My watch list  

Thomas Henry Huxley

Thomas Henry Huxley

Huxley in a Woodburytype print by Lock & Whitfield, London 1880 or earlier
Born4 May 1825(1825-05-04)
Ealing, Middlesex
Died29 June 1895 (aged 70)
Eastbourne, Sussex, England
Residence England
Nationality British
FieldBiology, Comparative Anatomy
InstitutionsRoyal School of Mines, Hunterian Museum, Royal Institution,
University of London
Alma materSydenham College London
Charing Cross Hospital
University of London
Academic advisor  Thomas Wharton Jones
Notable students  Michael Foster
Henry Fairfield Osborn
Patrick Geddes, H.G. Wells
Known for'Darwin's bulldog'
Science education

Thomas Henry Huxley PC, FRS (4 May 1825 Ealing – 29 June 1895 Eastbourne, Sussex) was an English biologist, known as "Darwin's Bulldog" for his advocacy of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.[1]

Huxley's famous 1860 debate with the Lord Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, was a key moment in the wider acceptance of evolution, and in his own career. Wilberforce was coached by Richard Owen, against whom Huxley also debated on whether man was closely related to apes. Huxley was slow to accept some of Darwin's ideas, such as gradualism, and was undecided about natural selection, but despite this he was wholehearted in his public support of Darwin. He was instrumental in developing scientific education in Britain, and fought against the more extreme versions of religious tradition.

Huxley used the term 'agnostic' to describe his own views on religion, a term whose use has continued to the present day, and which throws light on his demanding criteria for proof in science (see Thomas Henry Huxley and agnosticism).

Huxley had little schooling, and taught himself almost everything he knew. Remarkably, he became perhaps the finest comparative anatomist of the second half of the nineteenth century. He worked first on invertebrates, clarifying the relationships between groups that were previously little understood. Later, he worked more on vertebrates, especially on the relationship between man and the apes. Another of his important conclusions was that birds evolved from dinosaurs, namely, small carnivorous theropods. This view is widely held today.

The tendency has been for this fine anatomical work to be overshadowed by his energetic controversial activity in favour of evolution, and by his extensive public work on scientific education, both of which had significant effect on society in Britain and elsewhere.

Additional recommended knowledge



Early life

  Huxley, born in Ealing, then a village in Middlesex, 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. The elder Huxley was a mathematics teacher at Ealing School until it closed, putting the family into financial difficulties. As a result, Thomas left school at 10, after only two years of formal schooling.

Despite this unenviable start, Huxley possessed a strong determination to become an educated individual. He became one of the great autodidacts of the nineteenth century. He made himself an expert first on invertebrates, and later on vertebrates, all self-taught. He was skilled in drawing, and did many of the illustrations for his publications on marine invertebrates. In his teens he taught himself German, eventually becoming fluent and used by Charles Darwin as a translator of scientific material in German. Later he learnt Latin and enough Greek to read Aristotle in the original. In his debates and writing on science and religion his grasp of theology was better than most of his clerical opponents. So, a boy who left school at ten became one of the most knowledgeable men in Britain.[2][3]

He was apprenticed for short periods to several medical practitioners: at 13 to his brother-in-law John Cooke in Coventry, who passed him on to Thomas Chandler, notable for his experiments using mesmerism for medical purposes. Chandler's practice was in London's Rotherhithe amidst the squalor endured by the Dickensian poor. Here Thomas would have seen poverty, crime and rampant disease at its worst.[4] Next, another brother-in-law took him on: John Salt, his eldest sister's husband. Now 16, Huxley entered Sydenham College (behind University College Hospital), a cut-price anatomy school whose founder Marshall Hall discovered the reflex arc. All this time Huxley continued his program of reading, which more than made up for his lack of formal schooling.

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 the remarkable Scot, Thomas Wharton Jones, who had been Robert Knox's assistant when Knox bought cadavers from Burke and Hare:

Burke’s the butcher, Hare’s the thief,
Knox, the boy who buys the beef!

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 unrecognized 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.

At twenty he passed his First M.B. examination at the University of London, winning the gold medal for anatomy and physiology. However, he did not present himself for the final (2nd M.B.) exams and consequently did not qualify with a university degree. His apprenticeships and exam results formed a sufficient basis for his application to the Royal Navy.[5][6]

Voyage of the Rattlesnake

Aged 20, Huxley was too young to apply to the Royal College of Surgeons for a licence to practice, yet he was 'deep in debt'.[7] So, at a friend's suggestion, he applied for an appointment in the Royal Navy. He had references on character and certificates showing the time spent on his apprenticeship and on requirements such as dissection and pharmacy. Sir William Burnett, the Physician General of the Navy, interviewed him and arranged for the College of Surgeons to test his competence (by means of a viva voce).


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. Rattlesnake left England on December 3, 1846 and, once they had arrived in the southern hemisphere, Huxley devoted his time to the study of marine invertebrates.[8] 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).

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.[9][10]


The value of Huxley's work was recognized 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 Rattlesnake. He produced a number of important papers on such groups as the Ascidians, in which he solved the related problem of Appendicularia, whose place in the animal kingdom Johannes Peter Müller had found himself wholly unable to assign. They are both, as Huxley showed, tunicates, today regarded as a sister group to the vertebrates in the phylum Chordata.[11] Other papers on the morphology of the Cephalous Mollusca and on brachiopods and rotifers are also noteworthy.[12][13][14] 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.[15]

Later life

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 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; and, later, President of the Royal Society 1883–85; and Inspector of Fisheries 1881–85.[16]


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.

Man's position in nature

Among Huxley's most important work in this period was his continuing investigation of the relationship of man to other animals. For nearly a decade his research and lecturing was directed mainly to this topic, which led him directly into a clash with Richard Owen, a man widely disliked for his behaviour whilst also being admired for his capability. This struggle was to culminate in some severe defeats for the older man. 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 view that the bones of the skull and the spine were homologous, an opinion previously held by Goethe and Lorenz Oken.[17]

From 1860 to 1863 Huxley developed his ideas, presenting them in lectures to working men, students and the general public, followed by publication. 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.[18] Also in 1862 a series of talks to working men was printed lecture by lecture as pamphlets, later bound up as a little green book; the first copies went on sale in December.[19] Other lectures grew into Huxley's most famous work Evidence as to Man's place in Nature (1863) where he addressed the key issues long before Charles Darwin published his Descent of Man in 1871.

Rather less productive was his work on physical anthropology, a topic which fascinated the Victorians. In his Hunterian lectures for 1864 he addressed two key questions: 1. Are the differences [between races] sufficient to justify us in [considering] them as distinct species of men? 2. Can any of the differences [between races] be considered as transitional towards the lower forms of animals? Since Huxley answered no to both questions (as would all biologists today) his views are uncontroversial. In general, his attitudes were liberal though he did not entirely escape the prejudices of his day towards non-Europeans and towards women.[20]

Huxley classified the human races as: Europeans, Mongolian, Negro (or Ethiopian) and Australian; each of these categories being broken down further into sub-sets. In fact all such anthropological classifications are put in the shade by our modern discovery that the genetic diversity of man in Africa is greater than exists in the rest of mankind put together.

Vertebrate palaeontology

The first half of Huxley's career as a palaeontologist is marked by a rather strange predilection for 'persistent types', in which he seemed to argue that evolutionary advancement (in the sense of major new groups of animals and plants) was rare or absent in the Phanerozoic:
"Without at all denying the considerable positive differences which exist between the ancient and the modern forms of life... these differences and contrasts have been greatly exaggerated... of the orders... not more than seven per cent are unrepresented [at the present day]." [21] In the same vein he tended to push the origin of major groups such as birds and mammals back into the Palaeozoic era, and to claim that no order of plants has ever gone extinct.
Much paper has been consumed by historians of science ruminating on this strange and somewhat unclear idea.[22] He is wrong to pitch the loss of orders in the Phanerozoic as low as 7%, and he avoids estimating the number of new orders which evolved. Persistent types sat rather uncomfortably next to Darwin's more fluid ideas. However, gradually Huxley moved away from this style of thinking as his understanding of palaeontology, and the discipline itself, developed.

Huxley's detailed anatomical work was, as always, first-rate and productive. His work on fossil fish shows his distinctive approach: whereas pre-Darwinian naturalists collected, identified and classified, Huxley worked mainly to reveal the relationships between groups.  The lobed-finned fish (such as coelacanths and lung fish) have paired appendages whose internal skeleton is attached to the shoulder or pelvis by a single bone, the humerus or femur. His interest in these fish brought him close to the origin of tetrapods, one of the most important areas of vertebrate palaeontology.[23][24][25]

The study of fossil reptiles led to his demonstrating, in the course of lectures on birds (delivered at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1867) the fundamental affinity of the two groups which he united under the title of Sauropsida. His papers on Archaeopteryx and the origin of birds such as Further evidence of the affinity between the dinosaurian reptiles and birds (1870) were of great interest then and still are.[26][27][28]

Apart from his great 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.[29][30] 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.

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 that, we now know, 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.

The horse series also strongly suggested that the process was gradual, and that the origin of the modern horse lay in North America, not in Eurasia. And if so, then something must have happened to horses in North America, since none were there when the Spanish arrived... That, however, is another story. The experience was enough for Huxley to give credence to Darwin's gradualism, and to introduce the story of the horse into his lecture series.

Public duties and awards

From 1870 onwards, Huxley was to some extent drawn away from scientific research by the claims of public duty. From 1862 to 1884 he served on eight Royal Commissions. From 1871 to 1880 he was a Secretary of the Royal Society and from 1883 to 1885 he was President. He was President of the Geological Society from 1868-1870. In 1870, he was President of the British Association at Liverpool and, in the same year was elected a member of the newly-constituted London School Board. He was made a Privy Councillor in 1892.

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.[31]

Huxley also found time to write a treatise on physiography (1878)—a detailed physical geography of the Thames River Basin—as a primer in science, and an excellent textbook on the crayfish. Still of considerable interest is his biography of David Hume, the 18th century Scottish empirical philosopher. This shows that his choice of agnosticism was accompanied by a lengthy period of thought on the foundations of knowledge.


His health broke down in 1885. In 1890, he moved from London to Eastbourne where he had the satisfaction of seeing the nine volumes of his Collected Essays published by Macmillan. In 1884 he heard of the 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 (now East Finchley) Cemetery. This small family plot had been purchased upon the death of his beloved little son Noel, who died of scarlet fever in 1860; Huxley's wife is also buried there. No invitations were sent out, but two hundred people turned up for the ceremony; they included Hooker, Flower, Foster, Lankester, Joseph Lister and, apparently, Henry James.[32]

There is so much in his life of scientific and social interest that it seems extraordinary that he was given no award by the British state until he was made Privy Counsellor late in life. In this he did better than Darwin, who got no award of any kind from the state. (See Desmond and Moore for the story of how an honour for Darwin was vetoed by ecclesiastical advisors, including Wilberforce.[33]) Perhaps Huxley had commented too often on his dislike of honours, or perhaps his many assaults on the traditional beliefs of organised religion made enemies in the establishment—he had vigorous debates in print with Prime Ministers Disraeli, Gladstone and Arthur Balfour, and his relationship with Lord Salisbury was less than tranquil.[34][35]

As recognition of his many public services (he served on eight Royal Commissions—see below, became Inspector of Fisheries for a period, and more or less established scientific education in Britain) he was given a pension by the state. When one compares this with, say, Charles Lyell (who was awarded first a knighthood, then a baronetcy) or William Thomson (who was made a knight, a baron and awarded the Order of Merit) one is forced to conclude that the British establishment treated Huxley in a shabby manner.

However, in 1873 the King of Sweden made Huxley, Hooker and Tyndall Knights of the Order of the North Star, a remarkable event (they could wear the insignia but not use the title in Britain).[36] Huxley did collect honorary memberships of foreign societies, academic awards and honorary doctorates from Britain and Germany, and his writings are still widely read today, which can be said of few nineteenth century scientists.

Huxley was the founder of a very distinguished family of British academics, including his grandsons Aldous Huxley the novelist, Sir Julian Huxley the first Director General of UNESCO and a founder of the World Wide Fund for Nature, and Sir Andrew Huxley the physiologist and Nobel laureate.

After Darwin and Wallace, Huxley was for about thirty years evolution's most effective advocate, and for some Huxley was "the premier advocate of science in the nineteenth century [for] the whole English-speaking world".[37]

Though he had many admirers and disciples, the loss of Francis Balfour in 1882 deprived British zoology of the person whom many regarded as the best of his generation. Balfour, the younger brother of A.J. Balfour, was an embryologist and morphologist; his Comparative Embryology (2 vols, 1880-81) was a landmark. Huxley had thought he was "the only man who can carry out my work": and the deaths of Balfour and W.K. Clifford were "the greatest loss to science in our time".[38] Balfour died whilst climbing in the Alps; he had just been appointed to a chair at Cambridge.

Darwin's bulldog


Huxley was originally not persuaded of 'development theory' as evolution was once called. We can see that in his savage review[39] of Robert Chambers' Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, a book which contained some quite pertinent arguments in favour of evolution. Huxley had also rejected Lamarck's theory of transmutation, on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to support it. All this scepticism was brought together in a lecture to the Royal Institution[40], which made Darwin anxious enough to set about an effort to change young Huxley's mind. It was the kind of thing Darwin did with his closest scientific friends, but he must have had some particular intuition about Huxley, who was from all accounts a most impressive person even as a young man.[41][42]

Huxley was therefore one of the small group who knew about Darwin's views before they were published (that group included Joseph Dalton Hooker and Charles Lyell). The first publication by Darwin of his ideas came when Wallace sent Darwin his famous paper on natural selection, which was presented by Lyell and Hooker to the Linnean Society in 1858 alongside excerpts from Darwin's notebook and a Darwin letter to Asa Gray.[43][44] Huxley's famous response to the idea of natural selection was "How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!". However, the correctness of natural selection as the main mechanism for evolution was to lie permanently in Huxley's mental pending tray. He never conclusively made up his mind about it, though he did admit it was an hypothesis which was a good working basis.

Logically speaking, the prior question was whether evolution had taken place at all. It is to this question that much of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species was devoted. Its publication in 1859 completely convinced Huxley of evolution and it was this and no doubt his admiration of Darwin's way of amassing and using evidence that formed the basis of his support for Darwin in the debates that followed the book's publication. (see also Reaction to Darwin's theory)

Huxley's support started with his anonymous favourable review of the Origin in the Times for 26th December 1859,[45] and continued with articles in several periodicals, and in a lecture at the Royal Institution in February 1860.[46] At the same time, Richard Owen, whilst writing an extremely hostile anonymous review of the Origin in the Edinburgh Review,[47] also primed Samuel Wilberforce who wrote one in the Quarterly Review, running to 17,000 words.[48] 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.  

Debate with Wilberforce

Famously, Huxley responded to Wilberforce in the debate at the British Association meeting, on Saturday 30th June 1860 at the Oxford University Museum. He was joined at the debate by his and Darwin's friends Hooker and Lubbock, and they were opposed by the Lord Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, and Robert FitzRoy, the captain of HMS Beagle. The chair for this debate was Darwins's former botany tutor John Stevens Henslow.

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 (theme continued from the previous day) he had been assiduously coached by Richard Owen—Owen stayed with him the night before the debate (Desmond & Moore p493). 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 H. 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—the exact wording is not certain—was widely recounted in pamphlets and a spoof play.

Other friends of Darwin spoke also; Hooker especially thought he had made the best points. The general view was and still is that Huxley got the better of the exchange but there are dissenting voices, and Wilberforce himself thought he had done quite well. In the absence of a verbatim report these differing perceptions cannot be judged fairly; Huxley wrote a detailed account for Darwin, a letter which does not survive.[49][50][51][52][53]

Man and ape

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 himself 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."[54] Not so distant, as it turned out. A key event had already occurred in 1857 when Richard Owen presented (to the Linnean Society) his view that man was marked off from all other mammals by possessing features of the brain peculiar to the genus Homo. Having reached this (erroneous) opinion, Owen separated man from all other mammals in a subclass of its own.[55] No other biologist held such an extreme view. Darwin reacted " distinct from a chimpanzee [as] an ape from a platypus... I cannot swallow that!"[56] Neither could Huxley, who was able to demonstrate that Owen's idea was completely wrong.


The subject was discussed before a jury of experts at the same 1860 Oxford meeting, then in 1862 at the Cambridge meeting of the B.A. Huxley's friend William Flower gave a public demonstration that the same structures were indeed present in apes. Thus was exposed one of Owen's greatest blunders, revealing Huxley as not only dangerous in debate, but also a better anatomist. Huxley's ideas on this topic were summed up in January 1861 in the first issue (new series) of his own journal, the Natural History Review: "the most violent scientific paper he had ever composed".[57] This paper was reprinted in 1863 as chapter 2 of Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (his most influential book), but in the 1894 volume 7 in his Collected Essays the history of the Owen/Huxley debate was edited out. This extended debate, partly oral and partly in print, was a landmark in Huxley's career. It was highly important in asserting his dominance of comparative anatomy, and in the long run more influential in establishing evolution amongst biologists than was the debate with Wilberforce.

'I am Darwin's bulldog' said Huxley, and it is apt; the second half of Darwin's life was lived mainly within his family, and the younger, combative Huxley operated mainly out in the world at large. A letter from THH to Ernst Haekel (Nov 2 1871) goes "The dogs have been snapping at [Darwin's] heels too much of late."

Natural selection

Huxley was certainly not slavish in his dealings with Darwin. As shown in every biography, they had quite different and rather complementary characters. Important also, Darwin was a field naturalist, but Huxley was an anatomist, so there was a difference in their experience of nature. Lastly, Darwin's views on science were different from Huxley's views. For Darwin, natural selection was the best way to explain evolution because it explained a huge range of natural history facts and observations: it solved problems. Huxley, on the other hand, was an empiricist who trusted what he could see, and some things are not easily seen. With this in mind, one can appreciate the debate between them, Darwin writing his letters, Huxley never going quite so far as to say he thought Darwin was right.

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."[58][59] Huxley's position on selection was agnostic; yet he gave no credence to any other theory.

Darwin's part in the discussion came mostly in letters, as was his wont, along the lines: "The empirical evidence you call for is both impossible in practical terms, and in any event unnecessary. It's the same as asking to see every step in the transformation (or the splitting) of one species into another. My way so many issues are clarified and problems solved; no other theory does nearly so well."[60]

Huxley's reservation, as Helena Cronin has so aptly remarked, was contagious: "it spread itself for years among all kinds of doubters of Darwinism."[61] One reason for this doubt was that comparative anatomy could address the question of descent, but not the question of mechanism.[62] Huxley's resistance to Darwin's massaging and suasion is evidence of mental firmness; he may be Darwin's bulldog, but not his poodle! At least he went so far as to say that he knew of no better hypothesis.

The X Club

In November 1864 Huxley succeeded in launching a dining club, the X Club, 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 cousin 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. There were also some quite significant satellites such as William Flower and George Rolleston, (Huxley protegées), and liberal clergyman Arthur Stanley, the Dean of Westminster. Guests such as Charles Darwin and Hermann von Helmholtz were entertained from time to time.[63]

They would dine early on first Thursdays at a hotel, planning what to do; high on the agenda was to change the way the Royal Society Council did business. It was no coincidence that the Council met later that same evening. First item for the Xs was to get the Copley Medal for Darwin, which they managed after quite a struggle.

The next step was to acquire an organ for propaganda. This was the weekly Reader, which they bought, revamped and redirected. Huxley had already become part-owner of the Natural History Review[64] 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 & 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.

However, the experience gained with the Reader was put to good use when the X Club put their weight behind the founding of Nature in 1869. This time no mistakes were made: above all there was a permanent editor (though not full-time), Norman Lockyer, who served until 1919, a year before his death. Alan P Barr says "To celebrate his 100th birthday, Nature, a journal that Huxley had been instrumental in founding and nurturing, issued a supplement devoted to recollections of him".[65]

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. The Club continued to meet regularly until 1892, after which 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.

Huxley was also an active member of the Metaphysical Society, which ran from 1869 to 1880.[66] 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.[67]

Educational influence

When Huxley himself was young there were virtually no degrees in British universities in the biological sciences and few courses. Most biologists of his day were either self-taught, or took medical degrees. When he retired there were established chairs in biological disciplines in most universities, and a broad consensus on the curricula to be followed. Huxley was the single most influential person in this transformation.

School of Mines and Zoology

In the early 1870s the Royal School of Mines moved to new quarters in South Kensington; ultimately it would become one of the constituent parts of Imperial College London. The move gave Huxley the chance to give more prominence to laboratory work in biology teaching, an idea suggested by practice in German universities.[68] In the main, the method was based on the use of carefully chosen types, and depended on the dissection of anatomy, supplemented by microscopy, museum specimens and some elementary physiology at the hands of Foster.

The typical day would start with Huxley lecturing at 9am, followed by a program of laboratory work supervised by his demonstrators.[69] Huxley's demonstrators were picked men—all became leaders of biology in Britain in later life, spreading Huxley's ideas as well as their own. Michael Foster became Professor of Physiology at Cambridge; E. Ray Lankester became Jodrell Professor of Zoology at University College London (1875–91), Professor of Comparative Anatomy at Oxford (1891–98) and Director of the Natural History Museum (1898–1907); S.H. Vines became Professor of Botany at Cambridge; W.T. Thiselton-Dyer became Hooker's successor at Kew (he was already Hooker's son-in-law!); W. K. Parker became Hunterian Professor at the Royal College of Surgeons; and William Gunion Rutherford became the Professor of Physiology at Edinburgh. William Flower, Conservator to the Hunterian Museum, and THH's assistant in many dissections, became Sir William Flower, Hunterian Professor of Comparative Anatomy and, later, Director of the Natural History Museum.[70] It's a remarkable list of disciples, especially when contrasted with Owen who, in a longer professional life than Huxley, left no disciples at all. "No one fact tells so strongly against Owen... as that he has never reared one pupil or follower".[71]

Huxley's courses for students were so much narrower than the man himself that many were bewildered by the contrast: "The teaching of zoology by use of selected animal types has come in for much criticism";[72] Looking back in 1914 to his time as a student, Sir Arthur Shipley said "[Although] Darwin's later works all dealt with living organisms, yet our obsession was with the dead, with bodies preserved, and cut into the most refined slices".[73] E.W MacBride said "Huxley... would persist in looking at animals as material structures and not as living, active beings; in a word... he was a necrologist.[74] To put it simply, Huxley preferred to teach what he had actually seen with his own eyes.

This largely morphological program of comparative anatomy remained at the core of most biological education for a hundred years until the advent of cell and molecular biology and interest in evolutionary ecology forced a fundamental rethink. It is an interesting fact that the methods of the field naturalists who led the way in developing the theory of evolution (Darwin, Wallace, Fritz Müller, Henry Bates) were scarcely represented at all in Huxley's program. Ecological investigation of life in its environment was virtually non-existent, and theory, evolutionary or otherwise, was at a discount. Michael Ruse finds no mention of evolution or Darwinism in any of the exams set by Huxley, and confirms the lecture content based on two complete sets of lecture notes.[76]

Since Darwin, Wallace and Bates did not hold teaching posts at any stage of their adult careers (and Műller never returned from Brazil) the imbalance in Huxley's program went uncorrected. It is surely strange that Huxley's courses did not contain an account of the evidence collected by those naturalists of life in the tropics; evidence which they had found so convincing, and which caused their views on evolution by natural selection to be so similar. Desmond suggests that "[biology] had to be simple, synthetic and assimilable [because] it was to train teachers and had no other heuristic function".[77] That must be part of the reason; indeed it does help to explain the stultifying nature of much school biology. But zoology as taught at all levels became far too much the product of one man.

Huxley was comfortable with comparative anatomy, at which he was the greatest master of the day. He was not an all-round naturalist like Darwin, who had shown clearly enough how to weave together detailed factual information and subtle arguments across the vast web of life. Huxley chose, in his teaching (and to some extent in his research) to take a more straightforward course, concentrating on his personal strengths.

Schools and the Bible

Huxley was also a major influence in the direction taken by British schools: in November 1870 he was voted onto the London School Board.[78] In primary schooling, he advocated a wide range of disciplines, similar to what is taught today: reading, writing, arithmetic, art, science, music, etc. In higher education he also foresaw how schools should be run, with two years of basic liberal studies followed by two years of some upper-division work, focusing on a more specific area of study. This was a fresh approach to the general study of classics in contemporary English colleges. His educational approach is illustrated by his famous essay On a piece of chalk [1] first published in Macmillan's Magazine in London, 1868. The piece reconstructs the geological history of Britain, from a simple piece of chalk and demonstrates the methods of science as "organized common sense".

Huxley supported the reading of the Bible in schools. This may seem out of step with his evolutionary theories and personal agnostic convictions, but he believed that the Bible's significant moral teachings and superb use of language were quite relevant to English life. However, what Huxley proposed was to create an edited version of the Bible, shorn of "shortcomings and errors... statements to which men of science absolutely and entirely demur... these tender children [should] not be taught that which you do not yourselves believe."[79][80] The Board voted against his idea, but it also voted against the idea that public money should be used to support students attending church schools. Vigorous debate took place on such points, and the debates were minuted in detail. Huxley said "I will never be a party to enabling the State to sweep the children of this country into denominational schools".[81][82] The Act of Parliament which founded board schools permitted the reading of the Bible, but did not permit any denominational doctrine to be taught.

It may be right to see Huxley's life and work as contributing to the secularisation of British society which gradually occurred over the following century. Ernst Mayr said "It can hardly be doubted that [biology] has helped to undermine traditional beliefs and value systems"[83] — and Huxley more than anyone else was responsible for this trend in Britain. Some modern Christian apologists consider Huxley the father of atheistic evangelism, though he himself maintained that he was an agnostic, not an atheist. He was, however, a lifelong and determined opponent of almost all forms of organised religion, especially the "Roman Church... carefully calculated for the destruction of all that is highest in the moral nature, in the intellectual freedom, and in the political freedom of mankind".[84][85] Perhaps Lenin was right when he remarked (in Materialism and empirio-criticism) "In Huxley's case... agnosticism serves as a fig-leaf for materialism".

Adult education

Huxley's interest in education went still further than school and university classrooms; he made a great effort to reach interested adults of all kinds: after all, he himself was largely self-educated. There were his lecture courses for working men, many of which were published afterwards, and there was the use he made of journalism, partly to earn money but mostly to reach out to the literate public. For most of his adult life he wrote for periodicals—the Westminster Review, the Saturday Review, the Reader, the Pall Mall Gazette, Macmillan's Magazine, the Contemporary Review. Germany was still ahead in formal science education, but interested people in Victorian Britain could use their initiative and find out what was going on by reading periodicals and using the lending libraries.[86][87]

In 1868 Huxley became Principal of the South London Working Men's College in Blackfriars Road. The moving spirit was a portmanteau worker, Wm. Rossiter, who did most of the work; the funds were put up mainly by F.D. Maurice's Christian Socialists.[88][89] At sixpence for a course and a penny for a lecture by Huxley, this was some bargain; and so was the free library organised by the college, an idea which was widely copied. The time Huxley gave to his College showed his commitment to working class education. He thought, and said, that the men who attended were as good as any country squire. Huxley resigned as Principal in 1880.[90]


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 November 8th, 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". It was like "the stir that in a [former] epoch was made by Swift's Conduct of the Allies, or Burke's French Revolution" (Morley 1917 p90). The issue was reprinted seven times and protoplasm became a household word; Punch added 'Professor Protoplasm' to its other tags for him.

The topic had been stimulated by Huxley seeing the cytoplasmic streaming in plant cells, which is indeed a sensational sight. For these audiences Huxley's claim that this activity should not be explained by words such as vitality, but by the working of its constituent chemicals, was surprising and shocking. Today we would perhaps emphasise the extraordinary structural arrangement of those chemicals as the key to understanding what cells do, but little of that was known in the nineteenth century.

When the Archbishop of York thought this 'new philosophy' was based on August 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 p149). Huxley's dismissal of positivism damaged it so severely that Comte's ideas withered in Britain.

Royal and other Commissions

The following list is given by Leonard Huxley in his biography of his father (titles somewhat shortened here).[91] The Royal Commission is the senior investigative forum in the British constitution. A rough analysis shows that five commissions involved science and scientific education; three involved medicine and three involved fisheries. Two were directed solely to Scotland and two to Ireland. Several involve difficult ethical and legal issues. All are directed partly or wholly towards the examination of possible changes to law and/or administrative practice.

  • 1862 Trawling for herrings on the coast of Scotland.
  • 1865–65 Sea fisheries of the United Kingdom.
  • 1870–71 The Contagious Diseases Acts.
  • 1870–75 Scientific instruction and the advancement of science.
  • 1876 The practice of subjugating live animals to scientific experiments (vivisection).
  • 1876–78 The universities of Scotland.
  • 1881–82 The Medical Acts. [i.e. the legal framework for medicine]
  • 1884 Trawl, net and beam trawl fishing.

He was also elected to two general Commissions on Ireland (which at that time referred to the whole island).

  • 1866 On the Royal College of Science for Ireland.
  • 1868 On science and art instruction in Ireland.


See also: Huxley family

  In 1855, he married Henrietta Anne Heathorn (1825–1915), an English emigrée 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) author.
  • Rachel Huxley (1862–1934) married civil engineer Alfred Eckersley in 1884, he died 1895.
  • 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.

Huxley's relationship with his relatives and children were quite 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 own children, which is more than can be said of many Victorian fathers. This excerpt from a letter to Jessie, his eldest daughter is full of affection:

  • "Dearest Jess, You are a badly used young person—you are; and nothing short of that conviction would get a letter out of your still worse used Pater, the bête noir of whose existence is letter-writing. Catch me discussing the Afghan question with you, you little pepper-pot! No, not if I know it..." [goes on nevertheless to give strong opinions of the Afghans, at that time causing plenty of trouble to the Indian Empire—see Second Anglo-Afghan War] "There, you plague—ever your affec. Daddy, THH." (letter Dec 7th 1878, Huxley L 1900)


The most famous descendents in the third generation are offspring of Leonard Huxley:

Sir Julian Huxley FRS, grandson (1887–1975, son of Leonard Huxley and Julia Arnold) was a notable evolutionary biologist, who promoted the idea of humanism and was the first Director of UNESCO. His work in zoology was broader even than his grandfather: it included ethology and wildlife conservation, genetics and development as well as evolution. His two sons were both scientists of note: Anthony Julian Huxley, a botanist, and Francis Huxley, an anthropologist.

Aldous Huxley, grandson, (1894–1963, son of Leonard Huxley and Julia Arnold) was a famous author (Chrome Yellow 1921, Brave New World 1932, Eyeless in Gaza 1936, Ape and Essence 1948, The Doors of Perception 1954).

Sir Andrew Huxley OM FRS, grandson (b 1917, son of Leonard Huxley and Roselind Bruce) won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1963 jointly for work on nerve impulses. Andrew is the second Huxley to become President of the Royal Society (1980–85).

Mental problems in the family

Biographers have sometimes noted the occurrence of mental illness in the Huxley family. His father became "sunk in worse than childish imbecility of mind" [92], and later died in Barming Asylum; brother George suffered from "extreme mental anxiety" [93] and died in 1863 leaving serious debts. Brother James was at 55 "as near mad as any sane man can be" [94]; and there is more.

His favourite daughter, the artistically talented Mady (Marion), who became the first wife of artist John Collier, was troubled by mental illness for years. By her mid-twenties it was becoming clear that she was not sane, and was getting steadily worse (the diagnosis is uncertain). Huxley persuaded Jean-Martin Charcot, one of Freud's teachers, to examine her with a view to treatment; but soon Mady died of pneumonia.[95][96] It was a terrible blow to her husband and parents.

About Huxley himself we have a more complete record. As a young apprentice to a medical practitioner, aged thirteen or fourteen, Huxley was taken to watch a post-mortem dissection. Afterwards he sank into a 'deep lethargy' and though Huxley ascribed this to dissection poisoning, Bibby[97] and others may be right to suspect that emotional shock precipitated the depression. Huxley recuperated on a farm, looking thin and ill.

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.[98] This voyage was mostly to New Guinea and the NE Australian coast, including the Great Barrier Reef, which is a kind of wonderland for any zoologist, especially a young man hoping to make his career. The story is clear from the diary Huxley kept: p112 'little interest in the Barrier Reef'; p116 'two entries in seven weeks'; p117 '3 months passed and no journal' p124 'the black months of struggle and depression'.[99] For Huxley to pass up such a golden opportunity speaks of his state of mind quite painfully.

Huxley had periods of depression at the end of 1871 ('overwork' the explanation, true, but when was he not overworked?): alleviated by a cruise to Egypt.[100] Again in 1873, this time coincident with expensive building work on his house. His friends were really alarmed, and his doctor ordered three months rest. The three wives of Lyell, Darwin and Tyndall decided something had to be done. Darwin picked up his pen, and with Tyndall's help raised £2,100 — an enormous sum! The money was partly to pay for his recuperation, and partly to pay his bills. Huxley set out in July with Hooker to the Auvergne, and his wife and son Leonard joined him in Cologne, while the younger children stayed at Down House in Emma Darwin's care.[101]  

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.[102] 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 month's leave. His pension was a fairly handsome £1500 a year.

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. Perhaps it is not too surprising to find that the perceptive Beatrice Webb had written in her diary, after a conversation with Huxley, "Huxley, when not working, dreams strange things; carries on conversations between unknown persons living within his brain. There is a strain of madness in him".[103][104] An overstatement, but probably not written for publication.

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[105], and five more later in life. Of course, there are many family members for whom no biographical information is available, but both the talent and the mental problems would have interested Francis Galton. His Hereditary Genius[106] contained this comment: "The direct result of this enquiry is... to prove that the laws of heredity are as applicable to the mental faculties as to the bodily faculties".


Darwin's ideas and Huxley's controversies gave rise to many cartoons and satires. It was the debate about man's place in nature that roused such widespread comment: cartoons are so numerous as to be almost impossible to count; Darwin's head on a monkey's body is one of the visual clichés of the age. Three or four items of especial ripeness are:

  • Monkeyana (Punch vol 40 18th May 1861). Signed 'Gorilla', this turned out to be by Sir Philip Egerton MP, amateur naturalist, fossil fish collector and — Richard Owen's patron![107] Last two stanzas:
Next HUXLEY replies
That OWEN he lies
And garbles his Latin quotation;
That his facts are not new,
His mistakes not a few,
Detrimental to his reputation.

To twice slay the slain
By dint of the Brain
(Thus HUXLEY concludes his review)
Is but labour in vain,
unproductive of gain,
And so I shall bid you "Adieu"!
  • The Gorilla's Dilemma (Punch vol 43 p.164, 1862). First two lines:
Say am I a man or a brother,
Or only an anthropoid ape?
  • Report of a sad case recently tried before the Lord Mayor, Owen versus Huxley [108]. Lord Mayor asks whether either side is known to the police:
Policeman X — Huxley, your Worship, I take to be a young hand, but very vicious; but Owen I have seen before. He got into trouble with an old bone man, called Mantell, who never could be off complaining as Owen prigged his bones. People did say that the old man never got over it, and Owen worritted him to death; but I don't think it was so bad as that. Hears as Owen takes the chair at a crib in Bloomsbury. I don't think it will be a harmonic meeting altogether. And Huxley hangs out in Jermyn Street.
[Tom Huxley's 'low set' included Hooker 'in the green and vegetable line' and 'Charlie Darwin, the pigeon-fancier'; Owen's 'crib in Bloomsbury' was the British Museum, of which Natural History was but one department.]
  • The Water Babies, a fairy tale for a land baby by Charles Kingsley (serialised in Macmillan's Magazine 1862–3, published in book form, with additions, in 1863). Kingsley had been among first to give a favourable review to Darwin's On the Origin of Species, having "long since... learnt to disbelieve the dogma of the permanence of species",[109] and the story includes a satire on the reaction to Darwin's theory, with all the main scientific participants appearing, including Richard Owen and Huxley.

  An illustration by Linley Sambourne showed Huxley and Owen studying a captured water baby. In 1892 Thomas Henry Huxley's five-year-old grandson Julian saw this engraving and wrote his grandfather a letter asking:

Dear Grandpater – Have you seen a Waterbaby? Did you put it in a bottle? Did it wonder if it could get out? Could I see it some day? – Your loving Julian.

Huxley wrote back:

My dear Julian – I could never make sure about that Water Baby.

I have seen Babies in water and Babies in bottles; the Baby in the water was not in a bottle and the Baby in the bottle was not in water. My friend who wrote the story of the Water Baby was a very kind man and very clever. Perhaps he thought I could see as much in the water as he did – 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 the Water Babies where other folks can see nothing.



  • "I am Darwin's bulldog" coined by THH himself and so self-evidently apt that it was almost universally copied.
  • "How extremely stupid [of me] not to have thought of that" said in particular of the idea of natural selection. [versions in Life & Letters of CD and L&L of THH differ slightly as indicated]
  • "After all, it is as respectable to be modified ape as to be modified dirt" written in a letter to Dr Frederick Dyster 30th Jan 1859, i.e. before the publication of the Origin. [Huxley papers at Imperial College: HP 15.106]
  • "The Lord hath delivered him into mine hands" said to Sir Benjamin Brodie after Wilberforce's jibe in the Oxford debate. [L&L of THH Chapter 14]
  • "Life is too short to occupy oneself with the slaying of the slain more than once". Last of a series of exchanges when Owen repeated his claims about the Gorilla brain in a Royal Institution lecture. [Athenaeum 13 April 1861 p.498; Browne vol 2 p.159]
  • "The fact is that he (Richard Owen) made a prodigious blunder... and now his only chance is to be silent & let people forget the exposure!" THH to J.D. Hooker 27 April 1861 about Owen's view on human and ape brains; and of course Owen was not silent.[110]
  • "Science is organised common sense". Appears in his talks and essays at least half a dozen times; and seems of doubtful validity to many philosophers of science today.
  • "The great tragedy of science is the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact". Occurs with variations several times.
  • Agnosticism: coined in 1869 to label his attitude to religion, it also throws light on his philosophy of science. Example: "I neither deny or affirm the immortality of man. I see no reason for believing it, but on the other hand, I have no means of disproving it." [letter to Charles Kingsley, Sept 23 1860, L&L of THH vol 1, p233-39]
  • "I do not advocate burning your ship to get rid of the cockroaches". Said of those who wished to abolish all religious teaching, when really all they wanted was to free education from the Church. [THH Critiques and Addresses 1873 p90]
  • "Controversy is as abhorrent to me as gin to a reclaimed drunkard". THH to John Morley 1878.
  • "Science is... the results of exact methods of thought whatever be the subject-matter". THH to Charles Kingsley.
  • "The doctrine that all men are, in any sense, or have been at any time, free and equal, is an utterly baseless fiction."
  • "Try to learn something about everything and everything about something."
  • "The mediaeval university looked backwards: it professed to be a storehouse of old knowledge... The modern university looks forward: it is a factory of new knowledge" THH letter to E. Ray Lankester 11 April 1892.[111]
  • "Not far from the invention of fire... we must rank the invention of doubt." [Collected Essays vol 6, viii]
Abram, Abraham became
By will divine
Let pickled Brian's name
Be changed to Brine!

THH Poem in letter to J.D. Hooker 4th Dec 1894, on hearing that JDH's son had fallen into a salt vat. [112]

About Huxley

  • "I think his tone is much too vehement" [Charles Darwin in letter to Hooker about THH's Royal Institution lecture in 1854]
  • "Huxley gave the death-blow not only to Owen's theory of the skull but also to Owen's hitherto unchallenged prestige"[113]
  • "Pope Huxley" title of an article by R.H. Hutton who complains that whilst THH advocates agnosticism for everyone else, he's apt to be a mite too certain himself! [The Spectator 29th Jan 1870]
  • "If he [THH] has a fault it is... that like Caesar, he is ambitious... [it might be said that] cutting up apes is his forté, cutting up men is his foible" ['A Devonshire Man' in the Pall Mall Gazette Jan 18th 1870]
  • "Darwin's bulldog was patently a man of almost puritanical uprightness"[114]
  • "Archbishop Huxley and Professor Manning" [Bishop Thirwell Letters to a friend 1887 p.317]
  • "A man who was always taking two irons out of the fire and putting three in" [Herbert Spencer]
  • "It was worth being born to have known Huxley" [Edward Clodd 1840–1930, biologist and biographer]
  • "The illustrious comparative anatomist, Huxley, Darwin's great general in the battles that had to be fought, but not a naturalist, far less a student of living nature." [Edward Bagnall Poulton Charles Darwin and the origin of species London 1909 p58]
  • "From [1854] until 1885 Huxley's labours extended over the widest field of biology and philosophy ever covered by any naturalist with the single exception of Aristotle"[115]
  • "Huxley, I believe, was the greatest Englishman of the nineteenth century." [H.L. Mencken 1925]
  • "Huxleyism: the theory of the anthropoid descent of man and its inevitable consequences." [Clarence Ayres, Huxley p242]
  • "Oh, there goes Professor Huxley; faded but still fascinating" Woman overheard at B.A. meeting of 1878.[116][117]
  • "I'm a good Christian woman—I'm not an infidel like you!" Huxley's cook on being scolded by THH for drunkenness.[118]

See also

  • Evolutionary ethics


  1. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica Online 2006
  2. ^ Desmond 1994
  3. ^ Huxley 1900
  4. ^ Chesney, Kellow 1970. The Victorian underworld. Temple Smith, London; Pelican 1972, p105 and p421.
  5. ^ Desmond 1994
  6. ^ Huxley 1900
  7. ^ Desmond 1994, p. 35
  8. ^ Huxley 1935
  9. ^ Di Gregorio 1984
  10. ^ Huxley 1859
  11. ^ Holland 2007, p. 153–5
  12. ^ Desmond 1994
  13. ^ Huxley 1900
  14. ^ Foster & Lankester 1898-1903
  15. ^ MacGillivray 1852
  16. ^ Huxley 1900
  17. ^ Foster & Lankester 1898-1903, p. 538–606
  18. ^ Huxley 1862a, p. 420–22
  19. ^ Huxley 1862b
  20. ^ Di Gregorio 1984
  21. ^ Huxley T.H. 1859. On the persistent types of animal life. Proceedings of the Royal Institution.
  22. ^ Desmond A. 1982. Archtypes and ancestors: palaeontology in Victorian London 1850-1875. Blond & Briggs, London.
  23. ^ Clack 2002
  24. ^ Huxley 1861, p. 67-84
  25. ^ Foster & Lankester 1898-1903, p. 163–87
  26. ^ Foster & Lankester 1898-1903
  27. ^ Paul 2002, p. 171-224
  28. ^ Prum 2003, p. 550-561
  29. ^ Desmond 1997, p. 88 et seq
  30. ^ Huxley 1877
  31. ^ Bibby 1972
  32. ^ Desmond 1997, p. 230
  33. ^ Desmond & Moore 1991
  34. ^ Desmond 1997
  35. ^ Huxley 1900
  36. ^ Desmond 1998, p. 431
  37. ^ Lyons 1999, p. 11
  38. ^ Huxley 1900
  39. ^ Huxley 1854, p. 425–39
  40. ^ Huxley 1855, p. 82–85
  41. ^ Browne 1995
  42. ^ Desmond 1994, p. 222 et seq
  43. ^ Browne 2002
  44. ^ Darwin & Wallace 1858, p. 45-62
  45. ^ Huxley 1893-94a, p. 1-20
  46. ^ Foster & Lankester 1898-1903, p. 400
  47. ^ Owen 1860
  48. ^ Wilberforce 1860
  49. ^ Browne 2002, p. 118 et seq.
  50. ^ Huxley 1900, p. chapter 14
  51. ^ Desmond 1994, p. 276–281
  52. ^ Lucas 1979, p. 313-330 A somewhat pro-Wilberforce account; lists many sources.
  53. ^ Gould 1991 Chapter 26 'Knight takes Bishop?' is Gould's take on the Huxley-Wilberforce debate.
  54. ^ Darwin 1859, p 490
  55. ^ Owen 1858, p. 1-37
  56. ^ Burkhardt 1984 onwards (continuing series)
  57. ^ Browne 2002
  58. ^ Variously worded in Huxley 1860a, Huxley 1860b, Huxley 1861, Huxley 1862b and Huxley1887
  59. ^ Poulton 1896 chapter 18 gives detailed quotations from Huxley and discussion—Darwin's letters to Huxley being not yet published
  60. ^ Letters CD to THH in Darwin & Seward 1903 vol 1 p137-8, 225-6, 230-2, 274, 277, 287
  61. ^ Cronin 1991, p. 397
  62. ^ Mayr 1982
  63. ^ Jensen 1970, p. 63-72
  64. ^ Desmond 1994, p. 284, 289–90
  65. ^ Barr 1997, p. 1
  66. ^ Irvine 1955 Chapter 15
  67. ^ Desmond 1997, p. 123
  68. ^ Bibby 1959
  69. ^ Osborn 1924
  70. ^ Desmond 1997
  71. ^ Charles Darwin to Asa Gray 1860 in Darwin & Seward 1903, p. 153
  72. ^ Lester 1995, p. 67
  73. ^ Wollaston 1921, p. 102
  74. ^ MacBride 1934, p. 65
  75. ^ Pritchard 1994 Date based on comparison with other portraits of known date. Photo is by the firm of William & Daniel Downey, active ca. 1872-1919; photographer probably John Edwards
  76. ^ Ruse 1997
  77. ^ Desmond 1997, p. 273 note 20
  78. ^ Desmond 1997
  79. ^ Huxley 1893-94b, p. 397
  80. ^ Bibby 1959, p. 153
  81. ^ School Board Chronicle vol 2, p.326
  82. ^ Bibby 1959, p. 155
  83. ^ Mayr 1982, p. 80
  84. ^ School Board Chronicle vol 2, p.360
  85. ^ Bibby 1959, p. 155
  86. ^ White 2003, p. 69 et seq
  87. ^ Note: articles are listed, and some are available, in The Huxley File at Clark University
  88. ^ Bibby 1959, p. 33
  89. ^ Desmond 1994, p. 361–2
  90. ^ Desmond 1994 Chapter 19
  91. ^ Huxley 1900
  92. ^ letter THH to eldest sister Lizzie 1853 HP 31.21
  93. ^ THH to Lizzie 1858 HP 31.24
  94. ^ THH to Lizzie HP 31.44
  95. ^ THH to JT 1887 HP 9.164
  96. ^ Desmond 1997
  97. ^ Bibby 1972, p. 7
  98. ^ Huxley 1935 Chapter 5 'Wanderings of a human soul'
  99. ^ Huxley 1935
  100. ^ Desmond 1997, p. 27
  101. ^ Desmond 1997, p. 49
  102. ^ Desmond 1997, p. 151 et seq
  103. ^ Mackenzie 1982, p. 202-3
  104. ^ Webb 1926
  105. ^ Clark 1968
  106. ^ Galton 1892, p. xix
  107. ^ Desmond 1994, p. 296
  108. ^ pamphlet, published by George Pycraft, London 1863; Huxley Papers 79.6
  109. ^ Darwin 1887, p. 287
  110. ^ Bibby 1958, p. 73 HP 2.98
  111. ^ Bibby 1958, p. 182 HP: 30.448
  112. ^ Huxley papers at Imperial College London HP 2.454
  113. ^ Osborn 1924, p. 113
  114. ^ Bibby 1958, p. 56
  115. ^ Osborn 1924, p. 107–8
  116. ^ Huxley 1900 vol 2, p.63
  117. ^ Bibby 1958, p. 80
  118. ^ Desmond 1997, p. 7


  • Encyclopædia Britannica Online (2006), ,
  • Barr, Alan P, ed. (1997), , Georgia: Athens
  • Bibby, Cyril (1959), , London: Watts
  • Bibby, Cyril (1972), , Oxford: Pergamon
  • Browne, Janet (1995), , Cambridge University Press
  • Browne, Janet (2002), , Cambridge University Press
  • Burkhardt, F et al (eds) (1984 onwards: continuing series), , Cambridge University Press
  • Clack, Jenny (2002), , Indiana
  • Clark, Ronald W. (1968), , London
  • Cronin, Helena (1991), , Cambridge University Press
  • Darwin, Charles (1887), Darwin, Francis, ed., , vol. 2, London: John Murray, . (The Autobiography of Charles Darwin)
  • Darwin, Francis & Seward, A.C. (1903), , London: John Murray
  • Desmond, Adrian (1994), , London: Michael Joseph, ISBN 0-7181-3641-1
  • Desmond, Adrian (1997), , London: Michael Joseph
  • Desmond, Adrian (1998), , London: Penguin
  • Desmond, Adrian & Moore, James (1991), , London: Joseph
  • Di Gregorio, Mario A (1984), , New Haven: Yale University Press, ISBN 0300030622
  • Duncan, David (1908), , Michael Joseph
  • Eve, A.S. & Creasey, C.H. (1945), , London: Macmillan
  • Foster, Michael & Lankester, E. Ray (1898-1903), , London: Macmillan, ISBN 1432640119
  • Galton, Francis (1892), , London, pp. xix
  • Gould, Stephen Jay (1991), , Random House
  • Holland, Linda Z (2007), " ", Nature (UK: Nature Publishing Group) (no. 447/7141, pp. 153-155), ISSN 0028-0836
  • Huxley, Julian (1935), , London: Chatto & Windus
  • Huxley, Leonard (1900), , London: Macmillan
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry (1854), " ", British and Foreign Medico-Chirurgical Review (no. 13)
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry (1855), " ", Proceedings of the Royal Institution 2 (1854–58)
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry (1859), , London: The Ray Society, ISBN 0300030622
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry (1860a), " ", Proc. Roy. Inst. 1858-62 (no. III): 195
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry (1860b), " ", Westminster Review (no. April)
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry (1861), " ", Natural History Review (new series) (no. 1)
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry (1862a), , vol. III, London: The Royal Institution.
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry (1862b), , London
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry (1863), , London: Williams & Norwood
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry (1864), " ", Natural History Review (London) (no. 4): 429–46
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry (1870), , London
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry (1877),
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry (1887), , in Darwin, Francis, , London: John Murray
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry (1893-94), , London: Macmillan
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry (1893-94a), , London: Macmillan
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry (1893-94b), , London: Macmillan
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry (1898-1903), , in Foster, Michael & Lankester, E. Ray, , London: Macmillan, pp. 421–60, ISBN 1432640119
  • Jensen, J Vernon (1970), " ", British Journal of the History of Science (no. 5): 63-72
  • Lester, Joe (1995), , BSHS Monograph #9
  • Lucas, John R. (1979), " ", The Historical Journal (Cambridge University Press) 22 (2), . Retrieved on 2007-06-09
  • Lyons, Sherrie L (18999), , New York
  • MacBride, E.W. (1934), , London: Duckworth
  • MacGillivray, John (1852), , London: Boone
  • Mackenzie, N & Mackenzie, J, eds. (1982), , London: Virago
  • Mayr, Ernst (1982), , Harvard University Press
  • McMillan, N.D. & Meehan, J (1980), , National Council for Educational Awards. (despite its chaotic organisation, this little book contains some nuggets that are well worth sifting)
  • Morley, John (1917), , Macmillan
  • Osborn, Henry Fairfield (1924),
  • Owen, Richard (1858), " ", Proc Linnean Society: Zoology (no. 2): 1–37
  • Paradis, James & Williams, George C (1989), , Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press
  • Paul, G (2002), , , Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, pp. 171-224, ISBN 0-8018-6763-0
  • Poulton, Edward Bagnall (1896), , London: Cassell.(Chapter 18 deals with Huxley and natural selection)
  • Pritchard, M. (1994),
  • Prum, R (2003), " ", The Auk 2 (120): 550-561
  • Ruse, Michael (1997), , in Barr, Alan P., , Georgia: Athens
  • Spencer, Herbert (1904), , London: Williams & Norgate
  • Webb, Beatrice (1926), , London: Longmans
  • Wilberforce, Samuel (1860), " ", Quarterly Review (no. 102): 225-64
  • Wollaston, A.F.R. (1921),
  • White, Paul (2003), , Cambridge University Press

Biographies of Huxley


  • Ashforth, Albert. Thomas Henry Huxley. Twayne, New York 1969.
  • Ayres, Clarence. Huxley. Norton, New York 1932.
  • Bibby, Cyril. T.H. Huxley: scientist, humanist and educator. Watts, London 1959, Horizon Press, N.Y. 1960. Forewords by Sir Julian Huxley and Aldous Huxley. [one of the best biographies, and especially good on his educational work; good plates]
  • Bibby, Cyril. Scientist extraordinary: the life and work of Thomas Henry Huxley 1825–1895. Pergamon, Oxford 1972. [not identical with the above, but contains the same plates; includes helpful one-para biogs of THH's circle]
  • Clark, Ronald W. The Huxleys. London 1968. [family biogs to the third generation]
  • Clodd, Edward. Thomas Henry Huxley. Blackwood, Edinburgh 1902. [apart from the L&L of THH, this is the best of the early biographies; it is organised into five themes: 1. the man 2. the discoverer 3. the interpreter 4. the controversialist 5. the constructor]
  • Desmond, Adrian. Huxley: vol 1 The Devil's disciple. London 1994, vol 2 Evolution's high priest. London 1997; paperback edition, 2 vols in one, Penguin 1998. [this is the most comprehensive modern biography; quite outstanding in placing Huxley in his societal context; perhaps not quite so impressive in dealing with his work as a scientist]
  • Di Gregorio, Mario A. T.H. Huxley's place in natural science. New Haven 1984. [much-needed; but emphasises THH's careerism too stongly]
  • Huxley, Leonard. The life and letters of Thomas Henry Huxley. 2 vols 8vo, Macmillan, London 1900; 2nd ed 3 vols cr8vo, Macmillan, London 1903. [this is a good source for facts pertaining to his life, and includes many letters]
  • Huxley, Leonard. Thomas Henry Huxley: a character sketch. Watts, London 1920.
  • Irvine, William. Apes, Angels and Victorians. New York 1955. [highly readable joint biography of Darwin and Huxley. It still makes a good intro despite one or two careless errors — it describes (p.81) the 1858 Darwin/Wallace papers as read before the Royal Society instead of the Linnean Society]
  • Irvine, William. Thomas Henry Huxley. Longmans, London 1960. [40-page pamphlet]
  • Jensen, J. Vernon. Thomas Henry Huxley: communicating for science. University of Delaware, Newark 1991. [centres on Huxley's oral rhetoric]
  • Lyons, Sherrie L. Thomas Henry Huxley: the evolution of a scientist. New York 1999. [recognises THH's love of truth as his main motive]
  • MacBride E.W. Huxley. Duckworth, London 1934. [author had the dubious distinction of being one of the last Lamarkists to hold a chair of zoology in Britain]
  • Mitchell, P. Chalmers. Thomas Henry Huxley: a sketch of his life and work London 1901. see Project Gutenberg. [chapters 3, 5 and 8 on THH's science recommended; contains strange error p29 'Huxley was the only surgeon aboard the Rattlesnake'. He most certainly was not! The surgeon (Huxley's superior officer) was 'Jonny' Thomson]
  • Osborn, Henry Fairfield. Impressions of great naturalists. 1924. [by one of THH's students; includes essays on Darwin, Wallace and Huxley]
  • Paradis, James G. T.H. Huxley: Man's place in nature. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 1978. [on Huxley's Humanism]
  • Peterson, Houston. Huxley: prophet of science. Longmans Green, London 1932. [excellent & literate; includes reprint of Huxley's Mr Balfour's attack on agnosticism II not previously published]
  • White, Paul. Thomas Huxley: making the 'Man of Science'. Cambridge University Press 2003.
  • Voorhees, Irving Wilson. The teachings of Thomas Henry Huxley. Broadway, New York 1907.
  • The Huxley File. A website created by Charles Blinderman and David Joyce. [this is an indispensable source, though there are some errors, for example, Huxley did not graduate with a degree]

There are also many obituary notices in newspapers, periodicals and reference works.


Academic offices
Preceded by
William Spottiswoode
President of the Royal Society
Succeeded by
Sir George Stokes
Preceded by
George Newport
Royal Medal
Succeeded by
Charles Darwin
Preceded by
L-G de Koninck
Wollaston Medal
Succeeded by
Robert Mallet
Preceded by
George Bentham
Clarke Medal
Succeeded by
Frederick McCoy
Preceded by
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Copley Medal
Succeeded by
George Salmon
Preceded by
Alphonse de Candolle
Linnaean Medal
Succeeded by
Jean-Baptiste Bornet
Preceded by
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Darwin Medal
Succeeded by
Giovanni Grassi
  This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Thomas_Henry_Huxley". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE