Thomas Henry Huxley – A Reminiscence1

by Wilfred Ward
The Nineteenth Century (1896)

[274] The 'personal equation' is often an element very necessary to the true interpretation of a great writer's words. Of the many thousands in England and America who have eagerly read their 'Huxley' few have known the man. They are familiar, perhaps, with his essays on the 'Gadarene pig affair' and the 'Noachian deluge;' and they have in all probability–as the present writer once had–a one-sided impression of the intention and animus of such sallies. And a similar difference between the writer and the man extends to many other subjects. If this be so, it may be worth while for those who knew Mr. Huxley in later life to record personal traits which have interpreted for them much of his writing. Doubtless such sketches are necessarily themselves made from a special point of view. But what Huxley was to all his acquaintance can only be learnt by knowing what he was to each. And conscious though I am how imperfectly I shall express recollections which are very vivid, I make the attempt with the less scruple, as it was suggested to me by one whose wishes in the matter should be paramount.

My first direct intercourse with Mr. Huxley was accidentally such as to confirm my original impression of him as a somewhat uncompromising and unapproachable man of war. I was collecting materials about the year 1885 for some account of the old Metaphysical Society, to be published in the biography of my father, W. G. Ward, who was at one time its chairman. I wrote to several prominent members of the society, and received kind answers and contributions from all of them except Mr. Huxley, who did not reply to my letter at all. I remember thinking that I had made a mistake in writing to him, and that probably his antagonism to my father in the debates made him unwilling to say anything on the subject.

I was therefore the more pleasantly surprised when. in the year 1890, a common friend of mine and Mr. Huxley's (Sir M. E Grant Duff) brought me a friendly message, expressing great contrition in [275] the matter of the unanswered letter, explaining that it had arrived at a time of total prostration through ill health, and offering to write for my book an account of my father's share in the debates of the society. I gladly accepted the offer; and the paper came, which, though brief, was very characteristic of Mr. Huxley himself both in its matter and in its manner. As moreover the account it gives will serve to show that side of Huxley which made him and myself afterwards, to use his own words, 'the friendliest of foes,' I here insert it.

It was at one of the early meetings of the Metaphysical Society that I first saw Dr. Ward.2 I forget whether he or I was the late comer; at any rate we were not introduced. I well recollect wondering what chance had led the unknown member, who looked so like a jovial country squire, to embark in our galley–that singular rudderless ship, the stalwart oarsmen of which were mostly engaged in pulling as hard as they could against one another, and which consequently performed only circular voyages all the years it was in commission.

But when a few remarks on the subject under discussion fell from the lips of that beaming countenance, it dawned upon my mind that a physiognomy quite as gentle of aspect as that of Thomas Aquinas (if the bust on the Pincian Hill is any authority) might possibly be the façade of a head of like quality. As time went on, and Dr. Ward took a leading part in our deliberations, my suspicions were fully confirmed. As a quick-witted dialectician, thoroughly acquainted with all the weak points of his antagonist's case, I have not met with Dr. Ward's match. And it all seemed to come so easily to him; searching questions, incisive, not to say pungent, replies, and trains of subtle argumentation were poured forth which, while sometimes passing into earnest and serious exposition, would also–when lighter topics came to the front–be accompanied by an air of genial good humour, as if the whole business were rather a good joke. But it was no joke to reply efficiently.

Although my personal intercourse with Dr. Ward was as limited as it might be expected to be between two men who were poles asunder, not only in their occupations and circumstances, but in their ways of regarding life and the proper ends of action, yet I am glad to remember that we soon became the friendliest of foes. It was not long after we had reached this stage that in the course of some truce in our internecine dialectic warfare (I think at the end of one of the meetings of the Metaphysical Society) Dr. Ward took me aside and opened his mind thus: 'You and I are on such friendly terms that I do not think it is right to let you remain ignorant of something I wish to tell you.' Rather alarmed at what this might portend, I begged him to say on. 'Well, we Catholics hold that so and so and so and so (naming certain of our colleagues whose heresies were of a less deep hue than mine) are not guilty of absolutely unpardonable error; but your case is different, and I feel it is unfair not to tell you so.' Greatly relieved, I replied, without a moment's delay, perhaps too impulsively, 'My dear Dr. Ward, if you don't mind I don't ;' whereupon we parted with a hearty hand-shake, and intermitted neither friendship nor fighting thenceforth.

I have often told the story, and not unfrequently I have regretted to observe that my hearer conceived the point of it to lie in my answer. But to my mind the worth of the anecdote consists in the evidence it affords of the character of Dr. Ward. He was before all things a chivalrous English gentleman–I would say a philosophical and theological Quixote, if it were not that our associations with the name of the knight of La Mancha are mainly derived from his adventures, and not from the noble directness and simplicity of mind which led to those misfortunes."

[276] Not very long after I received this graphic word-picture, I became a neighbour of Mr. Huxley's at Eastbourne. We exchanged visits, and afterwards had many a talk on nearly every conceivable subject, which were among the most intellectually stimulating that I have ever known.

I shall best describe the impression Huxley made on me by contrasting it with the general idea which I, in common no doubt with many another, had formed of him. He always wrote. as Darwin has said, with his pen dipped in aqua fortis and one naturally conceived of him as a combative and even an aggressive man. Moreover the layman's idea of the professional man of science generally includes something of the pedantic. One anticipates that his conversation, however instructive, will deal largely with very technical subjects in very technical language. Again, the tone of some of the essays to which I have referred was unquestionably Voltairian.

All the greater was my surprise to find the three elements of pugilist, pedant, and scoffer not only not prominent, but conspicuous by their absence. In their place was a personality of singular charm. External gifts of manner and presence, and powers of general conversation which would have ensured popularity to any mere man of the world, were combined with those higher endowments–including great breadth of culture as well as the acquirements of a distinguished specialist–to which no mere man of the world could aspire. I must add that I believe the elements of gentleness and sympathy which gave so much additional charm to his singular brilliancy had become more noticeable in later life; and I have not always found my own impression of a kindliness which suggested great tenderness of feeling shared by those whose acquaintance with him belonged to a much earlier date. But these things were conspicuous at the time I speak of; and while I gradually learnt how to explain their consistency with the polemical style which he preserved to the end in his writing, my first impression was that the man and the writer were very dissimilar people.

His appearance is well known. Above the middle height, the white hair without parting brushed straight back, the lips firm and slightly compressed; a very mobile expression; and I would add (what the current photographs do not represent) eyes full of fire, rather deep-set beneath bushy eyebrows. and a look of keenest interest in all around him, often of great wistfulness. Both in his manner and in his appearance there was marked distinction and dignity. The general impression left by his face was certainly one of intellectual force and activity rather than of scorn.

His conversation was singularly finished and (if I may so express it) clean cut; never long winded or prosy; enlivened by vivid illustrations. He was an excellent raconteur, and his stories had a stamp of their own which would have made them always and everywhere accept[277]able. His sense of humor and economy of words would have made it impossible, had he lived to ninety, that they should ever have been disparaged as symptoms of what has been called 'anecdotage.' I was naturally led to compare his conversation with that of two remarkable men whom I had recently been seeing when first I met Huxley. There was the same contrast between his conversation and that of Tennyson or of Cardinal Newman as there was between their views. Tennyson and Newman alike always suggested more than they said. There was an unspoken residuum behind their speech, which, as Wordsworth once said of the peak of a Swiss mountain hidden behind the low clouds, you felt to be there though you could not see it. Huxley, on the contrary, finished his thoughts completely, and expressed them with the utmost precision. There were not the ruggedness and the gaps which marked Tennyson's speech, nor the pauses, the reserve, the obvious consciousness of suggestion on subjects too wide and intricate for full expression which one felt with Newman. The symmetry and finish of Huxley's utterances were so great that one could not bring oneself to interrupt him, even when this completeness of form seemed to be possible only through ignoring for the moment much that should not be ignored. No doubt the deafness, which increased in later years, made one yet more ready rather to listen than to talk; but the quickness of his perceptions was so great that dialogue was in its place a matter of no great difficulty. If he heard even a word or two he had the clue to the rest, and seldom failed to follow it successfully.

He seemed to me to be almost the ideal of a converser. He was never frivolous and yet never dull. He did not plunge abruptly into deep subjects, but exchanged the ordinary remarks and greetings with naturalness and simplicity, and then talked according to his company. If one cared for the problems of the mind and of human life, one came to them quickly enough. But he was perfectly happy and at home talking about politics or persons, about his garden, or even about the weather, if his hearers preferred it. And there was nothing which he did not contrive to make interesting.

No doubt such exceptional charm followed the law by which natural gifts keep a certain measure of equality in different persons. It was purchased at some cost. Incisiveness and brilliancy went with over-positiveness. Intolerance and one-sidedness appeared at a certain stage. And although to know him was to reject for ever the idea that he was a scoffer, he treated the conclusions of the scientific leaders, even outside the sphere of science, somewhat as the Grand Inquisitor treated the definitions of the Church. Those who called them in question were regarded as being 'outside the pale.' It will seem inevitable that one who differed so widely from him should think him (as I did) more ready to see the weaker side of theological [278] positions far apart from his own, than to enter into their real strength. I except, however, from this remark the works of Bishop Butler and Sir William Hamilton, with whose methods he had much in common, though he rejected many of their conclusions. The form of his conversation was dialectical rather than suggestive or meditative. One was often reminded that he was, in some matters, the professed advocate of a cause, and even of a party. It was easy to accept his own statement in his autobiography that his temper was not naturally an even one. One could readily conceive, on provocation, that in word as well as in writing he would be a thoroughly good fighter; and one could picture him driven to bay, with his back to the wall, and dealing out destruction against great odds. I never felt in his discussions the full measure of philosophic calm. Opposite considerations to those which determined his own conclusions were indeed often seen and expressed with great lucidity, but less in the spirit of philosophic inquiry than in that of a just but convinced advocate, whose ultimate positions are absolutely predetermined. Doubtless one felt at the same time that there had been a more judicial sifting of considerations on all sides before his conclusions had been reached, and that the advocacy was not special pleading to order, but the outcome of deep conviction. But none the less his method was distinctly that of the able and lucid exponent of one side. 'That is my case, my lord,' would have come naturally at the end. His exposition was not that of the thinker who sees horizons on every side, too wide-reaching to be fully described, and yet too unmistakable to be ignored. There were no half-lights or hesitations. All that was contemplated was very distinct; the results arrived at were very definite, and their drift consciously told for the defence of the clear system he had elaborated.

Yet so far as my own experience went, the intellectual pleasure he seemed to find in letting each side say its say and do its best, prevented these characteristics of the partisan from marring intercourse; although, in weighing the value of his own views of things, they must be taken into account. In conversation, I nearly always found him, up to the point beyond which we tacitly agreed not to carry our debates, tolerant as a listener, though always more brilliant, forcible, and definite. than convincing, suggestive, or entirely comprehensive in his replies. His love of the free play of dialectics, irrespective of the side on which they were exercised, was exemplified in his enjoyment of the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas. I have on several occasions interrupted him (as he told me at the time) in the act of perusing its pages. 'Aquinas' bust on the Pincian Hill,' he once said 'shows a combination of a singularly simple and devout heart, with a head of very remarkable capacity. He got his premises from his heart. and reached his conclusions with the admirable logical force of his intellect.' 'His marvellous grasp and subtlety of intellect [279] seem to me to be almost without a parallel,' is the tribute which Mr. Huxley has paid in print to the 'Angelic Doctor.'3

The same appreciation of the intellectual drill of the school man is visible in his account (in the Lay Sermons) of a visit he paid some thirty years ago to a Catholic College which, after the lapse of time, I may mention to have been Maynooth:

It was my fortune some time ago (he writes) to pay a visit to one of the most important institutions in which the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church are trained in these islands, and it seemed to me that the difference between these men and the comfortable champions of Anglicanism and Dissent was comparable to the difference between our gallant volunteers and the trained veterans of Napoleon's Old Guard.

The Catholic priest is trained to know his business and do it effectually. The professors of the college in question–learned, zealous, and determined men–permitted me to speak frankly with them. We talked like outposts of opposed armies during a truce–as friendly enemies.

And after recording the confidence with which the professors prophesied that a Church which had survived so many storms would survive the existing infidel movement, and describing the systematic training given to the Divinity students with a view to refuting contemporary attacks on Christianity, he adds:

I heartily respect an organisation which meets its enemies in this way, and I wish that all ecclesiastical organisations were in as effective a condition. I think it would be better not only for them but for us. The army of liberal thought is at present in very loose order; and many a modern freethinker makes use of his freedom mainly to vent nonsense. We should be the better for a vigorous and watchful enemy to hammer us into cohesion and discipline; and I for one lament that the bench of Bishops cannot show a man of the calibre of Bishop Butler of the Analogy, who, if he were alive, would make short work of the current a priori infidelity.

My first talk with Huxley naturally enough turned on the subject of the old Metaphysical Society at which he had known my father. The society, which was originated at the suggestion of Mr. James Knowles, included most of the prominent thinkers on the philosophy of Religion, amateurs as well as professionals. Mr. Gladstone, Dr. Martineau, Cardinal Manning, the Duke of Argyll, Tennyson and Ruskin were among the more distinguished members. Huxley was very graphic and amusing in his remarks on this subject. 'They were afraid of asking me to join at first,' he said; 'they thought I should be such a firebrand.'

Eventually, however, Huxley did join, and the most friendly relations subsisted between him and (curiously enough) the Catholic members of the society, Father Dalgairns, Cardinal Manning, and my father. But, indeed, members of all schools of thought rapidly became friendly and sympathetic. 'This was a great surprise,' said Huxley. 'We thought at first that it would be a case of Kilkenny cats. Hats [280] and coats would be left in the hall before the meeting, but there would be no wearers left, after it was over, to put them on again. Instead of this we came to love each other like brothers. We all expended so much charity, that had it been money we should have been bankrupt.' The work of the society was principally one of mutual understanding. Once each member thoroughly understood the position of his opponents, it was seen to involve a divergence in first principles which no argument could affect. Friendliness became the order of the day and debate grew less useful. 'The society died of too much love,' added Mr. Huxley.

I used, rightly or wrongly, to trace to the influence of the Metaphysical Society a very curious mixture of feelings in Mr. Huxley in respect of his theological opponents. No doubt his polemic against the theologians had been. as he said, suggestive of the 'firebrand.' Yet nothing could be more kindly than the two accounts I have cited of the Maynooth priests and of the Catholic theologian. And I believe it was the Metaphysical Society which fashioned this somewhat remarkable blend.

The society was founded in 1869. The years immediately preceding its formation had probably stamped deep on his mind a sense of unjust treatment at the hands of professional ecclesiastics. The advocates of Darwinism and of the 'higher' criticism of the Scriptures–and Huxley was in both ranks–had been for years treated simply as the enemies of religion. The distinctions familiar to all of us now, the admission on all sides of a measure of truth in both these phases of speculation, were little thought of in the sixties. The Origin of Species had appeared in 1859, and Colenso had raised the Scripture question at about the same time. 1859 to 1869 had been for Huxley years of war; and with his very direct and practical mind, he saw in the theological protests of the hour nothing but thoroughly unjust persecution of himself and his friends for researches undertaken in the interests of truth. The ecclesiastical 'obstructives' who condemned him without attending to his arguments remained in his mind for a long time as absolute types of bigotry. Their line of action appeared to him to set a premium on hypocrisy. The men who had the courage of their convictions were ostracised; and the time-servers among men of science who refused to brave the ignorant clamour of the multitude enjoyed an unenviable popularity. Huxley's moral sense appeared to be simply revolted by this. Some will think that he failed to do justice to the element of instinctive caution which blended with the real bigotry of those critics who took up the narrowest attitude–the element explained by Cardinal Newman in his defence of the condemnation of Galileo. The principle of economy for the protection of weak minds was not at all congenial to Mr. Huxley, although he did in some degree recognise it. His ruling passion was the advance [281] of scientific truth, and this was being impeded, and a noble sincerity to conviction treated as a crime (he thought) by men, some of whom at least did not seem to him even deeply sincere. It was officialism versus true genius.

He was not insensible to the element of moral reprobation among the opponents of evolution which made them mark him out as a dangerous man, and which struck, as he has humorously said, at his 'respectability.' And I have always supposed that it was in these earlier years of the struggle that he acquired the deep and genuine sense of injustice on the part of ecclesiastics generally, and of anger at what he considered preposterous superstition, which frequently reappeared, to the very end, in his writing.

On the other hand, in the Metaphysical Society the conditions were so different that he inevitably met theological foes on far pleasanter terms. Intercourse was personal, and candid debate was the order of the day. Notably in the case of the Catholic members of the society he could have no feeling of the substitution of a sanctimonious moral reprobation for frank discussion. The great friendliness which arose between the extreme parties in the society introduced a new element of kindly divergence, and apparently gave birth to a real intellectual respect in Huxley for some of the detested theologians. His two sentiments were perhaps not entirely consistent, for men of intellectual force are not likely to defend absurd superstitions; but both remained. And they occasionally led, in conversation, to a playful combination of language recalling the severest theological condemnation of his views, with the humour and friendly feeling which in almost all cases subsisted in his personal intercourse with opponents. 'We wicked people,' he would often say, in speaking of himself and his allies. A friendly meeting with priest or clergyman was enjoyed, perhaps as a sign that to some extent bygones were bygones; while enough remembrance of opposition remained to give piquancy to the recontre.

I have a good many notes illustrative of some of these phases of his thought. I think it was in 1892 that I saw him just after he had been to a meeting of the Trustees of the British Museum. 'After the meeting,' he told me, 'Archbishop Benson helped me on with my great coat. I was quite overcome by this species of spiritual investiture. "Thank you, Archbishop," I said; "I feel as if I were receiving the pallium."' A little later he met at Maloja a Catholic professor of some German university, and had many a story to tell of their frequent conversations, and of the pleasure he derived from the priest's company, which he had evidently cultivated.

On another occasion he was at a meeting of the British Association in York, and he and Mrs. Huxley went to visit the Minster. He greatly enjoyed the remark on this occasion of Henry Smith (of Oxford celebrity), who met them there. 'You did not expect to see [282] us here?' asked Huxley. 'Yes, I did,' replied Smith, 'but on the pinnacle.'

Something of the same humour, coupled with a remembrance of the days when his championship of evolution was most widely reprobated, appears in a letter which he wrote me from Gloucester in September 1892, in reply to my congratulations on his being made a Privy Councillor:

Very many thanks [he wrote] for your kind congratulations. Morris has a poem somewhere about the man who was born to be a king, and became one in spite of probability. It is evident to me now that I was born to be respectable. I have done my level best to avoid that honour, but behold me indelibly stamped.

We are staying here with one of our daughters and enjoying the festival. . . . We hope to be back in Eastbourne next week, but we shall have to go to the Grand Hotel, as seven devils in the shape of workmen must be driven out of our house.

See what an opening I have given you for a conclusion to that sentence."

He often resented being identified with simple destruction in matters of religious faith, and disclaimed all sympathy with the scoffing spirit. His opposition to theology had not meant, he said, opposition to religion. I remember his showing me Boehm's bust of himself, and expressing strongly his dislike of its expression. 'It is almost Voltairian,' he said. 'You should not destroy until you are in a position to build up something to replace what you have destroyed,' was another saying of his: 'Descartes saw that, and advocated a morale par provision, a system to act upon (pending the conclusion of his philosophical inquiries)–a system which included adhering to the religion in which he had been brought up.' Huxley's application of this principle was very intelligible in his protests against dogmatic infidelity.4 But it used to seem to me, as I once told him, to be forgotten in his extremely polemical tone, which unquestionably did often lead others to abandon even a provisional adherence to any religious system. But I believe his failure to take this into consideration to have been partly due to the exclusively scientific cast of his mind. The cause of scientific discovery was paramount to all else; and whatever even appeared to impede it he assailed ruthlessly. Moreover he wrote for experts, or at least for careful students. In point of fact, readers include the impressionable and unintellectual as well as the intellectual; and an anti-Christian rhetoric may, for such readers, destroy religious belief wholesale, including positions which the writer himself, to say the least, considered quite tenable to the end. He said to me once, in 1894, 'Faulty and incorrect as is the Christian definition of Theism, it is nearer the truth than the creed of some agnostics who conceive of no unifying principle in the world.' He proceeded to defend eloquently the argument from design, refer[283]ing me to his volume of Darwiniana, to show that he had admitted in print that it could not be disproved by the evolution theory.5 This position, which entirely tallies with his statement that only a 'very great fool' would deny in his heart a God conceived as Spinoza conceives Him,6 was distinctly short of the degree of agnosticism currently attributed to him by those who read him hastily and blended their own logic with his rhetoric. Such an attitude towards destructive thought, coupled with Descartes' maxim, was perhaps the explanation of his recognising a value and real sacredness in current religious forms which the aggressive irreligionists of France ostentatiously despise.

Nevertheless he claimed (half humorously) the sanction of Descartes, who lived and died a fervent Catholic, for pressing his speculative doubts to their utmost limit. He once told me that he thought his own Lecture on Descartes the best exhibition of his religious attitude as a whole. And it was impossible not to recognise the strenuous honesty which led him to look frankly in the face problems for which he could find no speculative solution. Regarded as a contribution to philosophy, such a method has commended itself to thinkers whose ultimate positions were various–Catholics like Descartes and Pascal, Theists like Kant, as well as negative thinkers. But Descartes did not abandon his religious convictions when he instituted his 'methodic doubt,' which was to be the instrument of their theoretic justification. It is the identification of what is really only a step towards the analysis of the foundations of belief with the immediate guide to practical conviction, which marks the difference between Huxley and Descartes. Apart from this, one felt the value to the cause of truth of Huxley's lucid and candid exhibition of the 'case' of the negative thinker; and one could not but respect his enthusiasm for the man who gives forth his deepest convictions in the face of obloquy, even while one felt that in point of fact consideration for the effect on society might show what was in intention a protest against insincerity, to have been in effect rash and misleading. To Huxley this consideration was not, I think, of weight. To speak out each fresh fragment of truth which he supposed himself to have discerned was to him a duty, and not a complex one. He who thus spoke was confessor or martyr. He did not, I think, realise how often the truest he could see at the moment in science might mislead from the crudity and inaccuracy of its first statement, and from its apparent conflict with equally true convictions of society in other departments. He tended to identify outspoken candour with love of truth, and prudent reserve or patient suspense of judgment with insincerity.

This feeling came out in the course of a talk with him in 1894. [284] He was speaking of Dean Stanley, whose brother Owen he had known in early life, and who had died out at sea in Huxley's arms. 'Arthur Stanley was before all things a sincere man,' he said.

'Men of ability are common enough, but men of character and conviction are very rare. It is the grandest thing conceivable to see a man speaking out and acting out his convictions in the face of unpopularity. What a grand man was your Gregory the Seventh, though I should not have been pleased for his views to have prevailed. But he was a man of strength and conviction.'

He also talked of Kant. It is remarkable.' he said, 'that Kant is a very clear writer on Physics. though obscure on Metaphysics.' I said that this seemed a testimony to his depth; it showed the obscurity not to be due to Kant's own want of perspicuity, but to the difficulty of the subject. Huxley, to whom things were always either evident or unknowable, demurred. 'No,' he replied 'it was because he did not want too many people to understand him. He would have been persecuted for his scepticism.'

The Romanes lecture of 1893 has been much commented on as a recantation of his most aggressive theological views, and Huxley resented this account of it. He pointed out most truly that the position taken up in it had been long ago indicated by him. But many will continue to look on it as an example of his insistence in later years on the more religious admissions of his own public teaching. If the logic was that of his other writings, the rhetoric was not; and it was natural that average readers who had ascribed to him an irreligious attitude, much of which was really due to the rhetoric rather than the logic of his earlier works, should now in turn note the change from the hostile tone in which they had observed, rather than the identity of his logical position which they had never mastered. I saw him more than once before he went to deliver the lecture and he was suffering both from weakness and from loss of voice–so much so, that he doubted his being able to deliver it at all.

In the end he went to Oxford and was most cordially received. The lecture was a remarkable one. He shows in it with great force how entirely the struggle for existence and survival of the fittest, as represented in the 'cosmic process' antecedent to human civilisation, fails to account for the ethical element in man. The cosmic process is destructive, and survival in its course is due to the selfish and self-assertive elements in sentient nature. These elements–which in man are the 'original sin ' of the theologians–remain in the race, and have to be counteracted, if social life is to be possible, by the more or less artificial cultivation of the sympathetic and conscientious elements. He sent me a copy of the lecture, and I wrote expressing my strong assent to some of its main propositions, although I added that he would no doubt not accept the 'transcendental' conclusion which I should draw from his arguments.

[285] The Oxford business [he wrote to me in reply], lecture, dinner and all, was too much for me; and even after three or four days' rest in a quiet country house I collapsed on our way to another, and had to come straight home. Since my return I have been almost living in the garden, and otherwise most diligently idle. I read [your] chapter on the 'Metaphysical,'7 though, and was delighted with the saying that it died of too much love, attributed to me by such a competent witness that I am not going to dispute the fact, though I had utterly forgotten it.

I was quite sure you would agree with my main thesis (in the Romanes Lecture), for it is only the doctrine that Satan is the Prince of this world–from the scientific side.

Why should not materialists be transcendentalists? What possible difference can it make whether the hypostatised negative 'substance' is the same for mind and matter or different ?

I am very sorry my cigar man served you so badly. I cannot make it out, as he invariably sends me the same quality. That confounded 'cosmic process' has got hold of him.

Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. Huxley.

I have said that his conversation had the widest range. Point and humour were always there. If he spoke of persons or scenes, you carried away some definite feature of the personality or events in question.

I well remember his description–given with true Yankee twang –of a lecture he had to deliver at New York, where he was received with great enthusiasm. The reporters of the Baltimore paper called on him, and said they must have the lecture for publication on the day of its delivery. Huxley explained that the lecture existed as yet only in his own head. Still they pressed for it, and he complied with their demand, stipulating that if he rehearsed it for them they must give him a copy, lest they should publish one lecture and he should give another. The rehearsal was made, and the copy sent; but when he opened it–in the very Lecture Hall itself–it proved to be a wholly illegible transcript on tissue paper. To make the story perfect he ought to have delivered an entirely different lecture from the one reported; but his excellent memory served him, and the reports of the actual lecture and of the rehearsal, although somewhat different, were not sufficiently so to betray what had occurred.

I felt my impression of Carlyle's dogged Scotch unsympathetic persistency in measuring everything by his own ideas sensibly deepened by a story which Huxley told me of their mutual relations. Carlyle and he were for long good friends, but had a serious difference on the evolution question in the early stages of the controversy. Their personal intercourse ceased in consequence. After an interval of many years Huxley happened to see the Scotchman crossing the street in London, and thinking that bygones might be bygones, went up to him and spoke to him. Carlyle did not at first recognise him, but when he had made out who it was, he at once said, [286] with Scotch twang, as though he were continuing the last conversation of years ago, 'You're Huxley, are you? You're the man that's trying to persuade us all that we're the children of apes; while I am saying that the great thing we've really got to do is to make ourselves as much unlike apes as possible.' Huxley, who had hoped that the weather or politics might have been admitted for the sake of peace, soon found that the best thing he could do was to retreat, and return to their tacit agreement to differ.

So, too, Stanley's impressionable and imaginative nature was brought out by him in an anecdote. Stanley, vividly impressed by the newest thought of the hour. liberal. and advanced by family and school tradition, had sympathised with Colenso's treatment of the Bible in some degree; yet his historical impressionableness told the other way. Huxley explained his position thus:

'Stanley could believe in anything of which he had seen the supposed site, but was sceptical where he had not seen. At a breakfast at Monckton Milnes's, just at the time of the Colenso row, Milnes asked me my views on the Pentateuch, and I gave them. Stanley differed from me. The account of creation in Genesis he dismissed at once as unhistorical; but the call of Abraham, and the historical narrative of the Pentateuch, he accepted. This was because he had seen Palestine–but he wasn't present at the Creation.'

Admirably did he once characterise Tennyson's conversation. 'Doric beauty is its characteristic–perfect simplicity, without any ornament or anything artificial.' Of an eminent person whose great subtlety of mind was being discussed, he said that the constant over-refinement of distinctions in his case destroyed all distinctness. Anything could be explained away, and so one thing came to mean the same as its opposite. Some one asked, 'Do you mean that he is untruthful?' 'No,' replied Huxley, 'he is not clear-headed enough to tell a lie.'

One of the subjects of his enthusiasm was John Bright–his transparent sincerity, his natural distinction, his oratorical power. 'If you saw him and A.B.' (naming a well-known nobleman) 'together,' he said, 'you would have set down Bright; as the aristocrat, and the other as the plebeian. His was the only oratory which ever really held me. His speeches were masterpieces. There was the sense of conviction in them, great dignity, and the purest English.'

He once spoke strongly of the insight into scientific method shown in Tennyson's In Memoriam, and pronounced it to be 'quite equal to that of the greatest experts.' Tennyson he considered the greatest English master of melody, except Spenser and Keats. I told him of Tennyson's insensibility to music, and he replied that it was curious that scientific men as a rule had more appreciation of music than poets or men of letters. He told me of one long talk he had [287] had with Tennyson, and added that immortality was the one dogma to which Tennyson was passionately devoted.

Of Browning. Huxley said: 'He really has music in him. Read his poem, The Thrush, and you will see it. Tennyson said to me,' he added, 'that Browning had plenty of music in him, but he could not get it out.'

A few more detached remarks illustrate the character and tastes of the man. He expressed once his delight in Switzerland and in the beauty of Monte Generoso. 'There is nothing like Switzerland,' he said. 'But I also delight in the simplest rural English scenery. A country field has before now entranced me.' 'One thing, he added, 'which weighs with me against pessimism, and tells for a benevolent Author of the universe, is my enjoyment of scenery and music. I do not see how they can have helped in the struggle for existence. They are gratuitous gifts.'

He enjoyed greatly the views within his reach at Eastbourne. and his enjoyment was stimulated by the constitutional walk which took him frequently up the downs. 'The incubus of thought is got rid of,' he said, 'if you walk up a hill and walk fast.' He was eloquent on the beauty of Beachy Head. 'Building at Eastbourne is one of the few prudent things I ever did. It contradicts the proverb, Fools build houses for wise men to live in." '

He spoke of the Royal Commission on Vivisection. 'The general feeling was at first strongly for vivisection,' he said. 'but one German changed the current of opinion by remarking, "I chloroform a cat because it scratches, but not a dog."' This at once suggested possibilities of cruelty. and (as I understood) was the cause of the amount of restriction ultimately placed on the practice. Apropos of vivisection, he spoke strongly of the absurdity of the outcry against it, as long as such things as pigeon-shooting were tolerated for mere amusement.

Speaking of two men of letters, with neither of whom he sympathised, he once said, 'Don't mistake me; I don't class them together. One is a thinker and man of letters, the other. is only a literary man. Erasmus was a man of letters, Gigadibs a literary man. A. B. is the incarnation of Gigadibs. I should call him Gigadibsius optimtus maximus.' When I showed him the various accounts of the Metaphysical Society which had been sent to me, and which revealed certain discrepancies, he said, 'Don't get any more, or the German critics will prove conclusively that it never existed.' Characteristic, too, was his genial pleasure in telling us how his little granddaughter looked at him, and then said emphatically, 'Well, you're the curiousest old man I ever saw.'

My talks with him during the last year of his life were almost entirely connected with the philosophy of religious Faith. In 1894 I introduced to him a young friend of mine, an Oxford man, who [288] lived in Eastbourne. On this occasion he was very eloquent in Bishop Butler's praise, and on the conclusiveness of his argument in the Analogy as far as it went. 'But Butler was really one of us,' he added. 'That halting style, that hesitancy in expression, show that he was looking for a conclusion–something which he had not yet found.' My friend remarked that Newman thought that that something was Catholicism, and that Newman had developed Butler in a Catholic sense. 'A most ingenious developer,' replied Huxley, with amused emphasis.

He went up to Oxford for the meeting of the British Association, and I saw him shortly after his return. The whole thing had tired him very much, but the enthusiastic reception he had met with evidently gratified him. He criticised Lord Salisbury's address, in which he had spoken of the argument from design. and had attacked Weismann for ruling it out of court.

'After all [Huxley continued] my predominant feeling was one of triumph. I recalled the last meeting of the British Association at Oxford in the sixties. when it was supposed to be downright atheism to accept evolution at all, and when Bishop Wilberforce turned to me in public and said, "Was it your grandfather or your grandmother, Mr. Huxley, who was an ape?" And now Lord Salisbury, though he ventured to attack us, did not venture to question the doctrine of evolution–the thing for which he had really been struggling.'

He was highly pleased with an article on him which appeared in January 1895 in the Quarterly. 'It made me feel quite young again,' he said. 'It is a strong attack, of course, but very well written. I know a good bit of work when I see it.' He recurred several times to this article, and the significance of his pleasure struck me when I came to read it. For, like the Romanes Lecture, the article emphasised that side of Huxley's teaching which was consistent with the Theistic view of life–a side so often ignored by his critics. 'I have been attacked all my life,' he added, 'but so are many better men than me. Those whose views ultimately triumph, often go through the most obloquy in their own time.'

There is a sad interest in the last scenes of the life of a man of genius which will be sufficient excuse for describing in some detail the last long conversation which I had with Mr. Huxley. Someone had sent me Mr. A. J. Balfour's book on Foundations of Belief early in February 1895. We were very full of it, and it was the theme of discussion on the 17th 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 impregnated 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 [289] 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. " Naturalism" 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 whom 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-century 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 feelings [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 [290] did not seem inclined 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. Clifford'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 remembered Frank Balfour as a boy at Eton, and saw his unusual talent there. 'Then my friend, Michael Forster, 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 shows I was wrong.'

Apropos to his remark about the Comtists, one of the company pointed out that in later life Comte recognised a science of 'the individual,' equivalent to what Huxley meant by psychology. 'That,' he replied, 'was due to the influence of Clotilde 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.

Before he left we had an amusing instance of his positiveness. I reminded him that I had met him a month earlier in embarrassing circumstances. My hat had fallen into a pond. and I had asked him whether to walk home hatless or in the wet hat. 'I took your advice,' I said, 'as the most learned man in England on such subjects. I put on the hat. and I have had a frightful cold in the head ever since.' He replied promptly and quite seriously, 'You would have had pneumonia if you had kept it off.'

After he had gone we were all agreed as to the extraordinary 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.

Shortly afterwards I was anxious to get Huxley's advice as to an illustration I proposed to use in a review of the Foundations of Belief, connected with the gradual growth of sensitiveness to light in sentient beings. Being away from Eastbourne I wrote to him. His reply, written on the 27th of February–just before the commencement of his last illness–has a melancholy interest now.

[291] I am not sure [he wrote] that any information of the kind you need is extant. Among the lowest forms of life 'sensitiveness to light' is measured only by the way in which they group themselves towards or away from light, and it may signify nothing but a physical operation with which sensitiveness in the ordinary sense has nothing to do. The only clue here is in the state of the visual organ, where such exists. It can be traced down from the highest form of eyes step by step to the end of a single nerve filament surrounded by dark pigment and covered by the transparent outer skin. But whether in the last case the nerve ending is as much affected by the light (i.e. ether waves) as the nerve endings in the higher eyes are, and whether the affection of the nerve substance gives rise to a state of consciousness like that produced in us by light waves, are quite insoluble questions.

The most comprehensive discussion of the subject I can call to mind is in Tom. XII. of Milne Edwards's Leçons sur la Physiologie, , and I can lend you the volume, and if you are back here before you want to use your information, I can supply you with oral commentary and diagrams ad libitum. There is not much water in the well, but you shall pump it dry with pleasure.

The first instalment of my discussion of the Foundations of Belief will be out in a day or two. I am sorry to say that my opinion of the book as anything more than a mere bit of clever polemic sinks steadily.

My wife is much better, and I have contrived to escape the pestilence yet. If I could compound for a day or two's neuralgia, I would not mind, but I abhor that long incapacity and convalescence.

Ever yours very faithfully, T. H. Huxley.

The very next day he was taken ill, and after four months, in which that vigorous mind and frame struggled with illness and exhaustion, he passed away.

So ended the life of one of whom Englishmen are justly proud for the extraordinary lucidity and brilliancy with which he impressed on his generation the characteristic scientific creed of his time, as well as for much else which specialists will measure with greater accuracy than the general reader.

In the problems of ethics of religion, to which he gave so much attention, I have attempted to convey my own impression. which will not be shared by those who fix their attention wholly on the destructive side of his teaching, that he united two divergent tendencies. Descartes combined the philosophy of 'methodic doubt' with the faith of a Catholic. The same certainly cannot be said of Huxley. But that an antithesis between his theoretical methods and his practical attitude did impress some of those most interested in his remarkable mind the foregoing pages have shown. I concur with those who believe that his rooted faith in ethical ideals which he confessed himself unable to account for by the known laws of evolution,8 implied a latent recognition of the claims of religious mystery as more imperative and important than he could explicitly [292] admit on his own agnostic principles. Careful students of his writings are aware how far more he left standing of Christian faith than was popularly supposed even in his explicit theories; and this knowledge appeared more and not less significant to many of those who conversed with him.

One thing, at all events, was beyond question–that his occasional flippancy in controversy represented no levity in his way of regarding serious and sacred subjects as a whole. It was in some cases provoked by real narrowness in good people, and sometimes by what I could not but consider his own narrowness, which failed to view minor details of popular Christianity in their true proportion; and sometimes by the temptation to take controversial advantage of positions current among the orthodox which theologians themselves are likely eventually to abandon. Had he lived in the early seventeenth century he would have represented Christianity as standing or falling with the truth of the Ptolemaic system, and have depicted the theologians, who would not at once break with the Ptolemaic interpretation of Josue, as the most vivid caricatures of unreason.

Such considerations made it seem to many of those who met him more philosophical. as it certainly was more natural, not to attach the weight currently given to his attacks on incidental features of a system whose laws of organic growth he never comprehended.

Apart from these subjects one could not but learn much, even amid great divergence, and feel that divergence itself became less by mutual explanation. Had he found a logical place in his theory of knowledge for the great ethical ideals he so much reverenced in word and in practice, I cannot but think that a far greater change in his philosophy would have taken place than he ever contemplated. At all events, he had the power of intercourse, largely sympathetic, with those who could have had little in common with him, had the man been simply identical with his speculative agnosticism.

1 I am indebted to the kindness of Mrs. Huxley and Mr. Leonard Huxley for permission to print the letters from the late Professor Huxley which appear in this present paper.

2 My father was known in the Society as 'Dr.' Ward, from his Papal degree of Doctor in Philosophy.

3 See Science and Morals, p. 142.

4 'Physical science is as little atheistic as it is materialistic' (Science and Morals, p. 140. Cf. Life of Hume.)

5 See Darwiniana, p. 109.

6 See Essay on Science and Morals, p. 140.

7 In W. G. Ward and the Catholic Revival (Macmillan).

8 'Cosmic evolution may teach us how the good and the evil tendencies of man may have come about; but, in itself, it is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before.'


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University