|Who is it?||Biologist|
|Birth Day||May 04, 1825|
|Birth Place||Ealing, Middlesex, British|
|Age||194 YEARS OLD|
|Died On||29 June 1895(1895-06-29) (aged 70)\nEastbourne, Sussex, England|
|Education||Sydenham College, London Charing Cross Hospital|
|Known for||Evolution, science education, agnosticism|
|Awards||Royal Medal (1852) Wollaston Medal (1876) Clarke Medal (1880) Copley Medal (1888) Linnean Medal (1890) Hayden Memorial Geological Award (1893)|
|Fields||Zoology; comparative anatomy|
|Institutions||Royal Navy, Royal College of Surgeons, Royal School of Mines, Royal Institution University of London|
|Academic advisors||Thomas Wharton Jones|
|Notable students||Michael Foster H. G. Wells|
|Influences||Edward Forbes Charles Darwin|
|Influenced||Patrick Geddes Henry Fairfield Osborn H. G. Wells E. Ray Lankester William Henry Flower Aldous Huxley Julian Huxley|
Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle... the fundamental axiom of modern science... In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration... In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.
A year later, buoyed by excellent results and a silver medal prize in the Apothecaries' yearly competition, Huxley was admitted to study at Charing Cross Hospital, where he obtained a small scholarship. At Charing Cross, he was taught by Thomas Wharton Jones, Professor of Ophthalmic Medicine and Surgery at University College London. Jones had been Robert Knox's assistant when Knox bought cadavers from Burke and Hare. The young Wharton Jones, who acted as go-between, was exonerated of crime, but thought it best to leave Scotland. He was a fine Teacher, up-to-date in physiology and also an ophthalmic surgeon. In 1845, under Wharton Jones' guidance, Huxley published his first scientific paper demonstrating the existence of a hitherto unrecognised layer in the inner sheath of hairs, a layer that has been known since as Huxley's layer. No doubt remembering this, and of course knowing his merit, later in life Huxley organised a pension for his old tutor.
Finally Huxley was made Assistant Surgeon ('surgeon's mate') to HMS Rattlesnake, about to start for a voyage of discovery and surveying to New Guinea and Australia. The Rattlesnake left England on 3 December 1846 and, once they had arrived in the southern hemisphere, Huxley devoted his time to the study of marine invertebrates. He began to send details of his discoveries back to England, where publication was arranged by Edward Forbes FRS (who had also been a pupil of Knox). Both before and after the voyage Forbes was something of a mentor to Huxley.
Wilberforce had a track record against evolution as far back as the previous Oxford B.A. meeting in 1847 when he attacked Chambers' Vestiges. For the more challenging task of opposing the Origin, and the implication that man descended from apes, he had been assiduously coached by Richard Owen – Owen stayed with him the night before the debate. On the day Wilberforce repeated some of the arguments from his Quarterly Review article (written but not yet published), then ventured onto slippery ground. His famous jibe at Huxley (as to whether Huxley was descended from an ape on his mother's side or his father's side) was probably unplanned, and certainly unwise. Huxley's reply to the effect that he would rather be descended from an ape than a man who misused his great talents to suppress debate—the exact wording is not certain—was widely recounted in pamphlets and a spoof play.
The next episode we know of in Huxley's life when he suffered a debilitating depression was on the third voyage of HMS Rattlesnake in 1848. Huxley had further periods of depression at the end of 1871, and again in 1873. Finally, in 1884 he sank into another depression, and this time it precipitated his decision to retire in 1885, at the age of only 60. This is enough to indicate the way depression (or perhaps a moderate bi-polar disorder) interfered with his life, yet unlike some of the other family members, he was able to function extremely well at other times.
Huxley's paper "On the anatomy and the affinities of the family of Medusae" was published in 1849 by the Royal Society in its Philosophical Transactions. Huxley united the Hydroid and Sertularian polyps with the Medusae to form a class to which he subsequently gave the name of Hydrozoa. The connection he made was that all the members of the class consisted of two cell layers, enclosing a central cavity or stomach. This is characteristic of the phylum now called the Cnidaria. He compared this feature to the serous and mucous structures of embryos of higher animals. When at last he got a grant from the Royal Society for the printing of plates, Huxley was able to summarise this work in The Oceanic Hydrozoa, published by the Ray Society in 1859.
The value of Huxley's work was recognised and, on returning to England in 1850, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In the following year, at the age of twenty-six, he not only received the Royal Society Medal but was also elected to the Council. He met Joseph Dalton Hooker and John Tyndall, who remained his lifelong friends. The Admiralty retained him as a nominal assistant-surgeon, so he might work on the specimens he collected and the observations he made during the voyage of the Rattlesnake. He solved the Problem of Appendicularia, whose place in the animal kingdom Johannes Peter Müller had found himself wholly unable to assign. It and the Ascidians are both, as Huxley showed, tunicates, today regarded as a sister group to the vertebrates in the phylum Chordata. Other papers on the morphology of the cephalopods and on brachiopods and rotifers are also noteworthy. The Rattlesnake's official naturalist, John MacGillivray, did some work on botany, and proved surprisingly good at notating Australian aboriginal languages. He wrote up the voyage in the standard Victorian two volume format.
He was awarded the highest honours then open to British men of science. The Royal Society, who had elected him as Fellow when he was 25 (1851), awarded him the Royal Medal the next year (1852), a year before Charles Darwin got the same award. He was the youngest Biologist to receive such recognition. Then later in life came the Copley Medal in 1888 and the Darwin Medal in 1894; the Geological Society awarded him the Wollaston Medal in 1876; the Linnean Society awarded him the Linnean Medal in 1890. There were many other elections and appointments to eminent scientific bodies; these and his many academic awards are listed in the Life and Letters. He turned down many other appointments, notably the Linacre chair in zoology at Oxford and the Mastership of University College, Oxford.
Huxley effectively resigned from the navy (by refusing to return to active service) and, in July 1854, he became Professor of Natural History at the Royal School of Mines and naturalist to the British Geological Survey in the following year. In addition, he was Fullerian Professor at the Royal Institution 1855–58 and 1865–67; Hunterian Professor at the Royal College of Surgeons 1863–69; President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science 1869–1870; President of the Quekett Microscopical Club 1878; President of the Royal Society 1883–85; Inspector of Fisheries 1881–85; and President of the Marine Biological Association 1884–1890.
In 1855, he married Henrietta Anne Heathorn (1825–1915), an English émigrée whom he had met in Sydney. They kept correspondence until he was able to send for her. They had five daughters and three sons:
Noel Huxley (1856–1860), died aged 4. Jessie Oriana Huxley (1856–1927), married Architect Fred Waller in 1877. Marian Huxley (1859–1887), married Artist John Collier in 1879. Leonard Huxley (1860–1933), married Julia Arnold. Rachel Huxley (1862–1934), married civil Engineer Alfred Eckersley in 1884. Henrietta (Nettie) Huxley (1863–1940), married Harold Roller, travelled Europe as a singer. Henry Huxley (1865–1946), became a fashionable general practitioner in London. Ethel Huxley (1866–1941) married Artist John Collier (widower of sister) in 1889.
For nearly a decade his work was directed mainly to the relationship of man to the apes. This led him directly into a clash with Richard Owen, a man widely disliked for his behaviour whilst also being admired for his capability. The struggle was to culminate in some severe defeats for Owen. Huxley's Croonian Lecture, delivered before the Royal Society in 1858 on The Theory of the Vertebrate Skull was the start. In this, he rejected Owen's theory that the bones of the skull and the spine were homologous, an opinion previously held by Goethe and Lorenz Oken.
Huxley's support started with his anonymous favourable review of the Origin in the Times for 26 December 1859, and continued with articles in several periodicals, and in a lecture at the Royal Institution in February 1860. At the same time, Richard Owen, whilst writing an extremely hostile anonymous review of the Origin in the Edinburgh Review, also primed Samuel Wilberforce who wrote one in the Quarterly Review, running to 17,000 words. The authorship of this latter review was not known for sure until Wilberforce's son wrote his biography. So it can be said that, just as Darwin groomed Huxley, so Owen groomed Wilberforce; and both the proxies fought public battles on behalf of their principals as much as themselves. Though we do not know the exact words of the Oxford debate, we do know what Huxley thought of the review in the Quarterly:
The subject was raised at the 1860 BA Oxford meeting, when Huxley flatly contradicted Owen, and promised a later demonstration of the facts. In fact, a number of demonstrations were held in London and the provinces. In 1862 at the Cambridge meeting of the B.A. Huxley's friend william Flower gave a public dissection to show that the same structures (the posterior horn of the lateral ventricle and hippocampus minor) were indeed present in apes. The debate was widely publicised, and parodied as the Great Hippocampus Question. It was seen as one of Owen's greatest blunders, revealing Huxley as not only dangerous in debate, but also a better Anatomist.
The next step was to acquire a journal to spread their ideas. This was the weekly Reader, which they bought, revamped and redirected. Huxley had already become part-owner of the Natural History Review bolstered by the support of Lubbock, Rolleston, Busk and Carpenter (X-clubbers and satellites). The journal was switched to pro-Darwinian lines and relaunched in January 1861. After a stream of good articles the NHR failed after four years; but it had helped at a critical time for the establishment of evolution. The Reader also failed, despite its broader appeal which included art and literature as well as science. The periodical market was quite crowded at the time, but most probably the critical factor was Huxley's time; he was simply over-committed, and could not afford to hire full-time editors. This occurred often in his life: Huxley took on too many ventures, and was not so astute as Darwin at getting others to do work for him.
During those years there was also work on human fossil anatomy and anthropology. In 1862 he examined the Neanderthal skull-cap, which had been discovered in 1857. It was the first pre-sapiens discovery of a fossil man, and it was immediately clear to him that the brain case was surprisingly large.
Biographers have sometimes noted the occurrence of mental illness in the Huxley family. His Father became "sunk in worse than childish imbecility of mind", and later died in Barming Asylum; brother George suffered from "extreme mental anxiety" and died in 1863 leaving serious debts. Brother James, a well known Psychiatrist and Superintendent of Kent County Asylum, was at 55 "as near mad as any sane man can be"; and there is more. His favourite daughter, the artistically talented Mady (Marian), who became the first wife of Artist John Collier, was troubled by mental illness for years. She died of pneumonia in her mid-twenties.
In November 1864, Huxley succeeded in launching a dining club, the X Club, composed of like-minded people working to advance the cause of science; not surprisingly, the club consisted of most of his closest friends. There were nine members, who decided at their first meeting that there should be no more. The members were: Huxley, John Tyndall, J. D. Hooker, John Lubbock (banker, Biologist and neighbour of Darwin), Herbert Spencer (social Philosopher and sub-editor of the Economist), william Spottiswoode (mathematician and the Queen's Printer), Thomas Hirst (Professor of Physics at University College London), Edward Frankland (the new Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution) and George Busk, Zoologist and palaeontologist (formerly surgeon for HMS Dreadnought). All except Spencer were Fellows of the Royal Society. Tyndall was a particularly close friend; for many years they met regularly and discussed issues of the day. On more than one occasion Huxley joined Tyndall in the latter's trips into the Alps and helped with his investigations in glaciology.
The technique of printing his more popular lectures in periodicals which were sold to the general public was extremely effective. A good Example was The physical basis of life, a lecture given in Edinburgh on 8 November 1868. Its theme — that vital action is nothing more than "the result of the molecular forces of the protoplasm which displays it" — shocked the audience, though that was nothing compared to the uproar when it was published in the Fortnightly Review for February 1869. John Morley, the Editor, said "No article that had appeared in any periodical for a generation had caused such a sensation". The issue was reprinted seven times and protoplasm became a household word; Punch added 'Professor Protoplasm' to his other soubriquets.
Huxley was also an active member of the Metaphysical Society, which ran from 1869 to 1880. It was formed around a nucleus of clergy and expanded to include all kinds of opinions. Tyndall and Huxley later joined The Club (founded by Dr. Johnson) when they could be sure that Owen would not turn up.
Huxley was also a major influence in the direction taken by British schools: in November 1870 he was voted onto the London School Board. In primary schooling, he advocated a wide range of disciplines, similar to what is taught today: reading, writing, arithmetic, art, science, music, etc. In secondary education he recommended two years of basic liberal studies followed by two years of some upper-division work, focusing on a more specific area of study. A practical Example of the latter is his famous 1868 lecture On a Piece of Chalk which was first published as an essay in Macmillan's Magazine in London later that year. The piece reconstructs the geological history of Britain from a simple piece of chalk and demonstrates science as "organized Common sense".
Although Darwin did not publish his Descent of Man until 1871, the general debate on this topic had started years before (there was even a precursor debate in the 18th century between Monboddo and Buffon). Darwin had dropped a hint when, in the conclusion to the Origin, he wrote: "In the distant Future... light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history". Not so distant, as it turned out. A key event had already occurred in 1857 when Richard Owen presented (to the Linnean Society) his theory that man was marked off from all other mammals by possessing features of the brain peculiar to the genus Homo. Having reached this opinion, Owen separated man from all other mammals in a subclass of its own. No other Biologist held such an extreme view. Darwin reacted "Man...as distinct from a chimpanzee [as] an ape from a platypus... I cannot swallow that!" Neither could Huxley, who was able to demonstrate that Owen's idea was completely wrong.
The peak of the X Club's influence was from 1873 to 1885 as Hooker, Spottiswoode and Huxley were Presidents of the Royal Society in succession. Spencer resigned in 1889 after a dispute with Huxley over state support for science. After 1892 it was just an excuse for the surviving members to meet. Hooker died in 1911, and Lubbock (now Lord Avebury) was the last surviving member.
Apart from his interest in persuading the world that man was a primate, and had descended from the same stock as the apes, Huxley did little work on mammals, with one exception. On his tour of America Huxley was shown the remarkable series of fossil horses, discovered by O. C. Marsh, in Yale's Peabody Museum. Marsh was part palaeontologist, part robber baron, a man who had hunted buffalo and met Red Cloud (in 1874). Funded by his uncle George Peabody, Marsh had made some remarkable discoveries: the huge Cretaceous aquatic bird Hesperornis, and the dinosaur footprints along the Connecticut River were worth the trip by themselves, but the horse fossils were really special.
Huxley was a pallbearer at the funeral of Charles Darwin on 26 April 1882.
The thirty-one years during which Huxley occupied the chair of natural history at the Royal School of Mines included work on vertebrate palaeontology and on many projects to advance the place of science in British life. Huxley retired in 1885, after a bout of depressive illness which started in 1884. He resigned the presidency of the Royal Society in mid-term, the Inspectorship of Fisheries, and his chair (as soon as he decently could) and took six months' leave. His pension was a fairly handsome £1200 a year.
In 1890, he moved from London to Eastbourne where he edited the nine volumes of his Collected Essays. In 1894 he heard of Eugene Dubois' discovery in Java of the remains of Pithecanthropus erectus (now known as Homo erectus). Finally, in 1895, he died of a heart attack (after contracting influenza and pneumonia), and was buried in North London at St Marylebone. This small family plot had been purchased upon the death of his beloved youngest son Noel, who died of scarlet fever in 1860; Huxley's wife Henrietta Anne née Heathorn and son Noel are also buried there. No invitations were sent out, but two hundred people turned up for the ceremony; they included Joseph Dalton Hooker, william Henry Flower, Mulford B. Foster, Edwin Lankester, Joseph Lister and, apparently, Henry James.
As recognition of his many public services he was given a pension by the state, and was appointed Privy Councillor in 1892.
When the Archbishop of York thought this 'new philosophy' was based on Auguste Comte's positivism, Huxley corrected him: "Comte's philosophy [is just] Catholicism minus Christianity" (Huxley 1893 vol 1 of Collected Essays Methods & Results 156). A later version was "[positivism is] sheer Popery with M. Comte in the chair of St Peter, and with the names of the saints changed". (lecture on The scientific aspects of positivism Huxley 1870 Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews p. 149). Huxley's dismissal of positivism damaged it so severely that Comte's ideas withered in Britain.
The problems continued sporadically into the third generation. Two of Leonard's sons suffered serious depression: Trevennen committed suicide in 1914 and Julian suffered a breakdown in 1913, and five more later in life.
The collection at that time went from the small four-toed forest-dwelling Orohippus from the Eocene through three-toed species such as Miohippus to species more like the modern horse. By looking at their teeth he could see that, as the size grew larger and the toes reduced, the teeth changed from those of a browser to those of a grazer. All such changes could be explained by a general alteration in habitat from forest to grassland. And, it is now known, that is what did happen over large areas of North America from the Eocene to the Pleistocene: the ultimate causative agent was global temperature reduction (see Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum). The modern account of the evolution of the horse has many other members, and the overall appearance of the tree of descent is more like a bush than a straight line.
Huxley's relationships with his relatives and children were genial by the standards of the day—so long as they lived their lives in an honourable manner, which some did not. After his mother, his eldest sister Lizzie was the most important person in his life until his own marriage. He remained on good terms with his children, more than can be said of many Victorian fathers. This excerpt from a letter to Jessie, his eldest daughter is full of affection:
Huxley's reservations on natural selection were of the type "until selection and breeding can be seen to give rise to varieties which are infertile with each other, natural selection cannot be proved". Huxley's position on selection was agnostic; yet he gave no credence to any other theory. Despite this concern about evidence, Huxley saw that if evolution came about through variation, reproduction and selection then other things would also be subject to the same pressures. This included ideas because they are invented, imitated and selected by humans: ‘The struggle for existence holds as much in the intellectual as in the physical world. A theory is a species of thinking, and its right to exist is coextensive with its power of resisting extinction by its rivals.’ This is the same idea as meme theory put forward by Richard Dawkins in 1976.
Thomas Henry Huxley was born in Ealing, which was then a village in Middlesex. He was the second youngest of eight children of George Huxley and Rachel Withers. Like some other British Scientists of the nineteenth century such as Alfred Russel Wallace, Huxley was brought up in a literate middle-class family which had fallen on hard times. His Father was a mathematics Teacher at Ealing School until it closed, putting the family into financial difficulties. As a result, Thomas left school at age 10, after only two years of formal schooling. Huxley’s parents were Anglicans, although it was against organized religion Huxley sympathized with the town’s Nonconformist.