Popular Science Monthly/Volume 35/July 1889/An Explanation to Prof Huxley

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By W. C. McGEE, Bishop of Peterborough.

IN the February number of this review Prof. Huxley put into the mouth of Mr. Frederic Harrison the following sentence: "In his [the agnostic's] place, as a sort of navvy leveling the ground and cleansing it of such poor stuff as Christianity, he is a useful creature who deserves patting on the back—on condition that he does not venture beyond his last." The construction which I put upon these words—and of which I still think them quite capable—was that the professor meant to represent Mr. Harrison and himself as agreed upon the proper work of the agnostic, and as differing only as to whether he might or might not "venture beyond" that. On this supposition, my inference that he had called Christianity "sorry," or, as I ought to have said, "poor stuff" (the terms are, of course, equivalent), would have been perfectly correct.

On re-reading the sentence in question, however, in connection with its context, I see that it may more correctly be regarded as altogether ironical; and this, from the professor's implied denial in his last article of the correctness of my version, I conclude that he intended it to be. I accordingly at once withdraw my statement, and express my regret for having made it. May I plead, however, as some excuse for my mistake, that this picture of him-self when engaged in his agnostic labors is so wonderfully accurate and life-like that I might almost be pardoned for taking for a portrait what was only meant for a caricature, or for supposing that he had expressed in so many words the contempt which displays itself in so many of his utterances respecting the Christian faith?

Nevertheless I gladly admit that the particular expression I had ascribed to him is not to be reckoned among the already too numerous illustrations of what I had described as his "readiness to say unpleasant," and—after reading his last article—I must add, offensive, "things."

With this explanation and apology I take my leave of the professor and of our small personal dispute—small, indeed, beside the infinitely graver and greater issues raised in his reply to the unanswered arguments of Dr. Wace.

I do not care to distract the attention of the public from these to a fencing-match with foils between Prof. Huxley and myself. In sight of Gethsemane and Calvary such a fencing-match seems to me out of place.—Nineteenth Century.