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Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley — Volume 1   By: (1825-1895)

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The American edition of the "Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley" calls for a few words by way of preface, for there existed a particular relationship between the English writer and his transatlantic readers.

From the time that his "Lay Sermons" was published his essays found in the United States an eager audience, who appreciated above all things his directness and honesty of purpose and the unflinching spirit in which he pursued the truth. Whether or not, as some affirm, the American public "discovered" Mr. Herbert Spencer, they responded at once to the influence of the younger evolutionary writer, whose wide and exact knowledge of nature was but a stepping stone to his interest in human life and its problems. And when, a few years later, after more than one invitation, he came to lecture in the United States and made himself personally known to his many readers, it was this widespread response to his influence which made his welcome comparable, as was said at the time, to a royal progress.

His own interest in the present problems of the country and the possibilities of its future was always keen, not merely as touching the development of a vast political force one of the dominant factors of the near future but far more as touching the character of its approaching greatness. Huge territories and vast resources were of small interest to him in comparison with the use to which they should be put. None felt more vividly than he that the true greatness of a nation would depend upon the spirit of the principles it adopted, upon the character of the individuals who make up the nation and shape the channels in which the currents of its being will hereafter flow.

This was the note he struck in the appeal for intellectual sincerity and clearness which he made at the end of his New York "Lectures on Evolution." The same note dominates that letter to his sister a Southerner by adoption which gives his reading of the real issue at stake in the great civil war. Slavery is bad for the slave, but far worse for the master, as sapping his character and making impossible that moral vigour of the individual on which is based the collective vigour of the nation.

The interest with which he followed the later development of social problems need not be dwelt on here, except to say that he watched their earlier maturity in America as an indication of the problems which would afterwards call for a solution in his own country. His share in treating them was limited to examining the principles of social philosophy on which some of the proposed remedies for social troubles were based, and this examination may be found in his "Collected Essays." But the educational campaign which he carried on in England had its counterpart in America. It was not only that he was chosen to open the Johns Hopkins University as the type of a new form of education; there and elsewhere pupils of his carried out in America his methods of teaching biology, while others engaged in general education would write testifying to the influence of his ideas upon their own methods of teaching. But it must be remembered that nothing was further from his mind than the desire to found a school of thought. He only endeavoured as a scholar and a student to clear up his own thoughts and help others to clear theirs, whether in the intellectual or the moral world. This was the help he steadfastly hoped to give the people, that interacting union of intellectual freedom and moral discernment which may be furthered by good education and training, by precept and example, that basis of all social health and prosperity. And if, as he said, he would like to be remembered as one who had done his best to help the people, he meant assuredly not the people only of his native land, but the wider world to whom his words could be carried.

PREFACE TO THE ENGLISH EDITION... Continue reading book >>

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