Huxley the Public Figure

  • Michael Collie


For Thomas Henry Huxley (who will now be called Huxley throughout), the essential foundation for a scientific career was hard work. He subscribed to the work ethic of his peers. Something was bound to come of the effort, if one applied oneself in a disciplined way to a chosen task; work produced results and the compulsion to work needed no further justification. Inspiration and insight were all very well, but steady application was the way to get things done. If there were some fields of academic enquiry that could be advanced by speculative brilliance, there were others that yielded their truths to steady, disciplined, informed, day-by-day investigation, and Huxley vastly preferred the latter. The exercise of work-bench palaeontology suited his character. For this type of science to be effective, though, one had to know what other people were doing, keep in touch with them, weigh and respond to their ideas, read their papers and books — all of which took time and self-discipline. In fact, it took most of the time there was, and Huxley, particularly in his earlier professional years, seems to have begrudged the merely social hours that had nothing to do with science. Not for him the mercurial assimilation of ideas of the bar-room wit; he preferred to retire to his own study to work out a line of thought, limited though it might at first seem to be, that could not be faulted on either logical or factual grounds. He tended to be highly critical of anyone else’s line of argument if it could be so faulted.


Geological Society Royal Institution Scientific Career Public Figure Factual Ground 
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Copyright information

© Michael Collie 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Collie
    • 1
  1. 1.York UniversityTorontoCanada

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