Eyeing the Prize
'IF HE HAS A FAULT, it is that, like Caesar, he is ambitious'. The Spectator was right, of course. The poor boy was still scrambling out of the ghetto. His ascent had been like a furious alpine climb. But by 1868 Huxley had scaled his way to the summit. He had come a long way since his birthday above a butcher's shop.
He was a new middle-class hero, whose wit tingled with patriotism and whose wisdom served the Dissenting elite. His ferocity was a reflection on the intransigent old order. Unable to call up professional backing, refusing to tug on patronage strings, he had forced his own way into society, pinking the old gents and pushing them aside with 'that slashing rapier of his': 'cutting up monkeys was his forte, and cutting up men was his foible', the Pall Mall Gazette observed. But the immovable grindstone of society had honed his blade.
There was another public side, and 1868 was a watershed there too. Thirty years earlier, the long-haired apprentice had been horrified by the dockland degradation. These no-go areas of starving wretches continued to haunt society. But Huxley's outstretched hand had turned the menacing labourers into backers for his Great technocratic Britain. 'I am a plebeian', he reassured them, 'and I stand by my order'. 1
The 'plebeian' became Principal Huxley in 1868, head of his own Working Men's College. His benefactors were Maurice's ubiquitous Christian Socialists. There could be no more concrete proof of their good intentions, however questionable Huxley thought their co-operative politics. On 4 January he inaugurated this small South London college, which was situated across the Thames, on the Blackfriars Road. Lubbock and Tyndall sat on the