“There is but one truth, outside science, the truth that comes of an earnest, smiling survey of mankind”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1751.]

To Sidney Colvin

[Colvin 1912, pp. 225-227]

[Skerryvore, Bournemouth, Early February 1887]

My dear Colvin,

I read Huxley, and a lot of it with great interest.

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-95), English biologist specialising in comparative anatomy. He is known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his advocacy of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution [www.gustotabacco.it]

Colvin had sent RLS Huxley’s essay, ‘Science and Pseudo-Scientific Realism’ in the Nineteenth Century Review for Feb 1887. Full text: https://mathcs.clarku.edu/huxley/CE5/S&PS.html


Eh  […], what a gulf between a man with a mind like Huxley and a man […] like Cotter Morison.

James Augustus Cotter Morison (1832-88), author and journalist, member of the Positivist Society. Colvin had sent RLS Morison’s ‘The Service of Man: an Essay Towards the Religion of the Future’ published in Jan 1887 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

A work of Positivist tendency, on which Morison had long built strong hopes, but which unfortunately he only began to write after a rapid decline of health and power had set in.


Truly ‘t is the book of a boy […]; before I was twenty I was done with all these considerations.

RLS aged 20 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Nor is there one happy phrase, except “the devastating flood of  children.”

RLS quotes Morison’s ‘The Service of Man: an Essay Towards the Religion of the Future’, published in Jan 1887.


Why should he din our ears with languid repetitions of the very first ideas and facts that a bright lad gets hold of; and how can a man be so destitute of historical perspective, so full of cheap outworn generalisations — feudal ages, time of suffering — pas tant qu’aujourdhui, M. Cotter!

Depiction of socage on the royal demesne in feudal England, c. 1310[https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Christianity — which? what? how? You must not attack all forms, from Calvin

J. Calvin, by H. Holbein, 1550 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

to St. Thomas,

St. Thomas Aquinas, by Botticelli, 1481 [www.ilpost.it]

from St. Thomas to (one who should surely be considered) Jesus Christ,

Christ with Thorns, by Carl Bloch (1834-1890) [https://uploads8.wikiart.org]

with the same missiles: they do not all tell against all […]. But there it is, as we said; a man joins a sect, and becomes […] one-eyed […].


[…] He affects […] a horror of vices which are just the thing to stop his “devastating flood of babies,” and just the thing above all to keep the vicious from procreating. Where, then, is the ground of this horror in any intelligent Servant of Humanity? O, beware of creeds and anticreeds, sects and anti-sects. There is but one truth, outside science, the truth that comes of an earnest, smiling survey of mankind “from China to Peru,”

RLS quotes from Samuel Johnson, The Vanity of Human Wishes, 1.2 [www.williamreesecompany.com]

or further, and from to-day to the days of Probably Arboreal;

RLS used the quote from Darwin in two essays of ‘Memries and Portraits’: ‘The Manse’ and ‘Pastoral’ [http://izquotes.com]

and the truth (however true it is) that robs you of sympathy with any form of thought or trait of man, is false for you, and heretical, and heretico-plastic. Hear Morison struggling with his chains; hear me, hear all of us, when we suffer our creeds or anti-creeds to degenerate towards the whine, and begin to hate our neighbours, or our ancestors, like ourselves. And yet in Morison, too, as in St. Thomas, as in Rutherford,

Samuel Rutherford (1600-61), Scottish theologian and Covenanter, famous for his controversial pamphlets and letters written during his banishment [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

ay, or in Peden,

Alexnder Peden (1626-8)6, Covenanter preacer and prophet, who was imprisoned on the Bass Rock [http://reformationhistory.org]


truth struggles, or it would not so deform them. The man has not a devil; it is an angel that tears and blinds him. But Morison’s is an old, almost a venerable seraph, with whom I dealt before I was twenty, and had done before I was twenty-five. [..]

Behold how the voices of dead preachers speak hollowly (and lengthily) within me! — Yours ever — and rather better — not much,














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