1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Huxley, Thomas Henry
HUXLEY, THOMAS HENRY (1825–1895), English biologist, was born on the 4th of May 1825 at Ealing, where his father, George Huxley, was senior assistant-master in the school of Dr Nicholas. This was an establishment of repute, and is at any rate remarkable for having produced two men with so little in common in after life as Huxley and Cardinal Newman. The cardinal’s brother, Francis William, had been “captain” of the school in 1821. Huxley was a seventh child (as his father had also been), and the youngest who survived infancy. Of Huxley’s ancestry no more is ascertainable than in the case of most middle-class families. He himself thought it sprang from the Cheshire Huxleys of Huxley Hall. Different branches migrated south, one, now extinct, reaching London, where its members were apparently engaged in commerce. They established themselves for four generations at Wyre Hall, near Edmonton, and one was knighted by Charles II. Huxley describes his paternal race as “mainly Iberian mongrels, with a good dash of Norman and a little Saxon.” From his father he thought he derived little except a quick temper and the artistic faculty which proved of great service to him and reappeared in an even more striking degree in his daughter, the Hon. Mrs Collier. “Mentally and physically,” he wrote, “I am a piece of my mother.” Her maiden name was Rachel Withers. “She came of Wiltshire people,” he adds, and describes her as “a typical example of the Iberian variety.” He tells us that “her most distinguishing characteristic was rapidity of thought.... That peculiarity has been passed on to me in full strength” (Essays, i. 4). One of the not least striking facts in Huxley’s life is that of education in the formal sense he received none. “I had two years of a pandemonium of a school (between eight and ten), and after that neither help nor sympathy in any intellectual direction till I reached manhood” (Life, ii. 145). After the death of Dr Nicholas the Ealing school broke up, and Huxley’s father returned about 1835 to his native town, Coventry, where he had obtained a small appointment. Huxley was left to his own devices; few histories of boyhood could offer any parallel. At twelve he was sitting up in bed to read Hutton’s Geology. His great desire was to be a mechanical engineer; it ended in his devotion to “the mechanical engineering of living machines.” His curiosity in this direction was nearly fatal; a post-mortem he was taken to between thirteen and fourteen was followed by an illness which seems to have been the starting-point of the ill-health which pursued him all through life. At fifteen he devoured Sir William Hamilton’s Logic, and thus acquired the taste for metaphysics, which he cultivated to the end. At seventeen he came under the influence of Thomas Carlyle’s writings. Fifty years later he wrote: “To make things clear and get rid of cant and shows of all sorts. This was the lesson I learnt from Carlyle’s books when I was a boy, and it has stuck by me all my life” (Life, ii. 268). Incidentally they led him to begin to learn German; he had already acquired French. At seventeen Huxley, with his elder brother James, commenced regular medical studies at Charing Cross Hospital, where they had both obtained scholarships. He studied under Wharton Jones, a physiologist who never seems to have attained the reputation he deserved. Huxley said of him: “I do not know that I ever felt so much respect for a teacher before or since” (Life, i. 20). At twenty he passed his first M.B. examination at the University of London, winning the gold medal for anatomy and physiology; W. H. Ransom, the well-known Nottingham physician, obtaining the exhibition. In 1845 he published, at the suggestion of Wharton Jones, his first scientific paper, demonstrating the existence of a hitherto unrecognized layer in the inner sheath of hairs, a layer that has been known since as “Huxley’s layer.”
Something had to be done for a livelihood, and at the suggestion of a fellow-student, Mr (afterwards Sir Joseph) Fayrer, he applied for an appointment in the navy. He passed the necessary examination, and at the same time obtained the qualification of the Royal College of Surgeons. He was “entered on the books of Nelson’s old ship, the ‘Victory,’ for duty at Haslar Hospital.” Its chief, Sir John Richardson, who was a well-known Arctic explorer and naturalist, recognized Huxley’s ability, and procured for him the post of surgeon to H.M.S. “Rattlesnake,” about to start for surveying work in Torres Strait. The commander, Captain Owen Stanley, was a son of the bishop of Norwich and brother of Dean Stanley, and wished for an officer with some scientific knowledge. Besides Huxley the “Rattlesnake” also carried a naturalist by profession, John Macgillivray, who, however, beyond a dull narrative of the expedition, accomplished nothing. The “Rattlesnake” left England on the 3rd of December 1846, and was ordered home after the lamented death of Captain Stanley at Sydney, to be paid off at Chatham on the 9th of November 1850. The tropical seas teem with delicate surface-life, and to the study of this Huxley devoted himself with unremitting devotion. At that time no known methods existed by which it could be preserved for study in museums at home. He gathered a magnificent harvest in the almost unreaped field, and the conclusions he drew from it were the beginning of the revolution in zoological science which he lived to see accomplished.
Baron Cuvier (1769–1832), whose classification still held its ground, had divided the animal kingdom into four great embranchements. Each of these corresponded to an independent archetype, of which the “idea” had existed in the mind of the Creator. There was no other connexion between these classes, and the “ideas” which animated them were, as far as one can see, arbitrary. Cuvier’s groups, without their theoretical basis, were accepted by K. E. von Baer (1792–1876). The “idea” of the group, or archetype, admitted of endless variation within it; but this was subordinate to essential conformity with the archetype, and hence Cuvier deduced the important principle of the “correlation of parts,” of which he made such conspicuous use in palaeontological reconstruction. Meanwhile the “Naturphilosophen,” with J. W. Goethe (1749–1832) and L. Oken (1779–1851), had in effect grasped the underlying principle of correlation, and so far anticipated evolution by asserting the possibility of deriving specialized from simpler structures. Though they were still hampered by idealistic conceptions, they established morphology. Cuvier’s four great groups were Vertebrata, Mollusca, Articulata and Radiata. It was amongst the members of the last class that Huxley found most material ready to his hand in the seas of the tropics. It included organisms of the most varied kind, with nothing more in common than that their parts were more or less distributed round a centre. Huxley sent home “communication after communication to the Linnean Society,” then a somewhat somnolent body, “with the same result as that obtained by Noah when he sent the raven out of the ark” (Essays, i. 13). His important paper, On the Anatomy and the Affinities of the Family of Medusae, met with a better fate. It was communicated by the bishop of Norwich to the Royal Society, and printed by it in the Philosophical Transactions in 1849. Huxley united, with the Medusae, the Hydroid and Sertularian polyps, to form a class to which he subsequently gave the name of Hydrozoa. This alone was no inconsiderable feat for a young surgeon who had only had the training of the medical school. But the ground on which it was done has led to far-reaching theoretical developments. Huxley realized that something more than superficial characters were necessary in determining the affinities of animal organisms. He found that all the members of the class consisted of two membranes enclosing a central cavity or stomach. This is characteristic of what are now called the Coelenterata. All animals higher than these have been termed Coelomata; they possess a distinct body-cavity in addition to the stomach. Huxley went further than this, and the most profound suggestion in his paper is the comparison of the two layers with those which appear in the germ of the higher animals. The consequences which have flowed from this prophetic generalization of the ectoderm and endoderm are familiar to every student of evolution. The conclusion was the more remarkable as at the time he was not merely free from any evolutionary belief, but actually rejected it. The value of Huxley’s work was immediately recognized. On returning to England in 1850 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In the following year, at the age of twenty-six, he not merely received the Royal medal, but was elected on the council. With absolutely no aid from any one he had placed himself in the front rank of English scientific men. He secured the friendship of Sir J. D. Hooker and John Tyndall, who remained his lifelong friends. The Admiralty retained him as a nominal assistant-surgeon, in order that he might work up the observations he had made during the voyage of the “Rattlesnake.” He was thus enabled to produce various important memoirs, especially those on certain Ascidians, in which he solved the problem of Appendicularia—an organism whose place in the animal kingdom Johannes Müller had found himself wholly unable to assign—and on the morphology of the Cephalous Mollusca.
Richard Owen, then the leading comparative anatomist in Great Britain, was a disciple of Cuvier, and adopted largely from him the deductive explanation of anatomical fact from idealistic conceptions. He superadded the evolutionary theories of Oken, which were equally idealistic, but were altogether repugnant to Cuvier. Huxley would have none of either. Imbued with the methods of von Baer and Johannes Müller, his methods were purely inductive. He would not hazard any statement beyond what the facts revealed. He retained, however, as has been done by his successors, the use of archetypes, though they no longer represented fundamental “ideas” but generalizations of the essential points of structure common to the individuals of each class. He had not wholly freed himself, however, from archetypal trammels. “The doctrine,” he says, “that every natural group is organized after a definite archetype . . . seems to me as important for zoology as the doctrine of definite proportions for chemistry.” This was in 1853. He further stated: “There is no progression from a lower to a higher type, but merely a more or less complete evolution of one type” (Phil. Trans., 1853, p. 63). As Chalmers Mitchell points out, this statement is of great historical interest. Huxley definitely uses the word “evolution,” and admits its existence within the great groups. He had not, however, rid himself of the notion that the archetype was a property inherent in the group. Herbert Spencer, whose acquaintance he made in 1852, was unable to convert him to evolution in its widest sense (Life, i. 168). He could not bring himself to acceptance of the theory—owing, no doubt, to his rooted aversion from à priori reasoning—without a mechanical conception of its mode of operation. In his first interview with Darwin, which seems to have been about the same time, he expressed his belief “in the sharpness of the lines of demarcation between natural groups,” and was received with a humorous smile (Life, i. 169).
The naval medical service exists for practical purposes. It is not surprising, therefore, that after his three years’ nominal employment Huxley was ordered on active service. Though without private means of any kind, he resigned. The navy, however, retains the credit of having started his scientific career as well as that of Hooker and Darwin. Huxley was now thrown on his own resources, the immediate prospects of which were slender enough. As a matter of fact, he had not to wait many months. His friend, Edward Forbes, was appointed to the chair of natural history in Edinburgh, and in July 1854 he succeeded him as lecturer at the School of Mines and as naturalist to the Geological Survey in the following year. The latter post he hesitated at first to accept, as he “did not care for fossils” (Essays, i. 15). In 1855 he married Miss H. A. Heathorn, whose acquaintance he had made in Sydney. They were engaged when Huxley could offer nothing but the future promise of his ability. The confidence of his devoted helpmate was not misplaced, and her affection sustained him to the end, after she had seen him the recipient of every honour which English science could bestow. His most important research belonging to this period was the Croonian Lecture delivered before the Royal Society in 1858 on “The Theory of the Vertebrate Skull.” In this he completely and finally demolished, by applying as before the inductive method, the idealistic, if in some degree evolutionary, views of its origin which Owen had derived from Goethe and Oken. This finally disposed of the “archetype,” and may be said once for all to have liberated the English anatomical school from the deductive method.
In 1859 The Origin of Species was published. This was a momentous event in the history of science, and not least for Huxley. Hitherto he had turned a deaf ear to evolution. “I took my stand,” he says, “upon two grounds: firstly, that . . . the evidence in favour of transmutation was wholly insufficient; and secondly, that no suggestion respecting the causes of the transmutation assumed, which had been made, was in any way adequate to explain the phenomena” (Life, i. 168). Huxley had studied Lamarck “attentively,” but to no purpose. Sir Charles Lyell “was the chief agent in smoothing the road for Darwin. For consistent uniformitarianism postulates evolution as much in the organic as in the inorganic world” (l.c.); and Huxley found in Darwin what he had failed to find in Lamarck, an intelligible hypothesis good enough as a working basis. Yet with the transparent candour which was characteristic of him, he never to the end of his life concealed the fact that he thought it wanting in rigorous proof. Darwin, however, was a naturalist; Huxley was not. He says: “I am afraid there is very little of the genuine naturalist in me. I never collected anything, and species-work was always a burden to me; what I cared for was the architectural and engineering part of the business” (Essays, i. 7). But the solution of the problem of organic evolution must work upwards from the initial stages, and it is precisely for the study of these that “species-work” is necessary. Darwin, by observing the peculiarities in the distribution of the plants which he had collected in the Galapagos, was started on the path that led to his theory. Anatomical research had only so far led to transcendental hypothesis, though in Huxley’s hands it had cleared the decks of that lumber. He quotes with approval Darwin’s remark that “no one has a right to examine the question of species who has not minutely described many” (Essays, ii. 283). The rigorous proof which Huxley demanded was the production of species sterile to one another by selective breeding (Life, i. 193). But this was a misconception of the question. Sterility is a physiological character, and the specific differences which the theory undertook to account for are morphological; there is no necessary nexus between the two. Huxley, however, felt that he had at last a secure grip of evolution. He warned Darwin: “I will stop at no point as long as clear reasoning will carry me further” (Life, i. 172). Owen, who had some evolutionary tendencies, was at first favourably disposed to Darwin’s theory, and even claimed that he had to some extent anticipated it in his own writings. But Darwin, though he did not thrust it into the foreground, never flinched from recognizing that man could not be excluded from his theory. “Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history” (Origin, ed. i. 488). Owen could not face the wrath of fashionable orthodoxy. In his Rede Lecture he endeavoured to save the position by asserting that man was clearly marked off from all other animals by the anatomical structure of his brain. This was actually inconsistent with known facts, and was effectually refuted by Huxley in various papers and lectures, summed up in 1863 in Man’s Place in Nature. This “monkey damnification” of mankind was too much even for the “veracity” of Carlyle, who is said to have never forgiven it. Huxley had not the smallest respect for authority as a basis for belief, scientific or otherwise. He held that scientific men were morally bound “to try all things and hold fast to that which is good” (Life, ii. 161). Called upon in 1862, in the absence of the president, to deliver the presidential address to the Geological Society, he disposed once for all of one of the principles accepted by geologists, that similar fossils in distinct regions indicated that the strata containing them were contemporary. All that could be concluded, he pointed out, was that the general order of succession was the same. In 1854 Huxley had refused the post of palaeontologist to the Geological Survey; but the fossils for which he then said that he “did not care” soon acquired importance in his eyes, as supplying evidence for the support of the evolutionary theory. The thirty-one years during which he occupied the chair of natural history at the School of Mines were largely occupied with palaeontological research. Numerous memoirs on fossil fishes established many far-reaching morphological facts. The study of fossil reptiles led to his demonstrating, in the course of lectures on birds, delivered at the College of Surgeons in 1867, the fundamental affinity of the two groups which he united under the title of Sauropsida. An incidental result of the same course was his proposed rearrangement of the zoological regions into which P. L. Sclater had divided the world in 1857. Huxley anticipated, to a large extent, the results at which botanists have since arrived: he proposed as primary divisions, Arctogaea—to include the land areas of the northern hemisphere—and Notogaea for the remainder. Successive waves of life originated in and spread from the northern area, the survivors of the more ancient types finding successively a refuge in the south. Though Huxley had accepted the Darwinian theory as a working hypothesis, he never succeeded in firmly grasping it in detail. He thought “evolution might conceivably have taken place without the development of groups possessing the characters of species” (Essays, v. 41). His palaeontological researches ultimately led him to dispense with Darwin. In 1892 he wrote: “The doctrine of evolution is no speculation, but a generalization of certain facts . . . classed by biologists under the heads of Embryology and of Palaeontology” (Essays, v. 42). Earlier in 1881 he had asserted even more emphatically that if the hypothesis of evolution “had not existed, the palaeontologist would have had to invent it” (Essays, iv. 44).
From 1870 onwards he was more and more drawn away from scientific research by the claims of public duty. Some men yield the more readily to such demands, as their fulfilment is not unaccompanied by public esteem. But he felt, as he himself said of Joseph Priestley, “that he was a man and a citizen before he was a philosopher, and that the duties of the two former positions are at least as imperative as those of the latter” (Essays, iii. 13). From 1862 to 1884 he served on no less than ten Royal Commissions, dealing in every case with subjects of great importance, and in many with matters of the gravest moment to the community. He held and filled with invariable dignity and distinction more public positions than have perhaps ever fallen to the lot of a scientific man in England. From 1871 to 1880 he was a secretary of the Royal Society. From 1881 to 1885 he was president. For honours he cared little, though they were within his reach; it is said that he might have received a peerage. He accepted, however, in 1892, a Privy Councillorship, at once the most democratic and the most aristocratic honour accessible to an English citizen. In 1870 he was president of the British Association at Liverpool, and in the same year was elected a member of the newly constituted London School Board. He resigned the latter position in 1872, but in the brief period during which he acted, probably more than any man, he left his mark on the foundations of national elementary education. He made war on the scholastic methods which wearied the mind in merely taxing the memory; the children were to be prepared to take their place worthily in the community. Physical training was the basis; domestic economy, at any rate for girls, was insisted upon, and for all some development of the aesthetic sense by means of drawing and singing. Reading, writing and arithmetic were the indispensable tools for acquiring knowledge, and intellectual discipline was to be gained through the rudiments of physical science. He insisted on the teaching of the Bible partly as a great literary heritage, partly because he was “seriously perplexed to know by what practical measures the religious feeling, which is the essential basis of conduct, was to be kept up, in the present utterly chaotic state of opinion in these matters, without its use” (Essays, iii. 397). In 1872 the School of Mines was moved to South Kensington, and Huxley had, for the first time after eighteen years, those appliances for teaching beyond the lecture room, which to the lasting injury of the interests of biological science in Great Britain had been withheld from him by the short-sightedness of government. Huxley had only been able to bring his influence to bear upon his pupils by oral teaching, and had had no opportunity by personal intercourse in the laboratory of forming a school. He was now able to organize a system of instruction for classes of elementary teachers in the general principles of biology, which indirectly affected the teaching of the subject throughout the country.
The first symptoms of physical failure to meet the strain of the scientific and public duties demanded of him made some rest imperative, and he took a long holiday in Egypt. He still continued for some years to occupy himself mainly with vertebrate morphology. But he seemed to find more interest and the necessary mental stimulus to exertion in lectures, public addresses and more or less controversial writings. His health, which had for a time been fairly restored, completely broke down again in 1885. In 1890 he removed from London to Eastbourne, where after a painful illness he died on the 29th of June 1895.
The latter years of Huxley’s life were mainly occupied with contributions to periodical literature on subjects connected with philosophy and theology. The effect produced by these on popular opinion was profound. This was partly due to his position as a man of science, partly to his obvious earnestness and sincerity, but in the main to his strenuous and attractive method of exposition. Such studies were not wholly new to him, as they had more or less engaged his thoughts from his earliest days. That his views exhibit some process of development and are not wholly consistent was, therefore, to be expected, and for this reason it is not easy to summarize them as a connected body of teaching. They may be found perhaps in their most systematic form in the volume on Hume published in 1879.
Huxley’s general attitude to the problems of theology and philosophy was technically that of scepticism. “I am,” he wrote, “too much of a sceptic to deny the possibility of anything” (Life, ii. 127). “Doubt is a beneficent demon” (Essays, ix. 56). He was anxious, nevertheless, to avoid the accusation of Pyrrhonism (Life, ii. 280), but the Agnosticism which he defined to express his position in 1869 suggests the Pyrrhonist Aphasia. The only approach to certainty which he admitted lay in the order of nature. “The conception of the constancy of the order of nature has become the dominant idea of modern thought. . . . Whatever may be man’s speculative doctrines, it is quite certain that every intelligent person guides his life and risks his fortune upon the belief that the order of nature is constant, and that the chain of natural causation is never broken.” He adds, however, that “it by no means necessarily follows that we are justified in expanding this generalization into the infinite past” (Essays, iv. 47, 48). This was little more than a pious reservation, as evolution implies the principle of continuity (l.c. p. 55). Later he stated his belief even more absolutely: “If there is anything in the world which I do firmly believe in, it is the universal validity of the law of causation, but that universality cannot be proved by any amount of experience” (Essays, ix. 121). The assertion that “There is only one method by which intellectual truth can be reached, whether the subject-matter of investigation belongs to the world of physics or to the world of consciousness” (Essays, ix. 126) laid him open to the charge of materialism, which he vigorously repelled. His defence, when he rested it on the imperfection of the physical analysis of matter and force (l.c. p. 131), was irrelevant; he was on sounder ground when he contended with Berkeley “that our certain knowledge does not extend beyond our states of consciousness” (l.c. p. 130). “Legitimate materialism, that is, the extension of the conceptions and of the methods of physical science to the highest as well as to the lowest phenomena of vitality, is neither more nor less than a sort of shorthand idealism” (Essays, i. 194). While “the substance of matter is a metaphysical unknown quality of the existence of which there is no proof . . . the non-existence of a substance of mind is equally arguable; . . . the result . . . is the reduction of the All to co-existences and sequences of phenomena beneath and beyond which there is nothing cognoscible” (Essays, ix. 66). Hume had defined a miracle as a “violation of the laws of nature.” Huxley refused to accept this. While, on the one hand, he insists that “the whole fabric of practical life is built upon our faith in its continuity” (Hume, p. 129), on the other “nobody can presume to say what the order of nature must be”; this “knocks the bottom out of all a priori objections either to ordinary ‘miracles’ or to the efficacy of prayer” (Essays, v. 133). “If by the term miracles we mean only extremely wonderful events, there can be no just ground for denying the possibility of their occurrence” (Hume, p. 134). Assuming the chemical elements to be aggregates of uniform primitive matter, he saw no more theoretical difficulty in water being turned into alcohol in the miracle at Cana, than in sugar undergoing a similar conversion (Essays, v. 81). The credibility of miracles with Huxley is a question of evidence. It may be remarked that a scientific explanation is destructive of the supernatural character of a miracle, and that the demand for evidence may be so framed as to preclude the credibility of any historical event. Throughout his life theology had a strong attraction, not without elements of repulsion, for Huxley. The circumstances of his early training, when Paley was the “most interesting Sunday reading allowed him when a boy” (Life, ii. 57), probably had something to do with both. In 1860 his beliefs were apparently theistic: “Science seems to me to teach in the highest and strongest manner the great truth which is embodied in the Christian conception of entire surrender to the will of God” (Life, i. 219). In 1885 he formulates “the perfect ideal of religion” in a passage which has become almost famous: “In the 8th century B.C. in the heart of a world of idolatrous polytheists, the Hebrew prophets put forth a conception of religion which appears to be as wonderful an inspiration of genius as the art of Pheidias or the science of Aristotle. ‘And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God’ ” (Essays, iv. 161). Two years later he was writing: “That there is no evidence of the existence of such a being as the God of the theologians is true enough” (Life, ii. 162). He insisted, however, that “atheism is on purely philosophical grounds untenable” (l.c.). His theism never really advanced beyond the recognition of “the passionless impersonality of the unknown and unknowable, which science shows everywhere underlying the thin veil of phenomena” (Life, i. 239). In other respects his personal creed was a kind of scientific Calvinism. There is an interesting passage in an essay written in 1892, “An Apologetic Eirenicon,” which has not been republished, which illustrates this: “It is the secret of the superiority of the best theological teachers to the majority of their opponents that they substantially recognize these realities of things, however strange the forms in which they clothe their conceptions. The doctrines of predestination, of original sin, of the innate depravity of man and the evil fate of the greater part of the race, of the primacy of Satan in this world, of the essential vileness of matter, of a malevolent Demiurgus subordinate to a benevolent Almighty, who has only lately revealed himself, faulty as they are, appear to me to be vastly nearer the truth than the ‘liberal’ popular illusions that babies are all born good, and that the example of a corrupt society is responsible for their failure to remain so; that it is given to everybody to reach the ethical ideal if he will only try; that all partial evil is universal good, and other optimistic figments, such as that which represents ‘Providence’ under the guise of a paternal philanthropist, and bids us believe that everything will come right (according to our notions) at last.” But his “slender definite creed,” R. H. Hutton, who was associated with him in the Metaphysical Society, thought—and no doubt rightly—in no respect “represented the cravings of his larger nature.”
From 1880 onwards till the very end of his life, Huxley was continuously occupied in a controversial campaign against orthodox beliefs. As Professor W. F. R. Weldon justly said of his earlier polemics: “They were certainly among the principal agents in winning a larger measure of toleration for the critical examination of fundamental beliefs, and for the free expression of honest reverent doubt.” He threw Christianity overboard bodily and with little appreciation of its historic effect as a civilizing agency. He thought that “the exact nature of the teachings and the convictions of Jesus is extremely uncertain” (Essays, v. 348). “What we are usually pleased to call religion nowadays is, for the most part, Hellenized Judaism” (Essays, iv. 162). His final analysis of what “since the second century, has assumed to itself the title of Orthodox Christianity” is a “varying compound of some of the best and some of the worst elements of Paganism and Judaism, moulded in practice by the innate character of certain people of the Western world” (Essays, v. 142). He concludes “That this Christianity is doomed to fall is, to my mind, beyond a doubt; but its fall will neither be sudden nor speedy” (l.c.). He did not omit, however, to do justice to “the bright side of Christianity,” and was deeply impressed with the life of Catherine of Siena. Failing Christianity, he thought that some other “hypostasis of men’s hopes” will arise (Essays, v. 254). His latest speculations on ethical problems are perhaps the least satisfactory of his writings. In 1892 he wrote: “The moral sense is a very complex affair—dependent in part upon associations of pleasure and pain, approbation and disapprobation, formed by education in early youth, but in part also on an innate sense of moral beauty and ugliness (how originated need not be discussed), which is possessed by some people in great strength, while some are totally devoid of it” (Life, ii. 305). This is an intuitional theory, and he compares the moral with the aesthetic sense, which he repeatedly declares to be intuitive; thus: “All the understanding in the world will neither increase nor diminish the force of the intuition that this is beautiful and this is ugly” (Essays, ix. 80). In the Romanes Lecture delivered in 1894, in which this passage occurs, he defines “law and morals” to be “restraints upon the struggle for existence between men in society.” It follows that “the ethical process is in opposition to the cosmic process,” to which the struggle for existence belongs (Essays, ix. 31). Apparently he thought that the moral sense in its origin was intuitional and in its development utilitarian. “Morality commenced with society” (Essays, v. 52). The “ethical process” is the “gradual strengthening of the social bond” (Essays, ix. 35). “The cosmic process has no sort of relation to moral ends” (l.c. p. 83); “of moral purpose I see no trace in nature. That is an article of exclusive human manufacture” (Life, ii. 268). The cosmic process Huxley identified with evil, and the ethical process with good; the two are in necessary conflict. “The reality at the bottom of the doctrine of original sin” is the “innate tendency to self-assertion” inherited by man from the cosmic order (Essays, ix. 27). “The actions we call sinful are part and parcel of the struggle for existence” (Life, ii. 282). “The prospect of attaining untroubled happiness” is “an illusion” (Essays, ix. 44), and the cosmic process in the long run will get the best of the contest, and “resume its sway” when evolution enters on its downward course (l.c. p. 45). This approaches pure pessimism, and though in Huxley’s view the “pessimism of Schopenhauer is a nightmare” (Essays, ix. 200), his own philosophy of life is not distinguishable, and is often expressed in the same language. The cosmic order is obviously non-moral (Essays, ix. 197). That it is, as has been said, immoral is really meaningless. Pain and suffering are affections which imply a complex nervous organization, and we are not justified in projecting them into nature external to ourselves. Darwin and A. R. Wallace disagreed with Huxley in seeing rather the joyous than the suffering side of nature. Nor can it be assumed that the descending scale of evolution will reproduce the ascent, or that man will ever be conscious of his doom.
As has been said, Huxley never thoroughly grasped the Darwinian principle. He thought “transmutation may take place without transition” (Life, i. 173). In other words, that evolution is accomplished by leaps and not by the accumulation of small variations. He recognized the “struggle for existence” but not the gradual adjustment of the organism to its environment which is implied in “natural selection.” In highly civilized societies he thought that the former was at an end (Essays, ix. 36) and had been replaced by the “struggle for enjoyment” (l.c. p. 40). But a consideration of the stationary population of France might have shown him that the effect in the one case may be as restrictive as in the other. So far from natural selection being in abeyance under modern social conditions, “it is,” as Professor Karl Pearson points out, “something we run up against at once, almost as soon as we examine a mortality table” (Biometrika, i. 76). The inevitable conclusion, whether we like it or not, is that the future evolution of humanity is as much a part of the cosmic process as its past history, and Huxley’s attempt to shut the door on it cannot be maintained scientifically.
Authorities.—Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, by his son Leonard Huxley (2 vols., 1900); Scientific Memoirs of T. H. Huxley (4 vols., 1898–1901); Collected Essays by T. H. Huxley (9 vols., 1898); Thomas Henry Huxley, a Sketch of his Life and Work, by P. Chalmers Mitchell, M.A. (Oxon., 1900); a critical study founded on careful research and of great value. (W. T. T.-D.)
- Nature, lxiii. 127.