Huxley, Thomas Henry

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Huxley, Thomas Henry

(b. Earling, Middlesex, England, 4 May 1825; d. Hodeslea, Eastbourne, Sussex. England, 29 June 1895)

Zoology, evolution, paleontology, ethnology.

Thomas Henry Huxley was the seventh and youngest surviving child of George and Rachel Huxley. His father taught mathematics and was assistant headmaster at a school in Ealing which Thomas Henry attended for a brief period. The reguar instruction which Huxley received was minimal and lasted no more than two years. He was not considered a preecocious child but did exhibit in his yout the natural ability to draw which later, in spite of no training served him well in his zoological work. For his general education Hixley was largely self-taught; while still in his teens he read extensvely, particularly in science and mataphysics, and gained a facility in reading German and French.

Huxley had early leanings toward mechanical engineering as a career, but the combination of a family of moderate means and two medical brothers-in-law led him into medicine. He attended a postmortem when he was about fourteen and may have contracted some sort of dissection poisoning which manifested itself in an apathy remedied only by a stay in the open countryside. The “hypochondriacal dyspecsia” recurrent throughout the remainder of his life he thought to have been brought on by this incident; whatever it was, he was usually cured by a spell in fresh air. In 1841 Huxley became apprenticed to one of his brothers-in-law, John Godwin Scott, who practiced in the north London. During his apprenticeship, he wide reading, attended some courses, and earned the silver medal in a botanical competition.

In September 1842 Huxley and his brother James were awarded free scholarships at Charing Cross Hospital. The lecturer on physiology, Thomas Wharton Jones, had a strong influence on Huxley’s interest in physiology and anatomy and helped teach him methods of scientific investigation. Jones encouraged and aided Huxley with his frist scientific paper, on the discovery of a layer of cells (Huxley’s layer) directly within Henle’s layer in the root sheath of hair. Huxley passed the M.B. examination at London University in 1845 and soon afterward that for membership in the Royal College of Urgeons. He applied to and was taken into the Royal Navy, being assigned to H.M.S. Victory for service at Haslar Hospital, where he remained until assigned to H.M.S. Rattlesnake. on a surveying voyage to the Torres Straits off Australia as ship’s surgeon, not as a naturlist, a position filled by John MacGillivray. Any natural history Huxley undertook on the four-year voyage was his own affair, but it was to set the course of his career toward zoology rather than medicine. Abroad the Rattlesnake, Huxley’s scientific equipment was minimal, consitiing principally of a microscope and a makeshift collecting net. The limiatation of his equipment was perhaps fortuante, as he focused his attention on the wealth of planktonic life for the study of which a steady supply of fresh specimens was necessary. Through extensive shipboard dissections and through library work in Sydney, Australia (where he also saw much of William Macleay), Huxley was able to bring some order to these minute organisms which had been simply lumped together in those two great zoological lumber rooms, Linnaeus’ Vermes and Cuvier’s Radiata.

The novelty of much of his material was evident to Huxley and propted him to send several papers to the Linnean Society, about which he received on a major paper “On the Anatomy and the Affinities of the Family of the Medusae” to the Royal Society, which turned out to be the first of a series of wedges he drove into Cuvier’s Radiata. By the time of the Rattlesnake’s return the paper had been published in the Philosophical Transactions and soon earned him election as a fellow of the Royal Society. Combined with several other papers it brought Huxley the Royal Medal in 1852. After his return to England in 1850 Huxley arranged for leave from active duty in order to remain in London to work on the materials he had brought back. During these several years he became very much a part of the London scientific scene, making many friendships and enlisting the support of leading scientific figures in his running battle with the Admiralty over payment for the publication of his results. The battle continued until the Admiralty became exasperated and ordered Huxley back to active duty. He refused, leaving himself without any means of support and no prospect of a scientific appointment in London, where he felt he must remain to do effective scientific work. During this period he wrote articles and miscellaneous pieces for several reviews, when the editors would pay.

Invertebrate Studies . Nearly all of Huxley’s scientific effort in the period 1850-1854, during which he published about twenty scientific papers, was concentrated on the materials from the Rattlesnake. Working out the details and relationships of the delicate marine animals he studied set the pattern for his career and gave him a firm grasp of major zoological problems. of his numerous publications on these invertebrates his major contributions are found in four memoirs; his 1849 paper on the Medusae, two 1851 papers on tunicates, and one in 1853 on the Cephalous Mollusca. In his paper on the Medusae (Scientific Memoirs, I, 9-32), Huxley made two notable contributions—recognition of this group as a coherent whole and of an embryological analogy. First, he described the structure common to the different groups of Medusae, recognizing that they all consist fundamentally of two layers, or “foundation membranes’ which produce the inner and outer parts, that they all seem to lack blood and blood vessels, and that the existence of any nervous system was doubtful. He then allied with the Medusae the Hydroid and Sertularian polyps, whose structure is similarly based on the same two foundation membranes. Although it was less obvious, Huxley recognized that the complicated colonies (for example, the Portuguese man-of-war) making up the Physophoridae and Diphydae were colonies of hydralike organisms each of which had the typical Medusae double-membrance structure. The group of organisms which Huxley connected on the basis of this fundamental structure was readily accepted as one of the major groups of animals, becoming the nucleus of the Coelenterata, and as such required and received the attention of zoologists. Although its importance was perhaps not fully appreciated until after Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, the embryological analogy that Huxley drew was an even more fundamental contribution than the organization of the medusoid organisms. He concluded that the two foundation membranes are physiologically analogous to the serous and mucous layers in a typical embryo. At this time Huxley made only the comparison and did not speculate on its possible significance.

In 1851 Huxley presented to the Royal Society two major papers on tunicates: “Observations on the Anatomy and Physiology of Salpa and Pyrosoma” and “Remarks Upon Appendicularia and Doliolum, Two Genera of Tunicates” (Scientific Memoirs, I, 38-68, 69-79). In the Salpa paper Huxley confirmed earlier suggestions that this organism’s life cycle passes through an alternation of solitary and chain-like colonial generations. Huxley observed a great abundance of specimens at various growth stages, from which he was able to come to the important conclusion that the solitary stage is the product of sexual generation and that the colony results from budding. This recognition contributed strongly to his theory of animal individuality in which he stated that both forms are parts or organs of a single individual, because they both develop from a single ovum. Huxley elaborated this thesis in a discourse “Upon Animal Individuality” at the Royal Institution in April 1852. He related, anatomically and systematically, all four genera of free-swimming forms covered in these two papers to the Ascidiacea, or sea squirts, and thus gathered the ascidians into a group based on their typical structure as he had done with the Medusae. The zoological position of Appendicularia had been most unsettled owing to its possession of a tail. Huxley demonstrated that this tail is a retained larval feature lost by most adult ascidians. The significance of this urochordal structure in relation to the vertebrate pedigree did not become evident until later.

Just as with the Medusae and the ascidians, Huxley sought and found in the Cephalous Mollusca a typical structure of which each genus and species is a modification. Briefly, Huxley started with several surface-dwelling forms with transparent shells and then dissected a wide variety of mollusks, determining their anatomical similarities on comparative grounds. Drawing heavily on the German embryologists who had studied their development, Huxley concluded that their parts are homologous and that they constitute a great group, the Cephalous Mollusca, comprising the Cephalopoda, Gasteropoda, and Lamellibranchiata all of which are modifications of a typical form, or “archetype.” The paper which resulted, “On the Morphology of the Cephalous Mollusca...” (Scientific Memoirs, I, 152-193), was highly important to his contemporaries for the anatomical and systematic conclusions which Huxley reached. It is also of particular interest for its insights into Huxley’s zoological methods, not only in his study of the invertebrates from the Rattlesnake but also in his later work on vertebrates, both fossil and recent.

Huxley opened his paper on the Cephalous Mollusca with a quotation from “the highest authority,” Richard Owen, setting forth what Huxley believed to be “the true aims of anatomical investigation.” In this passage Owen states that mere anatomical description is of relatively little value until the facts “have been made subservient to establishing general conclusions and laws of correlation, by which the judgment may be safely guided.” Whether with invertebrates, birds, the structure of the vertebrate skull, or fossil horses, Huxley sought to establish conclusions which, no matter how general or widesweeping, were invariably firmly based on facts from his experience. Huxley’s use of one of Owen’s favorite words, “archetype,” could lead to some confusion because of the naturphilosophisch and platonic connotations associated with it and because of his attitude toward the output of that mode of thinking, of which Owen’s work was a part. Huxley explicitly denied any connection between his archetypes and any ideas after which organisms might be modeled. To him the word meant “the conception of a form embodying the most general propositions that can be affirmed” about the organisms under consideration.

Within any great group, such as the Cephalous Mollusca, Huxley thought that the members varied by excess or defect of the parts of the archetype. He rejected the idea of any progression from a lower to a higher type within the group and instead thought there was “merely a more or less complete evolution of one type.” Here Huxley used “evolution” in its historic sense of an unfolding, or unrolling—that is, an embryological unfolding. While the manner in which he treated the Cephalous Mollusca was fundamentally the same as that used with the Medusae and ascidians, the discussion of the archetype and its modifications as a result of embryological development was a new element. There is more than a coincidental relationship between these ideas and those in the “Fragments Relating to Philosophical Zoology” which Huxley selected and translated from the works of Karl Ernst von Baer. Huxley had a broad acquaintance with the German zoological literature and held a high regard for much of it, especially in embryology and cytology; for example, see his major review “The Cell-Theory” (Scientific Memoirs, I, 241–278).

Vertebrate Studies. In 1854, when he succeeded Edward Forbes as lecturer in natural history at the Government School of Mines, Huxley at last had a means of support within the scientific community. Soon afterward he was appointed to the additional post of naturalist with the Geological Survey. He now had not only a scientific position but also the income needed to marry Henrietta Heathorn, whom he had met in 1847 in Sydney. They became engaged in 1849 but did not see each other again until she came to England for their marriage in 1855. Their son Leonard, the well-known teacher and writer, was the father of Julian Huxley, the biologist, Aldous Huxley, the writer, and Andrew Fielding Huxley, the physiologist.

At least in part, Huxley saw these positions as being temporary, while he awaited a post in physiology; since no such position became available, he held the same appointments for over thirty years. With considerable rapidity the focus of Huxley’s attention shifted from the invertebrates to the vertebrates. This shift was induced by his duties as lecturer on natural history, which required him to prepare in unfamiliar areas of biology, combined with his duties in connection with the Geological Survey, which brought him in close contact with a range of vertebrate fossils. Although beginning with a certain distaste for fossils, he soon became deeply involved in problems in paleontology and geology. His first fossil work was in cooperation with John William Salter, identifying a variety of fossils, an experience which was to prove invaluable in the aftermath of Darwin’s Origin. As with the invertebrates, Huxley was not concerned with species as such, but only as they led to more general zoological problems. In addition to his paleontological work, Huxley helped to organize the Museum of Practical Geology where he began, in 1855, his series of lectures of workingmen. He further developed his own regular course at the School of Mines. In addition to this he was appointed to the triennial Fullerian lectureship at the Royal Institution for 1856-1858. This sampling of his activities is indicative of the number of projects he would undertake at one time.

In the late 1850’s, Huxley began a detailed study of the embryology of the vertebrates, which provided a firm base for much later work as well as strengthening his teaching. An outcome of this study was his 1858 Croonian lecture at the Royal Society, “On the Theory of the Vertebrate Skull” (Scientific Memoirs, I, 538–606). Huxley made an important methodological contribution to morphology by his insistence that, as suggestive as they are, comparisons of adult structures are insufficient for the demon-stration of homologies. Only by studying the embryological development of the various structures from their earliest stages and determining that they follow the same path of development can we say with certainty that they are homologous. Huxley was continuing the tradition of K. E. Von Bear and M. H. Rathke and, more specifically, was reviving detailed studies of the skull done by Rathke and others in 1836-1839. These neglected earlier studies had shown the inadequacies of the vertebral theory of the skull originated by Goethe, elaborated by Lorenz Oken, and developed to its fullest by Richard Owen.

Huxley’s objective in his Croonian lecture was to put morphological studies on a more scientific basis, especially by the utilization of embryological criteria which could be as productive for the vertebrates as they had already been for the invertebrates. Many, and particularly Owen himself, saw this lecture as an attack on Owen, who was still considered England’s preeminent anatomist. Although not intended as such, it assuredly helped to prepare the way for the disputes between Huxley and Owen after 1859. In his lecture Huxley established that the various vertebrate skulls are modifications of the same basic type and, importantly, distinguished and named the different modes by which the lower jaw is articulated to the skull, which has become an important diagnostic character. Huxley concluded that the differentiation of the skull and the vertebral column occurs at such an early stage that they could not have a common origin. He also drew an analogy between the membranous, cartilaginous, and osseous stages of the development of the skull and between the skulls of Amphioxus, sharks, and the higher vertebrates.

The Evolution Controversy . Those today who know Huxley know him primarily as the protagonist of evolution in the controversies immediately following the publication of On the Origin of Species late in 1859. Huxley was prepared for the role he was to play, since he had by then acquired a broad background in vertebrate and invertebrate zoology and in paleontology. He also had read widely in the zoological literature in English, German, and French. Inevitably, he was familiar with the various hypotheses concerning the transmutation of species, particularly those of Lamarck and Robert Chambers, both of whom he held in low opinion. Huxley’s review of the 1854 edition of Chambers’ vestiges of the Natural History of Creation was the only one he later regretted for its “needless savagery.” Before the Origin, Huxley was constitutionally opposed to transmutation ideas because of his critical skepticism of all theories, the same skepticism which he embodied in the term he coined, “agnosticism.” Also, his belief that the natural groups of organisms were demarcated by sharp lines seemed, if valid, to negate the possibility of evolution occurring.

When the Origin was ready for publication, Darwin sent Huxley one of three prepublication copies, the other two going to Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker. Darwin was not confident that Huxley would react favorably to his book but wanted him as one of its judges. Darwin and Huxley had become by then close friends, and Darwin often had drawn on Huxley’s wide-ranging knowledge. On 23 November 1859 Huxley wrote to Darwin that nothing had impressed him more since his reading of Baer, praised Darwin for his new views, and warned him about the abuse he was bound to receive. Already Huxley was sharpening his claws and beak in preparation for the impending battles. Entirely by chance, Huxley had an early opportunity to praise the Origin publicly, although anonymously, when he was asked to review it for the London Times (26 December 1859). Huxley followed this with a Friday evening discourse at the Royal Institution in February 1860 and an article in the April issue of the Westminster Review. His February discourse “On Species and Races, and their Origin” (Scientific Memoirs, II, 388-394) set a model for many later defenses of the Origin. After discussing the varieties and species of horses and pigeons, Huxley turned to man’s relation to the apes, the topic of greatest concern to his listeners and one only hinted at in the Origin. Without going into the full details, he argued that man differs less from the highest members of the Quadrumana than the extreme members of that group differed from one another. This was an implicit rejection of Owen’s classification of the Mammalia. Moreover, and most importantly, Huxley made a strong plea, often to be repeated, for judging Darwin’s work on scientific grounds, as a work in science, for “the man of science is the sworn interpreter of nature in the highest court of reason”.

When the British Association for the Advancement of Science met in Oxford late in June 1860, Huxley was recognized as an able younger biologist, but his name certainly was not yet a household word. During this meeting he had two encounters important for the future of Darwin’s hypothesis, as well as for his own career: one with Owen on scientific details, which was settled later, and one with Samuel Wilberorece, bishop of Oxord, which was of a more general nature. The result was Huxley’s being recognized as the principal defender of the Origin and he thus earned the name “Darwin’s bulldog.” The less prolonged, although more dramatic, of these was the second, the exchanges with “Soapy Sam” Wilberforce. Wilberforce had been coached in matters scientific of Owen, but he was apparently a poor learner-or Owen a poor teacher. Wilberforce made a number of scientific blunders and then directed his famous query to Huxley asking whether Huxley’s ancestry from an ape was on his grandfather’s or his grandmother’s side. Waiting until the audience called upon him to answer, Huxley carefully corrected the Bishop’s scientific errors and added that he would rather be related to an ape than to a man of ability and position who used his brains to prevent the truth. Unfortunately, there is no verbatim account of this incident, but a number of eyewitness accounts agree in substance. This episode, in addition to establishing Huxley as the principle spokesman for Darwin, gave convincing evidence that the evolutionists were not going to be cowed by the Church.

Huxley’s dispute with Owen at the British association meeting had actually begun in 1857 and was not settled finally until 1863. In 1857 Owen read before the Linnean Sociaty a paper on the classification of the Mammalia, which he repeated substantially in his Reade lecture at Cambridge in MAy 1859. Cuvier had seperated man, in the order Biman, from the remainder of the primates in the order Quadrumana. Owen constructed a taxonomy based on certain characteristics of the mammalian brain, which seperated man still further from the other primates and placed him in a new subclass, the Archencephala. In his system Owen argued that the human brain differed fro mthose of all other mammals not only in degree but also in kind, and that it had certain structural characters peculiar to it. The most famous of these was a small internal ridge known as the hippocampus minor which became well-known to the public and gave its name to this controversy. The essential factor in Owen’s taxonomy of the MAmmalia wasthe assertion that man was zoologically distinct from all of the other mammals. After the Origin, Owen’s system carried the additional implication that an evolutionary hypothesis valid for the other animals would not necessarily apply to man. When, in 1857, Huxley had first become acquainted with Owen’s classification of the Mammalia he doubted Owen’s facts and conclusions regarding man’s place in nature. Characteristically, Huxley performed a series of dissections of primate brains to satisfy himself that Owen’s qualitative distinctions were not valid. Although Huxley published nothing on the brain at that time, he incorporated the information in his teaching after 1858, and it provided him with the necessary ammunition for the British Association meeting in 1860. On Thursday, 28 June, in section D, after a paper on plants by Charles Daubeny, Owen repeated his assertions of 1857 and 1859 that the brain of the gorilla, when compared with that of man, showed greater differences than existed between that of the gorilla and of the lowest of the Quadrumana, or primates. To this assertion Huxley publicly gave a “direct and unqualified contradiction” and promised to justify himself in this unusual procedure elsewhere. This he did in “On the Zoological Relations of Man With the Lower Animals” (Natural History Review, 1 [1861], 67-84), in which he demonstrated through references to a series of earlier studies by various authors the falsity of Owen’s assertions that only in man did the celebral hemispheres overlap the cerebellum and that only man possessed a posterior cornu of the lateral ventricle and a hippocampus minor. The above article wa part of an extended debate with Owen (1860-1863), in which Huxley, with assistance from others and particularly from William Henry Flower’s dissections, effectively showed Owen’s errors regarding those cerebral characters.

By the end Huxley had demonstrated clearly that the differences between man and the apes were smaller than those between the apes and the lower primates. Therefore, man had to be considered zoologically a member of the primates. While the controversy was based on certain rather esoteric anatomical details, the results of the hippocampus minor debate were reported in the public press, inspired poetry and cartoons in Punch, and occupied a prominent place in Charles Kingsley’s novel The Water Babies.

Darwin had said in the Origin only that light would be thrown on man’s relationship to his evolutionary hypothesis, and this controversy, with its public following, was instrumental in man’s being considered in zoological terms and his orgin as a result of the evolutionary process. Huxley also covered much of the same material on man and the other primates in lectures to various audiences and in his Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature (1863), which synthesized the anatomical and embryological evidence from his own work and the literature.

In addition, during the 1860’s, Huxley devoted a fair share of his effort to physical anthropology, particularly on the recently discovered Neanderthal skull and various races of aman and their relationships to one another. Huxley’s treatment of man in zoological terms, as a topic to be considered scientifically and not emotionally, assisted strategically in the public’s considering Darwin’s evolutionary hypothesis on the same terms. This latter was Huxley’s goal in all of his lecturing and writing on the subject of evolution. He firmly believed that if people would only look at the alternative in a cool and reasoning manner they must recognize the fact of evolution and natural selection as its most probable mechanism.

While Huxley is best known for his defense of Darwin’s hypothesis, he did not accept it uncritically and did not consider that the problem was finally settled nor that natural selection was by any means proven as the mechanism. When Huxley read the Origin, he was immediately convinced of the fact of evolution and thought Darwin had successfully put this ancient doctrine on a scientific basis. Huxley had long been handling the kinds of evidence that Darwin used and was well acquainted with them; he needed only for Darwin to lead the way in showing him how to arrange it. That way led through natural selection as the mechanism by which evolution had occurred. For Huxley and others natural selection provided a method for organizing their own facts. Throughout his life after 1959 Huxley maintained that natural selection was the most probable hypothesis of an evolutionary mechanism. For him it remained a hypothesis because of the lack of experimental proof. Huxley thought this proof would be the “production of mutually more or less infertile breeds from a common stock” in a selective breeding program. He thought it could be achieved “in a comparatively few years.” In 1893 Huxley still thought such proof was necessary, but he was less optimistic about the time required. In his early essays on evolution, which he would stand by until the end of his life, he distingiuished between morphological species, which could be demonstrated and could serve as evidence that evolution had taken place, and physiological species, which must be produced by selection to confirm natural selection as the mechanism.

After 1859 Huxley’s own scientific work, as distinct from his role as Darwin’s defender, had much the same charater as his earlier work, with the notable difference that it was now focused principally on vertebrates, both recent and fossil. A considerable proportion of this activity was detailed, descriptive work on a single narrow problem in anatomy or paleontology—the “species work” which was always a burden to him. In several areas, however, Huxley made the same kind of broad, sysnthetic contributions he had made on invertebrates—"the architectural and engineering part of the business,” as he called it. Huxley substantially groups, basing his revisions on his own observations, to which he added a broad knowledge of the relevant literature. This aspect of his work has been of value not because all of it is still considered valid, but because it posed questions and problems which stimuilated further work by his followers, who, expectedly, went beyond Huxley.

Huxley did important work on all the major groups of vertebrates; but during the 1860’s he was particularly interested in birds. After his Croonian lecture he began to study the develpment of the chick’s skull. Approaching the birds as if they were all fossils, Huxley based his classification on osteological characters in what was probably the first comprehensive, comparative study (1867) of a single avian organ system (Scientific Memoirs, II, 238-297). His study set a model for much later avian taxanomic work which incorporated Huxley’s findings. On the basis of several skeletal characters, for example, the keel and ossification of the sternum, Huxley divided the birds into three principal groups, Saurarae, Ratitae, and Carinatae, the subdivisions of which were based heavily on the bony structure of the palate. In 1868, in a memoir on the anatomy of the gallinaceous birds (Scientific Memoirs, II, 346-373), Huxley, building particularly on P. L. Sclater and Darwin, incorporated the facts of geographical distribution into his taxonomy, making zoo geography a part of the definition of a species. He also suggested a linking of South America and Australia, a suggestion which has since received much support.

Paleontology. Some of Huxley’s earliest paleontological work was on fishes from the Devonian Downton Sandstones which led him into a revision of much Devonian fish material and a memoir (1861) on the classification of the Devonian fishes (Scientific Memoirs, II, 421-460). Huxley was able to throw new light on many affinities, revising the work of Louis Agassiz and other early workers, by utilizing the new and also the results of his extensive studies of piscine embryology. This memoir, and his 1866 supplement, remained a standard work on these animals for several decades. Huxley also did extensive studies of labyrinthodont Amphibia from the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian of Great Britain and similar forms from around the world (see Scientific Memoirs, II-III, Passim). The most important of these were the genera Loxomma and Anthracosaurus. His elaboration of the morphology of these early tetrapods led him to place them on the borderline between the fishes, amphibians, and reptiles. Their ancestral relationship to all higher tetrapods has since been well organized.

Closely related to his studies of birds was Huxley’s interest in Mesozoic reptiles, particularly the Dinosauria. He rejected the proposed close affinity of pterodactyls to birds, the similarities being only analogous and not homologous. Huxley recognized that all the Dinosauria he had examined had strong ornithic characters in the tetraradiate arrangement of the ilium, ischium, pubis, and the demur, factors by which they differ from the majority of reptiles (see for example, Scientific Memoirs, III, 465-486). At about the same time E. D. Cope recognized similar relationships. For these reptiles Huxley established (1869) the order Ornithoscelida (most of the members of which are now in the order Ornithischia), which included such forms as the Iguanodon (Scientifice Memoirs, III, 487-509). On the basis of these specific similarities and more general evidence Huxley combined the reptiles and birds into the Sauropsida, one of his three great divisions of the Vertebrate; the others were the Ichthyopsida (fishes and amphibians) and Mammalia. He later (1880) further divided the Mammalia into three groups of ascending complexity, the Prototheria (monotremes), Metatheria (maruspials), and Eutheria (placentals). These terms were meant to describe “stages of evolution” and, therefore, were more than purely taxonomic terms (Scientific Memoirs, IV, 457-472). These became important divisions because they were based on deepseated anatomical characters, rather than the relatively superficial ones, such as teeth and digits, which are more closely related to the mammals’ life habits.

In 1862 huxley, as secretary of the Geological Society, was called upon to give the presidential address, in which he discussed several aspects of paleontology. He did not think that the fossil record had been able to provide evidences that modifications of any group had actually taken place through geological time or that earlier members of any long-standing group were more generalized than later ones. Eight years later, when Huxley was president of the Geological Society, he felt compelled to correct the statements of the earlier address. In the interim a substantial quantity of fossils had been discovered, among which were a number of ancestral forms of horses. From European Middle Miocene deposits came a three-toed equine, Anhitherium, which Huxley connected by stages to Equus, each member of the sequence being the result of increased specialization away from the average ungulate mammal. Huxley thought there should be Eocene predecessors of Anchitherium which were even less modified, and he suggested Plagiolophus might nearly be this form. He thought the equine pedigree would eventually be stretched back to a five-toed ancestor. One of Huxley’s first visits on his American trip in 1876 was to Othniel Charles Marsh in New Haven, where he spent most of a week studying Marsh’s very complete series of North American fossil horses extending back to the Upeer Eocene Orohippus. Huxley recognized this as a more complete and more extensive series insights and fossils, rejected his proposed line of equine ancestry and revised an address to be given in New York. In that lecture, primarily using sequences of teeth and limb material, Huxley presented the most complete evidence of modification having occurred through geological history. He then went on to predict that a yet more generalized form than Orohippus would be found; two months later he received work that Marsh had found Eohippus, the proposed ancestral form. This series of horses was the first extensive series which gave proof that the kinds of modifications demanded by Darwin’s hypothesis had taken place and that the ancestral stages were more generalized than their more recent representatives.

Influence in Scientific Education. In addition to his extensive scientific output, of which only some high spots have been touched here, Huxley was an active teacher from 1854 until near the end of his life. Although it changed and developed under him, the lectureship on natural history at the Government School of Mines moved from Jermyn Street to South Kensington in 1872, to become part of the Royal College of Science, Huxley was forced to give a lecture course supplemented only by demonstrations, owing to an absence of laboratory space. After 1872 laboratory work became an integral part of his course, in which the students did the dissecting and observing to verify the facts in the text and lectures. Huxley conceived of this as an essential training in scientific method. He was fortunate in having Michael Foster and E. Ray Lankester among his first laboratory assistants. Both his lectures and laboratory classes were based on the same basic notion types that he used in his original scientific work; Huxley thought this was the only means of bringing any logic to the myriad organic forms. In this approach to biology, Huxley was highly innovative, as he well aware, although his method of teaching has now become a commonplace.

Huxley’s teaching was by no means limited to his formal courses. He was Fullerian professor at the Royal Institution and Hunterian professor at the Royal College of Surgeons. He also gave a number of Friday evening discourses at the Royal Institution and a considerable array of special lectures on assorted topics at various locations. of all his public speaking Huxley was most interested in the serious of workingmen’s lectures which gave regularly, beginning in 1855, by which he wanted “the working classes to understand that Science and her ways are great facts for them.” He was “sick of the dilettante middle class” and wanted to try his skills with the working class, who turned out in large numbers for his appearance. Huxley did not talk down to his audiences bacause of a firm belief that even the most complicated ideas could be understood by the major-ity of mankind if they were presented clearly and logically, step by step. Some of Huxley’s fines addresses were to workingmen, for example, the series on man’s place in nature and his 1868 “On a Piece of Chalk” (Collected Essay, VIII, 1–36). The latter is an excellent example of his style, which was at the root of his great success as teacher and public speaker. This style was not dependent on the use of words or the structure of sentences but on the careful organization of ideas. Huxley;s stress on clarity of thought was equally evident in the full range of his writings and was a key to their success.

In many places Huxley stressed the need for inclusion of science at all levels of education; but he did not stress science to the exclusion of history, literature, and the arts. His view of education not as an accumulation of facts but as a training and honing of all the faculties an individual might possess was the key to his conception of a liberal education. Huxley made a case for his views to various audiences: at the South London Working Men’s College in “A Liberal Education; and Where to Find It”; at the opening of The Johns Hopkins Univeristy in “Address on University Education”; and on the eve of his election to the first London School Board in “The School Boards: What They Can Do, and What They May Do” (all in Collected Essays, III). The last outlines the program which to great extent Huxley convinced his fellow board members to adopt under the 1870 Act of Parliament. He included the necessary disciplines of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and added physical science, drawing singing, physical development, and domestic subjects. Surprisingly, to many of his colleagues, he also advocated studying the Bible, but without any theology, because it was great literature which embodied great morality and was the basis of three centuries of British civilization. In his service on the London School Board, Huxley proved to be one of the important shapers of primary education.

As offshoots of his teaching and often based on his lecture series, Huxley wrote several textbooks; two were designed for the general public. Physiography (1877) was an introduction to nature in all its aspects, what might be called general science, and Lessons in Elementary Physiology (1866) was a discussion of the human system written for the schools. For anatomy students Huxley wrote The Crayfish (1879) as an introduction to zoology and general works on both vertebrate and invertebrate animals.

Huxley’s philosophic interests and writings focused on Descartes, Berkely, and Hume, particularly on that fundamental problem of the relationship of mind and matter. Just as he conceived that the goal of education was to enable one to act, his conclusions in philosophy were the kind with which one could live. Huxley settled on a practical philosophy—an empirical idealism that recognized that all we can know of the world are affectations of the mind. He thought that such a view must be the philosophy of scientific men. He also held a practical materialism in the sense that it involved placing physical phenomena in a chain of direct causation. Huxley summarized these views in his 1868 lecture on protoplasm, “On the Physical Basis of Life” (Collected Essays, I, 130–165). In his discussions of education and scientific method Huxley put a strong emphasis on clear and distinct ideas, very much in the Cartesian tradition. Also, Huxley emphasized what he called a duty of doubt, an active skepticism, from which he believed freedom of thought would necessarily follow. For Huxley this freedom of thought was an essential element in the scientific process. In this context Huxley coined the term “agnosticism”—which to him embodied no belief nor implied any—when he became a member of the Metaphysical Society. For Huxley agnosticism was an attitude, a tool of the intellect, and “the fundamental axiom of modern science.” It involved, positively, following one’s intellect as far as it would go and, negatively, not accepting any conclusions which were not clearly demonstrable.

Huxley regarded the Bible highly, both as one of the great works of English literature and as a defense of freedom and liberty. For him it was “the Magna Charta of the poor and oppressed” insofar as it supported the concept of righteousness. To a great extent the Protestants had shifted the notion of infallibility from the Church to the Book, the Bible. It was in this context that Huxley first became involved in Biblical controversy, on the subject of the authority of Genesis. Huxley applied agnosticism, as a method, to this and other Biblical problems, including the divine inspiration of the New Testament Gospels and various revelations and miracles. Huxley often argued that matters of morality were independent of religion and theology, for example, in his letter to Charles Kingsley after the death of Huxley’s first son, Noel.

Huxley was also a man of affairs. Between 1862 and 1884 he served on ten royal commissions investigating problems of education, fisheries, and vivisection. He held office in diverse scientific societies, particularly the Ethnological, Geological, and Royal societies, and the British Association, each of which he served as president. His role on the London School Board has been mentioned. Huxley was a member of the X-Club, which served to keep a small group of scientific friends in contact, and of that unique group the Metaphysical Society, before which he spoke on such topics as “Has a Frog a Soul?” His scientific and public works led to many honors, including the Royal, Copley, and Darwin medals from the Royal Society and ultimately appointment as a Privy Councillor. In all of his multifarious activities as scientist, educator, and public figure Huxley’s success was dependent more than anything else on his clear thinking, his scrupulous weighing of all pertinent evidence, and, once he had reached a decision, on his effort to lead those around him, step by step, to see the rightness of his position.


I. Original Works. The majority of Huxley’s shorter writings are available in two collections. The Scientific Memoirs of Thomas Henry Huxley, Michael Foster and E. Ray Lankester, eds. 4 vols. and supp. (London, 1898-1903), contains probably all of Huxley’s important scientific papers as well as reports of his Royal Institution Friday Evening Discourses. Huxley selected and arranged his Collected Essays (London, 1893-1894), writing a preface to each of the nine volumes; the planned tenth volume was never completed. Huxley’s Diary of the Voyage of H.M.S. Rattlesnake (London, 1935), Julian Huxley, ed., was long lost among the family’s old account books. During the period he needed to write for money, Huxley, with George Busk, translated and edited Kölliker’s Manual of Human Histology (London, 1853); with Arthur Henfrey he edited two volumes of Taylor’s Scientific Memoirs (London, 1853-1854). The most important of Huxley’s separate scientific writings was his Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature (London, 1863).

As introductory textbooks of zoology Huxley wrote An Introduction to the Classification of Animals (London, 1869) and The Crayfish: an Introduction to the Study of Zoology (London, 1879). His A Manual of the Anatomy of Vertebrated Anmials (London, 1871) and A Manual of the Anatomy of Invertebrated Animals (London, 1877) were comprehensive treatments which served as standard textbooks.

The great bulk of Huxley’s manuscripts are in the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London. These have been ably catalogued in Warren R. Dawson, The Huxley Papers. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Correspondence, Manuscripts and Miscellaneous Papers...(London, 1946). See also J. Pingree, Thomas Henry Huxley: List of His Correspondence With Miss Henrietta Anne Heathorn, Later Mrs. Huxley, 1847-1854 (London, 1969) and Thomas Henry Huxley: A List of His Scientific Notebooks, Drawings and Other Papers (London, 1968).

Huxley was a prolific correspondent, and his letters may be found in many collections of papers of his correspondents.

II. Secondary Literature. The standard source for Huxley’s life is Leonard Huxley, Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, 2 vols. (London, 1900), which includes extensive bibliographies of his addresses, books, and scientific papers, as well as lists of honors he received and scientific societies and Royal Commissions of which he was a member. This work is weak on the period of the voyage of the Rattlesnake, apparently because the Diary of the voyage had not then been found.

Probably the best analysis of Huxley’s scientific work is P. Chalmers Mitchell, Thomas Henry Huxley. A Sketch of His Life and Work (London, 1900); see also Michael Foster, “Obituary of T. H. Huxley,” in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 59 (1896), 46-66. Most of the many biographical writings on Huxley rely heavily on the above three items. The various works devoted to the lives and letters of Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker, and Charles Lyell are valuable for additional information and other views of events in Huxley’s life.

Cyril Bibby, T. H. Huxley: Scientist, Humanist and Educator (London, 1959), is based on extensive original research and emphasizes Huxley’s activities and writings as an educator and a public figure, topics which because of space are only touched on in the above article.

For the debate following Huxley’s “On the Physical Basis of Life,” see Gerald L. Geison, “The Protoplasmic Theory of Life and the Vitalist-Mechanist Debate,” in Isis, 60 (1969), 273-292. Finally, Aldous Huxley discussed his grandfather’s success as a writer in his 1932 Huxley Memorial Lecture, “T. H. Hucley as a Literary Man”; reprinted in Aldous Huxley, The Olive Tree (London, 1937).

Wesley C. Williams

Huxley, Thomas Henry

views updated May 18 2018


(b. Ealing, Middlesex, England, 4 May 1825; d. Hodeslea, East-bourne, Sussex, England, 29 June 1895),

zoology, evolution, paleontology, ethnology, popularization, professionalization. For the original article on Huxley see DSB, vol. 6.

Huxley studies underwent a transformation in the later twentieth century. From his “science versus religion” metaphor to his Darwinian propaganda, from his cultural context to his biology training-programs, little remained untouched. The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley(1900), which informed much of the original DSB entry, was superseded by culturally embedded studies that show how Dissenting, industrializing, and scientific currents sustained Huxley and how he in turn reframed the great questions of duty, morality, and the value of science.

Medical Education . Huxley’s trajectory away from Anglicanism began in the 1835–1840 period in Coventry, where he mixed with Dissenting ribbon masters. In this industrial heartland, with its sectarian politics, he began questioning the duality of matter and soul and the legitimacy of the established church.

More has become known about Huxley’s education. His two medical brothers-in-law were John Charles Cooke, who apprenticed him in Coventry (1839), and John Godwin Salt—not “Scott” (an alias taken when he fled to the United States). In January 1841 Huxley’s apprenticeship continued under the reformer Thomas Chandler in East London, where Huxley experienced the privations of the poor, then later that year under Salt. In 1841–1842 he studied at Sydenham College, a cheap medical school where Cooke taught (and where Marshall Hall was developing his reflex arc). Huxley took the botany prize and was awarded a silver medal by the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries. On finishing at Charing Cross Hospital (1845), he passed part one of the London University Bachelor of Medicine exam, but his debts forced him to forego part two. He had no degree. Too young to obtain a Royal College of Surgeons’ license to practice, he joined the navy as assistant surgeon.

Rattlesnake Voyage and Oceanic Hydrozoa . A spate of studies on HMS Rattlesnake’s voyage to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef appeared in the 1960s and 1970s, to coincide with Australia’s bicentenary celebrations. They exploited the numerous journals kept by the captain and crew and threw fresh light on Huxley’s circumnavigation.

Huxley specialized in the jellyfish and sea nettles (Siphonophora). He was deeply versed in European invertebrate anatomy, as was shown by his later London disagreements with Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg on the organelle content of protozoa, with Richard Owen on “Alternation of Generations,” and with the Schleiden-Schwann cell theory. Huxley dissected widely, especially ascidians (he discovered two new orders), but it was his studies on his forty new genera of jellyfish and siphonophores that made his name. Mary P. Winsor (1976) has elucidated Huxley’s work on the siphonophore archetype with its two “foundation membranes,” the basis of his new class, Nematophora (Heinrich Frey and Rudolf Leuckart preempted him with the term Coelenterata). Huxley’s views on jellyfish and ascidians as single organisms (rather than colonies) were also anticipated by Leuckart’s polymorphism theory. Huxley further fragmented Georges Cuvier’s embranchement, the Radiata, in 1851, when he unsuccessfully combined rotifers, flatworms, and starfish in a new group, the Annuloida.

The School of Mines and Fossil Work . In Sydney, Huxley became engaged to Henrietta Heathorn, a brewer’s daughter. Paul White has analyzed their touching correspondence to show how Huxley’s ideal of the selfless man of science emerged out his engagement with Henrietta’s domestic qualities of self-sacrifice and feminine virtue. They were married in London in 1855 and had eight children: Noel (1856–1860), Jessie Oriana (1858–1926), Marian (1859–1887), Leonard (1860–1933), Rachel (1862– 1934), Henrietta (1863–1940), Henry (1865–1946), and Ethel Gladys (1866–1941).

In London, Huxley penetrated the Westminster Review heart of literary radicalism. His column in the Review(1854–1857) bolstered what the English novelist George Eliot (pseudonym of Marian Evans) called his haughty scientific persona. But his predicament as a freelancer trapped in a commercial science nexus showed in his savagery toward Robert Chambers’s Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. The book was not denounced because of Huxley’s “critical skepticism of all theories,” as the original DSB article has it. With the antithetical categories of professional/amateur and elite/popular knowledge still forming, Huxley was using his scientific reportage to gain audience recognition of his expertise. He took shares in the Westminster, and in the Reader in 1864, and carried his goals through into Nature in 1869. Secular London science was seeking a distinct literary niche; and its birth pangs became evident when Huxley’s slashing “Science and ‘Church Policy’” editorial (1864) split the Reader consensus, alienating its Christian Socialist backers.

In 1854 he was appointed lecturer in natural history and paleontology at the Government School of Mines (a seeding institution training industrialists, surveyors, and teachers). Joining the Geological Survey, which, as James A. Secord (1986) shows, encouraged paleoecological research, Huxley was pushed increasingly into paleontology. He established that the coelacanths were relicts of Devonian Crossopterygian fish. And in proving that the Elgin sandstone reptiles were Triassic, not Devonian, he removed the last evidence for Charles Lyell’s nonprogressionist paleontology.

Huxley’s early paleontological views were idiosyncratic. Himself influenced by Lyell’s nonprogressionism, he harped on the unchanging nature of fossil lineages (his “Persistent Types”). In 1859 he believed that the major taxa had appeared before the Silurian period, after which they persisted little changed (so people might yet see Paleozoic pottery). This has been interpreted as a reaction to Owen’s archetypal progressionism in part. While Huxley’s Life and Letters castigated Owen as an aggressor, revisionists have investigated Owen’s and Huxley’s contrasting Oxford-Anglican and industrial-Dissenting patronage strings and their career rivalry in a confined field. Contemporaries called Huxley’s personality reactive. And Dov Ospovat illustrated the point: Where Owen’s archetype was made flesh through a specializing series of forms (illustrated by toe loss in fossil horses), Huxley—before Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species(1859)—placed his abstract archetypes at the center of William Sharp MacLeay’s quinarian circles. The living types were situated equidistantly about the archetype, so there could be no specializing fossil series. Nor could humans result from a fossil ascent (Huxley, as an anonymous Westminster columnist, called humanity an “aberrant modification”).

Evolution . After visiting Darwin in 1856, Huxley found his secular needs better served by Darwinian naturalism and began his piecemeal reorientation. In January 1859 he declared that humans must have evolved from animals, pushing ahead of Darwin, who avoided humankind in the Origin of Species. Huxley’s campaign against the clergy was recast as a Manichean “Evolution versus Creation” dichotomy. In class he caricatured “Creation” as atoms flashing together into elephants, and Darwin ended the Origin with this straw-man alternative to evolution.

The original DSB article dwells on Owen’s antitransmutationist claim that humans alone possess a neuroanatomical ridge, the Hippocampus minor. Huxley’s rebuttal has generated a large literature. Christopher Cosans (1994) looks at Huxley’s Cartesianism and the Kantian Owen’s neuropsychological understanding; C. U. M. [Christopher Upham Murray] Smith (1997) too sees deeper contrasting philosophies but is more sympathetic to an accompanying social explanation; as is Charles G. Gross (1993), who has examined the neuroanatomy (and shown how Huxley detected new sulci during his dissections).

The DSB on the 1860 Huxley–Samuel Wilberforce repartee typifies an older warfare historiography (since deconstructed by James R. Moore, 1979). Subsequent revisionism includes Frank M. Turner’s 1993 territorial conflict thesis—which sees London’s men of science undercutting the spiritual sanction of a rival profession. This can itself be wrapped within Sheridan Gilley’s 1981 study of the contemporary splits within Anglicanism and a rising industrial Dissent, represented by the Puritan Huxley. (His zoological Calvinism, which emphasized stoicism in the face of hardship, could discipline a new industrial workforce, and his educational campaigns were backed by the manufacturers Joseph Whitworth and William Armstrong.) But note that Oxford’s liberal clergy, including the vice-chancellor Francis Jeune, were also sympathetic to Huxley’s rebuke of Wilberforce. This liberal Anglican alliance was reflected inside Huxley’s home, where Henrietta’s vicar, the Christian Socialist Llewelyn Davies, was welcomed.

Also problematic is the DSB’s summary of Huxley’s understanding of Darwinism. He was a morphologist where Darwin was a field naturalist, so Huxley was not particularly well acquainted with all of Darwin’s evidence. And it is untrue that “[f]or Huxley and others natural selection provided a method of organizing their own facts.” Both James G. Paradis (1978) and Turner foreground Huxley’s Carlylean Romanticism, which left him out of step with Darwin’s utilitarian approach. Huxley rarely mentioned natural selection: He does so only once in his Encyclopedia Britannica entry “Evolution” (1878), then negates with talk of the proclivity of organisms to vary.

Huxley also differed from Darwin on the completeness of the analogy between artificial and natural

selection, on saltationism, and on drowned continents. Evolutionary naturalism at times seemed their sole point of contact. For Huxley the Origin stretched “the domination of Science”: It authorized the man of science to talk on morality and origins. Indeed the book’s meritocratic Malthusianism made it a “Whitworth gun in the armoury of liberalism” (Huxley, 1860, p. 23).

Descriptive morphology remained Huxley’s forte, and only latterly did his monographs broach ancestry—of partridges (1868), crocodiles (1875), and crayfish (1880). While tentative family trees sometimes adorned his later notes, they were heuristic devices (illustrations are published in Desmond, 1997). His changing approach was stimulated by the concept of phylogeny in Ernst Haeckel’s Generelle Morphologie (1866). Whereas in his 1863–1864 lectures Huxley had united reptiles and birds in the “Sauropsida,” only after reading Haeckel and finding the avianlike ilium of the dinosaur Euskelesaurus in Oxford University Museum in 1867 did he make dinosaurs actual bird ancestors.

Huxley was a persuasive publicist. As his audiences varied from jam factory workers to Eton toffs, so did his presentation. His provocative workingmen’s talks, such as those on human-ape relationships, secured this disenfranchised constituency by picturing evolution as a bottom-up system of self-betterment.

Education and Scientific Administration . Huxley held three chairs simultaneously in the 1860s: at the School of Mines, the College of Surgeons (1862–1869), and the Royal Institution (1866–1869). And, despite the Tory grandees trying to engineer one of their own as president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) in 1870, this too fell to Huxley: a sign of the nobility’s prestige in administrative affairs passing to the careerists. He was president of the Royal Society in 1883–1885. Of all his coteries, it was the informal “X Club” (formed in 1864), which met before Royal Society meetings, that has attracted most attention. X-Clubbers had been viewed as establishment outsiders on a professionalizing bent, but Ruth Barton (1981) shows this coalition of gentlemen and careerists to have been more concerned with employment, expertise, and recognition than professional accreditation.

Evelleen Richards (1989) has exposed Huxley’s attitudes toward women and race, particularly at the Ethnological Society. Here Huxley recast the human populations as persistent “stocks”—meeting the Anthropological Society ultraracists (who viewed the races as separate species) halfway before merging with them. Seeing a free society as the most efficient, he was against chattel and domestic slavery. As such he supported the North in the American Civil War (even though his brother-in-law Dr. “Scott” was a Confederate surgeon). He believed that women should not suffer educational discrimination, whatever their biological limitations. And Richards assesses how far Victorian women acquiesced in Huxley’s views of their limitations. Of course events overtook him: The only schoolmistress in his first South Kensington summer course in 1871 finished first in the class. Such successes eroded patrician prejudices, and Huxley had a woman demonstrator by 1874. In the 1880s women routinely attended his academic lectures.

Scholars now understand the context of Huxley’s biological Type-system. The 1870 Education Act led to the establishment of school boards. Huxley—a Chamberlainite interventionist—was elected for London’s Maryle-bone ward, and his education committee published a blueprint for London’s schooling. Huxley helped supply the necessary textbooks, with his Physiography(1877) and Introductory Science Primer(1880). New teacher-training techniques were also needed. The Science Schools at South Kensington (later the Royal College of Science) was established, and here Huxley devised a simplified school biology, whittled down to a few laboratory types. This became the standard school biology course for a century.

He helped to establish the vocational City and Guilds Institute in 1884. Although ironically, as Barton notes, by emphasizing the moral discipline of pure science (to make it rival the classics in forming the character, and to put his science teachers on a par with the dons), he increased the theoretical bent of technical education. His claim that science’s ethical obligations toward truth made it better than the classics for ushering in a moral reformation led to a dialogue with Matthew Arnold.

The exegesis of Huxley agnosticism has proceeded apace. Adrian Desmond (1994) documents Huxley’s early skepticism and the way he stretched the Dissenters’ “sin of conformity” into a “sin of faith.” The timing of Huxley’s neologism, appearing as the spiritualist Alfred Russel Wallace and the Catholic St. George Mivart fragmented the Darwinian coalition, is examined by Moore (1991). Huxley tied agnosticism to middle-class values, and Bernard Lightman (1989) recounts his faltering control as agnosticism was appropriated by radical groups.

Huxley’s agnostic ideological slate was never blank: His naturalism assumed axioms of the uniformity of nature and correlation of forces. He returned in the 1870s to the reflex arcs (pioneered in his student days) to discuss Cartesian brutes as self-adjusting machines and the mechanical equivalent of consciousness. His naturalism was polemically displayed in debates with William Ewart Gladstone on Genesis, the socialists on equality, and the bishops on their realist views of natural law.

His last major speech, “Evolution and Ethics,” at Oxford in 1893, has been reevaluated to show how he detached a brutal Malthusian nature from a pure human ethics after the death of his daughter Marian. Michael S. Helfand (1977) has him staking his Liberal political ethics midway between socialist demands for natural rights and Spencer’s laissez-faire alternative. The justice he had once seen in nature was gone: He now portrayed ethical man revolting against a morally indifferent cosmos.

Huxley and History . Huxley’s Collected Essays provide a propagandist insight into an emerging evolutionary worldview. He reinterpreted duty and morality for a secularizing, industrializing culture. His was a winner’s history, with its denigration of clergy and pre-Darwinian biology. In the later twentieth century this partisan image was transcended by historiographical approaches based on an understanding of the religious, industrial, and scientific currents that swept Huxley along, approaches that no less recognized his achievements in education, administration, and the assimilation of science. The centenary of his death was marked by new biographies, book-length studies, and a symposium at Imperial College, London, where the Huxley Archives are housed.



On the Educational Value of the Natural History Sciences. London: Van Voorst, 1854.

The Oceanic Hydrozoa: A Description of the Calycophoridae and Psysophoridae Observed During the Voyage of H.M.S. “Rattlesnake,” in the Years 1846-1850. London: Printed for the Ray Society, 1859.

“On the Theory of the Vertebrate Skull.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 9 (1859): 381-487.

Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature. London & Edinburgh: Williams & Norgate, 1863; New York: Appleton, 1863.

Lectures on the Elements of Comparative Anatomy. London: Churchill, 1864.

Lessons in Elementary Physiology. London: Macmillan, 1866; London & New York: Macmillan, 1871.

Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews. London: Macmillan, 1870; New York: Appleton, 1870.

A Manual of the Anatomy of Vertebrated Animals. London: Churchill, 1871; New York: Appleton, 1872.

Critiques and Addresses. London: Macmillan, 1873; New York: Appleton, 1873.

A Course of Practical Instruction in Elementary Biology, by Huxley with the assistance of H. N. Martin. London: Macmillan, 1875.

The Evidence of the Miracle of Resurrection. London: Printed for the Metaphysical Society, 1876.

American Addresses, with a Lecture in the Study of Biology. London: Macmillan, 1877; New York: Appleton, 1877.

A Manual of the Anatomy of Invertebrated Animals. London: Churchill, 1877; New York: Appleton, 1878.

Physiography: An Introduction to the Study of Nature. London: Macmillan, 1877; New York: Appleton, 1882.

Hume. London: Macmillan, 1878.

Introductory [science primer] London: Macmillan, 1880; New York: Appleton, 1882.

Science and Culture, and Other Essays. London: Macmillan, 1881; New York: Appleton, 1882.

An Introduction to the Study of Zoology, Illustrated by the Crayfish. New York: Appleton, 1884.

The Advance of Science in the Last Half-Century. New York: Appleton, 1887. “Autobiography,” in From Handel to Hallé: Biographical Sketches with Autobiographies of Professor Huxley and Professor Herkomer, edited by Louis Engel. London: Sonnenschein, 1890.

Social Diseases and Worse Remedies. London: Macmillan, 1891.

Essays on Some Controverted Questions. London & New York: Macmillan, 1892; New York: Appleton, 1892.

Evolution and Ethics. London & New York: Macmillan, 1893.

Collected Essays, 9 volumes. London: Macmillan, 1893-1894; New York: Appleton, 1894.

The Scientific Memoirs of T. H. Huxley, 5 volumes, edited by Michael Foster, and E. Ray Lankester. London: Macmillan/New York: Appleton, 1898-1903.

T. H. Huxley’s Diary of the Voyage of H.M.S. Rattlesnake, edited by Julian Huxley. London: Chatto & Windus, 1935; Garden City: Doubleday, Doran, 1936.

Thomas Henry Huxley: List of His Correspondence with Miss Henrietta Anne Heathorn, Later Mrs. Huxley, 1847-54, edited by Jeanne Pingree. London: Imperial College of Science and Technology, 1969.


Barr, Alan P., ed. Thomas Henry Huxley’s Place in Science and Letters: Centenary Essays. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997.

Bartholomew, Michael. “Huxley’s Defence of Darwin.” Annals of Science 32 (1975): 525–535.

Barton, Ruth. “Scientific Opposition to Technical Education.” In Scientific and Technical Education in Early Industrial Britain, edited by Michael D. Stephens and Gordon W. Roderick. Nottingham, U.K.: Department of Adult Education, University of Nottingham, 1981.

———. “‘Huxley, Lubbock, and Half a Dozen Others’: Professionals and Gentlemen in the Formation of the X Club, 1851–1864.” Isis 89 (1998): 410–444.

Collie, Michael. Huxley at Work: With the Scientific Correspondence of T. H. Huxley and the Rev. Dr. George Gordon of Birnie, Near Elgin. Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1991.

Cosans, Christopher. “Anatomy, Metaphysics, and Values: The Ape Brain Debate Reconsidered.” Biology and Philosophy 9 (1994): 129–165.

Darwin, Angela, and Adrian Desmond, eds. The Thomas Henry Huxley Family Correspondence. 4 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (Forthcoming).

Desmond, Adrian. Archetypes and Ancestors: Palaeontology in Victorian London, 1850–1875. London: Blond & Briggs, 1982.

———. Huxley: The Devil’s Disciple. London: Michael Joseph, 1994.

———. Huxley: Evolution’s High Priest. London: Michael Joseph, 1997. These two volumes were combined as Huxley: From Devil’s Disciple to Evolution’s High Priest. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1997; Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1998.

———. “Redefining the X Axis: ‘Professionals,’ ‘Amateurs,’ and the Making of Mid-Victorian Biology—A Progress Report.” Journal of the History of Biology 34 (2001): 3–50.

Di Gregorio, Mario A. T. H. Huxley’s Place in Natural Science. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984.

Forgan, Sophie, and Graeme Gooday. “Constructing South Kensington: The Buildings and Politics of T. H. Huxley’s Working Environment.” British Journal for the History of Science 29 (1996): 435–468.

Gilley, Sheridan. “The Huxley-Wilberforce Debate: A Reconsideration.” In Religion and Humanism: Papers Read at the Eighteenth Summer Meeting and the Nineteenth Winter Meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society, edited by Keith Robbins. Oxford: Blackwell, 1981.

Gilley, Sheridan, and Ann Loades. “Thomas Henry Huxley: The War between Science and Religion.” Journal of Religion 61 (1981): 285–308.

Gross, Charles G. “Hippocampus Minor and Man’s Place in Nature: A Case Study in the Social Construction of Neuroanatomy.” Hippocampus 3 (1993): 403–416.

Helfand, Michael S. “T. H. Huxley’s ‘Evolution and Ethics.’” Victorian Studies 20 (1977): 159–177.

Huxley, Thomas Henry. “The Origin of Species [1860]. In Darwiniana: Essays by Thomas H. Huxley. London: Macmillan, 1893.

Lightman, Bernard. “Ideology, Evolution, and Late-Victorian Agnostic Popularizers.” In History, Humanity, and Evolution: Essays for John C. Greene, edited by James R. Moore. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

———. “Huxley and Scientific Agnosticism: The Strange History of a Failed Rhetorical Strategy.” British Journal for the History of Science 35 (2002): 271–289.

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———. “Deconstructing Darwinism: The Politics of Evolution in the 1860s.” Journal of the History of Biology 24 (1991): 353–408.

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Paradis, James G. T. H. Huxley: Man’s Place in Nature. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978.

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Adrian Desmond

Thomas Henry Huxley

views updated May 11 2018

Thomas Henry Huxley

The English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) is most famous as "Darwin's bulldog," that is, as the man who led the fight for the acceptance of Darwin's theory of evolution.

On May 4, 1825, T. H. Huxley was born at Ealing, the seventh child of George and Rachel Withers Huxley. Perhaps because two brothers-in-law were doctors, Thomas decided to enter the medical profession and in the fashion of the time became an apprentice to a brother-in-law at the age of 15. In 1842 he won a free scholarship to the medical school attached to Chairing Cross Hospital in London and completed the course in 1846.

Huxley then sought a position in the medical service of the Royal Navy and was assigned to the Rattlesnake, a surveying ship bound for New Guinea and Australia. The Rattlesnake sailed on Dec. 3, 1846, and returned to England on Nov. 9, 1850. During two stopovers in Sydney, Australia, Huxley met Henrietta Heathorn, whom he married in 1855.

A Naturalist in Spite of Himself

Although another man held the post of naturalist on the expedition, Huxley found time amidst his duties as ship's surgeon to study those delicate marine animals that float near the surface of the sea. He worked up reports of his discoveries and sent them to England for publication. Those on the medusae, or jellyfish, were especially important and original. Soon after his return to England, and primarily on the basis of this work on the medusae, Huxley was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1851 and was awarded one of its royal medals in 1852.

Though still in his 20s, Huxley was now recognized as an accomplished investigator. But opportunities for a scientific career were rare in England, and from 1851 through 1853 Huxley sought in vain for a teaching position and for funds to cover the costs of publishing his complete researches. Finally, in 1854, he was appointed lecturer on natural history at the Government School of Mines in London. To supplement the meager income from this post, he was a year later named naturalist to the Geological Survey. This position carried with it certain duties with regard to fossils. Huxley accepted both positions with reservations. He "did not care for fossils" and "species work was a burden" to him. "There was," he wrote, "little of the genuine naturalist in me." What he hoped eventually to find was a position in physiology, but this was not to be. He spent all of his active career at the School of Mines and became a genuine naturalist in spite of himself.

In 1859 Huxley's monograph On the Oceanic Hydrozoa was published, but his research interests had expanded greatly by then. He ranged all over the field of zoology, but vertebrate morphology and paleontology had become his leading concerns. His most important single paper during this period was his Croonian lecture of 1858, "On the Theory of the Vertebrate Skull." In this work, as in that on the medusae and other marine animals, Huxley demonstrated the value of embryological development as a criterion for determining the significance of the anatomical features of adult animals.

Huxley and Evolution

Until Darwin published his theory of evolution, Huxley doubted that a transmutation of species had taken place. He considered the prior evidence for this idea insufficient, and he was unimpressed by previous attempts to provide a causal mechanism for evolution. Although Huxley was among the privileged few to hear the outlines of Darwin's theory in advance of publication, his active support for the theory seems to begin with the publication in November 1859 of the Origin of Species. Here at last was presented a mass of scientific evidence in favor of transmutation and, more importantly, a plausible mechanism as to how it had occurred—namely, by the "natural selection" of favored variations in the struggle for existence. "My reflection," Huxley wrote, "when I first made myself master of the central idea of Origin was 'How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!"' Even now he retained certain reservations about Darwin's theory, pointing out that no new species had been known to result from artificial selection and that Darwin had not given an adequate explanation of how variations are produced in the first place. Huxley suggested to Darwin that he had committed himself too exclusively to the notion of insensible gradations in variation; Huxley believed that variation might sometimes take place in larger and more clearly defined steps (what might today be called mutations).

But even with these reservations Huxley thought that Darwin's theory was a "well-founded working hypothesis" and a "powerful instrument of research." By comparison, the old doctrine that each species was an immutable special creation of God seemed "a barren virgin." Foreseeing that Darwin would be subjected to "considerable abuse" for his heresy, Huxley promised his less combative friend that he was "sharpening up my claws and beak in readiness." He was determined that Darwin's theory should receive a fair hearing, and he opened the campaign with a review appearing in the London Times the day after Christmas, 1859.

For his part in the open clash which resulted between science and the church, Huxley became a famous public figure. Neither among the public nor among scientists did Huxley ever really settle the question of the origin of species, but his fair and fearless advocacy of Darwin's theory did much to advance the cause.

Scientific Work

From 1860 to 1870 Huxley devoted himself largely to the question of man's origin and place in nature and to the study of paleontology. Along with W. H. Flower he produced apparently irrefutable evidence against Richard Owen's view that the brain of man possessed unique anatomical features. In Evidences as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) Huxley emphasized that the differences in the foot, hand, and brain between man and the higher apes were no greater than those between the higher and lower apes.

By 1871 Huxley had published 38 paleontological papers, including several on dinosaur fossils. Largely as a result of these papers and of more purely morphological work suggested by them, the evolutionary relationships between reptiles and the birds (the Sauropsida) and between amphibia and fishes (the Ichthyopsida) became more clearly understood. Huxley's work was also important in establishing the view that the Sauropsida and Mammalia had diverged from some common ancestor. Also during these years Huxley erected a new and largely successful classificatory scheme for the birds.

Administrator, Reformer, and Lecturer

Huxley was Fullerian professor of physiology at the Royal Institution (1856-1858), examiner in physiology and comparative anatomy for the University of London (1856-1863, 1865-1870); and Hunterian professor at the Royal College of Surgeons (1863-1870). Thereafter he devoted an increasing portion of his time to administrative and public duties.

Throughout his career Huxley published review articles and delivered a vast number of public lectures, both on scientific and more general topics. Gradually he acquired the lucid, forceful, and witty style for which he is so justly celebrated. Many consider him the greatest master of English prose of his time. His fervent belief that science should be diffused among the masses found expression in his famous lectures to working men, delivered from 1855 on.

Huxley's views on science, education, and philosophy gained an especially wide audience after he published Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews (1870). With regard to education in general, he insisted on the evils of one-sided education, whether classical or scientific, and on the need to cultivate the physical and moral as well as the intellectual capacities of children. But his main point was to chastise the English schools and universities for failing to recognize that science formed an essential part of Western culture.

In his philosophical essays Huxley placed himself in the tradition of "active skepticism" represented by René Descartes and David Hume. In essays like his famous "On the Physical Basis of Life" (1869) he insisted that life and even thought were at bottom molecular phenomena. For such ideas he was accused of being a materialist, but Huxley argued that "materialism and spiritualism are opposite poles of the same absurdity." To express his philosophical and theological position, Huxley in 1870 invented the word "agnostic." Because he thus denied that the existence of God could be proven, rejected the biblical account of creation and supported instead Darwin's theory of evolution, and tended toward liberalism or even radicalism in his political views, Huxley's name was anathema in respectable Anglican homes. But by his fair and courageous support of the truth as he saw it, he contributed greatly to an increased toleration toward free thought in Victorian England. In many ways Huxley is a mirror and a measure of his age.

In 1885 Huxley retired from all active duties and gave himself almost entirely to his philosophical and theological essays. He died at Eastbourne on June 29, 1895.

Further Reading

The basic source on Huxley is Leonard Huxley, Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1900). Although no adequate account of Huxley's scientific work exists, an attempt is made in P. Chalmers Mitchell, Thomas Henry Huxley: A Sketch of His Life and Work (1900). A work focusing on Huxley's role in education is Harold Cyril Bibby, T. H. Huxley: Scientist, Humanist and Educator (1959). Ronald W. Clark, The Huxleys (1968), is a popular, literate biography of Huxley and his famous grandsons Andrew, Julian, and Aldous Huxley.

Additional Sources

Autobiographies, Oxford Oxfordshire; New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Clodd, Edward, Thomas Henry Huxley, New York: AMS Press, 1977.

Di Gregorio, Mario A., T.H. Huxley's place in natural science, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984.

Huxley, Thomas Henry, Life and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, New York: AMS Press, 1979, 1900.

Huxley, Thomas Henry, The major prose of Thomas Henry Huxley, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997.

Irvine, William, Apes, angels & Victorians: the story of Darwin, Huxley, and evolution, Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1983, 1955.

Jensen, J. Vernon (John Vernon), Thomas Henry Huxley: communicating for science, Newark: University of Delaware Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1991.

Paradis, James G., T. H. Huxley: man's place in nature, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978.

Peterson, Houston, Huxley, prophet of science, New York: AMS Press, 1977. □

Huxley, Thomas Henry

views updated Jun 08 2018


scientific career
institutional and cultural reforms

HUXLEY, THOMAS HENRY (1825–1895), British zoologist, education reformer.

Dubbed "Darwin's bulldog" for his combative role in the Victorian controversies over evolutionary theory, Thomas Huxley was a leading zoologist, popularizer, and education reformer. His writings, teaching, and administration helped to define the "man of science" as a public figure and to reshape the institutions of British science in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Huxley was born in Ealing, a small village west of London, in 1825. With only two years of formal education, he was apprenticed to general medical practitioners in Coventry and London's East End. At the age of twenty, he completed his first examination for a medical degree at University College. Lacking the financial means to continue his education, he entered the navy, where he gained an appointment as assistant surgeon on a survey ship. Huxley spent the next five years (1846–1851) pursuing natural history alongside his official duties, concentrating on marine invertebrates, such as physalia, the Portuguese man-of-war. His research had important implications for prevailing theories of alternation of generations and parthenogenesis, theories that he sought to overturn in part by a redefinition

of the "individual" animal as composed of apparently independent parts of a complex life cycle. He also had ambitions that his meticulous comparative anatomy and physiology would lead to a substantial reordering of taxonomic groups.

Shortly after his return to England in 1851, Huxley was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London and was awarded its royal medal the following year. But despite this high scientific reputation, he was unable to gain a position to sustain his zoological research. In extensive correspondence with his fiancée, who lived in Sydney, Australia, with her family, he expressed increasing dismay and bitterness at the lack of professional positions in science, a reflection, he judged, of a general lack of recognition for scientific work in Britain. Once he gained a foot-hold in the institutional establishment, Huxley devoted a great portion of his time and energy to the reform of scientific institutions and to increasing the status and authority of science in Britain.

scientific career

In 1854 Huxley obtained a lectureship at the School of Mines, and an appointment as paleontologist to the Geological Survey, both jobs unexpectedly vacated by his chief mentor, Edward Forbes (1815–1854). These were comparatively new institutions, established by the government in the 1840s, and closely linked to Britain's growing industries and empire. Huxley moved quickly to the inner circles of metropolitan science. In the following year, he became Fullerian professor of the Royal Institution, and lecturer at St. Thomas's Hospital, London. Huxley also established himself in more public domains, giving evening lectures to "working men," and writing a regular column on science for the Westminster Review. Within these varied settings, Huxley developed a theory of morphological types, in which every living creature was conceived as a modification of a small number of forms. The theory had been especially well developed in Germany, where it was closely linked with embryological research, and Huxley followed leading German anatomists in arguing that members of a particular animal group each passed through a common series of embryological stages.

Huxley's reputation outside of specialist scientific circles arose through his combative role in the evolution debates of the 1860s. Despite his previous opposition to transmutation, and despite persistent reservations about the role of natural selection in modifying species, Huxley became an outspoken defender of Charles Darwin, and a popularizer of Darwinian theory, almost immediately after the publication of Origin of Species in 1859. He presented lively summaries of Darwin's views in a variety of popular forums. In a series of technical papers in paleontology, comparative anatomy, and physical anthropology, he argued for the affinity of humans and apes, engaging in a protracted controversy with the comparative anatomist Richard Owen (1804–1892), who had placed humans in a distinct subclass based on perceived differences in brain anatomy. Sometimes Huxley used these more specialist debates as platforms for his wider campaigns of institutional and cultural reform, as in his famous clash with the bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce (1805–1873), at the 1860 meeting of the British Association.

institutional and cultural reforms

The reforms that Huxley initiated as a teacher and administrator were of considerable consequence. He persistently campaigned for the introduction of scientific subjects to English schools and universities, whose curricula had long been dominated by classical languages. As a member of the London school board, he used his considerable skills as a negotiator and arbitrator in advocating science as a part of nonsectarian religious and moral education. Another arena in which Huxley had particular success was in the establishment of laboratory methods of teaching for the life sciences. Using the resources of the government School of Mines, he initiated teacher training courses in biology, beginning in 1871 at a new facility in South Kensington. In so doing, he helped to shift the emphasis and authority in the life sciences to laboratory-based research, following the pattern already established in universities and institutes on the Continent.

In addition to his efforts to reform establish institutions of teaching and research, Huxley sought to expand the role of science in culture more generally. Through extensive public speaking and journal writing, he pursued a broad agenda as a social critic and authority on matters of politics and general welfare. His rhetorical powers were displayed to great effect in the Metaphysical Society, composed of many of Victorian England's most celebrated men of learning, and which featured short position papers followed by discussion. At the organizational meeting of this society in 1869, Huxley coined the term agnosticism to distinguish his own creed from those of others in the group, many of whom were clergymen. The term epitomized liberalist principles of free discussion, as well as the critical, candid, and disinterested manner Huxley sought to identify with scientific inquiry.

Huxley's efforts to pronounce scientifically on social and moral issues continued after his retirement from teaching and administration in 1885. He wrote long articles challenging the Genesis account of creation and the authenticity of miracles. He engaged in a series of highly political controversies over land nationalization, socialism, and Irish Home Rule, bringing aspects of Darwinian theory and racial anthropology, and principles of scientific method to bear on current affairs. That Huxley is far better known in the twenty-first century for his essays on politics, religion, and philosophy than for his vast body of technical papers in zoology, geology, and anthropology is perhaps indicative of the success of his campaign to increase the prominence of science in general culture.

Huxley died on 29 June 1895, survived by Henrietta, whom he had married in 1855, after an engagement of nearly eight years. The couple had eight children, one of whom died in early childhood.

See alsoDarwin, Charles; Evolution; Science and Technology.


Primary Sources

Foster, Michael, and E. Ray Lankester, eds. The Scientific Memoirs of Thomas Henry Huxley. 4 vols. and supplement. London, 1898–1902.

Huxley, Thomas. Collected Essays. 9 vols. London, 1893–1894.

Secondary Sources

Barr, Alan, ed. Thomas Henry Huxley's Place in Science and Letters: Centenary Essays. Athens, Ga., 1997.

Desmond, Adrian. Huxley: From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest. London, 1998.

Di Gregorio, Mario. T. H. Huxley's Place in Natural Science. New Haven, Conn., 1984.

White, Paul. Thomas Huxley: Making the "Man of Science." Cambridge, U.K., 2003.

Paul White

Huxley, T. H.

views updated May 17 2018

Huxley, T. H. (1825–95). Biologist, Darwin's bulldog, essayist, public figure, and sage, Huxley was one of the most prominent Victorian scientists. After sketchy schooling, he studied medicine in London on a scholarship, and became a naval surgeon. Serving on HMS Rattlesnake surveying in Australian waters, he dredged, described, and classified marine invertebrates. Leaving the navy, he sought academic posts, and was appointed to the School of Mines, an ancestor of Imperial College, London. After 1859, he became famous defending Darwin's Origin of Species. He coined the word agnostic to describe his attitude to science and to religion, and with John Tyndall and others formed the X-club, promoting professional science free from establishment interference. His lectures to working men were noteworthy, as was his introduction of German laboratory methods into Britain.

David Knight

Huxley, Thomas Henry

views updated May 21 2018

Huxley, Thomas Henry (1825–95) English biologist. Huxley was an early champion of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. His works include Zoological Evidences as to Man's Place in Nature (1863), Manual of Comparative Anatomy of Vertebrated Animals (1871), and Evolution and Ethics (1893).

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