A man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather. If there was an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling it would rather be a man — a man of restless and versatile intellect — who not content with an equivocal success in his own sphere of activity, plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them with aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice.

T. H. Huxley (1825-1895) English biologist [Thomas Henry Huxley]
Reply to Samuel Wilberforce, Oxford Evolution Debate (30 Jun 1860)

As quoted in Leonard Huxley (ed.), Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley F.R.S (1900).

Bp. Wilberforce (1805-1873), during a debate, asked Huxley "whether he was descended from an ape on his grandmother's side or his grandfather's." No precise transcript was made at the time, so there are various accounts of Huxley's answer.

Variants:

  • Quoted in Alan L. Mackay, Harvest of a Quiet Eye (1977): "If the question is put to me would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means of influence and yet who employs these faculties and that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion, I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape."
  • Quoted in Mrs. Isabella Sidgwick, "A Grandmother's Tales," Macmillan's Magazine (Oct 1898): "The Bishop rose, and in a light scoffing tone, florid and he assured us there was nothing in the idea of evolution; rock-pigeons were what rock-pigeons had always been. Then, turning to his antagonist with a smiling insolence, he begged to know, was it through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey? On this Mr Huxley slowly and deliberately arose. A slight tall figure stern and pale, very quiet and very grave, he stood before us, and spoke those tremendous words — words which no one seems sure of now, nor I think, could remember just after they were spoken, for their meaning took away our breath, though it left us in no doubt as to what it was. He was not ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor; but he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used great gifts to obscure the truth. No one doubted his meaning and the effect was tremendous. One lady fainted and had to carried out: I, for one, jumped out of my seat; and when in the evening we met at Dr Daubeney's, every one was eager to congratulate the hero of the day."
  • [After a defense of Darwin's work.]  "I would rather be the offspring of two apes than be a man and afraid to face the truth."
Added on 18-Aug-11 | Last updated 18-Aug-11
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