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

By Adrian Desmond | Go to book overview
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16
Reslaying the Slain

Cook had got up some chops ... for me in wonderful style last night, when I went home after my Lecture. Said Lecture let me inform you was very good - Lyell came & was rather astounded at the magnitude & attentiveness of the audience.

Huxley stayed in town, polishing his 'Rifle & Bayonet' and honing his intellect. These Thursday nights in March 1861 saw the Tory nightmare realized as he taught the great unwashed of their gorilla ancestry.

The fliers for his new course brought the artisan élite in droves. Lyell, preparing his Antiquity of Man, squeezed incongruously among the carters and was astonished.

'My working men stick by me wonderfully', Hal cheered Nettie at Downe. 'By next Friday morning they will all be convinced that they are monkeys'. The cloth-caps needed no persuading. For decades their gutter presses had proclaimed man's bestial origin. By now the Reasoner was arming infidels with facts on fossils and flints to counter 'Theological Theories of the Origin of Man'. Its running mate, the National Reformer, was shattering the 'man and beast' dichotomy. Huxley was riding a crest. The pauper presses were devouring the Origin as they had the Vestiges and French Revolutionary tracts before it. All were grist to their mill. Red Lamarckians saw the 'divine origin of man' as a supernatural sanction to keep 'the masses in the mud'. Of course they rallied to any professor who would connect man to the 'under-world of life'. 1

These flaming atheists had a biting cynicism; 'life is nothing and

-292-

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