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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Sir E. Ray Lankester (1847–1929)
 
THE RIGHT HONORABLE THOMAS HENRY HUXLEY was the seventh child of George Huxley, himself a seventh child, and was born on the 4th of May, 1825, at Ealing, near London. His father was one of the masters in a large semi-public school at that place, kept by a Dr. Nicholson. We know very little of this father, and Huxley himself in a brief autobiographical sketch has nothing to tell of him except that he passed on to his son “an inborn faculty for drawing, a hot temper, and a tenacity of purpose which unfriendly observers sometimes called obstinacy.” Of his mother he tells us somewhat more. He inherited from her his extremely black hair and eyes, his sallow complexion, and (as he thinks) rapidity of thought and mother wit. His school days (passed presumably in the school at which his father was a master) left on Huxley only a painful impression. He speaks of those who were over the boys “caring about as much for their moral and intellectual welfare as if they were baby-farmers.” When he was twelve or thirteen, he wished to become a mechanical engineer; but a medical brother-in-law (Dr. Salt) took him in hand, and he commenced at this early age the study of medicine. Eventually he went to Charing Cross Hospital, and passed the first M. B. examination of the University of London. He read hard all kinds of literature,—novels, philosophy, history. The one of his teachers who really interested him, and for whom he cherished ever after a warm regard, was Mr. Wharton Jones, lecturer on physiology, and surgeon-oculist.  1
  Stern necessity compelled young Huxley, as soon as his medical course was over, to seek at once, even before he was one-and-twenty, some post or employment. We know nothing of his relatives at this time, nor to what extent they assisted him. Apparently he stood alone and decided for himself. At the suggestion of a fellow-student, now Sir Joseph Fayrer, Huxley in 1846 applied for admission to the Medical Service of the Navy. In two months more he was examined and admitted, and was in attendance at the naval hospital at Haslar under the care of that fine old naturalist and Arctic voyager, Sir John Richardson.  2
  Sir John Richardson took note of young Huxley, and instead of sending him off to the fevers of the Gold Coast, procured him the post of assistant surgeon on the surveying ship Rattlesnake, under Captain Owen Stanley, who had expressed a wish to have a surgeon who took some interest in science. The four years spent by Huxley on the Rattlesnake, chiefly off the coast of Australia, were fine training for him, not only as a naturalist but as a man. He had ample time to read, and laid in the foundations of that vast store of literary knowledge which so often astonished his scientific colleagues in later years. He also studied the anatomy and physiology of the transparent oceanic forms—jelly-fish, salpæ, pelagic mollusks, and worms—with irrepressible ardor and determination; not so much with the expectation of opening a career in science for himself, as with the desire of satisfying his own curiosity and exercising his intellectual faculties. One of his most interesting studies (still quoted with respect)—namely, that on the reproduction of Pyrosoma, the transparent phosphorescent Ascidian—was carried out in his cabin at night, with only a tallow dip to illumine his microscope, whilst a lively sea caused the ship to roll freely.  3
  The Rattlesnake returned to England at the end of the year 1850. Huxley found that the scientific papers he had sent home had already made him famous. By the aid of those who valued the promise given by his published work, he was allowed by the Admiralty for three years to draw pay as a navy surgeon whilst devoting himself to the working up of the results of his observations when at sea. In 1851 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1852 received one of the Royal medals of the society. In 1853, however, he was ordered to proceed again to active service, and boldly took the alternative course of retiring from the naval service. He found himself without professional employment or other resource, but trusted to his pen. For a year or so he worked as a journalist, treating scientific and literary themes in the weeklies and quarterlies, and still finding energy to carry on scientific investigations in histology and in the anatomy of microscopic organisms. His opportunity came in 1854, through the appointment of his friend Edward Forbes to the chair of natural history in Edinburgh. Thus was set free the post of lecturer on natural history at the Royal School of Mines, which, together with a special post of “naturalist to the Survey,” was offered to Huxley by the director of the Geological Survey and Royal School of Mines, Sir Henry de la Bèche.  4
  Huxley accepted this post, worth £800 a year, with the intention of resigning it for one related to physiology whenever such should offer. He declared he had no interest in “fossils,” and in later years said: “I am afraid there is very little of the genuine naturalist in me. I never collected anything, and species-work was always a burden to me. What I cared for was the architectural and engineering part of the business, the working out the wonderful unity of plan in the thousands and thousands of diverse living constructions, and the modifications of similar apparatus to serve diverse ends.” However, Huxley held this post for thirty-one years, and soon turned his attention to the fossils he had at first despised. Amongst his most valuable scientific writings are those which embody his discoveries as regards fossil animals, fishes, reptiles, and mammals.  5
  There is no doubt that Huxley was fortunate to obtain at the age of twenty-seven a first-rate post, worth nearly a thousand a year, in London, and unburdened with any excessive duties. He had to give during winter (October to end of February) a course of lectures on five days of the week, and he had to attend in his study at the Museum in Jermyn Street; but he had not the cares of a laboratory nor of a collection to fritter away his time. Though he had devoted disciples, he produced no pupils in the sense in which the German professor produces them. He carried out his researches alone, with his own hands, as he had done when at sea; and no younger men were the objects of his care, or were inspired and directed in his workshop. Consequently he was able to arrange the employment of his day in his own way. He wrote largely for the press upon such topics as belonged to his branch of science; he lectured frequently in other places besides Jermyn Street; he took an active and important part in various government commissions, to which his official position rendered it proper that he should be appointed. A favorite audience for him to address was that of the Royal Institution, where the members and their friends, ladies as well as gentlemen, are accustomed to have the latest discoveries in science expounded to them both by afternoon and evening lectures. Though it is incontestably established by his own and others’ testimony that Huxley was at first an unattractive lecturer, he gradually developed a marvelous power of lucid exposition and firm biting eloquence. I should say that this had not attained its full development until he was about forty years of age (in 1865), and that his written style developed pari passu with that of his oral discourse.  6
  As soon as he was appointed to his post in Jermyn Street, Huxley married the lady to whom he had become engaged in 1847 at Sydney, Miss Henrietta O. Heathorn, who survived him.  7
  Soon after he returned from the voyage of the Rattlesnake he made the acquaintance of Charles Darwin in London, and became a firm friend of his, and of the botanist Hooker. Tyndall he met first in a railway carriage en route for the meeting of the British Association at Ipswich in 1851, and there and then commenced a warm and lasting friendship. Huxley, Hooker, and Tyndall became a triumvirate directing and determining the official side of scientific life in London, operating through the Royal Society, the Royal Institution, the Athenæum Club, and the press; influencing and guiding not only popular opinion, but also such scanty patronage and employment of scientific men as the British government permits itself.  8
  For the purposes of a brief review, Huxley’s life, after his return from his voyage in 1850 at the age of twenty-five, may be divided into the four decennia 1850–60, 1860–70, 1870–80, 1880–90, followed by the five years 1890–95 which bring us to his death. In the first of these Huxley established his reputation as a comparative anatomist, and its close found him thoroughly in harness as a palæontologist no less than a microscopist, the determined exponent of new views in zoölogical science, and with the ambition clearly before him of displacing both the personal influence and the loose philosophic teachings of Richard Owen, twenty years his senior and enjoying great popular and social authority. At the close of this decade appeared the ‘Origin of Species’ by Darwin, and a new activity developed in Huxley as the defender and exponent of Darwin’s views. On the very day after its publication, in November 1859, owing to a fortunate chance Huxley’s was the pen which reviewed the ‘Origin of Species’ in the Times. In 1860 he gave a Friday evening lecture on ‘Species Races and their Origin’ at the Royal Institution; and at the Oxford meeting of the British Association had his famous encounter with Samuel Wilberforce, then Bishop of Oxford, who made a gross and foolish attack upon Huxley individually in reference to his contention, in opposition to Owen, that there was less difference in structure between man and the higher apes than there is between the higher apes and the lower monkeys.  9
  Huxley was up to this date but little known outside scientific circles. Henceforward he was recognized in London society as a leader of men in science, and a dangerous swordsman to challenge in a public arena. In the winter of the same year he gave six evening lectures to workingmen on ‘The Relation of Man to the Lower Animals’—which appeared later, in 1863, as an illustrated volume entitled ‘Man’s Place in Nature.’ In the same year, 1863, he again addressed six lectures to workingmen, on ‘Our Knowledge of the Causes of the Phenomena of Organic Nature,’ which were subsequently published from a short-hand reporter’s transcript. This second course, like those which had preceded them, were attended by a densely packed audience of workingmen, who paid the nominal fee of sixpence only, for admission to the course. Never was there a more rapt and enthusiastic audience, and never were greater skill and power in the exposition of scientific methods and results to such an audience exhibited. It was in these lectures that Huxley fully realized the great power with which he was gifted.  10
  So till the close of his second London decade he was busy on the one hand with scientific research in palæontology,—introducing new and most important views as to the structure of fishes’ fins, of reptilia and amphibia and of the vertebrate skull, teaching his regular students in Jermyn Street, and giving Hunterian lectures on comparative anatomy at the College of Surgeons,—and on the other hand expounding by occasional lectures, brief courses, or weighty essays, the principles of Darwinism and the new doctrine of organic evolution, to a wider public.  11
  In 1870 his growing conviction that it lay in his power not merely to discover new scientific truth, but to put the methods and results of science before his fellow-men, other than those who were special students, in such a way as to influence their intellectual life, led him to accept an invitation to become a candidate for the London School Board, then first established. He was elected, and made himself felt in that assembly as a man not only acute and learned but wise and just. In 1871 he became Secretary of the Royal Society, a post which he retained until 1880; and devoted no small portion of his time and energy to the maintenance of the high position and influence which he conceived to be the just and historic attribute of that society.  12
  The enormous amount of varied intellectual work which now occupied his brain, together with the strain of so many duties of such various kinds, at last resulted in over-fatigue. He took a long holiday in Egypt in the winter of 1872, and returned refreshed. Now he had to organize his laboratory and practical class in the new buildings at South Kensington to which the School of Mines was removed, and where it eventually became known as the Royal College of Science. Addresses, magazine articles, Royal Commissions, occupied him as fully as before his illness: and his visit in 1876 to the United States, where he gave an address on University Education at the opening of the Johns Hopkins University and three lectures on Evolution in New York, was a sort of royal progress; for everywhere his fame had spread as one who united profound scientific knowledge with an incisive power of speech, sparkling with wit such as few men of any kind of career possessed.  13
  Though during this decade (1870–80) Huxley gave more abundantly of his strength to the delivery of scientific addresses, and to the writing of essays on subjects so varied as Descartes, Joseph Priestley, the Positive Philosophy, and Administrative Nihilism, yet in it some of his most brilliant scientific work was accomplished. His full memoir on the Triassic Crocodile Stagonolepis was published in 1877, and his memoir on Ceratodus in 1876; but most remarkable of all, his book on the crayfish, which embodied in popular style an important study of the crayfishes of all countries, and an important analysis of the structure of the gill plumes as evidence of affinity and separation, which formed simultaneously the subject of a memoir presented by him to the Zoölogical Society.  14
  About this time (1870–80) Huxley became a member of a very remarkable society which called itself the Metaphysical Club. This club met at irregular intervals to dine and discuss the higher philosophy. It was organized by Mr. James Knowles, the editor of the Nineteenth Century review, and included amongst its constant frequenters Lord Tennyson, Froude, Cardinal Manning, Martineau, Bishop MacGee, and “others of the weightier leaders of English thought.”  15
  Huxley rarely met Mr. Gladstone, for whose mode of thought he had a great dislike, although he admired the vivacity and irrepressible loquacity of the veteran statesman. I remember his telling me of a dinner where he had met Gladstone (towards the close of the “eighties”), and how he complained that he had not been able to get a word in edgeways on account of the incessant discourse of Mr. Gladstone.  16
  Of Ruskin, Huxley’s judgment was very severe. His invariable courtesy would not have allowed him to use such terms in speaking of Ruskin to a larger circle; but talking to me as we were walking from Naples to Baiæ in 1872, he referred to the author of ‘Modern Painters’ as “a pernicious idiot.” On the same occasion he spoke with great kindliness of his old antagonist Owen, and expressed warm admiration for the continued devotion of Sir Richard, even in his old age, to original scientific work.  17
  The decennium 1880–90 witnessed Huxley’s appointment to the post of Inspector of Fisheries in addition to his other official work. This was the first time (and remains the last) that the British government had endeavored to secure the services of a competent scientific man for the post, and credit is due to Sir William Harcourt for his selection.  18
  In 1883 Huxley received the crowning honor of his life, being elected President of the Royal Society. But the ill health which had threatened him in 1870 now returned, with serious complications. Symptoms of cardiac mischief, together with disturbance both in the kidneys and lungs, compelled him to give up all his official work. In 1885 he retired from his professorship, from his fishery post, and from the presidency of the Royal Society, and confined himself to such work as he could perform in his study at Eastbourne (where in 1890 he built himself a house), or in the Engadine, where he usually spent the summer. Though he suffered from an unaccountable exhaustion whenever he was persuaded during these later years to give a public address, yet he still retained great power of work in the way of writing. He produced between 1885 and his death in 1895 a large series of brilliant and interesting essays, especially on the relation of science to Hebrew and Christian tradition, and on the evolution of theology and of ethics; and not unfrequently endeavored to fulfill his duty by addressing the public in “a letter to the Times.” During this period he was president of the Marine Biological Association, in the founding of which he took an active part, and in 1892 was made by her Majesty a member of the Privy Council.  19
  It is interesting to note—indeed important, in view of the history of the activity of one of the greatest intellects of our times—that in these later years Huxley entirely ceased to make anatomical investigations, or to deal with those problems of morphological science in which he was for so long so active. This appears to have been due not to any purposed change of work, but to an actual inability any longer to fix his attention on or to derive intellectual interest from the old problems. New topics, such as the gentians of the Alps, he could study with some of his old fervor; but where he chiefly found intellectual pleasure was in the leisurely following out of lines of thought in regard to the relations of science, philosophy, and religion, which had been visible to him indeed during his hard-worked years of public life, but along which he had not before been able to travel to any extent, owing to lack of time and need of detachment from other occupations.  20
  In 1888 Huxley received the Copley medal of the Royal Society, and in 1894 the Darwin medal. His speech at the society’s dinner in 1894 was remarkable for the exhibition of those fine qualities of gayety, humor, and wisdom which had always characterized his after-dinner speaking. He occupied himself that winter in assisting, at considerable personal sacrifice and exertion in the form of writing and attendance at committees, the movement for a Teaching University in London. But in the early spring of 1895 he suffered badly from influenza, and he aggravated his condition by attempting to complete a review of Mr. Arthur J. Balfour’s book on ‘The Foundations of Belief.’ His old symptoms reappeared; heart, kidneys, and lungs were all involved, and after a distressing illness of some weeks he expired at Eastbourne on June 29th, 1895. He was buried in the Marylebone Cemetery at Finchley, to the north of London.  21
  Huxley left a large family of grown-up children,—two sons and four daughters, all married. He had lost his eldest son in early childhood, and his second daughter after her marriage. His home life was of the happiest and best kind. “Pater” was the center of a remarkable group on Sunday afternoons and evenings, consisting of young people, the friends of his sons and daughters, and of learned and eminent persons who had dropped into the pleasant house or garden in St. John’s Wood to enjoy a few moments of the great man’s company during his leisure. After 1868, when he was already forty-three years of age, but not before, he took to smoking. I well remember him at the “Red Lion’s” dinner at Norwich, puffing a cigarette. In a year he had advanced to a grimy little brier-root, and kept a very good box of cigars, with which he was always very generous. My own recollections of him extend to my earliest childhood, for he carried me over the rocks on the low-tide shore at Felixtow in Suffolk, under his arm, in 1851, when I was four years old, and he a young fellow of six-and-twenty, just returned from the voyage of the Rattlesnake. Ten years later, when I was a schoolboy, a fortunate find on my part of a rare fossil oölitic mammalian jaw brought me into association with him; and he encouraged the profound attachment which I formed for him by providing me with admission cards to attend as many of his afternoon and evening lectures as I could get to without playing truant from school (happily a day school—St. Paul’s). I drank in his words and steeped myself in his thoughts. I was present from this date onwards, at all his great addresses, his battles-royal, his triumphs, his new enterprises, his illnesses; and I was there, with many other dear friends, at the last, when the sand of Finchley was thrown down to cover forever that which had borne the noblest spirit, the keenest intellect, the brightest wit, and the truest, kindliest heart known to us.  22
  It is eminently true of Huxley that “the style is the man.” His writings are marked by his individuality,—clear, graceful, humorous, and incisive. He had a very large share of the artistic temperament, as was apparent both in his skill in the use of the pencil and in his extraordinary aptitude in the use of language. He had a fine innate taste, which demanded excellence in form of expression; and this was gradually cultivated by his efforts to expound scientific thought and methods to popular audiences, to a degree which gave him an unrivaled position as a speaker and writer. His grace and artistic finish of expression were the more noticeable from the rigid adherence to truth and moderation in statement which characterized all his utterances; as well as the vast acquaintance with the best literature, whether English, French, German, or Italian, which could serve to illustrate his theme. He has been accused, by too ready and superficial critics, of venturing into controversy upon subjects which he had not really mastered, and also of neglecting scientific research in order to seek popular approval and reputation. Both suggestions are absolutely without foundation. He never delivered an attack without keeping “shot in his locker.” His reply to Mr. Congreve, who had ventured to challenge some disparaging remarks of his relative to Comte and the Positive Philosophy, is a delightful instance of the disappointment of an assailant who thought that Huxley was talking large about what he had not really studied. His equipment in regard to Christian and Hebrew tradition was as ample and thorough as that of his ecclesiastical antagonists. As to his having in any unwise way neglected the minutiæ of scientific research in later years, it is surely most ungrateful to reproach on this ground one who did so much detailed research of the best quality in earlier life, and even when his great strength was failing under the huge weight of public responsibilities accepted by him, yet showed by such papers as that on Crayfishes his delight and splendid dexterity in the well-loved work of morphological research. As Michael Foster has said of him, “one guiding principle in Huxley’s life was the deep conviction that science was meant not for men of science alone, but for all the world; and that not in respect to its material benefits only, but also and even more for its intellectual good.” It was thus by conviction that Huxley gave a large part of his time and vast power to writings and addresses which are designed to bring the methods and results of science home to the mind of the ordinary man. Like Darwin,—I might indeed say like all men who have been great, and almost in proportion as they were great,—Huxley was impelled to do what he did by a sense of duty. In all his philosophical and ethical discussions, his sensibility to this supreme command is apparent; and yet (perhaps it is significant of his unquestioning obedience to that command) he has left no discussion of the origin of that command, nor any analysis of the grounds upon which it may be considered reasonable or unreasonable for a man to obey or disobey that word. In his last public lecture (the Romanes lecture delivered at Oxford in 1893) he says: “Finally, to my knowledge, nobody professes to doubt that so far as we possess a power of bettering things, it is our paramount duty to use it, and to train all our intellect and energy to this supreme service of our kind.” In his autobiographical sketch written in 1894, he says that the objects which he has had in view in life
        “are briefly these: To promote the application of scientific methods of investigation to all the problems of life to the best of my ability; in the conviction, which has grown with my growth and strengthened with my strength, that there is no alleviation for the sufferings of mankind except veracity of thought and of action, and the resolute facing of the world as it is when the garment of make-believe by which pious hands have hidden its uglier features is stripped off. It is with this intent that I have subordinated any reasonable or unreasonable ambition for scientific fame which I may have permitted myself to entertain, to other ends: to the popularization of science; to the development and organization of scientific education; to the endless series of battles and skirmishes over evolution; and to the untiring opposition to that ecclesiastical spirit, that clericalism, which in England, as everywhere else and to whatever denomination it may belong, is the deadly enemy of science. In striving for the attainment of these objects, I have been but one among many; and I shall be well content to be remembered, or even not remembered, as such.”
  23
  In a letter to me written in 1890 says that he has never valued the individual discoveries of science, great as they are, so much as her methods; and that he shall be well content if by his efforts those who come after him will be, in some degree in consequence of them, less hindered by organized authority in thinking truly and freely than men were in his younger days.  24
  In 1894 Huxley superintended the arrangement and publication of his various essays in nine volumes. Many of these had appeared in earlier collections, such as ‘Lay Sermons’ and ‘American Addresses’; others had never been republished. These volumes, together with his volume on the Crayfish (International Scientific Series), and his educational works,—‘Anatomy of Invertebrate Animals,’ ‘Anatomy of Vertebrated Animals,’ ‘Lessons in Physiology,’ and ‘Physiography,’—comprise almost the whole of Huxley’s writings not addressed to a special audience of scientific experts. Since his death, whilst a statue of him is being prepared for erection in the great hall of the British Museum of Natural History, and medals are to be founded at the Royal College of Science and at the Royal Society in commemoration of him and stamped with his features, the grandest memorial of his scientific fame and achievements is rapidly approaching completion; namely, a reissue in four royal octavo volumes of all his contributions to the scientific journals and transactions of scientific societies,—commencing with his paper published in the Medical Times and Gazette of 1845 on ‘The Root Sheath of Hairs,’ and ending a long list of two hundred or more memoirs with that on the Alpine species of Gentian.  25
 
 
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