Studies of a Biographer/Thomas Henry Huxley
THOMAS HENRY HUXLEY
There are some compensations, I am beginning to think, in the reflection that by 1860 I was qualified, by age at least, to enjoy the spectacle of intellectual swordplay. In that year took place the famous encounter at Oxford between Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce. It was one incident in a remarkable outburst of intellectual activity. The old controversy between scientific and ecclesiastical champions was passing into a new phase. Darwin's teaching had not only provided a fresh method, but suggested applications of scientific principles which widened and deepened the significance of the warfare. A 'new reformation,' as Huxley afterwards called it, was beginning, and the intellectual issues to be decided were certainly not less important than those which had presented themselves to Erasmus and Luther. In the struggle which followed, Huxley took a leading part. He made original researches; he was the clearest expositor of the new doctrine to the exoteric world; he helped to organise the scientific teaching which might provide competent disciples or critics; and he showed most clearly and vigorously the bearing of his principles upon the most important topics of human thought. Whatever his success, the strongest antagonist could not deny to him the praise due to a strenuous and honourable combatant. The most careless Gallio looking on from the outer ring might be roused to applaud the intellectual gladiator who could hit out so straight from the shoulder and fairly knock accomplished prelates out of time. We could admire 'Darwin's bulldog,' as he called himself, even if we felt some sympathy with the bull whom he pinned. Those who watched him from first to last will be glad to make a more intimate acquaintance with so grand a specimen of the fighting qualities upon which Englishmen are supposed to pride themselves. In Mr. Leonard Huxley's volumes they will find ample materials for filling out the more obvious and strongly marked outlines; and will end by adding to their respect for the sturdy, intellectual warrior a cordial affection for a noble and warm-hearted human being.
The method which Mr. L. Huxley has adopted in the life of his father was clearly prescribed for him. The biographer can never quite equal the autobiographer, but with a sufficient supply of letters he may approximate very closely to the same result. Huxley's letters are fortunately abundant, and amount to a singularly clear, though quite unconscious, self-revelation. The book, it is true, is of considerable dimensions, but, in the first place, Huxley had so many interests that many topics require notice; and, in the second place, the letters are almost uniformly excellent. The common complaint of the decay of letter-writing is partly answerable by the obvious consideration that most letters of our own time are still lying in their pigeon-holes. It is true, no doubt, that only an Edward Fitzgerald or so here and there have the chance to write letters breathing the old-world charm of lettered ease and playful dallying with the humorous aspects of life or books. Huxley's letters were necessarily thrown out at high pressure; pithy statements of his judgment of some practical matter, or friendly greetings for which he can just find time between the lecture-room and the railway station. Their vivacity and constant felicity of phrase are the more remarkable. R. H. Hutton remarked quaintly upon the quantity of 'bottled life' which Huxley could 'infuse into the driest topic on which human beings ever contrived to prose.' A more congenial phrase would perhaps be the amount of 'potential energy' which was always stored in his brain. It is convertible at any moment into the activity of a steam-hammer hitting the nail on the head in the neatest and most effective fashion. There are none of the flabby, tortuous blunderings round about a meaning, nor of the conventional platitudes of which so many letters are entirely composed; every word is alive. His mother, he tells us, was remarkable for rapidity of thought. 'Things flash across me,' she would say by way of apology. That peculiarity, says her son, 'has been passed on to me in full strength'; and though it has 'played him tricks,' there is nothing with which he would less willingly part. The letters often scintillate with such flashes, the brighter for the strong sense of humour which is rarely far beneath the surface. They vary from the simply playful to the earnest moods. He does not scorn even atrocious puns. But of course it is not the occasional condescension to 'goaks,' as he calls them, but the fine perception of the comic side of serious matters which gives a charm to his casual phrases. Sometimes it shows itself in a bit of friendly 'chaff.' When Matthew Arnold has appropriated—unconsciously, let us hope—an umbrella at the Athenæum, Huxley slyly exhorts him to consider what that excellent prelate, Arnold's favourite Bishop Wilson, would have advised in a case of covetousness. An excellent example of grave logic conveyed in an apologue is the letter in answer to Cardinal Manning's defence of indiscriminate charity. Huxley had told an Irish carman to drive fast, and the man set off at a hand-gallop. 'Do you know where you are going?' cried Huxley. 'No, yer honner, but anny way I'm driving fast!' A phrase in a letter to Mrs. Clifford dashes out a quaint comment upon human nature. 'Men, my dear, are very queer animals, a mixture of horse nervousness, ass stubbornness, and camel malice, with an angel bobbing about unexpectedly like the apple in the posset; and when they can do exactly as they please, are very hard to drive.' This, says Mr. Leonard Huxley, sounds like a bit of his conversation, and in a very interesting description Sir Spencer Walpole remarks on that manifestation of his powers. Huxley, he says, could always put his finger on the wrong word and always instinctively choose the right one.' In private talk, lecturing, and public speaking, he was equally conspicuous in the humorous felicity which so often marks his admirable literary style.
'Science and Literature,' said Huxley, 'are not two things, but two sides of one thing.' An aphorism in an after-dinner speech must not be too literally construed, but the phrase indicates the quality which makes Huxley's writings as refreshing to the literary as to the scientific critic. 'Exposition,' he observes, 'is not Darwin's forte. But there is a marvellous dumb sagacity about him like that of a sort of miraculous dog, and he gets to the truth by ways as dark as those of the Heathen Chinee.' The final cause of Huxley might seem—though the theory is a little out of place—to have been the provision of an articulate utterance for Darwin's implicit logic. He points an old moral for young literary gentlemen in want of a style. He does not believe in moulding one's style by any other process than that of 'striving after the expression of clear and definite conceptions.' First, indeed, he adds, you have to catch your clear conceptions. I will not presume to say that for writers of a different category a different method may not be the right one. But most of us may heartily subscribe to Huxley's theory. The best way to be happy, as moralists tell us, is not to make the acquisition of happiness a conscious aim. To acquire a good style, you should never think of style at all. It will be the spontaneous outcome of adequate expression of clear thought. Some writers, Huxley admits, might have learnt dignity from a study of Hobbes, and concision from Swift and simplicity from Defoe and Goldsmith. The masters are significant of his taste; but he learnt by adopting their methods, not by imitating them as models. The labour which he bestowed upon his work is the more remarkable, considering his quickness in seizing the right word in his hastiest letters. He speaks of writing essays half-a-dozen times before getting them into the right shape. He had the passion, unfortunately rare in Englishmen, for thorough logical symmetry. His 'flashes' must be finished and concentrated. The happy phrase has to be fixed in the general framework. Arguments are terribly slippery things; one is always finding oneself shunted into some slightly diverging track of thought; and brilliant remarks are most dangerous seducers. They illustrate something, but then it is not quite the right thing. Huxley gets his Pegasus into the strictest subordination; but one can understand that he had to suppress a good many swervings to right and left, and only found the lucid order after experimental wanderings into the wrong paths. The result is the familiar one. What is easy to read has not, therefore, as the hasty reader infers, been easy to write. An 'unfriendly' but surely rather simple-minded critic declared that the interest of Huxley's lectures was due not to the lecturer, but to the simplicity of the theory expounded. That is the same effect which Swift produced in the Drapier's Letters. He seems to be simply stating obvious facts. Huxley's best essays deserve to be put on a level with the best examples of Swift or other great literary athletes; and any one who imagines the feat to be easy can try the experiment.
Professor Ray Lankester, in describing this quality of Huxley's essays, points out also how this implies a revelation of the man. When Swift's tracts purport to give an unvarnished statement of plain facts and figures, we are all the more sensible of the fierce indignation boiling just below the surface. Huxley's resolution to be strictly logical and to be clear before anything only forces him to exert his powers of vivifying the subject by happy illustration or humorous side-lights, or sometimes by outbursts of hearty pugnacity, and now and then by the eloquent passages, the more effective because under strict control, which reveal his profound sense of the vast importance of the questions at issue. He had one disadvantage as compared with Swift. If Swift wanted a fact, he had not many scruples about inventing it, whereas Huxley's most prominent intellectual quality was his fidelity to fact, or to what he was firmly convinced to be fact. This brings me to some characteristics strikingly revealed in these volumes. Huxley claims that he had always been animated by a love of truth combined with some youthful ambition. The claim, I think, is indisputable. Yet a love of truth must be considered, if I may say so, as rather a regulative than a substantive virtue. Abstract truth is a rather shadowy divinity, though a most essential guide in pursuing any great inquiry. It presupposes an interest in philosophy or science or history, and then prescribes the right spirit of research. Huxley was not one of the rare men to whom abstract speculation is a sufficient delight in itself. He was most emphatically a human being, with strong affections and a keen interest in the human life around him. He had to live as well as to think, and to reconcile his intellectual ambition with hard necessities. The pith of his early story was already known in part from his autobiographical fragment. Further details make the picture more impressive. For a time he had to thrive under conditions which were only not blighting because his courage made them bracing. The school at which he got his brief training was a 'pandemonium.' He wished to be an engineer, but was forced to become a medical student against the grain. He found, however, a sufficient arena for the exercise of his awakening faculties. Physiology, 'the engineering of living machines,' attracted him, though he cared little for other parts of the necessary studies. From Carlyle he learnt a hatred of 'shams,' or perhaps rather learnt to give form to an innate antipathy to that commodity. Carlyle, too, set him upon the study of German, afterwards invaluable, and suggested some early incursions into the field of metaphysics. A fortunate accident afterwards forced him to spend four years in the Rattlesnake, where his personal accommodation, as he testifies, was not much better than Jonah's; where he had to pass months without seeing civilised beings; where his junior companions were as indifferent as the Australian aborigines to his scientific pursuits. He made friends of them not the less, and declares that the life on board ship, under sharp discipline, with a 'soft plank' to sleep upon, and weevilly biscuit for breakfast, was well worth living. It taught him to work for the sake of work, even if he and his work were to go to the bottom of the sea. He returned to England to find that some of his work had been appreciated, and to gain some warm friends. Still, it looked also as though a 'life of science' would mean not a 'life of poverty,' but a 'life of nothing,' and the art of living upon nothing, especially with a family, had not yet been discovered. Yet the desirability of living somehow had been enforced by the greatest blessing of his life, the engagement in Australia to the lady to whom he writes this account. He still feels, however, and he counts with complete confidence upon her sharing his feeling, that he is bound for his own credit, for the sake of his friends and of science itself, to keep his hand to the plough. How his persistence was rewarded, how he gradually emerged, secured in spite of vexatious delays a sufficient support to justify the long-delayed marriage and to carry on the task which he had accepted, may be read in these volumes. In later years, the duties of a husband and a father forced him to give up the line of research to which he had aspired. But he was not less working in the great cause of propagating what he believed to be the truth: fighting its enemies and organising its adherents. He was 'driven into his career,' as he says in his autobiography, rather than led into it of his own free will. Yet the dominant purpose was equally manifest, though stress of circumstances and conflict of duties might force him to set his sails to devious winds. If he could not select the career which ambition of purely scientific fame might have dictated, he would accept none which involved the slightest compromise with falsehood; and probably took, in fact, the part most suitable to his peculiar cast of intellect. When Huxley took up the gauntlet for Darwinism, and first became widely known to the extra-scientific world, his aspirations might be described with curious accuracy in the words of the poet whom he held to have appreciated most clearly the tendencies of modern scientific thought. The first speaker in Tennyson's Two Voices recalls the early phase when he listened as 'the distant battle flashed and rung': sang his joyful Pæan, and burnished his weapons,
Waiting to strive a happy strife,
To war with falsehood to the knife,
And not to lose the good of life.
He was to carve out
Free space for every human doubt:
to reach through
The springs of life, the depths of awe,
And reach the law within the law;
and finally to die,
Not void of righteous self-applause
Nor in a merely selfish cause
Having sown some generous seed,
Fruitful of further thought and deed.
Huxley, indeed, never gave in to the despondency which led the second voice to recommend suicide; nor did he precisely accept the consolations which the first voice ultimately accepts in the sight of a lady and gentleman going to church with their daughter. He plunged into the war and found satisfaction in the simple joy of successful combat. When, thirty years after the round with Bishop Wilberforce, he again attended a similar meeting, and, veiling criticism in eulogy, welcomed Lord Salisbury's address as an involuntary testimony to the victory of evolutionism, he could look back with a feeling of triumph. A change of thought of unprecedented magnitude had been admitted even by the enemy. Some, indeed, held that the doctrine once scornfully rejected was to become the corner-stone of a new edifice of faith. In any case, if the chief value of a new speculation is even more in the fermentation which it sets up than in the results which it finally establishes, no one disputes the enormous importance of the Darwinian theories. I have sufficient reasons for not saying a word upon the part which they have played in the physical sciences. Their influence, however, upon other problems has been one of their most remarkable peculiarities. Huxley insisted upon such applications; and I will venture—not, of course, to examine his arguments, but—to note the characteristic position which they implied. Huxley remarks somewhere that he had learnt to be a judge of the art of controversy; to appreciate the skill displayed in the contest abstractedly from the merit of the positions defended. That may seem to imply a delight in battle for its own sake. The athlete rejoices in putting forth his power; and I cannot see my way to deny that Huxley was pugnacious. In fact, I both admire and envy a quality which indicates both courage and the spirit of fairplay. Huxley himself, indeed, was given to make frequent disavowals; his fights—they were many, he admits—were forced upon him; except, indeed, in two (or 'by 'r lady,' one is tempted to interject, some 'threescore') instances. What is the 'forcing' in question—who really began the fight—is a difficult question to answer in most quarrels. If a man has hazel eyes, according to high authority, another man who cracks nuts is obviously taking the aggressive. Huxley, while warning a younger man against quarrels, anticipates the obvious tu quoque, and explains that in his own case warfare had been a simple duty. The position is explained in one of his prefaces. He never, he declares, 'went out of his way' to attack the Bible. The dominant ecclesiasticism thrust the book in his way, and marked 'No thoroughfare' where he claimed an indefeasible right of passage. He therefore brushed the barrier aside, and expressed his contempt for it with a slight excess of vivacity. Other men—his leader Darwin, for example—were content quietly to disregard the warning; to leave the destruction to be done by the professional critics or perhaps by the authorities themselves, who would presently explain that 'No thoroughfare' is equivalent to 'You are not really trespassing.' Huxley was not a man to suffer fools gladly, or to lay down a principle without admitting and emphasising its unpopular consequences. That might possibly show a want of prudence; but the alternative course may be imputed with equal plausibility to want of sincerity. Once, as Huxley admits, he showed 'needless savagery' in his early youth, and no doubt could use pretty strong language. His adversaries had set the example. The special constable in Leech's drawing says to the rough: 'If I kill you, it is all right; but if you kill me, by Jove, it's murder.' If I call you a child of the devil, and sentence you to hell fire, says the orthodox, it shows my holy zeal. If you call me a bigot or a fool, it is flat blasphemy. Huxley might plead that he was not bound to use the gloves when his opponent struck with naked fists. No one has a right to object to plain speaking; and the cases in which Huxley's plain speaking is edged with scorn are always cases in which he is charging his antagonists (as I, at least, think on very strong grounds) with want of candour. Refusal to withdraw a disproved personal allegation, or an attempt to evade the issue under a cloud of irrelevant verbiage, roused his rightful indignation. 'Thou shalt not multiply words in speaking' was, he observes, an old Egyptian commandment, specially congenial to him, and most provokingly neglected by a conspicuous antagonist. A plain speaker may be pardoned for resenting attempts to evade plain issues under clouds of verbiage. His pugnacity remained to the end; a challenge to a controversy acted as a tonic, and 'set his liver right at once.' But he cannot fairly be accused of a wanton love of battle. Forced by health and circumstance to refrain from scientific research, Huxley had taken up with all available energy the old problems of religious belief. He read the latest authorities upon Biblical criticism with singular freshness of interest and keenness of judgment. He could not, of course, become an expert in such matters, or qualified to take an authoritative part in the controversies of specialists. But he was fully competent to insist upon one essential point, and even bound to speak, if it be a duty to propagate what one believes to be a truth of vast importance. His articles converge upon a principle which, if fairly appreciated, explains and justifies his method. In the long war between faith and science, one favourite eirenicon has been a proposed division of provinces. Reason and authority may each be supreme in its own sphere. Huxley argues that this separation is radically untenable. A historical religion must rest upon evidence of fact; and the validity of evidence of fact is essentially a scientific problem. When Protestants appealed from the Church to the Bible, they pledged themselves unconsciously to defending the Bible in the court of reason, and the old apologetic writers frankly accepted the position. They tried to prove fact by evidence. Whether Noah's flood did or did not really happen is a question both for the geologist and for the historian. One relies upon what is called 'direct,' and the other upon 'circumstantial' evidence, but the canons of proof are identical, and the fact to be established is the same. If it cannot be established, the inferences, whether religious or scientific, must go with it. Some readers complained that Huxley was slaying the slain, and that it was as needless to disprove the legend of Noah as the story of Jack the Giant-Killer. The complaint was an incidental and perhaps not unnatural result of his method. His strategical instinct led him to seize the weakest point in the line of defence. He had occupied the key of the position; and though a war may still be carried on by people who don't know when they are beaten, their final defeat can only be a question of time. But that was just the point which hasty readers might fail to perceive. The disproof of the flood implied, as he held, the disintegration of the whole foundations of orthodox belief in the Hebrew legends. The argument about the Gadarene swine, as he admitted, seemed to some people to be superfluous—though one gallant antagonist still held to the truth of the legend. When, indeed, it branched out into the singular question whether the miracle, if it had taken place, would have involved a breach of the local laws as well as of the laws of nature, he apologised for his pugnacity by the incidental bearing of his argument upon Mr. Gladstone's authority. But, as he fully explained, especially in his prefaces to the collected essays, the force of the argument is in the necessary implication. Accept the story, and you must admit the whole system of demonology, which is flatly contradicted by all scientific evidence. Admit its absurdity, and you destroy the authority of the witnesses to the cardinal points of the miraculous story—the supernatural birth and the resurrection—upon which the Christian dogmatic system is founded. The witnesses may record honestly the beliefs of their time, but they do not tell us upon what evidence those beliefs rested; and their whole intellectual attitude prepared them to accept statements which now seem monstrous. The early Christians were still Jews, in theology as well as in demonology. There is no better evidence for the early than for the later miracles—that is to say, there is none worth mentioning. It tickled his sense of humour to call in Newman as an ally. Newman's doctrine of development admits equally that the Christian dogma was not taught by the primitive Christians, and that its growth was a process perfectly intelligible, and requiring no supernatural interference. When the admission of scientific canons of evidence has compelled the abandonment of certain historical positions, the application of the same canons excludes the whole supernatural element of belief. Huxley, in short, presses a dilemma. You rely upon evidence. Rejecting altogether the a priori argument against miracles, he admits that sufficient evidence might prove any facts whatever, however strange. But all evidence must be tested by appropriate canons of proof. If the proof involves the acceptance of an obsolete demonology, you must not accept it for theological and reject it for medical purposes. Frankly to accept the superstition implied in the Gadarene story is the only position logically comparable with orthodoxy, but it involves a declaration of war against science in general. Reject the superstition, and you have then destroyed the value of the evidence upon which you profess to rely. Men, whose ability is as unquestionable as their sincerity, have of course implicitly denied the force of this challenge. Theologians have assimilated evolution, even in the Darwinian form, and accepted the results of a criticism once supposed to be destructive without admitting the destructiveness. The final result remains to be seen, and I will only suggest that Huxley's challenge requires a plain answer. To accept the criteria of historical inquiry essentially implied in your methods, is to abandon the results of the old methods. To make the narrative thoroughly historical, must you not in consistency get rid of the supernatural? If you admit that the evidence is at second-hand, or given by credulous, superstitious, and uncritical writers, and is therefore worthless for scientific law, can it be sufficient for religious purposes? I merely wish to emphasise Huxley's position. He was not simply attacking mere outworks—excrescences which might be removed without damage to the structure; but arguing that to abandon them was to admit the invalidity of the whole system of orthodoxy. He was surely not trespassing beyond his province. The truth of religious belief cannot be a question for critical experts. If a man of science, or even of simple common-sense, is required to believe, he is entitled to inquire into the method by which the belief is supported. The evidence adduced must be such as on the face of it to satisfy the general criterions of proof. Huxley's argument is that the testimony is by its nature not admissible for its purpose, and that to accept it would imply the abandonment of the most established scientific doctrines. He was therefore quite justified in asserting that he had not gone out of his way. A man of science may, of course, be content to write about electricity and leave Biblical criticism to others. But, in the first place, Huxley's scientific researches were on the very border where science and theology meet, and led directly to some fundamental problems. And, in the second place, he had been profoundly interested in the practical applications which concern a man of deep affections, and compelled both by character and circumstances to take life in deadly earnest. He had to pass through a sharp struggle and, as a brave man must do, had determined to come to a clear understanding with himself as to the aims and conduct of life. A very remarkable letter to Charles Kingsley exactly illustrates the point. It shows, as his son remarks, the genuine man more clearly perhaps than any of his writings. Huxley and his wife had suffered under the almost crushing calamity of the sudden death of their first child, who had lived just long enough to become the apple of his father's eye. Kingsley, one of the most generous of men, though not one of the sharpest of dialecticians, had written a cordial letter of sympathy and taken occasion to set forth some of the beliefs in which he would himself have found consolation. Huxley replies at length, with a frankness creditable to both. He has no a priori objection to the belief in immortality. But it is totally without evidence, and the assertion that an unproved and unprovable doctrine is necessary to morality is altogether repugnant to him. The 'most sacred act of a man's life' is the assertion of a belief in truth. Men may call him whatever hard names they please, but they shall not call him 'liar.' The blow which had stirred all his convictions to their foundation, had not shaken that belief. 'If wife and child and name and fame were all lost to me one after the other, still I would not lie.' He speaks, as he says, more openly and distinctly than he ever has to any human being except his wife. He has been standing by the coffin of his little son, and his force and solemnity show how deeply he is moved. The clearness and moral fire are united as Mr. L. Huxley says, 'in a veritable passion for truth.' The summary of his position reveals the secret of his life and character. He had learnt, he says, from Sartor Resartus that 'a deep sense of religion was compatible with the entire absence of theology.' Science had given him a resting-place independent of authority; and finally love had 'opened up to him a view of the sanctity of human nature, and impressed him with a deep sense of responsibility.' Any one who has passed through a similar trial can read one secret. 'Consolation' offered by well-meaning friends deserves the gratitude which Huxley expresses to Kingsley. Yet the suggested comfort becomes an unintentional but bitter mockery if it be not solid as well as sincere. Proof that your sorrow is founded in error might be infinitely welcome. But in proportion to the satisfaction which would be given by a real proof is the pang of recognising that it is a baseless assertion. It really declares, not that the belief is true, but that, if true, it would be pleasant. You are invited not to face your trouble, but to seek refuge in dreams. When unprovable assumptions are defended, not in some cruel crisis, but as an encouragement in the great battle of life, they encourage systematic self-deception, and, when laid down as the ultimate ground of morality, they become not only empty but doubly corrupting. Huxley's hatred of shams meant the refusal of a brave man to shut his eyes, and scorn of men who deliberately provided convenient bandages for the purpose. His strongest conviction, as he says in the autobiography, was that the one road to the alleviation of human suffering was veracity of thought and action, and 'the resolute facing of the world as it is when the garment of make-believe by which pious hands have hidden its uglier features is stripped off.'
The religion reached from such a starting-point is of course not such as appears to most people to be a religion at all. Yet it is a system of belief which has been enough for the greatest minds. 'The only religion which appeals to me,' he writes to Romanes, 'is prophetic Judaism. Add to it something from the best Stoics and something from Spinoza and something from Goethe, and there is a religion for men.' The Stoics, as he says elsewhere, 'had cast off all illusions' and found in the progress towards virtue a sufficient end of existence. He valued even the orthodox dogma for the same reason. He was for Butler against the deists. Theologians had recognised realities—though in strange forms. Predestination, original sin, the 'primacy of Satan in this world,' were a good deal nearer the truth than the comfortable optimism which culminates in Pope's doctrine 'Whatever is, is right.' Adherence to fact is the base of his philosophy. Agnosticism according to him means simply that you are not to accept as an established fact anything not fairly proved. It led to conclusions which appeared paradoxical to some readers. He used, as he says, 'materialistic terminology,' and repudiated materialistic philosophy. Physiology proves that, in fact, the brain is a mechanism and the organised body an automaton. Psychology shows equally that every phenomenon must, as a fact, be an affection of the mind; you must neither pervert nor go beyond fact. Materialism and Spiritualism are 'opposite poles of the same absurdity'—the absurdity of assuming that we know anything about either spirit or matter. The controversy is the result of trying to transcend the necessary limits of thought. The striking essay upon 'Evolution and Ethics' brings out another contrast. Evolution, he maintains, 'accounts for morality,' but the principle of evolution is not 'the ethical principle.' The ethical progress 'of society depends not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it.' The microcosm will have a long fight against the macrocosm, and 'may count upon a tenacious and powerful enemy as long as the world lasts.' These are the facts, and while giving hope for the future, he orders us not to indulge in any millennial anticipations. We see why he appreciates the truth implied in the 'primacy of the Devil.'
I cannot inquire, of course, into the validity or consistency of these doctrines. But they illustrate the concluding formula of Huxley's creed. Love, he says, has explained to him the meaning of 'sanctity' and 'responsibility.' The phrase perhaps might suggest a vein of thought not very congenial to Huxley's turn of mind. He was fully alive to certain misapplications of his text. 'The world,' he observes to Tyndall, 'is neither wise nor just, but it makes up for all its folly and injustice by being damnably sentimental.' The truer Tyndall's portrait of it, therefore, the louder will be the outcry. Nobody could be more heartily opposed to 'sentimentalism.' If I had space, I might illustrate the obvious fact by the admirable common-sense of his remarks upon political, educational, and social questions. He is far too sensible of the gravity of the existing evils not to part company with the enthusiasts who believe in hasty panaceas and manufacture them out of fine phrases. To convert an amiable sentiment into a maxim of universal validity, to override facts and refuse to listen to experience, to 'drive fast,' like his Irish carman, without asking where you are going, was of course contrary to all his convictions. But the deep and generous interest in all well-directed efforts at alleviation is equally conspicuous. He was not an indiscriminate philanthropist; he hated a rogue and did not love a fool; and he held that both genera were pretty numerous. But he was a most heartily loyal citizen; doing manfully the duties which came in his way and declining no fair demand upon his cooperation. And the secret is given in the phrase about love. There is, for obvious and sufficient reasons, little direct account of Huxley's domestic life, and the allusions to his private happiness suggest more than could find overt expression. Yet the book cannot be read without a pervading impression of the life which lay behind his manifold successes and official activities. Like Wordsworth's 'happy warrior,' he was one who, though endued with a 'faculty for storm and turbulence,'
Was yet a soul whose master-bias leans
To homefelt pleasures and to gentler scenes.
It was not merely that he was surrounded by a sympathy which strengthened him in his work and soothed the irritations of intellectual warfare; but that such a home makes life beautiful, gives a meaning to vague maxims of conduct, and deepens the sense of 'responsibility.' The happy warrior is 'more brave for this, that he has much to love.' The intensely affectionate disposition, combined with a high sense of duty, extends his interests beyond the little circle in which it is primarily manifested. That Huxley had his sorrows, felt with unusual keenness, is incidentally revealed; but we can see more clearly than it would be right to express openly, even were expression possible, what was the source of the happiness and continued vigour which threw brightness over his career.
One result is more open to observation. Men of science have their weaknesses and temptations. They are not always more free than their literary brethren from petty jealousies and unworthy lust for notoriety. Huxley's life shows an admirable superiority to such weaknesses. His battles, numerous as they were, never led to the petty squabbles which disfigure some scientific lives. Nobody was ever a more loyal friend. It is pleasant to read of the group which gathered round Darwin, himself the most attractive of human beings. Huxley seems to have retained every friend whom he ever made; and one understands their mutual regard. His life proves what was already illustrated by Darwin's, how honourable and dignified may be a career honestly devoted to the propagation of truth, little as it brings in the way of external rewards. There is a kind of short history, as I fancy, given in the portraits in these volumes. He had been, as his mother assured him, a very pretty child; and the assurance convinced him that this was one of the facts which are strongly in need of sufficient evidence. The earliest portraits, in fact, do not suggest good looks: though they show a quaint, humorous face with a mouth clearly suggestive of the bulldog. But he improves as he grows older; and in the finest portrait we have the expression remembered by all who saw him; where the old combativeness is represented by the straight-forward glance of the timeworn warrior, but softened by a pathetic glow of the tender and affectionate nature which blends so happily with the sterner expression, and shows the truly lovable converging from, and mutually blending with, the masculine nature.
- A naval officer wrote to rebuke me for a sentence which I have slightly modified. Huxley speaks very highly of his commander, Captain Stanley, and the remarks (see Life, vol. i. p. 49) apply to some of the junior officers, whom he nevertheless found to be 'as good fellows as sailors ought to be and generally are' (Ibid. p. 30). My correspondent thinks that they were equal to Huxley in scientific attainments. If so, Huxley did not find it out, and apparently took them for Peter Simples.
- Huxley's position leads, I think, to a misunderstanding. If we accept Hume's sceptical view that anything may be the cause of anything, we might of course believe a 'miracle'—that is, an unusual event. A charm might cause an illness, as a medicine might cure it. But on that assumption the event ceases to be a 'miracle' in the sense of proving a supernatural cause. In other words, the argument from miracles supposes the legitimacy of induction from experience, or miracles could prove nothing. To quote Huxley's dictum in favour of evidence from miracles is therefore to accept an inconsistent position. But I need not go into the question here.