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WILLIAM BLACKWOOD S: SONS, Edinburgh and London.




Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole.

— Matthew Arnold.




Ail /\ if; Jill, ic encd






In the preparation of this book there have been
large drafts from the materials supplied by Mr
Leonard Huxley in the very admirable Life and
Letters of his father. The footnote references
to that work are sufficiently denoted by the
omission of its title.

For the convenience of readers who may not
possess the original editions of Huxley's writings,
the references to them are, for the most part
cited from the Collected Essays.



CHRONOLOGY . . . . . . xi

I. TPIE MAN ...... I

II. THE DISCOVERER . . . . -57






. 22^


1825. Born at Ealing (4th May).

1 84 1. Assistant to doctor at Rotherhithe.

1842. Student at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School.

1845. M.B. and Gold Medallist for Anatomy and Physiology at
University of London.

1845. Discovered membrane of human hair known as " Huxley's

1846. Entered Naval Medical Service.

1846. Appointed assistant-surgeon of the surveying ship Rattle-

1849. Published memoir on the Fa??tily of the MedtiscE.

1850. Returned to England : granted leave ashore to work out
results of voyage.

1 85 1. Elected Fellow of the Royal Society.

1852. Received Gold Medal of Royal Society.

1853. Further leave ashore refused : struck off the Navy List,

1853. Published article on the Cell Theory.

1854. Appointed Professor of Natural Plistory and Palaeontology in
Royal School of Mines, and Curator of Fossils in Museum of
Practical Geology.

1855. Married Henrietta Anne H[eathom, of Sydney.

1856. Visited Switzerland with Tyndall.

1857. Published paper on The Structure and Motio7i of Glaciers.
1857. Appointed Examiner in Physiology and Comparative Ana-
tomy in University of London.


1857. Appointed Fullerian Professor of Comparative Anatomy at
the Koyal Institution.

1558. Appointed Croonian Lecturer.

1559. Published Croonian lecture on Origin of the Vertebrate

1859. Reviewed the Origin of Species in the Times (26th December).
1S59. Appointed Secretary of the Geological Society,

1559. Published Oceanic Hydrozoa.

1560. Attended British Association Meeting at C)xford (debate with
Bishop Wilberforce),

1 861. Lectured on Relation of Man to the rest of the Am?nal
Kingdom at Edinburgh and London.

1862. Elected Ilunterian Professor at the Royal College of

1S63. Published Man's Place in Nature.

1864. Appointed on Royal Commission on Sea Fisheries

Note. — Huxley served between 1862 and 1884 on ten Royal Commissions
on Fisheries, Scientific Education, &c.

1866. Received degree of LL.D. Edinburgh.

1866. Published Lessons in Elementary Physiology.

1568, Elected President of the Ethnological Society.
1868. Lectured on the Physical Basis of Life.

1868. Published memoirs on the Classification of Birds and on
Intermediate Animals between Birds and Reptiles.

1569. Elected President of the Geological Society.

1 869. Joined the Metaphysical Society.

1569. Published Introduction to the Classification of Ani?nals.

1870. Elected President of l^ritish Association Meeting at Liver-

1570. Elected member of the first School Board for London.

1870. Published Lay Sermons.

1 87 1. Appointed Secretary of the Royal Society.

1571. P.roke down in health ; visited Egypt.

\'6']2. Elected Lord Rector of Aberdeen University.
1S73. Published Criti(]ues a7ui Addresses.

1874. Lectured on Animals as Automata at British Association
Meeting, Belfast.

1874. Lectured on Natural History as deputy to Sir Wyville
Thomson at Edinburgh.

1875. Took active part in controversy on Vivisection.

1875. Published Practical lustrtiction in Elementary Biology.


1876. Visited America.

1877. Published American Addresses; Physiography; and a
Manual of the Anatomy of Invert ebrated Anifnals.

1878. Published Hume.

1879. Received degree of LL.D, Cambridge.

1880. Lectured on The Coming of Age of the ' Origin of Species' at
the Royal Institution.

1880. Published The Crayfish; an Introduction to the Science of
Zoology ; and hitroductory Science Pri^ner.

1881. Appointed Inspector of Salmon Fisheries.

1881. Became, on departmental changes at the School of Mines,
Professor of Biology and Dean of the Royal College of Science.'
1 88 1. Published Sciejice and Culture.
18S3. Elected President of the Royal Society.

1883. Delivered the Rede Lecture at Cambridge (on The Pearly
Nautilus and Evolution).

1884. Further breakdown in health.
1S85. Received degree of D.C.L. Oxford.

1 885. Retired on pension from all official appointments.

1886. Began series of papers on Evolution of Theology.
1888. Elected a Trustee of the British Museum.

1888. Received Copley Medal of the Royal Society.

1889. Removed to Eastbourne.

1 89 1. Published Social Diseases and IVorse Remedies.

1892. Published Essays on Controverted Questions.

1892. Made a Privy Councillor.

1893. Delivered Romanes Lecture at Oxford (on Evolution and

1893-94. Reissued, with rearrangement, the articles and lectures in
Lay Sermons, &c., in nine volumes entitled Collected Essays.

1894. Received Darwin Medal of the Royal Society.

1894. Attended British Association Meeting, Oxford.

1895. Died 29th June. Buried at Finchley, 4th July.




Thomas Henry Huxley, the seventh and youngest
child of George and Rachel Huxley, was born on the
4th May 1825, at Ealing, then a village separated by
stretches of open country from London. His father,
who was assistant-master in a semi-public school there, is
described by him as a man " rather too easy-going for
this wicked world," yet with a certain tenacity of charac-
ter which, since he inherited it, Huxley dryly says,
" unfriendly observers sometimes call obstinacy." This,
together with a faculty for drawing, constituted the
father's legacy to the son. It is of his mother that he
declares himself " physically and mentally " the child,
" even down to pecuh'ar movements of the hands " ; her
agile mind, with its rapid arrival at conclusions, re-
mained, he says, the perilous but most prized part of


Nortli Carolina State CoIIa^c


his " inheritance of mother-wit." His love for her was
a passion.

But his boyhood was a cheerless time. Reversing
Matthew Arnold's sunnier memories : —

No " rigorous teachers seized his youth,
And purged its faith, and tried its fire.
Shewed him the high, white star of truth,
There bade him gaze, and there aspire."

He told Charles Kingsley that he was "kicked into
the world a boy without guide or training, or with
worse than none," ^ and, contrasting Herbert Spencer's
happier lot, says that he "had two years of a Pande-
monium of a school (between eight and ten), and
after that neither help nor sympathy in any intellectual
direction till he reached manhood."- On the dreary
week-days he was flung among boys of low type, and
on the drearier Sundays he was taken to church,
where the preacher's allusions to infidels left on his
mind the impression that " such folks belonged to the
criminal classes." When he was about ten, the break-
up of the Eahng school sent the family, literally, to
Coventry, where, in the irony of fate, the shiftless
father became manager of a savings' bank. The
daughters took to school-keeping, and the boys were
left free to browse among the remnants of the home
library. Huxley was possessed of that love of read-
ing which, in Gibbon's famous words, he " would not
have exchanged for the treasures of India." From

^ I. 220. '^ II. 145,


boyhood to old age his tastes were omnivorous, rang-
ing from science and philosophy to the last new fiction.
Dr Johnson said that Burton's Anatomy of Me/aficholy
took him out of bed two hours before his usual time ;
Hutton's Geology kept Huxley in it, with blanket
pinned round his shoulders. At twelve he had read
Hamilton's essay Oti the Philosophy of the U?ico?i-
ditioned^ with the result, he tells us, of stamping on
his mind " the strong conviction that on even the
most solemn and important of questions, men are apt to
take cunning phrases for answers." Carlyle's translations
from the German moved him to teach himself a lan-
guage knowledge of which was to be of the utmost
service in his life-work. Of the influence which Sartor
Resartus had upon him, he says, " It led me to know
that a deep sense of religion was compatible with the
entire absence of theology."^

During this formative period his interests ranged from
speculations on the absolute basis of matter and the
crystallisation of carbon to the injustice of con>pelling
Dissenters to pay church rates. In the boy's quotation
from Lessing, " I hate all people who want to found
sects," there is the spirit of the man who said that
" science commits suicide when it adopts a creed." In
a scheme for a " classification of all knowledge " written
in a fragmentary journal, kept from his fifteenth to his
seventeenth year, there was the expression of that
passion for general principles, for search after unity at

' I. 220.


the core of things, which ruled all his observation and
speculation, and which is the salvation of a man from
the evil of specialism.

" Thus to be a Seeker is to be of the best sect next to
a Finder," said Oliver Cromwell ; and of himself
Huxley, who at fifty-three learned Greek that he might
read Aristotle in the original, wrote three years before
his death, " I have always been, am, and propose to
remain a mere scholar." So wrote Michael Angelo in
old age, " Imparo ancora " — I am learning still.

Huxley's bent, like that, it may be added, of both
Herbert Spencer and the late W. B. Carpenter, was
towards mechanical engineering, and this was manifest
in his life-work. For his interest centred in the " archi-
tectural part " of organisms, in the adaptation of
apparatus to function, and in whatever evidenced
"unity of plan in the thousands and thousands of
diverse living constructions."^ Whatever he worked
at, he " visualised clearly " by diagram or map or

He paid a lifelong penalty for his curiosity about the
mechanism of the human body. When he was fourteen
he was taken by some student friends to a post-mortem,
the result of which w^as an attack of blood-poisoning.
To this he attributed the " hypochondriacal dyspepsia "
which afflicted him to the end of his life. Although
engineering was his hobby, medicine, at the start, was
his destiny. At sixteen, on the removal of his family

' 1.7.


to Rotherhithe, he was placed as assistant to a Dr
Chandler as a preliminary to "walking the hospitals."
Many of the patients were in more need of food than
physic, a condition of things which set Huxley wonder-
ing " why the masses did not sally forth and get a few
hours' eating and drinking and plunder to their heart's
content before the police could stop and hang a few of
them." 1

This early contact with the grim realities of the social
problem gave him authority to be heard upon the
economic and educational questions in which his in-
terest deepened with his years, and to indicate to the
people how they may alone work out their own

I believe in the fustian [he said], and can talk to it better
than to any amount of gauze and Saxony. ... I want the
working classes to understand that Science and her ways
are great facts for them — that physical virtue is the base of
all other, and that they are to be clean and temperate and
all the rest — not because fellows in black with wliite ties tell
them so, but because these are plain and patent laws of
nature which they must obey under penalties.'-^

Leaving Mr Chandler, he was apprenticed to his
brother-in-law, Dr Scott (Huxley's two sisters had mar-
ried doctors), and began study for the matriculation
examination of the University of London. He failed in
this, but had compensation in winning the silver medal
of the Pharmaceutical Society, while the standard

1 I. i6. '^ I. 138.


reached by his brother James and himself secured them
free scholarships in the medical school of Charing Cross
Hospital. In 1845 he passed his M.B. at the Univer-
sity of London and made his first discovery in detecting
a hitherto unknown membrane at the root of the
human hair. It is known as " Huxley's layer." The
next year he acted on the suggestion of a fellow-student,
Mr (now Sir Joseph) Fayrer, and applied to Sir William
Burnet, then Director of the Medical Service, for a
naval appointment. Sir William returned his visiting
card "with the frugal reminder" that he might "prob-
ably find it useful on some other occasion," but the
interview gained him entry on the books of Nelson's old
ship, the Victory, for duty at Haslar Hospital. Then
came a turn of the tide which, not without ebb, led on to
fortune, at least to the fortune — never, despite the dis-
creditable insinuation in Pu7ich^ a commercial one —
which Huxley coveted.

Owen Stanley, son of the Bishop of Norwich and
brother of Dean Stanley, was in command of the
Rattlesnake, a 28-gun frigate commissioned to survey
the intricate passages within the barrier-reef skirting the
eastern shores of Australia, between which colony and
the mother country a shorter sea-passage was demanded
by the growing trade. Captain Stanley wanted an
assistant- surgeon, and on the recommendation of Sir
John Richardson, the famous Arctic explorer, Huxley
was given the post. It was the best possible appren-

1 II. 26.


ticeship for the work which lay, unsuspected, before
him — the solution of the problems of organology, and
the indicating of their far-reaching significance. Life
had its origin in water, and therein the biologist finds his
most suggestive material. Darwin and Joseph Hooker
had passed through a like curriculum — the one in 1831,
the other in 1839.

The Rattlesnake left Plymouth on the 12th December
1846, two years before Bates and Wallace sailed for
exploration of the Amazons. It was a time of prepara-
tion, each only vaguely knowing to what ends he worked,
but in his measure contributing answer to the question
whether species were mutable or permanent.

The conditions on board the Rattlesnake contrasted
ill with the luxurious equipment of exploring ships since
her time. She was a man-of-war of the old class ; her
seams were leaky ; the berths swarmed with cock-
roaches, and the biscuits with weevils. The Admiralty
refused to supply any books, and in the absence of
proper apparatus for sifting the contents of the dredge,
Huxley had to adapt a wire meat-cover. The ship
carried an official naturalist, whose chief care was to
collect objects for museums, leaving to Huxley's willing
hands the dissection and examination of the specimens
brought up from the deep sea.

The first long stay was made at Sydney, where
Huxley met his future wife, Henrietta Annie Heathorn.
For her he was "to serve longer and harder than Jacob
thought to serve for Rachel," of whom, in immortal


words, the poet-chronicler says, "seven years seemed
unto him but a few days for the love he had to her." ^
Huxley had his reward in forty years of the closest and
most helpful fellowship.

The nature and import of the work accomplished
by him during the voyage, which came to an end in
November 1849, will be dealt with in the next chapter.
Here it suffices to say that while sundry reports on
marine creatures, which were sent to the Linnean
Society, were pigeon-holed, better fortune attended a
paper on the Medusae or jelly-fish family, transmitted
to the Royal Society through Bishop Stanley, whose
admirable History of Birds has survived his episcopal
charges. It was promptly published, and was the
warrant of Huxley's election into the Society at the
early age of twenty-six. Thus far he could have no
quarrel with bishops.

Back in England, " equipped as a perfect zoologist
and keen-sighted ethnologist " (the words are Virchow.'s),
Huxley obtained for a time the privilege of appointment
for " particular service," which enabled him to work out
on shore the results of the voyage. But nearly five
years of suspense and struggle were to pass before he
secured a permanent appointment of ^^200 per annum
one-half of the modest maximum he desired. Writing
to his sister in 1850 he says : —

I have no ambition, except as means to an end, and that
end is the possession of a sufficient income to marry upon.

^ Genesis xxix. 20.


... A worker I must always be — it is my nature — but if I
had ;^400 a-year I would never let my name appear to any-
thing- I did or ever shrill do. It would be glorious to be
a voice woiking in secret, and free from all those personal
motives that have actuated the best.^

He was in the front rank of anatomists; in 1852 his
society conferred upon him the Royal Medal, which,
for the ^^50 worth of gold therein, he sold eleven years
after, to assist a brother's widow ; he was deluged with
invitations to dinners and soirees while not earning
enough to pay his cab-fare. He kept fragile body and
self-reliant soul together by writing, lecturing, and trans-
lating. Toronto, Aberdeen, Cork, King's College, each
in turn rejected him as he sought a professorship of
natural history, and he had thoughts of trying his luck
as a doctor in Australia, if only to be near his sweet-
heart. Domestic cares, his mother's death, and his
father's serious illness, added to the gloom of these five
dreary years. But though his circumstances ran low,
his ideals soared high. In the letter of 1850 to his
sister he says : —

I don't know and I don't care whether I shall ever be
what is called a great man. I will leave my mark some-
where, and it shall be clear and distinct —

T. H. H. his mark —

and free from the abominable blur of cant, humbug, and self-
seeking which surrounds eveiything in this present world —
that is to say, supposing that I am not already unconsciously
tainted myself, a result of which I have a morbid dread.-

11.62. =1.63.


At the end of 1853 the Admiralty commanded him
to join the ship Illustrious ; he refused, and paid the
penalty in being struck off the Navy List. But, as he
cheerily said, " there is always a Cape Horn in one's
life," and, " not without a good deal of damage to spars
and rigging,'' he rounded it. In July 1854, on the
transfer of his friend Edward Forbes to Edinburgh, he
was appointed Professor of Natural History at the
School of Mines with a salary of ^200, which, soon
after, was doubled on his becoming naturalist to the
Geological Survey. The next year Miss Heathorn's
parents brought her to England. Her health was so
bad that a famous doctor gave her only six months
to live. But the faculty differed ; Huxley took the
brighter view, and wrote thus to Hooker on the iith
July :-

I terminate my Baccalaureate and take my degree of
M.A.trimony isn't that atrocious?) on Saturday, July 21.

When he was appointed to the School of Mines he
told Sir Henry De la Beche that he " didn't care for
fossils," the mechanism of the living animal alone in-
teresting him. But it came to pass that during his
thirty-one years' tenure of his post the larger part of
his work was pala^ontological. And well that this so
happened, because, when the battle over organic evolu-
tion was fought, Huxley was able to adduce out of his
treasury of knowledge a mass of evidence from the
fossil-yielding rocks which, supplemented by the evi-


dence from embryology, put the theory of " descent
with modification " on a foundation which cannot be

Routine work leaves little, if any, time for original
investigation. Administrative detail filled tiie larger
part of each day with Huxley ; his heart was centred
in schemes for the diffusion of science ; the arrange-
ment and cataloguing of the contents of the Jermyn
Street Museum was a labour of years ; he gave, un-
grudgingly, help in forming other public as well as
private collections, which, in his own words,

should be large enough to illustrate the most important
truths of natural history, but not so extensive as to weary
and confuse ordinary visitors.

But with Huxley this, although an essential, was a
secondary, part of the business ; with the organising
of materials there went pari passu instruction in their
nature and meaning, involving courses of lectures and
series of articles, both technical and popular, while
other public appointments made their inroads on his
time. This would seem enough to exhaust the day,
and when it is remembered that all which he undertook,
paid and unpaid alike, was done despite frequent break-
down from dyspepsia and allied troubles, the marvel
grows that he found a moment for original research,
or for the wide and varied reading which, fortifying him
on every side, enabled him "to put to flight the armies"
of the obscurantists in science, ethics, and theology.
Work was his passion, method was his salvation ; he


took care of the minutes and the hours took care of
themselves. And yet, Hke Gibbon, who wrote —

While every one looks on me as a prodigy of application, I
know myself how strong a propensity I have to indolence,

we find Huxley accusing himself of an ingrained lazi-

On the last night of 1856, while waiting for the birth
of his first child, he made this entry in his journal : —

1856-7-8 must still be "Lehrjahre" to complete training
in principles of Histology, Morphology, Physiology, Zool-
ogy, and Geology by Monographic Work in each depart-
ment. i860 w^ill then see me well grounded and ready for
any special pursuits in either of these branches. ... In
i860 I may fairly look forward to fifteen or twenty years'
" Meisterjahre" ; and with the comprehensive views my
training will give me, I think it will be possible in that time
to give a new and healthier direction to all Biological Science.
To smite all humbugs, however big, to give a nobler tone to
science ; to set an example of abstinence from petty personal
controversies, and of toleration for everything but lying ; to
be indifferent as to whether the work is recognised as mine
or not, so long as it is done ; are these my aims .'' i860 will

Half-past ten at night. Waiting for my child. I seem to
fancy it the pledge that all these things shall be.

Born five minutes before twelve. Thank God. New*
Year's Day, 1857.2

On the 20th September i860, a year that was to
** show " so much, there was made the last entry in the
journal, telling what lifelong sorrow fell upon a great
and tender soul.

1 I. 268. 2 I i^j.


And the same child, our Noel, our first-born, after being
for nearly four years our delig4it and our joy, was carried off
by scarlet fever in forty-eight hours. This day week he and
I had a great romp together. On Friday his restless head,
with its bright blue eyes and tangled golden hair, tossed all
day upon his pillow. On Saturday night, the fifteenth, I
carried him here into my study, and laid his cold still body
here where I write. Here too, on Sunday night, came his
mother and I to that holy leave-taking.

My boy is gone ; but in a higher and better sense than
was in my mind when I wrote four years ago what stands

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