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T.H. Huxley.

[The following deals with State intervention in intermediate education:–]

(For Sunday morning’s leisure, or take it to church and read it in your hat.)

Hodeslea, Eastbourne, October 1, 1892.

My dear Donnelly,

Best thanks for sending on my letter. I do not suppose it will do much good, but, at any rate, I thought I ought to try to prevent their making a mess of medical education.

I like what I have seen of Acland. He seemed to have both intelligence and volition.

As to intermediate education I have never favoured the notion of State intervention in this direction.

I think there are only two valid grounds for State meddling with education: the one the danger to the community which arises from dense ignorance; the other, the advantage to the community of giving capable men the chance of utilising their capacity.

The first furnishes the justification for compulsory elementary education. If a child is taught reading, writing, drawing, and handiwork of some kind; the elements of mathematics, physics, and history, and I should add of political economy and geography; books will furnish him with everything he can possibly need to make him a competent citizen in any rank of life.

If with such a start, he has not the capacity to get all he needs out of books, let him stop where he is. Blow him up with intermediate education as much as you like, you will only do the fellow a mischief and lift him into a place for which he has no real qualification.

People never will recollect, that mere learning and mere cleverness are of next to no value in life, while energy and intellectual grip, the things that are inborn and cannot be taught, are everything.

The technical education act goes a long way to meet the second claim of the State; so far as scientific and industrial capacities are concerned. In a few years there will be no reason why any potential Whitworth or Faraday, in the three kingdoms, should not readily obtain the best education that is to be had, scientific or technical. The same will hold good for Art. So the question that arises seems to me to be whether the State ought or ought not to do something of the same kind for Literature, Philosophy, History, and Philology.

I am inclined to think not, on the ground that the universities and public schools ought to do this very work, and that as soon as they cease to be clericalised seminaries they probably will do it.

If the present government would only give up their Irish fad–and bring in a bill to make it penal for any parson to hold any office in a public school or university or to presume to teach outside the pulpit–they should have my valuable support!

I should not wonder if Gladstone’s mind is open on the subject. Pity I am not sufficiently a persona grata with him to offer to go to Hawarden and discuss it.

I quite agree with you, therefore, that it will play the deuce if intermediate education is fossilised as it would be by any Act prepared under present influences. The most I should like to see done, would be to help the youth of special literary, linguistic and so forth, capacity, to get the best training in their special line.

It was lucky we did not go to you. My wife got an awful dose of neuralgia and general upset, and was laid up at the Hotel. The house was not quite finished inside, but we came in on Tuesday, and she has been getting better ever since in spite of the gale.

I am sorry to hear of the recurrence of influenza. It is a beastly thing. Lord Justice Bowen told me he has had it every time it has been in the country. You must come and try Eastbourne air as soon as we are settled. With our love to you and Mrs. Donnelly.

Ever yours,

T.H. Huxley.

Better be careful, I return all letters on which R.H. is not in full.

[An allusion to his recent Privy Councillorship. See below.]

[The next is to a young man with aspirations after an intellectual career, who asked his advice as to the propriety of throwing up his business, and plunging into literature or science:–]

Hodeslea, Eastbourne, November 5, 1892.

Dear Sir,

I am very sorry that the pressure of other occupations has prevented me from sending an earlier reply to your letter.

In my opinion a man’s first duty is to find a way of supporting himself, thereby relieving other people of the necessity of supporting him. Moreover, the learning to do work of practical value in the world, in an exact and careful manner, is of itself a very important education, the effects of which make themselves felt in all other pursuits. The habit of doing that which you do not care about when you would much rather be doing something else, is invaluable. It would have saved me a frightful waste of time if I had ever had it drilled into me in youth.

Success in any scientific career requires an unusual equipment of capacity, industry, and energy. If you possess that equipment you will find leisure enough after your daily commercial work is over, to make an opening in the scientific ranks for yourself. If you do not, you had better stick to commerce. Nothing is less to be desired than the fate of a young man, who, as the Scotch proverb says, in “trying to make a spoon spoils a horn,” and becomes a mere hanger-on in literature or in science, when he might have been a useful and a valuable member of Society in other occupations.

I think that your father ought to see this letter.

Yours faithfully,

T.H. Huxley.

[The last of the series, addressed to the secretary of a free-thought a.s.sociation, expresses his firmly rooted disgust at the use of mere ribaldry in attacking the theological husks which enclose a religious ideal.

May 22, 1892.

Dear Sir,

I regret that I am unable to comply with the wish of your committee.

For one thing, I am engaged in work which I do not care to interrupt, and for another, I always make it a rule in these matters to “fight for my own hand.” I do not desire that any one should share my responsibility for what I think fit to say, and I do not wish to be responsible for the opinions and modes of expression of other persons.

I do not say this with any reference to Mr. — who is a sober and careful writer. But both as a matter of principle and one of policy, I strongly demur to a great deal of what appears as “free thought”

literature, and I object to be in any way connected with it. Heterodox ribaldry disgusts me, I confess, rather more than orthodox fanaticism.

It is at once so easy; so stupid; such a complete anachronism in England, and so thoroughly calculated to disgust and repel the very thoughtful and serious people whom it ought to be the great aim to attract. Old Noll knew what he was about when he said that it was of no use to try to fight the gentlemen of England with tapsters and serving-men. It is quite as hopeless to fight Christianity with scurrility. We want a regiment of Ironsides.

[This summer brought Huxley a most unexpected distinction in the shape of admission to the Privy Council. Mention has already been made (volume 2) of his reasons for refusing to accept a t.i.tle for distinction in science, apart from departmental administration. The proper recognition of science, he maintained, lay in the professional recognition of a man’s work by his peers in science, the members of the learned societies of his own and other countries.

But, as has been said, the Privy Councillorship was an office, not a t.i.tle, although with a t.i.tle attaching to the office; and in theory, at least, a scientific Privy Councillor might some day play an important part as an accredited representative of science, to be consulted officially by the Government, should occasion arise.

Of a selection of letters on the subject, mostly answers to congratulations, I place first the one to Sir M. Foster, which gives the fullest account of the affair.]

Cors-y-Gedol Hotel, Barmouth, August 23, 1892.

My dear Foster,

I am very glad you think I have done rightly about the P.C.; but in fact I could hardly help myself.

Years and years ago I was talking to Donnelly about these things, and told him that so far as myself was concerned, I would have nothing to do with official decorations–didn’t object to other people having them, especially heads of offices, like Hooker and Flower–but preferred to keep clear myself. But I added that there was one thing I did not mind telling him, because no English Government would ever act upon my opinion–and that was that the P.C. was a fit and proper recognition for science and letters. I have no doubt that he has kept this in mind ever since–in fact Lord Salisbury’s letter (which was very handsome) showed he had been told of my obiter dictum. Donnelly was the first channel of inquiry whether I would accept, and was very strong that I should.

So you see if I had wished to refuse it, it would have been difficult and ungracious. But, on the whole, I thought the precedent good.

Playfair tells me he tried to get it done in the case of Faraday and Babbage thirty years ago, and the thing broke down. Moreover a wicked sense of the comedy of advancing such a pernicious heretic, helped a good deal.

The worst of it is, I have just had a summons to go to Osborne on Thursday and it is as much as I shall be able to do.

We have been in South Wales, in the neighbourhood of the Colliers, and are on our way to the Wallers for the Festival week at Gloucester. We hope to get back to Eastbourne in the latter half of September and find the house clean swept and garnished. After that, by the way, it is NOT nice to say that we shall hope to have a visit from Mrs. Foster and you.

With our love to you both.

Ever yours,


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