LIFE AND LETTERS OF THOMAS HENRY HUXLEY
BY HIS SON
IN THREE VOLUMES.
PREFACE TO THE AMERICAN EDITION.
The American edition of the "Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley" calls for a few words by way of preface, for there existed a particular relationship between the English writer and his transatlantic readers.
From the time that his "Lay Sermons" was published his essays found in the United States an eager audience, who appreciated above all things his directness and honesty of purpose and the unflinching spirit in which he pursued the truth. Whether or not, as some affirm, the American public "discovered" Mr. Herbert Spencer, they responded at once to the influence of the younger evolutionary writer, whose wide and exact knowledge of nature was but a stepping-stone to his interest in human life and its problems. And when, a few years later, after more than one invitation, he came to lecture in the United States and made himself personally known to his many readers, it was this widespread response to his influence which made his welcome comparable, as was said at the time, to a royal progress.
His own interest in the present problems of the country and the possibilities of its future was always keen, not merely as touching the development of a vast political force—one of the dominant factors of the near future—but far more as touching the character of its approaching greatness. Huge territories and vast resources were of small interest to him in comparison with the use to which they should be put. None felt more vividly than he that the true greatness of a nation would depend upon the spirit of the principles it adopted, upon the character of the individuals who make up the nation and shape the channels in which the currents of its being will hereafter flow.
This was the note he struck in the appeal for intellectual sincerity and clearness which he made at the end of his New York "Lectures on Evolution." The same note dominates that letter to his sister—a Southerner by adoption—which gives his reading of the real issue at stake in the great civil war. Slavery is bad for the slave, but far worse for the master, as sapping his character and making impossible that moral vigour of the individual on which is based the collective vigour of the nation.
The interest with which he followed the later development of social problems need not be dwelt on here, except to say that he watched their earlier maturity in America as an indication of the problems which would afterwards call for a solution in his own country. His share in treating them was limited to examining the principles of social philosophy on which some of the proposed remedies for social troubles were based, and this examination may be found in his "Collected Essays." But the educational campaign which he carried on in England had its counterpart in America. It was not only that he was chosen to open the Johns Hopkins University as the type of a new form of education; there and elsewhere pupils of his carried out in America his methods of teaching biology, while others engaged in general education would write testifying to the influence of his ideas upon their own methods of teaching. But it must be remembered that nothing was further from his mind than the desire to found a school of thought. He only endeavoured as a scholar and a student to clear up his own thoughts and help others to clear theirs, whether in the intellectual or the moral world. This was the help he steadfastly hoped to give the people, that interacting union of intellectual freedom and moral discernment which may be furthered by good education and training, by precept and example, that basis of all social health and prosperity. And if, as he said, he would like to be remembered as one who had done his best to help the people, he meant assuredly not the people only of his native land, but the wider world to whom his words could be carried.
PREFACE TO THE ENGLISH EDITION.
My father's life was one of so many interests, and his work was at all times so diversified, that to follow each thread separately, as if he had been engaged on that alone for a time, would be to give a false impression of his activity and the peculiar character of his labours. All through his active career he was equally busy with research into nature, with studies in philosophy, with teaching and administrative work. The real measure of his energy can only be found when all these are considered together. Without this there can be no conception of the limitations imposed upon him in his chosen life's work. The mere amount of his research is greatly magnified by the smallness of the time allowed for it.
But great as was the impression left by these researches in purely scientific circles, it is not by them alone that he made his impression upon the mass of his contemporaries. They were chiefly moved by something over and above his wide knowledge in so many fields—by his passionate sincerity, his interest not only in pure knowledge, but in human life, by his belief that the interpretation of the book of nature was not to be kept apart from the ultimate problems of existence; by the love of truth, in short, both theoretical and practical, which gave the key to the character of the man himself.
Accordingly, I have not discussed with any fulness the value of his technical contributions to natural science; I have not drawn up a compendium of his philosophical views. One is a work for specialists; the other can be gathered from his published works. I have endeavoured rather to give the public a picture, so far as I can, of the man himself, of his aims in the many struggles in which he was engaged, of his character and temperament, and the circumstances under which his various works were begun and completed.
So far as possible, I have made his letters, or extracts from them, tell the story of his life. If those of any given period are diverse in tone and character, it is simply because they reflect an equal diversity of occupations and interests. Few of the letters, however, are of any great length; many are little more than hurried notes; others, mainly of private interest, supply a sentence here and there to fill in the general outline.
Moreover, whenever circumstances permit, I have endeavoured to make my own part in the book entirely impersonal. My experience is that the constant iteration by the biographer of his relationship to the subject of his memoir, can become exasperating to the reader; so that at the risk of offending in the opposite direction, I have chosen the other course.
Lastly, I have to express my grateful thanks to all who have sent me letters or supplied information, and especially to Dr. J.H. Gladstone, Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff, Professor Howes, Professor Henry Sidgwick, and Sir Spencer Walpole, for their contributions to the book; but above all to Sir Joseph Hooker and Sir Michael Foster, whose invaluable help in reading proofs and making suggestions has been, as it were, a final labour of love for the memory of their old friend.
PREFACE TO THE AMERICAN EDITION.
PREFACE TO THE ENGLISH EDITION.
CHAPTER 1.1. 1825-1842.
CHAPTER 1.2. 1841-1846.
CHAPTER 1.3. 1846-1849.
CHAPTER 1.4. 1848-1850.
CHAPTER 1.5. 1850-1851.
CHAPTER 1.6. 1851-1854.
CHAPTER 1.7. 1851-1853.
CHAPTER 1.8. 1854.
CHAPTER 1.9. 1855.
CHAPTER 1.10. 1855-1858.
CHAPTER 1.11. 1857-1858.
CHAPTER 1.12. 1859-1860.
CHAPTER 1.13. 1859.
CHAPTER 1.14. 1859-1860.
CHAPTER 1.15. 1860-1863.
CHAPTER 1.16. 1860-1861.
CHAPTER 1.17. 1861-1863.
CHAPTER 1.18. 1864.
CHAPTER 1.19. 1865.
CHAPTER 1.20. 1866.
CHAPTER 1.21. 1867.
CHAPTER 1.22. 1868.
CHAPTER 1.23. 1869.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
PLATE 1. PORTRAIT OF T.H. HUXLEY FROM A DAGUERROTYPE MADE IN 1846.
PLATE 2. FACSIMILE OF SKETCH, "THE LOVES AND GRACES."
PLATE 3. PORTRAIT FROM A PHOTOGRAPH BY MAULL AND POLYBLANK, 1857.
PLATE 4. NUMBER 4 MARLBOROUGH PLACE—FROM THE GARDEN. AFTER A WATERCOLOUR SKETCH BY R. HUXLEY.
PLATE 5. PORTRAIT FROM A PHOTOGRAPH BY ELLIOTT AND FRY; STEEL ENGRAVING IN "NATURE," FEBRUARY 5, 1874.
[In the year 1825 Ealing was as quiet a country village as could be found within a dozen miles of Hyde Park Corner. Here stood a large semi-public school, which had risen to the front rank in numbers and reputation under Dr. Nicholas, of Wadham College, Oxford, who in 1791 became the son-in-law and successor of the previous master.
The senior assistant-master in this school was George Huxley, a tall, dark, rather full-faced man, quick tempered, and distinguished, in his son's words, by "that glorious firmness which one's enemies called obstinacy." In the year 1810 he had married Rachel Withers; she bore five sons and three daughters, of whom one son and one daughter died in infancy; the seventh and youngest surviving child was Thomas Henry.
George Huxley, the master at Ealing, was the second son of Thomas Huxley and Margaret James, who were married at St. Michael's, Coventry, on September 8, 1773. This Thomas Huxley continued to live at Coventry until his death in January 1796, when he left behind him a large family and no very great wealth. The most notable item in the latter is the "capital Messuage, by me lately purchased of Mrs. Ann Thomas," which he directs to be sold to pay his debts—an inn, apparently, for the testator is described as a victualler. Family tradition tells that he came to Coventry from Lichfield, and if so, he and his sons after him exemplify the tendency to move south, which is to be observed in those of the same name who migrated from their original home in Cheshire. This home is represented to-day by a farm in the Wirral, about eight miles from Chester, called Huxley Hall. From this centre Huxleys spread to the neighbouring villages, such as Overton and Eccleston, Clotton and Duddon, Tattenhall and Wettenhall; others to Chester and Brindley near Nantwich. The southward movement carries some to the Welsh border, others into Shropshire. The Wettenhall family established themselves in the fourth generation at Rushall, and held property in Handsworth and Walsall; the Brindley family sent a branch to Macclesfield, whose representative, Samuel, must have been on the town council when the Young Pretender rode through on his way to Derby, for he was mayor in 1746; while at the end of the sixteenth century, George, the disinherited heir of Brindley, became a merchant in London, and purchased Wyre Hall at Edmonton, where his descendants lived for four generations, his grandson being knighted by Charles II in 1663.
But my father had no particular interest in tracing his early ancestry. "My own genealogical inquiries," he said, "have taken me so far back that I confess the later stages do not interest me." Towards the end of his life, however, my mother persuaded him to see what could be found out about Huxley Hall and the origin of the name. This proved to be from the manor of Huxley or Hodesleia, whereof one Swanus de Hockenhull was enfeoffed by the abbot and convent of St. Werburgh in the time of Richard I. Of the grandsons of this Swanus, the eldest kept the manor and name of Hockenhull (which is still extant in the Midlands); the younger ones took their name from the other fief.
But the historian of Cheshire records the fact that owing to the respectability of the name, it was unlawfully assumed by divers "losels and lewd fellows of the baser sort," and my father, with a fine show of earnestness, used to declare that he was certain the legitimate owners of the name were far too sober and respectable to have produced such a reprobate as himself, and one of these "losels" must be his progenitor.
Thomas Henry Huxley was born at Ealing on May 4, 1825, "about eight o'clock in the morning." (So in the Autobiography, but 9.30 according to the Family Bible.) "I am not aware," he tells us playfully in his Autobiography, "that any portents preceded my arrival in this world, but, in my childhood, I remember hearing a traditional account of the manner in which I lost the chance of an endowment of great practical value. The windows of my mother's room were open, in consequence of the unusual warmth of the weather. For the same reason, probably, a neighbouring beehive had swarmed, and the new colony, pitching on the window-sill, was making its way into the room when the horrified nurse shut down the sash. If that well-meaning woman had only abstained from her ill-timed interference, the swarm might have settled on my lips, and I should have been endowed with that mellifluous eloquence which, in this country, leads far more surely than worth, capacity, or honest work, to the highest places in Church and State. But the opportunity was lost, and I have been obliged to content myself through life with saying what I mean in the plainest of plain language, than which, I suppose, there is no habit more ruinous to a man's prospects of advancement."
As to his debt, physical and mental, to either parent, he writes as follows:—]
Physically I am the son of my mother so completely—even down to peculiar movements of the hands, which made their appearance in me as I reached the age she had when I noticed them—that I can hardly find any trace of my father in myself, except an inborn faculty for drawing, which, unfortunately, in my case, has never been cultivated, a hot temper, and that amount of tenacity of purpose which unfriendly observers sometimes call obstinacy.
My mother was a slender brunette, of an emotional and energetic temperament, and possessed of the most piercing black eyes I ever saw in a woman's head. With no more education than other women of the middle classes of her day, she had an excellent mental capacity. Her most distinguishing characteristic, however, was rapidity of thought. If one ventured to suggest that she had not taken much time to arrive at any conclusion, she would say, "I cannot help it; things flash across me." That peculiarity has been passed on to me in full strength; it has often stood me in good stead; it has sometimes played me sad tricks, and it has always been a danger. But, after all, if my time were to come over again, there is nothing I would less willingly part with than my inheritance of mother-wit.
[Restless, talkative, untiring to the day of her death, she was at sixty-six "as active and energetic as a young woman." His early devotion to her was remarkable. Describing her to his future wife he writes:—]
As a child my love for her was a passion. I have lain awake for hours crying because I had a morbid fear of her death; her approbation was my greatest reward, her displeasure my greatest punishment.
I have next to nothing to say about my childhood (he continues in the Autobiography). In later years my mother, looking at me almost reproachfully, would sometimes say, "Ah! you were such a pretty boy!" whence I had no difficulty in concluding that I had not fulfilled my early promise in the matter of looks. In fact, I have a distinct recollection of certain curls of which I was vain, and of a conviction that I closely resembled that handsome, courtly gentleman, Sir Herbert Oakley, who was vicar of our parish, and who was as a god to us country folk, because he was occasionally visited by the then Prince George of Cambridge. I remember turning my pinafore wrong side forwards in order to represent a surplice, and preaching to my mother's maids in the kitchen as nearly as possible in Sir Herbert's manner one Sunday morning when the rest of the family were at church. That is the earliest indication of the strong clerical affinities which my friend Mr. Herbert Spencer has always ascribed to me, though I fancy they have for the most part remained in a latent state.
[There remains no record of his having been a very precocious child. Indeed, it is usually the eldest child whose necessary companionship with his elders wins him this reputation. The youngest remains a child among children longer than any other of his brothers and sisters.
One talent, however, displayed itself early. The faculty of drawing he inherited from his father. But on the queer principle that training is either unnecessary to natural capacity or even ruins it, he never received regular instruction in drawing; and his draughtsmanship, vigorous as it was, and a genuine medium of artistic expression as well as an admirable instrument in his own especial work, never reached the technical perfection of which it was naturally capable.
The amount of instruction, indeed of any kind, which he received was scanty in the extreme. For a couple of years, from the age of eight to ten, he was given a taste of the unreformed public school life, where, apart from the rough and ready mode of instruction in vogue and the necessary obedience enforced to certain rules, no means were taken to reach the boys themselves, to guide them and help them in their school life. The new-comer was left to struggle for himself in a community composed of human beings at their most heartlessly cruel age, untempered by any external influence.
Here he had little enough of mental discipline, or that deliberate training of character which is a leading object of modern education. On the contrary, what he learnt was a knowledge of undisciplined human nature.]
My regular school training [he tells us], was of the briefest, perhaps fortunately; for though my way of life has made me acquainted with all sorts and conditions of men, from the highest to the lowest, I deliberately affirm that the society I fell into at school was the worst I have ever known. We boys were average lads, with much the same inherent capacity for good and evil as any others; but the people who were set over us cared about as much for our intellectual and moral welfare as if they were baby-farmers. We were left to the operation of the struggle for existence among ourselves; bullying was the least of the ill practices current among us. Almost the only cheerful reminiscence in connection with the place which arises in my mind is that of a battle I had with one of my classmates, who had bullied me until I could stand it no longer. I was a very slight lad, but there was a wild-cat element in me which, when roused, made up for lack of weight, and I licked my adversary effectually. However, one of my first experiences of the extremely rough-and-ready nature of justice, as exhibited by the course of things in general, arose out of the fact that I—the victor—had a black eye, while he—the vanquished—had none, so that I got into disgrace and he did not. We made it up, and thereafter I was unmolested. One of the greatest shocks I ever received in my life was to be told a dozen years afterwards by the groom who brought me my horse in a stable-yard in Sydney that he was my quondam antagonist. He had a long story of family misfortune to account for his position; but at that time it was necessary to deal very cautiously with mysterious strangers in New South Wales, and on inquiry I found that the unfortunate young man had not only been "sent out," but had undergone more than one colonial conviction.
[His brief school career was happily cut short by the break up of the Ealing establishment. On the death of Dr. Nicholas, his sons attempted to carry on the school; but the numbers declined rapidly, and George Huxley, about 1835, returned to his native town of Coventry, where he obtained the modest post of manager of the Coventry savings bank, while his daughters eked out the slender family resources by keeping school.
In the meantime the boy Tom, as he was usually called, got little or no regular instruction. But he had an inquiring mind, and a singularly early turn for metaphysical speculation. He read everything he could lay hands on in his father's library. Not satisfied with the ordinary length of the day, he used, when a boy of twelve, to light his candle before dawn, pin a blanket round his shoulders, and sit up in bed to read Hutton's "Geology." He discussed all manner of questions with his parents and friends, for his quick and eager mind made it possible for him to have friendships with people considerably older than himself. Among these may especially be noted his medical brother-in-law, Dr. Cooke of Coventry, who had married his sister Ellen in 1839, and through whom he early became interested in human anatomy; and George Anderson May, at that time in business at Hinckley (a small weaving centre some dozen miles distant from Coventry), whom his friends who knew him afterwards in the home which he made for himself on the farm at Elford, near Tamworth, will remember for his genial spirit and native love of letters. There was a real friendship between the two. The boy of fifteen notes down with pleasure his visits to the man of six-and-twenty, with whom he could talk freely of the books he read, and the ideas he gathered about philosophy.
Afterwards, however, their ways lay far apart, and I believe they did not meet again until the seventies, when Mr. May sent his children to be educated in London, and his youngest son was at school with me; his younger daughter studied art at the Slade school with my sisters, and both found a warm welcome in the home circle at Marlborough Place.
One of his boyish speculations was as to what would become of things if their qualities were taken away; and lighting upon Sir William Hamilton's "Logic," he devoured it to such good effect that when, years afterwards, he came to tackle the greater philosophers, especially the English and the German, he found he had already a clear notion of where the key of metaphysic lay.
This early interest in metaphysics was another form of the intense curiosity to discover the motive principle of things, the why and how they act, that appeared in the boy's love of engineering and of anatomy. The unity of this motive and the accident which bade fair to ruin his life at the outset, and actually levied a lifelong tax upon his bodily vigour, are best told in his own words:—]
As I grew older, my great desire was to be a mechanical engineer, but the fates were against this, and while very young I commenced the study of medicine under a medical brother-in-law. But, though the Institute of Mechanical Engineers would certainly not own me, I am not sure that I have not all along been a sort of mechanical engineer in partibus infidelium. I am now occasionally horrified to think how little I ever knew or cared about medicine as the art of healing. The only part of my professional course which really and deeply interested me was physiology, which is the mechanical engineering of living machines; and, notwithstanding that natural science has been my proper business, I am afraid there is very little of the genuine naturalist in me. I never collected anything, and species work was always a burden to me; what I cared for was the architectural and engineering part of the business, the working out the wonderful unity of plan in the thousands and thousands of diverse living constructions, and the modifications of similar apparatuses to serve diverse ends. The extraordinary attraction I felt towards the study of the intricacies of living structure nearly proved fatal to me at the outset. I was a mere boy—I think between thirteen and fourteen years of age—when I was taken by some older student friends of mine to the first post-mortem examination I ever attended. All my life I have been most unfortunately sensitive to the disagreeables which attend anatomical pursuits, but on this occasion my curiosity overpowered all other feelings, and I spent two or three hours in gratifying it. I did not cut myself, and none of the ordinary symptoms of dissection-poison supervened, but poisoned I was somehow, and I remember sinking into a strange state of apathy. By way of a last chance, I was sent to the care of some good, kind people, friends of my father's, who lived in a farmhouse in the heart of Warwickshire. I remember staggering from my bed to the window on the bright spring morning after my arrival, and throwing open the casement. Life seemed to come back on the wings of the breeze, and to this day the faint odour of wood-smoke, like that which floated across the farmyard in the early morning, is as good to me as the "sweet south upon a bed of violets." I soon recovered, but for years I suffered from occasional paroxysms of internal pain, and from that time my constant friend, hypochondriacal dyspepsia, commenced his half-century of co-tenancy of my fleshly tabernacle.
[Some little time after his return from the voyage of the "Rattlesnake," Huxley succeeded in tracing his good Warwickshire friends again. A letter of May 11, 1852, from one of them, Miss K. Jaggard, tells how they had lost sight of the Huxleys after their departure from Coventry; how they were themselves dispersed by death, marriage, or retirement; and then proceeds to draw a lively sketch of the long delicate-looking lad, which clearly refers to this period or a little later.]
My brother and sister who were living at Grove Fields when you visited there, have now retired from the cares of business, and are living very comfortably at Leamington...I suppose you remember Mr. Joseph Russell, who used to live at Avon Dassett. He is now married and gone to live at Grove Fields, so that it is still occupied by a person of the same name as when you knew it. But it is very much altered in appearance since the time when such merry and joyous parties of aunts and cousins used to assemble there. I assure you we have often talked of "Tom Huxley" (who was sometimes one of the party) looking so thin and ill, and pretending to make hay with one hand, while in the other he held a German book! Do you remember it? And the picnic at Scar Bank? And how often too your patience was put to the test in looking for your German books which had been hidden by some of those playful companions who were rather less inclined for learning than yourself?
[It is interesting to see from this letter and from a journal, to be quoted hereafter, that he had thus early begun to teach himself German, an undertaking more momentous in its consequences than the boy dreamed of. The knowledge of German thus early acquired was soon of the utmost service in making him acquainted with the advance of biological investigation on the continent at a time when few indeed among English men of science were able to follow it at first hand, and turn the light of the newest theories upon their own researches.
It is therefore peculiarly interesting to note the cause which determined the young Huxley to take up the study of so little read a language. I have more than once heard him say that this was one half of the debt he owed to Carlyle, the other half being an intense hatred of shams of every sort and kind. The translations from the German, the constant references to German literature and philosophy, fired him to try the vast original from which these specimens were quarried, for the sake partly of the literature, but still more of the philosophy. The translation of "Wilhelm Meister," and some of the "Miscellaneous Essays" together, with "The French Revolution," were certainly among works of Carlyle with which he first made acquaintance, to be followed later by "Sartor Resartus," which for many years afterwards was his Enchiridion, as he puts it in an unpublished autobiographical fragment.
By great good fortune, a singularly interesting glimpse of my father's life from the age of fifteen onwards has been preserved in the shape of a fragmentary journal which he entitled, German fashion, "Thoughts and Doings." Begun on September 29, 1840, it is continued for a couple of years, and concludes with some vigorous annotations in 1845, when the little booklet emerged from a three years' oblivion at the bottom of an old desk. Early as this journal is, in it the boy displays three habits afterwards characteristic of the man: the habit of noting down any striking thought or saying he came across in the course of his reading; of speculating on the causes of things and discussing the right and wrong of existing institutions; and of making scientific experiments, using them to correct his theories.
The first entry, the heading, as it were, and keynote of all the rest, is a quotation from Novalis;—"Philosophy can bake no bread; but it can prove for us God, freedom, and immortality. Which, now, is more practical, Philosophy or Economy?" The reference here given is to a German edition of Novalis, so that it seems highly probable that the boy had learnt enough of the language to translate a bit for himself, though, as appears from entries in 1841, he had still to master the grammar completely.
In science, he was much interested in electricity; he makes a galvanic battery] "in view of experiment to get crystallized carbon. Got it deposited, but not crystallized." [Other experiments and theorising upon them are recorded in the following year. Another entry showing the courage of youth, deserves mention:—]
October 5 (1840).—Began speculating on the cause of colours at sunset. Has any explanation of them ever been attempted? [which is supplemented by an extract] from old book.
[We may also remark the early note of Radicalism and resistance to anything savouring of injustice or oppression, together with the naive honesty of the admission that his opinions may change with years.]
October 25 (at Hinckley).—Read Dr. S. Smith on the Divine Government.—Agree with him partly.—I should say that a general belief in his doctrines would have a very injurious effect on morals.
November 22.—...Had a long talk with my mother and father about the right to make Dissenters pay church rates—and whether there ought to be any Establishment. I maintain that there ought not in both cases—I wonder what will be my opinion ten years hence? I think now that it is against all laws of justice to force men to support a church with whose opinions they cannot conscientiously agree. The argument that the rate is so small is very fallacious. It is as much a sacrifice of principle to do a little wrong as to do a great one.
November 22 (Hinckley).—Had a long argument with Mr. May on the nature of the soul and the difference between it and matter. I maintained that it could not be proved that matter is ESSENTIALLY—as to its base—different from soul. Mr. M. wittily said, soul was the perspiration of matter.
We cannot find the absolute basis of matter: we only know it by its properties; neither know we the soul in any other way. Cogito ergo sum is the only thing that we CERTAINLY know.
Why may not soul and matter be of the same substance (i.e. basis whereon to fix qualities, for we cannot suppose a quality to exist per se—it must have a something to qualify), but with different qualities.
Let us suppose then an Eon—a something with no quality but that of existence—this Eon endued with all the intelligence, mental qualities, and that in the highest degree—is God. This combination of intelligence with existence we may suppose to have existed from eternity. At the creation we may suppose that a portion of the Eon was separated from the intelligence, and it was ordained—it became a natural law—that it should have the properties of gravitation, etc.—that is, that it should give to man the ideas of those properties. The Eon in this state is matter in the abstract. Matter, then, is Eon in the simplest form in which it possesses qualities appreciable by the senses. Out of this matter, by the superimposition of fresh qualities, was made all things that are.
January 7.—Came to Rotherhithe. [See Chapter 1.2.]
June 20.—What have I done in the way of acquiring knowledge since January?
1. German (to be learnt).
2. Italian (to be learnt).
3. To read Muller's "Physiology."
4. To prepare for the Matriculation Examination at London University which requires knowledge of:—
a. Algebra—Geometry (did not begin to read for this till April.
b. Natural Philosophy (did not begin to read for this till April.
e. English History down to end of seventeenth century.
f. Ancient History. English Grammar.
5. To make copious notes of all things I read.
2. Not at all.
3 and 5, stuck to these pretty closely.
4.e. Read as far as Henry III in Hume.
a. Evolution and involution.
b. Refraction of light—Polarisation partly.
c. Laws of combination—must read them over again.
I must get on faster than this. I MUST adopt a fixed plan of studies, for unless this is done I find time slips away without knowing it—and let me remember this—that it is better to read a little and thoroughly, than cram a crude undigested mass into my head, though it be great in quantity.
(This is about the only resolution I have ever stuck to—1845.)
(Well do I remember how in that little narrow surgery I used to work morning after morning and evening after evening at that insufferably dry and profitless book, Hume's "History," how I worked against hope through the series of thefts, robberies, and throat-cutting in those three first volumes, and how at length I gave up the task in utter disgust and despair.
Macintosh's "History," on the other hand, I remember reading with great pleasure, and also Guizot's "Civilisation in Europe," the scientific theoretical form of the latter especially pleased me, but the want of sufficient knowledge to test his conclusions was a great drawback. 1845.)
[There follow notes of work done in successive weeks—June 20 to August 9, and September 27 to October 4. History, German, Mathematics, Physics, Physiology; makes an electro-magnet; reads Guizot's "History of Civilisation in Europe," on which he remarks] an excellent work—very tough reading, though.
[At the beginning of October, under "Miscellaneous,"] Became acquainted with constitution of French Chambre des deputes and their parties.
[It was his practice to note any sayings that struck him:—]
Truths: "I hate all people who want to found sects. It is not error but sects—it is not error but sectarian error, nay, and even sectarian truth, which causes the unhappiness of mankind."—Lessing.
"It is only necessary to grow old to become more indulgent. I see no fault committed that I have not committed myself..."—Goethe.
"One solitary philosopher may be great, virtuous, and happy in the midst of poverty, but not a whole nation..."—Isaac Iselin.
January 30, Sunday evening.
I have for some time been pondering over a classification of knowledge. My scheme is to divide all knowledge in the first place into two grand divisions.
1. Objective—that for which a man is indebted to the external world; and
2. Subjective—that which he has acquired or may acquire by inward contemplation.
Subjective. / Metaphysics. / Metaphysics proper, Mathematics, Logic, Theology, Morality.
Objective. / Morality, History, Physiology, Physics.
Metaphysics comes immediately, of course, under the first (2) head—that is to say, the relations of the mind to itself; of this Mathematics and Logic, together with Theology, are branches.
I am in doubt under which head to put morality, for I cannot determine exactly in my own mind whether morality can exist independent of others, whether the idea of morality could ever have arisen in the mind of an isolated being or not. I am rather inclined to the opinion that it is objective.
Under the head of objective knowledge comes first Physics, including the whole body of the relations of inanimate unorganised bodies; secondly, Physiology. Including the structure and functions of animal bodies, including language and Psychology; thirdly comes History.
One object for which I have attempted to form an arrangement of knowledge is that I may test the amount of my own acquirements. I shall form an extensive list of subjects on this plan, and as I acquire any one of them I shall strike it out of the list. May the list soon get black! though at present I shall hardly be able, I am afraid, to spot the paper.
(A prophecy! a prophecy, 1845!).
[April 1842 introduces a number of quotations from Carlyle's Miscellaneous Writings, "Characteristics," some clear and crisp, others sinking into Carlyle's own vein of speculative mysticism, e.g.]
"In the mind as in the body the sign of health is unconsciousness."
"Of our thinking it is but the upper surface that we shape into articulate thought; underneath the region of argument and conscious discourse lies the region of meditation."
"Genius is ever a secret to itself."
"The healthy understanding, we should say, is neither the argumentative nor the Logical, but the Intuitive, for the end of understanding is not to prove and find reasons but to know and believe" (!)
"The ages of heroism are not ages of Moral Philosophy. Virtue, when it is philosophised of, has become aware of itself, is sickly and beginning to decline."
[At the same time more electrical experiments are recorded; and theories are advanced with pros and cons to account for the facts observed.
The last entry was made three years later:—]
October 1845.—I have found singular pleasure—having accidentally raked this Buchlein from a corner of my desk—in looking over these scraps of notices of my past existence; an illustration of J. Paul's saying that a man has but to write down his yesterday's doings, and forthwith they appear surrounded with a poetic halo.
But after all, these are but the top skimmings of these five years' living. I hardly care to look back into the seething depths of the working and boiling mass that lay beneath all this froth, and indeed I hardly know whether I could give myself any clear account of it. Remembrances of physical and mental pain...absence of sympathy, and thence a choking up of such few ideas as I did form clearly within my own mind.
Grief too, yet at the misfortune of others, for I have had few properly my own; so much the worse, for in that case I might have said or done somewhat, but here was powerless.
Oh, Tom, trouble not thyself about sympathy; thou hast two stout legs and young, wherefore need a staff?
Furthermore, it is twenty minutes past two, and time to go to bed.
Buchlein, it will be long before my secretiveness remains so quiet again; make the most of what thou hast got.
[The migration to Rotherhithe, noted under date of January 9, 1841, was a fresh step in his career. In 1839 both his sisters married, and both married doctors. Dr. Cooke, the husband of the elder sister, who was settled in Coventry, had begun to give him some instruction in the principles of medicine as early as the preceding June. It was now arranged that he should go as assistant to Mr. Chandler, of Rotherhithe, a practical preliminary to walking the hospitals and obtaining a medical degree in London. His experiences among the poor in the dock region of the East of London—for Dr. Chandler had charge of the parish—supplied him with a grim commentary on his diligent reading in Carlyle. Looking back on this period, he writes:—]
The last recorded speech of Professor Teufelsdrockh proposes the toast 'Die Sache der Armen in Gottes und Teufelsnamen' (The cause of the Poor in Heaven's name and —'s.) The cause of the Poor is the burden of "Past and Present," "Chartism," and "Latter-Day Pamphlets." To me...this advocacy of the cause of the poor appealed very strongly...because...I had had the opportunity of seeing for myself something of the way the poor live. Not much, indeed, but still enough to give a terrible foundation of real knowledge to my speculations.
[After telling how he came to know something of the East End, he proceeds:—]
I saw strange things there—among the rest, people who came to me for medical aid, and who were really suffering from nothing but slow starvation. I have not forgotten—am not likely to forget so long as memory holds—a visit to a sick girl in a wretched garret where two or three other women, one a deformed woman, sister of my patient, were busy shirt-making. After due examination, even my small medical knowledge sufficed to show that my patient was merely in want of some better food than the bread and bad tea on which these people were living. I said so as gently as I could, and the sister turned upon me with a kind of choking passion. Pulling out of her pocket a few pence and halfpence, and holding them out, "That is all I get for six and thirty hours' work, and you talk about giving her proper food."
Well, I left that to pursue my medical studies, and it so happened the shortest way between the school which I attended and the library of the College of Surgeons, where my spare hours were largely spent, lay through certain courts and alleys, Vinegar Yard and others, which are now nothing like what they were then. Nobody would have found robbing me a profitable employment in those days, and I used to walk through these wretched dens without let or hindrance. Alleys nine or ten feet wide, I suppose, with tall houses full of squalid drunken men and women, and the pavement strewed with still more squalid children. The place of air was taken by a steam of filthy exhalations; and the only relief to the general dull apathy was a roar of words—filthy and brutal beyond imagination—between the closed-packed neighbours, occasionally ending in a general row. All this almost within hearing of the traffic of the Strand, within easy reach of the wealth and plenty of the city.
I used to wonder sometimes why these people did not sally forth in mass and get a few hours' eating and drinking and plunder to their hearts' content, before the police could stop and hang a few of them. But the poor wretches had not the heart even for that. As a slight, wiry Liverpool detective once said to me when I asked him how it was he managed to deal with such hulking ruffians as we were among, "Lord bless you, sir, drink and disease leave nothing in them."
[This early contact with the sternest facts of the social problem impressed him profoundly. And though not actively employed in what is generally called "philanthropy," still he did his part, hopefully but soberly, not only to throw light on the true issues and to strip away make-believe from them, but also to bring knowledge to the working classes, and to institute machinery by which capacity should be caught and led to a position where it might be useful instead of dangerous to social order.
After some time, however, he left Mr. Chandler to join his second brother-in-law (John Godwin Scott.), who had set up in the north of London, and to whom he was duly apprenticed, as his brother James had been before him. This change gave him more time and opportunity to pursue his medical education. He attended lectures at the Sydenham College, and, as has been seen, began to prepare for the matriculation examination of the University of London. At the Sydenham College he met with no little success, winning, besides certificates of merit in other departments, a prize—his first prize—for botany. His vivid recollections, given below, of this entry into the scientific arena are taken from a journal he kept for his fiancee during his absence from Sydney on the cruises of the "Rattlesnake."]
ON BOARD H.M.S. "RATTLESNAKE," CHRISTMAS 1847.
Next summer it will be six years since I made my first trial in the world. My first public competition, small as it was, was an epoch in my life. I had been attending (it was my first summer session) the botanical lectures at Chelsea. One morning I observed a notice stuck up—a notice of a public competition for medals, etc., to take place on the 1st August (if I recollect right). It was then the end of May or thereabouts. I remember looking longingly at the notice, and some one said to me, "Why don't you go in and try for it?" I laughed at the idea, for I was very young, and my knowledge somewhat of the vaguest. Nevertheless I mentioned the matter to S. [his brother-in-law.] when I returned home. He likewise advised me to try, and so I determined I would. I set to work in earnest, and perseveringly applied myself to such works as I could lay my hands on, Lindley's and De Candolle's "Systems" and the "Annales des Sciences Naturelles" in the British Museum. I tried to read Schleiden, but my German was insufficient.
For a young hand I worked really hard from eight or nine in the morning until twelve at night, besides a long hot summer's walk over to Chelsea two or three times a week to hear Lindley. A great part of the time I worked till sunrise. The result was a sort of ophthalmia which kept me from reading at night for months afterwards.
The day of the examination came, and as I went along the passage to go out I well remember dear Lizzie [His eldest sister, Mrs. Scott.], half in jest, half in earnest, throwing her shoe after me, as she said, for luck. She was alone, beside S., in the secret, and almost as anxious as I was. How I reached the examination room I hardly know, but I recollect finding myself at last with pen and ink and paper before me and five other beings, all older than myself, at a long table. We stared at one another like strange cats in a garret, but at length the examiner (Ward) entered, and before each was placed the paper of questions and sundry plants. I looked at my questions, but for some moments could hardly hold my pen, so extreme was my nervousness; but when I once fairly began, my ideas crowded upon me almost faster than I could write them. And so we all sat, nothing heard but the scratching of the pens and the occasional crackle of the examiner's "Times" as he quietly looked over the news of the day.
The examination began at eleven. At two they brought in lunch. It was a good meal enough, but the circumstances were not particularly favourable to enjoyment, so after a short delay we resumed our work. It began to be evident between whom the contest lay, and the others determined that I was one man's competitor and Stocks [John Ellerton Stocks, M.D., London, distinguished himself as a botanist in India. He travelled and collected in Beloochistan and Scinde; died 1854.] (he is now in the East India service) the other. Scratch, scratch, scratch! Four o'clock came, the usual hour of closing the examination, but Stocks and I had not half done, so with the consent of the others we petitioned for an extension. The examiner was willing to let us go on as long as we liked. Never did I see man write like Stocks; one might have taken him for an attorney's clerk writing for his dinner. We went on. I had finished a little after eight, he went on till near nine, and then we had tea and dispersed.
Great were the greetings I received when I got home, where my long absence had caused some anxiety. The decision would not take place for some weeks, and many were the speculations made as to the probabilities of success. I for my part managed to forget all about it, and went on my ordinary avocations without troubling myself more than I could possibly help about it. I knew too well my own deficiencies to have been either surprised or disappointed at failure, and I made a point of shattering all involuntary "castles in the air" as soon as possible. My worst anticipations were realised. One day S. came to me with a sorrowful expression of countenance. He had inquired of the Beadle as to the decision, and ascertained on the latter's authority that all the successful candidates were University College men, whereby, of course, I was excluded. I said, "Very well, the thing was not to be helped," put my best face upon the matter, and gave up all thoughts of it. Lizzie, too, came to comfort me, and, I believe, felt it more than I did. What was my surprise on returning home one afternoon to find myself suddenly seized, and the whole female household vehemently insisting on kissing me. It appeared an official-looking letter had arrived for me, and Lizzie, as I did not appear, could not restrain herself from opening it. I was second, and was to receive a medal accordingly, and dine with the guild on the 9th November to have it bestowed. [Silver Medal of the Pharmaceutical Society, 9th November 1842. Another botanical prize is a book—"La Botanique," by A. Richard—with the following inscription:—
THOMAE HUXLEY In Exercitatione Botanices Apud Scholam Collegii Sydenhamiensis Optime Merenti Hunc librum dono dedit RICARDUS D. HOBLYN, Botanices Professor.]
I dined with the company, and bore my share in both pudding and praise, but the charm of success lay in Lizzie's warm congratulation and sympathy. Since then she always took upon herself to prophesy touching the future fortunes of "the boy."
[The haphazard, unsystematic nature of preliminary medical study here presented cannot fail to strike one with wonder. Thomas Huxley was now seventeen; he had already had two years' "practice in pharmacy" as a testimonial put it. After a similar apprenticeship, his brother had made the acquaintance of the director of the Gloucester Lunatic Asylum, and was given by him the post of dispenser or "apothecary," which he filled so satisfactorily as to receive a promise that if he went to London for a couple of years to complete his medical training, a substitute should be appointed meanwhile to keep the place until he returned.
The opportunity to which both the brothers looked came in the shape of the Free Scholarships offered by the Charing Cross Hospital to students whose parents were unable to pay for their education. Testimonials as to the position and general education of the candidates were required, and it is curious that one of the persons applied to by the elder Huxley was J.H. Newman, at that time Vicar of Littlemore, who had been educated at Dr. Nicholas' School at Ealing.
The application for admission to the lectures and other teaching at the Hospital states of the young T.H. Huxley that "He has a fair knowledge of Latin, reads French with facility, and knows something of German. He has also made considerable progress in the Mathematics, having, as far as he has advanced, a thorough not a superficial knowledge of the subject." The document ends in the following confident words:—
I appeal to the certificates and testimonials that will be herewith submitted for evidence of their past conduct, offering prospectively that these young men, if elected to the Free Scholarships of the Charing Cross Hospital and Medical College, will be diligent students, and in all things submit themselves to the controul and guidance of the Director and Medical Officers of the establishment. A father may be pardoned, perhaps, for adding his belief that these young men will hereafter reflect credit on any institution from which they may receive their education.
The authorities replied that "although it is not usual to receive two members of the same family at the same time, the officers taking into consideration the age of Mr. Huxley, sen., the numerous and satisfactory testimonials of his respectability, and of the good conduct and merits of the candidates, have decided upon admitting Mr. J.E. and Mr. T. Huxley on this occasion."
The brothers began their hospital course on October 1, 1842. Here, after a time, my father seems to have begun working more steadily and systematically than he had done before, under the influence of a really good teacher.]
Looking back [he says] on my "Lehrjahre," I am sorry to say that I do not think that any account of my doings as a student would tend to edification. In fact, I should distinctly warn ingenuous youth to avoid imitating my example. I worked extremely hard when it pleased me, and when it did not, which was a very frequent case, I was extremely idle (unless making caricatures of one's pastors and masters is to be called a branch of industry), or else wasted my energies in wrong directions. I read everything I could lay hands upon, including novels, and took up all sorts of pursuits to drop them again quite as speedily. No doubt it was very largely my own fault, but the only instruction from which I obtained the proper effect of education was that which I received from Mr. Wharton Jones, who was the lecturer on physiology at the Charing Cross School of Medicine. The extent and precision of his knowledge impressed me greatly, and the severe exactness of his method of lecturing was quite to my taste. I do not know that I have ever felt so much respect for anybody as a teacher before or since. I worked hard to obtain his approbation, and he was extremely kind and helpful to the youngster who, I am afraid, took up more of his time than he had any right to do. It was he who suggested the publication of my first scientific paper—a very little one—in the "Medical Gazette" of 1845, and most kindly corrected the literary faults which abounded in it, short as it was; for at that time, and for many years afterwards, I detested the trouble of writing, and would take no pains with it.
[He never forgot his debt to Wharton Jones, and years afterwards was delighted at being able to do him a good turn, by helping to obtain a pension for him. But although in retrospect he condemns the fitfulness of his energies and his want of system, which left much to be learned afterwards, which might with advantage have been learned then, still it was his energy that struck his contemporaries. I have a story from one of them that when the other students used to go out into the court of the hospital after lectures were over, they would invariably catch sight of young Huxley's dark head at a certain window bent over a microscope while they amused themselves outside. The constant silhouette framed in the outlines of the window tickled the fancy of the young fellows, and a wag amongst them dubbed it with a name that stuck, "The Sign of the Head and Microscope."
The scientific paper, too, which he mentions, was somewhat remarkable under the circumstances. It is not given to every medical student to make an anatomical discovery, even a small one. In this case the boy of nineteen, investigating things for himself, found a hitherto undiscovered membrane in the root of the human hair, which received the name of Huxley's layer.
Speculations, too, such as had filled his mind in early boyhood, still haunted his thoughts. In one of his letters from the "Rattlesnake," he gives an account of how he was possessed in his student days by that problem which has beset so many a strong imagination, the problem of perpetual motion, and even sought an interview with Faraday, whom he left with the resolution to meet the great man some day on a more equal footing.]
To-day, ruminating over the manifold ins and outs of life in general, and my own in particular, it came into my head suddenly that I would write down my interview with Faraday—how many years ago? Aye, there's the rub, for I have completely forgotten. However, it must have been in either my first or second winter session at Charing Cross, and it was before Christmas I feel sure.
I remember how my long brooding perpetual motion scheme (which I had made more than one attempt to realise, but failed owing to insufficient mechanical dexterity) had been working upon me, depriving me of rest even, and heating my brain with chateaux d'Espagne of endless variety. I remember, too, it was Sunday morning when I determined to put the questions, which neither my wits nor my hands would set at rest, into some hands for decision, and I determined to go before some tribunal from whence appeal should be absurd.
But to whom to go? I knew no one among the high priests of science, and going about with a scheme for perpetual motion was, I knew, for most people the same thing as courting ridicule among high and low. After all I fixed upon Faraday, possibly perhaps because I knew where he was to be found, but in part also because the cool logic of his works made me hope that my poor scheme would be treated on some other principle than that of mere previous opinion one way or other. Besides, the known courtesy and affability of the man encouraged me. So I wrote a letter, drew a plan, enclosed the two in an envelope, and tremblingly betook myself on the following afternoon to the Royal Institution.
"Is Dr. Faraday here?" said I to the porter. "No, sir, he has just gone out." I felt relieved. "Be good enough to give him this letter," and I was hurrying out when a little man in a brown coat came in at the glass door. "Here is Dr. Faraday," said the man, and gave him my letter. He turned to me and courteously inquired what I wished. "To submit to you that letter, sir, if you are not occupied." "My time is always occupied, sir, but step this way," and he led me into the museum or library, for I forget which it was, only I know there was a glass case against which we leant. He read my letter, did not think my plan would answer. Was I acquainted with mechanism, what we call the laws of motion? I saw all was up with my poor scheme, so after trying a little to explain, in the course of which I certainly failed in giving him a clear idea of what I would be at, I thanked him for his attention, and went off as dissatisfied as ever. The sense of one part of the conversation I well recollect. He said "that were the perpetual motion possible, it would have occurred spontaneously in nature, and would have overpowered all other forces," or words to that effect. I did not see the force of this, but did not feel competent enough to discuss the question.
However, all this exorcised my devil, and he has rarely come to trouble me since. Some future day, perhaps, I may be able to call Faraday's attention more decidedly. Pergo modo! "wie das Gestirn, ohne Hast, ohne Rast" (Das Gestirn in a midshipman's berth!).
[In other respects also his student's career was a brilliant one. In 1843 he won the first chemical prize, the certificate stating that his "extraordinary diligence and success in the pursuit of this branch of science do him infinite honour." At the same time, he also won the first prize in the class of anatomy and physiology. On the back of Wharton Jones' certificate is scribbled in pencil: "Well, 'tis no matter. Honour pricks me on. Yea, but how if honour prick me off when I come on? How then?"
Finally, in 1845 he went up for his M.B. at London University and won a gold medal for anatomy and physiology, being second in honours in that section.
Whatever then he might think of his own work, judged by his own standards, he had done well enough as medical students go. But a brilliant career as a student did not suffice to start him in life or provide him with a livelihood. How he came to enter the Navy is best told in his own words.]
It was in the early spring of 1846, that, having finished my obligatory medical studies and passed the first M.B. examination at the London University, though I was still too young to qualify at the College of Surgeons, I was talking to a fellow-student (the present eminent physician, Sir Joseph Fayrer), and wondering what I should do to meet the imperative necessity for earning my own bread, when my friend suggested that I should write to Sir William Burnett, at that time Director-General for the Medical Service of the Navy, for an appointment. I thought this rather a strong thing to do, as Sir William was personally unknown to me, but my cheery friend would not listen to my scruples, so I went to my lodgings and wrote the best letter I could devise. A few days afterwards I received the usual official circular of acknowledgment, but at the bottom there was written an instruction to call at Somerset House on such a day. I thought that looked like business, so at the appointed time I called and sent in my card while I waited in Sir William's anteroom. He was a tall, shrewd-looking old gentleman, with a broad Scotch accent, and I think I see him now as he entered with my card in his hand. The first thing he did was to return it, with the frugal reminder that I should probably find it useful on some other occasion. The second was to ask whether I was an Irishman. I suppose the air of modesty about my appeal must have struck him. I satisfied the Director-General that I was English to the backbone, and he made some inquiries as to my student career, finally desiring me to hold myself ready for examination. Having passed this, I was in Her Majesty's Service, and entered on the books of Nelson's old ship the "Victory," for duty at Haslar Hospital, about a couple of months after my application.
My official chief at Haslar was a very remarkable person, the late Sir John Richardson, an excellent naturalist and far-famed as an indomitable Arctic traveller. He was a silent, reserved man, outside the circle of his family and intimates; and having a full share of youthful vanity, I was extremely disgusted to find that "Old John," as we irreverent youngsters called him, took not the slightest notice of my worshipful self, either the first time I attended him, as it was my duty to do, or for some weeks afterwards. I am afraid to think of the lengths to which my tongue may have run on the subject of the churlishness of the chief, who was, in truth, one of the kindest-hearted and most considerate of men. But one day, as I was crossing the hospital square, Sir John stopped me and heaped coals of fire on my head by telling me that he had tried to get me one of the resident appointments, much coveted by the assistant-surgeons, but that the Admiralty had put in another man. "However," said he, "I mean to keep you here till I can get you something you will like," and turned upon his heel without waiting for the thanks I stammered out. That explained how it was I had not been packed off to the West Coast of Africa like some of my juniors, and why, eventually, I remained altogether seven months at Haslar.
After a long interval, during which "Old John" ignored my existence almost as completely as before, he stopped me again as we met in a casual way, and describing the service on which the "Rattlesnake" was likely to be employed, said that Captain Owen Stanley, who was to command the ship, had asked him to recommend an assistant surgeon who knew something of science; would I like that? Of course I jumped at the offer. "Very well, I give you leave; go to London at once and see Captain Stanley." I went, saw my future commander, who was very civil to me, and promised to ask that I should be appointed to his ship, as in due time I was. It is a singular thing that during the few months of my stay at Haslar I had among my messmates two future Directors-General of the Medical Service of the Navy (Sir Alexander Armstrong and Sir John Watt-Reid), with the present President of the College of Physicians, and my kindest of doctors, Sir Andrew Clark.
A letter to his eldest sister, Lizzie, dated from Haslar May 24, 1846, shows how he regarded the prospect now opening before him.]
...As I see no special queries in your letter, I think I shall go on to tell you what that same way of life is likely to be—my fortune having already been told for me (for the next five years at least). I told you in my last that I was likely to have a permanency here. Well, I was recommended by Sir John Richardson, and should have certainly had it, had not (luckily) the Admiralty put in a man of their own. Having a good impudent faith in my own star (Wie das Gestirn, ohne Hast, ohne Rast), I knew this was only because I was to have something better, and so it turned out; for a day or two after I was ousted from the museum, Sir J. Richardson (who has shown himself for some reason or another a special good friend to me) told me that he had received a letter from Captain Owen Stanley, who is to command an EXPLORING EXPEDITION to New Guinea (not coast of Africa, mind), requesting him to recommend an assistant surgeon for this expedition—would I like the appointment? As you may imagine I was delighted at the offer, and immediately accepted it. I was recommended accordingly to Captain Stanley and Sir W. Burnett, and I shall be appointed as soon as the ship is in commission. We are to have the "Rattlesnake," a 28-gun frigate, and as she will fit out here I shall have no trouble. We sail probably in September.
New Guinea, as you may be aware, is a place almost unknown, and our object is to bring back a full account of its Geography, Geology, and Natural History. In the latter department with which I shall have (in addition to my medical functions) somewhat to do, we shall form one grand collection of specimens and deposit it in the British Museum or some other public place, and this main object being always kept in view, we are at liberty to collect and work for ourselves as we please. Depend upon it unless some sudden attack of laziness supervenes, such an opportunity shall not slip unused out of my hands. The great difficulty in such a wide field is to choose an object. In this point, however, I hope to be greatly assisted by the scientific folks, to many of whom I have already had introductions (Owen, Gray, Grant, Forbes), and this, I assure you, I look upon as by no means the least of the advantages I shall derive from being connected with the expedition. I have been twice to town to see Captain Stanley. He is a son of the Bishop of Norwich, is an exceedingly gentlemanly man, a thorough scientific enthusiast, and shows himself altogether very much disposed to forward my views in every possible way. Being a scientific man himself he will take care to have the ship's arrangements as far as possible in harmony with scientific pursuits—a circumstance you would appreciate as highly as I do if you were as well acquainted as I now am with the ordinary opportunities of an assistant surgeon. Furthermore, I am given to understand that if one does anything at all, promotion is almost certain. So that altogether I am in a very fair way, and would snap my fingers at the Grand Turk. Wharton Jones was delighted when I told him about my appointment. Dim visions of strangely formed corpuscles seemed to cross his imagination like the ghosts of the kings in "Macbeth."
What seems his head The likeness of a nucleated cell has on.
[The law's delays are proverbial, but on this occasion, as on the return of the "Rattlesnake," the Admiralty seem to have been almost as provoking to the eager young surgeon as any lawyer could have been. The appointment was promised in May; it was not made till October. On the 6th of that month there is another letter to his sister, giving fuller particulars of his prospects on the voyage:—]
My dearest Lizzie,
At last I have really got my appointment and joined my ship. I was so completely disgusted with the many delays that had occurred that I made up my mind not to write to anybody again until I had my commission in my hand. Henceforward, like another Jonah, my dwelling-place will be the "inwards" of the "Rattlesnake," and upon the whole I really doubt whether Jonah was much worse accommodated, so far as room goes, than myself. My total length, as you are aware, is considerable, 5 feet 11 inches, possibly, but the height of the lower deck of the "Rattlesnake," which will be my especial location, is at the outside 4 feet 10 inches. What I am to do with the superfluous foot I cannot divine. Happily, however, there is a sort of skylight into the berth, so that I shall be able to sit with the body in it and my head out.
Apart from joking, however, this is not such a great matter, and it is the only thing I would see altered in the whole affair. The officers, as far as I have seen them, are a very gentlemanly, excellent set of men, and considering we are to be together for four or five years, that is a matter of no small importance. I am not given to be sanguine, but I confess I expect a good deal to arise out of this appointment. In the first place, surveying ships are totally different from the ordinary run of men-of-war. The requisite discipline is kept up, but not in the martinet style. Less form is observed. From the men who are appointed having more or less scientific turns, they have more respect for one another than that given by mere position in the service, and hence that position is less taken advantage of. They are brought more into contact, and hence those engaged in the surveying service almost proverbially stick by one another. To me, whose interest in the service is almost all to be made, this is a matter of no small importance.
Then again, in a surveying ship you can work. In an ordinary frigate if a fellow has the talents of all the scientific men from Archimedes downwards compressed into his own peculiar skull they are all lost. Even if it were possible to study in a midshipmen's berth, you have not room in your "chat" for more than a dozen books. But in the "Rattlesnake" the whole poop is to be converted into a large chart-room with bookshelves and tables and plenty of light. There I may read, draw, or microscopise at pleasure, and as to books, I have a carte blanche from the Captain to take as many as I please, of which permission we shall avail ourself—rather—and besides all this, from the peculiar way in which I obtained this appointment, I shall have a much wider swing than assistant surgeons in general get. I can see clearly that certain branches of the natural history work will fall into my hands if I manage properly through Sir John Richardson, who has shown himself a very kind friend all throughout, and also through Captain Stanley I have been introduced to several eminent zoologists—to Owen and Gray and Forbes of King's College. From all these men much is to be learnt which becomes peculiarly my own, and can of course only be used and applied by me. From Forbes especially I have learned and shall learn much with respect to dredging operations (which bear on many of the most interesting points of zoology). In consequence of this I may very likely be entrusted with the carrying of them out, and all that is so much the more towards my opportunities. Again, I have learnt the calotype process for the express purpose of managing the calotype apparatus, for which Captain Stanley has applied to the Government.
And having once for all enumerated all these meaner prospects of mere personal advancement, I must confess I do glory in the prospect of being able to give myself up to my own favourite pursuits without thereby neglecting the proper duties of life. And then perhaps by the following of my favourite motto:—
Wie das Gestirn, Ohne Hast, Ohne Rast:—
something may be done, and some of Sister Lizzie's fond imaginations turn out not altogether untrue.
I perceive that I have nearly finished a dreadfully egotistical letter, but I know you like to hear of my doings, so shall not apologise. Kind regards to the Doctor and kisses to the babbies. Write me a long letter all about yourselves.
Your affectionate brother,
[One more description to complete the sketch of his quarters on board the "Rattlesnake." It is from a letter to his mother, written at Plymouth, where the "Rattlesnake" put in after leaving Portsmouth. The comparison with the ordinary quarters of an assistant-surgeon, and the shifts to which a studious man might be put in his endeavour to find a quiet spot to work in, have a flavour of Mr. Midshipman Easy about them to relieve the deplorable reality of his situation:—]
You will be very glad to know that I am exceedingly comfortable here. My cabin has now got into tolerable order, and what with my books—which are, I am happy to say, not a few—my gay curtain and the spicy oilcloth which will be down on the floor, looks most respectable. Furthermore, although it is an unquestionably dull day I have sufficient light to write here, without the least trouble, to read, or even if necessary, to use my microscope. I went to see a friend of mine on board the "Recruit" the other day, and truly I hugged myself when I compared my position with his. The berth where he and seven others eat their daily bread is hardly bigger than my cabin, except in height—and, of course, he has to sleep in a hammock. My friend is rather an eccentric character, and, being missed in the ship, was discovered the other day reading in the main-top—the only place, as he said, sufficiently retired for study. And this is really no exaggeration. If I had no cabin I should take to drinking in a month.
[It was during this period of waiting that he attended his first meeting of the British Association, which was held in 1846 at Southampton. Here he obtained from Professor Edward Forbes one of his living specimens of Amphioxus lanceolatus, and made an examination of its blood. The result was a short paper read at the following meeting of the Association, which showed that in the composition of its blood this lowly vertebrate approached very near the invertebrates. ("Examination of the Corpuscles of the Blood of Amphioxus lanceolatus" "British Association Report" 1847 2 page 95 and "Scientific Memoirs" 1.)
[It is a curious coincidence that, like two other leaders of science, Charles Darwin and Joseph Dalton Hooker, their close friend Huxley began his scientific career on board one of Her Majesty's ships. He was, however, to learn how little the British Government of that day, for all its professions, really cared for the advancement of knowledge. (The key to this attitude on the part of the Admiralty is to be found in the scathing description in Briggs' "Naval Administration from 1827 to 1892" page 92, of the ruinous parsimony of either political party at this time with regard to the navy—a policy the results of which were only too apparent at the outbreak of the Crimean war. I quote a couple of sentences, "The navy estimates were framed upon the lowest scale, and reduction pushed to the very verge of danger." "Even from a financial point of view the course pursued was the reverse of economical, and ultimately led to wasteful and increased expenditure." Thus the liberal professions of the Admiralty were not fulfilled; its good will gave the young surgeon three and a half years of leave from active service; with an obdurate treasury, it could do no more.) But of the immense value to himself of these years of hard training, the discipline, the knowledge of men and of the capabilities of life, even without more than the barest necessities of existence—of this he often spoke. As he puts it in his Autobiography:—]
Life on board Her Majesty's ships in those days was a very different affair from what it is now, and ours was exceptionally rough, as we were often many months without receiving letters or seeing any civilised people but ourselves. In exchange, we had the interest of being about the last voyagers, I suppose, to whom it could be possible to meet with people who knew nothing of firearms—as we did on the south coast of New Guinea—and of making acquaintance with a variety of interesting savage and semi-civilised people. But, apart from experience of this kind and the opportunities offered for scientific work, to me, personally, the cruise was extremely valuable. It was good for me to live under sharp discipline; to be down on the realities of existence by living on bare necessaries: to find how extremely well worth living life seemed to be when one woke up from a night's rest on a soft plank, with the sky for canopy, and cocoa and weevilly biscuit the sole prospect for breakfast; and, more especially, to learn to work for the sake of what I got for myself out of it, even if it all went to the bottom and I along with it. My brother officers were as good fellows as sailors ought to be and generally are, but, naturally, they neither knew nor cared anything about my pursuits, nor understood why I should be so zealous in pursuit of the objects which my friends, the middies, christened "Buffons," after the title conspicuous on a volume of the "Suites a Buffon," which stood on my shelf in the chart-room.
[On the whole, life among the company of officers was satisfactory enough. (The Assistant-Surgeon messed in the gun-room with the middies. A man in the midst of a lot of boys, with hardly any grown-up companions, often has a rather unenviable position; but, says Captain Heath, who was one of these middies, Huxley's constant good spirits and fun, when he was not absorbed in his work, his freedom from any assumption of superiority over them, made the boys his good comrades and allies.) Huxley's immediate superior, John Thompson, was a man of sterling worth; and Captain Stanley was an excellent commander, and sympathetic withal. Among Huxley's messmates there was only one, the ship's clerk, whoever made himself actively disagreeable, and a quarrel with him only served to bring into relief the young surgeon's integrity and directness of action. After some dispute, in which he had been worsted, this gentleman sought to avenge himself by dropping mysterious hints as to Huxley's conduct before joining the ship. He had been treasurer of his mess; there had been trouble about the accounts, and a scandal had barely been averted. This was not long in coming to Huxley's ears. Furiously indignant as he was, he did not lose his self-control; but promptly inviting the members of the wardroom to meet as a court of honour, laid his case before them, and challenged his accuser to bring forward any tittle of evidence in support of his insinuations. The latter had nothing to say for himself, and made a formal retraction and apology. A signed account of the proceedings was kept by the first officer, and a duplicate by Huxley, as a defence against any possible revival of the slander.
On December 3, 1846, the "Rattlesnake" frigate left Spithead, but touched again at Plymouth to ship 65,000 pounds sterling of specie for the Cape. This delay was no pleasure to the young Huxley; it only served to renew the pain of parting from home, so that, after writing a last letter to reassure his mother as to the comfort of his present quarters, he was glad to lose sight of the English coast on the 11th.
Madeira was reached on the 18th. On the 26th they sailed for Rio de Janeiro, where they stayed from January 23 to February 2, 1847. Here Huxley had his first experience of tropical dredging in Botafago Bay, with Macgillivray, naturalist to the expedition. It was a memorable occasion, the more so, because in the absence of a sieve they were compelled to use their hands as strainers the first day. Happily the want was afterwards supplied by a meat cover. From the following letter it seems that several prizes of value were taken in the dredge:—]
Rio de Janeiro, January 24, 1847.
My dear Mother,
Four weeks of lovely weather and uninterrupted fair winds brought us to this southern fairyland. In my last letter I told you a considerable yarn about Madeira, I guess, and so for fear lest you should imagine me scenery mad I will spare you any description of Rio Harbour. Suffice it to say that it contends with the Bay of Naples for the title of the most beautiful place in the world. It must beat Naples in luxuriance and variety of vegetation, but from all accounts, to say nothing of George's [his eldest brother] picture, falls behind it in the colours of sky and sea, that of the latter being in the harbour and for some distance outside of a dirty olive green like the washings of a painter's palette.
We have come in for the purpose of effecting some trifling repairs, which, though not essential to the safety of the ship, will nevertheless naturally enhance the comfort of its inmates. This you will understand when I tell you that in consequence of these same defects I have had water an inch or two deep in my cabin, wish-washing about ever since we left Madeira.
We crossed the line on the 13th of this month, and as one of the uninitiated I went through the usual tomfoolery practised on that occasion. The affair has been too often described for me to say anything about it. I had the good luck to be ducked and shaved early, and of course took particular care to do my best in serving out the unhappy beggars who had to follow. I enjoyed the fun well enough at the time, but unquestionably it is on all grounds a most pernicious custom. It swelled our sick list to double the usual amount, and one poor fellow, I am sorry to say, died of the effects of pleurisy then contracted.
We have been quite long enough at sea now to enable me to judge how I shall get on in the ship, and to form a very clear idea of how it fits me and how I fit it. In the first place I am exceedingly well and exceedingly contented with my lot. My opinion of the advantages lying open to me increases rather than otherwise as I see my way about me. I am on capital terms with all the superior officers, and I find them ready to give me all facilities. I have a place for my books and microscope in the chart room, and there I sit and read in the morning much as though I were in my rooms in Agar Street. My immediate superior, Johnny Thompson, is a long-headed good fellow without a morsel of humbug about him—a man whom I thoroughly respect, both morally and intellectually. I think it will be my fault if we are not fast friends through the commission. One friend on board a ship is as much as anybody has a right to expect.
It is just the interval between the sea and the land breezes, the sea like glass, and not a breath stirring. I shall become soup if I do not go on deck. Temperature in sun at noon 86 in shade, 139 in sun. N.B.—It has been up to 89 in shade, 139 in sun since this.
March 28, 1847.
I see I concluded with a statement of temperature. Since then it has been considerably better—140 in sun; however, in the shade it rarely rises above 86 or so, and when the sea or land breezes are blowing this is rather pleasant than otherwise.
I have been ashore two or three times. The town is like most Portuguese towns, hot and stinking, the odours here being improved by a strong flavour of nigger from the slaves, of whom there is an immense number. They seem to do all the work, and their black skins shine in the sun as though they had been touched up with Warren, 30 Strand. They are mostly in capital condition, and on the whole look happier than the corresponding class in England, the manufacturing and agricultural poor, I mean. I have a much greater respect for them than for their beastly Portuguese masters, than whom there is not a more vile, ignorant, and besotted nation under the sun. I only regret that such a glorious country as this should be in such hands. Had Brazil been colonised by Englishmen, it would by this time have rivalled our Indian Empire.
The naturalist Macgillivray and I have had several excursions under pretence of catching butterflies, etc. On the whole, however, I think we have been most successful in imbibing sherry cobbler, which you get here in great perfection. By the way, tell Cooke [his brother-in-law], with my kindest regards, that — is a lying old thief, many of the things he told me about Macgillivray, e.g., being an ignoramus in natural history, etc. etc., having proved to be lies. He is at any rate a very good ornithologist, and, I can testify, is exceedingly zealous in his vocation as a collector. As in these (points) Mr. —'s statements are unquestionably false, I must confess I feel greatly inclined to disbelieve his other assertions.
We sail hence on Sunday for the Cape, so I will finish up. If you have not already written to me at that place, direct your letters to H.M.S. "Rattlesnake," Sydney (to wait arrival). We shall probably be at the Cape some weeks surveying, thence shall be take ourselves to the Mauritius, and leave a card on Paul and Virginia, thence on to Sydney; but it is of no use to direct to any place but the last.
P.S.—The Rattlesnakes are not idle. We shall most likely have something to say to the English savans before long. If I have any frizz in the fire I will let you know.
[He gives a fuller account of this piece of work in a letter to his sister, dated Sydney, August 1, 1847. The two papers in question, as appears from the briefest notice in the "Proceedings of the Linnean Society," ascribing them to William (!) Huxley, were read in 1849:—]
In my last letter I think I mentioned to you that I had worked out and sent home to the President of the Linnean Society, through Captain Stanley, an account of Physalia, or Portuguese man-of-war as it is called, an animal whose structure and affinities had never been worked out. The careful investigation I made gave rise to several new ideas covering the whole class of animals to which this creature belongs, and these ideas I have had the good fortune to have had many opportunities of working out in the course of our subsequent wanderings, so that I am provided with materials for a second paper far more considerable in extent, and embracing an altogether wider field. This second paper is now partly in esse—that is, written out—and partly in posse—that is, in my head; but I shall send it before leaving. Its title will be "Observations upon the Anatomy of the Diphydae, and upon the Unity of Organisation of the Diphydae and Physophoridae," and it will have lots of figures to illustrate it. Now when we return from the north I hope to have collected materials for a much bigger paper than either of these, and to which they will serve as steps. If my present anticipations turn out correct, this paper will achieve one of the great ends of Zoology and Anatomy, namely, the reduction of two or three apparently widely separated and incongruous groups into modifications of the single type, every step of the reasoning being based upon anatomical facts. There! Think yourself lucky you have only got that to read instead of the slight abstract of all three papers with which I had some intention of favouring you. [These papers are to be found in volume 1 of the "Scientific Memoirs" of T.H. Huxley page 9.]
But five years ago you threw a slipper after me for luck on my first examination, and I must have you to do it for everything else.
[At the Cape a stay of a month was made, from March 6 to April 10, and certain surveying work was done, after which the "Rattlesnake" sailed for Mauritius. In spite of the fact that the novelty of tropical scenery had worn off, the place made a deep impression. He writes to his mother, May 15, 1847:—]
After a long and somewhat rough passage from the Cape, we made the highland of the Isle of France on the afternoon of the 3rd of this month, and passing round the northern extremity of the island, were towed into Port Louis by the handsomest of tugs about noon on the 4th. In my former letter I have spoken to you of the beauty of the places we have visited, of the picturesque ruggedness of Madeira, the fine luxuriance of Rio, and the rude and simple grandeur of South Africa. Much of my admiration has doubtless arisen from the novelty of these tropical or semitropical scenes, and would be less vividly revived by a second visit. I have become in a manner blase with fine sights and something of a critic. All this is to lead you to believe that I have really some grounds for the raptures I am going into presently about Mauritius. In truth it is a complete paradise, and if I had nothing better to do, I should pick up some pretty French Eve (and there are plenty) and turn Adam. N.B. There are NO serpents in the island.
This island is, you know, the scene of St. Pierre's beautiful story of Paul and Virginia, over which I suppose most people have sentimentalised at one time or another of their lives. Until we reached here I did not know that the tale was like the lady's improver—a fiction founded on fact, and that Paul and Virginia were at one time flesh and blood, and that their veritable dust was buried at Pamplemousses in a spot considered as one of the lions of the place, and visited as classic ground. Now, though I never was greatly given to the tender and sentimental, and have not had any tendencies that way greatly increased by the elegancies and courtesies of a midshipman's berth,—not to say that, as far as I recollect, Mdlle. Virginia was a bit of a prude, and M. Paul a pump,—yet were it but for old acquaintance sake, I determined on making a pilgrimage. Pamplemousses is a small village about seven miles from Port Louis, and the road to it is lined by rows of tamarind trees, of cocoanut trees, and sugarcanes. I started early in the morning in order to avoid the great heat of the middle of the day, and having breakfasted at Port Louis, made an early couple of hours' walk of it, meeting on my way numbers of the coloured population hastening to market in all the varieties of their curious Hindoo costume. After some trouble I found my way to the "Tombeaux" as they call them. They are situated in a garden at the back of a house now in the possession of one Mr. Geary, an English mechanist, who puts up half the steam engines for the sugar mills in the island. The garden is now an utter wilderness, but still very beautiful; round it runs a grassy path, and in the middle of the path on each side towards the further extremity of the garden is a funeral urn supported on a pedestal, and as dilapidated as the rest of the affair. These dilapidations, as usual, are the work of English visitors, relic-hunters, who are as shameless here as elsewhere. I was exceedingly pleased on the whole with my excursion, and when I returned I made a drawing of the place, which I will send some day or other.
Since this I have made, in company with our purser and a passenger, Mr. King, a regular pedestrian trip to see some very beautiful falls up the country.
[Leaving Mauritius on May 17, they prolonged their voyage to Sydney by being requisitioned to take more specie to Hobart Town, so that Sydney was not reached until July 16, eight months since they had had news of home.
The three months spent in this first visit to Sydney proved to be one of the most vital periods in the young surgeon's career. From boyhood up, vaguely conscious of unrest, of great powers within him working to find expression, he had yet been to a certain extent driven in upon himself. He had been somewhat isolated from those of his own age by his eagerness for problems about which they cared nothing; and the tendency to solitude, the habit of outward reserve imposed upon an unusually warm nature, were intensified by the fact that he grew up in surroundings not wholly congenial. One member alone of his family felt with him that complete and vivid sympathy which is so necessary to the full development of such a nature. When he was fourteen this sister married and left home, but the bond between them was not broken. In some ways it was strengthened by the lad's love for her children; by his grief, scarcely less than her own, at the death of her eldest little girl. Moreover they were brought into close companionship for a considerable time when, after his dismal period of apprenticeship at Rotherhithe—to which he could never look back without a shudder—he came to work under her husband. She had encouraged him in his studies; had urged him to work for the Botanical prize at Sydenham College; had brightened his life with her sympathy, and believed firmly in the brilliant future which awaited him—a belief which for her sake, if for nothing else, he was eager to justify by his best exertions.
He had not had, so far, much opportunity of entering the social world; but his visit to Sydney gave him an opportunity of entering a good society to which his commission in the navy was a sufficient introduction. He was eager to find friendships if he could, for his reserve was anything but misanthropic. It was not long before he made the acquaintance of William Macleay, a naturalist of wide research and great speculative ability; and struck up a close friendship with William Fanning, one of the leading merchants of the town, a friendship which was to have momentous consequences. For it was at Fanning's house that he met his future wife, Miss Henrietta Anne Heathorn, for whom he was to serve longer and harder than Jacob thought to serve for Rachel, but who was to be his help and stay for forty years, in his struggles ready to counsel, in adversity to comfort; the critic whose judgment he valued above almost any, and whose praise he cared most to win; his first care and his latest thought, the other self, whose union with him was a supreme example of mutual sincerity and devotion.