Thomas Henry Huxley was the son of an assistant master in a public school, but he had only two years in the “pandemonium of a school” before he began, at seventeen, a course of medical studies at Charing Cross Hospital. In his boyhood, however, he had read widely and indulged his curiosity in all sorts of ways, even to observing an autopsy when he was thirteen. Following his graduation in 1845, he published his first scientific paper and joined the Royal College of Surgeons. Arctic explorer Sir John Richardson secured for him a billet as assistant surgeon aboard HMS Rattlesnake, a post which Huxley used primarily to study the surface life of the tropical seas. His papers, based on data collected during the four-year voyage, and published by the Royal Society, helped to establish the concepts of ectoderm and endoderm in evolution. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1852. In the following year, he was awarded the Royal Medal for his contributions to science. He was also recognized as one who had the rare talent for making crucial connections between science, worldly affairs, and the education of children and youth.
Dedicated to a rigorous inductive method, he attacked the idealistic evolutionists, Richard Owen and Lorenz Oken, and insisted that “there is no progression from a lower to a higher type, but a more or less complete evolution of one type.” Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) was a turning point in Huxley’s life: From then on, he devoted himself largely to research, publication, and public debate relating to the theory of evolution. In Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature, Huxley demonstrated that, anatomically, humans are, in body and brain, one with the animal world. The book was written in simple, persuasive language, and some scholars have posited that it anticipated modern anthropology. The book is a demonstration of the eclecticism of Huxley’s scientific and literary talents. Having been appointed lecturer to the School of Mines in 1854 and to the Geological...
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