Huxley: From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest

By Adrian Desmond | Go to book overview

15
Buttered Angels & Bellowing Apes

THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES tantalized a prim generation. In the freezing weeks after publication it appeared in the unlikeliest places. Commuters coming to hear Huxley's lecture even snapped up the second edition on Waterloo Station. News-vendors, usually with nothing but trashy shilling novels, were touting this Royal Green 15s tome.

It was the 'Book of the Day', Owen conceded. Love it or loathe it, the Origin could not be ignored. Wollaston, Huxley's fellow visitor at Downe, felt a 'cold shuddering' and turned hostile. Though Darwin was careful not to say it, the Origin ultimately meant that man, 'with all his lofty endowments and future hopes, was ... never "created" at all, but was merely ... a development from an ape'. But without the promise of Heaven or the fear of Hell, why should we live a good life? Huxley knew that this was the crux, even as he trashed Wollaston's 'stupid review'.

For or against, the reactions were intensifying. One embarrassing old botanist told Darwin he would continue to read the Origin 'as I do the precepts of Christ & the parable of the prodigal son, till my eyes fail me'. The ecstatic highs were only matched by the abusive lows. Others damned the book, fearing that the loss of Creation's moral purpose would 'brutalize' humanity. They compared Darwin's fantastic mechanism to 'Bishop Wilkin's locomotive that was to sail with us to the Moon'. 1 With the stones 'beginning to fly', an agitated Darwin was relieved to see Huxley's Times review reprinted in the Gardeners' Chronicle.

The Origin's sales galvanized conservatives. The Athenaeum demanded show trials to denounce Darwin in 'the Divinity Hall, the College, the Lecture Room, and the Museum'. It meant in

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