Portraits of the Pioneers: Sir Julian Huxley – FRS Evolution and Eugenics

John Timson
Galton Institute

Julian Sorell Huxley (1887-1975), one of the outstanding biologists of the 20th century, was a Life Fellow of the Eugenics Society from 1925, its President 1959-62, and is the only person ever to have given two Galton Lectures, in 1936 and 1962. He was also, at various times, Professor of Zoology at King’s College, London, Secretary of the Zoological Society of London, and the first Director-General of UNESCO. His scientific interests, as shown in his many publications, included courtship in birds, the biology of cancer, ants, genetics, systematics, ecology, and conservation.(1) To describe Huxley as a polymath is true but barely adequate. To few is given the inheritance, biological and social, that was his, and he made good use of it.(2)

Although he worked in many biological fields with great success there was a central theme to Huxley’s life and work: evolution. His grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), was one of the first to appreciate that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection would transform biology and ultimately influence profoundly many other disciplines. He became Darwin’s chief supporter in England, being known to the Victorian public as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’. At the 1860 British Association meeting in Oxford he defended evolution in an historic debate with the then Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce. In his Technical Education, published in 1877, T.H. Huxley wrote “The great end of life is not knowledge but action”. Julian Huxley’s work for eugenics, conservation, and at UNESCO suggests that he too believed that knowledge should be put to practical use. His work may also have, indirectly, inspired one of the most enduring science fiction novels of the 20th century.

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More information on Julian Huxley

Quotes on UNESCO: Its purpose and Its Philosophy

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