§ 21. Jungle versus Garden

Just Nature

On the Rattlesnake voyage, Lieutenant Huxley noted in his diary that religion and morality were a vast whirl for him. A few years after his return to England, he began a life-long attempt to impose coherence upon that whirl, identifying his belief as a "scientific Calvinism" which recognized that pain everywhere is inevitable–October 10, 1854. In another letter, Huxley announced his mission as teaching working men to be clean and temperate, not because "fellows in black with white tie tell them so, but because there are plain and patent laws of nature which they must obey 'under penalties'"–February 27, 1855.

For all his adult life, Huxley was sensitive to the effects advancing science would have upon traditional Victorian morality, to which he subscribed as vigorously as he did to the science that seemed to injure that morality–seemed to, but actually the "very air " the student breathes "should be charged with that enthusiasm for truth, that fanaticism of veracity, which is a greater possession than much learning; a nobler gift than the power of increasing knowledge; by so much greater and nobler than these, as the moral nature of man is greater than the intellectual; for veracity is the heart of morality." Universities: Actual and Ideal

Huxley's early view that ethics is programmed by the cosmos is expressed in his letter to Charles Kingsley, its grievous inspiration the death of Noel Huxley: "The Divine Government (if I may use such a phrase to express the sum of the 'customs of matter') is wholly just." The wicked do not flourish, nor are the righteous punished by a Nature that is "juster than we. ... The absolute justice of the system of things is as clear to me as any scientific fact"–September 23, 1860. This perspective appears again in other letters to Kingsley. Kingsley had asked Huxley for an investigation of the efficacy of prayer; to which Huxley replied that he should like to undertake such an assignment, but "Anything I could say would go to the root of praying altogether, for inasmuch as the whole universe is governed, so far as I can see, in the same way, and the moral world is as much governed by laws as the physical–whatever militates against asking for one sort of blessing seems to me to tell with the same force against asking for any other"– October 4, 1860.

In his early essays, he often turned to a kind of natural law that coincided in its dictates with scriptural law. In Science and "Church Policy" (1864), he quoted a phrase "immutable morality" from a sermon, adding to it the parenthetical "(which can be determined only by a strict application of scientific method)." Four years later, in A Liberal Education; and Where to Find It (1868), Huxley defined morality as a kind of scientific law, Nature as a chess player, not malevolent but caring no more for us than any grand master for his opponent, a metaphor examined by R. H. Hutton in Professor Huxley's Hidden Chess Player (1868). Though the children of a workingman might be starving, their father ought not to steal because stealing violates a "moral law." In On Descartes' "Discourse Touching the Method of Using One's Reason Rightly and of Seeking Scientific Truth", he confessed "I protest that if some great Power would agree to make me always think what is true and do what is right, on condition of being turned into a sort of clock and wound up every morning before I got out of bed, I should instantly close with the offer. The only freedom I care about is the freedom to do right; the freedom to do wrong I am ready to part with on the cheapest terms to any one who will take it of me."

Social Darwinism

The recurring question before, during, and after the Victorian period is whether non-human nature provides a model for human conduct. Among the answers is the yes of the Marquis de Sade, that human beings are naturally programmed to act sadistically; another answer, no, was the fine one given by John Stuart Mill in "Nature." Huxley facetiously commented on Darwinism acting as a model for original sin and crib-biting; see letter to Kingsley–April 12, 1866. Darwinism might also function as a model for socialism. "Have you considered that State Socialism (for which I have little enough love) may be a product of Natural Selection? The societies of Bees and Ants exhibit socialism in excelsis," he asked Platt Ball. "The unlucky substitution of 'survival of fittest' for 'natural selection' has done much harm in consequence of the ambiguity of 'fittest'–which many take to mean 'best' or 'highest'–whereas natural selection may work towards degradation vide epizoa "–October 27, 1890. L:ike Mill, Huxley did not think that evolution could really be understood as a model for either original sin or socialism.

Darwin preferred the Spencerian "survival of the fittest" to his own metaphoric "natural selection." To Herbert Spencer, a study of evolution presented a model that could and should be used for society. Just as there is no government interfering with competition among living things, so there should be no government inference with competition among living human beings. Huxley's first essay indicating his disagreement with Spencer was the 1871 Administrative Nihilism, followed by the 1888 The Struggle for Existence in Human Society, the 1893 Evolution and Ethics, and its subsequent clarification: Evolution and Ethics: Prolegomena.

THH, Fellow of the Royal Society, 1846
THH, President of the Royal Society, 1883-1885
Portrait by John Collier, 1883
Trustee, British Museum, 1882-85
Senator of London University, 1883-95

Huxley anticipated that Spencer would not like "Struggle for Existence in Human Society." In a letter on this manuscript, Huxley predicted that Spencer "will be in a white rage with me"–January 9, 1888; and after its publication, noted that "it has made Spencer very angry"–February 9, 1888. Spencer's reply, Absolute Political Ethics (1890), defended Spencerian induction and deduction as in drawing parallels between the individual body and the body politic against Huxley's "injurious characterization." To the charge of administrative nihilism, Spencer retaliated by charging Huxley with "ethical nihilism."

THH drawing on proof of Spencer's Principles of Biology, 1864

Having been granted a pension and made a Privy Councillor, he wrote to Nature approving of the government's recognition of scientific talent–Science and the State (1892). In January of 1893, Professor Karl Pearson identified Huxley as one of those who favored Spencerian "unlimited individual competition." Huxley found this a "grave misrepresentation," referring to Administrative Nihilism and Government: Anarchy or Regimentation (1890) as evidence that he was not "an individualist in all matters"–Two Statements (February 1893).

After retirement in 1885, Huxley worked on few scientific projects, spending his time more on philosophical and political issues, such as agnosticism and natural rights, than on invertebrates or gentians. From Darwin's Bulldog, he had transmogrified into Gladiator General. In 1887, he wrote to a correspondent, "As for me, in part from force of circumstances and in part from inclination, I have played the part of something between maid of all work and gladiator general for Science." In this year, he was involved in an issue tiny for most people but of importance to most published writers, the uncertainty of international copyright. His recommendations, in An Olive Branch from America in November were approved the next month by the American Association of Authors. The struggle for survival went on most dangerous among nations, English manufacturers and farmers competing with Germany on the east and the U.S. on the west, global competition threatening the English with cheaper goods from elsewhere.

The last decade of Huxley's life was devoted to agnosticism–§ 13. Agnosticism and § 14. New Reformation, its expression in investigating scripture–§ 15. Verbal Delusions: The Bible, § 16. Miltonic Hypothesis: Genesis and § 17. Extremely Wonderful Events: Resurrection and Demons; and politics and economics–§ 20.The Good of Mankind.

Unjust Nature

One could cull from Huxley many statements supporting the Stoical idea that the universe is good, many statements supporting the idea that pain is inevitable, to use his phrase in an early letter–October 10, 1854. Charles Darwin, who was grieved by the machinations of a parasitic wasp, once remarked that a Devil's chaplain could make scripture from nature. Huxley agreed with Darwin that nature is not universally benevolent–November 18, 1876: "If we are to assume that anyone has designedly set this wonderful universe going, it is perfectly clear to me that he is no more entirely benevolent and just in any intelligible sense of the words, than that he is malevolent and unjust. Infinite benevolence need not have invented pain and sorrow at all–infinite malevolence would very easily have deprived us of the large measure of content and happiness that falls to our lot."

Many years later, this idea appears again in a letter to John Skelton harkening back to Rattlesnake deliberation: "...there is amazingly little evidence of 'reverential care for unoffending creation' in the arrangements of nature, that I can discover. If our ears were sharp enough to hear all the cries of pain that are uttered in the earth by men and beasts, we should be deafened by one continuous scream! And yet the wealth of superfluous loveliness in the world condemns pessimism. It is a hopeless riddle"–June 4, 1886. This perspective is seen again in to John Simon: "No one who has lived in the world as long as you and I have, can entertain the pious delusion that it is engineered upon principles of benevolence"–November 5, 1892.

The riddle may be solved by seeing nature as the epitome of indifference. A memorable comment is that he made to Spencer: "What a shame no rain is sent you. You will be speaking about Providence as I heard of a Yankee doing the other day–'Wal, sir, I guess he's good; but he's careless'"–July 10, 1883.

As usually happens in conflicts between active and free science and traditional beliefs, in the western world and elsewhere around the globe, the core of contention is ethics. Bishop Wilberforce in the 1860 Oxford debate with Huxley attacked the Origin of Species not merely because it was unscientific, but also because it was a blasphemous encouragement to immorality. Another typical response is that of Professor Watts in his reaction to Huxley's exploration of the living body as a machine: "Young men of Great Britain and Ireland! will you identify yourselves with a science falsely so-called, which would identify you with brutes, and, repressing the noblest aspirations of your nature, would turn our world into a Sodom, and lay upon your brightest hopes the blight of an external night?"

Gilding the Lilly

More immoral than failure to submit to social codes of conduct was agreeing to submit to authority. Huxley's contribution to A Modern Symposium I–Influence upon Morality of a Decline in Religious Belief (1877) states this clearly and sharply: "Few social evils are of greater magnitude than uninstructed and unchastened religious fanaticism; no personal habit more surely degrades the conscience and the intellect than blind and unhesitating obedience to unlimited authority. Undoubtedly, hartlotry and intemperance are sore evils, and starvation is hard to bear, or even to know of; but the prostitution of the mind, the soddening of the conscience, the dwarfing of manhood are worse calamities." The show-stopping calamity of all performances of immoral theology was demonology–see § 17. Extremely Wonderful Events: Resurrection and Demons.

Photograph by Elliot and Fry in year of Huxley's retirement as Professor,1885
THH President Royal Society

An article by W. S. Lilly, Materialism and Morality (October 1886) generalized that the atmosphere was now thick with the miasma of materialism which advanced divorce and French lubricity, sapped reverence for women and the "virtue of chastity," and "by banishing the spiritual element from love, reduces it to a mere physical function, and makes of chastity a monkish superstition." Naturalistic philosophy promoted prostitution. The primary English materialists whose mission was to swamp morality were John Tyndall, W. K. Clifford, Herbert Spencer and Thomas Huxley. Spencer wrote to Huxley on November 3, 1886: "I have no doubt your combative instincts have been stirred within you as you read Mr. Lilly's article, 'Materialism and Morality,' in which you and I are dealt with after the ordinary fashion popular with the theologians, who practically say, 'You shall be materialists whether you like it or not.' I should not be sorry if you yielded to those promptings of your combative instinct. Now that you are a man of leisure there is no reason why you should not undertake any amount of fighting, providing always that you can find foemen worthy of your steel. . . . I remember that last year you found intellectual warfare good for your health, so I have no qualms of conscience in making the suggestion."

Thomas Huxley's answer, Science and Morals (1886), begins with startled appreciation of Lilly's telepathic and mystical faculty for knowing what actually went on in the deep recesses of his victim's mind. Huxley then goes on to deny that he is a materialist (he would prefer being called an idealist) and that the advance of science had any harmful effect upon ethics. "Thus, to come, at last, to the really important part of all this discussion, if the belief in a God is essential to morality, physical science offers no obstacle thereto; if the belief in immortality is essential to morality, physical science has no more to say against the probability of that doctrine than the most ordinary experience has, and it effectually closes the mouths of those who pretend to refute it by objections deduced from merely physical data. Finally, if the belief in the uncausedness of volition is essential to morality, the student of physical science has no more to say against that absurdity than the logical philosopher or theologian. Physical science, I repeat, did not invent determinism, and the deterministic doctrine would stand on just as firm a foundation as it does if there were no physical science. Let any one who doubts this read Jonathan Edwards, whose demonstrations are derived wholly from philosophy and theology." The "safety of morality lies neither in the adoption of this or that philosophical speculation, or this or that theological creed, but in a real and living belief in that fixed order of nature which sends social disorganisation upon the track of immorality, as surely as it sends physical disease after physical trespasses." Science plays her role as Cinderella.

To Spencer, who had set Huxley on Lilly, he wrote that "The second matter [the first: similarities in their early lives] is that your diabolical plot against Lilly has succeeded–vide the next number of the Fortnightly. I was fool enough to read his article, and the rest followed. But I do not think I should have troubled myself if the opportunity had not been good for clearing off a lot of old scores"–November 25, 1886; and, a little later, "the thing was worth doing for the sake of the public"–December 13, 1886. He wrote to his wife in December asking her how his painting of the Lilly looks, telling her that the publisher of the journal in which it appeared said that the article "simply made the December number," and gossiping about Spencer's chuckling over the article–December 1886. To Tyndall, Huxley wrote "I have painted the Lilly with nitrate of silver."

His interest in tracking down what the universe is engineered upon is revealed in a long and important letter to W. P. Clayton, wherein Huxley defines "moral duty": it "consists in the observance of those rules of conduct which contribute to the welfare of society"; "the end of society": "peace and mutual protection"; "the rules of conduct": like other laws of nature, "attainable by observation and experiment." Stealing and murder are "inconsistent with the ends of society," the breaking of a contract with society. Observation and experiment on violation of the law show that such violation will have consequences, as does the operation of gravitation. "The moral sense is a very complex affair–dependent in part upon associations of pleasure and pain, approbation and disapprobation formed by education in early youth, but in part also on an innate sense of moral beauty and ugliness (how originated need not be discussed), which is possessed by some people in great strength, while some are totally devoid of it. ... As there are men born physically cripples and intellectually idiots, so there are some who are moral cripples and idiots, and can be kept straight not even by punishment. For these people there is nothing but shutting up, or extirpation"–November 5, 1892'.

Huxley's early belief implied that the nature of things rewards virtue and punishes vice–as indicated in his A Liberal Education; and Where to Find It notice that stealing and lying are followed by evil consequences; but "Evolution and Ethics" clearly negates this: "the violator of ethical rules constantly escapes the punishment which he deserves; ... the wicked flourishes like a green bay tree, while the righteous begs his bread."

Salvation Army

1890 featured five articles by Huxley on political rights, an article on science versus theology, and an ethnological article on the Aryans. In October, a Dr. Abbott had delivered an address on "Illusions" in which a strong hint was given that Huxley was committed to pessimism, to which Huxley's reply, On Illusions (October 9 and October 11), spoke of the elegance of his crew-mates, "raw midshipmen and unlearned naval officers."

Infinitely broader was his epistolary mission on another illusion, letters to the Times that focused on the Salvation Army on as a gigantic fraud. Huxley had been asked by a potential donor to the Salvation Army whether he would approve of a donation, in the amount of 1000. Huxley's investigation proved to him that the Salvation Army was out to extort money from poor people, and was fraudulent in other ways as well. He reminded his son Leonard that "this old dog has never yet let go after fixing his teeth into anything or anybody, and he is not going to start now"–December 1890. The attack consisted of a series of letters to The Times, to which letters he added a preface and introduction, publishing Social Diseases and Worse Remedies (1891)–Darkest England Scheme. To Hooker: "What an ass a man is to try to prevent his fellow-creatures from being humbugged! Surely I am old enough to know better. I have not been so well abused for an age. It's quite like old times." January 30, 1891

"Who upset the Booth? A Happy New Year"

Of his many letters on this issue, the present library holds those to Leonard Huxley–January 8, 1891; to Foster–January 10, 1891; to Clodd– January 11, 1891; and to Hooker–January 30, 1891.

Oxford Revisited

Benjamin Jowett in February of 1892 requested from Huxley "a new foundation for Ethics and Religion which will not be inconsistent with Physical facts or rather will rest upon them." Spencer had charged Huxley with advocating "ethical nihilism." Jowett's inquiry and Spencer's criticism together with the articles by Lilly, Abbott, and Pearson and with Spencerian Social Darwinism growing stronger daily, especially in the United States, incited Huxley to undertake a full exploration of ethics.

When he was asked by George Romanes to give a lecture in a series at Oxford, in 1893, he was glad to accept, using the occasion to write a full exposition of his brand of naturalistic ethics, "Evolution and Ethics." This is Huxley's most thorough philosophical essay, with historical scrutiny of Buddhism and Stoicism, its thesis that evolution does not supply a model for ethics, for how we should behave in society: the jungle out there does not support the cultivation of a garden in human cultures. This is also Huxley's most misunderstood essay, several reviewers finding it a rejection of Darwinism and naturalism; so misunderstood that Huxley wrote an explanation longer than the original essays, Prolegomena to Evolution and Ethics (1894).

The lecture was delivered on May 18, 1893, in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford. He wrote many letters about what he would do and what he had done, among them:

The lecture had a large sale, 3000 copies being printed in one month and was reviewed widely. Here, given in chronological order, is an inventory of Huxley's comments and of five reviews of "Evolution and Ethics."

Romanes THH
Photograph by Downey of Huxley in year of delivery of Romanes Lecture, 1893

The Romanes Lecture (May 1893) of the Oxford Magazine pointed out that the "substance of his practical teaching has never perhaps been stated so trenchantly and so pithily." To Romanes, Huxley wrote that he approved of this review: "The writer of the article is about the only critic I have met with yet who understands my drift. My wife says it is a 'sensible' article, but her classification is a very simple one–sensible articles are those that contain praise, 'stupid' those that show insensibility to my merits! Really I thought it very sensible, without regard to the plums in the pudding"–May 30, 1893.

In August appeared two reviews, one by Leslie Stephen–Ethics and the Struggle for Existence, to which Huxley replied in a letter of October 16, 1894', and one by St. George Mivart– Evolution in Professor Huxley. St. George Mivart, whom Huxley had assailed as being one of Mr. Darwin's Critics (1871), gave his ascertainment of the early Darwinian Huxley as opposed to the late anti-Darwinian Huxley –Evolution in Professor Huxley. Huxley had evolved from Darwinism to religion. For example, from Mivart, "I have always maintained that the cosmic process, since it often favours the ill-doer more than the virtuous man, could never by any possibility have evolved the ethical ideal.

Professor Huxley now bears the most satisfactory witness to this truth, saying:–

'The thief and the murderer follow nature just as much as the philanthropist. Cosmic evolutions may teach us how the good and 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 that we call evil than we had before.'

Just so! It would be difficult to declare more emphatically that ethics could never have formed part and parcel of the general process of evolution." In a recollection of his teacher Huxley, St. George Mivart praised Huxley for never imposing his own theological views upon his students–Mivart Account. In its review of Mivart's independence from papal authority, the Catholic Church excommunicated him.

Andrew Seth's Man's Place in the Cosmos–Professor Huxley on Nature and Man (December 1893), understood that any difficulties were in verbal squibbles over how far the "ethical process" is part of and how far it is oppoed to the "cosmic process." Huxley liked this review– "I really have been unable to understand what my critics have been dreaming of when they raise the objection that the ethical process being part of the cosmic process cannot be opposed to it. They might as well say that artifice does not oppose nature because it is a part of nature in the broadest sense"–October 27, 1893. Neither Huxley nor Seth nor any of the others mentioned the most incisive and utilitarian resolution of this problem, John Stuart Mill's "Nature."

Darwin Medal
London Stereoscopic Company, THH recipient of Darwin Medal of the Royal Society, 1894
Fellow, Royal Society
THH at 26, 1851

The Royal Society awarded Huxley its Darwin Medal (the first two recipients so honored being Alfred Wallace Russel and Joseph Hooker), Huxley informing his audience of something no one had suspected: that he had been among those who only stand and wait. The light tone of Address to the Royal Society 1893 (November 7, 1893) continued throughout, it having been forty-three years to the day that the Royal Society had awarded Lieutenant Huxley its Royal Medal, memorialized in a caricature Noble Swell. For the last of the Collected Essays, he wrote Preface IX. He was in the last two years of his life "deep in philosophy"–December 4, 1894.

Assistant Surgeon
Formal photograph of Lieutenant Huxley at 21, 1846
Great Agnostic
Photograph by Mayall, the year of publication of Collected Essays, vol. 1, 1893

Huxley’s positing an opposition between jungle and garden provoked some questions — for example, Prince Kropotkin, questioning Huxley’s saying that what happens in nature shows that world to be based on competition, suggests that that natural world displays more cooperation than competition. Another question relates to just where the garden exists. It seems to exist in England, and European nations, so that in these cultures cooperation is mandated. Non-European cultures are implicitly placed in nature, with European colonists responsible for imposing the ethical process upon those products of nature called savages, some of whom, such as the Tasmanians, are, he tells us in "The Struggle for Existence in Human Society, "little better than animals." War within the nation of Britain is not a good idea; but war, a euphemism of which is imperialism, between Britain and savages is a good idea to advance civilization and progress certainly for the colonists, and maybe for the savages.


Throughout early 1893, Huxley was busy selecting "fugitive pieces," as he called his popular essays, for inclusion in the forthcoming Macmillan publication of Collected Essays. Nine thousand copies of each volume of Collected Essays were published, over ten thousand of Evolution and Ethics. Almost a hundred thousand copies of Collected Essays were to be published by Macmillan in England and Appleton in the United States. Henry James expressed what many readers felt, writing to Huxley on Oct ober 17, 1894, thanking him for Collected Essays, saying that he had been "overwhelmed with emotion."

A late contribution to Huxley's favored topic of agnosticism was his An Apologetic Irenicon (November 1892); the last, a reply to an attack on naturalism, Mr. Balfour's Attack on Agnosticism. Huxley wrote Part II, but died before it could be revised and published–Mr. Balfour's Attack on Agnosticism II, this also containing his last word on H. Spencer: "It is impossible for me to approve the a priori method, to admit that Mr Spencer's form of the doctrine of evolution is well founded; or to accept the ethical and political deductions which he makes from that doctrine." In June, Huxley wrote to Hooker that while "kidney mischief" was still going on, "accompanied by very distressing attacks of nausea and vomiting," his strength was keeping up so well that the pessimistic reports of his condition were giving "unnecessary alarm for the condition of your old comrade." "At present I don't feel at all like 'sending in my checks,' and without being over sanguine I rather incline to think that my native toughness will get the best of it–albuminuria or otherwise–Ever your faithful friend, T. H. Huxley–June 26, 1895. He died three days later, June 29th also being the anniversary of his decision to battle Samuel Wilberforce at Oxford thirty-five years earlier.

W. Ward reports that Huxley said of this bust by Boehm: "It is almost Voltairian." October 7, 1888–THH letter to daughter Babs on sitting for this bust
St. Marylebone Cemetary, epitaph chosen by THH written by Henrietta Huxley:

Be not afraid, ye waiting hearts that weep;
For still He giveth his beloved sleep,
And if an endless sleep He wills, so best.

Medallion - by Mr. Frank Bowcher for Huxley Memorial Committee, 1898
THH by Onslow Ford, British Museum of Natural History



1.   THH Publications
2.   Victorian Commentary
3.   20th Century Commentary

1.   Letter Index
2.   Illustration Index

Gratitude and Permissions

C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University

§ 1. THH: His Mark
§ 2. Voyage of the Rattlesnake
§ 3. A Sort of Firm
§ 4. Darwin's Bulldog
§ 5. Hidden Bond: Evolution
§ 6. Frankensteinosaurus
§ 7. Bobbing Angels: Human Evolution
§ 8. Matter of Life: Protoplasm
§ 9. Medusa
§ 10. Liberal Education
§ 11. Scientific Education
§ 12. Unity in Diversity
§ 13. Agnosticism
§ 14. New Reformation
§ 15. Verbal Delusions: The Bible
§ 16. Miltonic Hypothesis: Genesis
§ 17. Extremely Wonderful Events: Resurrection and Demons
§ 18. Emancipation: Gender and Race
§ 19. Aryans et al.: Ethnology
§ 20. The Good of Mankind
§ 21.  Jungle Versus Garden