One Central Law
Lying deep in Huxley's personality and acting as foundation for his views on educational reform was an aesthetic principle: the design of unity in diversity. His research on board H. M. S.
Rattlesnake manifested the search for (or imposition upon) unity among the various animals netted and examined: among Ascideans (e. g. sea-squirts), Cephalopoda (e.g., squids and snails), and, of signal importance, his discovery of parallels between adult jellyfish and embryonic vertebrates. Later, he devoted himself to the revelation of unity among diverse mammals, e.g., apes and human beings.
He found this unity of diversity not only in scientific theorizing, but in music, in prose style, in painting, in architecture. The pleasure derived from Bach's fugues "is essentially of the same nature as that which is derived from pursuits which are commonly regarded as purely intellectual. I mean, that the source of pleasure is exactly the same as in most of my problems in morphologythat you have the theme in one of the old master's works followed out in all its endless variations, always appearing and always reminding you of unity in variety ... The pleasure which arises in one's mind is to see that a whole mass of seemingly diverse and unconnected structures run into one harmony as the expression of one central law. That is where the province of art gets into the province of intellect"On Science and Art in Relation to Education (1882), summarized in Nature (1883)Professor Huxley on Education.
Richard Hutton in Professor Huxley on the Charities of London (1871) complimented Huxley for "doing high service to the London School Board by giving free rein to that passion for completeness of logical sequences which is as clearly the distinctive note of the thinker, as the yearning for completeness of æsthetic harmony is the distinctive note of the artist." This yearning for aesthetic harmony appears in many of Huxley's letters and essays, for example in Universities: Actual and Ideal (1874): "But the man who is all morality and intellect, although he may be good and even great, is, after all, only half a man. There is beauty in the moral world and in the intellectual world; but there is also a beauty which is neither moral nor intellectualthe beauty of the world of Art. There are men who are devoid of the power of seeing it, as there are men who are born deaf and blind, and the loss of those, as of these, is simply infinite. There are others in whom it is an overpowering passion; happy men, born with the productive, or at lowest, the appreciative, genius of the Artist. But, in the mass of mankind, the Æsthetic faculty, like the reasoning power and the moral sense, needs to be roused, directed, and cultivated; and I know not why the development of that side of his nature, through which man has access to a perennial spring of ennobling pleasure, should be omitted from any comprehensive scheme of University education."
The "artist" is usually defined as one talented in drawing, sculpture, architecture the visual artist. Though Huxley contributed very little as a historian of architectureFrom the Hut to the Pantheon (1887) is his only essay on the subject, he contributed a good deal to the art of drawing. As a teenager, Tom copied paintings e.g., The Smoker, copy of "The Smoker" by Ostade, drawn by Tom in 1839; and as a teenager and Lieutenant assigned to H. M. S. Rattlesnake, took pleasure in caricaturizing self and others. For the full run of these, see § 2. Voyage of the Rattlesnake. Some examples of those inventoried in this Guide are:
Much more often than sketching himself, he sketched crew-mates and sites such as the Sydney home of the Fannings, which offered of most importance at the moment and throughout his life, Henrietta Heathorn.
He made scores of sketches of natives, their canoes and other artifacts, their villages, fewer than twenty-five of which still exist, among those:
His first paper, On a Hitherto Undescribed Structure in the Human Hair Sheath (1845), published when he was 20 years old, contains his drawing of the hair sheath which he discovered, and for many of his early papers on marine invertebrates, he drew hundreds of biological illustrations, for example
As he devoted more time to writing, he devoted less and less energy to illustrating his papers, relying upon professional biological illustrators for that service.
After 1855, it often is difficult to decide on who did the drawings if no one is idenified, as for example in On the Brain of Ateles Paniscus (1861), The Crayfish: An Introduction to the Study of Zoology (1879), and Physiography: An Introduction to the Study of Nature (1877). However, of the 128 plates in Scientific Memoirs, at least 40 were drawn by Huxley, for example the plates in Preliminary Note upon the Brain and Skull of Amphioxus Lanceolatus (1875), On the Characters of the Pelvis in the Mammalia (1879), and The Gentians: Notes and Queries (1888). See also Gibbon hands.
He much enjoyed doodling not only himself, but also his friends, his enemies, and a person accidentally bumped into. He drew hundreds of biological illustrations that accompany his texts; he would amuse his students by drawing on the blackboard pictures of gibbons, chimpanzees, gorillas, and then adroitly morph their faces into portraits of Lyell, Darwin, Hooker, Spencer, and himself. Julian Huxley was surprised, half a century after T. H. Huxley's death, to be informed (in a private conversation with the author of The Huxley File) that his grandfather was a great doodler, doodling being an issue of philosophical as well as aesthetic interest to Sir Julian.
A couple of illustrations typical of a hundred more from later years shows that his talent did not diminish:
For others, see § 1. THH: His Mark and § 3. A Sort of Firm.
Unfortunately, most of his biological illustrations, ethnological sketches, and other products have disappeared; among those no longer in existence is a "Piggurne, or a Harmony in Orange and White," which he created from an orange peel for his daughter Jess as proof of "the heights to which the creative power of the true artist may soar. Preserve it, my dear child, as evidence that the paternal genius, when those light and fugitive productions which are buried in the philosophical transactions and elsewhere are forgotten"December 25, 1878
In after-dinner addresses to artistsAddress to the Royal Academy 1871 (and repeated in Address to the Royal Academy 1876)he remarked on similarities in talent between scientist and artist, who is the highest creation achieved by evolution; a response to this is to be found in Academy Speech from The Spectator (May 6, 1876). In a later address to this institutionAddress to the Royal Academy 1887Huxley drew up a new chain of being, from primitive organisms at the low end to artists at the top and in a jolly way slashed at the heart of materialism: that the language of science doesn't map an actual external reality. He compares our words, even scientific words, to the colors an artist puts into a painting. A review of this address is The Connection Between Science and Art and Literature Nature (May 3, 1887).
In his design for curricula at all school levels, Huxley naturally emphasized the importance of drawing. "Nothing has struck me more in the course of my life than the loss which persons, who are pursuing scientific knowledge of any kind, sustain from the difficulties which arise because they never have been taught elementary drawing; and I am glad to say that in Eton, a school of whose governing body I have the honour of being a member, we some years ago made drawing imperative on the whole school"this from Address on Behalf of the National Association for the Promotion of Technical Education 1887Technical Education (1877); see also On Science and Art in Relation to Education (1882).
Huxley was much more given to enjoy and compose prose rather than poetry, though he did write poems now and then, one of which was published: To Tennyson (1892), which is accompanied by From Shanklin and Altr' arno, Florence, both composed in 1885. These poems appear in a volume of comprised of 86 of Mrs Huxley's poems, Poems of Henrietta A. Huxley (1913).
In Preface VIII (1894) to Discourses: Biological & Geological, Huxley focuses on the obligation to write prose that replaces "scholastic pedantry" with clear expression. He alludes to John Wesley's sagacity in popularizing the sacred"he did not see why the Devil should be left in possession of all the best tunes. And I do not see why science should not turn to account the peculiarities of human nature thus exploited by other agencies: all the more because science, by the nature of its being, cannot desire to stir the passions, or profit by the weaknesses, of human nature. The most zealous of popular lecturers can aim at nothing more than the awakening of a sympathy for abstract truth, in those who do not really follow his arguments; and of a desire to know more and better in the few who do." In Volume 8, he included what would become his most frequently anthologized essay, an essay that a century after its appearance was reprinted and accompanied by a personal commentary by Loren Eiseley: On a Piece of Chalk (1868), which was preceded by Chalk, Ancient and Modern (1858).
The danger of popularization of science is that the popularizer's (e.g., Faraday's, Helmholtz's, Kelvin's, Tyndall's, and Huxley's) other, professional, work will be ignored. In Preface VIII, he warns of another danger: "On the other hand, of the affliction caused by persons who think that what they have picked up from popular exposition qualifies them for discussing the great problems of science, it may be said, as the Radical toast said of the power of the Crown in bygone days, that it 'has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.' The oddities of 'English as she is spoke' might be abundantly paralleled by those of 'Science as she is misunderstood' in the sermon, the novel, and the leading article; and a collection of the grotesque travesties of scientific conceptions, in the shape of essays on such trifles as 'the Nature of Life' and the 'Origin of All Things,' which reach me, from time to time, might well be bound up with them."
Moving away from the abstract to the concrete, he would select a common animal, for example, the lobster, for anatomical examination. The examination provokes a comment on teaching that is "real and practical" and fixes the student's attention on particular facts. "The lobster has served as a type of the whole animal kingdom, and its anatomy and physiology have illustrated for us some of the greatest truths of biology. The student who has once seen for himself the facts which I have described, has had their relations explained to him, and has clearly comprehended them, has, so far, a knowledge of zoology, which is real and genuine, however limited it may be, and which is worth more than all the mere reading knowledge of the science he could ever acquire. His zoological information is, so far, knowledge and not mere hearsay." A similar approach is taken in his book The Crayfish: An Introduction to the Study of Zoology (sel) (1879).
Another discourse of these years focused on another biological being:Yeast (1871). This offers a tour of etymology as well as of biochemistry and taxonomy: "As the 'spiritus,' or breath, of a man was thought to be the most refined and subtle part of him, the intelligent essence of man was also conceived as a sort of breath, or spirit; and, by analogy, the most refined essence of anything was called its 'spirit.' And thus it has come about that we use the same word for the soul of man and for a glass of gin." He also tracks down the etymologies of "alcohol" and "yeast" and the infectious diseases, the epidemics, brought about by fungi.
Aristotle, Galileo, and Descartes are known as scientists, but they were also artists, as are the adroit popularizers of science of his day. Setting an opposition between science and literature is foolish, since the two are not parallel, science being a method and literature being an expression. Thus there is no surprise that Huxley admired Tennyson as a poet of science equal to Lucretius though back in November of 1852, he had used a Tennyson ode for packing paper; and much appreciated receiving "Demeter" as a Christmas present from TennysonDecember 26, 1889 and see October 15, 1892 and January 22, 1893. Huxley was not much of a poet, an assessment that can be verified by reading his elegy To Tennyson and other poetic attempts accompanying that.
Critics have, however, recognized Huxley as being a good writer of prose as well as a good scientist. For good literary creation, he focused on the importance of being stirred by the subject, of being clear and avoiding "that pestilent cosmetic, rhetoric," and of revisingsee, for example, May 9, 1882. He would comment now and then on a friend's (Darwin's, Spencer's, Tyndall's) writing style, or now and then make some more general observation about literary style, for example in notes composed at the Athenaeum Club in 1887, here entitled For Merit: "I said that in Science we had two advantages,first, that a man's work is demonstrably either good or bad; and secondly, that the 'contemporary posterity' of foreigners judges us, and rewards good work by membership of Academies and so forth. In Art, if a man chooses to call Raphael a dauber, you can't prove he is wrong; and literary work is just as hard to judge."
To literary critic Huxley, a paper written by Parker was reminiscent of a dog sniffing his way home May 4, 1870; and the Origin of Species was an encyclopedia, "An intellectual pemmicana mass of facts crushed and pounded into shape, rather than held together by the ordinary medium of an obvious logical bond." He found Darwin boasting "a marvellous dumb sagacity ... and he gets to the truth by ways as dark as those of the Heathen Chinee" February 14, 1888. On March 23, 1894, Huxley noted to a correspondent that he would look up Nietzsche, "though I must confess that the profit I obtain from German authors on speculative questions is not usually great. As men of research in positive science they are magnificently laborious and accurate. But most of them have no notion of style, and seem to compose their books with a pitchfork." Other relevant comments on literary style will be found in a few letters, such as those noted above; another to John Morley on Huxley becoming an "aesthetic jeweller" so that he could properly display diamonds in HumeSeptember 30, 1878; and another to his French translator about his being "fastidious" in his own writingMay 17, 1891; in many essays, such as those on liberal and scientific education, and in these small pieces:
He was less interested in the history of words than in the history of demonology, but he did now and then delve into etymology, as in Yeast, and he did more often than merely now and then invent words, perhaps four hundred of them, mostly anatomical and taxonomic terms, but also "agnostic."
As shown by quotations from letters in the Guides and from a reading of the letters themselves, Huxley ranks high as an epistolary genius, his letters and diary items worthy of careful analysis to reveal why they succeed, as for example, to select a few from a vast cornucopia of good writing, in his descriptions of tours of Madeira, true nature a tragedian: December 26, 1846 and December 31, 1846; and of Mount Pico in the Azores: October 6, 1850 and October 13, 1850. Some obvious reasons are the revelation of his personality, his wit, his knowing the right word to put in the right place, the vast array of allusions to everything from an ad for Epps Cocoa to Irish folk proverbs to global mythologies, especially to scripture. A less obvious reason is that in his letters he would often say things that were too impolite for public consumption, as he notified Mrs. Romanes: "my letters to people whom I trust are sometimes more plain-spoken than polite about things and men" September 20, 1894. He much liked to allude to Irish and other folk wisdom, as for example his quote of a costermonger addressing a donkey: October 29, 1854. Many testimonials to his artistic power as a writer and teacher are in this librarye.g., Foster Account, Walpole Account, Parker Account, Howes Account, Mivart Account, Skelton Account.
Huxley's essays and books show a commendable range in accessibility from those addressed to intelligent children, especially Physiography and Introductory Science Primer, to those requiring the careful attention of intelligent adults, such as the constituents of Collected Essays; to those accessible only to professional biologists, such as most of the constituents of Scientific Memoirs and most of his books. His prose style is usually well adapted to his audience, whether that audience consisted of Darwin's children or members of the Royal Institution or of the Royal Society, though often it is difficult to understand how an audience listening to him, such as the working men who listened to his lectures on human evolution, could understand what he was saying. A woman auditor whom he addressed because she seemed wonderfully attentive came up after his lecture to inquire whether the cerebellum was inside or outside of the skull.
A proper conclusion is Huxley's sketch of his cultivating the Loves and Graces as well as the MusesJuly 29, 1851. In 1907 there appeared Aphorisms and Reflections, a collection of 285 passages from THH's papers and letters, which displays his appreciation of the loves and graces as well as of other subjects and also a preface of excellent insight because it was written by the person who knew him best, his wife Henrietta Heathorn Huxley.