T. H. H.'s Place in Nature 1874

Appleton ed., Vol VII frontispiece

Same as President of the B. A. A. S., in "Hair"

Preface VII (1894)

Man's Place in Nature

[v] I AM very well aware that the old are prone to regard their early performances with much more interest than their contemporaries of a younger generation are likely to take in them; moreover, I freely admit that my younger contemporaries might employ their time better than in perusing the three essays, written thirty-two years ago, which occupy the first place in this volume. This confession is the more needful, inasmuch as all the premisses of the argument set forth in "Man's Place in Nature" and most of the conclusions deduced from them, are now to be met with among other well-established and, indeed, elementary truths, in the text-books.

Paradoxical as the statement may seem, however, it is just because every well-informed student of biology ought to be tempted to throw these essays, and especially the second, "On the Relations of Man to the Lower Animals," aside, as a fair mathematician might dispense with the reperusal of Cocker's arithmetic, that I think it [vi] worth while to reprint them; and entertain the hope that the story of their origin and early fate may not be devoid of a certain antiquarian interest, even if it possess no other.

In 1854, it became my duty to teach the principles of biological science with especial reference to paleontology. The first result of addressing myself to the business I had taken in hand was the discovery of my own lamentable ignorance in respect of many parts of the vast field of knowledge through which I had undertaken to guide others. The second result was a resolution to amend this state of things to the best of my ability; to which end, I surveyed the ground; and having made out what were the main positions to be captured, I came to the conclusion that I must try to carry them by concentrating all the energy I possessed upon each in turn. So I set to work to know something of my own knowledge of all the various disciplines included under the head of Biology; and to acquaint myself, at first hand, with the evidence for and against the extant solutions of the greater problems of that science. I have reason to believe that wise heads were shaken over my apparent divagations–now into the province of Physiology or Histology, now into that of Comparative Anatomy, of Development, of Zoology, of Paleontology, or of Ethnology. But even at this time, when I am, or ought to be, so much wiser, I really do not see that I could have [vii] done better. And my method had this great advantage; it involved the certainty that somebody would profit by my effort to teach properly. Whatever my hearers might do, I myself always learned something by lecturing. And to those who have experience of what a heart-breaking business teaching is–how much the can't-learns and won't-learns and don't-learns predominate over the do-learns–will understand the comfort of that reflection.

Among the many problems which came under my consideration, the position of the human species in zoological classification was one of the most serious. Indeed, at that time, it was a burning question in the sense that those who touched it were almost certain to burn their fingers severely. It was not so very long since my kind friend Sir William Lawrence, one of the ablest men whom I have known, had been well-nigh ostracized for his book "On Man," which now might be read in a Sunday-school without surprising anybody; it was only a few years, since the electors to the chair of Natural History in a famous northern university had refused to invite a very distinguished man to occupy it because he advocated the doctrine of the diversity of species of mankind, or what was called "polygeny." Even among those who considered man from the point of view, not of vulgar prejudice, but of science, opinions lay poles asunder. Linnæus had taken one view, Cuvier [viii] another; and, among my senior contemporaries, men like Lyell, regarded by many as revolutionaries of the deepest dye, were strongly opposed to anything which tended to break down the barrier between man and the rest of the animal world.

My own mind was by no means definitely made up about this matter when, in the year 1857, a paper was read before the Linnæan Society "On the Characters, Principles of Division and Primary Groups of the Class Mammalia," in which certain anatomical features of the brain were said to be "peculiar to the genus Homo," and were made the chief ground for separating that genus from all other mammals, and placing him in a division "Archencephala," apart from, and superior to, all the rest. As these statements did not agree with the opinions I had formed, I set to work to reinvestigate the subject; and soon satisfied myself that the structures in question were not peculiar to Man, but were shared by him with all the higher and many of the lower apes. I embarked in no public discussion of these matters; but my attention being thus drawn to them, I studied the whole question of the structural relations of Man to the next lower existing forms, with much care. And, of course, I embodied my conclusions in my teaching.

Matters were at this point, when "The Origin of Species" appeared. The weighty sentence "Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his [ix] history" (lst ed. p. 488) was not only in full harmony with the conclusions at which I had arrived, respecting the structural relations of apes and men, but was strongly supported by them. And inasmuch as Development and Vertebrate Anatomy were not among Mr. Darwin's many specialities, it appeared to me that I should not be intruding on the ground he had made his own, if I discussed this part of the general question. In fact, I thought that I might probably serve the cause of evolution by doing so.

Some experience of popular lecturing had convinced me that the necessity of making things plain to uninstructed people, was one of the very best means of clearing up the obscure corners in one's own mind. So, in 1860, I took the Relation of Man to the Lower Animals, for the subject of the six lectures to working men which it was my duty to deliver. It was also in 1860, that this topic was discussed before a jury of experts, at the meeting of the British Association at Oxford; and, from that time, a sort of running fight on the same subject was carried on, until it culminated at the Cambridge meeting of the Association in 1862, by my friend Sir W. Flower's public demonstration of the existence in the apes of those cerebral characters which had been said to be peculiar to man.

"Magna est veritas et prævalebit!" Truth is great, certainly, but, considering her greatness, it is [x] curious what a long time she is apt to take about prevailing. When, towards the end of 1862, I had finished writing "Man's Place in Nature," I could say with a good conscience, that my conclusions "had not been formed hastily or enunciated crudely." I thought I had earned the right to publish them and even fancied I might be thanked, rather than reproved, for so doing. However, in my anxiety to promulgate nothing erroneous, I asked a highly competent anatomist and very good friend of mine to look through my proofs and, if he could, point out any errors of fact. I was well pleased when he returned them without criticism on that score; but my satisfaction was speedily dashed by the very earnest warning, as to the consequences of publication, which my friend's interest in my welfare led him to give. But, as I have confessed elsewhere, when I was a young man, there was just a little–a mere soupçon– in my composition of that tenacity of purpose which has another name; and I felt sure that all the evil things prophesied would not be so painful to me as the giving up that which I had resolved to do, upon grounds which I conceived to be right. So the book came out; and I must do my friend the justice to say that his forecast was completely justified. The Boreas of criticism blew his hardest blasts of misrepresentation and ridicule for some years; and I was even as one of the [xi] wicked. Indeed, it surprises me, at times, to think how any one who had sunk so low could since have emerged into, at any rate, relative respectability. Personally, like the non-corvine personages in the Ingoldsby legend, I did not feel "one penny the worse." Translated into several languages, the book reached a wider public than I had ever hoped for; being largely helped, I imagine, by the Ernulphine advertisements to which I have referred. It has had the honour of being freely utilized, without acknowledgment, by writers of repute; and, finally, it achieved the fate, which is the euthanasia of a scientific work, of being inclosed among the rubble of the foundations of later knowledge and forgotten.

To my observation, human nature has not sensibly changed during the last thirty years. I doubt not that there are truths as plainly obvious and as generally denied, as those contained in "Man's Place in Nature," now awaiting enunciation. If there is a young man of the present generation, who has taken as much trouble as I did to assure himself that they are truths, let him come out with them, without troubling his head about the barking of the dogs of St. Ernulphus. "Veritas prævalebit"–some day; and, even if she does not prevail in his time, he himself will be all the better and the wiser for having tried to help her. And let him recollect that such great [xii] reward is full payment for all his labour and pains.

"Man's Place in Nature," perhaps, may still be useful as an introduction to the subject; but, as any interest which attaches to it must be mainly historical, I have thought it right to leave the essays untouched. The history of the long controversy about the structure of the brain, following upon the second dissertation, in the original edition, however, is omitted. The verdict of science has long since been pronounced upon the questions at issue; and no good purpose can be served by preserving the memory of the details of the suit.

In many passages, the reader who is acquainted with the present state of science, will observe much room for addition; but, in all cases, the supplements required, are, I believe, either indifferent to the argument or would strengthen it.


I On the Natural History of the Man-Like Apes 1
II On the Relations of Man to the Lower Animals 77
III On Some Fossil Remains of Man 157
IV On the Methods and Results of Ethnology [1865] 209
V On Some Fixed Points in British Ethnology [1871] 253
VI The Aryan Question and Pre-Historic Man [1890] 271

The first three Essays were published in January, 1863, under the title of "Man's Place in Nature"; the fourth essay appeared in the Fortnightly Review, the fifth in the Contemporary Review, and they were republished in Critiques and Addresses. The Essay on the Aryan Question appeared in the Nineteenth Century for November, 1890.

T. H. H. And blackboard friend

Wellcome Museum

Huxley's Collected Essays.

Volume I, Method and Results
Volume II, Darwiniana
Volume III, Science & Education
Volume IV, Science and Hebrew Tradition
Volume V, Science and Christian Tradition
Volume VI, Hume: With Helps to the Study of Berkeley
Volume VII, Man's Place in Nature
Volume VIII, Discourses: Biological & Geological
Volume IX, Evolution & Ethics and Other Essays



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