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THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF T. H. HUXLEY
By Mary E. Woolley, Litt.D., LL.D.
“ANYTHING I can do to help in raising a memorial to Carlyle shall be most willingly done. Few men can have dissented more strongly from his way of looking at things than I; but I should not yield to the most devoted of his followers in gratitude for the bracing wholesome influence of his writings when, as a very young man, I was essaying without rudder or compass to strike out a course for myself," writes Thomas Huxley.
The influence of The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, is described by his own words regarding the writings of Thomas Carlyle. One may dissent from certain conclusions reached by Huxley, but cannot fail to feel the stimulation and inspiration of his life. To live in such an atmosphere is be influenced for better and higher things. First-it stimulates to earnest, purposeful living. Huxley had the "whip inside him." Of his schooling he writes, “I had two years of a Pandemonium of a school (between 8 and 10) and after that, neither help nor sympathy in any intellectual direction till I reached manhood.” Perseverance, painstaking thoroughness were characteristic of him from very early manhood. Hardly more than a boy when he set before himself a high ideal of accomplishment, he never relaxed his effort, or took his eyes from the goal. No man better illustrated the "strength of drudgery well done." To a fellow examiner about a proposed appointee to that post he wrote, “I have the gravest doubt about steadily plodding through the disgustful weariness of it, as you and I have done”; to a young man "with aspirations after an intellectual career", “The learning to do work of practical value in the world, in an exact and careful manner, is of itself a very important education, the effects of which make themselves felt in all other pursuits. The habit of doing that which you do not care about, when
you would much rather be doing something else, is invaluable.'
Fundamental in Huxley's character and fundamental in the influence of his life was that “hatred of shame and love of veracity,” which he attributed largely to the influence of Carlyle. No one can read his life without feeling the tonic of this high moral quality. Above all else he put the importance of discovering truth, that we are “morally bound to 'try all things and hold fast to that which is good.'
Acquaintance with such a life stimulates to liberality in the attitude toward others, as well as to more earnest, purposeful living. It is said of Huxley that he had a “singular candor in recognizing truths which might seem to militate against his own position, and power of understanding and respecting his adversaries' opinions. He was also singularly generous in his estimate of others. Of“Chinese Gordon" and Charles Darwin he wrote, “Of all the people whom I have met within my life, he (Chinese Gordon) and Darwin are the two in whom I have found something bigger than ordinary humanity-an unequaled simplicity and directness of purpose a sublime unselfishness."
Breadth of interests was equally characteristic and his life is a lesson to those who are in danger of becoming narrow specialists. His service to education in general was only second to his service to science and to scientific training. His influence in establishing the laboratory system and in promoting the practical teaching of biology, “can hardly be overestimated,” but in addition, he was instrumental in the introduction into the schools of drawing, kindergarten methods, object lessons and elementary science, shorthand, manual training for boys, domestic economy for girls, evening continuation classes. He gave much time and thought to social conditions; in fact, nothing human was foreign to him.
The influence of such a life makes also for a broader and finer culture. Huxley had a "remarkable power of speaking,” lucidity of style, both in speaking and writing, a style formed by the most painstaking effort. “Be clear, though you may be convicted of error, was his instruction; he said of his essays that he sometimes wrote them six times before getting them into order. His conversation was described as
“singularly finished-clean cut-enlivened by vivid illustration," characterized by a “sense of humor and economy of
The study of the life of Huxley is an inspiration to grace and beauty as well as dignity of living. Leslie Stephens said of him to one of his sons, “I never came from your house without thinking how good he is; what a tender and affectionate nature the man has! It did me good simply to see him"; and another friend wrote, “I can truly say that I never knew a man whose way of speaking to his family, whose manner in his own home was fuller of a noble, loving, and withal playful courtesy." He teaches the art of living earnestly, without taking life too seriously. His humor was irresistible; one of his little grandchildren, a mite with whom he was "trying to ingratiate himself with a vast deal of nonsense,” said, “Well, you are the curious'test old man I ever seen. Love of children, love of humanity, was a ruling power, saving him from narrowness and austerity.
The influence of such a life emphasizes moral and spiritual values, as well as intellectual. It was said of him that he was “almost a fanatic for the sanctity of truth”; his attitude toward children was a "union of underlying tenderness veiled beneath an inflexible determination for what was right”; "what he counted iniquity he hated and what he counted righteous he loved with the candor of a child.” Serving on the Board of Education and giving generously of his time because a friend of children, he interested himself not only in secular studies, but even more in what would help in the development of the moral and spiritual nature. He wrote, “True education is impossible without religion”;-“After all, the reproach made to the English people that they care for nothing but religion and politics' is rather to their credit. In the long run these are the two things that ought to interest a man more than any others”; “Atheism is, on purely scientific grounds, untenable"; and, agnostic as he was on the question of immortality, “It is a curious thing that I find my dislike to the thought of extinction increasing as I get older and nearer the goal."
The estimate which he set upon character, is indicated in his epitaph upon Henslow, “He had intellect to comprehend
his highest duty distinctly, and force of character to do it; which of us dare ask for a higher summary of his life than that?”
To live for a time in the bracing wholesome influence of a great life, is one of the chief values of reading autobiographies. It is next to living in the actual presence of the life itself, gives a sense of reality of the person, and of nearness to his influence not felt in any other way. It is tonic, invigorating, helping in the formation of good habits, emphasizing the things that are worth while, giving a truer perspective of values, indicating the supreme importance of hard work, earnest purpose, high ideals. Above all, the autobiography makes vivid the realization that character is the cornerstone of a truly great life.
THE FOREMOST OF NON-CHRISTIAN HISTORIANS
(INTRODUCTORY NOTE) Few men have risen to such height in the world of modern literature and philosophy as did Ernest Renan; and few autobiographies have been so widely read as his "Recollections of Youth.” Renan was a native of Brittany in France, educated for the priesthood. His studies of history early led him to doubt the solidity of the evidence for the events then commonly accepted as constituting the early history of Christianity. Renan therefore withdrew from the Church and devoted himself to literature and historical study. In 1863 he published his “Life of Jesus, a bold and perhaps irreverent work in which he discards all traditionary teachings and builds up a life on the basis of the few facts indisputably established about the Christ, supplemented by a large amount of Renan's own poetic imagination. The book had a profound influence upon its time and was highly lauded by many French critics but strongly opposed by the French Church. In subsequent more extended works Renan confirmed the position won for him by the “Life of Jesus.” His chief later works were his “History of the Jews” and “Origins of Christianity.” He became widely recognized as the ablest writer of his day. Whatever view later ages may take of his religious attitude, there can be no question of his literary brilliancy, and his “Recollections of Youth," published in 1883, will always be treasured for its high poetic beauty and romance.
Outside his tempestuous literary career Renan lived a quiet and, he assures us, very happy home life. The French government sent him on learned research expeditions to Asia and appointed him a university professor, though he was not actually installed in his professional duties until late in life. A, V. 15—1