Thomas Henry Huxley by Leonard Huxley


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Page 2

The fact that he received the name of the doubting apostle was by no
means one of those superhuman coincidences in which some naive people
see portents. In later years my father used to make humorous play
with its appropriateness, but in plain fact he was named after his
grandfather, Thomas Huxley. I have not traced the origin of the Henry.

Both parents were of dark complexion, and all the children were
dark-haired and dark-eyed. The father was tall, and, I believe, well
set-up: a miniature shows him with abundant, brown, curling hair
brushed high above a good forehead, giving the effect, so fashionable
in 1830, of a high-peaked head. The features are well cut and regular;
the nose rather long and inclined to be aquiline; the cheeks well
covered; the eyes, under somewhat arched brows, expressive and
interesting. Outwardly, there is a certain resemblance traceable
between the miniature and a daguerrotype of Huxley at nineteen;
but the debt, physical and mental, owed to either parent is thus
recorded:--

Physically, I am the son of my mother so completely--even
down to peculiar movements of the hands, which made their
appearance in me as I reached the age she had when I noticed
them--that I can hardly find any trace of my father in myself,
except an inborn faculty for drawing, which, unfortunately
in my case, has never been cultivated; a hot temper, and
that amount of tenacity of purpose which unfriendly observers
sometimes call obstinacy.

My mother was a slender brunette, of an emotional and
energetic temperament, and possessed of the most piercing
black eyes I ever saw in a woman's head. With no more
education than other women of the middle classes in her day,
she had an excellent mental capacity. Her most distinguishing
characteristic, however, was rapidity of thought. If one
ventured to suggest that she had not taken much time to arrive
at any conclusion, she would say: "I cannot help it; things
flash across me." That peculiarity has been passed on to me
in full strength; it has often stood me in good stead; it
has sometimes played me sad tricks, and it has always been a
danger. But, after all, if my time were to come over again,
there is nothing I would less willingly part with than my
inheritance of mother-wit.

Restless, talkative, untiring to the day of her death, she was at
sixty-six "as active and energetic as a young woman." To her he was
devoted.

As a child my love for her was a passion. I have lain awake
for hours crying because I had a morbid fear of her death;
her approbation was my greatest reward, her displeasure my
greatest punishment.

About his childhood, he writes,

I have next to nothing to say. In after years my mother,
looking at me almost reproachfully, would sometimes say, "Ah!
you were such a pretty boy!" whence I had no difficulty in
concluding that I had not fulfilled my early promise in the
matter of looks. In fact, I have a distinct recollection of
certain curls of which I was vain, and of a conviction that
I closely resembled that handsome, courtly gentleman, Sir
Herbert Oakley, who was vicar of our parish, and who was as a
god to us country folk because he was occasionally visited
by the then Prince George of Cambridge. I remember turning my
pinafore wrong side forwards in order to represent a surplice,
and preaching to my mother's maids in the kitchen as nearly as
possible in Sir Herbert's manner one Sunday morning, when
the rest of the family were at church. That is the earliest
indication of the strong clerical affinities which my friend
Mr. Herbert Spencer has always ascribed to me, though I fancy
they have, for the most part, remained in a latent state.

He was not a precocious child, nor pushed forward by early
instruction. His native talent for drawing, had it been cultivated,
might have brought him into the front rank of artists; but on the
perverse principle, then common, that training is either useless to
native capacity or ruins it, he remained untaught, and his vigorous
draughtsmanship, invaluable as it was in his scientific career, never
reached its full technical perfection. But the sketches which he
delighted to make on his travels reveal the artist's eye, if not his
trained hand.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Mon 16th May 2022, 15:15