Letter From Thomas H. Huxley to The Lord Mayor

Monte Generaso, Switzerland,
June 25, 1889

My Lord Mayor,

I greatly regret my inability to be present at the meeting which is to be held, under your Lordship’s auspices, in reference to M. Pasteur and his Institute. The unremitting labours of that eminent Frenchman during the last half-century have yielded rich harvest of new truths, and are models of exact and refined research. As such they deserve, and have received, all the honours which those who are the best judges of their purely scientific merits are able to bestow. But if so happens that these subtle and patient searchings out of the ways of the infinitely little–of that swarming life where the creature that measures one-thousandths part of an inch is a giant–have also yielded results of supreme practical importance. The path of M. Pasteur’s investigations is strewed with gifts of vast monetary value to the silk trader, the brewer, and the wine merchant. And this being so, it might be a proper and a graceful act on the part of the representatives of trade and commerce in its greatest centre to make some public recognition of M. Pasteur’s services, even if there were nothing further to be said about them. But there is much more to be said. M. Pasteur’s direct and indirect contributions to our knowledge of the causes of diseased states, and of the means of preventing their occurrence, are not measurable by money values, but by those of healthy life and diminished suffering to men. Medicine, surgery, and hygiene have all been powerfully affected by M. Pasteur’s work, which has culminated in his method of treating hydrophobia.

I cannot conceive that any competently-instructed person can consider M. Pasteur’s labours in this direction without arriving at the conclusion that, if any man has earned the praise and honour of his fellows, he has. I find it no less difficult to imagine that our wealthy country should be other than ashamed to continue to allow its citizens to profit by the treatment freely given at the Institute without contributing to its support. Opposition to the proposals which your Lordship sanctions would be equally inconceivable if it arose out of nothing but the facts of the case thus presented. But the opposition which, as I see from the English papers, is threatened has really for the most part nothing on earth to do either with M. Pasteur’s merits or with the efficacy of his method of treating hydrophobia. It proceeds partly from the fanatics of laissez-faire , who think it better to rot and die than to be kept whole and lively by State interference, partly from the blind opponents of properly-conducted physiological experimentation, who prefer that men should suffer rather than that rabbits or dogs, and partly from those who for other but not less powerful motives hate everything which contributes to prove the value of strictly scientific methods of inquiry in all those questions which affect the welfare of society. I sincerely trust that the good sense of the meeting over which your Lordship will preside will preserve it from being influenced by these unworthy antagonisms, and that the just and benevolent enterprise you have undertaken may have a happy issue.

I am, my Lord Mayor, your obedient servant,

Thomas H. Huxley.

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