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1998.356.30 Walter Baldwin Spencer 1998.356.30 Walter Baldwin SpencerStudying Natural Science at the University Museum in the 1880s

Other primary documentation and articles on this webpage consider the natural science education offered by the University of Oxford up to 1890 from the point of view of the teachers or the University. What it was like for the students is less well documented.

Insight is possibly offered through the eyes of one student: Walter Baldwin Spencer [1]. In this article are transcribed extracts from his biography by John Mulvaney and Baldwin Spencer's own letters to a friend, Howard Goulty. A separate page gives extracts from Spencer's last Journey by Marett and Penniman, which gives a memoir of his life. Both of these are of relevance to the development of museum anthropology at Oxford. For a full catalogue of all Pitt Rivers Museum manuscript collections see here.

As can be seen from the extracts from Mulvaney & Calaby 1985 given here, Walter Baldwin Spencer studied at Old Trafford School until 1878 when he was eighteen, in June 1876 he had passed the Oxford Senior Local Examination and in December 1876 he passed the Cambridge Local Examination. He also passed the University of London matriculation examination. [M&C, 1985: 27] Instead of studying at Owens College, Manchester from 1878-9, Spencer instead studied at Manchester School of Art for some months. In 1879 he won a prize volume 'for success in the Advanced Section of the Course'. [M&C, 1985: 28] In 1879-80 Spencer entered Owens College to study medicine. [M&C, 1985: 30] He sat the London University examinations in 1880 and 1881 as well as examinations at Manchester, all of which he passed. In 1879-80 was placed first in zoology, with an exhibition of £40 per annum for two years from London University. Oxford University awarded Spencer a natural science scholarship valued at £80 a year for four years, tenable at Exeter College. He moved to Oxford at the end of his second year, although some of his tutors advised that Cambridge was a better option. [M&C, 1985: 31-33]

Spencer matriculated at Oxford in October 1881. He was a student of Exeter College. The details of his Oxford sojourn are given below.

Find scans of the original letters here.

To find out more about Spencer's papers at the Pitt Rivers Museum go here

To find out more about Spencer's anthropological work in Australia go here

To read more about Spencer's scientific education, from extracts from his biography, So Much that is New, see here

Pitt Rivers Museum manuscript collections: Spencer papers Box 3 Correspondence with Howard Goulty [2]

Introduction: The letters are from Spencer to Goulty rather than the other way round, they give a vivid account of being a student at Oxford in the 1880s. Below are transcripts of the parts of the letter that relate to Spencer's intellectual work and development during his time at Oxford. It is not clear why Spencer's daughters (from whom the Pitt Rivers Museum were given the Spencer papers) were in possession of the letters from their father (rather, as in other letters, the letters that Spencer received). Mulvaney and Calaby, Spencer's biographers suggested, 'Whether Howard Goulty retained the other half of the correspondence because he knew of Spencer's practice [of keeping and filing correspondence], or simply because it came naturally to a consciencious solicitor is not known. Happily, he donated the entire collection to Spencer's daughter, Dorothy Young, at the time of Spencer's death', and thence they came to the Pitt Rivers Museum.

If this is not a correct summary then it might be that at some point Spencer asked Goulty, who lived longer than him, to return his letter, perhaps because he was thinking of preparing an autobiographical account. Another option was that these are copy letters. Spencer certainly kept early drafts of letters later in his career (see for example some of his correspondence with luminaries like Frazer) but it seems hard to believe he would do this for letters to a close friend. However in some of the letters, eg letter 61 there is crossing out of some paragraphs in a different pen. This was either Spencer deciding not to transpose part into the final copy or someone (Spencer? someone else) editing the letter at a future date.

We will probably never fully know the answer and understand the history of all of Spencer's correspondence. We must just be grateful that they were retained and donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum as these letters give a rare, informal account of life and times at Oxford in the 1880s.

Goulty 1 [letter written in pencil]


Oct 17 '80

My dear Howard,

Thank you for your note which it was very good of you to write whilst so busy. I do pity you in your grind, as I well know from gainfull [sic] experience what it means in fact I am now undergoing the same process with the prospect of a classical exam. before me & a subsequent hasty retreat to Manchester where I expect to spend another year in the bosom of my family.

I never before felt so unfortunate or so quite at sea in an Exam. to begin with the Physics paper were horribly mathematical & you know what that means & then instead of biology we are having physiology in wh. to put it in a mild kind of way my knowledge is not very vast as I have never given any time to the subject & only know something indirectly through zoology.

However I had it out with the Examiner afterwards when he comforted me by saying that we were going to have a paper on physiology on Monday (the other had been practical) but I have reason to think that he saw it was carrying things a little to [sic] far. I told him that I had come prepared to dissect creatures & he asked me if I should like him to give me some dissection a proposal to wh. I readily assented. I also took occasion to inform him what I had done at London in biology, altogether we had a very pleasant but to me a scarcely satisfactory interview.

So much for Exams. May you meet with much more success in a week from now than I am doing. ... this is such a grand place I wish you could only come up here & we could take our degree together. It will be a great contrast to our year at Owens whenever I come up here & the same also if I go back to the College again. ...

Love from Baldwin

Goulty 4

Exeter Coll. Ox.

Oct. 5. 81

Dear Howard

I am writing this epistle with a pencil stolen from you & wh. I have been carrying about really with the intention of giving it back to you! First of all I must confess my sins & ask your forgiveness for the way in which I treated you on Monday it was a great deal too bad of me. I went to try & find you just before the train started but could not make out where you were. Arnold [insert in pen, probably by another hand] Sir C. Arnold White [end insert][3] was very jolly in fact I have seen him several times whilst he has been here but now he has left for London. Leonard came up yesterday evening we were together a good deal then & I am just going to his room till "Hall" (alias dinner) which here comes off at 7 a rather awkward time if one happens to be anxious to do much work in the evenings. As to the exam. they gave us a horrible Grammar paper with most outlandish parts of verbs & that kind of work which did not in the least suit me so that I await my viva in fear & trembling. The Latin prose I think I did fairly though of course very doggy still I hope there were not any "howlers" in it or if there were small is my chance of passing. I fancy even I am all right in Mathem [sic]

Thursday morn

Thank you very much for your letter which has just come: my only address is Exeter Coll. I am very sorry that I did not see your sisters and Flea [insert, in pen, by another hand] Frank B. Lea [end insert] on my way: it was very good of them to come to the station & please thank them all the same. I hope to come down again late Tuesday aft. as my viva comes on that day & I shall know the result just about in time to let me catch the last train leaving here something like 6.15. I think reaching M'Chester 11.50 p.m.: so that I shall pass through Alderley after you have gone to roost. On Friday again I come up & no more L&NW trains to Oxford for me. 6 1/2 mortal hours with a carriage packed full of squally babies. I like the latter much but not when they are altogether in a railway carriage. If I could only have that grammar paper over again I would pass this Exam. but as that is not possible I am settling down to hard work in expectation of a terribly hard time at my viva.

As to Oxford I only wish some of ...[surviving letter ends here, presumably second page lost]

Goulty 5

Exeter College


Oct. 17. 81

Dear Howard,

... The country did look splendid all the way up but the sun set just after leaving Banbury & it was quite dusk before I reached my rooms. The latter belong to another man who has had two flings at "Mods" & is going to take another at Xmas. However the scout tells me that there is but a slight chance of his ever getting through so most probably after next vac. the rooms will be my own. They are next door to those which I had during the Exam. & look over the Broad. Their previous occupier seems to have [insert] had [end insert] a most curious idea of art & from the strange confusion of pious books & drinking mugs in his cupboard I should think he was rather eccentric in his ways. Before "Hall" I just had time to run over to Leonard's rooms & then got back borrowed a gown for the occasion, not having had time to get one of my own, & went in to Hall feeling most uncomfortable & not quite at home in my new garments. However no mishap took place & I am back again in my own rooms feeling, at present, everything very strange. Tomorrow I must see the Rector & then settle down in real earnest to my work & to my "play" also. I intend joining the boat club & getting coached this term but when I know more I will let you know of my doings.

Yr friend


Goulty 6

Nov 3. 81

Dear Howard,

... [5 sides in, the rest is devoted to talk of people Spencer has met in Oxford, and the number of 'Aesthetes'] As to my work I have not got hardly none. I am reading Memorabilla [sic] - 3 books - Terence (about the lowest - filthiest stuff every written) 3 books - Greek gospels (not begun yet) - most probably Plato's Meno [sic] & Apologia or something else (not begun) & Logic. [1] Therein lies my work till next June & through this itself I can get with ease by 4 hrs. work per day & a little harder during the last part. I dont think it will do me much harm to take things easily a little as I have not really had much rest this last year & dont feel up to very outrageous hours. Moreover I want to get a little general reading & am engaged in "Rienzi" [4] & a scientific book in "Animal Life" for amusement & so as to keep up my biology. 6 hrs per diem is very good at Exeter. 7 hrs denotes a "smug" anything beyond that is considered the mark of a madman & something wh. cannot possibly be endured for long without shattering the system.

[1]  'Until 1887 all undergraduates were required to take classical pass or honour Moderations before proceeding to a final school, and this cut into the time available for science. Even when scientists were exempted from Mods. 'compulsory Greek' in the examinations--Responsions or its equivalents--that qualified undergraduates to embark on the NSS was relatively demanding.' [Brock and Curthoys, 2000: p. 488]

Goulty 7

Nov. 11. 81

Dear Howard

... I suppose you are working hard. So am I or rather all my time is fully occupied. Morning with work afternoon with outdoor pleasure & evening with work - general reading & friends. I dont read my books after 10-30 & then if there are no friends in settle down with a novel & end up with some poetry. Just now I am reading "Ernest Maltravers" [5] also some of Swinburne. [6] After this term however I fear that I shall not have quite so much time to myself. I hope you enjoy your Law: the history part I should by no means object to in fact I rather had thoughts of reading for history here but after thinking it over it came to the conclusion that under the circumstances it would be wiser to have the entire time for science & devote myself to that alone in the way of study for the coming two or three years. ...

Goulty 8

Nov. 18. 81

Dear Howard,

... I must really endeavour this time to do something in the way of reading as nearly all my real work must be done in the vac. ... I am beginning to work a little more & am very thankful to do so. My classic work including classes (& logic too) takes up all the mornings that is 4 hours: the rest of the day not spent in boating & wh. will now I hope amount to at least another 4 hours I spend in science & just now in getting my paper ready principally for the Biological. This I have but begun this week & find it will take a great deal of time as it means going through no end of books there being not a single one bearing anything like directly upon the subject: at least that I can hear of: there was a pamphlet in French but that I cannot get much to my dismay as it is out of print. I feel slightly "dished". Though I have always spoken of coming down on the 10th I really dont know the exact date: the term ends then I believe but they have a habit (a rather awkward one) of giving us Exams at College & as there is no accounting for the manoeuvres of "Dons" goodness alone knows when these will come on. I shall not stay up a moment longer than it is absolutely necessary & will let you know definitely as soon as I can. ...

Goulty 9

Exeter Coll.


Dec. 7. 81

Dear Howard,

... With regard to my coming down there is no go help to my going in for some [insert] Exams [end insert] (if you can understand such an Expression). These will come in on Saturday & on Monday we shall be what is technically known as "ragged" that is have a viva voce with the dons & get rowed at. Now it all depends upon how great a time this occupies when I shall be able to get off. I am going to speak to my tutor & hope to get my viva put on early: if I be fortunate I hope to leave by the G.W. at 2.45 which seems to reach Alderley at 7.49 ... Just now I am cutting all my classes as I thought they really could not expect a fellow to go to lectures & get ready for Exams at the same time. ...

Yr friend


Letter 13

Exeter Coll.

March 2. 82

Dear Howard

... I have just now come from a lecture on "Fugues" by Ousely the professor of music here [7] but have not understood a word of it & my head is full of "questions" "answers" "counterpoints" "strepittos" (or something) "dominants" etc - terms some of which may possibly be known to you. However the illustrations on the organ were very jolly. ...

Goulty 14

Exeter Coll.

March 8. 82

Dear Howard

... With regard to what you say about Exams. I really think it would be much better as far as real education goes if they could be entirely discarded but since this is not practicable & it is a choice of the lesser of two evils I do certainly think that the Oxford (or Cambridge) is less unsatisfactory than the Preceptors. the only disadvantage of the latter seems to be that they tell you more exactly how you have done in each particular subject. I know Exams. have their good points but they have very bad ones & do not help a real education much as they do inevitably lead to cramming. ... Have you anything settled about Easter yet? All I know about myself is that I am going to read hard. This is absolutely necessary if Mods. is to be passed by summer. It comes on in May. ...

Goulty 15

Exeter Coll

March 16. 82

Dear Howard

... In a very few days now I hope to see you as having learnt experience by last term I went to the sub-rector & got off "collections" (by wh. name the Exams. held by the College at the end of each term are known) This is a decided advantage as it saves me all the nuisance of going over the work again long before I want to. I shall come down tomorrow (Saturday) but only for a very few days as I want to read this vac. & so am coming up again very soon. At home they are all going away: I could not read if I went with them & on the other hand they did not want to leave me at home alone so it seemed better on the whole for me to come up again & work here as it will be beautifully quiet in the vac: several other men are staying so we shall not be absolutely lonely & shall yet do some reading. ...

Goulty 20

Coll. Exon

June 2. 82

Dear Howard,

... The viva voces in connection with our Exam. are on now: some of them are rather fun especially in the divinity parts. I happened to be in whilst Bunyan the old Owen's man was undergoing this agony: the Examiner asked him if he knew any miracle of destruction besides the fig tree (referring of course to the swine) after thinking a minute he replied that he knew one - "the miraculous draft of fishes." The examiner looked somewhat surprised & told him that that was not exactly the one he meant: another man this exam. when asked what he knew of Zacharias could only supply the rather startling information "that he was struck blind in the temple for calling his son John"! This really came off last week also another that "James & John were very fierce & called Barjonas which means a twin"!

I rather hope I shall not do anything comical: a friend of mine this morning informed the examiner that Asphasia was a mistress of Themistocles! The examiner grinned & said "well not quite." Another shot landed him on Alabriades [?] but on a third trial he hit on the right man Pericles. Viva voces however are far greater fun to listen to than to undergo & the sooner they are done away with the better. Some of our men have to go down as soon as the term is over & come up (wherever they may live) for one day in the middle of the "long" for their viva. ... I shall be reading for my London Exam. all day & we can spend the evenings together ...

Goulty 22

Coll Exon

June 9. 81

Dear Howard,

I have only just time for a line to tell you I am through Mods. after a delightfully short & sweet viva & that I am coming down tomorrow ...

Goulty 27

Coll. Exon


Dear Howard,

We have once more I supposed opened a correspondential campaign to continue for another eight weeks one of which has already nearly gone by. I am very glad indeed to have once more got settled down here & have begun real hard work very different to that of last year: it is striking what a change it makes in the pleasure of reading when the subject is a pleasant one. I have so much to do & such a lot of practical work than when I have fairly begun there will be but little time, even in the aft., which will be my own for such things as exercise & general reading: however of the former I must get an hour or 1 1/2 hrs each day & for the latter there is always one day in the week: quite apart from theological reasons it is a very good thing not to read [insert] (work) [end insert] on Sundays. ...

Goulty 28

Coll. Exon.

Oct. 28. 82

Dear Howard,

This will about reach you when (I hope) you are starting your next to me for I always look for your "fist" on Monday evening or Tuesday morn: I have been so busy this week that you have indeed been put off till they [sic] very last moment: this is the first afternoon which I have not spent at the Museum in my work but I have been down to lunch with a man in Christ Church and we sat chatting away on things scientific & general talk till nearly four & so I have just come here to disburden myself of a slight amount of correspondence & then get to my reading.

I am adopting the plan of giving Saturdays (that is the reading part of the day) up to a recapitulation of the work done during the week & fancy it will pay me. ...

Last Sunday we had a sermon from Jowett which had perhaps more in it to set one thinking about than any I have ever heard: he stated his position very clearly and unmistakably. He quite gave up belief in the Divinity of Christ or in any such thing as that is generally understood by the "inspiration" of the Bible saying that that was to be judged by just the same standards & tests which we should apply to any other literary work: he clearly pointed out his belief in the evolution of religion & that our present Christianity was by no means necessarily the highest or final form & you could easily gather also if you followed him closely that he pointed far more to an ideal of what he called "righteousness" than to the existence of a Personal God: I dont know whether he was wise in saying all he did or whether indeed the ordinary orthodox man would quite see what he did really say but it was intensely interesting to us & was quite as broad really as anything I have heard in other places ...

Goulty 33

Coll. Exon

Jan 12. 83

Dear Howard,

I want a little bit of advice on a point concerning which you have had some experience. Despite the indisputable fact of this being facile princips amongst the universities of the world there is nevertheless no means of pursuing the study of Physiology within its "walls": now I was anxious to make this one of my subjects for the London B.Sc but under these circumstances find it will be rather difficult to do so & I am thinking of taking in its stead Logic & Philosophy or whatever they call it: I suppose the logic part doesnt count much & already I have done that but could you give me some advice upon the point: it is no good telling me I cant do it in the time for I'm going to so what I should be really obliged to you for is some hints as to what to read & how to do it. ...

Goulty 35

Feb. 24. 83

Dear Howard,

... We are now getting rapidly near the end of the term and for this I am feeling thankful as 8 weeks of hard work (that is hard for Oxford) is quite enough at a stretch in such a climate as this though just now indeed it is delightful. ...

For some things I should much like to have my education over again though taking all things together I should be very far from caring to have my life to live again. I should at all event be continually looking forward to reaching the present time - the Oxford life is quite a thing by itself. ... we are making arrangements to, next term, get away from the museum at 4 o'clock so as to get some chance of exercise in the way of tennis or boating the delights of both of wh. in the summer term at Oxford must be experienced before they can be realized. ...

Goulty 36

Coll Exon

March 3. 83

Dear Howard,

... [discusses his friend Mackinder [8] who is up for election as President of the Union] President of the Union is a very nice thing to be though I have determined not to try to do anything there it takes too much time. The Varsity Science Club is as much as I can stand: they have just elected me Treasurer & Secretary for next term. ... There is one bit in your letter which was calculated to make any scientific man simply feel as if he could jump upon you that was the part in wh. you spoke of the "variety of nature seemingly indicating design": taking "design" in its ordinary meaning which is that living objects appear to have been specially created to live where & as they do now do there is nothing which is more warmly denied than this. If you look at & examine carefully all living objects you find always that each one is the resultant of a certain number of changes produced by external influences on a primitive organism wh. possessed the power of adapting itself to its surrounding circumstances & that [the surviving letter ends there, irritatingly]

Goulty 37

Coll Exon

March 5.83

Dear Howard,

... With regard to "design" I am sorry to have mistaken you but the word "design" to an evolutionist is somewhat like a red rag to a bull. I dare not follow you as far as your single "atom" technically speaking of course an "atom" could not of been that out of wh. all things have been evolved as the fundamental idea of an atom is that it cannot be divided up [insert] and division must take place if there be increase [end insert] besides I think we must postulate as much material substance as now exists as we cannot imagine matter arising or being evolved out of nothing: what evolutionists deal with is the various combinations (an extreme evolutionist would say) has at some remote period produced what we call "life" or has produced a material - simple protoplasm - endowed with "life". Of course Thompson says that protoplasm first came from some star in some mysterious way landed upon our earth: Hartog [9] used to assure me of his firm belief that life just orginated in what he termed "a lucky thunderstorm": this is not really so outlandish on the supposition that to embue [sic] matter with "life" (that is the form of assimilation, reproduction etc) it is necessary to have a combination in a certain definite proportion of certain elements which combination has not yet been discovered. However this is a pointless discussion and I will stop

I dont quite see how your argument concerning the existence of a God proves this at all

You said that the mind could not conceive anything without there existing a correspondent external and secondly that a supreme power was in our minds an essential or something to this effect & that [therefore] a God [insert] supreme power [end insert] did exist.

I dont see the argument in the least. We cannot conceive in our minds of anything existing without there being a correspondent external existence: we cannot certainly conceive in our minds a supreme power that is "the infinite" & from these two premises though we cannot say indeed that there is no such thing as a Supreme power yet I dont quite see how we can say that one does exist: it seems to me that we are simply landed in the Agnostic position & I suppose that in our quieter moments we most of us find that we are more or less agnostics. I dont think our religious "beliefs" will stand very much analysis.

You will probably feel inclined to tear this up at all events I'll stop.

Yr friend


Goulty 38

[first page of letter has not survived, usually Spencer dates his second pages but not in this instance, the letter has been put in sequence by the cataloguer on the basis of contents presumably] ... Thank you for sending me word about Sidgwick's book on Ethics [10] I have bought and am now reading & enjoying it much. I am also endeavouring to wade through Bain. [11] What with this work, Geology, Comp. Anat. [12] & an Oxford Exam. this term my hands are quite full enough but sometimes it is quite a relief to have a roaring lot of work to do & I feel it to be so now. Moreover we are going to give a conversazione this term in the Eights week that is the Science Club is & being Sec & Treas. [insert] paired in one [end insert] gives me plenty of work. ...

Goulty 39

[first page of letter has not survived, usually Spencer dates his second pages but not in this instance, the letter has been put in sequence by the cataloguer on the basis of contents presumably] ... This morning I was reading Ruskin's [14] lecture which he delivered last term & which has just been published (actually at 1/- on very nice paper!) the English in parts is really beautiful & of course it adds considerably to the enjoyment to remember how he said it. He gives 3 more this term. [13] ... My work gets on pretty well Sidgwick is very enjoyable but very indefinite: he says nothing settled but talks in a general kind of way & it is very difficult to remember however much you may understand it whilst reading the book. I shall read Spencer's "Data of Ethics" as well [15] but not the ethics in Bain. What is your next work? Time is going very quickly & the next two or three years will probably make a good deal of difference to several of us: at all events I hope it will see one thing brought about which will make all the different to two lives

Yr sincere friend


Goulty 40

[first page missing]

May 5. 83 [describes a University formal event attended by the Prince of Wales, and 'persons such as Salisbury, Northcote, Northcrook, Cranbrook, etc' and his excellent views of the ceremony from his balcony - presumably at the Sheldonian Theatre] This week Ruskin begins his lectures again on Modern English art the first next Saturday on "Burne-Jones & Watts" ... [16]

Goulty 41

Coll. Exon

May 13. 83

Dear Howard,

... [discusses Long Vacation plans] The Macs. asked me to go to Scotland this time but I cant as my time is pretty well cut out & what part I am not reading is not likely to be spent far away from one particular spot [17] though the latter may perhaps be a somewhat moveable one: I hope to be home in 3 weeks that is on June 2 to remain at home all that month & then come up here in July & stay till the middle of August then go down to our people in Derbyshire for a fortnight or so whilst somebody is with them & then come up here in September for another hard grind till the London Exam. comes on in fact till Christmas. This is far from being one's beau-ideal of a 'long' but under the present circumstances it appears to be the best thing which I can do. ... [talks of his friend Mackinder's future career plans] I have given up all idea of doing anything in public & am going to be content with the more or less quiet life of a scientific man, knowing if possible some public people but living very quietly myself: you I suppose will be one of the big solicitors but really I always come back to think that after all the best thing is to have a really happy home. ...

Goulty 42

Coll. Exon.

May 27. 83

Dear Howard,

I am two letters in your debt this time: the second was very welcome but kindly excuse my writing more than once as I have been very busy. I have had a slight [?] Exam - the first of my final ones on in Physics: they make us take Exams. in most subjects before we can get to the real one for which we are working: it is not a very important one & i really did very badly principally through not having worked for it. I hope to scrape through as it is rather bad for a scholar to miss Exams. but I certainly shant if they score bad marks as I simply, & very foolishly, made wild shots at questions I knew nothing about & of course was hopelessly & in one or two cases rather comically out of it: they will probably play with me in my viva. One of the horrors of an Oxford Exam. is that you know there is a viva in which you can most delightfully be made a fool of - in public moreover. ...

To change the subject we have been enjoying a most glorious day though I have been in most of the time making arrangements for our conversazione on Friday: we shall have most of the great guns of Oxford there & I think it will be a success: I am rather coming in for autographs as replies to invitations all come to me being Sec. it gives me plenty to do & I shall be hard at it till Friday evening & then if our Dons be sensible it will be good bye to another term. It does help time to fly when the year is so divided up as ours is. ...

Goulty 43

`july 21. 83

Dear Howard,

... This week I have been rather busy: yesterday I was at lunch at our Rector's: [18] though they occupy of course a good high position I should hardly call them 'intellectual' but in the evening I dined with two of our dons: one of them - Byewater [sic] [19] - is supposed to be about the cleverest don in Oxford & is the one Oxford man whom German scholars quote & look up to being supposed to be the only man in Oxford who understands Aristotle. It is really jolly to sit & listen to these men talking & I am by no means sorry to have come up this 'long' if it has only given me the chance of seeing one or two of these. Today I have been for lunch with another don who lives here & who is a great traveller though a most mild & meek looking person. [20] I got launched with the Mrs Don (who is devoted to one beastly little dog & two lovely Persian cats (named Bobbie & Minos!)) in a vivesectionist argument as she is in mortal terror of the disappearance of all pet dogs now we have a a new professor of physiology. The anti-vivesectionists nearly succeeded in throwing out in convocation the bill giving Burden-Sanderson [21] the running of his new labs, it only passed by 3 votes out of nearly 200! ... [final sheet missing again]

Goulty 44

Coll Exon.

Nov. 10. 83

Dear Howard,

I had not time to send you and last night that Mackinder & myself are both ploughed. [22] It is rather vexing but what we really expected after seeing the papers.

Our time has been too much taken up with other things apart from which we have had no help whatsoever in two of our subjects & in one case not been even able for want of apparatus to do the greater part of our practical work while the other we only settled to take up after Christmas.

We have simply been trying to do too much as of course our own subject which we are reading here has necessitated our reading it by far the greater part of the time if we were to keep up with the other men who were spending their whole time at it. Of course once through we should probably have come off well in 'honours'.

However it is over & I am now beginning to read for an exam. here in Chemistry wh. comes off in less than a fortnight & for which I must read hard not having begun yet.

This aft. I have been to a lecture of Ruskin's nominally on Tenniel & Leech but really on wood cuts & things in general. I did not care for it very much as he got back rather into his egotistic style & was down on everybody. He styled Punch "that immortal Periodical" & spoke of the "demonical beauty" of certain objects: he also simply raved against the wilderness of "those buildings erected by the University for the torture of her sons" + [insert] + ie the new schools [end insert][23] - buildings over which a huge sum had been wasted whilst her art Professor was left to languish in a garret.

whilst praising highly Du Maurier's [insert] drawing [end insert] [24] he blamed him for his utter neglect of the Merchant classes of England. The lecture was of course packed & I was unfortunately almost too far off to hear. Next week we have another on "The Hillside - Robson & Copley Fielding". [25] I shall be very thankful when this term is done - we have got 4 weeks yet. ... I really feel too utterly inane to write so will stop: lately at night some of us have been holding discussions which perhaps dont allow us to have as much sleep as is good for us

Yr friend B

Goulty 45

Nov. 17. 83

Dear Howard,

Many thanks for your last long and interesting letter: my letters to you are always I fear exactly the reverse of interesting: I am unfortunately obliged to write between 5 & 7 after having been working hard all day & just before going to dinner which is with myself the time when there is very little left in my head of any description. ... We [Spencer and his Manchester friend 'Allie'] shall probably have breakfast together tomorrow morning. Sundays are usually when there is no special exam. on hand quiet days which I enjoy much. It may be selfish but it is a relief to have one day in the week to yourself & I intend as far as possible to keep it apart from any kind of work throughout my life. I see more & more clearly that for most of us our main work will have to be what is called secular work. We shall have to throw ourselves into the work of trying to do something to alter the condition of the great lower masses in our towns. Have you been reading anything at all of the great amount of writing which has been published lately on the question. Sims letter in the Daily News on "Horrible London" were quite worth reading [26] & doubtless you will have seen them. I want to read "the cry of outcast London" but have not had time yet. Possibly without realizing it we may be drifting on to a great revolution & certainly it will do we younger ones no harm to think of these things & get ready to work for it will very soon come to be our turn to be leaders.

I should be very glad indeed of a little more time to read & think about these things but I am hoping that this will come in a year or two & meanwhile have to be content with getting very partial view on subjects from odd scraps. ...

[The fine weather in Oxford] has often made me want to sit down & draw but I have piously refrained from so doing & gone away to cram up chemical formulae which of all occupations is about the one which I most abhor.

I was very glad to hear from London that I was ploughed in one thing but not weak in another. Of course that one thing is the Moral Science. It has made me determined to read quietly on about an hour a day to make it such a cram as it was this year & then to settle down next summer again to a hard read at the same subjects again. Now I must close ...

Goulty 46

Nov. 25. 83

Dear Howard,

We are in the midst of a wet Sunday ... I am much looking forward to this term coming to an end for though perfectly well in general health I feel rather muddled & have acquired the power of rapidly forgetting anything I read.

Of course you will have heard of poor Harry's missing his London exam. I cant understand it except on the grounds that he has got 'stale' thorough over-reading which is most probably the real state of things. ...

Just now we are having two or three subjects occupying attention here & I wish that my time was freer so as to take more interest in them. In the first place 'vivisection' is on - there is a somewhat strong opposition to any of it under any form (of course the very name of vivisection rather begs the question) being carried on in any varsity building. There is a debate on at the Union next Thursday: a Balliol man moves that the house disapproves of its being practised in any University building. Mackinder will open the opposition to him & there will probably be a good debate. For some things I wish that I had begun speaking at the Union but to do anything there takes up too much time especially as I am trying to get through my course in a year less than the usual time.

Besides this the great subject of the day here or the one which is going to be the great one is the social question - what is to be done with & for the lower classes.

Oxford seems to be once more coming to the front & though at present it is merely being talked about in every college & lectured about we shall have before long some great movement & the best of it is that it is coming in our time & that we shall be able to do our share in the work. [Discusses the University Settlements idea]

Goulty 47

Feb. 4. 84

Dear Howard,

I have just go time to send you a few lines before going to Hall. Mackinder & myself have just come from a lecture by Tylor (author of Primitive Culture) whose name I daresay you will know on "The arts of civilization." He has been dealing with palaeo & neolithic implements: perhaps the most interesting part is the practical when he sits down & shows how these men actually made their implements or at least how they can be made.

... There is a great deal in the way of general literature which one would like to read but cannot possibly do with exams on.

In addition to my ordinary work I am just doing a little original investigation if it may be dignified by any such names it only concerns what in ordinary language would be called a little bug. It is strange how in working at science you get to regard little things as being of great importance at all events for the time being & there is some danger in giving one's life to such work that details will become a ruling passion. Still Englishmen appear to be much less liable to being possessed by such ideas than do Germans more especially.

Tomorrow the old fight of vivisection is being reviewed here when the 'anti' people will do their best to prevent the raising of money to build Prof. Sandersons lab. There seems to be more chance of them succeeding unfortunately as numerous country parsons have been whipped up for the occasion. I trust it wont be many years before Goldwin Smith's idea of only letting Honors [sic] men go on for their MA & thus obtain a vote is carried out. [28] ...

Goulty 48


... The debate in convocation last week on vivisection was very interesting & quite contrary to expectation we won by a large majority. Of course interest centred on the question of vivisection but this question was made far more prominent than it had any right to be since the money was simply voted to build new physiological schools with: Prof Burdon Sanderson neither has nor will have the licence giving him power to vivisect before students. He can only do it for his own private investigations & then only under anaesthetics. Most opposition to so-called vivisection arises from people not understanding the difference between the English and the continental method: doubtless some scientists would not be sorry to adopt the latter in England but then they cant & I hope never will be able to. ...

Goulty 49


... I have just come from another of Tylor's lectures on primitive culture: he has been dealing with the question of order of sequence of stone bronze & iron & has himself arrived at the opinion that in a great many cases at all events the bronze did not precede the iron in the way in which it is ordinarily supposed to have done: however I cant say that I quite see the face of his arguments very clearly which may be due in part to being prejudiced beforehand. ... In haste W.B.S.

Goulty 50

May 14. 84

Dear Howard,

I came in to write to you earlier in the day but feeling even more empty-headed than usual put it off for a little. Our 'schools' are at last definitely fixed of at a date - June 5 - which is some 10 days earlier than we had expected. On the whole I am glad as 10 days reading wont make much difference in an Oxford exam. where beyond a certain point of necessary knowledge it is not mere facts which pay. That this is the case is rather a blessing for myself as I have given a great deal too little time to work directly for the schools. I am one of those fortunate or rather unfortunate persons who is 'supposed to get a first only being better acquainted than they can possibly be with my mental acquirements & deficiencies I must confess to feeling very far indeed from safe & a second though disappointing is quite on the cards.

However 4 weeks today the result will be out & may the powers be propitious as [illegible, looks like hole!] ...

Goulty 52

June 13. 84

Dear Howard

The list is just out & I am very glad to say I have got a first. I had the most enjoyable viva today as Moseley & Sayce [29] simply congratulated me on the "excellence of my work" instead of plying questions. This which is very seldom done together with the fact that I am only the third man who has ever got a first at the end of his third year in Biology makes it a satisfactory ending up here.

However I shall be up next terms as Moseley has offered me a little work to do & also I shall endeavour to get 'pups' to coach to eke out any little store of cash ...

Goulty 53

Early Colne


Dec 8 7 84

Dear Howard,

... I have not written since we met: what with almost more work in Oxford than I could get through & with having to come down suddenly to meet Norman ... my letter writing has been almost nil. ... I had to come down before term was over which made me specially busy in endeavouring to cram into three days a fortnights work. Also the day before leaving was the date of our Science Conversaz. & I spent no less than 16 hours of last Tues. in getting the Museum ready & noticed posted up etc. For a change such work is rather enjoyable ... Just before coming down Prof Moseley whose assistant is leaving at Easter offered me the latter's post which I was only too glad to accept, so now I shall most likely be in Oxford for a year or two longer waiting till something better offers itself & getting at all events very good practise in the meantime. I shall have to superintend the mens work in the laboratory & give courses of lectures as well ...

Goulty 57

March 8.85

Dear Howard,

... In vac. times I have a good deal of Museum work to do - arranging the zoological collections etc - & this vac I shall be especially busy in getting ready for my lectures next term. Lecturing will be a new experience more especially as some of the men in my lectures will be of my own standing. ...

Goulty 65

June 21. 85

Dear Howard,

... We had some little time ago a very valuable anthropological collection given to the varsity & during the last week or two Profs Moseley & Tylor have been superintending the removal of this from S. Kensington & I have been with them. It is a good sized collection - some 15000 objects or so & as each of these requires labelling a considerable amount of work has to be done. The Government people are removing it from S. Kensington Museum but we cant trust them to do the labelling & so have to see to its being done. We three begin in the morning & go on till 5.30 with only a short break for lunch. However it is rather interesting if tiring, work: Tylor himself is of course the best anthropologist in England & a very nice man indeed: I have been much surprised however to find that though of course Comparative Anatomy is Moseley's subject yet he really knows considerably more concerning anthropology than even Tylor: in fact Moseley is a very remarkable man & when brought at all closely into contact with him you soon feel that he is no ordinary man. Of course he has been almost everywhere & this alone gives a man considerable power if only he keeps his eyes open. He was a favourite of Darwin's too though of course very much the latter's junior & like everybody else who ever came near him has the greatest reverence for his 'master'. Moseley however is, I think, too narrow in some ways. He thinks science to be the training for everything for business or profession & even for politics. One evening we had a long talk on this subject & we agreed to differ. It is very difficult to get to know much of him as he is very reserved &, in a way, very shy. ...

Goulty 66

Anatomical Department,



July 2. 85

Dear Howard,

[Talks of holiday plans for Long Vacation in summer] ... Moseley just asked me to go to them where they (his family) are staying in Devonshire for a few days but I fear I cant. ... We have today finished bringing here the Pitt Rivers & now are looking forward to a little rest & quiet for private work W.B.S.


Goulty 69


Aug. 9. 85

Dear Howard,

I am at present reading a certain amount of Geology in view of the Burdett-Coutts scholarship at Oxford. [30] However my time is extremely limited & I have even to beg off 4 days from my work to go in for the Exam. itself. I have undertaken a special amount of work these next two terms haveing [sic] taken charge of all the elementary work - lecturing & practical. However I really enjoy a good deal of work & am getting ready for it by taking a lengthy holiday now.

... I want you to make me a will only perhaps you will require to speak to me about it though it will be a simple affair. I have not very much to leave - only my books which are of some small value & my insurance money (£500). I want to leave everything I have to Lillie. My Father is just lending me some money to publish a book with so if anything happened to me during the next two years (before wh. I cant possibly pay him back & perhaps not for 5 years or so) I should like him to be paid back out of this money. ... This is only a temporary affair to come but as soon as I get a definite post & settle down I shall insure heavily & make a proper will. ...

From this you will see that I am going in a little for publishing.

It will be more than anything else a series of drawings with letterpress descriptive of them. The subject is the "embryology of the chick" & the book will of course be simply for scientific students. Being full of illustrations it will be very expensive work & will sell I hope at 12/- Perhaps I shall publish it in 4 parts at 3/- each. it will cost me about £250-£300 to publish & I intend issuing 1000 copies. Lankester [31] and Moseley are both keen on my doing it & in fact it has been undertaken at their suggestion. ...

Goulty 71

5 Museum Terrace


Oct. 18. 85

Dear Howard,

[Discusses Goulty's move, and gossip about acquaintances] ... As to your remarks some week or two ago on Evolution. If you admit that such has taken place I see no reason why you are not to believe that it has held good altogether. We have not the slightest evidence in favour of the theory that certain [insert] (i.e. several) [end insert] forms were created & from these others have been evolved.

It is not as though certain classes were marked off sharply from one another & could be imagined to be a special creation (or descended from specially created ancestors) apart from all other classes.

Throughout the whole of nature there is simply a great line of animal forms consisting of separate creatures such that when two at long intervals are compared striking differences are seen between them but when, say half a dozen contiguous ones are examined, they are seen to be connected in the closest manner with each other & in such a way that we can only account for their appearance on the supposition that the higher & more specialized has been evolved from the lower & more generalized one.

Ordinary observers only see those which are widely separated from each other & it is really impossible to realize the vastness of the cumulative evidence in favour of evolution (in animals) unless you are more or less intimately acquainted with the details of their structure.

However for all practical purposes the evolution theory is now accepted as fact the differences lie in the question as to how evolution has been brought about. This of course is more correctly called Darwinism - the explanation of the causes - the theory itself has been proposed by several before his time though it was his collocation of facts which placed it on a firm basis.

No one as yet is one whit nearer to the solution of what after all is the main question - How came life on to the earth at all?

When once life or rather living organisms were present, it is impossible to deny that evolution took place & for all practical purposes it is as hard to explain the origin of one as of several living organisms though we have not the slightest evidence in favour of the creation of types while all the evidence at command is strongly against this theory.

I cannot see how anyone can get beyond the idea that at some time & some how "creation" of something took place & of course "creation" presupposes a "creator".

For myself I am quite inclined to admit that "living" must have arisen from "non-living" material: we find no element in "living" matter which is not also present in "non-living" material - the difference lies in the manner & solely in the manner in which the elements are combined together.

This may sound rather cold-blooded & is certainly a theory which would not meet with universal support but yet to me it seems to be a grand one.

External conditions are never the same for two however short periods of time & it may have been that (under certain conditions which may never recur again) that certain elements came together & combined to form, at first an extremely formless substance, endowed with a property which we term "life".

It may even be that there is more than one set of external conditions under which such a combination might take place though it is difficult to imagine this but at all events the material thus produced must have been of the simplest kind & not possessed of any definite organization it must in fact have been of a nature similar to that of the lowest living germs known to us.

However with such a theory as this I scarcely think you will be willing to agree. One thing, in closing, often strikes me & that is the possible identity of what you call - "the will of God" & we  - "the laws of Nature":

Excuse the fragmentary nature of this letter - I have been writing ahead and there is not much sequence.



Goulty 76

29 Nov 85

5 Mus Terr

Dear Howard

[Discusses recent election results] ... Just this last day or two I have heard news of interest to myself but it is not published yet so please keep it quite quiet (I dont intend to tell my people at all). It is simply that Lincoln have decided to give a biology fellowship: unfortunately as far as I am concerned it goes by exam. & being the second only which has been awarded in biology in 25 years goodness knows who will be in for it: fortunately few of our men have gone on with science & done any original work so this will be in my favour as papers may be sent in. However even here I am handicapped as my teaching occupies all my time & prevents me doing any original work now so I shall only have 3 short papers to show. Ray Lankester is examining - he is noted as a very keen examiner but he is very friendly to me always.

Another exam. is enough to make me mad & especially one in which so much hangs: I cant even read for it & dont feel at all fit for one as the term is hard work. It comes on I believe just after the term so I shant get down probably till Xmas eve. The result is going to be out Jan. 8 Moseley tells me. I have as yet only heard the news privately &, though I have a good chance of it, dont intend to tell people more than can be helped as if beaten I should much prefer them to know nothing about it. You will understand. [bottom of page cut away, whether by Spencer (or Goulty) or some later editor, it is clear it did contain something which someone preferred others not to read, other letters are also treated in the same way]

I cant help hoping he will chose the latter as we should in some ways be awkwardly placed. Have you any idea what Mr Robertson thinks on this matter. ...


Today (Monday) I am going up as Moseley's guest (the man he had just invited has fallen ill suddenly - luckily for me - so he has just asked me to take his place) to the Royal Society dinner in Willis' rooms. Huxley makes his retiring speech & Stokes (the vice President) his inaugural one. [32]

Goulty 77

10 Dec. 85

5 Mus. Terr.

Dear Howard,

[Discussion of politics] ... I cant exactly say when I shall be down north but perhaps it may be very soon: I rather think of running away from here very soon being rather tired of work & yet having a lot which I must get through this Vac. The Lincoln affair does not come on till January (3rd week I fancy) so I shall read hard for it: in health I'm perfectly well but just in that condition mentally in which I cant do any real good so I shall most likely be down soon & begin to read after a day or two's vac. [Discusses private arrangements to meet and for Spencer to see Lillie] ...

Goulty 78


Jan 28. 86

Dear Howard,

The exam. is over I am glad to say: it was only a short one from Monday till Wed. & not taking all the subjects I had no paper on Tuesday in fact I only took 3. The papers only lead 7 questions in & an essay: out of the former I did 2 1/2 - in one paper only 1. Whether the examiner will like this kind of work remains to be seen. I fancy that I was the best man in though my paper work was far from what I should like it to have been.

Possibly the result may be out this Friday aft. anyway I'll send you work as soon as possible & will even waste 6d on you if the result be a good one (i.e. favourable). I am at work again here now though I should have relished a day or two after the thing was over. An exam. done with always makes me feel more or less disinclined for renewed exertions.

Supposing I enter for this further thing in a month which is somewhat doubtful then - that over - I shall actually have had my very last exam. The thought is almost overpowering & indicates a state of feeling new to this generation & utterly unknown to our forefathers. [Discusses politics again] ...

Goulty 79

Jan 31. 86

Dear Howard,

This is just a line to say that I believe I have got the Lincoln fellowship: the actual election by an old custom takes place in chapel tomorrow Monday morning but I have heard privately that the examiners have sent in my name only, so unless the dons have any special objection, which I believe not to be the case, I shall be elected. It is a relief & I am deeply grateful for the start which it gives me.

All through the last few years I have met with wonderful good fortune - first Owens then Exeter then this place with Moseley & lastly this affair & now I can only wish that you may meet with success as well

Yrs ever


Goulty 80

Feb 9. 86

Anatomical Department,



Dear Howard,

Seeing that I have got some 50 letters or so to be acknowledged perhaps you wont be very angry if you only get a short one (as usual)

Thank you very much for your kindness in this matter: I am much relieved now that it is all over & I can be quiet for a little time though of course my work at the Museum is going on as usual. I've had a busy week - 6 dinners in succession which is rather too much of a good thing also a very bad cold so that I have begged off yesterday & this morning, having to expend a good part of my energy in attending to my olfactory again.

On Monday evening [insert] morning [end insert] I received at 8.30 a.m. an epistle from the Rector of Lincoln [33] telling me I had just been elected & asking me to dine there the same evening to meet some of my fellow-fellows, which of course I did.

"Common room" is quite different from any other kind of life but they appear to be a very happy family at Lincoln & very unconventional. I hope it wont be long before you let me give you an evening in an Oxford "common room". Possibly you may'nt [sic] exactly know what this is however. It is only the room to which the dons adjourn after hall & where dessert is served & the flowing bowl goes round. In ancient days it was of course the delight of a fellows heart but such times are gone by & very little drinking & much more reading is now done. Lincoln only has 10 fellows & only 7 of these in residence which I much prefer to a larger number. [Briefly discusses politics again] ...

Goulty 81

Feb. 27. 86

Anatomical Department,



Dear Howard,

[Discusses Goulty and Bourne's ill-health] ... I've just been a good long walk with the Moa (ie. Prof Moseley) & we have been speaking about my going abroad. I must if possible get into the tropics & get some idea of life outside England; also, as Prof Lankester wrote & told me, I ought to get some time away from teaching in which to work quietly & think. This fellowship of course gives me the chance of doing this & Moseley will keep open my place for me while I'm away, in fact he suggested doing so to me. [returns to subject of ill-health of others] ...

Goulty 83

March 18. 86


Dear Howard,

I took you at your word & did not write during the exam - or previous to it very much I fear.

Thank goodness it is over & I must confess to feeling fagged having had more work altogether than I care for - that is more cramming work of the nature of the exam. necessitated a huge cram seeing that I have only had a very short space in which to read. On the whole I have certainly done badly & unfortunately worst of all in my own subject & seeing that Moseley is one of the examiners it will run hard with me & I shall not in the least be surprised at missing it.

This evening I am enjoying chiefly the feeling of having put behind me my last exam. For 13 years I have ground pretty hard for exams of one kind & another: now comes the work of recovering from & shaking off the cramming system & setting down to some real earnest work. If they do nothing else exams certainly make you appreciate more fully the delights of real original work.

Firs of all comes my intended & begun work [insert] for publicity purposes [end insert] on the development of the chick - a book for teaching purposes & side by side with this work a hard study of French & German. I feel utterly ashamed of my complete ignorance of anything except my own subject & feel it still more keenly know that I am thrown in Lincoln common room into contact with men who in different ways really are scholars.

Common room life really is enjoyable & quite unlike - at all events in Lincoln - the ideas given of it in ordinary books in which it may be mentioned. However some day I hope you will see what it is like for yourself & be better able to judge of it. I go into rooms in Lincoln in about a week from now after which please address me at the college: though very shortly after this I intend to come down ...

Goulty 84

March 20. 86

Dear Howard,

This is only a line to say I have missed the Burdett Coutts. Of course I'm sorry but not in the least surprised as it was not my kind of exam. & I have really had far too much to do this past year. Anyway no more exams. in this life.

Yrs in haste


Goulty 85

May. 14. 86

Dear Howard,

Many apologies are due had we not agreed to drop such things though it is a rather one-sided advantage & arrangement. I have been very busy indeed with different things since coming up & am beginning to get settle [sic] down in my new quarters.

The rooms are comfortable enough save the bed room which is so small that I cant get room for a bath as well as a bad & have [insert] am [end insert] obliged to take the latter in my sitting room. The latter is curiously enough the nearest room to Exeter which is not 4 yards from my windows. It is a good size & I could make it very nice were I going to stay in it but it is only a temporary abode till my permanent rooms are ready. The latter will be very nice indeed & my only fear is that they will be noisy as the Turl is so narrow. I look out on to some old fashioned houses opposite & at the one end of the street is the Christopher Wren tower of All Saints & at the other Trinity College across the Broad.

It is a curious sensation being in college again & this time as a fellow.

I dine regularly in Hall of course at High table & much enjoy it. Most often only 3 or 4 dons are present & we chat quietly - as a general rule only on the topics of the day - "shop" being nominally barred though I introduce science to a certain extent. My occupation is quite foreign to that of every other fellow but i find them extremely nice. Also I am considerably the youngest in standing. ...

Goulty 86

May 25. 86

Dear Howard,

I have had a busy week once more & have been rather fagged. Dining out is enjoyable but I find it rather tiring: on Wed. I was at a Christ Church 'fellows': a select party of only 6. The man himself is somewhat of an epicure & keen on his "best Burgundy" & '47 Port. I have quite given up all hope of being able to distinguish one kind of port from another ... [discusses one fellow whose religious beliefs had prevented him working at Christ Church] On Sunday I was dining at New Coll. the best High table I have yet dined at. I had a long discussion after dinner in comm room with one of their chief dons on the subject of specialism maintaining that this was absolutely essential. ... Fortunately as a science man one is allowed - even expected - to be energetic to a certain extent. I have just come in also from a dinner at the Rectors. It was rather a select party with Max Muller & Mrs & Miss. the Hon. Brodrick of Merton. Cannon [sic] Bright & a few others. [34]

Fortunately at dinner I had charge of a niece of the Rectors a delightful girl & so much enjoyed what might have been a formidable meal I was much struck with the great hubbub of conversation which arose the moment we sat down & never ceased the whole evening: also it bore witness to the truth of the statement that general conversation is rare in England. Everyone spoke to his or her neighbour with of course the exception of Merry who every now & then drew a number in very cleverly & then having brought people together for a little let them separate into pairs again.

I was much interested in watching & in talking to my neighbour.

After dinner Miss Max Muller sang Max M. accompanying her: he seems to play very well indeed. I shall gradually get to know people but have scarcely time enough to do this line of work in & further feel dreadfully young. ...

I am hard at work day & night on the lizard's eye & hope to make a good thing of it: I shall have a paper ready for the Royal Society before long now. I trust you will excuse my not writing but it is simply my work in this way & having to spend all my spare time in going out which prevents me doing more in the way of writing. ...

Goulty 87

[first page missing] June 12 86  ... Thursday I was up in town for the purpose of reading a paper at the Royal Society. It is a strange place - no one seems to take much interest in anything & they rush things in a most amazing way. [36] I took the opportunity of seeing the [Royal] Academy. It is a very disappointing thing with only one or two pictures which you really care to spend much time with. Burne-Jones 'Mer-maid' is really I think far & away the most noticeable work ...

Goulty 89

Lincoln Coll.

Oct 18. 86

Dear Howard,

I was very sorry to come away from Woodley without seeing you again but got so busy in different ways that I had no time to see anyone. An article I have lately been writing has taken so long that I have done nothing else but look after this & its illustrations in my spare moments. Term beginning also makes me very busy. We are putting up a new building as a temporary laboratory over which I shall practically have charge & this also means so much further work. ... [describes the bad weather] We are just about to try & get our statutes changed here at Lincoln if which attempt be successful it will be possible for fellows to marry which will be a relief to more than one person upon this worthy foundation. However the change is only mooted as yet & very far from being accomplished: still there are a majority in favour of it & they may carry the point: after this first stage the affair has to receive the sanction of the Privy Council & after that august body has done its worst the mutilated remains must lie on the table of each house for I think 40 days so that heaven only knows what may be the final result. Each college has a visitor who can pretty much put a veto on such things - ours is King the Bishop of Lincoln [35] & his mind being exceeding ecclesiastical & high church may revolt from the idea of unchurching the college in which case it will be all up. However I am much looking forward to a change coming & trust it will. ...

Goulty 90

Oct 24. 86

Lincoln College


Dear Howard,

... I have been having a specially busy week, having undertaken in a weak moment to colour by hand 1500 lithographic plates illustrative of an article I am just publishing. It has been a ponderous task - Lillie has taken 500 the rest I have done myself "after 5 o'clock" literally. However a sabbath intervened on my behalf & I have this minute finished the last. By good luck together with together with Moseley's kindness I have been able to get out an article which is attracting some little attention amongst Biologists: it concerns the presence of an extra eye in Lizards on the top of their heads & is of interest from an evolution point of view explaining the presence of a most mysterious part of the brain in all the higher animals even ourselves. Fancy our remote ancestors marching about on all fours with a great eye staring straight at the sky above. In  a short time I am to give an evening lecture at the Royal Institution in town on the subject which same is or will be cause of considerable perturbation to my spirit. ...

Goulty 91

Nov 16 86

Lincoln College


Dear Howard,

Before this you will have received my copy of testimonial which may possibly have taken you somewhat by surprise. However my standing in the post is merely a form as my chances in face of so many senior men are practically nil. It would be a great relief if I had any chance but the post is regarded in "scientific circles" as a fore-gone conclusion in favour of a certain man who is now Professor in New Zealand. There seems extremely little chance of anything + coming up in our line & I may have to go on dragging out a miserable existence as demonstrator for goodness only knows how long. I am exceedingly glad to say however that it seems likely that our statutes will be changed in the course of the next few months enabling us to marry - at the expense of course of diminishing their value which is not cheerful but better than the present state of things. ... Should New Zealand become vacant as it may then I shall stand for that also as far as I see at present - simply out of fear that I shall have to wait too long in England. The number of applicants for this place is huge & for future places will of course be greater still.

... I could not possibly get down to see Marion today being engaged teaching at the Museum the whole time Tuesdays Thursd. & Sats are my busiest days as my practical class goes on all day & I must be there having sole charge of it. ...

Goulty 92

Dec. 6. 86

Lincoln College


Dear Howard,

There is very little news to report of any kind. Nothing is definitely settled about Melbourne as yet. The English Electors have met & chosen 5 out of the rest whose names they have placed in order & sent off to Melbourne - with testimonials - recommending the one placed first for election: it remains to be seen whether the electors out there will take the English recommends or will choose another out of the 5. At present the matter is a secret & nothing is to be known as to the order, of course we know the 5 of whom I am one.

Three out of them are already professors one in Dunedin (New Zealand) another in Sydney & another in Dublin so they have a certain amount of choice. [37] ... A few days ago I went up to see Sir Graham Bony the agent general for Victoria to be viewed etc. He looked as much as to say "who the --- are you, sir" when I went into the room but restrained his feelings & simply enquired my age.

Certainly I shall be extremely lucky if it falls to my lot.

If by any chance it does so it means being married & going out at once which is not exactly what I should chose but it apparently is either this or nothing as far as I can see & for several reasons I am anxious to get away from here.

We are not saying anything about it yet as all is so uncertain & of course I have no right to think I shall get the post anymore than any other of the 5 & really as far as age & claims go considerably less than the others. I dont think we shall know till the middle of January.

I hope Dizie made my apologies to Marion for not seeing her in Oxford, but it was impossible being one of my demonstrating days when my class is on morning and aft. ...

... I would give much now to have had a real classical training: it would be of great value & I feel the want of it more & more.

In perhaps 10 days I shall be in Manchester ...

Yrs W.B.S.

Goulty 93

July 10 1900 [38]


My dear Howard,

Many thanks for your letter. Being so far away from England I had almost given up the idea of the F.R.S. but am very glad to have it. As you say 40 is a terrible age but personally I dont feel any different in the matter of age than I did 20 years ago and hope to be able to get through a good deal of work yet. ... Australia offers a big field for work especially in the lines which I like best - zoology and anthropology. Gillen &  myself have plans - as yet rather hazy but perhaps before long they will be more defined - of an expedition amongst the untamed tribes lying between the centre of Australia & Port Darwin in the north. [39] This however means time & money & before starting I must get our National Museum into order. All my spare time during the past year has been devoted to the removing & rearrangement of the collection which is a big one - quite as big as if not bigger than the one in Manchester & comprises zoology, geology & ethnology.

There is nothing like trying to arrange a big collection for revealing to you your colossal ignorance: when you sit down to write a descriptive label then you begin to realize how defective your knowledge is. I dont know how you find matter but what constantly strikes me most forcibly, is that I can get up a given subject well enough but that it all goes out of my head with marvellous rapidity so soon as ever I tackle another one.

It used not to be thus but, while I can still remember quite well things learned at Owens or Oxford, what I now learn unless in my memory is constantly refreshed seem to evaporate and all that remains is a knowledge of where the information was derived from & a capacity of quickly re-acquiring it. ...

[Page 2, I dont normally note pagination, but in this case as it repeats some of the above ...]

July 16

... [repeats material about Spencer and Gillen expedition] Australia has at all events the great advantage that there is no end of pioneer work to be done & work which, in anthropology at least, must be done soon if it is to be done at all. There is a great charm in pioneer work which quite compensates for the loss of many advantages which are of course absent in a new country though one cannot help at times feeling how much one misses in being so far away from the centres of civilization. ...

Aug 20

If this letter does not go soon it will follow the path of sending others which have remained unfinished & ended a miserable existence in the w.p.b. [wastepaper basket] ...


[1] Walter Baldwin Spencer (1860-1929) Born in Lancashire and educated at Manchester Art School, Owens College Manchester and lastly Exeter College Oxford from 1881. He started to study medicine but diverting to studying natural sciences where he worked with H.N. Moseley [qv]. He also attended Tylor's lectures [qv]. He graduated in 1884 and was appointed demonstrator in Moseley's laboratory where he carried out research into the pineal eye of reptiles. In 1885 he assisted Tylor and Moseley in transferring the Pitt-Rivers collection to Oxford. He was elected a fellow of Lincoln College in 1886. In 1887 Spencer moved to Melbourne, Australia where he became the foundation professor of biology at the university. He remained in this post until his retirement in 1919 but he is better known for his anthropological work in central Australia with his partner Francis James Gillen. He died in Tierra del Fuego on a fieldtrip. See his ODNB entry but see also his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

[2] (William) Howard Goulty (?1860-after 1935, possibly 1957) Schoolfriend of Spencer's at the Old Trafford School, he founded a successful Manchester legal firm in partnership with Benjamin Goodfellow. [Based upon Mulvaney & Calaby, 1985: 24 and The London Gazette 5 November 1935

[3] Charles Arnold White (1858-1931) Chief Justice, Madras High Court, Advocate-General of Madras Presidency from 1898-1899. He was born in Bowdon, Cheshire and educated at New College, Oxford, graduating in 1881. He was called to the bar in 1883. He presumably was an acquaintance of Spencer's from the north west. He was made a Knight Batchelor in 1900.

[4] Rienzi by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), first published in 1835.

[5] Ernest Maltravers by Bulwer-Lytton, first published in 1837.

[6] Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) Poet and aesthete.

[7] Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley (1825-1889), composer, organist and musicologist, he became Professor of Music in 1854 as well as being vicar of St Michael's College at Tenbury Wells.

[8] Halford John Mackinder (1861-1947) Geographer. He studied natural sciences with Spencer under Henry Nottidge Moseley. He was President of the Oxford Union in 1883. His ODNB entry says 'in 1880 Mackinder was elected to a junior studentship in physical science at Christ Church, Oxford, for five years. He studied under Henry Moseley in the laboratories at the university museum and gained a first-class degree in natural science (1883). In his fourth year at Oxford, Mackinder read modern history, curious to discover whether ideas on evolution, which had dominated his studies of the natural world, could be applied to human development. He was placed only in the second class (1884), not least because he was simultaneously preparing to compete for the Burdett-Coutts scholarship in geology, to which he was elected in 1884, and studying anthropology and economics. Mackinder was active at the Oxford Union, and was elected its treasurer, secretary, and then president in 1883. He was also a member of the university's junior scientific society, its war games club, and rifle volunteers. In 1885 Mackinder began to read law, and in 1886 he was called to the bar from the Inner Temple.'

[9] Philip[pe] Joseph Hartog (1864-1947) Assistant Lecturer in Chemistry at Owens College, Manchester, later Registrar of the University of London. He taught Spencer at Owens College.

[10] Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900), The Methods of Ethics (1874). Lecturer in Classics, Trinity College, Cambridge

[11] ?Alexander Bain (1818-1903) Scottish philosopher, from 1860 the Regius Chair of Logic and the Regius Chair of English Literature at the University of Aberdeen. It is not clear which work of his Spencer was reading.

[12] Comparative Anatomy

[13] John Ruskin gave a series of lectures on The Art of England in 1883, digital copies are available.

[14] John Ruskin (1819-1900), art critic, from 1869 the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University of Oxford.

[15] Herbert Spencer, The Data of Ethics published in 1879

[16] Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898) & George Frederic Watts (1817-1904)

[17] There are hints in the letter that Spencer may have fallen in love with someone in Manchester, it was probably it is his later wife, Mary Elizabeth (Lillie) Bowman.

[18] John Prideaux Lightfoot (1803-1887), clergyman who served as Rector of Exeter College from 1854 until his death. a Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University from 1862 to 1866. He was the President of the Oxford Architectural Society (later the Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society) from November 1854 to November 1855. His second wife was named Louisa.

[19] Ingram Bywater (1840-1914), in 1863 he was elected to an open fellowship at Exeter College and in 1884 he was appointed to a new Readership in Greek. He became Regius Professor of Greek at the University of Oxford, 1893-1908.

[20] This does sound rather like Henry Nottidge Moseley who was a fellow of Exeter and a very mild and meek looking man who had travelled abroad extensively, most recently with the HMS Challenger expedition and then to the United States. However, as from 1881 Moseley was appointed to succeed George Rolleston as Linacre professor of human and comparative anatomy, it seems therefore that Spencer must have known Moseley better than this letter suggests (if he was the mild looking don he lunched with).

[21] John Scott Burdon Sanderson (1828-1905), pathologist and physiologist, first Waynflete professor of physiology at the University of Oxford (he was one of the men that succeeded Rolleston), appointed in November 1882.

[22] Ploughed: OED: trans. colloq. (orig. University slang). To reject (a candidate) as not reaching the required standard, esp. the pass standard, in an examination; to fail to reach the required standard in (an examination, etc.).

[23] Examination Schools see here

[24] George du Maurier (1834-1896) Cartoonist, who often published in Punch.

[25] Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding (1787-1855) and possibly Horatio Gordon Robley (1840-1930)?

[26] George Robert Sims (1847-1922) Journalist, according to wikipedia 'He also contributed numerous articles from 1879 to 1883 about the bad condition of the poor in London's slums in the Sunday Dispatch, Daily News and other papers.'

[27] W.C. Preston ' 'The Bitter Cry of Outcast London: An inquiry into the condition of the abject poor' 1883

[28] Goldwin Smith (1823-1910) Historian and journalist, he published a pamphlet 'The reorganization of the University of Oxford' in 1868. He held the Regius professorship of Modern History from 1858-1866. It is clear from the Rolleston papers that Rolleston was also heavily influenced by Smith.

[29] Archibald Henry Sayce (1846-1933) Orientalist and philologist. Deputy professor of comparative philology.

[30] Burdett-Coutts scholarship: in 2009 the following was published about it: 'The Mathematical and Physical Sciences Divisional Board proposes to award the Burdett-Coutts Prize in Trinity Term 2009. The Prize, the value of which will probably be in the region of £450, will be awarded to the candidate (or, exceptionally, two candidates) who, having read for Geology or Earth Sciences in the Honour School of Earth Sciences, not having exceeded twelve terms from matriculation, and having passed the Part A examinations necessary for the degree of BA in Geology or for continuation to complete the MESc in Earth Sciences, is adjudged by the Standing Committee most worthy to receive it, taking into account performance in the Part A Final Honour School. The prize money is to be spent on travel, attendance at a conference, or some other purpose connected with the study of geology to be approved by the Professor of Geology.' Presumably the prize had similar qualifications in 1885 though the prize money may have been lower.

[31] Edwin Ray Lankester (1847-1929), fellow at Exeter College from 1872, in 1882 Regius professor of natural history at Edinburgh, but resigned and was reappointed to the chair of zoology at University College, London, he was  Linacre professor of comparative anatomy from 1891.

[32] Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) Professor of natural history at the Royal School of Mines, President of the Royal Society from 1883 to 1885.  George Gabriel Stokes (1819-1903) Lucasian professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge, president of the Royal Society from 1885.

[33] William Walter Merry (1835-1918) classicist, who had been rector of Lincoln College from 1884.

[34] Friedrich Max Müller (1823–1900), Professor of Comparative Philology and Fellow of All Souls & Mrs Georgina Adelaide Muller, the name of his daughter is not known. the Hon. George Charles Brodrick (1831-1903) historian, Warden of Merton, Canon William Bright (1824-1901) Canon of Christ Church and Regius professor of ecclesiastical history.

[35] Edward King (1829-1910)

[36] Spencer became a Fellow of the Royal Society aged 40 in 1900.

[37] Alfred Cort Haddon [Dublin]

[38] This is the last 'full' letter from Spencer to Goulty kept in the Pitt Rivers Museum Spencer papers. It is clear from this letter that Spencer continued to write to Goulty between 1886 and 1900 (and maybe also after 1900) but these letters were either not kept (or copies of those letters were not kept or made) or that they were not considered interesting enough to send with the rest to the Pitt Rivers Museum.

[39] These plans turned out to be their 1901-2 Expedition which travelled between Adelaide and Borroloola.

Further Reading

D.J. Mulvaney and J.H. Calaby 1985 'So Much that is New': Baldwin Spencer 1860-1929, A biography'  Melbourne University Press

PDF of 'Walter Baldwin Spencer and the Pitt Rivers Museum' by Alison Petch (Journal of Museum Ethnography, no.21 (March 2009), pp. 254-265

Transcribed and written by AP October 2012

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