Sir Julian Huxley Bridged Biology and Humanity

By Sorkhabi, Rasoul | The World and I, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Sir Julian Huxley Bridged Biology and Humanity


Sorkhabi, Rasoul, The World and I


"If I am to be remembered, I hope it will not be primarily for my specialized scientific work, but as a generalist; one to whom, enlarging Terence's words, nothing human, and nothing in external nature, was alien."--Julian Huxley, "Memories" (1970)

Julian Sorell Huxley came from a family of distinguished scientists and intellectuals in Britain. His younger brother, Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), became a world famous novelist with such works as "Brave New World." His father, Leonard Huxley (1860-1933), was a prolific editor of "Cornhill Magazine" and several literary works. His paternal grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), was a well-known biologist of the nineteenth century who defended and popularized Darwin's theory of organic evolution. Julian's maternal grandfather, Thomas Arnold, Jr. (1823-1900), was a historian, the brother of the renowned poet Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), and a son of Thomas Arnold, Sr. (1795-1842), an English educator and the headmaster of Rugby. The union of the Huxley and Arnold families was thus a union of science and literature as well.

That science may run in a family is not unique to the Huxleys, but that each intellectual giant in the lifeline of a family would be comfortable with both sciences and humanities is rare. Consider these quotes from the Huxleys: "Science and literature are not two wings, but two sides of the same thing" (Thomas Huxley); "No sensible man of science imagines for a moment that the scientific point of view is the only one. Art and literature, religion and human studies, are other ways of exploring and describing the world" (Julian Huxley); "The great truth [is] that art and literature and science are one" (Aldous Huxley). If we need to close gaps between the sciences and the humanities, the Huxleys' experience is noteworthy, and Julian Huxley's life and his school of thought, which he called "evolutionary humanism," are particularly outstanding.

Early years

Julian Huxley was born on June 22, 1887 in the house of his aunt in London. He was the first child of Leonard Huxley and Julia Arnold. He grew up in the Surrey countryside near Charterhouse, and developed an interest in plants and animals. His grandfather Thomas Huxley once remarked: "Julian evidently inclines to biology--how I should like to train him!"

He started his elementary education at Miss Daw's school in 1892. The following year, the family moved to the New Laleham, close to Charterhouse. At the age of eleven, Julian entered Hillside Preparatory School in Goldalming, Surrey, as a dayboy. In 1900, he went to study at Eton College with King's scholarship. In 1906, he studied German in Heidelberg during the summer, and entered Balliol College at Oxford with scholarship. In 1908, Julian received the Newdigate Prize for English Verse at Oxford; characteristically, he spent the 50 [pounds sterling] prize money on a binocular microscope! The same year, his mother, who had founded Prior's Field School seven years earlier, died of cancer at an untimely age. The Huxleys moved to London in 1909. Leonard Huxley married Rosalind Bruce in 1912 and had two sons from her, David and Arnold. Thus, Julian had two half-brothers in addition to his siblings Trevenen (born in 1889), Aldous (born 1894) and Margaret (born 1899).

The making of a biologist

At Oxford, Julian threw himself into studies with zest, receiving many honors and specializing in biology. He was fortunate to have a number of very good teachers, including the biologists Geoffrey Smith and J. W. Jenkinson, who deeply influenced Huxley's scientific career. Julian graduated in Natural Science (B.A. in zoology, First Class) from Oxford in 1909, and also received an annual award for research work at the Zoological Station in Naples, Italy. In the same year, Julian attended a scientific gathering at Cambridge on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Darwin's "Origin of Species. …

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