Huxley, Julian Sorell
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 S. Huxley, Memories
Julian Sorell Huxley, the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley and great-nephew of Matthew Arnold, was born June 22, 1887. The union of the Huxley and Arnold families brought about a happy combination of what Julian's younger brother Aldous would call blue genes, but the combined family traditions also imposed an obligation of intellectual excellence and social responsibility. This obligation was keenly felt by Julian Huxley from an early age. It was enhanced by his affinity for the interests which had earned his grandfather his place in the history of science, and thus, it soon became apparent that young Julian would be Thomas Huxley's intellectual heir as well as his grandson. This inheritance would prove both a joy and a burden, for while Julian Huxley achieved great renown as a scientist and popularizer of science, he was plagued, like his grandfather, by serious and debilitating attacks of depression. In spite of this he was able, throughout a long career, to contribute significantly to the fields of ethology, ecology and cancer research, and to act effectively as a powerful proponent of neo-Darwinism.
He was educated at Eton and Oxford, where he followed his own inclinations and his grandfather's example by studying Natural Science. His scientific interests were combined with literary talents which were officially recognized in 1908, when he was awarded the Newdigate Prize for English Verse at Oxford, an honor which he remembered with pride even after a lifetime of honors and accomplishments. (It is note-worthy and characteristic that he spent his prize money on a microscope.)
After completing his schooling, he began his career at the institution which had taught him: in 1910, he became a lecturer in Zoology at Oxford. Two years later, however, he departed from the course traditional to a young man of his academic interests and social background. He left England and Oxford to accept a position as Research Associate at the newly established Rice Institute in Houston, Texas, and by 1913 he had become Assistant Professor of Biology there. He remained in Houston until 1916 when he returned to Europe to take part in World War I.
After serving as an army intelligence officer in Italy, he came home to marry and to take up a position as Senior Demonstrator in Zoology at Oxford. From 1919 to 1925 he remained at Oxford, carrying out his famous axolotl experiments and participating in the university's expedition to Spitsbergen. In 1925 he became Professor of Zoology at King's College, University of London. But he did not remain long in that position. The following year he made a decision which, like his decision to teach at the Rice Institute, would move him away from the path followed by most of his fellow scientists. He accepted the invitation of H.G. Wells to collaborate on what would become The Science of Life, and in 1927 resigned his position at King's College. This meant a new direction for his career, for although he was Fullerian Professor of Physiology in the Royal Institution from 1927 to 1929, after that he held no academic position. For ten years he was a private person working to advance his ideas about the biological sciences not as a researcher nor as a teacher, but as a writer on scientific developments and their relationship to contemporary social issues.
In 1935 he accepted the position of Secretary of the Zoological Society of London. In this capacity he had the means to encourage solid research on animal behavior while introducing innovative methods for implementing his vision of the zoo as an educational institution. Unfortunately his leadership aroused the displeasure of some members of the Society, and in 1942 he resigned under pressure. He continued, however, his work as a writer and lecturer and was known throughout war-time Britain for his participation as a panel member of the BBC Brains Trust program.
The end of the war brought an opportunity for him to put many of his cherished ideals and projects into practice. True to family tradition, he had always viewed science, art and literature as part of a great whole. Thus when he became a member of the commission formed to plan what would become Unesco, he ensured that science would be an integral part of the educational and cultural institution. When in 1946 he became Unesco's first Director-General, he set out a program cosmopolitan in vision, one concerned with mankind in relationship with nature and with its past, one in which art and science were equally valued. He even went so far as to advocate his own solution to the troubling questions of modern society, his religion of scientific humanism, as an official basis for Unesco's philosophy. This he himself came later to find unwise. During his tenure as Director-General he also began to articulate fully the concerns which would occupy the later years of his life: the relation of overpopulation to poverty and ignorance, the necessity for the conservation of wilderness and wildlife, and the importance of the renunciation of parochial views on religion and politics. Finally, he came to stress even more strongly than before his optimistic belief that mankind can and should take control of its own environmental and biological destiny.
In 1948 his term of office with Unesco came to an end and Huxley was once again a private citizen. The remainder of his life was spent traveling, lecturing and writing in support of the causes to which he was devoted: evolutionary theory and its significance for potential human development, ecology and the preservation of wildlife and population control. He was honored often for his contributions to science and to society, receiving prizes and awards for his efforts in helping the general public to better understand contemporary scientific thought. In 1958 he received a knighthood. In 1965, in a culmination of work he began in his youth with his field studies of the behavior of the great crested grebe, he organized a Royal Society Symposium on the Ritualization of Behavior in Animals and Man, and in 1970 he received the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Gold Medal for outstanding contributions to scientific research related to conservation.
On February 14, 1975, at the age of 87, Sir Julian Huxley died. His life had been long, beginning in the Victorian era and ending in a world which his grandfather could scarcely have imagined. He served many of the causes with which the 20th century will no doubt become identified, and his influence on the development of contemporary biological science was considerable. Through his field studies of animal behavior and his synthetic approach to Darwinian evolutionary theory and Mendelian genetics, he helped determine the direction of modern biology. As an educator his influence was incalculable, for he taught not only such men as E.B. Ford and A.C. Hardy, but through his writings, perhaps millions of men and women as well. He was, moreover, known for his encouragement of aspiring scientists and scholars. In his catholic interests, in his belief in the interrelationship of science and arts, he extended his influence beyond the laboratory of the classroom and reached artists, writers, musicians, politicians and finally the general public. Such interests and such influence indicate that his desire to be known as one to whom nothing human and nothing in external nature was alien was fulfilled.
From the guide to the Julian Sorell Huxley papers MS 50., 1899-1980, (Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University, Houston, TX)
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