Popular Science Monthly/Volume 11/October 1877/Huxley's American Lectures
|HUXLEY'S AMERICAN LECTURES.|
THE five addresses which have been recently brought out by Prof. Huxley in the form of a small volume were delivered under very varied conditions, and deal with subjects widely separate from one another. Three of them form a series of lectures on the doctrine of Evolution, and were delivered by the author at New York in September, last year. These were the only popular scientific lectures which Prof Huxley would allow himself to undertake during his summer holiday devoted to a tour in the United States. The "Address on University Education" was delivered at the formal opening of the Johns Hopkins University, at Baltimore, during the same visit. The concluding lecture of the present volume was delivered in connection with the Loan Collection of Scientific Apparatus at South Kensington in December, last year, and deals with the study of Biology.
The range of topics thus indicated is wide enough to give us samples of all the moods of Prof. Huxley's vigorous and eloquent style. As compared with his previously-published addresses and essays, we find no diminution of power, no less artistic care in the arrangement of materials, no less cogency of argument and stern insistence on the appeal to facts rather than to a priori considerations, nor can we detect any indication that as he grows older the author is more timid in face of those "logical consequences" of his teaching—the bugbears of some, but the beacons of other, philosophers. Perhaps—and this is more especially noticeable in the lectures on Evolution—there is less of that playful treatment of opponents and their transgressions—that sudden but graceful discomfiture of his adversary by the unexpected production of a quaint though close-fitting illustration—which in former writings gave a pungency and aroma to Prof. Huxley's pages no less fascinating than peculiarly their own.
In the three lectures on Evolution, the history of Nature is made the subject of a closely-reasoned inquiry. Three current hypotheses—the Uniformitarian, the Miltonic, and the Evolutional—are recognized, and their respective claims to our acceptance discussed. The paleontological evidence in favor of the hypothesis of Evolution forms the subject of the second and third lectures, and with great skill the opportunity is used in order to bring before an American audience in the most forcible way two very important and interesting American discoveries of recent date. America is, indeed, rapidly becoming the headquarters of paleontological research. Prof. Huxley's own discoveries regarding the genealogical connection of birds and reptiles form an important argument in favor of the hypothesis of Evolution, and in placing this argument before his audience he was able to explain to them at some length the interesting new fossil birds obtained by Prof. Marsh, of Yale College, from the cretaceous rocks of Western America. The structure of two of these birds, Hesperornis and Icthyornis which possessed, unlike all other birds, distinct conical teeth imbedded in their jaws, is illustrated by woodcuts in the printed lecture. Now that the principle has been admitted, we may hope to see an illustrated edition of some of the lectures which were issued in preceding volumes without woodcuts.
The second American discovery which is brought to bear on the hypothesis of Evolution, and forms, indeed, part of what Prof Huxley calls the "demonstrative evidence of Evolution," relates to the pedigree of the horse, and is also due to Prof. Marsh. Strangely enough, America, which within the historic period is remarkable for the absence of indigenous horses, and the fertility within her borders of the wild-horses descended from domesticated ancestors of the Old World, is even more remarkable for having buried in her soil a greater number and variety of fossil horses than any that the Old World can show. Eohippus and Orohippus from the American Eocene deposits, and Mesohippus from the American Miocene deposits, are most important links in the series (the later members of which are Pliohippus, Hipparion, and Anchitherium, found also in European Tertiary strata), connecting the living one-toed genus Equus with a typically five-toed ancestor common to it and other ungulate mammals. The structure of the feet and teeth of this series of forms, which furnish demonstrative evidence of the evolution of the horse by progressive modification, is placed before the reader in its main features with great clearness, and the description is notably assisted by a full-page woodcut.
The choice of the term "Miltonic" in place of any other for what is sometimes termed the "Mosaic" account or hypothesis of creation, and the statement of the reasons which have led to that choice, are samples of a kind of serious jesting in which Prof. Huxley shows infinite skill and delicacy. There is no doubt, he urges, as to Milton's view of the history of creation, as given in his great poem. On the other hand, were a writer to call this the "Biblical doctrine," he "would be met by the authority of many eminent scholars, to say nothing of men of science, who at various times have absolutely denied that any such doctrine is to be found in Genesis." In fact, we are told by these authorities that the six days of Genesis are six periods that we may make just as long or as short as convenience requires. "A person," says Prof. Huxley, "who is not a Hebrew scholar can only stand aside and admire the marvelous flexibility of a language which admits of such diverse interpretations." The term "Mosaic," in reference to the same doctrine, Prof. Huxley also considers objectionable, because "we are now assured upon the authority of the highest critics, and even of dignitaries of the Church, that there is no evidence that Moses wrote the book of Genesis, or knew anything about it."
The Baltimore address gives us a sketch of the writer's ideal of primary education, of university education, and especially of medical education—how to encourage research, and how best to fill vacancies in a professoriate. He does not hold the view that "you can go into the market and buy research, and that supply will follow demand, as in the ordinary course of commerce." His conviction is that "the best investigators are usually those who have also the responsibilities of instruction." Very valuable for other universities than that of Baltimore are Prof. Huxley's few words of advice on "buildings." "Get an honest bricklayer, and make him build you just such rooms as you really want, leaving ample space for extension." When
The South Kensington lecture contains some strong pleading for the study of Biology, as a subject of deep importance to the community. Among other illustrations of its importance it is urged that thereby alone are men able to form something like a rational conception of what constitutes valuable criticism of the teachings of biologists. "Brilliant articles" are from time to time written by "paper-philosophers" devoid of even the elements of biological knowledge, and the teachings of biologists are demolished, while the weathercock heads among us are. Prof. Huxley tells us, much exercised by the "winds of doctrine" let loose in the said articles. Turning, however, to his favorite storehouse of metaphor, he finds that the brilliancy of the writers "is like the light given out by the crackling of thorns under a pot, of which Solomon speaks." Solomon makes use of the-image for purposes of comparison, but Prof. Huxley politely abstains from proceeding further into detail.
The study of Biology which is here advocated is practical study of the actual phenomena presented by plants and animals.
The rationale of the demand for practical teaching in all branches of science—a demand to which it is exceedingly difficult to get those who have the direction of educational institutions in this country to accede—has never been stated with more simple force than in the above extract.
Like all his writings, this last volume by Prof. Huxley presents him to us in the aspect of a sure-footed resolute guide who, with a firm hand, takes us up an endless variety of the peaks of social and scientific problems, hard to be scaled. He brings his reader skillfully up to the summit, explains the prospect, and carefully deposits him again in his proper place. There are few excursions, where a little exertion is needful, so exhilarating and profitable, so much to be recommended to the traveler among questions of the day, as those which are accessible through the good offices of Prof. Huxley.—The Academy.