Fighting unto Death
THE OLD INTELLECTUALS were in their red-brick homes. Out in the sticks, away from London. Out of time now. Doomed like Beardsley and Wilde, in a moribund decade, watching decadent London living frantically as if on borrowed time. The naughty nineties, reacting so raucously against their staid Puritanism, seemed like a distant country. Huxley escaped the shallowness in Eastbourne. Here the anatomist watched his body crumble. His yearly fights against 'flu had become a wretched struggle. The old man, huddled over the winter fire devouring Aristotle, was buying time. 1
No manor retreats for the X-Club stragglers, no grand piles. Huxley's house on the corner of Staveley Road was overlooked on two sides. The tormented, sleepless Tyndall in the Devil's Punch Bowl of Hindhead was an equal prey to peeping fans and screened off the bottom of his garden. They seemed such ordinary men gone such ordinary ways.
And yet Huxley the ageing matinée idol still made guest appearances. At Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge he played the part and 'Loaded himself with champagne' before another Harvey dinner on 21 June 1893. 2 He looked 'tired out'. But with his tubes lubricated he could still evoke the old scientific patriotism in his homage to the discoverer of the blood's circulation.
Death's hand touched them all. Almost monthly it left friends to be mourned and memories to be enshrined. Huxley helped Lord Coleridge arrange a 'Jowett Memorial Fund'. He was astonished that his old society doctor Sir Andrew Clark, grown 'pompous' since his Haslar days, had left £250,000 from the practice among the swells. Annihilation had once filled Huxley with 'horror unspeakable': 'whether or not Nature abhors a vacuum', Romanes remembered