The Times/1914/Obituary/Death of Mrs. Huxley
Death of Mrs. Huxley
A link with the Victorian age of science.
Mrs. Thomas Henry Huxley, whose death we announce to-day, was born on July 1, 1825. Her father was Henry Heathorn, one of a large Kentish family settled near Maidstone, and her mother Sarah Henrietta Richardson, née Harris, whose family were planters in the West Indies.
As a child, notable for an inquiring mind and character at once warm and tranquil, she owed much to her aunt, Kate Heathorn, who pushed the family length of years to an extreme, surviving till 1890, well on in her 105th year. Under the affectionate and open-minded care of this she often stayed while her father, always eager for new ventures, pursued elusive fortune For two very happy years she was at school at Neuwied on the Rhine, where mind and character ripened and the foundation was laid of that excellent knowledge of the German language and literature which she shard, later, with her husband. In 1843, at the age of 18, she and her mother and half-sister took the long voyage to Australia to join her father, who had established a brewery and a sawmill some 90 miles from Sydney. Next year, her half-sister Oriana marrying William Fanning, a Sydney merchant, she paid them a visit which lengthened out to five years, managing the household on Cook's River for her sister, an experience once variegated by a visit from bushrangers. After the Fannings returned to England came the discovery of the Australian goldfields; and under the car of her friend, Mr. Wise, she and Mrs. Wise were the first women to visit the mining camp at Bathurst.
A Long and Chequered Courtship.
It was at Sydney in 1847 that she met and became engaged to Thomas Henry Huxley, like herself just 22 years of age, then assistant surgeon and zoologist on his Majesty's ship Rattlesnake, which had been sent out under Captain Owen Stanley, brother of the famous Dean, to survey the coasts of Australia, the Louisiade Archipelago, and New Guinea. Though at last crowned with a wonderfully close and happy union of 40 years, the engagement was a long trial of faith and patience. It lasted nearly eight years. At first came separations, caused by the successive exploring voyages of the Rattlesnake, on one of which the young surgeon was only kept back by his captain's order from joining Kennedy's ill-fated expedition through the bush to Cape York. Then, when the ship sailed home. a longer separation of 4½ years ensued. letters in those days took from four to six months on the way. They told how the young investigator leaped at once into the front ranks of science and was elected F.R.S. at the age of 27; but could find no permanent post to marry on, either at home or in the Colonies. But her faith in him. her sympathy with his ideals, fortified him against the through of renouncing the unequal struggle and betaking himself to commerce and material competence. Hope long deferred was realized in 1855. On her return to England with her parents she found that Huxley had been elected to a professorship at the Royal School of Mines. But it seemed as though, after all, the reunion were to ending tragedy. She had been very ill in Australia. In the Life of Huxley it is told how he took her to one of the most famous doctors of the day, as if merely a patient he was interested in. then, as one member of the profession to another, he asked him privately his opinion of the case. "I giver her six months to live," said Æsculapius. "Well, six months of not," replied Huxley, "she is going to be my wife."
Huxley's Second Self.
But happiness, and the tough constitution of the Heathrons, gradually prevailed, and for 40 years, though never robust, she was to her husband a second self, sharing his long struggles, warming his inspiration, and sustaining his toil. This mutual devotion was summed up on the following words by her husband, when once in his later years he was travelling abroad, and letters had failed to reach him:—"Ulysses preferred his old women to immortality, and this absence has led me to see that he was as wise in that as in other things."
In Huxley's scientific work, her knowledge of German was often of great use. At one time she helped to translate special articles for the scientific reviews, and always her sound literary sense and demand for entire clearness of statement made her his chosen fireside critic. The scientific circles into which she entered by marriage were naturally a strange world to her. but she soon adapted herself to them, and by her singleness of aim her straightforward character, her wise sympathy and native humour, she won many lifelong friends and helped to make the well-known Sunday evening at 4, Marlborough-place a centre of friendship and good talk. In old age she attracted a new circle of friends of all ages, and, with a vivacity that never failed, kept up a correspondence of delightful nonsense with some of her grandchildren.
The cares of a large and growing family pushed into the background her own literary impulses, which had shown themselves in youthful verse and translations. An excellent translation of "Kater Moor" never found time for completion. At one time she wrote nonsense verses for the children, illustrated by her husband's fertile pencil, and, later, a couple of stories to the series of animal drawings by one of her daughters. Later still, when the family had gone out into the world, she began anew to write verse, full of genuine feeling and thought, though, for want of practice, with occasional carelessness of technique. This, and a revival of her music, made a spring of vital interest for the last 10 or 12 years of her life. Probably she was unique in publishing a volume of verse at 86. Indeed a poem of hers, written a few weeks ago, appears in the current number of the English Review.
For 19 years after her husband's death she lived on at Eastbourne, in the house he had built for her home, full of the memories that, from being poignant, gradually grew sunny in the retrospect. Here she put together the little volume of "Aphorisms and Reflections from the writings of T. H. Huxley," which enshrine his finest sayings. Bright, cheerful, happy to the last in her literary creation, in the reminiscences of old days, and the visits of family and friends, bearing inevitable aches and pains with a humorous fortitude, she gave a wonderful example of a beautiful and inspiring old age following a strenuous life.
Her eldest son, Mr. Leonard Huxley, who was formerly assistant master at Charterhouse, Godalming, and is now reader to Smith, Elder and Co.,is the author of "The Life of Huxley" (1900) another works. Two of her daughters were married to the Hon. John Collier—Marian, in 1879, and Ethel Gladys, in 1889.
The funeral will take place at Marylebone Cemetery, East Finchley, either to-morrow or Wednesday.