hosiers of that sort
and they said they had not any, but found they had a rem-

n. n. p.

nant cheap (price 35.) which is less than many people pay for

end of pp.

the other hosiers' hose) a doorpost at the side of the doorway
of some place of business with this remarkable notice : RULING


Don't you think you had better apply at once? Jack will
give you a character, I am sure, on the side of the art of ruling,
and I will speak for the science also of hereditary (on mother's
side) instinct.

Well, I am not sure about the pen yet but there is no room
for any more. Ever your loving DAD.

Epistolary composition on the model of a Gladstonian speech
to a deputation on women's suffrage.

The other is to his daughter, Mrs. Harold Roller, who
had sent him from abroad a friend's autograph-book for a
signature :


The epistle of Thomas to the woman of the house of Harold.

1. I said it was an autograph-book; and so it was.

2. And naughty words came to the root of my tongue.

3. And the recording angel dipped his pen in the ink and

squared his elbows to write.

4. But I spied the hand of the lovely and accomplished but

vagabond daughter.

5. And I smole ; and spoke not ; nor uttered the naughty words.

6. So the recording angel was sold;

7. And was about to suck his pen.

8. But I said Nay ! give it to me.



9. And I took the pen and wrote on the book of the Autographs

letters pleasant to the eye and easy to read.

10. Such as my printers know not: nor the postman nor the
correspondent, who riseth in his wrath and curseth over
my epistle ordinary.

This to his youngest daughter, which, in jesting- form,
conveys a good deal of sound sense, was the sequel to a
discussion as to the advisability of a University education
for her own and another bov :



DEAREST BARS Bickers and Son have abased themselves,
and assure me that they have fetched the Dicty. away and are
sending it here. I shall believe them when it arrives.

As a rule, I do not turn up when I announce my coming,
but I believe I shall be with you about dinner-time on Friday
next (i3th).

In the meanwhile, my good daughter, meditate these things :

1. Parents not too rich wish to send exceptionally clever,
energetic lad to university before taking up father's profession
of architect.

2. E.c.e.l. will be well taught classics at school not well
taught in other things will easily get a scholarship either at
school or university. So much in parents' pockets.

3. E.c.e.l. will get as much mathematics, mechanics, and other
needful preliminaries to architecture, as he wants (and a good
deal more if he likes) at Oxford. Excellent physical school there.

4. Splendid Art museums at Oxford.

5. Prigs not peculiar to Oxford.

6. Don Cambridge would choke science (except mathe-
matics) if it could as willingly as Don Oxford and more so.

7. Oxford always represents English opinion, in all its ex-
tremes, better than Cambridge.

8. Cambridge better for doctors, Oxford for architects,
poets, painters, and all that sort of cattle.

9. Lawrence will go to Oxford and become a real scholar,
which is a great thing and a noble. He will combine the new
and the old, and show how much better the world would have
been if it had stuck to Hellenism. You are dreaming of the
schoolboy who does not follow up his work, or becomes a mere
poll man. Good enough for parsons, not for men. Lawrence
will go to Oxford. Ever your aggrawatin' PA.


Like the old Greek sage and statesman, my father might
have declared that old age found him ever learning. Not
indeed with the fiery earnestness of his young days of stress
and storm ; but with the steady advance of a practised
worker who cannot be unoccupied. History and philoso-
phy, especially biblical criticism, composed his chief reading
in these later years.

Fortune had ceased her buffets ; broken health was re-
stored ; and from his resting-place among his books and his
plants he watched keenly the struggle which had now passed
into other hands, still ready to strike a blow if need be,
or even, on rare occasions, to return to the fighting line,
as when he became a leader in the movement for London
University reform.

His days at Eastbourne, then, were full of occupation, if
not the occupation of former days. The day began as
early ; he never relaxed from the rule of an eight o'clock
breakfast. Then a pipe and an hour and a half of letter-
writing or working at an essay. Then a short expedition
around the garden, to inspect the creepers, tend the saxi-
frages, or see how the more exposed shrubs could best be
sheltered from the shrivelling winds. The gravelled terrace
immediately behind the house was called the Quarterdeck ;
it w^as the place for a brisk patrolling in uncertain weather
or in a north wind. In the lower garden was a parallel
walk protected from the south by a high double hedge of
cypress and golden elder, designed for shelter from the
summer sun and southerly winds.

Then would follow another spell of -work till near one
o'clock ; the weather might tempt him out again before
lunch ; but afterwards he was certain to be out for an hour
or two from half-past two. However hard it blew, and
Eastbourne is seldom still, the tiled walk along the sea-wall
always offered the possibility of a constitutional. But the
high expanse of the Downs was his favourite walk. The
air of Beachy Head, 560 feet up, was an unfailing tonic.
In the summer he used to keep a look-out for the little
flowers of the short, close turf of the chalk which could
remind him of his Alpine favourites, in particular the curious



phyteuma ; and later on, in the folds of the hills where he
had marked them, the English gentians.

After his walk, a cup of tea \vas followed by more read-
ing or writing till seven ; after dinner another pipe, and then
he would return to my mother in the drawing-room, and
settle down in his particular arm-chair, with some tough
volume of history or theology to read, every now and again
scoring a passage for future reference, or jotting a brief note
on the margin. At ten he would migrate to the study for a
final smoke before going to bed.

Such was his routine, broken by occasional visits to
town on business, for he was still Dean of the Royal Col-
lege of Science and a trustee of the British Museum. Old
friends came occasionally to stay for a few days, and tea-
time would often bring one or two of the small circle of
friends whom he had made in Eastbourne. These also he
occasionally visited, but he scarcely ever dined out. The
talking was too tiring.

The change to Eastbourne cut away a whole series of
interests, but it imported a new and very strong one into
my father's life. His garden was not only a convenient
ambulatory, but, \vith its growing flowers and trees, became
a novel and intense pleasure, until he began " to think with
Candide that ' Cultivons notre jardin ' comprises the whole
duty of man."

It was strange that this interest should have come sud-
denly at the end of his life. Though he had won the prize
in Lindley's botanical class lie had never been a field bot-
anist till he was attracted by the Swiss gentians. As has
been said before, his love of nature had never run to col-
lecting either plants or animals. Mere " spider-hunters and
hay-naturalists," as a German friend called them, he was
inclined to regard as the camp-followers of science. It was
the engineering side of nature, the unity of plan of animal
construction, worked out in infinitely varying detail, which
engrossed him. Walking once with Hooker in the Rhone
valley, where the grass was alive with red and green grass-
hoppers, he said, '' I would give anything to be as interested
in them as you are."



But this feeling, unknown to him before, broke out in
his gentian work. He told Hooker, ' I can't express the
delight I have in them." It continued undiminished when
once he settled in the new house and laid out a garden.
His especial love was for the rockery of Alpines, many of
which came from Sir J. Hooker.

Here, then, he threw himself into gardening with char-
acteristic ardour. He described his position as a kind of
mean between the science of the botanist and the empiricism
of the working gardener. He had plenty to suggest, but his
gardener, like so many of his tribe, had a rooted mistrust
of any gardening lore culled from books. ' Books ? They'll
say anything in them books." And he shared, moreover,
that common superstition, perhaps really based upon a ques-
tion of labour, that watering of flowers, unnecessary in wet
weather, is actively bad in dry. So my father's chief occu-
pation in the garden was to march about with a long hose,
watering, and watering especially his alpines in the upper
garden and along the terraces lying below the house. The
saxifrages and the creepers on the house were his favourite
plants. When he was not watering the one he would be
nailing up the other, for the winds of Eastbourne are re-
markably boisterous, and shrivel up what they do not blow
down. ' I believe I shall take to gardening," he writes, a
few months after entering the new house, ' if I live long
enough. I have got so far as to take a lively interest in the
condition of my shrubs, which have been awfully treated by
the long cold."

From this time his letters contain many references to
his garden. He is astonished when his gardener asks leave
to exhibit at the local show, but delighted with his pluck.
Hooker jestingly sends him a plant ' which will flourish
on any dry, neglected bit of wall, so I think it will just
suit you."

Great improvements have been going on (he writes in 1892),
and the next time you come you shall walk in the " avenue " of
four box-trees. Only five are to be had for love or money at
present, but there are hopes of a sixth, and then the " avenue "
will be full ten yards long! Figures vous qa!


It was of this he wrote on October I :

Thank Heaven we are settled down again and I can vibrate
between my beloved books and even more beloved saxifrages.

The additions to the house are great improvements every
way, outside and in, and when the conservatory is finished we
shall be quite palatial ; but, alas, of all my box-trees only one
remains green, that is the " amari," or more properly " fusci ' :

Sad thing's will happen, however. Although the local
florists vowed that the box-trees would not stand the winds,
of Eastbourne, he was set on seeing if he could not get them
to grow despite the gardeners, whom he had once or twice
found false prophets. But this time they were right. Vain
were watering and mulching and all the arts of the husband-
man. The trees turned browner and browner every day,
and the little avenue from terrace to terrace had to be
ignominiously uprooted and removed.

A sad blow this, worse even than the following :

A lovely clematis in full flower, which I had spent hours in
nailing up, has just died suddenly. I am more inconsolable than
Jonah !

He answers some gardening chaff of Sir Michael
Foster's :

Wait till I cut you out at the Horticultural, I have not made
up my mind what to compete in yet. Look out when I do !

And when the latter offered to propose him for that
Society, he replied :

Proud an' 'appy should I be to belong to the Horticultural if
you will see to it. Could send specimens of nailing up creepers
if qualification is required.

After his long battlings for his early loves of science and
liberty of thought, his later love of the tranquil garden
seemed in harmony with the dignified rest from struggle.
To those who thought of the past and the present, there
was something touching in the sight of the old man whose
unquenched fires now lent a gentler glow to the peaceful


retirement he had at length won for himself. His latter
days were fruitful and happy in their unflagging intellectual
interests, set off by the new delights of the succidia alter a,
that second resource of hale old age for many a century.

All through his last and prolonged illness, from earliest
spring until midsummer, he loved to hear how the garden
was getting on, and would ask after certain flowers and
plants. When the bitter cold spring was over and the
warm weather came, he spent most of the day outside, and
even recovered so far as to be able to walk once into the
lower garden and visit his favourite flowers. These chil-
dren of his old age helped to cheer him to the last.


As for this unfinished work, suggestive outlines left for
others to fill in, Professor Howes writes to me in October

Concerning the papers at S.K. which, as part of the contents
of your father's book-shelves, were given by him to the College,
and now are arranged, numbered, and registered in order for
use, there is evidence that in 1858 he, with his needles and eye-
glass, had dissected and carefully figured the so-called pro-
nephros of the Frog's tadpole, in a manner which as to accuracy
of detail anticipated later discovery. Again, in the early 'So's,
he had observed and recorded in a drawing the prse-pulmonary
aortic arch of the Amphibian, at a period antedating the re-
searches of Boas, which in connection with its discovery placed
the whole subject of the morphology of the pulmonary artery
of the vertebrata on its final basis, and brought harmony into
our ideas concerning it.

Both these subjects lie at the root of modern advances in
vertebrate morphology.

Concerning the skull, he was in the '8o's back to it with a
will. His line of attack was through the lampreys and hags and
the higher cartilaginous fishes, and he was following up a revo-
lutionary conception (already hinted at in his Hunterian Lec-
tures in 1864, and later in a Royal Society paper on Amphloxus
in 1875), that the trabeculai cranii, judged by their relation-
ships to the nerves, may represent a pair of prre-oral visceral
arches. In his unpublished notes there is evidence that he was
bringing to the support of this conclusion the discovery of a
supposed 4th branch to the trigeminal nerve the relationships
of this (which he proposed to term the " hyporhinal " or palato-
nasal division) and the ophthalmic (to have been termed the
'' orbitonasal " *) to the trabecular arch and a supposed

* A term already applied by him in 1875 to the corresponding nerve
in the Batrachia. (Ency. Brit, gth edition, vol. i., art. "Amphibia.")




mandibular visceral cleft, being regarded as repetitional of those
of the maxillary and mandibular divisions to the mandibular
cleft. So far as I am aware, von Kupffer is the only observer
who has given this startling conclusion support, in his famous
Studlen (Hf. I. Kopf Acipenser, Miinchen, 1893)., and from the
nature of other recent work on the genesis of parts of the
cranium hitherto thought to be wholly trabecular in origin, it
might well be further upheld. As for the discovery of the
nerve, I have been lately much interested to find that Mr. E.
Phelps Allis, jun., an investigator who has done grand work in
Cranial Morphology, has recently and independently arrived at
a similar result. It was while working in my laboratory in July
last that he mentioned the fact to me. Remembering that your
father had published the aforementioned hints on the subject,
and recalling conversations I had with him, it occurred to me
to look into his unpublished MSS. (then being sorted), if per-
chance he had gone further. And, behold ! there is a lengthy
attempt to write the matter up in full, in which, among other
things, he was seeking to show that, on this basis, the mode of

Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 41 of 49)