Typing monkeys: Where did they come from?

Wesley R. Elsberry (welsberr@inia.cls.org)
Tue, 26 Oct 1999 03:01:31 -0500 (CDT)

I've been trying to track down the origin of one of the common
metaphors in the evolution/creation discussion. Who came up
with the typing monkeys on a mission to reproduce works of

The first firm reference I have found is a quote of Sir Arthur
Eddington, who invokes typing monkeys producing all the books
in the British Museum as an illustration of the futility of
chance in discussion of thermodynamics. That dates back to

A variety of anti-evolutionary pages attribute typing monkeys
to Julian Huxley or to Julian's grandfather, Thomas Henry
Huxley. It seems that each such source has some difference
in the tale told. A common theme is that TH Huxley deployed
the analogy against Bishop Sam Wilberforce in 1860.

I'd like to see a firm reference to establish that TH Huxley
used the metaphor in 1860. In searching through essays online
and Huxley's autobiography, I've been unable to find even one
instance of "typewriter", much less any development or report
of the metaphor we know so well now. Additionally, the history
of the typewriter as given by "Encarta Online" indicates that
in 1860 all that were out there were prototype machines made
by inventors, and that the first successful typewriter produced
was the Scholes, Glidden, and Soule' machine manufactured by
Remington in 1873. An orator of TH Huxley's caliber would
have been taking a big risk in using as the basis of a piece
of rhetoric a technology that was not yet well-incorporated
into the culture. "What's a typewriter?" would have been the
all-too-common reaction in 1860, or at least according to
the picture Encarta paints.