§ 1. THH: His Mark


Explaining why he chose "Hodeslea" as the name of the Eastbourne house built in 1890, Thomas Huxley confessed that "Hodesleia" (Hod's lea) was "the poetical original shape of my very ugly name. There was a noble scion of the house of the house of Huxley who, having burgled and done other wrong things (temp. Henry IV.), asked for benefit of clergy. I expect they gave it him, not in the way he wanted, but in the way they would like to 'benefit' a later member of the family. [Rough sketch of one priest hauling the rope taut over the gallows, while another holds a crucifix before the suspended criminal]"–October 15, 1890. This might be a legitimate genealogy, or an invention.

Huxley took pride not only in having descended from a burglar, but also in having a sufficiency of ethnic taints in the ancestry to make him a mongrel as well.  Although the hanging sketch no longer exists, an 1857 self-caricature does, with Hal's (or Tom's) caption "Portrait - Subject unknown (Supposed to be a notorious Burglar)."

T. H. Huxley was born on May 4, 1825, in Ealing, a couple of sites of which are depicted in Ealing Church and Great Ealing School, at which father George Huxley taught a lad named John Henry Newman; other notable pupils were William Thackeray and W. S. Gilbert. Tom attended the school for two years, and had fun and a fight in its playground. Thoughts and Doings, Tom's teenage diary, details his readings and reflections, such as on the injustice of making dissenters pay for support of a state religion in which they didn't believe. Though raised as an evangelical, Tom devoured books of a distinctly anti-evangelical nature written by subversives such as William Lawrence and David Hume, whose "History" he despised. One of his favorites was William Paley's Natural Theology, which he enjoyed not only for its intellectual quality but also because as an exercise in Christian piety, it was one of the few books he was allowed to read on Sundays, as he reports in The Rede Lecture (1884). Charles Darwin as a student (in Shrewsbury) was also much impressed with Paley's argument for a Divine Designer of the universe.

The first prize Tom won was in botany, a subject he returned to forty years later, after retirement: The Gentians: Notes and Queries (1888). Though he wanted to grow up to be an engineer, he became a medical student instead–at the advanced age of 12, he was introduced to medicine as apprentice to brother-in-law Dr. John Scott. This began his life-long commitment to investigating the engineering of the body, to anatomy, morphology, physiology. Known as "The Sign of the Head and Microscope," from the silhouette he presented to his student peers, Tom discovered a sheath of hair follicle, still known as "Huxley's Layer," described in On a Hitherto Undescribed Structure in the Human Hair Sheath (1845). What he looked like can be seen in his self-caricature T. H. Huxley. Aged 20. Sketch by himself. As an apprentice, he would walk the streets of the East End on his way to patients, observing the dreary and dangerous life lived by the poor. In September of 1870, he responded to a talk by John Lubbock on the "Social and Religious Condition of the Lower Races of Mankind" with a comparison between the Australian culture he had toured and the British slums he had trod–Liverpool Address (1870); see also Rotherhithe (1870).

Reading Herbert Spencer's account of his own childhood, Huxley wrote that the two had shared "no respect for authority," but that Tom had had only two years of schooling, at a "Pandemonium of a school," and no help or sympathy "in any intellectual direction till I reached manhood. Good heavens! if I had had a father and uncle who troubled themselves about my education as yours did about your training, I might say as Bethell said of his possibilities had he come under Jowett, 'There is no knowing to what eminence I might not have attained'"–November 25, 1886.

A mystery appears in a letter Professor Huxley would write in 1860: "Kicked into the world a boy without guide or training, or with worse than none, I confess to my shame that few men have drunk deeper of all kinds of sin than I"–September 23, 1860. There is no evidence to validate this morbid confession.

From the end of 1846 to the beginning of 1850, Lieutenant Huxley was assistant surgeon and naturalist on an exploratory voyage to Australia and New Guinea - see in § 2. Voyage of the Rattlesnake and in the letters of 1846 there's a pair of portraits of him:Assistant Surgeon in tophat and in uniform at Haslar Naval Hospital in Gosport,

Upon being asked by eugenicist Francis Galton for an analysis of himself, Huxley replied in a brief note–1873. His Autobiography (1890) is one of the shortest essays he ever wrote, perhaps, in his own words, "mere egotistical gossip"–Februrary 1889. Here he relates a couple of memorable incidents of his childhood, such as his dressing up to imitate the local vicar as he sermonized the maids. He doesn't dwell on his early successes, such as his "Hair Sheath" paper, or on his later successes as a biologist, philosopher, historian, and critic of his culture, or his being elected to the Royal Society and receiving its Gold Medal for his work on marine invertebrates (he was a mere 26 years old at the time)–April 14, 1851. Fellow of the Royal Society and his caricature of the Noble Swell portray that recognition.

In two letters to his sister written during the Rattlesnake voyage, the lieutenant recalls his winning of a botany prize–December 25, 1847; he returned to botany thirty-nine years later, researching gentians–September 16, 1886 and September 21, 1887. Another letter to Lizzie narrates his visiting Faraday to inquire about designing a perpetual-motion machine–March 1848. He was in the fifth year of his retirement when he wrote his autobiography. Since Huxley died on June 29, 1895, this present file marks the centenary of his death.

From Sydney, he wrote to his mother on his being well-received–February 11, 1850; and from a flat at 41 Northbend Road, Lieutenant Huxley wrote a letter summarizing his work on marine invertebrates–October 31, 1850, followed the next month by a more personal summary to his sister Lizzie–November 21, 1850, in which he draws a box enclosing the message "T. H. H., his mark." Though he was helped by "the British Cuvier," Professor Richard Owen–November 9, 1851, job prospects were not good. Huxley thought Professor Owen was more a hindrance than a help to his prospects, and warned in a letter to his sister about those prospects: "let him beware"–March 5, 1852. A letter to Henrietta Heathorn–November 13, 1852 comments on his receipt of the Royal Medal and also investigates his own personality. Later, he and Professor Owen would become ardent antagonists.

Hal's concern about staying in science, for which he though nature had fitted him, and getting a job doing something somewhere is expressed in letters to Nettie (Miss Heathorn) from April 1851 to January 1855 and to Lizzie, Mrs. Elizabeth Scott from May 1851 to November 1854.

Toronto, Aberdeen, and the University of London having turned down his candidacy, he was much troubled about an opportunity to satisfy his "oneness with the great spirit of abstract truth"–November 7, 1851. In 1854, he took Edward Forbes' place as professor at the Royal School of Mines. He considered standing for Edinburgh, but was now safe in London. A couple of his doodles will be found adorning letters of this time:

Letter of January 17, 1851 to Rattlesnake surgeon, Dr. Thomson, with a sketch of an old gentleman
Loves and Graces
Caricature of himself as cultivator of the Loves and Graces, as well as the Muses–July 19, 1851.
Professor Huxley
T. H. H. as Professor, Jermyn St. School of Mines, Fellow Geological Society, Fellow, Zoological Society, one of the three most often reproduced portraits of him (1857).

Huxley was a devoted husband, writing letters to his wife not only when he was gone from London, but just about daily from his office on Jermyn Street, and he was a devoted father. Though his earnings increased throughout his life, he was often in financial arrears not only because of the growing family, but because he gave whatever he could for helping out his sisters Lizzie and Ellen, his brothers Tim and George, and nieces and nephews. When George Huxley died, Thomas was so bad off financially that to help the widow he sold his Royal Society gold medal, for 50. Several portraits of his wife Henrietta, with whom he shared work as well as affection, exist.

Doodle, Hal and Nettie on honeymoon boat, 1855
Clark Medal
Photograph by Lock and Whitfield of THH, c. 1876, THH recipient of Clark Medal
Lynton Huxleys
Photograph of THH and HHH by Mrs. Bailey at Lynton (1882)

Huxley was ecstatic upon the birth of his son Noel on the last day of 1856–December 31, 1856, and turned to philosophical reflection to assuage his grief at the boy's death four years later–last item in his journal–September 20, 1860 and letter to Kingsley, September 23, 1860. His role as a loving paterfamilias was often witnessed and commented on by friends and visitors. Among an innumerable number of such comments, Dr. Anton Dohrn's is typical: searching for a definition of the word "happiness," Dohrn found that definition in the Huxley family after an exposure to which one would "never more ask for a definition of this sentiment."

Marlborough Place
Water-color sketch by Rachel Huxley (residence from 1872-1892)

Huxley gave up a bit of happiness when he stopped smoking–see Professor Huxley on Tobacco Smoking (1869) for a humorous and sympathetic account of what surrendering that vice means to the vicious. He quickly became a social creature, going off to parties and dinners as well as to conferences, his absences from home such that his wife considered him a lodger in the household. The dinners she supervised would often have as guests Tyndall, Hooker, Spencer, Arnold, John Stuart Mill, and other notables. Perhaps his giving up cigarette smoking accounts for an unusual portrayal of a happy Huxley–

President of BAAS
Cartoon, THH as President of British Association, from The Period, November 26, 1870
Another often-reproduced picture, Portrait by John Collier 1883
THH President, Royal Society, 1883-86
Trustee, British Museum, 1882-85
Senator of London University, 1883-95

Respectable Huxley

The high regard in which he was held by his colleagues after two decades of scientirfic work and popularizing is narrated in early biographical sketches, such as those by John Timbs–Professor Huxley, F.R.S. (1871) and that by Ernst Haeckel–Scientific Worthies: Thomas Henry Huxley Nature (1874). By the end of the seventies, he was not only notorious, but worthy of respect: In 1879 he received an honorary degree from Cambridge, which event indicated, as he wrote to a friend, that though he had done his best to avoid it, he was becoming a "Person of Respectability"–June 9, 1879. A decade after Haeckel's encomium, Huxley achieved the high recognition of being appointed Privy Councillor. After that, he could look forward only to becoming an archbishop. He did become the eponym of a sea ferm (Plumularia huxley ) and of a U. S. town in Dakota (after 1880).

Notes of autobiographical interest are to be found in many of his essays and in just about all his letters–see his appraisal of his situation to Francis Galton–1873. The biographies he wrote usually had at least a hint of autobiographical content, especially in Professor Tyndall (1894) and Address to the Royal Society 1893 The Times (November 7, 1893). He reminds his RS peers that 43 years ago, he had been honored with a Royal medal, which award determined his career, as in 1893 the RS awarded him the Darwin medal. He said that though he had not been as high a promoter of Darwin's work as had been Alfred Wallace and Joseph Hooker, the first two recipients of the award, he would accept the recognition because he had stood and waited, his standing and waiting being "of a somewhat peculiar character. . . . I was convinced as firmly as I have ever been convinced of anything in my life, that the Origin of Species was a ship laden with a cargo of rich value, and which, if she were permitted to pursue her course, would reach a veritable scientific Golconda, and I thought it my duty, however naturally averse I might be to fighting, to bid those who would disturb her beneficent operations to keep on board their own ship."

His attaining eminence in many fields, such as biology, geology, Biblical criticism, and educational reform; and his attaining popular notice in other fields, such as social reform, ethnology, history, and biography, was inspired by a life-long very comprehensive curiosity about a world of interests ranging from jellyfish and gentians to scriptural swine and Irish home rule. For one of innumerable references to that curiosity, see a letter to John Simon–March 11, 1891. For commentary on his childhood and on some of his achievements as Royal Society president, see Hooker Account. On June 26, 1895, he wrote to Hooker that he didn't look forward to "sending in my checks," but he died three days later. For further guidance on autobiographical commentary, see § 3. A Sort of Firm and § 4. Darwin's Bulldog.

The first degree he received, the M B., was from London in 1845; the first honorary degree from Breslau, in 1861; and to 1893, honorary degrees from seven other universities, domestic and foreign. He was an active member of about twenty British professional societies; and a corresponding or honorary member of about thirty other societies, mostly foreign, among them the Microscopical Society of Giessen (1857-; and ten other German professional societies), the Institut Egyptien (1861-), the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Sciences (1865-), the New York Academy of Sciences (1876-), the Royal Society of Copenhagen (1876-), the Academia Scientiarum Instituti Bononiensis (1893-); and six other Italian professional societies). He was president of the Ethnological Society (1863-), the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1866), the Geological Society (1869-), the Royal Society (1883-), and the International Geological Congress (1888). He served on at least ten Royal Commissions, starting in 1862 on trawling for herrings (two more fisheries commissions later), several on education in Ireland, Scotland, and England, on vivisection, and on medical certification. By 1883, an observer noted, he had become "faded but fascinating"–April 12, 1883.

Lieutenant Hal Huxley found his fiancé’s affection for and from children a harbinger of a good marriage–May 27, 1850. The Huxley family grew and most of the children and the children's children, and the feline pets, prospered–To Ethel on cat Oliver January 8, 1893. Because staying in London had meant in his late years "a very short life and by no means a merry one," he asked his son-in-law to build a cottage in Eastbourne, named Hodeslea, and solaced by visits from children and grandchildren–January 13, 1891. Huxley's helping his poor relatives as well as poor people whose misery he had come upon is a constant; see for example, November 17, 1861 and November 1861 and from The Times, A Good Example.

What a pleasure it must have been for his children to receive letters such as that of May 16, 1875–to Jess; April 12, 1883–to Ethel; April 21, 1879–to Leonard. Son Leonard and his first wife were the parents of Julian and Aldous Huxley. In 1907, Mrs. Henrietta Huxley published an edition of passages gleaned from her husband's papers and letters: Aphorisms and Reflections. This anthology contains two portraits of Mrs. Henrietta Heathorn Huxley. In 1857, when one of these portraits appeared, THH was Examiner to University of London (1856-70) and Fellow Linnean Society (1858); another HHH portrait appeared in 1880. For a partial genealogy of other descendants of the Huxley family, see Tree.

Rachel's Father
Pencil sketches by daughter Marian, c. 1870
Jessie (painted by Marian); Marian, Netti, and Rachel, Ethel (painted by John Collier)
Drawing Room
Huxley family drawing room, with the portraits by John Collier (l. to r.: Nettie, Ethel, and THH)
Eastbourne home of the Huxleys (residence, 1892-95)
of THH in Hodeslea hall; W. Ward reports that Huxley said of this bust by Boehm: "It is almost Voltairean."
3 Generations
THH, Leonard, and Julian, 1895
THH and JH
THH with grandson Julian. Photo by Kent and Lacey, 1895
Last Will and Testament
Disposition of goods and affections (1891); see Professor Huxley's Will (1895)
Tomb and Apex
St. Marylebone Cemetary, epitaph chosen by THH - from Henrietta Huxley’s "Browning’s Funeral," which begins
     And if there be no meeting past the grave,
     It is all darkness, silence, yet ‘tis rest.
The following lines constitute the epitaph:
     Be not afraid, ye waiting hearts that weep;
     For still He giveth his beloved sleep,
     And if an endless sleep He wills, so best.
by Mr. Frank Bowcher for Huxley Memorial Committee (1898) Huxley sat for this "like Pater on a monument smiling at Grief"–to Babs, October 7, 1888.
THH by Onslow Ford, British Museum of Natural History
Over 400 Henrietta-Hal descendents are alive today; the geneological table lists some of the past and present descendants; table adapted from Ronald Clarke, The Huxleys

Obituaries appeared in more than a hundred British and other journals; these are exemplified by the Nature notice, Michael Foster's A Few more Words on Thomas Henry Huxley; and two Times notices, The Death of Mr. Huxley. "That Huxley is lodged in the Chalky Boulder Clay of the Finchley Lobe rather than the drab brown London Clay of say Highgate Cemetary seems only fitting for so free a spirit" (personal communication; see Eric Robinson, "Centenary: Huxley rests"). Other memorials include a block of granite in Maloja, where he spent a few summers, as in 1893. It bears the inscription "In memory of the illustrious English Writer and Naturalist, Thomas Henry Huxley, who spent many summers at the Kursaal, Maloja"; and include anecdotes, such as that told about his being lost one evening, getting off his horse, investigating a hand-full of soil, and deducing that he was approaching Uxbridge. A friend visiting Egypt after Huxley's visit of 1872 was approached by a competitive donkey-boy who drew him away from competitors by advising, "Not him donkey, sah; him donkey bad, sah; my donkey good; my donkey 'Fessor-uxley donkey, sah."



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