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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Huxley   9 October 1862

26 Abbey Place

Oct. 9th. 1862

My dear Darwin

It is a source of much pleasure to me to learn that anything I can say or do is a pleasure to you and I was therefore very glad to get your letter at that whirligig of an Association meeting the other day—1 We all missed you but I think it was as well you did not come—for though I am pretty tough, as you know, I found the pace rather killing— Nothing could exceed the hospitality & kindness of the University people—and that, together with a great deal of speaking, on the top of a very bad cold which I continued to catch, just before going down—has somewhat used me up

Owen2 came down with the obvious intention of attacking me on all points— Each of his papers was an attack & he went so far as to offer stupid & unnecessary opposition to proposals of mine in my own Committee—3 However—he got himself sold at all points— Not a soul seconded him in the Committee & how the mendacious audacity of the man was shewn up at the discussion—is printed in the ‘Times’—4The Polypterous paper & Aye-Aye paper fell flat—5 The latter was meant to raise a discussion on your views—but it was all a stale hash and I only made some half sarcastic remarks which stopped any further attempt at discussion—6

All the people present who could judge saw that Owen was lying & shuffling—: the other half saw he was getting the worst of it but regarded him I think, rather as an innocent old sheep, being worried by three particularly active young wolves—7 He rolled his eyes about & smiled so sweetly every time the teeth set sharp into his weasand!8

My wife & belongings are at Felixtow— I was so alarmed about my wife that I came back rather hastily from Scotland—9 I am glad to say however, that she is very much better— I think she had weakened herself by over-working & the grief which September always opens afresh10

I trust you are getting better & that Mrs Darwin & the children are all well again11

I took my book to Scotland but did nothing   I shall ask leave to send you a bit or two as I get on12

Ever | Yours | T H Huxley

A “Society for the propagation of common honesty in all parts of the world” was established at Cambridge— I want you to belong to it, but I will say more about it by & bye13


CD’s letter has not been found. In 1862, the British Association for the Advancement of Science held its annual meeting in Cambridge from 1 to 8 October. CD may have written to thank Huxley for the praise he had accorded CD in his inaugural address as president of the sectional committee for ‘zoology and botany, including physiology’ (Section D), as reported in The Times, 3 October 1862, p. 5. Speaking on the condition and prospects of biological science, Huxley had ‘passed a graceful encomium on the labours of Mr. Darwin, whose name was received with a burst of applause’, and had ‘emphatically affirmed that Mr. Darwin’s work was as perfect in its logical method as it was accurate in its scientific facts.’
See n. 1, above.
Huxley refers to the discussion of Owen’s paper, ‘On the zoological significance of the cerebral and pedial characters of man’ (R. Owen 1862c), which was read in Section D of the British Association meeting in Cambridge on 3 October 1862. The substance of the paper and the ensuing discussion were reported in The Times, 4 October 1862, p. 7. Owen’s paper was a defence of his view, first enunciated in 1858, that certain anatomical characters of the human brain required that the species be classified in a sub-class separate from the anthropoid apes. Since its publication, Owen’s classification, and the cerebral anatomy on which it was based, had been repeatedly attacked, particularly by Huxley, who saw it as an opportunity to impugn both Owen’s scientific reputation and his honesty (see Gross 1993 and Rupke 1994). In the discussion following the reading of Owen’s paper in Cambridge, Huxley had been Owen’s most vocal opponent, disputing both Owen’s ‘facts’ and his ‘reasoning’.
R. Owen 1862d and 1862e.
Owen read his paper, ‘On the characters of the Aye-aye, as a test of the Lamarckian and Darwinian hypotheses of the transmutation and origin of species’ (R. Owen 1862e), before Section D of the British Association for the Advancement of Science on 3 October 1862 (The Times, 4 October 1862, p. 7). His argument was that the remarkable adaptation of parts of the Aye-aye, and their correlation, could not be explained by natural selection or the Lamarckian theory of evolution, but depended on a guiding intelligence. Owen had previously affirmed this view in a paper read before the Zoological Society of London in January 1862 (R. Owen 1862a; see letter from J. E. Gray, 29 January 1862).
According to the report in The Times, 4 October 1862, p. 7, Owen’s paper on the human brain was criticised chiefly by Huxley, George Rolleston, and William Henry Flower, all of whom had previously attacked Owen’s views on this subject (see Gross 1993). The Times reported that Rolleston had concluded by saying that: if he had expressed himself with any unnecessary vehemence he was sorry for it, but he felt there were things less excusable than vehemence, and that the laws of ethics and love of truth were things higher and better than were the rules of etiquette or decorous reticence.
Weasand: ‘the throat generally’ (OED).
Huxley refers to Henrietta Anne Huxley. Huxley was in Scotland from 8 August to 16 September 1862 in his capacity as a member of the Royal Commission on the Operation of the Acts relating to Trawling for Herring on the Coasts of Scotland (L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 234).
The Huxleys’ first child, Noel Huxley, died from scarlet fever on 15 September 1860 (L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 151–2 and 216).
Horace Darwin had been seriously ill at the beginning of 1862. Emma and Leonard Darwin had both become ill with scarlet fever during the summer (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II)).
T. H. Huxley 1863.
An account of the formation of this association was given by the zoologist Alfred Newton, in a letter to his brother Edward Newton, dated 8 October 1862 (A. F. R. Wollaston 1921, pp. 123–4): I had meant to have an “Ibis” dinner, but the last was the only evening we could have it, and then a lot of others wanted to dine together, so it ended in establishing a new “Club for Promoting Common Honesty” and we had a feed at the “Lion” under the presidency of Huxley, with Kingsley as vice....  This club, I believe, was founded with one rule only, and that was that any one drinking Sclater’s health was to be expelled (this was Sclater’s stipulation in his nervous juxta-matrimonial state, and the only condition under which he would allow the dinner to take place), so that as soon as Sclater left, which he did early, I proposed his health and every one drank it; where by it is difficult to say whether the association did not thereupon dissolve itself! The references are to Charles Kingsley and Philip Lutley Sclater, editor of Ibis, the British Ornithologists’ Union journal. Sclater married Jane Anne Eliza Hunter-Blair on 16 October 1862 (Gentleman’s Magazine n.s. 13 (1862): 630).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Gross, Charles G. 1993. Hippocampus minor and man’s place in nature: a case study in the social construction of neuroanatomy. Hippocampus 3: 403–16.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Rupke, Nicolaas A. 1994. Richard Owen, Victorian naturalist. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press.

Wollaston, Alexander Frederick Richmond. 1921. Life of Alfred Newton, professor of comparative anatomy, Cambridge University, 1866–1907. With a preface by Sir Archibald Geikie. London: John Murray.


The BAAS meeting at Cambridge was exhausting.

Owen came to attack him but was beaten; his paper fell flat.

A "society for propagation of common honesty in all parts of the world" was established at Cambridge [THH’s "Thorough Club"?].

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Henry Huxley
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Abbey Place, 26
Source of text
DAR 166.2: 294
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3755,” accessed on 12 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10