From T. H. Huxley to G. G. Stokes 6 December 1864
Jermyn St London
Dcr. 6th. 1864
My dear Stokes
I never had a clearer and more distinct impression in my life, than that I heard the words ‘expressly excluded’—and at the risk of seeming presumptuous I would venture to suggest, that it is just possible you may have inadvertently substituted the one word for the other—the senses of the two being, for all practical purposes, identical—1 But this is merely for your consideration— I quite admit that we are bound by the printed words, as they express what the writer meant to say—which is the only point of importance2
At the same time I disclaim all responsibility for the mistake, if there has been one. I stated openly and fairly what my own impression was; and if I erred, it was for the President or yourself to correct me. The document was before you; and if any error became current through what I said, it really is not my fault.
However, I do not see that it makes any difference whether the words used were ‘expressly omitted’ or ‘expressly excluded’: and, not to fight about words let me briefly state my own position to you. I object to the following passage in the address “Speaking generally & collectively we have expressly omitted it from the grounds of our award” on the grounds that;
1. It clearly implies not only that the ‘omission’—but that the formal & public notification of that omission was the result of a distinct determination of the Council, as a body, arrived at after due consideration; and further that Darwins friends accepted the medal for him clearly understanding that such public notification would be made—
Now I cannot find any record of such a determination of the Council;3 nor, since I know that both the proposer & the seconder of Darwin were exceedingly astonished and annoyed when they became aware of (I won’t say heard) the paragraph in question, can I conceive that any understanding on the subject should have been entertained by them4
Had I been a member of the Council myself I would not have accepted the Medal for Darwin, if the insertion of that paragraph had been a condition of the award.
2. But even supposing that the paragraph in question had been inserted with the full knowledge and consent of Darwins supporters & as the result of an express resolution of the Council—I, in my capacity as a Fellow of the Society, no less object to it and protest against it—
I do so because I hold that the address to a Medallist should state only the grounds upon which the medal is awarded and should not indulge in critical remarks, either favourable or unfavourable on any other subject. I can conceive no worse precedent to be established than one which should justify some future President who had strongly opposed a medallist, in inserting, of his own mere motion, a derogatory paragraph into his address.
I think that Darwins supporters had a right to base their claims on whatever grounds they pleased and to omit anything they pleased. And if any member of the Council objected to vote for Darwin, unless his ‘Theory of the Origin of Species’ was not only ‘omitted’ from the award—but stigmatised by the fact of that omission being publicly affirmed to be the ‘collective & general’ act of the Council, I think he was bound to move that words to that effect should form a part of the resolution awarding the Medal & fairly & openly take the sense of the Council thereupon
If this course had been taken I should have no less objected to the result—but my remarks would have been directed against the Council & not against the President who would (under these circumstances & these only in my opinion) have been fully justified in saying what he did
As I have repeatedly stated in public I myself should be sorry to stand committed to the opinion that the truth of Darwins hypothesis is demonstrated5 and therefore it is not likely that I should have wished the Royal Society to place itself either directly or indirectly in the same position
But if it were really necessary to allude to Darwins Theory for the purpose of preventing the public from supposing that the Royal Society awarded the Copley Medal for it—I should have had no objection to its being done in a proper way after due consultation with those who were interested
What I do protest against is that without the knowledge & consent of Darwins proposer & seconder, a phrase should have been inserted which compresses the maximum amount of offence into the handiest possible form for Darwins opponents[.]
Thus to some up—
I object to the phrase quoted
1. because it purports to be the act of the Council “collectively & generally’ whereas so far as the evidence before me goes, it was not so, but the act of the President, expressing what he conceived to be the opinion of some of the Council— 2. Because if it were the act of the Council it is irregular & inexpedient to introduce negative considerations into an address which is properly concerned only with the positive merits of a person
I may be quite wrong in my views; but I wish you to see, at any rate that they are clear & definite and not based on any mere captious criticisms—
Indeed, I may say that I never more anxiously pondered what it was my duty to do than on the other evening but (with one exception of which your letter twice reminds me) I should take the like course under like circumstances
That exception is the phrase ‘index expurgatorius’ which escaped me unwittingly: and for which I expressed my regret to the Treasurer the same evening—6
I desired to say nothing that should be in the smallest degree wanting in due respect for either the person or the office of the President: so much so, that I did not take the course which was open to me of moving an amendment that we should “collectively and generally expressly omit” the passage in question from the printed address7
By so doing I should have dealt as disrespectfully with the President as in my judgment, he will do with Darwin if any part of that passage is allowed to stand
I am very glad to have had the opportunity of making this explanation, with which you can deal as you please | and I am | Yours very faithfully | T H Huxley
Prof Stokes Sec RS.
He is certain he heard "expressly excluded" [of Origin from consideration in Royal Society award of Copley Medal]. Believes GGS may have inadvertently substituted "excluded" for "omitted". THH then submits his reasons for objecting to the passage as a whole even with the word "omitted".
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4702,” accessed on 4 December 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-4702