Henry Huxley was a British biologist, known as "Darwin's Bulldog"
for his defence of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. His
scientific debates against Richard Owen demonstrated that there
were close similarities between the cerebral anatomy of humans and
gorillas. Huxley did not accept many of Darwin's ideas, such as
gradualism, and was more interested in advocating a materialist
professional science than in defending natural selection.
talented populariser of science, he coined the term "agnosticism"
to describe his stance on religious belief . He
is credited with inventing the concept of "biogenesis",
a theory stating that all cells arise from other cells, and also
"abiogenesis," describing the generation of life from
Huxley was born in Ealing in west London, being the second youngest
of eight children of George Huxley, a teacher of mathematics in
Ealing. At seventeen he commenced regular medical studies at Charing
Cross Hospital where he had obtained a scholarship. At twenty
he passed his first M.B. examination at the University of London,
winning the gold medal for anatomy and physiology. In 1845 he
published his first scientific paper, demonstrating the existence
of a hitherto unrecognized layer in the inner sheath of hairs,
a layer that has been known since as Huxley's layer.
then applied for an appointment in the navy. He obtained the post
of surgeon to HMS Rattlesnake, about to start for surveying work
in Torres Strait. Rattlesnake left England on December 3, 1846,
and once they had arrived in the southern hemisphere Huxley devoted
his time to the study of marine invertebrates.
began to send details of his discoveries back to England, and
his paper, On the Anatomy and the Affinities of the Family of
Medusae was printed by the Royal Society in the Philosophical
Transactions in 1849. Huxley united, with the Medusae, the Hydroid
and Sertularian polyps, to form a class to which he subsequently
gave the name of Hydrozoa. The connection he made was that all
the members of the class consisted of two membranes enclosing
a central cavity or stomach. This is characteristic of what are
now called the Cnidaria. He compared this feature to the serous
and mucous structures of embryos of higher animals.
value of Huxley's work was recognized, and on returning to England
in 1850 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In the following
year, at the age of twenty-six, he not only received the Royal
medal, but was elected on the council. He secured the friendship
of Joseph Dalton Hooker and John Tyndall, who remained his lifelong
Admiralty retained him as a nominal assistant-surgeon, in order
that he might work on the observations he had made during the
voyage of Rattlesnake. He was thus enabled to produce various
important memoirs, especially those on certain Ascidians, in which
he solved the problem of Appendicularian organism whose place
in the animal kingdom Johannes Peter Müller had found himself
wholly unable to assign and on the morphology of the Cephalous
resigned from the navy, and in July 1854 he became lecturer at
the School of Mines and naturalist to the Geological Survey in
the following year. His most important research belonging to this
period was the Croonian Lecture delivered before the Royal Society
in 1858 on The Theory of the Vertebrate Skull. In this he rejected
Richard Owen's view that the bones of the skull and the spine
were homologous, an opinion previously held by Goethe and Lorenz
1855 he married Henrietta Anne Heathorn (1825-1915). They had
four daughters and two sons, including the writer Leonard Huxley
Huxley (1856-1860) died aged 4.
Jessie Oriana Huxley (1856-1927), married architect Fred Waller
Marian Huxley (1859-1889) married artist John Collier in 1879.
Leonard Huxley (1860-1933) famous author.
Rachel Huxley (1862-1934) married civil engineer Alfred Eckersley
in 1884, he died 1895.
Nettie Huxley (1863-1940), married Harold Roller, travelled Europe
as a singer.
Henry Huxley (1865-1946), became a fashionable general practitioner
Ethel Huxley (1866-1941) married artist John Collier (widower
of sister) in 1889.
In the frontispiece from his 1863 Evidence as to Man's Place in
Nature, Huxley first printed a famous image of his comparing the
skeletons of apes to humans.In 1859 Charles Darwin's The Origin
of Species was published. Huxley had previously rejected Jean-Baptiste
Lamarck's theory of transmutation on the basis that there was
insufficient evidence to support it. However he believed that
Darwin at least gave a hypothesis which was good enough as a working
basis, even though he believed evidence was still lacking, and
became one of Darwin's main supporters in the debate that followed
the book's publication.
did this in a lecture at the Royal Institution in February 1860,
and spoke in favour of Darwin's theory of natural selection in
the debate at the British Association meeting at the Oxford University
Museum in June. He was joined on this occasion by his friend Hooker,
and they were opposed by the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce
and Robert FitzRoy, the captain of HMS Beagle.
this Huxley concentrated on the subject of man's origins, maintaining
that man was related to apes. In this he was opposed by Richard
Owen, who stated that man was clearly marked off from all other
animals by the anatomical structure of his brain. This was actually
inconsistent with known facts, and was effectually refuted by
Huxley in various papers and lectures, summed up in 1863 in Evidence
as to Man's Place in Nature.
thirty-one years during which Huxley occupied the chair of natural
history at the School of Mines were largely occupied with palaeontological
research. Numerous memoirs on fossil fishes established many far-reaching
morphological facts. The study of fossil reptiles led to his demonstrating,
in the course of lectures on birds, delivered at the Royal College
of Surgeons in 1867, the fundamental affinity of the two groups
which he united under the title of Sauropsida.
1870 onwards he was drawn away from scientific research by the
claims of public duty. From 1862 to 1884 he served on ten Royal
Commissions. From 1871 to 1880 he was a secretary of the Royal
Society, and from 1881 to 1885 he was president. He was made a
Privy Councillor in 1892. In 1870 he was president of the British
Association at Liverpool, and in the same year was elected a member
of the newly constituted London School Board. In 1888 he was awarded
the Copley Medal by the Royal Society.
health completely broke down in 1885. In 1890 he moved from London
to Eastbourne, where after a painful illness he died.
was the founder of a very distinguished family of British academics,
including his grandsons Aldous Huxley (the writer), Sir Julian
Huxley (the first Director General of UNESCO and founder of the
World Wildlife Fund), and Sir Andrew Huxley (the physiologist
and Nobel laureate).
is credited with the quote, "Try to learn something about
everything and everything about something."
Huxley was a major influence in the direction in which British
schools took. In primary schooling he advocated a wide range of
disciplines similar to what we have today: reading, writing, arithmetic,
art, science, music, etc. In higher education he also foresaw
how schools should be run with two years of basic liberal studies
followed by two years of some upper-division work focusing on
a more specific area of study.
was a fresh approach to the general study of classics in contemporary
English colleges. Much of his educational approaches are found
in his work On a Piece of Chalk a profound essay first published
in MacMillan's Magazine in London, 1868. The piece reconstructs
the geological history of Britain from a simple piece of chalk
and demonstrates the methods of science as "organized common
significant advocacy of Huxley's that is not seen today was his
promotion for teaching the Bible in schools. This may seem out
of step with his evolutionary theories but he believed that the
Bible had significant literary and moral teachings that were quite
relevant to English ethics. He tried to reconcile evolution and
ethics in his book Evolution and Ethics, which proposed the principle
of the "fitting of as many as possible to survive".