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The Path of Fame

During the long voyages, Huxley dredged the seas to collect specimens. He dissected them and made drawings of their structure. He wrote manuscripts describing their anatomy and function, which he mailed back to England whenever they made port. Many of his papers described unknown species: mollusks, crustaceans, jellyfish, anemone , siphonophore, insects, spiders, and millipedes. He wrote long monographs that summarized large groups of species, such as the Mollusks and Coelenterates (jellyfish). He was at sea, often for months at a time, 12,000 miles from home in England. It was not unusual for him to wait a year or more to find out if his manuscript had been accepted for publication by the journal to which he mailed it. He knew even less about the stir he was causing back home in England. He was becoming a scientific celebrity because of his rigorous scholarship, beautiful drawings, and the novelty of the new species he was describing.

Like most sailors, Huxley sometimes cruised the dance halls and crashed private parties looking for a social life. Rather than picking up a few shallow friends, Huxley fell hopelessly in love with an Australian girl, Henrietta. "Nettie," as he called her, was poetic, artistic, well read, and religious. She likewise loved Thomas but seldom got to see him. He was at sea for as long as eight months at a time. Yet, she remained faithful for years before they finally had enough money to marry.

Huxley pressed on, ambitiously pursuing his science. He realized that a Navy life was not for him and Nettie and that science was his way out. He wanted a professorship back home that would allow him and Nettie to make a home in England and allow him to pursue "big league" science. He sent some of his papers to influential people, such as Sir Burnett, who had initially given him the Navy job, and asked him to submit it to the prestigious Royal Society.

Fame Has Arrived in England

Huxley’s ship was finally ordered home to England. Thomas left Nettie behind in Australia, for he had no funds for her transport or to make a home for her. 

By now, Huxley did have a reputation for excellence. He found some patrons who introduced him around the scientific elite in England. He got some modest funding. Then came funding from the government. Best of all, he was invited to give talks about his research at sea. Huxley discovered that he had a talent for speech-making. He not only started moving in elite scientific circles but he became a great popularizer of science. His talks about mollusks, jellyfish, and the like were enjoyed by non-scientists too. Huge crowds attended his public lectures. You might say that Huxley was like the Carl Sagan of his day.


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