Eminent Victorian Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), biologist and writer, is best known today as Darwin’s greatest advocate and patriarch of a family of successful scientists and writers. Many of his Lectures and Lay Sermons and other writings can still be read today with pleasure and profit. He received little formal education and was self-taught. Physical evidence revealing how he made himself into Darwin’s “Bulldog” came to light at BTC when we came across a copy of an astrological treatise with extensive annotations in Huxley’s hand. They date from 1842, when he was 17, during his self-described Lehrjahre. Here is one particularly fulsome example:
Since we know from Huxley’s Autobiography that he “read everything he could lay his hands on in this father’s library,” and that it was his practice to make “copious notes” of “all things [he] read,” here is proof that he wasn’t kidding! The book, an English translation of Placido Titi’s Primum Mobile, must have come from his father’s library.
Placido Titi (d. 1668) was an Italian monk who served as philosopher and mathematician to Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria. He is of the best known astrologers of the 17th century. He enjoyed widespread appeal among Europe’s leading mathematicians, including England’s John Cooper, whose 1812 translation of the Primum Mobile was intended to “restore Placidus to his primitive purity,” and advance science “to every candid inquirer after truth.” That is a fair description of Huxley as a young man. Based on the number of underlings, check marks, mathematical calculations and textual annotations in Huxley’s hand, he clearly read this book well.
The annotation pictured here is signed and dated “T. Huxley / Leamington, Warwickshire / Sept. 14, 1842.” As he began a medical apprenticeship at age 15, these annotations from when he was 17 provide a rare glimpse into the mind of Huxley when he was dividing his time between London’s East End and Grove Fields (a farmhouse) at Leamington. It was a period when he was most strongly influenced by Thomas Carlyle and German metaphysics. In particular, he was shaping himself after Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. Also in 1842, we know from a notebook that Huxley was sketching a comprehensive “Classification of Knowledge.” Here is what he writes about the Deluge, a subject on which he took a radically different view as Darwin’s Bulldog:
“Lastly, Astrology, is without doubt an holy and Divine Science and is of Antediluvian origin innately given to Adam at his formation and creation of life, and was carefully handed down by the Antediluvians to the days of Noah, at which Mundane catastrophy, a very great portion of this divine science was inevitably lost, together with a many other valuable sciences and arts…not long after the deluge Ham… went and resided in Egypt by which means a portion of the Antediluvian knowledge was preserved in Egypt by their Hieroglyphic Language…”
There follows further speculations about the additional loss of “Arts and Sciences” when the mode of preserving knowledge changed from “Hieroglyphics” to “the use of Phonetic Characters,” and at the burning of “that vast and prodigious Alexandrian Library.” He adds near the end, “…the wisest man of the present age is nothing more than an ignorant Fool in comparison to the Antediluvians…”
We must leave it there, as we cannot transcribe all three pages of Huxley’s very neat and very small handwriting, but here is a maxim characteristic of the older Huxley, which he wrote in just below the letterpress quotation near the bottom of the page:
“…no Man is a greater Enemy than he is to himself, for most men are the cause of their own calamity.”