Huxley, Julian

views updated May 23 2018


(b. London, England, 22 June 1887; d. London, England, 14 February 1975)

embryology, ethology, evolution, eugenics, secular humanism, popularization of science.

Huxley developed grand syntheses through scientific research and the popularization of scientific ideas. He is remembered for his contributions to ethology, evolutionary biology, and embryology. Huxley also promoted the use of scientific knowledge to improve the human condition. He advanced evolutionary humanism and actively participated in the eugenics movement. He pushed for the inclusion of science when the United Nations’ Education and Cultural Organization was formed and served as the first director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) from 1946–1948.

Huxley was a scientist of many talents and prodigious intellectual output. His life consisted of a chain of intense periods—stints of brilliant laboratory and field research, episodes of self-doubt and clinical depression, intervals of writing ambitious synthetic works, and periods of public administration and global politicking. He was part of an elite intellectual family descending from his famous grandfathers, Thomas Henry Huxley (the biologist sometimes called “Darwin’s Bulldog”) and Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby School. Huxley’s family included his aunt, the novelist Mrs. Humphrey Ward (Mary Augusta Ward); his brother, the writer Aldous Huxley; and his half-brother, Andrew Huxley, who won the Nobel Prize for his research in physiology. While the focus of Julian Huxley’s professional activities was never fixed for long, the motivation and interests underlying his work remained fairly constant. He sought to develop grand syntheses in biology, to create a religion of evolutionary humanism based on biology, and to bring these efforts to fruition through both popularization of science and liberal political action.

As a research biologist, Huxley covered an extraordinary range of topics, though in general his laboratory work was related to the development of individual organisms and his fieldwork concerned evolution—in particular the evolution of ritualized behavior exhibited by birds. In addition to dozens of specialized articles, Huxley wrote three major scientific books in which he attempted to synthesize broad ranges of biological findings concerning relative growth, embryology, and evolution. Although Huxley’s work on evolutionary theory is typically cited as his greatest contribution to biology (he coined many terms of contemporary evolutionary biology including “cline” and gave the name to the evolutionary synthesis), the bulk of his original research was devoted to issues of individual development.

Early Years . During his childhood, which was spent mostly in the English countryside, Huxley showed a keen interest in observing nature, an interest that was encouraged by his family. In later years, he was especially proud of the letter in which his grandfather, T. H. Huxley, predicted of the precocious five-year-old: “There are some people who see a great deal and some who see very little in the same things. When you grow up I dare say you will be one of the great-deal seers and see things more wonderful than water babies where other folks can see nothing” (Huxley, 1970, pp. 24–25).

Huxley started his formal education at Hillside Preparatory School in 1897. Three years later, he entered Eton College, where his grandfather Huxley had formerly been governor. After finishing at Eton, Huxley went on to Balliol College, Oxford. In 1908 he won the Naples biological scholarship to conduct research at the Naples Stazione Zoologica (which his grandfather had helped rescue from financial difficulty thirty years before). He visited the research station after finishing his degree at Oxford and performed experiments on the development of sponges by separating them into their individual cells and observing the ways in which they reformed and developed. The results of his laboratory work were published, but when he returned to Oxford in 1910 as lecturer at Balliol College and demonstrator in the Department of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy, he directed much of his attention to natural history—and especially to ornithology. During his first vacation from Oxford, Huxley began a series of studies on the evolution of bird courtship rituals.

Bird Courtship . Huxley’s most famous paper, “The Courtship Habits of the Great Crested Grebe” (1914), was written on the basis of observations he made on a two-week holiday from his duties at Oxford. Influenced by the work of Eliot Howard, an English amateur, Huxley argued that the courtship behavior must have evolved by natural selection, not by artificial (human-directed), as previously supposed. He observed that the courtship displays did not contribute to mate selection or stimulate coition. He concluded that the behavior, which occurs after birds pair, functions to preserve the couples by keeping the paired birds constantly together. As Richard W. Burkhardt Jr. notes, Huxley’s paper, in addition to exploring relations between artificial and natural selection, emphasizes the emotional side of bird life.

Huxley left Oxford in 1913 to become assistant professor and founding head of the Department of Biology at Rice Institute in Houston, Texas. While traveling to Houston, he visited Thomas Hunt Morgan’s famous fly room at Columbia, where he met Morgan’s student, Hermann Joseph Muller. He quickly hired Muller to be his assistant at Rice Institute. (Muller later won a Nobel Prize for his work in genetics.) In Texas, Huxley conducted research with Muller on genetics, studied relative growth of the fiddler crab, and pursued his ornithological studies by observing an egret colony in Louisiana. He also designed and implemented an innovative biology curriculum, which emphasized laboratory and field instruction. At the outbreak of World War I, he returned home to join the war effort. When Huxley left Rice in 1916, he gave a series of public lectures entitled “Biology and Man,” presenting his highly controversial views on science and religion, which he referred to as “scientific humanism” (and in later years as “evolutionary humanism”).

Huxley first served the war effort in the censor’s office, but was bored and soon enlisted in the Army Service Corps. During the war, he met Juliette Baillot, a French-Swiss woman ten years his junior, whom he married in the spring of 1919.

After the war Huxley returned to Oxford, this time as fellow of New College and senior demonstrator in the Department of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy. During his postwar years at Oxford, Huxley taught a number of promising students, including John Baker, Gavin de Beer, Charles Elton, Edmund Brisco Ford, and Alister Hardy. Huxley’s research interests remained diverse during these six years at Oxford (1917–1925). He resumed his ornithological studies, describing the courtship behavior of different bird species and theorizing about the evolutionary origins of their rituals. In addition, he embarked on laboratory studies that continued through the 1920s and well into the 1930s. Most of them focused on embryology, and he published a number of articles on differentiation, morphogenesis, the hormonal control of growth and development, and rate genes.

Allometry . Huxley’s most important and long-lasting contribution to laboratory research was his simple allometry formula that related the growth of different parts of an organism. Huxley first used the formula to relate the growth of the large claw in a fiddler crab to the growth of the rest of its body. He let x = the weight of a crab’s large claw and y = the weight of the crab minus the weight of its large claw, and showed that the formula y = b xk is satisfied throughout development. In Problems of Relative Growth (1932), he showed that this formula can be used to relate the growth of key organs in many species, including tails in mice, skulls in baboon, and roots in plants. Subsequently it was shown to relate the growth of key organs to one another as well.

Huxley’s first claim to public fame, however, came with a short article in Nature, which was misinterpreted in the popular press. He was credited with discovering the “Elixir of Life.” Huxley’s attempt to clarify his work on the axolotl marked his entry into science popularization. During his postwar years at Oxford he wrote a number of articles on popular science. His first book on biology for public consumption, Essays of a Biologist, was published in 1923. This was followed by nearly twenty more books of popular science. He also pursued his interests in issues of wider concern, for instance the ramifications of biological knowledge for the humanities and public policy. His early views on these issues can be traced in his popular writings, though most of his major contributions to these areas were yet to come.

During their postwar years at Oxford, Huxley and his wife started a family. They had two sons, both of whom developed the family interest in nature. Anthony, born in 1920, became a botanist. Francis, born in 1923, took up social anthropology. The Huxley family seems to have been reasonably happy during the Oxford years, and Juliette supported her husband’s work in numerous ways, including tending his laboratory experiments while he was away conducting field research.

In 1925, with little prospect of promotion at Oxford, Huxley accepted a chair in zoology at King’s College at the University of London. Although his field studies were drawing to a close, he continued his experimental research at King's. He also began to write an encyclopedic work on biology with Herbert George Wells and Wells’s son, George Wells, then a zoologist at University College in London. The project became burdensome, and in 1927, after just two years at King’s College, Huxley resigned his chair in order to devote greater attention to The Science of Life. Huxley did most of the original writing of this three-volume work, which was completed in 1930 and was his greatest popular success.

Move to London . Huxley maintained a frantic pace during the eight years beginning with his resignation from King’s College in 1927 and ending with his appointment as secretary of the Zoological Society of London in 1935. He continued to use his laboratories at King’s College during this period and published at least nine substantive articles and two original books on experimental biology, Problems of Relative Growth (1932) and The Elements of Experimental Embryology (with Gavin Rylands de Beer, 1934). In addition to these substantive works, which were written for professional biologists, he continued to popularize science and pursued a career in broadcasting. He gave many radio talks and held debates over the air with Hyman Levy on topics concerning science and society. Huxley also supported the call to bring scientific education to the world community and visited East and Central Africa at the invitation of the Colonial Office’s committee on education.

In addition to his laboratory work, lecturing, scientific and popular writing, trips overseas, and broadcasting, the enterprising Huxley joined the film industry. In the early 1930s, he edited Cosmos, the Story of Evolution and prepared the Eugenics Society’s Heredity in Man. He also served as general supervisor of biological films for G. B. Instructional Ltd. His greatest achievement in film was his making of The Private Life of the Gannet with John Grierson and Ronald M. Lockley. The film documented the nesting and feeding habits of the great white sea birds, capturing their elaborate display behavior as well as their spectacular aerial dives. The film won an Oscar for best documentary of the year and clinched Huxley’s candidacy for the head administrative post of the Zoological Society of London.

In 1935, when Huxley was appointed secretary of the Zoological Society, he was a well-known public figure. He had already written several popular books on science, regularly contributed articles to magazines such as The Spectator, and appeared frequently for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Soon after the outbreak of World War II, Huxley joined a new radio program, “The Brains Trust,” which was aired by the BBC.

Huxley’s experience as a practicing scientist put him in an excellent position to advise the Zoological Society on how to sponsor pure research, though the society supported little scientific research during his reign. His experience and flair as a science educator and popularizer, however, were fully utilized. He brought about important innovations—regular public lectures for children (given by Huxley and the curators), special exhibits designed to illustrate scientific principles, Pet’s Corner (a children’s zoo), Zoo Magazine, numerous films, and the Studio of Animal Art.

Huxley had always been interested in evolution, and the theoretical import of his fieldwork on birds concerned the selective mechanism behind the evolutionary origin of their behavior. But the bulk of Huxley’s research publications, if not his popular writings, had thus far stemmed from his work in the laboratory. This changed when Huxley went to the zoo. He abandoned his laboratory at

King’s College and redirected his research attention to evolution.

From 1936 to 1941, Huxley wrote several articles on evolutionary theory, coined key terms, and wrote the book that gave the name to the consensus emerging in evolutionary biology: Evolution, the Modern Synthesis(1942). The central neo-Darwinian theme of this work, which combined elements of the new genetics with Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection, was anticipated in several of Huxley’s popular writings. But he did not present his synthetic, neo-Darwinian account of evolution to professional biologists until he gave the presidential address to the zoological section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1936.

Work on Eugenics . Throughout his lifetime but especially in the 1930s, Huxley pursued a keen interest in eugenics, the highly controversial “science” of “improving” the genetic makeup of the human species. He published a number of articles on eugenics throughout his career, some intended for the public, others for professional scientists. He was also an active member of the movement’s leading professional society, the Eugenics Society, serving as its president from 1959 until 1962.

Huxley played a key role in the transformation of what has been called “old” eugenics into “new,” or “reform” eugenics. “Old style” eugenics, advanced by a previous generation of Darwinians, including Karl Pearson and Charles Davenport, reportedly emphasized heredity to the near exclusion of environmental influences and included overt race and class biases associated with conservative politics. Huxley was part of a generation of eugenicists, including John Burdon Sanderson Haldane, Muller, and Frederick Osborn, who shared a more sophisticated understanding of genetics and evolution. These “reform eugenicists” reportedly appreciated the importance of the environment, were more sensitive to race and class biases, and had liberal political outlooks. Huxley argued that eugenics would not succeed without the “leveling up” of the environment, contended that “population thinking” showed that races did not exist, and rejected the idea that the upper classes should be encouraged to reproduce and lower classes discouraged. Nevertheless, his eugenical speeches and writing, as well as his support of sterilization and birth control practices, reveals that he did not escape racial, ethnic, and class biases.

After resigning from the zoo in 1942, Huxley earned his living by giving lectures and talks on the BBC, and kept busy meeting with various groups and committees on higher education and planning. One of these groups was involved with the preliminary plans for forming a United Nations agency concerned with education and culture. Huxley and Joseph Needham led the drive for the inclusion of science as an area of concern, and they have been credited with putting the “S” in UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). Huxley replaced the ailing Sir Alfred Zimmern as full-time secretary of the UNESCO Preparatory Commission, which was charged with drawing up a charter and defining the scope of the future United Nations agency. He quickly wrote a pamphlet, UNESCO: Its Purpose and Its Philosophy, which announced that the future UN organization could not rely on religious doctrines or any of the conflicting systems of academic philosophy. Instead, the organization was to carry out its work within the framework of a humanism that seeks to treat “all peoples and all individuals within each people as equals in terms of human dignity, mutual respect, and educational opportunity.” He stated that it “must also be a scientific humanism, in the sense that the application of science provides most of the material basis for human culture, and also that the practice and the understanding of science need be integrated with that of other human activities” (1947, p. 5). After conceding that the humanism must “embrace the spiritual and mental,” he went on to contend that the humanism must be evolutionary because evolutionary theory

shows us man’s place in nature and his relations to the rest of the phenomenal universe. … [It] not only gives us a description of various types of evolution and the various trends and directions within them, but it allows us to distinguish desirable and undesirable trends, and to demonstrate the existence of progress in the cosmos. And finally it shows us man as now the sole trustee of further evolutionary progress, and gives us important guidance as to the courses he should avoid and those he should pursue if he is to achieve that progress. (1947, p. 6)

The mission of UNESCO, he stated, was to facilitate further advances by supporting the spread of scientific ideas, and facilitating cultural exchange. Huxley’s views were attacked as atheism in disguise, and the members of the commission decided not to endorse his document. Nevertheless, Huxley was elected UNESCO’s first director-general, though he was offered a term of just two years, rather than the constitutional six.

After Huxley left UNESCO at the age of sixty-one, he never took another regular position. The remaining twenty-seven years of his life were spent giving lectures, writing, and traveling. During this period, he wrote hundreds of articles and chapters as well as over half a dozen new books. Many of his writings were on general topics, including conditions in various countries, social problems, international organizations, evolutionary ethics, and eugenics. Huxley continued to play an important role in the scientific profession and was called on to give key lectures at scientific meetings, to organize scientific conferences, and to support professional societies, including the Ecological Society, the Society for the Study of Evolution, and the Association for the Study of Animal Behavior, the latter two of which he helped found. He continued to work for the causes he advanced as director-general of UNESCO and remained active in many of the agency’s affiliated international commissions.



“The Courtship Habits of the Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus); with an Addition to the Theory Of Sexual Selection.” Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 35 (1914): 491–562.

“Metamorphosis of Axolotl Caused by Thyroid Feeding.” Nature 104 (1920): 435.

Essays of a Biologist. New York: Knopf, 1923.

Essays in Popular Science. London: Chatto & Windus, 1926.

With Herbert G. Wells and G. P. Wells. The Science of Life: A Summary of Contemporary Knowledge about Life and Its Possibilities. 3 vols. London: Amalgamated Press, 1929–1930; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran, 1931.

“Eugenic Sterilisation.” Nature 126 (1930): 503.

Problems of Relative Growth. London: Methuen, 1932.

“Sterilisation: A Social Problem.” New Chronicle, 21 January 1934, p. 2.

With Gavin Rylands de Beer. The Elements of Experimental Embryology. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1934.

“The Concept of Race: In the Light of Modern Genetics.” Harper’s Monthly Magazine 170 (1935): 689–698.

“Eugenics and Society.” Eugenics Review 28 (1936): 11–31.

“The Concept of Race: In the Light of Modern Genetics.” In The Uniqueness of Man. London: Chatto & Windus, 1941. (Published in the United States as Man Stands Alone [New York: Harper, 1941]).

Evolution, the Modern Synthesis. London and New York: Harper, 1942.

UNESCO: Its Purpose and Its Philosophy. Washington, DC: Public Affairs Press, 1947.

“Eugenics in Evolutionary Perspective.” The Eugenics Review 54 (1962): 123–141.

Memories. 2 vols. London: Allen & Unwin, 1970–1973.

If I Am to Be Remembered: The Life and Work of Julian Huxley with Selected Correspondence. Edited by Krishna R. Dronamraju. Singapore and River Edge, NJ: World Scientific, 1993.


Armytage, W. H. G. “The First Director-General of UNESCO.” In Evolutionary Studies: A Centenary Celebration of the Life of Julian Huxley; Proceedings of the Twenty-fourth Annual Symposium of the Eugenics Society, London, 1987, edited by Milo Keynes and G. Ainsworth Harrison. Basingstoke, U.K.: and London: Macmillan, 1989.

Baker, John Randall. “Julian Sorrell Huxley, 22 June 1887–14 February 1975, elected F. R. S. 1938.” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 22 (1976): 207–238.

———. Julian Huxley, Scientist and World Citizen, 1887–1975: A Biographical Memoir. Paris: UNESCO, 1978. Includes a bibliography prepared by Jens-Peter Green.

Bartley, Mary M. “Courtship and Continued Progress: Julian Huxley’s Studies on Bird Behavior.” Journal of the History of Biology 28, no. 1 (1995): 91–108.

Bates, Sarah C., Marjorie G. Winkler, and Christina Riquelmi. A Guide to the Papers of Julian Sorell Huxley. Houston, TX: Woodson Research Center, Rice University Press, 1984.

Beatty, John. “Julian Huxley and the Evolutionary Synthesis.” In Julian Huxley: Biologist and Statesman of Science, edited by Albert Van Helden and C. Kenneth Waters. Houston, TX: Rice University Press, 1992.

Boothe, Nancy L. “The Julian Sorell Huxley Papers, Rice University Library.” In Julian Huxley: Biologist and Statesman of Science, edited by Albert Van Helden and C. Kenneth Waters. Houston, TX: Rice University Press, 1992.

Burkhardt, Richard W., Jr. “Huxley and the Rise of Ethology.” In Julian Huxley: Biologist and Statesman of Science, edited by C. Kenneth Waters and Albert Van Helden. Houston, TX: Rice University Press, 1992.

Churchill, Frederick B. “On the Road to the k Constant: A Historical Introduction.” In Problems of Relative Growth, by Julian S. Huxley. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, reprint edition 1993.

Clark, Ronald William. The Huxleys. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968.

Divall, Colin. “Capitalising on ‘Science’: Philosophical Ambiguity in Julian Huxley’s Politics, 1920–1950.” PhD diss., Manchester University, 1985.

Durant, John R. “Julian Huxley and the Development of Evolutionary Studies.” In Evolutionary Studies: A Centenary Celebration of the Life of Julian Huxley; Proceedings of the Twenty-fourth Annual Symposium of the Eugenics Society, London, 1987, edited by Milo. Keynes and G. Ainsworth. Harrison. Basingstoke, U.K.: and London: Macmillan, 1989.

Ford, Edmund Briscoe. “Some Recollections Pertaining to the Evolutionary Synthesis.” In The Evolutionary Synthesis: Perspectives on the Unification of Biology, edited by Ernst Mayr and William B. Provine. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.

Gascoigne, Robert M. “Julian Huxley and Biological Progress.” Journal of the History of Biology 24, no. 3 (1991): 433–455.

Green, Jens-Peter. “Bibliography.” In Julian Huxley, Scientist and World Citizen 1887–1975: A Biographical Memoir, by John Randall Baker. Paris: UNESCO, 1978.

Greene, John C. “The Interaction of Science and World View in Sir Julian Huxley’s Evolutionary Biology.” Journal of the History of Biology 23, no. 1 (March 1990): 39–55.

Hubback, David “Julian Huxley and Eugenics.” In Evolutionary Studies: A Centenary Celebration of the Life of Julian Huxley; Proceedings of the Twenty-fourth Annual Symposium of the Eugenics Society, London, 1987, edited by Milo. Keynes and G. Ainsworth. Harrison. Basingstoke, U.K. and London: Macmillan, 1989.

Huxley, Juliette. Leaves of the Tulip Tree. London: John Murray Ltd., 1986.

Keynes, Milo, and G. Ainsworth Harrison, eds. Evolutionary Studies: A Centenary Celebration of the Life of Julian Huxley; Proceedings of the Twenty-fourth Annual Symposium of the Eugenics Society, London, 1987. Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1989.

Medawar, Peter B. “Obituary of Julian Huxley.” Nature 254 (1975): 4.

Muller, Hermann Joseph. “A Biographical Appreciation of Sir Julian Huxley.” The Humanist nos. 2–3 (1962): 51–55.

Olby, Robert. “Huxley’s Place in Twentieth-century Biology.” In Julian Huxley: Biologist and Statesman of Science, edited by Albert Van Helden and C. Kenneth Waters. Houston, TX: Rice University Press, 1992.

Patten, Robert L. “The British Context of Huxley’s Popularization.” In Julian Huxley: Biologist and Statesman ofScience, edited by Albert Van Helden and C. Kenneth Waters. Houston, TX: Rice University Press, 1992.

Rugina, Anghel N. “How a Natural Scientist Sees Socio-Economic Problems and Their Solution: A Dialogue with Sir Julian Huxley.” International Journal of Social Economics 27, nos. 7–10 (2000): 720–738.

Smith, Roger. “Biology and Values in Interwar Britain: C. S. Sherrington, Julian Huxley, and the Vision of Progress.” Past and Present 178, no. 1 (February 2003): 210–242.

Swetlitz, Marc. “Julian Huxley and the End of Evolution.” Journal of the History of Biology 28, no. 2 (1995): 181–217.

Waters, C. Kenneth. “Introduction: Revising Our Picture of Julian Huxley.” In Julian Huxley: Biologist and Statesman of Science, edited by Albert Van Helden and C. Kenneth Waters. Houston, TX: Rice University Press, 1992.

Waters, C. Kenneth, and Albert Van Helden, eds. Julian Huxley: Biologist and Statesman of Science. Houston, TX: Rice University Press, 1992.

C. Kenneth Waters

Huxley, Julian

views updated May 14 2018

Huxley, Julian


Julian Sorell Huxley (born 1887), English biologist, writer, and publicist, is the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, the son of Leonard Huxley, biographer, poet, and editor, and of Julia Francis, the founder of Priors Field School for Girls, and the older brother of Aldous Huxley. Huxley was King’s scholar at Eton and Brakenbury scholar at Balliol. At Oxford he studied zoology, taking a First in it in 1909. He was also much interested in poetry; in 1908 he won the Newdigate prize for English verse, and in 1932 he published a volume of poems, The Captive Shrew.

Huxley taught at Oxford from 1910 to 1912; at Rice University, Houston, Texas, from 1912 to 1916; at Oxford again from 1919 to 1925; and at King’s College in the University of London from 1925 to 1927. In 1927 he resigned his professorship to devote all of his time to research, writing, lecturing, and public causes. In 1938 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society and in 1953 received the society’s Darwin medal. In 1958 he was knighted.

Huxley’s first book, The Individual in the Animal Kingdom, was published in 1912. Since that time he has produced over forty books and innumerable articles in scientific and popular journals. Huxley has produced a number of fundamental works that have had a stimulating influence on the development of modern biology. Most notable among these are Problems of Relative Growth (1932a), The Elements of Experimental Embryology, with G. R. de Beer (1934), Evolution: The Modern Synthesis (1942), and a series of papers on bird courtship and display. In these and other works Huxley has made enduring contributions to our understanding of growth and development, animal behavior, sexual selection, systematics, and evolutionary processes and theory.

Through his popular writings on evolution, usually first published in periodicals and then in collected form in separate volumes, Huxley has greatly influenced the intellectual climate of his time. His able exposition of the fact of man’s having uniquely moved into a new phase of adaptation—cultural or psychosocial adaptation—was developed in large part independently of the anthropologists and exercised no little effect upon their thinking. Hence, he has been much welcomed in anthropological circles and widely read by social scientists.

Since man has supplanted natural selection by a new method of evolution, the development of culture, this puts mind into the process of evolution. What, therefore, man does through the agency of his mind will determine his future. Huxley argues that in man’s case natural selection is virtually suspended, that by the conscious selection of ideas and aims he is now in a position to control his own evolution. In the psychosocial phase, evolution is mainly cultural, not genetic. The focus is no longer solely on survival but increasingly directed toward fulfillment in quality of achievement. Such views have led Huxley to the development of an evolutionary humanism that he claims is capable of becoming a new religion, not necessarily supplanting existing religions but supplementing them.

Huxley’s critiques of the concept of “race” as applied to man have greatly contributed to the continuing re-evaluation of that concept. His major contributions have been in the demonstration of the complete arbitrariness and formalism that have characterized the approach to the study of the variety of man. as well as in the repeated demolition of the social or popular notion of “race.” Because the term “race” has become so encumbered by false meaning and political misuse, Huxley has suggested that it be dropped altogether from the vocabulary of the scientist and that the noncommittal term “ethnic group” be preferred. This suggestion has made more of an impression in England than it has in the United States, even though every use of the concept of “race” has come increasingly under attack in recent years in the latter country.

For many years Huxley’s has been a powerful voice in population control, planned parenthood movements, and eugenics. Here his influence has largely been through the leadership he has provided in organizations, writings, and lecturing. For his work in this field he received the Lasker award in 1950. He is a past president of the Eugenics Society.

Huxley has traveled widely in five continents and has recorded his impressions in several books, notably Africa View (1931a), the long postscript to his wife’s Wild Lives of Africa (1963), a Scientist Among the Soviets (1932b), From an Antique Land (1954), on past and present in the Middle East, and TV A: Adventure in Planning (1943b). TV A exemplifies Huxley’s long-standing interest in planning and conservation. He was one of the founders of the influential private planning group P.E.P. (Political and Economic Planning) in London in 1932 and in 1961 produced a report to UNESCO on The Conservation of Wild Life and Natural Habitats in Central and East Africa.

He took part in the first British university expedition, that of Oxford, to Spitsbergen in 1921, and was one of the founders of the Society for Experimental Biology, the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, and the Association for the Study of Systematics, as well as of the Association of Scientific Workers; he was president of the three last-named.

Ashley Montagu

[For the historical context of Huxley’s works, seeEugenics; Evolution; Race.]


1912 The Individual in the Animal Kingdom. New York: Putnam.

1923 Essays of a Biologist. New York: Knopf.

1926Essays in Popular Science. London: Chatto & Windus.

1927a Religion Without Revelation. New York: Harper.

1927b The Stream of Life. New York: Harper.

1927 Haldane, John B. S.; and Huxley, JulianAnimal Biology. Oxford: Clarendon.

1930a Ants. New York. Cape & Smith.

1930b Bird Watching and Bird Behaviour. London: Chatto & Windus.

1931a Africa View. New York: Harper.

1931b What Dare I Think? New York: Harper.

1931 Huxley, Julian; Wells, Herbert G.; and Wells, G. P. The Science of Life. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

1932a Problems of Relative Growth. New York: Dial.

1932b Scientist Among the Soviets. New York: Harper.

(1932c) 1933 The Captive Shrew and Other Poems. New York: Harper.

1932-1935 Andrade, E. N. da C; and Huxley, JulianAn Introduction to Science. Oxford: Blackwell. → Published in seven parts.

1934a If I Were Dictator. New York: Harper.

1934b Scientific Research and Social Needs. London: Watts.

1934 Huxley, Julian; and de Beer, G. R. The Elements of Experimental Embryology. Cambridge Univ. Press.

1936 At the Zoo. London: Allen & Unwin.

1936 Huxley, Julian; and Haddon, Alfred CortWe Europeans: A Survey of “Racial” Problems. New York and London: Harper.

1939 Darwin, CharlesThe Living Thoughts of Darwin. Edited by Julian Huxley. London: Longmans.

1941a Democracy Marches. New York: Harper.

1941b The Uniqueness of Man. London: Chatto & Windus.

1942 Evolution: The Modern Synthesis. New York and London: Harper.

1943a Evolutionary Ethics. Oxford Univ. Press.

1943b TV A: Adventure in Planning. London: Architectural Press.

1944 On Living in a Revolution. New York: Harper.

1947 Man in the Modern World. London: Chatto & Windus.

1947 Huxley, Thomas H.; and Huxley, JulianTouchstone for Ethics: 1893-1943. New York: Harper.

1949 Soviet Genetics and World Science. London: Chatto & Windus.

1953Evolution in Action. New York: Harper.

1954From an Antique Land. New York: Crown.

1956Kingdom of the Beasts. London: Thames & Hudson.

1957New Bottles for New Wine. New York: Harper; London: Chatto & Windus.

1958Biological Aspects of Cancer. New York: Harcourt.

1961a The Conservation of Wild Life and Natural Habitats in Central and East Africa: Report on a Mission Accomplished for UNESCO, July-September. 1960. Paris: UNESCO.

1961b Huxley, Julian (editor) The Humanist Frame. New York: Harper; London: Allen & Unwin.

1963Postscript. Pages 241-255 in Juliette Huxley, Wild Lives of Africa. New York: Harper. → An Introduction by Julian Huxley appears on pages 5-8.

1964Essays of a Humanist. London: Chatto & Windus.

1965 Huxley, Julian (editor) Ataous Huxley, 1894-1963: A Memorial Volume. New York: Harper; London: Chatto & Windus.

Julian Huxley

views updated Jun 11 2018

Julian Huxley

The English biologist and author Julian Huxley (1887-1975) helped establish the modern synthetic theory of evolution by natural selection and served as first director of the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization (UNESCO).

Sir Julian Sorell Huxley was born June 22, 1887, in London, England. His father, Leonard Huxley, master of Charterhouse School and later an editor, encouraged his children Julian, Trevenen, Aldous, and Margaret to live up to the achievements of their grandfather, the famous evolutionist Thomas Henry Huxley. Julian traced his thinking in many fields to this influence of T. H. Huxley maintained by his father. It was the origin of his creed of rationalism, atheism, and general, as opposed to specialized, thinking. Leonard encouraged his son's early interest in natural history, which found opportunity in the rural setting of their home in Surrey. Julian's mother, who founded a school in the area, was also a great influence and encouraged his intellectual interests, including a passion for poetry.

After taking a degree in zoology at Oxford in 1909, Huxley went to the Naples Zoological Station in Italy for a year of research on sponges. This led to his first book, The Individual in the Animal Kingdom (1912), upon his return to an Oxford lectureship in zoology. In 1912 the newly opened Rice Institute in Houston, Texas, hired him. He effectively developed and headed the biology department, but during World War I he felt called to duty for his country. He returned to England in 1916 and served in the Army Intelligence Corps until the end of the war. He remained in England, returning once again to Oxford. He married Juliette Baillot in 1919. They had two sons.

Teaching, Research, Writing

The young Huxley became a driving force in the zoology department, promoting new teaching and research priorities and organizing an ecological research expedition to Spitsbergen Island in the Arctic. Huxley himself had already produced studies not only of morphology and development but also of bird ecology and bird behavior during courtship. He wanted to move zoology away from its classical morphological and descriptive base, toward the new excitement of dynamic ecology and of genetics and physiology.

To that end, he began his own laboratory researches in developmental morphology, choosing to examine growth rates. He developed the idea that an organism's form depends on differential growth rates in the separate parts of the body. Begun at Oxford, this work was continued after 1925 at King's College, London, where he had been appointed professor of zoology. Although he kept the laboratory until 1935, he served only as an honorary lecturer after 1927, having resigned in order to gain more time for research and for the large amount of writing he had begun. By the time of the publication of Problems of Relative Growth in 1932, Huxley had become widely known as a talented popularizer of biology.

Huxley combined his writing talent with his broad interests in biology in the collaboration with H. G. Wells and his son G. P. Wells to produce The Science of Life (1931), an encyclopedic textbook. Other Huxley books during this time included Essays of a Biologist, Religion without Revelation, Essays in Popular Science, The Stream of Life, What Darwin Really Said, Ants, and Bird-Watching and Bird-Behaviour. Notable were his breadth of interests and his willingness to entertain the controversy created by his adherence to rationalist views, held with the Huxley commitment to intellectual integrity and public responsibility. He tackled evolution and its meaning for human life, religion, and ethics; he also explored the impact for society of the latest biological knowledge. Huxley believed in the self-directed evolution and progress of humanity. He called his view an evolutionary "religious humanism," but Huxley's views nonetheless eschewed the need for belief in a personal God. He looked toward scientific method and knowledge as the new guide and promoted concentration on science teaching and research as an aid to social problems. This theme continued through the 1930s in such books as If I Were Dictator and Scientific Research and Social Needs.

Other controversial applications of science to human life included Huxley's early commitments to eugenics and birth control. His thinking about population regulation in nature and the ecological problems of over-population fostered a concern for family planning, and he campaigned for the birth control movement. Because of his reputation as a eugenicist, he was invited to join in the writing of a book refuting Hitler's pure race theories; We Europeans appeared in 1935. The authors argued that ethnic characteristics are determined mainly by environment and cultural history, not genetics.

Explaining "Natural Selection"

In his scientific researches, Huxley in 1932 began a second phase of his career, devoted to synthetic works. With Gavin de Beer he wrote Principles of Experimental Embryology (1934), in which they attempted to survey the various approaches to the subject. They concluded that organized regions, with chemical influences spreading outward, led development. Stimulated by much new work on the theory of natural selection, Huxley also wrote Evolution: The Modern Synthesis (1942). His earlier bird researches had led him to revive biologists' interest in sexual selection, and now in the 1930s he gathered supporting arguments for the theory of natural selection from the new mathematical genetics of J. B. S. Haldane, R. A. Fisher, and Sewall Wright. Darwinism had declined in popularity since the late 1800s, with many biologists—especially in the new field of genetics—rejecting the operation of natural selection in nature. Huxley's book played a major role in establishing the "modern synthesis," an updated version of Darwinism incorporating Mendelian genetics and the latest findings in all biological fields. The theory holds that a major cause of evolution is the action of natural selection on small genetic differences within populations, creating adaptation; separation of different populations in a species can lead to new species through various "isolating mechanisms." Exemplifying the value of Huxley's generalist approach to science, the book was his proudest achievement and his most influential.

The final phase of Huxley's career found him involved in even more public activities for science. As secretary of the Zoological Society from 1935 to 1942 he worked to improve the London Zoo. During World War II he lectured frequently on war aims and postwar problems. In 1946 he became the first director-general of the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), and his ideas about applying scientific findings to world problems were influential in determining the future of the organization. After retirement he continued until his death in 1975 to write popular works about science, covering such topics as Soviet genetics and politics, current evolutionary theory, cancer, and humanism.

Further Reading

Julian Huxley wrote about his personal and professional life in two books, Memories (1970) and Memories II (1973). In addition, the famous Huxley family members are depicted in Ronald W. Clark, The Huxleys (1968). □

Julian Huxley

views updated Jun 11 2018

Julian Huxley


British biologist who specialized in ornithology, but is best known for his contribution to the neo-Darwinian synthesis. He was the grandson of the famous Darwinist T.H. Huxley, and became a professor at King's College in London. In 1942 he published Evolution, the Modern Synthesis, which argued that Darwinian natural selection and Mendelian genetics could be combined to explain biological evolution. Huxley was involved in founding the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, becoming its first director in 1946. He also wrote many works trying to integrate his vision of atheistic Darwinian evolution into a total world view.

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