Thomas Henry Huxley Additional Biography


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...

(The entire section is 836 words.)


Barr, Alan P., ed. Thomas Henry Huxley’s Place in Science and Letters: Centenary Essays. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997. Essays examining Huxley’s contributions to science. Includes bibliographical references.

Bibby, Cyril. Scientist Extraordinary: The Life and Scientific Work of Thomas Henry Huxley, 1825-1895. New York: Pergamon Press, 1972. A thorough and readable biography.

Desmond, Adrian. Huxley: From Devil’s Disciple to Evolution’s High Priest. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1997. Originally published as two separate volumes. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Di Gregorio, Mario. T. H. Huxley’s Place in Natural Science. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984. A thorough and readable biography.

Jensen, J. Vernon. Thomas Henry Huxley: Communicating for Science. Newark, N.J.: University of Delaware Press, 1991. An account of Huxley’s dedication to science education.

Lyons, Sherrie L. Thomas Henry Huxley: The Evolution of a Scientist. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1999. A thorough biography. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Paradis, James. Thomas Henry Huxley: Man’s Place in Nature. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978. Deals with Huxley’s philosophy of science and the relation of science to human progress and culture.

Paradis, James, and George C. Williams. Evolution and Ethics: T. H. Huxley’s “Evolution and Ethics,” with New Essays on Its Victorian and Sociobiological Context. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989. Discussions of Huxley’s struggle in selling the idea of evolution to the English public.