Popular Science Monthly/Volume 58/February 1901/Huxley's Life and Work
|HUXLEY'S LIFE AND WORK.|
I ACCEPTED with pleasure the invitation of your Council to deliver the first Huxley lecture, not only on account of my affection and admiration for him and my long friendship, but it seemed also especially appropriate as I was associated with him in the foundation of this Society. He was President of the Ethnological Society, and when it was fused with the Anthropological we, many of us, felt that Huxley ought to be the first President of the new Institute. No one certainly did so more strongly than your first President, and I only accepted the honor when we found that it was impossible to secure him.
But the foundation of our Institute was only one of the occasions on which we worked together.
Like him, but, of course, far less effectively, from the date of the appearance of the 'Origin of Species' I stood by Darwin and did my best to fight the battle of truth against the torrent of ignorance and abuse which was directed against him. Sir J. Hooker and I stood by Huxley's side and spoke up for Natural Selection in the great Oxford debate of 1860. In the same year we became co-editors of the 'Natural History Review.'
Another small society in which I was closely associated with Huxley for many years was the X Club. The other members were George Busk, secretary of the Linnean Society; Edward Frankland, president of the Chemical Society; T. A. Hirst, head of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich; Sir Joseph Hooker, Herbert Spencer, W. Spottiswoode, president of the Royal Society, and Tyndall. It was started in 1864, and nearly nineteen years passed before we had a single loss—that of Spottiswoode; and Hooker, Spencer and I are now, alas! the only remaining members. We used to dine together once a month, except in July, August and September. There were no papers or formal discussions, but the idea was to secure more frequent meetings of a few friends who were bound together by common interests and aims, and strong feelings of personal affection. It has never been formally dissolved, but the last meeting was in 1893.
In 1869 the Metaphysical Society, of which I shall have something more to say later on, was started.
From 1870 to 1875 I was sitting with Huxley on the late Duke of Devonshire's Commission on Scientific Instruction; we had innumerable meetings, and we made many recommendations which are being by degrees adopted.
I had also the pleasure of spending some delightful holidays with him in Switzerland, in Brittany and in various parts of England. Lastly, I sat by his side in the Sheldonian Theater at the British Association meeting at Oxford, during Lord Salisbury's address, to which I listened with all the more interest knowing that he was to second the vote of thanks, and wondering how he would do it. At one passage we looked at one another, and he whispered to me, "Oh, my dear Lubbock, how I wish we were going to discuss the address in Section D instead of here!" Not, indeed, that he would have omitted any part of his speech, but there were other portions of the address which he would have been glad to have criticised. I was, therefore, for many years in close and intimate association with him.
Huxley showed from early youth a determination, in the words of Jean Paul Richter, 'to make the most that was possible out of the stuff/ and this was a great deal, for the material was excellent. He took the wise advice to consume more oil than wine, and, what is better even than midnight oil, he made the most of the sweet morning air.
In his youth he was a voracious reader and devoured everything he could lay his hand on, from the Bible to Hamilton's 'Essay on the Philosophy of the Unconditioned.' He tells us of himself that when he was a mere boy he had a perverse tendency to think when he ought to have been playing.
Considering how preeminent he was as a naturalist, it is rather surprising to hear, as he has himself told us, that his own desire was to be a mechanical engineer. "The only part," he said, "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 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 apparatus to serve diverse ends."
In 1846 Huxley was appointed naturalist to the expedition which was sent to the East under Captain Owen Stanley in the Rattlesnake, and good use, indeed, he made of his opportunities. It is really wonderful, as Sir M. Foster remarks in his excellent obituary notice in the Royal Society's 'Proceedings,' how he could have accomplished so much under such difficulties.
"Working," says Sir Michael Foster, "amid a host of difficulties, in want of room, in want of light, seeking to unravel the intricacies of minute structure with a microscope lashed to secure steadiness, cramped within a tiny cabin, jostled by the tumult of a crowded ship's life, with the scantiest supply of books of reference, with no one at hand of whom he could take counsel on the problems opening up before him, he gathered for himself during those four years a large mass of accurate, important and, in most cases, novel observations, and illustrated them with skilful, pertinent drawings."
The truth is that Huxley was one of those all-round men who would have succeeded in almost any walk in life. In literature his wit, his power of clear description and his admirable style would certainly have placed him in the front rank.
He was as ready with his pencil as with his pen. Every one who attended his lectures will remember how admirably they were illustrated by his blackboard sketches, and how the diagrams seemed to grow line by line almost of themselves. Drawing was, indeed, a joy to him, and when I have been sitting with him at Royal Commissions or on committees, he was constantly making comical sketches on scraps of paper or on blotting-books which, though admirable, never seemed to distract his attention from the subject on hand.
Again, he was certainly one of the most effective speakers of the day. Eloquence is a great gift, although I am not sure that the country might not be better governed and more wisely led if the House of Commons and the country were less swayed by it. There is no doubt, however, that, to its fortunate possessor, eloquence is of great value, and if circumstances had thrown Huxley into political life, no one can doubt that he would have taken high rank among our statesmen. Indeed, I believe his presence in the House of Commons would have been of inestimable value to the country. Mr. Hutton, of the 'Spectator'— no mean judge—has told us that, in his judgment, 'an abler and more accomplished debater was not to be found even in the House of Commons.' His speeches had the same quality, the same luminous style of exposition, with which his printed books have made all readers in America and England familiar. Yet it had more than that. You could not listen to him without thinking more of the speaker than of his science, more of the solid, beautiful nature than of the intellectual gifts, more of his manly simplicity and sincerity than of all his knowledge and his long services. His Friday evening lectures at the Royal Institution rivaled those of Tyndall in their interest and brilliance, and were always keenly and justly popular. Yet, he has told us that at first he had almost every fault a speaker could have. After his first Royal Institution lecture he received an anonymous letter recommending him never to try again, as whatever else he might be fit for, it was certainly not for giving lectures. It is also said that after one of his first lectures, 'On the Relations of Animals and Plants/ at a suburban Athenæum, a general desire was expressed to the Council that they would never invite that young man to lecture again. Quite late in life he told me, and John Bright said the same thing, that he was always nervous when he rose to speak, though it soon wore off when he warmed up to his subject.
No doubt easy listening on the part of the audience means hard working and thinking on the part of the lecturer, and, whether for the cultivated audience at the Royal Institution or for one to workingmen, he spared himself no pains to make his lectures interesting and instructive. There used to be an impression that Science was something up in the clouds, too remote from ordinary life, too abstruse and too difficult to be interesting; or else, as Dickens ridiculed it in 'Pickwick/ too trivial to be worthy of the time of an intellectual being.
Huxley was one of the foremost of those who brought our people to realize that science is of vital importance in our life, that it is more fascinating "than a fairy tale, more thrilling than a novel, and that any one who neglects to follow the triumphant march of discovery, so startling in its marvelous and unexpected surprises, so inspiring in its moral influence and its revelations of the beauties and wonders of the world in which we live and the universe of which we form an infinitesimal, but to ourselves at any rate, an all-important part, is deliberately rejecting one of the greatest comforts and interests of life, one of the greatest gifts with which we have been endowed by Providence.
But there is a time for all things under the sun, and we cannot fully realize the profound interest and serious responsibilities of life unless we refresh the mind and allow the bow to unbend. Huxley was full of humor, which burst out on most unexpected occasions. I remember one instance during a paper on the habits of spiders. The female spider appears to be one of the most unsociable, truculent and bloodthirsty of her sex. Even under the influence of love she does but temporarily suspend her general hatred of all living beings. The courtship varies in character in different species, and is excessively quaint and curious; but at the close the thirst for blood, which has been temporarily overmastered by an even stronger passion, bursts out with irresistible fury, she attacks her lover and, if he be not on the watch and does not succeed in making his escape, ends by destroying and sucking him dry. In moving a vote of thanks to the author, Huxley ended some interesting remarks by the observation that this closing scene was the most extraordinary form of marriage settlements of which he had ever heard.
He seemed also to draw out the wit of others. At the York 'Jubilee' meeting of the British Association, he and I strolled down in the afternoon to the Minster. At the entrance we met Prof. H. J. Smith, who made a mock movement of surprise. Huxley said: "You seem surprised to see me here." "Well," said Smith hesitatingly, "not exactly, but it would have been on one of the pinnacles, you know."
His letters were full of fun. Speaking of Siena in one of his letters, contained in Mr. Leonard Huxley's excellent Life of his father, he says: "The town is the quaintest place imaginable, built of narrow streets on several hills to start with, and then apparently stirred up with a poker to prevent monotony of effect."
And again, writing from Florence:
"We had a morning at the Uffizi the other day, and came back minds enlarged and backs broken. To-morrow we contemplate attacking the Pitti, and doubt not the result will be similar. By the end of the week our minds will probably be so large, and the small of the back so small, that we should probably break if we stayed any longer, so think it prudent to be off to Venice."
By degrees public duties and honors accumulated on him more and more. He was Secretary, and afterwards President, of the Royal Society, President of the Geological and of the Ethnological Societies, Hunterian Professor from 1863 to 1870, a Trustee of the British Museum, Dean of the Royal College of Science, President of the British Association, Inspector of Fisheries, Member of Senate of the University of London, member of no less than ten Royal Commissions, in addition to which he gave many lectures at the Royal Institution and elsewhere, besides, of course, all those which formed a part of his official duties.
In 1892 he was made a member of the Privy Council, an unwonted but generally welcome recognition of the services which science renders to the community.
As already mentioned, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1851. He received a Royal Medal in 1852, the Copley in 1888, and the Darwin Medal in 1894.
Apart from his professional and administrative duties, Huxley's work falls into three principal divisions—Science, Education and Metaphysics.
Huxley's early papers do not appear to have in all cases at first received the consideration they deserved. The only important one which was published before his return was the one 'On the Anatomy and Affinities of the Family of the Medusæ.'
After his return, however, there was a rapid succession of valuable Memoirs, the most important, probably, being those on Salpa and Pyrosoma, on Appendicularia and Doliolum and on the Morphology of the Cephalus Mollusca.
In recognition of the value of these Memoirs he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1851, and received a Royal Medal in 1852. Lord Rosse, in presenting it, said: "In these papers you have for the first time fully developed their (the Medusæ) structure and laid the foundation of a rational theory for their classification." "In your second paper, 'On the Anatomy of Salpa and Pyrosoma,' the phenomena, etc., have received the most ingenious and elaborate elucidation, and have given rise to a process of reasoning the results of which can scarcely yet be anticipated, but must bear, in a very important degree, upon some of the most abstruse points of what may be called transcendental physiology."
A very interesting result of his work on the Hydrozoa was the generalization that the two layers in the bodies of Hydrozoa (Polyps and Sea Anemones), the Ectoderm and the Entoderm correspond with the two primary germ layers of the higher animals. Again, though he did not discover or first define protoplasm, he took no small share in making its importance known, and in bringing naturalists to recognize it as the physical basis of life, and in demonstrating the unity of animal and plant protoplasm.
Among other important memoirs may be mentioned those 'On the Teeth and the Corpuscula Tactus,' 'On the Tegumentary Organs,' 'Review of the Cell Theory,' 'On Aphis,' and many others.
His paleontological work, for which he has told us that at first lie did not care,' began in 1855. That 'On the Anatomy and Affinities of the Genus Pterygotus' is still a classic; in another, 'On the Structure of the Shields of Pteraspis,' and in one 'On Cephalaspis,' in 1858, he for the first time clearly established their vertebrate character; his work 'On Devonian Fishes' in 1861 threw quite a new light on their affinities; and amongst other later papers may be mentioned that 'On Hyperodapedon;' 'On the Characters of the Pelvis,' 'On the Crayfish,' and one botanical memoir, 'On the Gentians,' the outcome of one of his Swiss trips.
One of the most striking results of his paleontological work was the clear demonstration of the numerous and close affinities between reptiles and birds, the result of which is that they are regarded by many as forming together a separate group, the Sauropsida; while the Amphibia, long regarded as reptiles, were separated from them and united with fishes under the title of Ichthyopsida. At the same time he showed that the Mammalia were not derived from the Sauropsida, but formed two diverging lines springing from a common ancestor. And besides this great generalization, says the Royal Society obituary notice, "the importance of which, both from a classificatory and from an evolutional point of view, needs no comment, there came out of the same researches numerous lesser contributions to the advancement of morphological knowledge, including, among others, an attempt, in many respects successful, at a classification of birds."
In conjunction with Tyndall, he communicated to the 'Philosophical Transactions' a memoir on glaciers, and his interest in philosophical geography was also shown in his popular treatise on physiography.
But it would be impossible here to go through all his contributions to science. The Royal Society Catalogue enumerates more than a hundred, every one of which, in the words of Prof. S. Parker, "contains some brilliant generalization, some new and fruitful way of looking at the facts of science. The keenest morphological insight and inductive power are everywhere apparent; but the imagination is always kept well in hand, and there are none of those airy speculations—a liberal pound of theory to a bare ounce of fact—by which so many reputations have been made." Huxley never allowed his study of detail to prevent him from taking a wide general view.
I now come to his special work on Man.
In the 'Origin of Species,' Darwin did not directly apply his views to the case of Man. No doubt he assumed that the considerations which applied to the rest of the animal kingdom must apply to Man also, and I should have thought must have been clear to every one, had not Wallace been in some respects, much to my surprise, of a different opinion. At any rate, it required some courage to state this boldly, and much skill and knowledge to state it clearly.
He put it in a manner which was most conclusive, and showed, in Virchow's words, "that in respect of substance and structure Man and the lower animals are one. The fundamental correspondence of human organization with that of animals is at present universally accepted."
This, I think, is too sweeping a proposition. It may be true for Germany, but it certainly is not true here. Many of our countrymen and countrywomen not only do not accept, they do not even understand, Darwin's theory. They seem to suppose him to have held that Man was descended from one of the living Apes. This, of course, is not so. Man is not descended from a Gorilla or an Orang-utang, but Man, the Gorilla, the Orang-utang and other Anthropoid Apes are all descended from some far-away ancestor.
"A Pliocene Homo skeleton," Huxley said, "might analogically be expected to differ no more from that of modern men than the Œningen canis from modern Canes, or Pliocene horses from modern horses. If so, he would most undoubtedly be a man—genus Homo—even if you made him a distinct species. For my part, I should by no means be astonished to find the genus Homo represented in the Miocene, say, the Neanderthal man, with rather smaller brain capacity, longer arms and more movable great toe, but at most specifically different."
In his work 'On Man's Place in Nature' while referring to the other higher Quadrumana, Huxley dwelt principally on the chimpanzee and the gorilla, because, he said, "It is quite certain that the ape, which most nearly approaches man in the totality of its organization, is either the chimpanzee or the gorilla."
This is no doubt the case at present; but the gibbons (Hylobates), while differing more in size, and modified in adaptation to their more skilful power of climbing, must also be considered, and, to judge from Professor Dubois' remarkable discovery in Java of Pithecanthropus, which half the authorities have regarded as a small man, and half as a large gibbon, it is rather down to Hylobates than either the chimpanzee or the gorilla that we shall have to trace the point where the line of our far-away ancestors will meet that of any existing genus of monkeys.
Huxley emphasized the fact that monkeys differ from one another in bodily structure as much or more than they do from man.
We have Haeckel's authority for the statement that "after Darwin had, in 1859, reconstructed this most important biological theory, and by his epoch-making theory of natural selection placed it on an entirely new foundation, Huxley was the first who extended it to man; and, in 1863, in his celebrated three lectures on 'Man's Place in Nature' admirably worked out its most important developments."
The work was so well and carefully done that it stood the test of time, and, writing many years afterwards, Huxley was able to say, and to say truly, that:
"I was looking through 'Man's Place in Nature' the other day; I do not think there is a word I need delete, nor anything I need add except in confirmation and extension of the doctrine there laid down. That is great good fortune for a book thirty years old, and one that a very shrewd friend of mine implored me not to publish, as it would certainly ruin all my prospects" ('Life of Professor Huxley' p. 344).
He has told us elsewhere ('Collected Essays' vii., p. 11) that "it has achieved the fate which is the Euthanasia of a scientific work, of being inclosed among the rubble of the foundations of knowledge and forgotten." He has, however, himself saved it from the tomb, and built it into the walls of the temple of science, and it will still well repay the attention of the student.
For a poor man—I mean poor in money, as Huxley was all his life— to publish such a book at that time was a bold step. But the prophecy with which he concluded the work is coming true.
"After passion and prejudice have died away," he said, "the same result will attend the teachings of the naturalist respecting that great Alps and Andes of the living world—Man. Our reverence for the nobility of manhood will not be lessened by the knowledge that man is, in substance and in structure, one with the brutes; for he alone possesses the marvelous endowments of intelligible and rational speech, whereby, in the secular period of his existence, he has slowly accumulated and organized the experience which is almost wholly lost with the cessation of every individual life in other animals; so that now he stands raised upon it as on a mountain top—far above the level of his humble fellows, and transfigured from his grosser nature by reflecting here and there a ray from the infinite source of truth" ('Collected Essays,' vii., p. 155).
Another important research connected with the work of our Society was his investigation of the structure of the vertebrate skull. Owen had propounded a theory and worked it out most ingeniously that the skull was a complicated elaboration of the anterior part of the back-bone; that it was gradually developed from a preconceived idea or archetype; that it was possible to make out a certain number of vertebrae, and even the separate parts of which they were composed.
Huxley maintained that the archetypal theory was erroneous; and that, instead of being a modification of the anterior part of the primitive representative of the back-bone, the skull is rather an independent growth around and in front of it. Subsequent investigations havethis view, which is now generally accepted. This lecture marked an epoch in vertebrate morphology, and the views he enunciated still hold the field.
One of the most interesting parts of Huxley's work, and one specially connected with our Society, was his study of the ethnology of the British Isles. It has also an important practical and political application, because the absurd idea that ethnologically the inhabitants of our islands form three nations—the English, Scotch and Irish—has exercised a malignant effect on some of our statesmen, and is still not without influence on our politics. One of the strongest arguments put forward in favor of Home Rule used to be that the Irish were a 'nation.' In 1887 I attacked this view in some letters to the 'Times,' subsequently published by Quaritch. Nothing is more certain than that there was not a Scot in Scotland till the seventh century; that the east of our island from John 0' Groat's House to Kent is Teutonic; that the most important ethnological line, so far as there is one at all, is not the boundary between England and Scotland, but the north and south watershed which separates the east and west. In Ireland, again, the population is far from homogeneous. Huxley strongly supported the position I had taken up. "We have," he said, "as good evidence as can possibly be obtained on such subjects that the same elements have entered into the composition of the population in England, Scotland and Ireland; and that the ethnic differences between the three lie simply in the general and local proportions of these elements in each region. . . . The population of Cornwall and Devon has as much claim to the title of Celtic as that of Tipperary. . . . Undoubtedly there are four geographical regions, England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and the people who live in them call themselves and are called by others the English, Scotch, Welsh and Irish nations. It is also true that the inhabitants of the Isle of Man call themselves Manxmen, and are just as proud of their nationality as any other 'nationalities.'
"But if we mean no more than this by 'nationality,' the term has no practical significance" ('The Races of the British Isles,' pp. 44, 45).
Surely it would be very desirable, especially when political arguments are based on the term, that we should come to some understanding as to what is meant by the word 'nation.' The English, Scotch and Irish live under one Flag, one Queen and one Parliament. If they are not one nation, what are they? What term are we to use, and some term is obviously required, to express and combine all three. For my part I submit that the correct terminology is to speak of Celtic race or Teutonic race, of the Irish people or the Scotch people; but that the people of England, Scotland and Ireland, aye, and of the Colonies also, constitute one great nation.
As regards the races which have combined to form the nation, Huxley's view was that in Roman times the population of Britain comprised people of two types, the one fair, the other dark. The dark people resembled the Aquitani and the Iberians; the fair people were like the Belgic Gauls ('Essays,' V., vii., p. 254). And he adds that "the only constituent stocks of that population, now, or at any other period about which we have evidence, are the dark whites, whom I have proposed to call 'Melanochroi,' and the fair whites or 'Xanthochroi.'"
He concludes (1) "That the Melanochroi and the Xanthochroi are two separate races in the biological sense of the word race; (2) that they have had the same general distribution as at present from the earliest times of which any record exists on the continent of Europe; (3) that the population of the British Islands is derived from them, and from them only."
It will, however, be observed that we have (1) a dark race and a fair race; (2) a large race and a small race; and (3) a round-headed race and a long-headed race. But some of the fair race were large, some small; some have round heads, some long heads; some of the dark race again had long heads, some round ones. In fact, the question seems to me more complicated than Huxley supposed. The Mongoloid races extend now from China to Lapland; but in Huxley's opinion they never penetrated much further west, and never reached our islands. "I am unable," he says, "to discover any ground for believing that a Lapp element has ever entered into the population of these islands." It is true that we have not, so far as I know, anything which amounts to proof. We know, however, that all the other animals which are associated with the Lapps once inhabited Great Britain. Was man the only exception? I think not, more especially when we find, not only the animals of Lapland, but tools and weapons identical with those of the Lapps. I must not enlarge on this, and perhaps I may have an opportunity of laying my views on the subject more fully before the Society; but I may be allowed to indicate my own conclusion, namely, that the races to which Huxley refers are amongst the latest arrivals in our islands; that England was peopled long before its separation from the mainland, and that after the English Channel was formed, successive hordes of invaders made their way across the sea, but as they brought no women, or but few, with them, they exterminated the men, or reduced them to slavery, and married the women. Thus through their mothers our countrymen retain the strain of previous races, and hence, perhaps, we differ so much from the populations across the silver streak.
Summing up this side of Huxley's work, Sir M. Foster has truly said that "whatever bit of life he touched in his search, protozoan, polyp, mollusc, crustacean, fish, reptile, beast and man—and there were few living things he did not touch—he shed light on it, and left his mark. There is not one, or hardly one, of the many things which lie has written which may not be read again to-day with pleasure and with profit, and, not once or twice only in such a reading, it will be felt that the progress of science has given to words written long ago a. strength and meaning even greater than that which they seemed to have when first they were read."
In 1870 Huxley became a member of the first London School Board, and though his health compelled him to resign early in 1872, it would be difficult to exaggerate the value of the service he rendered to London and, indeed, to the country generally.
The education and discipline which he recommended were:
(1) Physical training and drill.
(2) Household work or domestic economy, especially for girls.
(3) The elementary laws of conduct.
(4) Intellectual training, reading, writing and arithmetic, elementary science, music and drawing.
He maintained that 'no boy or girl should leave school without possessing a grasp of the general character of science, and without having been disciplined more or less in the methods of all sciences.'
As regards the higher education, he was a strong advocate for science and modern languages, though without wishing to drop the classics.
Some years ago, for an article on higher education, I consulted a good many of the highest authorities on the number of hours per week which, in their judgment, should be given to the principal subjects. Huxley, amongst others, kindly gave me his views. He suggested ten hours for ancient languages and literature, ten for modern languages and literature, eight for arithmetic and mathematics, eight for science, two for geography and two for religious instruction.
For my own part I am firmly convinced that the amount of time devoted to classics has entirely failed in its object. The mind is like the body—it requires change. Mutton is excellent food; but mutton for breakfast, mutton for lunch, and mutton for dinner would soon make any one hate the sight of mutton, and so, Latin grammar before breakfast, Latin grammar before lunch, and Latin grammar before dinner is enough to make almost any one hate the sight of a classical author. Moreover, the classics, though an important part, are not the whole of education, and a classical scholar, however profound, if he knows no science, is but a half-educated man after all.
In fact, Huxley was no opponent of a classical education in the proper sense of the term, but he did protest against it in the sense in which it is usually employed, namely, as an education from which science is excluded, or represented only by a few random lectures.
He considered that specialization should not begin till sixteen or seventeen. At present we begin in our Public School system to specialize at the very beginning, and to devote an overwhelming time to Latin and Greek, which, after all, the boys are not taught to speak. Huxley advocated the system adopted by the founders of the University of London, and maintained to the present day that no one should be given a degree who did not show some acquaintance with science and with at least one modern language.
"As for the so-called 'conflict of studies'" he exclaims, "one might as well inquire which of the terms of a Eule of Three sum one ought to know in order to get a trustworthy result. Practical life is such a sum, in which your duty multiplied into your capacity, and divided by your circumstances, gives you the fourth term in the proportion, which is your deserts, with great accuracy" ('Life of Professor Huxley,' p. 406).
"That man," he said, "I think, has had a liberal education, who has been so trained in youth that his body is the ready servant of his will, and does with ease and pleasure all the work that, as a mechanism, it is capable of; whose intellect is a clear, cold, logic engine, with all its parts of equal strength and in smooth working order; ready, like a steam engine, to be turned to any kind of work, and spin the gossamers as well as forge the anchors of the mind; whose mind is stored with a knowledge of the great and fundamental truths of nature and the laws of her operations; one who, no stunted ascetic, is full of life and fire, but whose passions are trained to come to heel by a vigorous will, the servant of a tender conscience; who has learned to love all beauty, whether of nature or of art, to hate all vileness and to respect others as himself."
He was also strongly of opinion that colleges should be places of research as well as of teaching.
"The modern university looks forward, and is a factory of new knowledge; its professors have to be at the top of the wave of progress. Research and criticism must be the breath of their nostrils; laboratory work the main business of the scientific student; books his main helpers."
Education has been advocated for many good reasons: by statesmen because all have votes, by Chambers of Commerce because ignorance makes bad workmen, by the clergy because it makes bad men, and all these are excellent reasons; but they may all be summed up in Huxley's words that "the masses should be educated because they are men and women with unlimited capacities of being, doing and suffering, and that it is as true now as ever it was that the people perish for lack of knowledge."
Huxley once complained to Tyndall, in joke, that the clergy seemed to let him say anything he liked, 'while they attack me for a word or a phrase.' But it was not always so.
Tyndall and I went, in the spring of 1874, to Naples to see an eruption of Vesuvius. At one side the edge of the crater shelved very gradually to the abyss, and, being anxious to obtain the best possible view, I went a little over the ridge. In the autumn Tyndall delivered his celebrated address to the British Association at Belfast. This was much admired, much read, but also much criticised, and one of the papers had an article on Huxley and Tyndall, praising Huxley very much at Tyndall's expense, and ending with this delightful little bit of bathos: "In conclusion, we do not know that we can better illustrate Professor Tyndall's foolish recklessness, and the wise, practical character of Professor Huxley, than by mentioning the simple fact that last spring, at the very moment when Professor Tyndall foolishly entered the crater of "Vesuvius during an eruption, Professor Huxley, on the contrary, took a seat on the London School Board."
Tyndall, however, returned from Naples with fresh life and health, while the strain of the School Board told considerably on Huxley's health.
Huxley's attitude on the School Board with reference to Bible teaching came as a surprise to those who did not know him well. He supported Mr. W. H. Smith's motion in its favor, which, indeed, was voted for by all the members except six, three of whom were the Roman Catholics, who did not vote either way.
"I have been," he said, "seriously perplexed to know by what practical measures the religious feeling, which is the essential basis of conduct, was to be kept up, in the present utterly chaotic state of opinion on these matters, without the use of the Bible. Take the Bible as a whole; make the severest deductions which fair criticism can dictate for short-comings and positive errors; eliminate, as a sensible lay-teacher would do if left to himself, all that it is not desirable for children to occupy themselves with; and there still remains in this old literature a vast residuum of moral beauty and grandeur. And then consider the great historical fact that for three centuries this book has been woven into the life of all that is best and noblest in English history; that it has become the national epic of Britain, and is as familiar to noble and simple, from John o' Groat's House to Land's End, as Dante and Tasso were once to Italians; that it is written in the noblest and purest English, and abounds in exquisite beauties of mere literary form; and, finally, that it forbids the veriest hind who never left his village to be ignorant of the existence of other countries and other civilizations, and of a great past, stretching back to the furthest limits of the oldest nations in the world. By the study of what other book could children be so much humanized and made to feel that each figure in that vast historical procession fills, like themselves, but a momentary space in the interval between two eternities, and earns the blessings or the curses of all time, according to its effort to do good and hate evil, even as they also are earning their payment for their work?"
Another remarkable side of Huxley's mind was his interest in and study of metaphysics. When the Metaphysical Society was started in 1869, there was some doubt among the promoters whether Huxley and Tyndall should be invited to join or not. Mr. Knowles was commissioned to come and consult me. I said at once that to draw the line at the opinions which they were known to hold would, as it seemed to me, limit the field of discussion, and there would always be doubts as to when the forbidden region began; that I had understood there was to be perfect freedom, and that though Huxley's and Tyndall's views might be objectionable to others of our members, I would answer for it that there could be nothing in the form of expression of which any just complaint could be made.
The society consisted of about forty members, and when we consider that they included Thompson, Archbishop of York, Ellicott, Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, Dean Stanley and Dean Alford as representatives of the Church of England; Cardinal Manning, Father Dalgairns and W. G. Ward as Roman Catholics; among statesmen, Gladstone, the late Duke of Argyll, Lord Sherbrooke, Sir M. Grant Duff, John Morley, as well as Martineau, Tennyson, Browning, K. H. Hutton, W. Bagehot, Frederic Harrison, Leslie Stephen, Sir J. Stephen, Dr. Carpenter, Sir W. Gull, W. R. Greg, James Hinton, Shadworth Hodgson, Lord Arthur Russell, Sir Andrew Clark, Sir Alexander Grant, Mark Patteson and W. K. Clifford, it will not be wondered that I looked forward to the meetings with the greatest interest. I experienced also one of the greatest surprises of my life. We all, I suppose, wondered who would be the first President. No doubt what happened was that Roman Catholics objected to Anglicans, Anglicans to Roman Catholics, both to Nonconformists; and the different schools of metaphysics also presented difficulties, so that finally, to my amazement, I found myself the first President! The discussions were perfectly free, but perfectly friendly; and I quite agree with Mr. H. Sidgwick, that Huxley was one of the foremost, keenest and most interesting debaters, which, in such a company, is indeed no slight praise.
We dined together, then a paper was read, which had generally been circulated beforehand, and then it was freely discussed, the author responding at the close. Huxley contributed several papers, but his main contribution to the interest of the Society was his extraordinary ability and clearness in debate.
His metaphysical studies led to his work on Hume and his memoirs on the writings of Descartes.
One of his most interesting treatises is a criticism of Descartes' theory of animal automatism. Descartes was not only a great philosopher, but also a great naturalist, and we owe to him the definite allocation of all the phenomena of consciousness to the brain. This was a great step in science, but, just because Descartes' views have been so completely incorporated with everyday thought, few of us realize how recently it was supposed that the passions were seated in the apparatuses of organic life. Even now we speak of the heart rather than the brain in describing character.
Descartes, as is known, was much puzzled as to the function of one part of the brain—a small, pear-shaped body about the size of a nut, and deeply seated. Known as the pineal gland, he suggested that it was the seat of the soul; but it is now regarded, and apparently on solid grounds, as the remains of the optic lobe of a central eye once possessed by our far-away ancestors, and still found in some animals, as, for instance, in certain lizards. Descartes was much impressed by the movements which are independent of consciousness or volition, and known as reflex actions—such, for instance, as the winking of the eye or the movement of the leg if the sole of the foot is touched. This takes place equally if, by any injury to the spinal marrow, the sensation in the legs has been destroyed.
Such movements appear to be more frequent among lower animals, and Descartes supposed that all their movements might be thus accounted for—that they were, like the movements of sensitive plants, absolutely detached from consciousness or sensation, and that, in fact, animals were mere machines or automata, devoid not only of reason, but of any kind of consciousness.
It must be admitted that Descartes' arguments are not easy to disprove, and no doubt certain cases of disease or injury—as, for instance, that of the soldier described by Dr. Mesnet, who, as a result of a wound in the head, fell from time to time into a condition of unconsciousness, during which, however, he ate, drank, smoked, dressed and undressed, and even wrote—have supplied additional evidence in support of his views. Huxley, while fully admitting this, came, and I think rightly, to the conclusion that the consciousness of which we feel certain in ourselves must have been evolved very gradually, and must therefore exist, though probably in a less degree, in other animals.
No one, indeed, I think, who has kept and studied pets, even if they be only ants and bees, can bring himself to regard them as mere machines.
The foundation of the Metaphysical Society led to the invention of the term 'Agnostic.' "When I reached intellectual maturity," Huxley tells us, "and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist or a pantheist, a materialist or an idealist, a Christian or a freethinker, I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain 'gnosis'—had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble. . . ."
These considerations pressed forcibly on him when he joined the Metaphysical Society.
"Every variety," he says, "of philosophical and theological opinion was represented there, and expressed itself with entire openness; most of my colleagues were 'ists' of one sort or another; and, however kind and friendly they might be, I, the man without a rag of a habit to cover himself with, could not fail to have some of the uneasy feelings which must have beset the historical fox when, after leaving the trap, in which his tail remained, he presented himself to his normally elongated companions. So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of agnostic. It came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the gnostic of Church history, who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant; and I took the earliest opportunity of parading it at our Society, to show that I, too, had a tail like the other foxes."
Huxley denied that he was disposed to rank himself either as a fatalist, a materialist or an atheist. "Not among fatalists, for I take the conception of necessity to have a logical, and not a physical, foundation; not among materialists, for I am utterly incapable of conceiving the existence of matter if there is no mind in which to picture that existence; not among atheists, for the problem of the ultimate cause of existence is one which seems to me to be hopelessly out of reach of my poor powers."
The late Duke of Argyll, in his interesting work on 'The Philosophy of Belief,' makes a very curious attack on Huxley's consistency. He observes that scientific writers use "forms of expression as well as individual words, all of which are literally charged with teleological meaning. Men even who would rather avoid such language if they could, but who are intent on giving the most complete and expressive description they can of the natural facts before them, find it wholly impossible to discharge this duty by any other means. Let us take as an example the work of describing organic structures in the science of biology. The standard treatise of Huxley on the 'Elements of Comparative Anatomy,' affords a remarkable example of this necessity, and of its results. . . .
"How unreasonable it is to set aside, or to explain away, the full meaning of such words as 'apparatuses' and 'plans,' comes out strongly when we analyze the preconceived assumptions which are supposed to be incompatible with the admission of it. . . .
"To continue the use of words because we are conscious that we cannot do without them, and then to regret or neglect any of their implications, is the highest crime we can commit against the only faculties which enable us to grasp the realities of the world." Is not this, however, to fall into the error of some Greek philosophers, and to regard language, not only as a means of communication, but as an instrument of research. We all speak of sunrise and sunset, but it is no proof that the sun goes round the earth. The Duke himself says elsewhere:
"We speak of time as if it were an active agent in doing this, that and the other. Yet we are quite conscious, when we choose to think of it, that when we speak of time in this sense, we are really thinking and speaking, not of time itself, but of the various physical forces which operate slowly and continuously in, or during, time. Apart from these forces, time does nothing."
This is, it seems to me, a complete reply to his own attack on Huxley's supposed inconsistency.
Theologians often seem to speak as if it were possible to believe something which one cannot understand, as if the belief were a matter of will, that there was some merit in believing what you cannot prove, and that if a statement of fact is put before you, you must either believe it or disbelieve it. Huxley, on the other hand, like most men of science, demanded clear proof, or what seemed to him clear proof, before he accepted any conclusion; he would, I believe, have admitted that you might accept a statement which you could not explain, but would have maintained that it was impossible to believe what you did not understand; that in such a case the word 'belief was an unfortunate misnomer; that it was wrong, and not right, to profess to believe anything for which you knew that there was no sufficient evidence, and that if it is proved you cannot help believing it; that as regards many matters the true position was not one either of belief or of disbelief, but of suspense.
In science we know that though the edifice of fact is enormous, the fundamental problems are still beyond our grasp, and we must be content to suspend our judgment, to adopt, in fact, the Scotch verdict of 'not proven/ so unfortunately ignored in our law as in our theology.
Faith is a matter more of deeds, not of words, as St. Paul shows in the Epistle to the Hebrews. If you do not act on what you profess to believe, you do not really and in truth believe it. May I give an instance? The Fijians really believed in a future life; according to their creed, you rose in the next world exactly as you died here—young if you were young, old if you were old, strong if you were strong, deaf if you were deaf, and so on. Consequently it was important to die in the full possession of one's faculties; before the muscles had begun to lose their strength, the eye to grow dim, or the ear to wax hard of hearing. On this they acted. Every one had himself killed in the prime of life; and Captain Wilkes mentions that in one large town there was not a single person over forty years of age.
That I call faith. That is a real belief in a future life.
Huxley's views are indicated in the three touching lines by Mrs. Huxley, which are inscribed on his tombstone:
Be not afraid, ye wailing hearts that weep,
For still He giveth His beloved sleep,
And if an endless sleep He wills—so best.
That may be called unbelief, or a suspension of judgment. Huxley doubted.
But disbelief is that of those who, no matter what they say, act as if there was no future life, as if this world was everything, and in the words of Baxter in 'The Saints' Everlasting Rest,' profess to believe in Heaven, and yet act as if it was to be 'tolerated indeed rather than the flames of Hell, but not to be desired before the felicity of Earth.'
Huxley was, indeed, by no means without definite beliefs. "I am," he said, "no optimist, but I have the firmest belief that the Divine Government (if we may use such a phrase to express the sum of the 'customs of matter') is wholly just. The more I know intimately of the lives of other men (to say nothing of my own), the more obvious it is to me that the wicked does not flourish nor is the righteous punished."
One of the great problems of the future is to clear away the cobwebs which the early and mediæval ecclesiastics, unavoidably ignorant of science, and with ideas of the world now known to be fundamentally erroneous, have spun round the teachings of Christ; and in this Huxley rendered good service. For instance, all over the world in early days lunatics were supposed to be possessed by evil spirits. That was the universal belief of the Jews, as of other nations, 2,000 years ago, and one of Huxley's most remarkable controversies was with Mr. Gladstone and Dr. Wace with reference to the 'man possessed with devils/ which, we are told, were cast out and permitted to enter into a herd of swine. Some people thought that these three distinguished men might have occupied their time better than, as was said at the time, 'in fighting over the Gaderene swine.' But as Huxley observed:
"The real issue is whether the men of the nineteenth century are to adopt the demonology of the men of the first century as divinely revealed truth, or to reject it as degrading falsity."
And as the first duty of religion is to form the highest conception possible to the human mind of the Divine Nature, Huxley naturally considered that when a Prime Minister and Doctor of Divinity propound views showing so much ignorance of medical science, and so low a view of the Deity, it was time that a protest was made in the name, not only of science, but of religion.
Theologians themselves, indeed, admit the mystery of existence. "The wonderful world," says Canon Liddon, "in which we now pass this stage of our existence, whether the higher world of faith be open to our gaze or not, is a very temple of many and august mysteries. . . . Everywhere around you are evidences of the existence and movement of a mysterious power which you can neither see, nor touch, nor define, nor measure, nor understand."
One of Huxley's difficulties he has stated in the following words: "Infinite benevolence need not have invented pain and sorrow at all— infinite malevolence would very easily have deprived us of the large measure of content and happiness that falls to our lot."
This does not, I confess, strike one as conclusive. It seems an answer—if not perhaps quite complete, that if we are to have any freedom and responsibility, the possibility of evil follows necessarily. If two courses are open to us, there are two alternatives; either the results are the same in either case, and then it does not matter what we do; or the one course must be wise and the other unwise. Huxley, indeed, said in another place: "1 protest that if some great power could agree to make me always think what is true, and do what is right, on condition of being turned into a sort of a clock and wound up every morning before I got out of bed, I should instantly close with the offer. The only freedom I care about is the freedom to do right; the freedom to do wrong I am ready to part with on the cheapest terms to any one who will take it of me. But when the Materialists stray beyond the borders of their path, and talk about there being nothing else in the world but Matter and Forces and necessary laws, . . . . I decline to follow them."
Huxley was no enemy to the existence of an Established Church.
"I could conceive," he said, "the existence of an Established Church which should be a blessing to the community. A church in which, week by week, services should be devoted, not to the iteration of abstract propositions in theology, but to the setting before men's minds of an ideal of true, just and pure living; a place in which those who are weary of the burden of daily cares should find a moment's rest in the contemplation of the higher life which is possible for all, though attained by so few; a place in which the man of strife and of business should have time to think how small, after all, are the rewards he covets compared with peace and charity. Depend upon it, if such a Church existed, no one would seek to disestablish it."
It seems to me that he has here very nearly described the Church of Stanley, of Jowett, and of Kingsley.
Sir W. Flower justly observed that "if the term 'religious' be limited to acceptance of the formularies of one of the current creeds of the world, it cannot be applied to Huxley; but no one could be intimate with him without feeling that he possessed a deep reverence for 'whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report,' and an abhorrence of all that is the reverse of these; and that, although he found difficulty in expressing it in definite words, he had a pervading sense of adoration of the infinite, very much akin to the highest religion."
Lord Shaftesbury records that "Professor Huxley has this definition of morality and religion: 'Teach a child what is wise, that is morality. Teach him what is wise and beautiful, that is religion!' Let no one henceforth despair of making things clear and of giving explanations!" ('Life and Works,' iii., 282).
I doubt, indeed, whether the debt which Religion owes to Science has yet been adequately acknowledged.
The real believed in it. It is Science which has cleared away these dark clouds, and we can hardly fail to see that it is just in those countries where Science is most backward that Religion is less well understood, and in those where Science is most advanced that Religion is purest. The services which Science has rendered to Religion have not as yet, I think, received the recognition they deserve.—for conflict there has been and is—is not between Science and Religion, but between Science and Superstition. A disbelief in the goodness of God led to all the horrors of the Inquisition. Throughout the Middle Ages and down almost to our own times, as Lecky has so powerfully shown, the dread of witchcraft hung like a black pall over Christianity. Even so great and good a man as Wesley
Many of us may think that Huxley carried his scepticism too far, that some conclusions which he doubted, if not indeed proved, yet stand on a securer basis than he supposed.
He approached the consideration of these awful problems, however, in no scoffing spirit, but with an earnest desire to arrive at the truth, and I am glad to acknowledge that this has been generously recognized by his opponents.
From his own point of view, Huxley was no opponent of Religion, however fundamentally he might differ from the majority of clergymen. In Science we differ, but we are all seeking for truth, and we do not dream that any one is an enemy to 'science.'
In Theology, however, unfortunately as we think, a different standard has been adopted. Theologians often, though no doubt there are many exceptions, regard a difference from themselves as an attack on religion, a suspension of judgment as an adverse verdict, and doubt as infidelity.
It is, therefore, only just to them to say that their obituary notices of Huxley were fair and even generous. When they treated him as a foe they did so, as a rule, in a spirit as honorable to them as it was to him.
The 'Christian World,' in a very interesting obituary notice, truly observed that "if in Huxley's earlier years the average opinion of the churches had been as ready as it is now to accept the evolution of the Bible, it would not have been so startled by Darwin's theory of the evolution of man; and Darwin's greatest disciple would have enjoyed thirty years ago the respect and confidence and affection with which we came to regard him before we lost him."
"Surely it is a striking and suggestive fact that both the retiring and the incoming President of the Royal Society, by way of climax to their eulogies, dwelt on the religious side of Huxley's character. "If religion means strenuousness in doing right, and trying to do right, who," asked Lord Kelvin, "has earned the title of a religious man better than Huxley?" And similarly Sir J. Lister, in emphasizing Huxley's intellectual honesty, "his perfect truthfulness, his whole-hearted benevolence," felt impelled to adopt Lord Kelvin's word and celebrate "the religion that consists in the strenuous endeavor to be and do what is right."
Huxley was not only a great man, but a good and a brave one. It required much courage to profess his opinions, and if he had consulted only his own interests he would not have done so, but we owe much to him for the inestimable freedom which we now enjoy.
When he was moved to wrath it was when he thought wrong was being done, the people were being misled, or truth was being unfairly attacked, as, for instance, in the celebrated discussion at Oxford. The statue in the Natural History Museum is very powerful and a very exact likeness, but it is like him when he was moved to righteous indignation. It is not Huxley as he was generally, as he was when he was teaching, or when in the company of friends. He was one of the most warmhearted and genial of men. Mr. Hutton, who sat with him on the Vivisection Commission, has recorded that "considering he represented the physiologists on this Commission, I was much struck with his evident horror of anything like torture even for scientific ends." I do not, however, see why this should have surprised him, because the position of physiologists is that it is the anti-vivisectionists who would enormously increase the suffering in the world. To speak of inflicting pain 'for scientific ends' is misleading. It is not for the mere acquisition of useless knowledge, but for the diminution of suffering and because one experiment may prevent thousands of mistakes and save hundreds of lives. The medical profession may be mistaken in this, but it is obvious that their conviction, whether it be right or whether it be wrong, is not only compatible with, but is inspired by, a horror of unnecessary suffering.
The great object of his labors was, in his own words, "to promote the increase of natural knowledge and to forward the application of scientific methods of investigation to all the problems of life." His family life was thoroughly happy. He was devoted to his children, and they to him. "The love our children show us," he said in one of his letters, "warms our old age better than the sun."
Nor can I conclude without saying a word about Mrs. Huxley, of whom her son justly says that she was "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 latest thought, the other self, whose union with him was a supreme example of mutual sincerity and devotion."
At a time of deep depression and when his prospects looked most gloomy he mentions a letter from Miss Heathorn as having given him "more comfort than anything for 1 a long while. I wish to Heaven," he says, "it had reached me six months ago. It would have saved me a world of pain and error."
Huxley had two great objects in life as he has himself told us. "There are," he said, "two things I really care about—one is the progress of scientific thought, and the other is the bettering of the condition of the masses of the people by bettering them in the way of lifting themselves out of the misery which has hitherto been the lot of the majority of them. Posthumous fame is not particularly attractive to me, but, if I am to be remembered at all, I would rather it should be as 'a man who did his best to help the people' than by any other title."
It is not only because we, many of us, loved him as a friend, not only because we all of us recognize him as a great naturalist, but also because he was a great example to us all, a man who did his best to benefit the people, that we are here to do honor to his memory to-day.
- The first 'Huxley Memorial Lecture' of the Anthropological Institute, delivered on November 13, 1900.