§ 3. A Sort of Firm

On Heroes

The sect to which Huxley belonged "look upon hero-worship as no better than any other idolatry, and upon the attitude of mind of the hero-worshipper as essentially immoral"– November 8, 1866. And, thirty years later, he wrote that selecting any scientist as representative of "the power and majesty of the scientific spirit of the age would be a grievous mistake. Science reckons many prophets, but there is not even a promise of a Messiah"– March 1894.

Huxley had a friendly rapport with scientists long gone, who receive his attention in many of his essays, some of which centered on biographical accounts. From 1854 to 1857, Huxley reviewed books (Anon.) for the Westminster Review. One of these is a biographical sketch of Isaac Newton and interpretation of his achievements: Newton, et al. Several others are on the achievements of contemporaries, such as Hooker, et al. Carpenter, et al.., Murchison, et al. In "Faraday's Experimental Researches in Electricity," he caught Faraday's talent: "The grand characteristics of all these researches are, great fertility of imagination, governed by admirable philosophic caution, and conscientious accuracy"– Faraday, et al. High praise invests the review of Charles Kingsley's Glaucus: Kingsley, et al. Others received negative reviews: Hunt, et al., Brewster, et al., and Auguste Comte: Martineau, et al. A laudatory account of a colleague and friend appeared in the Journal of Science and Literary Gazette (1854): Professor Edward Forbes, F.R.S.

Some past scientists received attention in his biographies of them and in his biographical-historical survey of The Progress of Science (1887). In 1874, requested to give an address at Mason College, Birmingham, Huxley chose Joseph Priestley as the subject; he was glad that he rather than a "noble swell" had been invited to do this, and used the "dry old Unitarian" as "a good peg wherein to hang a discourse on the tendencies of modern thought"– July 22, 1874; in Joseph Priestley he noted his object "To do honour, not to Priestley, the Unitarian divine, but to Priestley, the fearless defender of rational freedom in thought and in action." Lyell thought the address "splendid."

William Harvey
One "William Harvey" biography appeared in Nature (1878); another, the one here, appeared in The Fortnightly Review (1878).
Aphorisms by Goethe
Tribute to Goethe, whom Huxley studied for fifty years, opened the first issue of Nature (November 4, 1869).

To Huxley, Louis Pasteur was so important a scientist and helper of the species that an English Pasteur Institute deserved comprehensive support from the government, both to honor Pasteur and to advance vaccination; a couple of his tributes to Pasteur will be found in Biogenesis and Abiogenesis, On the Relations of Penicillium, Torula, and Bacterium and in a letter to the Lord Mayor– June 25, 1889. Huxley touched on an important discovery, but didn’t follow it through-as Alexander Fleming would - that Penicillium inhibited the growth of germs.

Though as a teenager, Tom had uncharacteristically put aside Hume's History as unreadable, upon being asked as an adult to write a biography of David Hume, he undertook that task. In his Hume, Huxley collected his divergent speculations into the nearest approach to a systematic philosophical treatise he ever undertook. John Morley considered it a seasonable book for the holy time; Huxley thought it would be a measure of what the public would stand in frank speaking and so, in 1878, he undertook the task of writing a biographical and philosophical account of Hume for the English Men of Letters series– September 30, 1878. Huxley did not think Hume himself engaged in the frankest of speaking: "Hume wasn't half a skeptic after all. And so long as he got deep enough to worry Orthodoxy, he did not care to go to the bottom of things"–to John Morley, July 6, 1878. In a letter of January 1879 to John Skelton, Huxley said that since the Hume book contains a biography, it "is the nearest approach to a work of fiction of which I have yet been guilty." In Preface VI, he advised his readers that if they wanted to learn about philosophy, they ought to start with the Ionians; but if they wanted "real knowledge" of the deepest problems, they could more easily find it in the British natives Berkeley, Hume, and Hobbes.

Knowing little about strong drink or tobacco smoke, Huxley nevertheless wrote an introduction to Strong Drink and Tobacco Smoke (1869) just because he knew the author's father– Editor's Preface.

In the 1850's, Great Britain was engaged in both a hot and a cold war with Russia. An Islamic jihad leader was looked upon favorably because of his success in executing guerilla warfare upon Cossacks. Huxley, remarking that he knew "no more about Schamyl than the man in the moon," undertook an assignment to do a biographical paper on him, the patriotic motive enhanced by a financial one. Huxley's Schamyl, the Prophet-Warrior of the Caucasus (1854) is surprising, the Islamic fanatic raised to the level of Oliver Cromwell. What is not surprising is Huxley's affection thirty years later for a British hero, General Gordon, whose dramatic mission was to rescue soldiers from a jihad triumph in Khartoum; Huxley exclaimed to John Donnelly, September 10, 1884 "How wonderfully Gordon is holding his own. I should like to see him lick the Mahdi into fits before Wolseley gets up. You despise the Jews, but Gordon is more like one of the Maccabees of Bar-Kochba than any sort of modern man." Prime Minister Gladstone's refusal to help Gordon and the G. O. M.'s favoring of home rule for Ireland were additional stimuli to Huxley's dislike of Gladstone's antics.

Though Huxley despised Hebraic theology, he would often point to Hebrew prophets, such as Micah, as heroes: "I have a great respect for the Nazarenism of Jesus–very little for later 'Christianity.' But the only religion that appeals to me is prophetic Judaism. Add to it something from the best Stoics and something from Spinoza and something from Goethe, and there is a religion for men. Some of these days I think I will make a cento out of the works of these people"– November 3, 1892; and again, he selected Spinoza as one of the greatest philosophers of all time– August 31, 1894.

Scientific Young England

The year was 1851, and the young man, recently returned from the Rattlesnake voyage, was so desperate for a job that he applied to the University of Toronto. Hal's early eminence is testified in his receiving recommendations from many major scientists, among them Owen, and Darwin, who wrote, on October 9, 1851: "I have much pleasure in expressing my opinion, from the high character of your published contributions to science, and from the course of your studies during your long voyage, that you are excellently qualified for a Professorship in Ntural History. You have my best wishes for success in your present application."

Fortunately for England and perhaps for science, Toronto rejected him in favor of a politician's relative and so three years later, Hal applied to the University of London, justifying his "solicitation of your suffrages" by noting publication of six physiological essays (e.g., on the cell theory), two translations, and 23 zoological essays.. He was a prime example of scientific young England.

Though he did not apply Carlylean hero-worship to the fraternity of sciences, he was amenable to governmental recognition of scientific merit–see letter of December 1, 1851 and For Merit, draft of notes composed at Athenaeum Club (July 7, 1887). In a letter to the Bishop of Ripon, he noted that "The temple of modern science" is graced by Faraday, Lyell, and Darwin. "As for me, in part from force of circumstance and in part from a conviction I could be of most use in that way, I have played the part of something between maid-of-all-work and gladiator-general for Science, and deserve no such prominence as your kindness has assigned to me"– June 16, 1887. In his biographies lie remembrances of his own past.

In one letter after another in the first years of the 1850s, he constantly argued both for and against a scientific career– July 12, 1851, July 16, 1851, July 29, 1851, November 7, 1851, December 1851, February 6, 1853, April 22, 1853, July 6, 1853. As early as the summer of 1851, he was already operating "behind the scenes" of the world of science, on a "footing of equality" with his peers, commended for his work at the British Association and receiving the Royal Medal– April 14, 1851.

His earliest professional friend was Edward Forbes– Forbes Account. Huxley took Forbes' place at the Royal School of Mines, and joined Forbes’ creation, the Red Lion Club–see July 16, 1851. Forbes conducted the Club as a "Pantagruelist" ritual, with orations, queer songs, "butter-boat" speeches–this from Huxley's obituary of John Tyndall. Its Lion-Chaplain rendered grace: "Brother Lions, let us prey." Huxley illustrated a poem by Forbes, and often mentioned his mentor in letters to his fiancée and to his sister–see for example, May 20, 1851, and upon his friend's death, wrote an (anonymous) obituary for the Literary Gazette Professor Edward Forbes, F.R.S. (1854). A club that did not succeed was the Thorough Club, a society for the propagation of honesty in all parts of the world (1862), Huxley its chairman, Kingsley its vice-chairman.

Scientists, Faraday seated l. THH to his l. Tyndall standing r.
Edw. Forbes verse, Illustrated by THH, 1852.

Huxley's close friends were Charles Lyell, whom he met shortly after his return from the voyage, Herbert Spencer, Michael Foster, John Knowles, Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker, and John Tyndall. The number of letters exchanged between Huxley and these people hints at the degree of closeness. From the Archives: Darwin, 180; Lyell, 77; John Donnelly, 72; Knowles, 139; Hooker, 432; Spencer, 88; Tyndall, 253; Foster, 211 (compare Kingsley, 28; Arnold, 11). Huxley was an acquaintance of Alfred Tennyson, who sent him "Demeter" as a Christmas present– December 26, 1889, and whose death inspired one of the few poems Huxley was ever to publish– To Tennyson, a tribute to the man Huxley thought of as the primary Victorian poet of science. There is almost zero in the way of data on Huxley's friendship with George Eliot, whom he first met when writing for the Westminster Review, and whose soirees he attended for many years; when she died, Huxley explained to Herbert Spencer why he would not support petititioners' request to have her buried at Westminster Abbey– December 27, 1880.

Before his twenty-ninth birthday, twenty-three of his papers had been published and another fifteen were on the way. Having quickly become a reputable scientist, he set about early and continued throughout his life to nurture "scientific Young England," and to place the new cadre in important academic and professional positions. His closest friends were Joseph Hooker and John Tyndall. Pen-pal Hooker was the recipient of accounts of Huxley's mountaineering– September 3, 1856 and August 16, 1857, and of Huxley's comments on the state of science. To Hooker, Huxley wrote "It is no use having any false modesty about the matter. You and I, if we last ten years longer, and you by a long while first, will be the representatives of our respective lines in this country. In that capacity we shall have certain duties to perform to ourselves, to the outside world, and to science. We shall have to swallow praise which is no great pleasure, and to stand multitudinous basting and irritations, which will involve a good deal of unquestionable pain. Don't flatter yourself that there is any moral chloroform by which either you or I can render ourselves insensible or acquire the habit of doing things coolly. It is assuredly of no great use to tear one's self to pieces before one is fifty. But the alternative, for men constructed on the high pressure tubular boiler principle, like ourselves, is to lie still and let the devil have his own way. And I will be torn to pieces before I am forty sooner than see that"– December 19, 1860   Owen's Position in the History of Anatomical Science.

Another typical comment to Hooker was penned twenty-eight years later, after Hooker and Huxley received the Royal Society Copley medal, another "masonic bond" between them: "It is very pleasant to have our niches in the Pantheon close together. It is getting on for forty years since we were first 'acquent,' and considering with what a very considerable dose of tenacity, vivacity and that glorious firmness (which the beasts who don't like us call obstinacy) we are both endowed, the fact that we have never had the shadow of a shade of a quarrel is more to our credit than being ex-Presidents and Copley medallists"– November 15, 1888.

Huxley exchanged hundreds of letters with Charles Darwin and wrote several short biographies of him–see § 2. Voyage of the Rattlesnake. He became friends with Herbert Spencer in the early 50's, but although they agreed on most things, their disagreement on the Absolute and Unknowable and on the extent of proper governmental proprietorship of the nation caused a rift between them, description of the antagonism revealed in Professor Tyndall: "As between Mr. Spencer and myself, the question is not one of 'a dividing line,' but of an entire and complete divergence as soon as we leave the foundations laid by Hume, Kant, and Hamilton, who are my philosophical forefathers." For his friendly and sometimes inimical relation with Herbert Spencer, see discussions in § 20.The Good of Mankind and § 21. Jungle Versus Garden. Huxley wrote a chapter on the man who was a prolific antagonist to the philosophy and work of Darwin, Huxley, and Spencer: Owen's Position in the History of Anatomical Science (1894).

At the 1851 Ipswich meeting of the B. A. A. S., Huxley and Tyndall met Hooker. A decade later, an idea came to these friends: to institute another club, Huxley's title for which was Blastodermic. The first meeting of the X Club, as it came to be designated, was in January of 1864; its nine members included these gentlemen (Xperienced Hooker, Xcentric Tyndall, Xalted Huxley) and six others (Xhaustive Spencer, Xemplary Busk, Xpert Frankland, Xtravagant Hirst, Xquisite Lubbock, and Xcellent Spottiswoode). The club became an admired and feared cabal, since it not only had the talent to write most of a scientific encyclopedia, but from its members came four Presidents of the Royal Society, five Presidents of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, officers of the Royal College of Surgeons and many societies, the London Mathematical, the Chemical, the Geological, the Ethnological.

At the Athenaeum, Huxley eavesdropped on a conversation:

During the thirty years of monthly meetings, the X Club invited many notables, friends and enemies, as guests, among them Darwin Himself, W. K.Clifford, Asa Gray, and Louis Agassiz. The wives were invited to the annual outing. For THH on late X Club antics, see 1886 and 1886'. The activities of the firm were parodied in a pamphlet edited by "Snug the Joiner," inspired by the BAAS meeting at Exeter in 1869: Exeter Change.

While most of the clubs and societies Huxley belonged to were stocked with scientists, the Metaphysical Society was a different sort of firm, for it consisted of specialists of many different interests, such as Tennyson, John Ruskin, Frederic Harrison, and Cardinal Manning. It lasted for 11 years, from 1869 to 1881, dying as Huxley quipped of "too much love"–this remark is in a good description of the Metaphysical Society–Wilfred Ward's, Thomas Henry Huxley: A Reminiscence. See also R. H. Hutton's 1885 article The Metaphysical Society, a rememiniscence.

In addresses he delivered as President of the Geological Society and of the Royal Society, Huxley took account of the expirations (the "calamities") of recently deceased members. The first presidential address, 1862, re-appeared as Geological Contemporaneity and Persistent Types of Life. Anniversary Address of the President 1869 (Geological Society) revised and published as Geological Reform. Anniversary Address of the President 1870On the Progress of Paleontology.

The same responsibility attended his presidency of the Royal Society. Presidential Address to the Royal Society 1883. Presidential Address to the Royal Society 1885.

Address to Royal Society 1893– The last address (not the presidential) he gave to RS. This was considerably more autobiographical than biographical–see § 1. THH: His Mark and § 4. Darwin's Bulldog.

Not being a man of science, Herbert Spencer was not in the central circle of the firm, but closely affiliated with it. For decades, Huxley corrected and graded Spencer's papers, informing him of anatomical and other scientific points the philosopher was ignorant of, for example, of the nature of bird air-cells– September 19, 1860 and the difference between plants and animals– August 3, 1861 and later arguing with him about the advantage of having some government control of society. Two German naturalists were included in the firm: Anton Dohrn and Ernst Haeckel–see e.g. to Dohrn: July 7, 1868 and November 17, 1870 and to Haeckel: October 28, 1862. Haeckel wrote a biographical sketch tracking the great merit Huxley had achieved as early as 1874: Scientific Worthies: Thomas Henry Huxley.

As his authority increased, Huxley became increasingly successful in placing his disciples in schools throughout the globe–for example, Michael Foster, Cambridge; Roy Lankester and Edward Poulton, Oxford; others to Manchester, Edinburgh, Dublin, Galway; several in U. S. schools–Martin, Baltimore; Osborn, Columbia (and subsequently AMNH); others to Otago, Casale, and Singapore. Foster's obituary of THH appeared in Nature A Few more Words on Thomas Henry Huxley (1895).

Henrietta Huxley, remembering John Tyndall's frequent visits to the Huxley households, spoke of the trio as "Brother John, Brother Hal, and Sister Nettie. Huxley and Tyndall first met in 1851, at the British Association meeting at Ipswich (the following year Huxley and Spencer first met). In flowering gratitude, Tyndall wrote to Brother Hal on May 9, 1852: "It is said that every son of Adam has some spark of poetic sentiment in him, and that what distinguishes the poet proper from other men is the faculty of being able to tell you what he and all feel. Were I a poet (and I know not whether to upbraid or bless the gods for not making me one) I should sit down with delight to gather from birds and blossoms their prettiest imagery, and from the May its sunshine and odours into one sweet bouquet to present to you." Tyndall often waxed poetic when he thought of Hal: "When I stand alone in the woods and hear the birds chirping, and see the trees sprouting, I feel like a puzzled infant amid things which baffle my comprehension. I like to hear a man who instead of turning my stomach with dry theories of this universe is able to appreciate the difficulty of the problem and to recognise the fluxional character of our knowledge regarding it" (1855).

December 4, 1851,
February 25, 1853,
October 29, 1854,
March 1857: Asinine Critic,
July 1857, with its fig. of Baby,
August 16, 1857,
September 3, 1857,
September 8, 1858,
April 6, 1870,
March 31, 1872,
December 31, 1878,
March 9, 1881,
February 24, 1890,
May 15, 1893 - "The close relations into which we were thrown ... had the effect of associating us in the public mind, as if we formed a sort of firm; with results which were sometimes inconvenient and sometimes ludicrous. When my wife and I went to the United States in 1876, for example, a New York paper was good enough to announce my coming, accompanied by my 'titled bride'–which was rather hard upon plain folk, married twenty-one years, and blessed with seven children to boot"– Professor Tyndall.

Letter to Mr. Tyndall on the Structure of Glacier Ice (1857)
Glaciers and Glacial Theory (1858)
The Clouds (1858)
Structure of Glaciers (1859)
The Theory of Glaciers (1859),
The Glaciers of the Alps (1860)
Forbes and Tyndall (1873)

"Geefeëf" (Gordon E. Flaws) – depicts ecclesiastical and scientific dignitaries–Darwin, Huxley, and Tyndall– comprising "Our National Church"
Book Fight Huxley throwing book at Contemporary Review monster; Tyndall observing

Very few opponents of rationality were admired as contributors to the firm. The most vital of these was Thomas Carlyle, whom Huxley and Tyndall both admired a good deal, if not excessively. Once, upon meeting Huxley on the street, Carlyle walked away muttering that Huxley was the man who said we came from monkeys. Carlyle chaired a committee to honor Governor Eyre, who had been responsible either for legitimately quelling an imminent riot by native of Jamaica or for illegitimate slaughter. Huxley and Tyndall disagreed about the Jamaica business, Huxley wanting to bring Governor Eyre to trial for murder, Tyndall wanting to honor the Governor–see § 18. Emancipation: Gender and Race; what they agreed on was not to have the argument about the governor disrupt their friendship. "If you and I are strong enough and wise enough, we shall be able to do this, and yet preserve that love for one another which I value as one of the good things of my life"– November 9, 1866.

Sometime, maybe March 1869, Huxley quoted to Tyndall a poem he had composed when a boy, a "not striking physiological verse":

Labour is worship, so some sage has said
    And surely it preserves from many an evil
For though it may not lift to Heaven the head
    It keeps the heart from wandering to the Devil!

In 1870, Huxley as President of the British Association gave the address Biogenesis and Abiogenesis, which was startling enough, and overshadowed by the even more dramatic "Belfast Address" delivered by John Tyndall, because of which, George Bernard Shaw would later remark, "nothing's been the same." In a letter of April 2, 1873 Tyndall advised Huxley that Critiques and Addresses would "tell well upon the public" for it had the typical Huxley "sabre hacks." In a collection of notebooks and other papers not made available to Warren Dawson, whose The Huxley Papers is a wonderful catalogue of the material held in the City and Guilds College, there lay a page on which Huxley had doodled a bearded head, which from its nose is here given the title Proboscis, and which may be a caricature of John Tyndall (since this Huxley sketch no long can be found in the Huxley Archives, this reproduction is the only one that exists). Monkeys and apes were considered to be outstanding members, sometimes friendly, sometimes threatening, of the scientific firm.

President BAAS

THH as President of the British Association Nature 1874 based on Illustrated London News, 1870
With friend
Bearded THH and his blackboard sketch of a bearded gorilla
"The Lion of the Season"
"Alarmed Flunkey. 'Mr. G-G-G-O-O-O-RILLA!'" Punch 1861

At the time of these pictures, Huxley was President of the Ethnological Society (1868), Principle of the South London Working Men's College (1868-80), President of the Geological Society (1869), member of the London School Board (1870), of the Royal Commission on Contagious Diseases (1870-71), and of the Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction (1870-75), and Governor of Eton College.

Upon Tyndall's death, John Knowles sent Huxley a telegram and asked him to write the obituary– December 1, 1893. Professor Tyndall was so well received that Huxley suspected his faculties "must be beginning to decay!"– January 18, 1894. "All that I have proposed to myself, in writing these few pages, is to illustrate and emphasise the fact that, in Tyndall, we have all lost a man of rare and strong individuality; one who, by sheer force of character and intellect, without advantages of education or extraneous aid–perhaps, in spite of some peculiarities of that character–made his way to a position, in some ways unique; to a place in the front rank not only of scientific workers, but of writers and speakers. And, on my own account, I have desired to utter a few parting words of affection for the man of pure and high aims, whom I am the better for having known; for the friend, whose sympathy and support were sure, in all the trials and troubles of forty years' wandering through this wilderness of a world."

The Duke of Argyll charged– A Great Lesson– that English and French scientists had entered into a "conspiracy of silence" to cover up mistakes Darwin had made; Huxley's answer supports his trust in the firm– The Duke of Argyll's Charges against Men of Science (1888). Huxley would not have approved this use of "scientists"–he thought that blend, like the word "electrocution," a defilement of the English language– "Scientist".




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