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- The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley Volume 1 - 1/73 -

Produced by Sue Asscher







The American edition of the "Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley" calls for a few words by way of preface, for there existed a particular relationship between the English writer and his transatlantic readers.

From the time that his "Lay Sermons" was published his essays found in the United States an eager audience, who appreciated above all things his directness and honesty of purpose and the unflinching spirit in which he pursued the truth. Whether or not, as some affirm, the American public "discovered" Mr. Herbert Spencer, they responded at once to the influence of the younger evolutionary writer, whose wide and exact knowledge of nature was but a stepping-stone to his interest in human life and its problems. And when, a few years later, after more than one invitation, he came to lecture in the United States and made himself personally known to his many readers, it was this widespread response to his influence which made his welcome comparable, as was said at the time, to a royal progress.

His own interest in the present problems of the country and the possibilities of its future was always keen, not merely as touching the development of a vast political force--one of the dominant factors of the near future--but far more as touching the character of its approaching greatness. Huge territories and vast resources were of small interest to him in comparison with the use to which they should be put. None felt more vividly than he that the true greatness of a nation would depend upon the spirit of the principles it adopted, upon the character of the individuals who make up the nation and shape the channels in which the currents of its being will hereafter flow.

This was the note he struck in the appeal for intellectual sincerity and clearness which he made at the end of his New York "Lectures on Evolution." The same note dominates that letter to his sister--a Southerner by adoption--which gives his reading of the real issue at stake in the great civil war. Slavery is bad for the slave, but far worse for the master, as sapping his character and making impossible that moral vigour of the individual on which is based the collective vigour of the nation.

The interest with which he followed the later development of social problems need not be dwelt on here, except to say that he watched their earlier maturity in America as an indication of the problems which would afterwards call for a solution in his own country. His share in treating them was limited to examining the principles of social philosophy on which some of the proposed remedies for social troubles were based, and this examination may be found in his "Collected Essays." But the educational campaign which he carried on in England had its counterpart in America. It was not only that he was chosen to open the Johns Hopkins University as the type of a new form of education; there and elsewhere pupils of his carried out in America his methods of teaching biology, while others engaged in general education would write testifying to the influence of his ideas upon their own methods of teaching. But it must be remembered that nothing was further from his mind than the desire to found a school of thought. He only endeavoured as a scholar and a student to clear up his own thoughts and help others to clear theirs, whether in the intellectual or the moral world. This was the help he steadfastly hoped to give the people, that interacting union of intellectual freedom and moral discernment which may be furthered by good education and training, by precept and example, that basis of all social health and prosperity. And if, as he said, he would like to be remembered as one who had done his best to help the people, he meant assuredly not the people only of his native land, but the wider world to whom his words could be carried.


My father's life was one of so many interests, and his work was at all times so diversified, that to follow each thread separately, as if he had been engaged on that alone for a time, would be to give a false impression of his activity and the peculiar character of his labours. All through his active career he was equally busy with research into nature, with studies in philosophy, with teaching and administrative work. The real measure of his energy can only be found when all these are considered together. Without this there can be no conception of the limitations imposed upon him in his chosen life's work. The mere amount of his research is greatly magnified by the smallness of the time allowed for it.

But great as was the impression left by these researches in purely scientific circles, it is not by them alone that he made his impression upon the mass of his contemporaries. They were chiefly moved by something over and above his wide knowledge in so many fields--by his passionate sincerity, his interest not only in pure knowledge, but in human life, by his belief that the interpretation of the book of nature was not to be kept apart from the ultimate problems of existence; by the love of truth, in short, both theoretical and practical, which gave the key to the character of the man himself.

Accordingly, I have not discussed with any fulness the value of his technical contributions to natural science; I have not drawn up a compendium of his philosophical views. One is a work for specialists; the other can be gathered from his published works. I have endeavoured rather to give the public a picture, so far as I can, of the man himself, of his aims in the many struggles in which he was engaged, of his character and temperament, and the circumstances under which his various works were begun and completed.

So far as possible, I have made his letters, or extracts from them, tell the story of his life. If those of any given period are diverse in tone and character, it is simply because they reflect an equal diversity of occupations and interests. Few of the letters, however, are of any great length; many are little more than hurried notes; others, mainly of private interest, supply a sentence here and there to fill in the general outline.

Moreover, whenever circumstances permit, I have endeavoured to make my own part in the book entirely impersonal. My experience is that the constant iteration by the biographer of his relationship to the subject of his memoir, can become exasperating to the reader; so that at the risk of offending in the opposite direction, I have chosen the other course.

Lastly, I have to express my grateful thanks to all who have sent me letters or supplied information, and especially to Dr. J.H. Gladstone, Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff, Professor Howes, Professor Henry Sidgwick, and Sir Spencer Walpole, for their contributions to the book; but above all to Sir Joseph Hooker and Sir Michael Foster, whose invaluable help in reading proofs and making suggestions has been, as it were, a final labour of love for the memory of their old friend.




CHAPTER 1.1. 1825-1842.

CHAPTER 1.2. 1841-1846.

CHAPTER 1.3. 1846-1849.

CHAPTER 1.4. 1848-1850.

CHAPTER 1.5. 1850-1851.

CHAPTER 1.6. 1851-1854.

CHAPTER 1.7. 1851-1853.

CHAPTER 1.8. 1854.

CHAPTER 1.9. 1855.

CHAPTER 1.10. 1855-1858.

CHAPTER 1.11. 1857-1858.

CHAPTER 1.12. 1859-1860.

CHAPTER 1.13. 1859.

The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley Volume 1 - 1/73

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