Indiana University Bloomington

Case no. 3: Anti-Evolutionists.

On November 23, 1859, the day before Origin of Species appeared, Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), the son of a rural schoolmaster and lecturer at the Royal School of Mines, “sharpened up” his “claws and beak in readiness” to defend Darwin. And so he did, both in reviews and in public appearances, with a determination that earned him the nickname “Darwin’s bulldog.” It was Huxley who ventured where Darwin initially feared to tread, emphasizing the continuity between humans and their ape-like progenitors. On September 30, 1860, at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, before an audience of 1,000, Huxley took on the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce. Accounts of the event differ, but apparently the purple-vested Bishop, nicknamed “Soapy Sam” for his slipperiness in ecclesiastical arguments, had asked Huxley whether the apes were on his grandfather’s or grandmother’s side. Spurred on by chants from the audience, Huxley, a slight, tall, pale man, “very quiet and grave,” rose and, quivering with anger, responded: “If then ... the question is put to me would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means of influence & yet who employs these faculties & that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion, I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape.” The audience, erupting into “inextinguishable laughter,” was his (Thomas Huxley to Frederick Dyster, September 9, 1860).