The Nature of the Beast
HUXLEY'S EMOTIONAL TYRANNY turned to tenderness inside the family. Un vrai mari he was, upholding family virtues, disdaining Chapman's libertinism. Not that it was a conventional household: Waverley Place was unremittingly scientific, what with 'his occupation, his friends, his books'. Nettie 'attended little by little' becoming, like so many scientific wives, an unsung helpmate. She sketched, translated and proof-read. By morning she would blow up diagrams, then 'a hasty lunch, & [with] the cab at the door I would be just in time to get them hung at the Royal Institution'.
Thus the girl whose pleasure had been poetry entered a 'Fairy Land of Science'. She brought intellectual strengths. 'In this utilitarian day, when the old forms of spiritual existence which once ennobled mens lives are become effete', he agreed, one must 'cherish the ideal in the world of Art'. And wasn't Nature herself ultimately
a poem; not a mere rough engine-house for the due keeping of pleasure and pain machines, but a palace whose foundations, indeed, are laid on the strictest and safest mechanical principles, but whose superstructure is a manifestation of the highest and noblest art.
Hal, more and more the mechanical engineer, trotted Nettie around the foundations, giving disquisitions on the unseen forces and eternal verities, and the universal truths embodied in the tiniest diatom. Bit by bit she came to understand 'the great problems that underlay the dissection of even a fish or plant, or the identification of a fossil ... It was a revelation that ennobled the world I lived in'.