T. H. Huxley

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(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

T. H. Huxley 1825-1895

English biologist, philosopher, social critic, lecturer, essayist, and nonfiction writer.

Tenacious and articulate, Huxley became the Victorian era's popularizer of Darwinian evolution, the most fiercely debated issue of his generation. Called "Darwin's Bulldog," Huxley was one of the theory's first adherents and, in such works as Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature, made the first clear statements as to man's place in the evolutionary scheme.

Biographical Information

Born on May 4, 1825, in Ealing, Middlesex, near London, Thomas Henry Huxley was the seventh child of George Huxley, a rural schoolmaster. Although he received only two years of formal education during his childhood, he read science, history, and philosophy voraciously; by the time he received a medical apprenticeship to Charing Cross Hospital at the age of 15, he had mastered German, French, and Italian and had read Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology (1830-33), William Hamilton on logic, and much of Thomas Carlyle. After studying as a free scholar at Charing Cross, Huxley received top honors in chemistry, anatomy, and physiology and took his medical degree from the University of London in 1845, having published his first article—the identification of a structure in the human hair membrane, still known as Huxley's layer. At 21, he became assistant surgeon on the Royal Navy frigate the H. M. S. Rattlesnake, which charted the waters between the Great Barrier Reef and the Australian coast. During the nearly five-year journey Huxley collected and closely studied specimens of marine invertebrates. The research results were regularly contributed to the Westminster Review and, when he returned to England, Huxley found that he had become accepted into scientific circles. He became lecturer on natural history at London's School of Mines and shortly sent for and married his fianceé Henrietta Heathorn, whom he had met in Sydney, Australia.

In 1859, following the birth of his first son and after recovering from an illness which took him to Switzerland, Huxley finally saw the publication of The Oceanic Hydrozoa, a description of his observations during the Rattlesnake voyage. In that same year, in the

Proceedings of the Royal Society, he published his 1858 Croonian lecture, "On the Theory of the Vertebrate Skull," and was appointed secretary of the Geological Society. However, far more significant in terms of his long-term reputation were his 1859 and 1860 reviews of Darwin's On the Origin of Species in the London Times and Westminster Review. Darwin's book stated convictions toward which Huxley himself had been leaning, and it soon became a significant influence upon his career as a lecturer and writer. Huxley began publicly to advocate Darwin's theory of evolution. In June 1860 at the British Association meeting at Oxford, Huxley debated Archbishop Samuel Wilberforce, advancing Darwinian evolution as the best explanation for species-diversity, and in 1862 he gave a series of lectures on...

(The entire section is 1,461 words.)