Thomas Henry Huxley.

Life and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley online

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of dinners and you know that just as well as I do.

2nd. I mean to give up the Presidency, but don't see my way
to doing so next St. Andrew's Day. I wish I could but I must
deal fairly by the Society.

3rd. The suggestion of the holiday at Christmas is the most
sensible thing you have said. I could get six weeks under the
new arrangement (Botany, January and half February) without
interfering with my lectures at all. But then there is the blessed
Home Office to consider. There might be civil war between the
net men and the rod men in six weeks, all over the country,
without my mild influence.


4th. I must give up my Inspectorship. The mere thought
of having to occupy myself with the squabbles of these idiots
of country squireens and poachers makes me sick and is, I
believe, the chief cause of the morbid state of my mucous mem-

All this week shall I be occupied in hearing one Jackass con-
tradict another Jackass about questions which are of no im-

I would almost as soon be in the House of Commons.

Now see how reasonable I am. I agree with you (a) that I
must get out of the hurly-burly of society; (ft) that I must get
out of the Presidency; (c) that I must get out of the Inspector-
ship, or rather I agree with myself on that matter, you having
expressed no opinion.

That being so, it seems to me that I must, willy-nilly, give up
S.K. For and here is the point you had in your mind when you
lamented your possible impatience about something I might say
I swear by all the gods that are not mine, nothing shall induce
me to apply to the Treasury for anything but the pound of flesh
to which I am entitled.

Nothing ever disgusted me more than being the subject of a
battle with the Treasury over the H.O. appointment which I
should have thrown up if I could have done so with decency to

It's just as well for me I couldn't, but it left a nasty taste.

I don't want to leave the School, and should be very glad to
remain as Dean, for many reasons. But what I don't see is how
I am to do that and make my escape from the thousand and
one entanglements which seem to me to come upon me quite
irrespectively of any office I hold or how I am to go on living
in London as a (financially) decayed philosopher.

I really see nothing for it but to take my pension and go and
spend the winter of 1885-86 in Italy. I hear one can be a regular
swell there on 1000 a year.

Six months' absence is oblivion, and I shall take to a new
line of work, and one which will greatly meet your approval.

As to X I am not a-going to not being given to hope-
less enterprises. That rough customer at Dublin is the only
man who occurs to me. I can't think of his name, but that is
part of my general unfitness.

.... I suppose I shall chaff somebody on my death-bed.
But I am out of heart to think of the end of the lunches in the
sacred corner. Ever yours, T. H. HUXLEY.


On the 2 1st he writes home about the steps he had
begun to take with respect to giving up part of his official

I have had a long letter from Donnelly. He had told Lord
Carlingford of my plans, and incloses a letter from Lord Car-
lingiord to him, trusting I will not hastily decide, and with some
pretty phrases about " support and honour " I give to the School.
Donnelly is very anxious I should hold on to the School, if only
as Dean, and wants me in any case to take two months' holiday
at Christmas. Of course he looks on the R.S. as the root of all
evil. Foster per contra looks on the School as the deuce, but
would have me stick by the Royal Society like grim death.

The only moral obligation that weighs with me is that which
I feel under, to deal fairly by Donnelly and the School. You
must not argue against this, as rightly or wrongly I am certain
that if I deserted the School hastily, or if I did not do all that
I can to requite Donnelly for the plucky way in which he has
stood by it and me for the last dozen years, I should never shake
off the feeling that I had behaved badly. And as I am much
given to brooding over my misdeeds, I don't want you to in-
crease the number of my hell-hounds. You must help me in
this . . . and if I am Quixotic, play Sancho for the nonce.


TOWARDS the end of September he went to the West
country to try to improve his health before the session
began again in London. Thus he writes, on Sept. 26, to
Mr. W. F. Collier, who had invited him to Horrabridge, and
on the 27th to Sir M. Foster :

FOWEY, Sept. 26, 1884.

Many thanks for the kind offer in your letter, which has
followed me here. But I have not been on the track you might
naturally have supposed I had followed. I have been trying to
combine hygiene with business, and betook myself, in the first
place, to Dartmouth, afterwards to Totnes, and then came on
here. From this base of operations I could easily reach all my
places of meeting. To-morrow I have to go to Bodmin, but I
shall return here, and if the weather is fine (raining cats and
dogs at present), I may remain a day or two to take in stock
of fresh air before commencing the London campaign.

I am very glad to hear that your health has improved so
much. You must feel quite proud to be such an interesting
" case." If I set a good example myself I would venture to
warn you against spending five shillings' worth of strength on
the ground of improvement to the extent of half-a-crown.

I am not quite clear as to the extent to which my children
have colonised Woodtown at present. But it seems to me that
there must be three or four Huxleys (free or in combination, as
the chemists say) about the premises. Please give them the
paternal benediction; and with very kind remembrances to Mrs.
Collier, etc.

Sept. 27, 1884.

MY DEAR FOSTER I return your proof, with a few trifling
suggestions here and there. . . .


1884 ILL-HEALTH 85

I fancy we may regard the award as practically settled, and
a very good award it will be.

The address is beginning to loom in the distance. I have half
a mind to devote some part of it to a sketch of the recent novel-
ties in histology touching the nucleus question and molecular

My wife sent me your letter. By all means let us have a
confabulation as soon as I get back and settle what is to be done
with the " aged P."

I am not sure that I shall be at home before the end of the
week. My lectures do not begin till next week, and the faithful
Howes can start the practical work without me, so that if I find
myself picking up any good in these parts, I shall probably linger
here or hereabouts. But a good deal will depend on the weather
inside as well as outside. I am convinced that the prophet
Jeremiah (whose \vorks I have been studying) must have been
a flatulent dyspeptic there is so much agreement between his
views and mine. Ever yours, T. H. HUXLEY.

But the net result of this holiday is summed up in a
note, of October 5, to Sir M. Foster :

I got better while I was in Cornwall and Wales, and, at
present, I don't think there is anything the matter with me ex-
cept a profound disinclination to work. I never before knew
the proper se'nse of the term " vis inertise."

And writing in the same strain to Sir J. Evans, he
adds :

But I have a notion that if I do not take a long spell of
absolute rest before long I shall come to grief. However, get-
ting into harness again may prove a tonic it often does, e.g.
in the case of cab-horses.

Three days later he found himself ordered to leave Eng-
land immediately, under pain of a hopeless breakdown.

4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE, Oct. 8, 1884.

MY DEAR FOSTER We shall be very glad to see you on Fri-
day. I came to the conclusion that I had better put myself in
Clark's hands again, and he has been here this evening over-
hauling me for an hour.

He says there is nothing wrong except a slight affection of
the liver and general nervous depression, but that if I go on the


latter will get steadily worse and become troublesome. He
insists on my going away to the South and doing nothing but
amuse myself for three or four months.

This is the devil to pay, but I cannot honestly say that I
think he is wrong. Moreover, I promised the wife to abide by
his decision.

We will talk over what is to be done. Ever yours,


ATHEN/EUM CLUB, Oct. 13, 1884.

MY DEAR MORLEY I heartily wish I could be with you on
the 25th, but it is aliter visum to somebody, whether Dis or
Diabolis, I can't say.

The fact is, the day after I saw you I had to put myself in
Clark's hands, and he ordered me to knock off work and go and
amuse myself for three or four months, under penalties of an
unpleasant kind.

So I am off to Venice next Wednesday. It is the only toler-
ably warm place accessible to any one whose wife will not let
him go within reach of cholera just at present.

If I am a good boy I am to come back all sound, as there is
nothing organic the matter; but I have had enough of the
world, the flesh, and the devil, and shall extricate myself from
that Trinity as soon as may be. Perhaps I may get within
measurable distance of Berkeley (English Men of Letters, ed.
J.M.) before I die! Ever yours very faithfully,


ATHEN^UM CLUB, October 18, 1884.

MY DEAR FOSTER Best thanks for your letter and route. I
am giving you a frightful quantity of trouble ; but, as the old
woman (Irish) said to my wife, when she gave her a pair of
my old trousers for her husband, " I hope it may be made up to
ye in a better world."

She is clear, and I am clear, that there is no reason on my
part for not holding on if the Society really wishes I should.
But, of course, I must make it easy for the Council to get rid
of a faineant President, if they prefer that course.

I wrote to Evans an unofficial letter two days ago, and have
had a very kind, straightforward letter from him. He is quite
against my resignation. I shall see him this afternoon here.
I had to go to my office (Fishery).


Clark's course of physic is lightening my abdominal troubles,
but I am preposterously weak with a kind of shabby broken-
down indifference to everything. Ever yours,

T. H. H.

The 'Indian summer' '* to which he looked forward
was not to be reached without passing through a season
of more than equinoctial storms and tempests. His career
had reached its highest point only to be threatened with
a speedy close. He himself did not expect more than two
or three years' longer lease of life, and went by easy stages
to Venice, where he spent eight days. " No place," he
writes, ' could be better fitted for a poor devil as sick in
body and mind as I was w r hen I got there."

Venice itself (he writes to Dr. Foster) just suited me. I
chartered a capital gondolier, and spent most of my time explor-
ing the Lagoons. Especially I paid a daily visit to the Lido,
and rilled my lungs with the sea air, and rejoiced in the absence
of stinks. For Venice is like her population (at least the male
part of it), handsome but odorous. Did you notice how hand-
some the young men are and how little beauty there is among
the women?

I stayed eight days in Venice and then returned by easy
stages first to Padua, where I wanted to see Giotto's work, then
to Verona, and then here (Lugano). Verona delighted me more
than anything I have seen, and we will spend two other days
there as we go back.

As for myself, I really have no positive complaint now. I
eat well and I sleep well, and I should begin to think I was
malingering, if it were not for a sort of weariness and dead-
ness that hangs about me, accompanied by a curious nervous

I expect that this is the upshot of the terrible anxiety I have
had about my daughter M .

I would give a great deal to be able to escape facing the
wedding, for my nervous system is in the condition of that of
a frog under opium.

But my R. must not go off without the paternal benediction.

For the first three weeks he was alone, his wife staying
to make preparations for the third daughter's wedding on

* See page 74.


November 6th, for which occasion he was to return, after-
wards taking her abroad with him. Unfortunately, just as
he started, news was brought him at the railway station that
his second daughter, whose brilliant gifts and happy mar-
riage seemed to promise everything for her future, had been
stricken by the beginnings of an insidious and, as he too
truly feared, hopeless disease. Nothing could have more
retarded his own recovery. It was a bitter grief, referred
to only in his most intimate letters, and, indeed, for a time
kept secret even from the other members of the family.
Nothing was to throw a shade over the brightness of the
approaching wedding.

But on his way home, he writes of that journey :

I had to bear my incubus, not knowing what might come
next, until I reached Luzern, when I telegraphed for intelli-
gence, and had my mind set at ease as to the measures which
were being adopted.

I am a tough subject, and have learned to bear a good deal
without crying out; but those four-and-twenty hours between
London and Luzern have taught me that I have yet a good deal
to learn in the way of " grinning and bearing."

And although he writes, ' ; I would give a good deal not
to face a lot of people next week," . . . ' I have the feelings
of a wounded wild beast and hate the sight of all but my
best friends," he hid away his feelings, and made this the
occasion for a very witty speech, of which, alas ! I remember
nothing but a delightfully mixed polyglot exordium in
French, German, and Italian, the result, he declared, of his
recent excursion to foreign parts, which had obliterated the
recollection of his native speech.

During his second absence he appointed his young-
est daughter secretary to look after necessary correspond-
ence, about which he forwarded instructions from time to

The chief matters of interest in the letters of this period
are accounts of health and travel, sometimes serious, more
often jesting, for the letters were generally written in the
bright intervals between his dark days : business of the
Royal Society, and the publication of the new edition of


the Lessons in Elementary Physiology, upon which he and
Dr. Foster had been at work during the autumn. But the
four months abroad were not productive of very great good ;
the weather was unpropitious for an invalid <k as usual, a
quite unusual season " while his mind was oppressed by
the reports of his daughter's illness. Under these circum-
stances recovery was slow and travel comfortless ; all the
Englishman's love of home breaks out in his letter of April
8, when he set foot again on English soil.

DEAREST BABS I. Why, indeed, do they ask for more?
Wait till they send a letter of explanation, and then say that I
am out of the country and not expected back for several years.

2. I wholly decline to send in any name to Athenaeum. But
don't mention it.

3. Society of Arts be bothered, also .

4. Write to Science and Art Club to engage three of the
prettiest girls as partners for the evening. They will look very
nice as wallflowers.

5. Penny dinners ? declined with thanks.

6. Ask the meeting of Herts N.H. Society to come here after
next Thursday, when we shall be in Bologna.

Business first, my sweet girl secretary with the curly front ;
and now for private affairs, though as your mother is covering
reams with them, I can only mention a few of the more impor-
tant which she will forget.

The first is that she has a habit of hiding my shirts so that
I am unable to find them when we go away, and the chamber-
maid comes rushing after us with the garment shamefully dis-

The second is that she will cover all the room with her
things, and I am obliged to establish a military frontier on the

The third is that she insists on my buying an Italian cloak.
So you will see your venerable pater equipped in this wise.*
Except in these two particulars, she behaves fairly well to me.

In point of climate, so far, Italy has turned out a fraud.
We dare not face Venice, and Mr. Fenili will weep over my de-
fection ; but that is better than that we should cough over his

* Sketch of a cloaked figure like a brigand of melodrama.

9 o


I am quite pleased to hear of the theological turn of the
family. It must be a drop of blood from one of your eight
great-grandfathers, for none of your ancestors that I have
known would have developed in this way.

. . . Best love to Nettie and Harry. Tell the former that
cabbages do not cost 55. apiece, and the latter that n P.M. is the
cloture. Ever your affectionate PATER.


MY DEAR FOSTER Which being St. Andrew's Day, I think
the expatriated P. ought to give you some account of himself.

We had a prosperous journey to Locarno, but there plumped
into bitter cold weather, and got chilled to the bone as the only
guests in the big hotel, though they did their best to make us
comfortable. I made a shot at bronchitis, but happily failed,
and got all right again.

Pallanza was as bad. At Milan temperature at noon 39 F.,
freezing at night. Verona much the same. Under these circum-
stances, we concluded to give up Venice and made for Bologna.
There found it rather colder. Next Ravenna, where it snowed.
However, we made ourselves comfortable in the queer hotel, and
rejoiced in the mosaics of that sepulchral marsh.

At Bologna I had assurances that the Sicilian quarantine
was going to be taken off at once, and as the reports of the rail-
way travelling and hotels in Calabria were not encouraging, I
determined to make for Naples, or rather, by way of extra cau-
tion, for Castellamare. All the way to Ancona the Apennines
were covered with snow, and much of the plain also. Twenty
miles north of Ancona, however, the weather changed to warm
summer, and we rejoiced accordingly. At Foggia I found that
the one decent hotel that used to exist was non-extant, so we
went on to Naples.

Arriving at 10.30 very tired, got humbugged by a lying
Neapolitan, who palmed himself off as the commissaire of the
Hotel Bristol, and took us into an omnibus belonging to another
hotel, that of the British being, as he said, " broke." After a
drive of three miles or so got to the Bristol and found it shut
up ! After a series of adventures and a good deal of strong
language on my part, knocked up the people here, who took us
in, though the hotel was in reality shut up like most of those in

* Owing to the cholera and consequent dearth of travellers.


As usual the weather is " unusual " hot in the sun, cold
round the corner and at night. Moreover, I found by yester-
day's paper that the beastly Sicilians won't give up their ten
days' quarantine. So all chance of getting to Catania or Palermo
is gone. I am not sure whether we shall stay here for some
time or go to Rome, but at any rate we shall be here a week.

Dohrn is away getting subsidies in Germany for his new
ship. We inspected the 'Aquarium this morning. Eisig and
Mayer are in charge. Madame is a good deal altered in the
course of the twelve years that have elapsed since I saw her,
but says she is much better than she was.

As for myself, I got very much better when in North Italy in
spite of the piercing cold. But the fatigue of the journey from
Ancona here, and the worry at the end of it, did me no good, and
I have been seedy for a day or two. However, I am picking up.

I see one has to be very careful here. We had a lovely drive
yesterday out Pausilippo, but the wife got chilled and was shaky
this morning. However, we got very good news of our daughter
this evening, and that has set us both up.

My blessing for to-morrow will reach you after date. Let
us hear how everything went off.

Your return in May project is really impracticable on ac-
count of the Fishery Report. I cannot be so long absent from
the Home Office whatever I might manage with S.K.

With our love to Mrs. Foster and you Ever yours very
faithfully, T. H. HUXLEY.

This letter, as he says a week later, was written when
he ' was rather down in the mouth from the wretched
cold weather, and the wife being laid up with a bad cold,"
besides his own ailments.

I find I have to be very careful about night air, but nothing
does me so much good as six or seven miles' walk between
breakfast and lunch at a good sharp pace. So I conclude that
there cannot be much the matter, and yet I am always on the
edge, so to speak, of that infernal hypochondria.

We have settled down here very comfortably, and I do not
think we shall care to go any further south. Madame Dohrn
and all the people at the stazione are very kind, and want to do
all sorts of things for us. The other day we went in the launch
to Capri, intending next day to go to Amalfi. But it threatened
bad weather, so we returned in the evening. The journey


knocked us both up, and we had to get out of another projected
excursion to Ischia to-day. The fact is, I get infinitely tired
with talking to people and can't stand any deviation from regular
and extremely lazy habits. Fancy my being always in bed by
ten o'clock and breakfasting at nine !

On the loth, writing to Sir John Evans, who as Vice-
President, was acting in his stead at the Royal Society,
he says :

In spite of snow on the ground we had three or four days at
Ravenna which is the most interesting deadly lively sepulchre
of a place I w r as ever in in my life. The evolution of modern
from ancient art is all there in a nutshell. . . .

I lead an altogether animal life, except that I have renewed
my old love for Italian. At present I am rejoicing in the Auto-
biography of that delightful sinner, Benvenuto Cellini. I have
some notion that there is such a thing as science somewhere. In
fact I am fitting myself for Neapolitan nobility.



But we have had no letters from home for a week. . . .
Moreover, if we don't hear to-day or to-morrow we shall begin
to speculate on the probability of an earthquake having swal-
lowed up 4 M. P. " with all the young barbarians at play And
I their sire trying to get a Roman holiday' (Byron). For we
are going to Rome to-morrow, having had enough of Naples,
the general effect of which city is such as would be produced by
the sight of a beautiful woman who had not washed or dressed
her hair for a month. Climate, on the whole, more variable
than that of London.

We had a lovely drive three days ago to Cumae, a perfect
summer's day ; since then sunshine, heat, cold wind, calms all
durcheinander, with thunder and lightning last night to complete
the variety.

The thermometer and barometer are not fixed to the walls
here, as they would be jerked off by the sudden changes. At
first, it is odd to see them dancing about the hall. But you soon
get used to it, and the porter sees that they don't break them-

With love to Nettie and Harry, and hopes that the pudding
will be good Ever your loving father, T. H. HUXLEY.


In January 1885 he went to Rome, whence he writes :-

ROME, Jan. 8, 1885.

MY DEAR FOSTER We have been here a fortnight very well
lodged south aspect, fireplace, and all the rest of the essentials
except sunshine. Of this last there is not much more than in
England, and the grey skies day after day are worthy of our
native land. Sometimes it rains cats and dogs all day by way
of a change as on Christmas Day but it is not cold. " Quite
exceptional weather," they tell us, but that seems to be the rule
everywhere. We have done a respectable amount of gallery-
slaving, and I have been amusing myself by picking up the
topography of ancient Rome. I was going to say Pagan Rome,
but the inappropriateness of the distinction strikes me, papal
Rome being much more stupidly and childishly pagan than im-
perial. I never saw a sadder sight than the kissing a wretched
bedizened doll of a Bambino that went on in the Ara Coeli on
Twelfth day. Your puritan soul would have longed to arise
and slay. . . .

As to myself, though it is a very unsatisfactory subject and
one I am very tired of bothering my friends about, I am like the
farmer at the rent-dinner, and don't find myself much " for-

Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyLife and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley → online text (page 8 of 49)