Thomas Henry Huxley, 1825-1895

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Biographical note

Scientific writer, son of an assistant master in a public school, was born at Ealing. From childhood he was an insatiable reader. In his 13th year he became a medical apprentice, and in 1842 entered Charing Cross Hospital. Thereafter he was for a few months surgeon on board the Victory at Haslar, and was then appointed surgeon on H.M.S. Rattlesnake, which was sent to make surveys at Torres Strait. While in this position he made numerous observations, which he communicated to the Linnæan Society. In 1851 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1854 Prof. of Natural History at the School of Mines. Henceforth his life was a very full one, divided between scientific investigation and public work. He was recognised as the foremost English biologist, and was elected Pres. of the Royal Society 1883. He served on the London School Board and on various Royal Commissions. His writings are in the main distinguished by a clearness, force, and charm which entitle them to a place in literature; and besides the addition which they made to the stock of human knowledge, they did much to diffuse a love and study of science. H. was a keen controversialist, contending for the strictly scientific view of all subjects as distinguished from the metaphysical or theological, and accordingly encountered much opposition, and a good deal of abuse. Nevertheless, he was not a materialist, and was in sympathy with the moral and tender aspects of Christianity. He was a strong supporter of the theory of evolution. Among the more eminent of his opponents were Bishop Wilberforce and Mr. Gladstone. His published works, including scientific communications, are very numerous. Among the more important are those on the Medusæ, Zoological Evidences of Man’s Place in Nature [1863], Elementary Lessons on Physiology [1866], Evolution and Ethics [1893], Collected Essays (9 vols. 1893–4). He was also an admirable letter-writer, as appears from the Life and Letters, ed. by his son, and to him we owe the word, and almost the idea, “Agnostic.”

[From A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin, 1910]

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