University of London

Draft of speech (1892)

Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley II

[329] The cardinal fact in the University question appears to me to be this: that the student to whose wants the mediæval University was adjusted, looked to the past and sought book-learning, while the modern looks to the future and seeks the knowledge of things.

The mediæval view was that all knowledge worth having was explicitly or implicitly contained in various ancient writings; in the Scriptures, in the writings of the greater Greeks, and those of the Christian Fathers. Whatever apparent novelty they put forward, was professedly obtained by deduction from ancient data.

The modern knows that the only source of real knowledge lies in the application of scientific methods of inquiry to the ascertainment of the facts of existence; that the ascertainable [330] is infinitely greater than the ascertained, and that the chief business of the teacher is not so much to make scholars as to train pioneers.

From this point of view, the University occupies a position altogether independent of that of the coping-stone of schools for general education, combined with technical schools of Theology, Law, and Medicine. It is not primarily an institution for testing the work of schoolmasters, or for ascertaining the fitness of young men to be curates, lawyers, or doctors.

It is an institution in which a man who claims to devote himself to Science or Art, should be able to find some one who can teach him what is already known, and train him in the methods of knowing more.

I include under Art,–Literature, the pictorial and plastic art with Architecture, and Music; and under Science,–Logic, Philosophy, Philology, Mathematics, and the Physical Sciences.

The question of the connection of the High Schools for general education, and of the technical schools of Theology, Law, Medicine, Engineering, Art, Music, and so on, with the University is a matter of practical detail. Probably the teaching of the subjects which stand in the relation of preliminaries to technical teaching and final studies in higher general education in the University would be utilised by the colleges and technical schools.

All that I have to say on this subject is, that I see no reason why the existing University of London should not be completed in the sense I have defined by grafting upon it a professoriate with the appropriate means and appliances, which would supply London with the analogue of the Ecole des hautes Études and the Collége de France in Paris, and of the Laboratories with the Professor Extraordinarius and Privat Docenten in the German Universities.



1.   THH Publications
2.   Victorian Commentary
3.   20th Century Commentary

1.   Letter Index
2.   Illustration Index

Gratitude and Permissions

C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University

§ 1. THH: His Mark
§ 2. Voyage of the Rattlesnake
§ 3. A Sort of Firm
§ 4. Darwin's Bulldog
§ 5. Hidden Bond: Evolution
§ 6. Frankensteinosaurus
§ 7. Bobbing Angels: Human Evolution
§ 8. Matter of Life: Protoplasm
§ 9. Medusa
§ 10. Liberal Education
§ 11. Scientific Education
§ 12. Unity in Diversity
§ 13. Agnosticism
§ 14. New Reformation
§ 15. Verbal Delusions: The Bible
§ 16. Miltonic Hypothesis: Genesis
§ 17. Extremely Wonderful Events: Resurrection and Demons
§ 18. Emancipation: Gender and Race
§ 19. Aryans et al.: Ethnology
§ 20. The Good of Mankind
§ 21.  Jungle Versus Garden