Thomas Henry Huxley by Leonard Huxley


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Page 1


ELLIOTT AND FRY _Frontispiece_


MAULL AND POLYBLANK, 1857 _To face p._44

DOWNEY, 1890 _To face p._102



The object of a full-dress biography is to present as complete
a picture as may be of a man and his work, the influence of his
character upon his achievement, the struggle with opposing influences
to carry out some guiding purpose or great idea. With abundant
documents at hand the individual development, the action of events
upon character, and of character upon events, can be shown in the
spontaneous freedom of letters, as well as in considered publications.
But this little book is not a full-dress biography, although it may
induce readers to turn to the larger _Life and Letters_, in which
(or in the _Aphorisms and Reflections of T.H. Huxley_) facts and
quotations can be turned up by means of the index; it is designed
rather as a character sketch, to show not so much the work done as
what manner of man Huxley was, and the spirit in which he undertook
that work. It will not be a history of his scientific investigations
or his philosophical researches; it will be personal, while from the
personal side illustrating his attitude towards his scientific and
philosophical thought.



Thomas Henry Huxley was born ten years after Waterloo, while the
country was still in the backwash of the long-drawn Napoleonic wars.
It was a time of material reconstruction and expansion, while social
reconstruction lagged sadly and angrily behind. The year of his birth
saw the first railway opened in England; it was seven years before
electoral reform began, with its well-meant but dispiriting sequel
in the new Poor Law. The defeat of the political and aggressive cause
which had imposed itself upon the revolutionary inspiration of freedom
strengthened the old orthodoxies here. Questioning voices were raised
at their proper peril.

Thomas Henry was the seventh child of George Huxley and Rachel
Withers, his wife. He was born on May 4, 1825, at half-past nine in
the morning, according to the entry in the family Bible, at Ealing,
where his father was senior assistant-master in the well-known school
of Dr. Nicholas, of Wadham College, Oxford. The good doctor, who
had succeeded his father-in-law here in 1791, was enough of a public
character to have his name parodied by Thackeray as Dr. Tickleus.

"I am not aware," writes Huxley playfully in an autobiographical

that any portents preceded my arrival in this world; but in
my childhood I remember hearing a traditional account of the
manner in which I lost the chance of an endowment of great
practical value. The windows of my mother's room were open, in
consequence of the unusual warmth of the weather. For the same
reason, probably, a neighbouring bee-hive had swarmed, and the
new colony, pitching on the window-sill, was making its way
into the room when the horrified nurse shut down the sash. If
that well-meaning woman had only abstained from her ill-timed
interference, the swarm might have settled on my lips, and
I should have been endowed with that mellifluous eloquence
which, in this country, leads far more surely than worth,
capacity, or honest work, to the highest places in Church and
State. But the opportunity was lost, and I have been obliged
to content myself through life with saying what I mean in the
plainest of plain language, than which, I suppose, there is no
habit more ruinous to a man's prospects of advancement.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Wed 26th Jan 2022, 20:17