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- The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley Volume 2 - 1/80 -

Produced by Sue Asscher








CHAPTER 2.1. 1870.

CHAPTER 2.2. 1871.

CHAPTER 2.3. 1872.

CHAPTER 2.4. 1873.

CHAPTER 2.5. 1874.

CHAPTER 2.6. 1875-1876.

CHAPTER 2.7. 1875-1876.

CHAPTER 2.8. 1876.

CHAPTER 2.9. 1877.

CHAPTER 2.10. 1878.

CHAPTER 2.11. 1879.

CHAPTER 2.12. 1881.

CHAPTER 2.13. 1882.

CHAPTER 2.14. 1883.

CHAPTER 2.15. 1884.

CHAPTER 2.16. 1884-1885.

CHAPTER 2.17. 1885.

CHAPTER 2.18. 1886.

CHAPTER 2.19. 1886.

CHAPTER 2.1. 1870.

[With the year 1870 comes another turning-point in Huxley's career. From his return to England in 1850 till 1854 he had endured four years of hard struggle, of hope deferred; his reputation as a zoologist had been established before his arrival, and was more than confirmed by his personal energy and power. When at length settled in the professorship at Jermyn Street, he was so far from thinking himself more than a beginner who had learned to work in one corner of the field of knowledge, still needing deep research into all kindred subjects in order to know the true bearings of his own little portion, that he treated the next six years simply as years of further apprenticeship. Under the suggestive power of the "Origin of Species" all these scattered studies fell suddenly into due rank and order; the philosophic unity he had so long been seeking inspired his thought with tenfold vigour, and the battle at Oxford in defence of the new hypothesis first brought him before the public eye as one who not only had the courage of his convictions when attacked, but could, and more, would, carry the war effectively into the enemy's country. And for the next ten years he was commonly identified with the championship of the most unpopular view of the time; a fighter, an assailant of long-established fallacies, he was too often considered a mere iconoclast, a subverter of every other well-rooted institution, theological, educational, or moral.

It is difficult now to realise with what feelings he was regarded in the average respectable household in the sixties and early seventies. His name was anathema; he was a terrible example of intellectual gravity beyond redemption, a man with opinions such as cannot be held "without grave personal sin on his part" (as was once said of Mill by W.G. Ward), the representative in his single person of rationalism, materialism, atheism, or if there be any more abhorrent "ism"--in token of which as late as 1892 an absurd zealot at the headquarters of the Salvation Army crowned an abusive letter to him at Eastbourne by the statement, "I hear you have a local reputation as a Bradlaughite."

But now official life began to lay closer hold upon him. He came forward also as a leader in the struggle for educational reform, seeking not only to perfect his own biological teaching, but to show, in theory and practice, how scientific training might be introduced into the general system of education. He was more than once asked to stand for Parliament, but refused, thinking he could do more useful work for his country outside.

The publication in 1870 of "Lay Sermons," the first of a series of similar volumes, served, by concentrating his moral and intellectual philosophy, to make his influence as a teacher of men more widely felt. The "active scepticism," whose conclusions many feared, was yet acknowledged as the quality of mind which had made him one of the clearest thinkers and safest scientific guides of his time, while his keen sense of right and wrong made the more reflective of those who opposed his conclusions hesitate long before expressing a doubt as to the good influence of his writings. This view is very clearly expressed in a review of the book in the "Nation" (New York 1870 11 407).

And as another review of the "Lay Sermons" puts it ("Nature" 3 22), he began to be made a kind of popular oracle, yet refused to prophesy smooth things.

During the earlier period, with more public demands made upon him than upon most men of science of his age and standing, with the burden of four Royal Commissions and increasing work in learned societies in addition to his regular lecturing and official paleontological work, and the many addresses and discourses in which he spread abroad in the popular mind the leaven of new ideas upon nature and education and the progress of thought, he was still constantly at work on biological researches of his own, many of which took shape in the Hunterian lectures at the College of Surgeons from 1863-1870. But from 1870 onward, the time he could spare to such research grew less and less. For eight years he was continuously on one Royal Commission after another. His administrative work on learned societies continued to increase; in 1869-70 he held the presidency of the Ethnological Society, with a view to effecting the amalgamation with the Anthropological,] "the plan," [as he calls it,] "for uniting the Societies which occupy themselves with man (that excludes 'Society' which occupies itself chiefly with woman)." [He became President of the Geological Society in 1872, and for nearly ten years, from 1871 to 1880, he was secretary of the Royal Society, an office which occupied no small portion of his time and thought, "for he had formed a very high ideal of the duties of the Society as the head of science in this country, and was determined that it should not at least fall short through any lack of exertion on his part" (Sir M. Foster, Royal Society Obituary Notice). (See Appendix 2.)

The year 1870 itself was one of the busiest he had ever known. He published one biological and four paleontological memoirs, and sat on two Royal Commissions, one on the Contagious Diseases Acts, the other on Scientific Instruction, which continued until 1875.

The three addresses which he gave in the autumn, and his election to the School Board will be spoken of later; in the first part of the year he read two papers at the Ethnological Society, of which he was President, on "The Geographical Distribution of the Chief Modifications of Mankind," March 9--and on "The Ethnology of Britain," May 10--the substance of which appeared in the "Contemporary Review" for July under the title of "Some Fixed Points in British Ethnology" ("Collected Essays" 7 253). As President also of the Geological Society and of the British Association, he had two important addresses to deliver. In addition to this, he delivered an address before the Y.M.C.A. at Cambridge on "Descartes' Discourse."

How busy he was may be gathered from his refusal of an invitation to Down:--]

26 Abbey Place, January 21, 1870.

My dear Darwin,

It is hard to resist an invitation of yours--but I dine out on Saturday; and next week three evenings are abolished by Societies of one kind or another. And there is that horrid Geological address looming in the future!

I am afraid I must deny myself at present.

I am glad you liked the sermon. Did you see the "Devonshire man's" attack in the "Pall Mall?"

I have been wasting my time in polishing that worthy off. I would not have troubled myself about him, if it were not for the political bearing of the Celt question just now.

My wife sends her love to all you.

Ever yours,

T.H. Huxley.

The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley Volume 2 - 1/80

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