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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Huxley   26 April 1873

4 Marlborough Place

April 26th. 1873

My dear Darwin

We are greatly alarmed at your reference to Lady Lyell having heard nothing— My wife is not very well today & cannot get out but she will send round to Mrs Lyell for intelligence1

I fear from what you say there must be something very serious— We are very fond of her & anxious accordingly   It is frightful to think of poor Lyell’s2 condition if she should be disabled or taken from him—

For Heavens sake don’t send me any more cheques!3 I am provided with twice as much as was necessary already and I shall feel a regular imposter if it goes on raining money in this way— Please let me have the names of my friends   they will be pleasant to think upon—4 I took a step which you will approve yesterday, in getting rid of a course of lectures I had undertaken to give in the summer— I have now nothing but the May Examinations and the Royal Society to keep me in London and I shall be able to get away by the end of June and get three months of absolute holiday—5 Moreover I am thinking of setting up a horse again until I get away and shaking the black bile out of my liver— Horse exercise generally does me a world of good

I sent you a copy of my ‘Critiques & Addresses’ yesterday. It is only a collection of old things which you know— Why the British public (bless them) buy them I dont know—but half the Edition has gone before the book is out6

You will be tickled with my notice of our friend Mivart in the “Preface”—and indeed the said preface shews in a general way that “there is life in the old dog yet”—7

I am afraid I may have to demonstrate that fact yet further— A life of James D. Forbes has just been published in which there is a regular onslaught on Tyndall and the editors have thought fit to publish a passage from one of Forbes letters referring to me in a manner which I do not at all like—8 I am afraid it will compel me to publish the precise history of the transaction in the Council of the Royal Society to which Forbes adverts   The notion of fighting over a dead man is very unpleasant to me— But what am I to do with a passage like this “I believe that the effect of the struggle—though unsuccessful in its immediate object—will be to render Tyndall & Huxley and their friends more cautious in their further proceedings”9

The struggle here referred to is the battle which took place in the Council of the Royal Society in 1859 when Murchison & Whewell10 tried to get Forbes the Copley Medal for his Glacier work   It was in the thick of the controversy between Tyndall & Forbes and I thought the attempt to give Forbes the Copley Medal for work the value of which was in dispute very unfair and made up my mind that the thing should not be— I was not on the Council but Frankland11 was and I wrote him two letters on the Glacier question (I had it all at my fingers ends then) to be read to the Council—

I have reason to believe that these letters had a good deal to do with the defeat of Forbes friends which ensued   In all this however, I acted alone— I thought it was not proper that Tyndall should know anything about it and I did not tell him what had taken place till long afterwards— In fact he did not read the chief document I submitted to the Council till a year or two ago when I chanced to find it among my papers & sent it to him—12

The passage in Forbes’ letter plainly suggests that he & I were in a sort of conspiracy and I cannot stand that—

Ever my dear Darwin | Yours affectionately | T H Huxley


In his letter to Huxley of 25 April 1873, CD had referred only to the ‘dreadful news about Lady Lyell’. Mary Elizabeth Lyell had died on 24 April 1873 (see letter from E. A. Darwin to Emma Darwin, 24 April [1873]). Katherine Murray Lyell was M. E. Lyell’s sister. Huxley’s wife was Henrietta Anne Huxley.
Charles Lyell was M. E. Lyell’s husband.
CD had enclosed a cheque for £50 with his letter of 25 April 1873.
Huxley was professor of natural history at the Royal School of Mines and biological secretary of the Royal Society of London (ODNB).
CD’s annotated copy of T. H. Huxley 1873 is in the Darwin Library–CUL. The book, a collection of previously published essays, was published in May 1873 (Publishers’ Circular, 16 May 1873, p. 338).
Huxley’s critique of St George Jackson Mivart in ‘Mr Darwin’s critics’ had provoked a strong counter-attack from Mivart in his essay ‘Evolution and its consequences’ (T. H. Huxley 1871; Mivart 1872). Huxley responded to Mivart’s riposte in the preface of his new collection (T. H. Huxley 1873, pp. ix–xi).
The Life and letters of James David Forbes, F.R.S. (Shairp et al. eds. 1873) was published on 17 April 1873 (Publishers’ Circular, 17 April 1873, p. 266). In 1857 and 1858, Forbes and John Tyndall had been involved in a dispute concerning the nature of glacier movement; an article by Forbes that was part of that dispute was reprinted in the book as an appendix. For more on the dispute and Tyndall’s response to Shairp et al. eds. 1873, see Rowlinson 1971.
See Shairp et al. eds. 1873, p. 387. For more on Huxley’s role in lobbying the Council of the Royal Society of London to deny Forbes the Copley Medal for 1859, see Rowlinson 1971, pp. 196–7.
Huxley enclosed his letters to Frankland with a letter to Tyndall of 13 May 1872 (see Dawson 1946, p. 159 and n. 1).


Dawson, Warren R. 1946. The Huxley papers. A descriptive catalogue of the correspondence, manuscripts and miscellaneous papers of the Rt Hon. Thomas Henry Huxley, PC, DCL, FRS, preserved in the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London. London: Macmillan for the Imperial College of Science and Technology.

Huxley, Thomas Henry. 1873. Critiques and addresses. London: Macmillan.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Rowlinson, J. S. 1971. The theory of glaciers. Notes and records of the Royal Society of London 26: 189–204.


Concern for Lady Lyell;

will clear away work and set off for holiday in June.

Sends Critiques and addresses.

A life of J. D. Forbes [by J. C. Shairp, P. J. Tait, and A. A. Reilly (1873)] suggests that THH and Tyndall conspired to keep JDF from getting the Copley Medal. THH feels obliged to correct this.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Henry Huxley
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Marlborough Place, 4
Source of text
DAR 104: 223–24a
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8882,” accessed on 4 March 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21