Julian Huxley, general biology and the London Zoo, 1935–42

Joe Cain


While Secretary of the Zoological Society of London (1935–42), Julian Huxley used that institution to undertake several types of reform related to his promotion of ‘general biology’. Huxley's goal was to place synthetic, analytical and explanatory work at the centre of the life sciences. Here, zoological specifics served only as instances of generic processes. Huxley's campaigning fitted both into his own lifelong obsession with synoptic views and into much larger transformations in the epistemic culture of the life sciences during the interwar years. However, such campaigns also had their detractors, and the Zoological Society of London provides a superb example of the backlash provoked against these reforms. In 1942 that backlash led directly to Huxley's dismissal as Secretary of that society. This episode serves as a reminder to understand the plurality of views in play during any historical period. In this case, general biology was resisted in a factional dispute over what should be the priority of the life sciences: objects versus processes, induction versus explanation, and particulars versus generics.


This paper investigates a contradiction. The secondary literature tends to treat Julian Huxley (1887–1975) (figure 1) as a giant in twentieth-century life sciences: a polymath, an able popularizer, a scientist-celebrity, someone shaping the very core of the synthesis period in evolutionary studies, a key voice on scientific humanism, and much more.1 By any metric, Huxley seems to measure up as a leader whom we simply must take seriously.

Figure 1.

‘Huxley defends his position.’ Huxley defends himself at the Annual General Meeting of the ZSL in August 1942. Photograph originally published in the magazine Picture Post, no. 1237, on 5 September 1942. (Photograph by Felix Man/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty. Published with permission from Getty Images. Negative 103570046.)

However, there is a problem. In 1942, at the very height of his success, Huxley failed. He was forcibly ejected from his job as Secretary of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Huxley's departure was controversial, embarrassing and a public attack on him both as a scientist and as a person.2 It was done by credible experts who had a sophisticated understanding of Huxley's programme and activities. Their attack effectively wrecked Huxley's scientific career.3

Why have we historians (myself included) treated Huxley as central, whereas many of his ZSL contemporaries rejected him as fundamentally out of place?

Unravelling this contradiction helps understand two subjects. The first is Huxley himself. In contrast with much of the hagiographical literature on him, I argue Huxley was a promiscuous intellectual, an ‘ideas man’ who chose topics impulsively, claimed to make authoritative revisions and then quickly hopped fences for greener pastures. He cycled round some topics several times in his career, but, crucially, his research interests and reputation were never as deep or thorough as so many in the peer group that we compare him with. My interpretation is not meant as criticism; rather, I mean to highlight Huxley's role as enthusiast and visionary—more consultant and adviser than architect, engineer or builder. Huxley's contributions to disciplines will rarely be found in novel or substantive theory development (so it is a mistake to think too hard about his working concepts). Neither will they be found in the hard graft of building community or research infrastructure (because he forever preferred executive roles over administrative ones). Instead, Huxley was a relational thinker and compulsive synthesizer. He wanted to know how things interconnected. He made a career—more precisely, several careers—out of his superb ability to understand and shape woods rather than trees.4

This paper examines the preferences Huxley had when he built synthetic structures. His relational thinking took on regular patterns. His compulsive synthesizing showed a preference for certain configurations. To be sure, these patterns and preferences were shaped by the demands and opportunities of the historical moment.5 At the same time, one point is crucial: no one particular act of Huxley's synthesizing should be isolated and given uncontested authority. No one synthesis stood out for him as more important than the others. Without drawing too fine a point on it, a work such as Huxley's Evolution: the modern synthesis must be contextualized as simply yet another step in a lifelong commitment to synthesizing for modernity. It did not accomplish anything of special value for evolution; rather, it showed Huxley in his usual roles.

The contradiction surrounding Huxley's departure from the ZSL in 1942 also exposes some important ruptures in British zoology during the second quarter of the twentieth century. At the ZSL, Huxley championed one of several competing factions. During his tenure, the London Zoo was a crowded, heterogeneous community of interests and social worlds. Huxley's sacking was an attempt to quash his faction within the ZSL by groups who had had enough of them, their distracting programmes and their glaring indifference to the menagerie in front of their eyes. What were these factions? How do they relate to factional categories already well known to historians of twentieth-century biology (such as professional versus amateur, field versus laboratory, experiment versus natural history)? This case attempts to push our understanding of these categories farther.

Taking the ‘Zoo job’

Huxley served as Secretary of the Zoological Society from 1935 to 1942. He was 48 years old at the start, and he already had a complex and convoluted series of careers behind him. Having been a successful freelance writer since 1927, Huxley also had grown into a darling of the British media. His appointment at the ZSL was celebrated in the British press. The Morning Post called him ‘one of the most brilliant of the younger school of biologists.’6 Great things were expected.

Why did Huxley want the job?

First, at the tactical level, the ZSL job solved several pressing problems. Huxley wanted a salaried position. He had been a freelance writer and speaker since 1927, when he left Kings College, London, and experimental embryology. With a wife and two growing boys, Huxley now wanted financial stability.7 The salary was good, and it could be supplemented with outside work. The job also came with accommodation: a flat in Regent's Park and a weekend lodge at the ZSL's suburban park at Whipsnade.

Second, the ZSL secretaryship offered Huxley the type of role he had long hoped to obtain. It was an executive position. It was in central London. The society ranked high among UK scientific institutions. His duties would focus on planning and vision.8 He would have staff to look after day-to-day duties.9 The ZSL also provided Huxley with the perfect backdrop for a role as a statesman of science (figure 2). Huxley was a savvy producer of media content (from regular press conferences announcing the birth of an animal to camera-friendly locations for visiting dignitaries). Regent's Park was only a few minutes from the BBC's studios in Broadcasting House and from the Fleet Street newspapers. For someone with ambitions to be the front man for British zoology, this job had great potential indeed.

Figure 2.

Huxley at the opening of Pet's Corner, 1935. Huxley was adept at feeding news to hungry media outlets, using spectacle, press conferences, and regular press releases to provide a steady flow of content. Note the four microphones in the foreground and the large crowd queuing in the background. Critics complained he brought too much mass interest, distracting away from the empirical mission of their society. (Photographer unknown. Zoological Society of London Library. Published with permission from the Zoological Society of London.)

Third, Huxley hoped that the secretaryship would solve a growing problem he had with professional legitimacy. Increasingly, Huxley found his peers describing him as merely a popular writer and media personality, well back from the cutting edge of elite science. Huxley coveted certain social benchmarks for himself. Fellowship of the Royal Society was something he especially wanted, yet it proved elusive. Huxley was nominated for Fellowship several times from the late 1920s, but these attempts failed. Incandescent with rage after his unsuccessful 1932 nomination, Huxley complained: If it were not that Fellowship of the Royal Society made it possible to achieve various useful & desirable ends more easily, … I do not require to be conceited to be quite sure of the fact that I have done more, both directly and indirectly, for British zoology, than at least half the successful Zoological candidates for the Society during the five years I have been up, and numerous people, both junior and senior, in & out of the Society, have been so puzzled at my exclusion that they have written to me about it.10

Huxley calculated that the ZSL job would legitimate him in the eyes of Royal Society Fellows. D'Arcy Thompson encouraged him along these lines in 1934: ‘The simple fact is that the Free-lance is at a most serious disadvantage, a lasting disadvantage, as against the Herr Direktor or the Herr Professor.’11

Thompson was right. Huxley was elected in 1938. Years later, a colleague confirmed the influence of this line of reasoning: ‘A member of the Royal Society said to me very confidently that your occupation of the Secretaryship had been an essential factor in your election.’12

The ZSL's pursuit of Huxley

On the other side, the ZSL encouraged Huxley. Why? If nothing else, he would make a superb frontman for the Zoo: a prominent public face for science and a savvy media personality. Added to this, Huxley had professional credentials both in the laboratory and in the field. He had managerial experience, and he was the kind of person who clearly could move many projects along in tandem. He had the support of the outgoing Secretary, Peter Chalmers Mitchell. In addition, as most commentators noted at the time, he was ‘a Huxley’—part of that distinguished family.13 The gravitas associated with T. H. Huxley was not ignored by the ZSL's old-timers.

Only two objections were raised against Huxley. One worried that his role as a media personality would distract from the Secretary's duty to the ZSL. There was work to be done in the Zoological Gardens. Just how much time would Huxley devote to the ZSL? This concern was discussed during the recruitment process, and amicable terms were agreed.14

Anti-vivisectionists raised a second objection. Huxley still held the UK vivisector's licence he required when working in experimental embryology. This led one activist to complain in The Spectator, ‘it is obvious that the guardianship of a vast collection of animals of many types will be likely to suggest to him many opportunities for experimentation; opportunities which it would be almost beyond the power of a keen biologist to resist.’15 Huxley solved this objection by surrendering his licence and affirming the long-standing ban on vivisection in the Zoo.16

These objections solved, Huxley was by far the stronger of the two finalists.17 His candidature was announced at the Council's regular monthly meeting in August 1934.18 The position was permanent, assuming routine annual re-election in accordance with ZSL rules.

When Huxley took over, the ZSL had about 8000 fellows, 40 honorary or foreign members and 250 corresponding members. The Gardens saw nearly two million visitors in 1935; the Whipsnade facility saw half a million.

Emphasizing general biology

There is no evidence that Huxley took on the ZSL job for the specific purpose of undertaking a campaign of intellectual reforms towards building ‘general biology’. That campaign preceded the job. Once the ZSL opportunity arose, however, Huxley used it to push forward certain themes already important to him. He also began to apply those themes to topics he had previously not given much attention, namely systematics and evolutionary processes. Three themes are tied together in this vision.

First, Huxley preferred to keep broader frames of reference in the foreground, avoiding specialization. He wrote that the isolated fact had little value. It never should serve as an end in itself. Huxley's ‘general biology’ set facts within meaningful contexts. Sometimes these contexts were interpretive; at other times they were explanatory. ‘To suggest that there is no reason for a fact of nature’, Huxley wrote, ‘is unscientific; all nature is a chain of cause and effect.’19

One indicator of ‘general biology’ was this emphasis on instances. Studies of particulars offered instances and illustrations of generic processes. Consider some examples. When describing his vision for a biology course at the Rice Institute in the 1910s, Huxley was clear about his priorities: I should like to have a course … which should be a course intended to make people understand the principles of a science, the practical instruction being abundant and varied, but intended only to get at the underlying ideas without the thought of getting necessarily very accurate results every time.20

In the same decade, Huxley studied mating behaviours of the great crested grebe not because he wanted to be an ornithologist with an expertise in grebes, but because he wanted to be a general biologist who studied behaviour and selection. The choice of grebes was incidental (to a first approximation, anyway).21

In another case, when he co-wrote Elements of experimental embryology in 1934, Huxley drew the distinction between biological and physiological approaches. Whereas physiologists ‘analyse the processes involved in terms of physics and chemistry’, the biologist sought ‘general rules and laws which … will give coherence and a first degree of scientific explanation to his facts.’22

Second, Huxley's concept of a ‘general biology’ was tied to some wider shifts in emphasis transforming the epistemic culture and disciplinary landscape of zoological/biological research in the first half of the twentieth century:

  • from objects to process

    (mammalogy and entomology versus genetics and growth);

  • from structure to function

    (feathers versus flight and insulation);

  • from static to dynamic

    (morphological versus biological species).

Third, Huxley's interest in ‘general biology’ shifted the value he attributed to different types of work within biological research programmes:

  1. from reporting, grouping, naming (‘what’ questions)

    to explaining (‘how’ and ‘why’ questions);

  2. from catalogues of facts, systematically obtained and exhaustive

    to thoroughly studied instances;

  3. from specifics in foreground, with rationale submerged

    to rationale in foreground, with specifics submerged;

  4. from inductions and descriptive rules (such as Bergmann's rule: body size is inversely proportional to habitat temperature)

    to explanatory concepts and heuristics (such as allometry, cline, adaptations, protective coloration, niche, and sexual selection).

Another element of this campaign was improved methods. Huxley's work on grebes showed a reformist's zeal away from anecdote and singularity. He stressed the need for repeated, disciplined, systematic observation.23 In his next decade's interest in developmental studies, Huxley promoted ‘experimental ideals’ as they had been taught to him by his Oxford mentors.24 Indeed, results from his research into topics such as allometry can be seen as a kind of methodological check on speculative discussions about the magnitude of gene action.25

Early in his career, Huxley's intellectual identity shifted across this epistemic landscape—from zoologist to biologist—and this shift stood at the heart of the campaign he pressed across many topics in the 1920s to 1940s.26 When Huxley spoke about young versus old workers, or modern versus traditional activity, he was choosing words to identify with this transition.

The campaign for ‘general biology’ sought reforms more subtle and pervasive than the much-discussed ‘revolt from morphology’, Allen's thesis to explain the rise of experimental biology in the early twentieth century.27 To be sure, Huxley was involved in that debate during the 1910s and early 1920s. Instead, Huxley's campaigning for ‘general biology’ focused more on divisions between committed amateur and professional, collection and interpretation, and fact and knowledge. It added pressure to the tension between academic, university-based scientists versus largely self-funded collectors (empiricists) who tended to focus on particulars, specifics and pragmatic information. The ZSL's internal conflict over Huxley's programme offers valuable insight into the diversity of participants in the life sciences (particularly so-called organismal biology) during the interwar years. Conflict over similar ground arose in many places. Comparative work will help future historians appreciate the paucity of distinctions currently in models distinguishing laboratory versus field, or experiment versus stamp collecting.28

Case study before the ZSL: Private life of the gannets (1934)

In the 1930s, Huxley's campaigning for ‘general biology’ and the consequent shift in priorities applied similar themes to a wide range of topics. His campaigning used every instrument at his disposal, although the tune always sounded the same. As illustration, consider the film Huxley produced, Private life of the gannets (1934).29

Private life captures a few moments in one season of the great gannet colony on Grassholm Island, a 20-acre rock off the Welsh coast. This film superficially offers traditional triumphalist natural history: majestic animals caught in a life lived in an otherwise inaccessible world. However, Huxley converts the narrative structure into a series of object lessons for general principles.30 The gannet, here, instantiates a long list of biological processes:

  1. functional anatomy;

  2. adaptations (features exist ‘so that …’ and ‘for …’, for example ‘for diving’ or ‘for swift swimming’);

  3. behaviour (courtship);

  4. development (hatching to growing chick; chick to adult);

  5. feeding;

  6. mechanics of flight;

  7. plumage;

  8. diving and fishing (integration of adaptations, behaviours, and so on);

  9. conservation.

In sum, Private life serves as a vehicle for introducing ‘general biology’: both as specific concepts (such as adaptation and behaviour) and as the pinnacle of biological understanding.

To complement Private life, Huxley could offer his popular books on ants and birding, made during his years as a freelance writer.31 Heuristics drive these presentations. Observational work is transformed into explanatory work. Huxley berated mere data collection. He wrote that scientific natural history is not simply about compiling occasional observations but about translating those observations into meaning-filled explanatory statements about structure, physiology, behaviour, adaptation, distribution, and so on.

Case study after the ZSL: the New Naturalist series

The New Naturalist series of books, published by Collins, offers another case study of ‘general biology’ as a programme. This was conceived by Huxley and the London publisher Billy Collins. They first discussed the idea in June 1942. The first editorial board of the series consisted of Huxley, James Fisher, Dudley Stamp, John Gilmour and Eric Hosking.32 As a case study, the series illustrates the scale of participation by like-minded British zoologist/biologists.

The editorial board explicitly sought to depict animals not as ‘pinned, stuffed or pressed but as [they] occur in life, and in [their] natural habitat.’ The books were meant to blend fresh insights in ecology and ethology together with traditional natural history. Huxley recruited the authors and gave them their charge. Ford's Butterflies, Fitter's London's natural history, Stamp's Britain's structure and scenery and Turrill's British plant life (volumes 1, 3, 4 and 10 in the series) instantiated the ‘general biologist’ vision.33

Supporting the books was a planned quarterly magazine, The New Naturalist: A Journal of British Natural History, edited by James Fisher. Fisher explained that the magazine was designed to support neither old-style taxonomy nor traditional twitching (the type of spotting, recording, listing and counting at the heart of amateur natural history). Rather, it sought to publish discoveries and conclusions of biologists who made use of amateur expertise and fieldwork to push biological knowledge forward.34 The first volume (1948) included discussions of woodland management, migration and faunal studies. The series promoted general biology as ‘modern’ natural history. The aim was to provide interpretive and explanatory contexts for observations by amateur enthusiasts (such as applying the concept of a cline to field reports), and, conversely, to use the knowledge and interest of enthusiasts as a base for data collecting and expanded interpretations. An ideal example of this combination is Fraser Darling's editorial on knowledge of subspecies and the impact that rampant collecting for museum collections had on local, small populations.35

The New Naturalist movement began with a genuine interest in bringing together in a common mission the object-focused observers (self-referenced as ‘watchers’ and ‘collectors’) and the process-focused academics (self-referenced as ‘scientists’). This left Peter Marren, historian of the series, to conclude: It has been said of Huxley that, almost single-handedly, he made field natural history scientifically respectable again. … [He] was almost the only senior British zoologist in the inter-war years who thought ecology and behaviour important. In combining the two great arms of field study, he was perhaps the most influential naturalist since Darwin.36

Campaigning at the Zoo

Huxley's decades-long campaign for general biology hit the Zoo at the first Council Meeting he attended as Secretary of the ZSL. He announced plans to improve facilities for the study of behaviour, to bring in more research students and to offer opportunities for methodologically reflexive research on site.37 General biology was only one of many changes Huxley sought to implement at the start of his secretaryship. Others caught most of the attention of the press and public—for example the petting zoo, the animal studio and various modernist features. However, these elements will not be treated in this paper.38

During his years at the Zoo, Huxley's subject interests turned towards systematics and evolutionary processes.39 His work in these areas was directly in line with past practice. Huxley produced neither alpha nor beta taxonomy. Instead, he set about imposing his vision for ‘general biology’. He emphasized experimental and comparative tools designed to increase the sense of objectivity, especially steering towards genetic, cytological and hybridization experiments.40 He appropriated the concept of ‘clines’ both as an explanatory heuristic and as a tool for conceptual precision when discussing geographical variation.41 His presentations of adaptation emphasized natural selection, normally seen through the lens of strict adherence to established concepts in genetics, development and mathematical population models.42 He argued that methodological developments provided a new means for testing claims about selection and adaptation. It was no longer enough to infer selection simply on the presumption of adaptedness.43 Huxley wrote again and again that biologists had a duty to fit facts into heuristics and to interpret instances in terms of generic explanations.

Huxley's campaigning followed many tracks. While at the ZSL he exploited opportunities as they arose as much as he created new opportunities. Let me provide only a few examples.

At the Zoo (1936)

One of Huxley's first lines of attack was literary. Quick with his pen, he produced a small interpretive book for the gift shop, At the Zoo. This book creates a tour of the Zoo based not on the animals but on biological principles instantiated by the menagerie, including nutrition, coloration for concealment and display, reproduction, biogeography, behaviour, adaptations, and especially evolution. With this type of tour, the Zoo became a ‘living museum’. Huxley preached the mantra of ‘general biology’ thus: … if you have the general idea of evolution in your head, you will find a visit to the Zoo much more interesting, for the exhibits then become illustrations of a tremendous drama, the drama of life's myriad changes and slow upward progress ….44 Later incarnations of the same approach targeted professional audiences as well as popular ones.45

At the same time as he wrote At the Zoo, Huxley rewrote the official guidebook for the Gardens.46 This was no simple revision; the change was complete. The previous (1932) edition, hardly changed over many years, offered a comprehensive catalogue of Zoo objects, including photographs framing animals as specimens, detailed systematics and technical zoological information. The voice was that of an expert tutor imparting facts in an authoritative textbook style. In contrast, Huxley's Guide (1936) exploited a different visual aesthetic and voice. Clinical documentary images were replaced with those emphasizing action and personality. New visual material was inserted, too, including cartoons and sketches. Overall, Huxley's Guide was light and accessible. It emphasized the Zoo as spectacle, highlighting exotic and sentimental experiences.

In the text of Huxley's new Guide, technical zoology was stripped away, with one important exception. The back pages had short sections on biology: diet, classification and adaptation. The last of these sections introduced basic principles about animals being adapted to certain environments. Here is the campaign for general biology effortlessly inserted into the new format: All animals and plants must be adapted to their surroundings. Whales are adapted to live in water. Just because they are so well adapted to water they could not live on land or in the trees or in the air. … In the Zoo it is possible to see animals which are adapted to a great many different kinds of habitat and ways of life.47

ZSL Proceedings

Another tactic in Huxley's use of the ZSL for developing ‘general biology’ focused on infrastructure. This was an often-used tactic for Huxley,48 and he did not limit himself to acting only within the ZSL.49 Consider changes Huxley introduced to the Society's journal, Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, beginning in 1937.

Since its earliest days, the ZSL had produced a journal. This contained primarily systematic and morphological papers, together with travel reports of fellows and notes from dissections in the Zoo's mortuary. In contrast, Huxley wanted a journal for publishing the kind of research he promoted. When he found he could not simply switch the journal's scope wholesale, he split Proceedings into two. One part emphasized traditional ‘systematic and morphological’ papers, and the new part emphasized ‘general and experimental’ papers, thus providing an outlet to ‘reflect the rapid developments being made’ in new fields.50 No trivial signal, Huxley labelled the new part as ‘series A’ and the older, traditional, part as ‘series B’.

In practice, the distinction between series A and B became muddled. Papers seemingly more appropriate to one often appeared in the other.51 The new series did not flourish. Its fortunes rose and fell with Huxley's.52

Relentless campaigning

Huxley's campaign for ‘general biology’ appeared in innumerable actions around the ZSL. Over and over, Huxley could be heard to explain that he wanted to transform the Zoo from menagerie into the centre and focus of popular interest in every aspect of animals and animal life—scientific, artistic, literary; the preservation and protection of wild animals and birds; pet-keeping and animal-breeding; animal welfare; animal health; animals in the service of man like guide-dogs for the blind, canaries in mines, carrier pigeons, and so on.53

Every concerted campaign needs a maestro. Huxley was treating the Zoo as his concert hall. His campaigning included everything from staff changes to architecture; from exhibit labels to the scientific activity he himself undertook. Consider three of his many actions.

First, arguing that the ZSL should encourage ‘young’ biologists—meaning those trained in experimental and process-based traditions—Huxley expanded the category of ‘professional fellows’ of the Society in 1937. Professional fellows were either those who were employed as zoologists or those who published in recognized scientific journals.54 The benefit was a reduced subscription. With this move, Huxley was attempting to expand his faction within the ZSL. This proposal passed in 1937.

Huxley had already felt the pressure of other factions within the ZSL. His support for a new category of fellows drew from lessons learned during his many years fighting for election to the Royal Society. During that campaigning, he explained to his mentor: … quite apart from any personal feelings I may have in the matter, my exclusion is a definite affront to the progressive tendencies in Zoology. I shall never make any public press about the personal side of the matter: but if general and experimental biology continues to be passed over, I should imagine that various people might well make a row: & I should do nothing to oppose them.55

Second, it is well known that Huxley tried to build a cinema at the Zoo as a venue for showing documentaries and educational films.56 This failed. When it did, Huxley established a film unit within the ZSL in part to record animal behaviour and in part to assist documentary makers and commercial agents. Huxley (and many others) argued that, as an aid to the scientist, film aided systematic observation. It delivered better methods and new observations.

Third, it is also well known that Huxley added a petting zoo to the Gardens. This was immensely popular with the general public; however, it was the subject of ridicule by anti-Huxley factions among ZSL fellows, who, in turn, were ridiculed by the pro-Huxley, populist London press (figure 3). ‘Pet's Corner’ opened in 1935 as an exhibit in which children could handle both domesticated and exotic animals (for example a lion cub, a chimpanzee, a python and a giant tortoise as well as rabbits, guinea pigs and baby ruminants) under the watchful eye of friendly young caretakers.57 Pet's Corner produced sharp rises in entrance figures at the Zoo. Largely ad hoc, it was redesigned in 1938 and rechristened the ‘Children's Zoo’.58

Figure 3.

‘What the public wants.’ Pet's Corner opened in London Zoo in 1935. This proved immensely popular with the public, but it was ridiculed by many long-term fellows of the ZSL. In the tabloid press, their opposition was criticized as aloof and elitist, as in this cartoon. Here, an exotic ZSL okapi scoffs at the public enthusiasm for chickens, goats and ponies. (Artist unknown. Published in L. R. Brightwell, The Zoo you knew? (Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1936).)

Less well known about Pet's Corner are the principle-based exhibits constructed for those waiting in the queues. The longest lasting was a display on Mendelism. Its purpose, Huxley said, was to educate visitors on ‘the principles of heredity with the aid of living rabbits, mice and budgerigars.’59

Opposition to Huxley within the ZSL

Huxley faced opposition within the ZSL soon after he arrived in 1935. Serious concerns were raised during his first year, and each step forward was met with confrontation. From the perspective of many ZSL fellows, Huxley was an outsider who threatened their institution.

For instance, in September 1938 Huxley applied for permission to attend Jubilee meetings of the Australia and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science at Canberra in January 1939.60 He was told this would leave the Society without a senior officer for far too long. The difference was one of priorities. Huxley emphasized the need for a long-range, executive view on policy, maintaining long-term relationships, and planning for the future. The Council of the ZSL argued that the primary duties of their Secretary was the administration and supervision of all activities in the Gardens. The Council asserted these were full-time interests in themselves. It repeatedly and specifically sought to restrain Huxley from outside commitments. The growing view about Huxley was that he simply spent too little time on the job.61 It did not help that Huxley's predecessor had been a micromanager. It also did not help that most of the ZSL Council members and officers around Huxley had been in office for a long time and had clear ideas on how power and work were to be distributed within the ZSL. Indeed, Huxley and his vision were novelties in this situation.

Many of Huxley's initiatives were resisted, some more intensely than others. When the cinema idea failed, Huxley knew for certain that his general biology initiatives were the target of a more traditional, object-focused backlash. Major Albert Pam was a cornerstone of that opposition. He had been Treasurer of the ZSL since 1932 and was a long-standing officer in the society (having served nearly continuously since 1907). He thought Huxley was moving the ZSL too far away from its core mission: Let us devote our time and energies to the display of our Menagerie, the improvement of conditions and methods so that with all the resources at our disposal we can say that we have the best run and the most complete exhibit in the world.62

Pressure on Huxley mounted steadily. By 1940 it was high and rising. The Daily Telegraph ran the story, ‘Zoo Secretary to resign?’ in which it claimed ‘It is possible … Huxley may decide to resign from the secretaryship.’63 Huxley knew this was a planted story, staged to embarrass and pressure him. He fought back, securing a retraction.64 He also circulated comments within the ZSL from respected scientists (including D. M. S. Watson, Alistair Hardy, P. D. F. Murray, James Fisher and J. S. L. Gilmour), who defended Huxley's stewardship. On side also were such influential zoologists as Gavin de Beer, Cyril Diver, R. A. Fisher, R. S. R. Fitter, E. B. Ford, S. Gestener, E. S. Goodrich, J. Gray and Lord Horder.65

Late in 1941 Huxley announced he had been invited by the Ministry of Education to lecture in America on postwar reconstruction. The Society granted him three months' leave.66 After four months away, Huxley showed no signs of returning. His opponents used the opportunity to ask a frustrated Council to make the Secretary redundant.67 Huxley's supporters, mainly academic biologists, tried to fight back, but the deed was quickly done in March 1942. The post of Secretary was abolished. An ‘informal committee’ was organized to campaign for a reversal of this decision, and a bitter argument ensued. (The dispute became so entangled that the Ministry of Supply complained to the ZSL that it was using too much paper, and the Privy Council was asked to adjudicate on procedure!)

In a key vote on the issue in August 1942, Huxley's side carried only 40% of the fellowship (figure 1). He took the vote as a vote of no confidence and resigned. Huxley tried to put a brave face on it. ‘I have thought carefully over the position,’ he told ZSL officers, ‘and feel it much better for all concerned to make a clean break now.’68

Solly Zuckerman, himself later to become Secretary of the ZSL, described Huxley's resignation as ‘a rout of the scientific modernists’.69 Another long-time friend raged in a letter of support for Huxley: To think that a collection of mug-wumps whose virtual knowledge of zoology is confined to a few sun-birds at Rattlesnake Park being gazed at by a Babu, or a still dimmer collection now in the possession of a Colonel whose name stands for an amalgamation of modern meat [meaning Major Pam], should be responsible for the scientific education of zoologists—well, words fail me! For once we had as a Secretary somebody who knew something about science. Up to your arrival at the Zoo (and I am old enough to remember) we had a pleasant collection of kind-hearted non-entities who saw to it that the British Public, on every Bank Holiday, had a lion, a tiger, a bear and a snake to look at, and that is as far as their efforts went. They had no idea of making anything beautiful or useful. The lion, the bear, the camel, the elephant, the baboon (so like themselves) and the snake were to them the beginning and end of the Zoo until some day somebody put a goldfish into a bowl and said ‘look at that’.70 A sympathetic article in Picture Post proclaimed, ‘The Zoo votes against reform’ and depicted ‘progressives’ against an ‘Old Guard’. It was ‘a savage row between diehards and progressives’, with progressives in the minority and a distinguished scientist as the chief victim. It represented the winners as ‘old-fashioned’ and complained that ‘scientifically and educationally’ their efforts were ‘not up to the mark’. The losers wanted modern exhibitions, improved facilities, more scientific activity. In the view of Picture Post, Huxley came out of the fight smelling of roses: ‘if one day in the future the Fellows of the Zoo no longer require [his] services … the British nation as a whole will be delighted to have him back.’71

To be sure, Huxley was successful elsewhere in his campaigning for general biology. Evolution: the modern synthesis appeared in September 1942 and sold more than 3000 copies by the end of October 1942. This book quickly became essential reading in academic biology departments. In November 1942, Huxley broadcast lectures on the BBC for the British Council. The topic he chose for this series of eight lectures was ‘British biology today’.72 Added to these, the various societies he had a role in expanded and the New Naturalist series was an immediate success, recognized as a fresh start for zoology. Huxley turned his attention to postwar projects, including development in East Africa and ecological conservation.73 Afterwards, he became Director General of UNESCO.74 Importantly, however, the ZSL experience altered Huxley's career as a biologist. He never again held a significant position within the profession.


Huxley was ousted from the ZSL, in part, for promoting a reform agenda for British zoology. Implementing some of these ideas at the ZSL (and using London Zoo as a backdrop for further campaigning) brought Huxley directly into conflict with specialists defending other traditions. Huxley lost at the Zoo, failing to transform it into an institutional centre for the new biology. In rejecting Huxley, the majority of ZSL fellows also were rejecting that new enterprise. Francis Hemming best captured the feeling of failure when writing to Huxley just after the vote of no confidence: … the real issue at stake was whether the Society was to become a living organism for the development of biological science in this country. Yesterday, by a majority of 3 to 2 the Society decided that this [was] not to be. We have every reason to be grateful to the 800 Fellows who backed us at the poll, but nevertheless the result is a bitter disappointment to us all.75

Huxley's campaign failed at the ZSL partly because a majority of fellows wanted to focus on objects: individual animals and particular species filling a menagerie of things. They did not want heuristics. They did not feel the need to place explanations in the foreground. They criticized Huxley for steering the Zoo away from their priorities.

To complete the picture, it is important to note that Huxley's departure from the ZSL was also conditioned by several other layers of problems. For instance, the ZSL was under intense financial pressure during the war (visitor numbers dropped to less than one-quarter of those in prewar years) and many activities had to be suspended. Councillors argued that they could ill afford an expensive, largely absent, largely uninterested Secretary. Moreover, care and management of the animals seemed to be on the decline, even beyond obvious constraints imposed by rationing, the Blitz and other events of war. If nothing else, the Secretary was expected to be on site providing leadership. To critics, Huxley had failed to improve facilities, failed in fund-raising, and failed in campaigns for new facilities for rodents, elephants and chimpanzees. The list of complaints easily could go on. However, I have left those aside in this paper.

Huxley constructed a ‘general biology’ in which things become instances, an interest in objects shifts to an interest in process, and a shift occurs in the value attributed to different kinds of work. Of course, his campaigning is only one small part of the rapid proliferation of general biology during the interwar years.76

This analysis also helps, in part, to explain Huxley's proclamation of synthesis in evolution. Looking back while summing up in his book Evolution in action, Huxley wrote: In all fields of inquiry, there is a danger of not seeing the wood for the trees. Nowhere is the danger greater than in the field of evolution. My underlying thesis has been that there is a single evolutionary process to be studied, and that the separate aspects of the problem only acquire full significance when considered in relation to the whole.77

In Huxley's campaigning for ‘general biology’, the rhetoric of ‘synthesis’ functioned as a means for intellectual transformation rather than an end in itself.


I thank University College London Graduate School and the Royal Society for supporting travel to archives, and the Department of Science and Technology Studies for funding image rights. I also thank John Edwards, Iona Layland, Michael Palmer (ZSL Library) and staff at the Fondren Library (Rice University).


  • 1 For an overview of Huxley's career, see J. R. Baker, ‘Julian Sorell Huxley, 22 June 1887 – 14 February 1975’, Biogr. Mems Fell. R. Soc. 22, 207–238 (1976) and R. W. Clark, The Huxleys (Heinemann, London, 1968). Essays in Waters and Van Helden's anthology provide specialized microstudies; see C. K. Waters and A. Van Helden (eds), Julian Huxley, biologist and statesman of science (Rice University Press, Houston, TX, 1992). Baker's memorial emphasizes Huxley's technical scientific work and provides a basic bibliography. The emphasis on intellectual work is only part of the lived life that Huxley experienced; consider S. Sherman (ed.), Dear Juliette: Letters of May Sarton to Juliette Huxley (W. W. Norton, New York, 1999). Green's bibliography is nearly exhaustive, although it omits unsigned pieces that Huxley contributed to The Times; see J.-P. Green, ‘Bibliography [of Julian Huxley]’, in Julian Huxley: scientist and world citizen, 1887 to 1975 (ed. J. R. Baker and J.-P. Green), pp. 53–184 (UNESCO, Paris, 1978).

  • 2 For example, J. Huxley, Memories (George Allen & Unwin, London, 1970), vol. 1, pp. 260–261.

  • 3 Scholarly studies of Huxley normally ignore his departure from the ZSL (for example Waters and Van Helden, op. cit. (note 1)) or treat it in cursory fashion (for example Baker, op. cit. (note 1), and K. R. Dronamraju, If I am to be remembered: the life and work of Julian Huxley with selected correspondence (World Scientific, Singapore, 1993), pp. 97–102). Clark, op. cit. (note 1), is an exception, although it portrays Huxley as a victim in a ‘Zoo crisis’. Predictably, Huxley's autobiography is selective on the subject: Huxley, op. cit. (note 2), pp. 260–261. In unpublished notes Huxley was more even-handed (see, for example, undated manuscript entitled ‘Preface’, in Julian Sorell Huxley Papers, Rice University (hereafter Huxley Papers Rice), box 89 folder 2, p. 4).

  • 4 Horder supports this argument; see T. Horder, ‘A history of evo-devo in Britain’, Ann. Hist. Phil. Biol. 13, 101–174 (2008), note 25.

  • 5 See, for example, J. Huxley, Africa view (Chatto & Windus, London, 1931); J. Huxley, If I were dictator (Harper & Brothers, London, 1934); J. Huxley, TVA: adventure in planning (The Architectural Press, Cheam, 1943).

  • 6 Articles appeared on 16 August 1934 in London newspapers, such as The Times, Morning Post, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, and in large regional newspapers such as Yorkshire Post. Clippings are collected in Huxley Papers Rice.

  • 7 During this period Huxley carried on an affair with May Sarton, who later was far more taken with Juliette, Julian's wife; see Sherman, op. cit. (note 1). This was one of Julian's several extramarital relationships in the 1920s and 1930s. These are variously implicated in some of Julian's life decisions, such as his departure from King's College. The evidential traces are sparse, and these activities may never be reconstructed fully. However, Huxley certainly had a reputation as less than monogamous, and this certainly became relevant later at the ZSL.

  • 8 Huxley, op. cit. (note 2), p. 231.

  • 9 ZSL agreed to hire two assistant curators during Huxley's tenure. These were put at Huxley's disposal. Some in ZSL expected Huxley to treat them as apprentice curators. In contrast, Huxley treated them as his own assistants, setting them to work on his own projects, such as filming, special publications and exhibit design. This later became a bone of contention.

  • 10 21 January 1932, Huxley to Goodrich, in Huxley Papers Rice, box 11 folder 1.

  • 11 10 May 1934, D'Arcy Thompson to Huxley, in Huxley Papers Rice, box 11 folder 5.

  • 12 27 August 1942, John Spedan Lewis to Huxley, in Huxley Papers Rice, box 16 folder 3. The FRS mentioned was probably Chalmers Mitchell, elected FRS in 1908 for his patronage of research and contributions to zoological knowledge; see E. Owen, ‘The Zoological Society of London, 1929–1976’ (unpublished manuscript in ZSL Archives, 1984), p. 31.

  • 13 Julian relished the association with his grandfather, and he reinforced it at every opportunity. For instance, in 1935, he published his grandfather's narrative from HMS Rattlesnake and later republished some of T. H. Huxley's essays; see J. Huxley (ed.), T. H. Huxley's diary of the voyage of the H.M.S. Rattlesnake (Doubleday, Doran, Garden City, NY, 1935); J. Huxley, (ed.), Evolution and ethics, 1893–1943 [by] Thomas H. Huxley and Julian Huxley (Pilot Press, London, 1947). Huxley prominently displayed a portrait of his grandfather in his ZSL apartment at the Zoo and later at his house on Pond Street. Huxley exploited this connection throughout his life, as he increasingly did with Darwin. Curiously, on this celebration of T. H. Huxley, Julian competed with a ZSL Councillor (see E. W. MacBride, Huxley (Duckworth, London, 1934)) and was preceded by P. Chalmers Mitchell, Thomas Henry Huxley: a sketch of his life and work (G. P. Putnam's Sons, London, 1901). The sense (and weight) of legacy are conveyed nicely by Clark, op. cit. (note 1).

  • 14 Questions raised at the interview included those set out in ‘Secretaryship’, 18 July 1934, in Huxley Papers Rice, box 11 folder 5. On the announcement of Mitchell's retirement and Huxley's nomination, see Minutes of Council, 15 August 1934, ZSL Archives, on p. 62.

  • 15 B. E. Kidd, ‘Anti-vivisectors and the Zoo’, The Spectator, 7 September 1934. Similar concern was expressed by E. T. MacMichael, ‘The Secretaryship of the Zoo’, The Spectator, 7 September 1934, and by Stephen Coleridge in correspondence with the Duke of Bedford; see Minutes of Council, 15 August 1934, on pp. 82–84; 20 March 1935, also for 21 November 1934, 20 February 1935 and 20 March 1935, in ZSL Archives.

  • 16 To avoid the ZSL's becoming the focus of campaigning, Chalmers Mitchell prohibited vivisection on ZSL premises and banned reports involving vivisection, even if coded as ‘animal physiology’, in the ZSL Proceedings: see Owen, op. cit. (note 12), pp. 12–13. In his Guide to the Gardens, Chalmers Mitchell stressed the Zoo's responsible care for animals and allowed anti-vivisectionist advertisements. This strategy was deliberately conciliatory, if up to a point. ZSL workers with research requiring vivisection simply undertook it elsewhere, such as at University College London. In 1937, when the unrelated matter of the employment of Dr Burgess Barnett (curator of reptiles) was active, Huxley extended the prohibition on licence holding. Council agreed that ‘no paid official of the Society should hold a licence for experiments on living animals’ (Minutes of Council, 15 September 1937, on p. 8, in ZSL Archives).

  • 17 The other candidate was Arthur Francis Hemming (1893–1964), a British lepidopterist and civil servant, later serving as Secretary for the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. Hemming also served on the ZSL Council (1936–40) and undertook some committee work. Owen, op. cit. (note 12), p. 29, mentions ‘several candidates’ in addition, but does not name them. She also quotes a 1937 letter from Hemming to Chalmers Mitchell: ‘I was disappointed certainly at the time that I was not selected for the appointment, but what annoyed me was that I should have been passed over by the Council in favour of a man who, though possessing strong qualifications in some directions was so obviously my inferior in administrative and financial experience, the two prime requisites for the appointment in question’ (Owen, op. cit. (note 12), p. 73). To his credit, Hemming rose to Huxley's defence in 1942, aggressively supporting the same vision.

  • 18 Formally, Council was approving Huxley's place on the slate of candidates for office to put before ZSL fellows for annual election. In practice, Council's slate was rarely opposed, making its nomination a virtual guarantee of election. Huxley's appointment became official—that is, he was first elected—in April 1935, at the annual election of officers. Huxley served as ‘Secretary-designate’ before this formal election. During his designate status, Huxley volunteered time for training and transition.

  • 19 J. Huxley, At the Zoo (G. Allen & Unwin Ltd, London, 1936), p. 53.

  • 20 Huxley to Edgar Lovett [President-designate of Rice Institute], mid June 1912, cited in Clark, op. cit. (note 1), p. 157 (italics in original).

  • 21 J. Huxley, ‘The courtship habits of the great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus); with an addition to the theory of sexual selection’, Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond. 2, 491–562 (1914). Also see J. Huxley, ‘The great crested grebe and the idea of secondary sexual characters’, Science 36, 601–602 (1912); J. Huxley, ‘Bird watching and biological science. Some observations on the study of courtship in birds’, Auk 33, 142–161 (1916). For historical studies of Huxley's ethology, see M. M. Bartley, ‘Courtship and continued progress: Julian Huxley's studies on bird behavior’, J. Hist. Biol. 28, 91–108 (1995); R. W. Burkhardt, ‘On the emergence of ethology as a scientific discipline’, Conspect. Hist. 1, 62–81 (1981); R. W. Burkhardt, ‘The development of an evolutionary ethology’, in Evolution from molecules to men (ed. D. S. Bendall, pp. 429–444 (Cambridge University Press, 1983); R. W. Burkhardt Jr, ‘Huxley and the rise of ethology’, in Waters and Van Helden, op. cit. (note 1), pp. 127–149 and 292–302; J. R. Durant, ‘The making of ethology: the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, 1936–1986’, Anim. Behav. 34, 1601–1616 (1986); J. R. Durant, ‘The tension at the heart of Huxley's evolutionary ethology’, in Waters and Van Helden, op. cit. (note 1), pp. 150–160 and 302–304.

  • 22 J. Huxley and G. de Beer, Preface to The elements of experimental embryology (Cambridge University Press, 1934). This is not the same distinction between Mayr's ‘proximate and ultimate’ causes; see E. Mayr, ‘Cause and effect in biology: kinds of causes, predictability, and teleology are viewed by a practicing biologist’, Science 134, 1501–1506 (1961); J. Beatty, ‘The proximate/ultimate distinction in the multiple careers of Ernst Mayr’, Biol. Phil. 9, 333–356 (1994); G. G. Simpson, Why and how: some problems and methods in historical biology (Pergamon, Oxford, 1980). For historical studies on Huxley's work in this area, see F. B. Churchill, ‘The elements of experimental embryology: a synthesis for animal development’, in Waters and Van Helden, op. cit. (note 1), pp. 107–126 and 290–292; J. A. Witkowski, ‘Julian Huxley in the laboratory: embracing inquisitiveness and widespread curiosity’, in Waters and Van Helden, op. cit. (note 1), pp. 79–103 and 286–290; S. J. Waisbren, ‘The importance of morphology in the evolutionary synthesis as demonstrated by the contributions of the Oxford group: Goodrich, Huxley, and De Beer’, J. Hist. Biol. 21, 291–330 (1988).

  • 23 Huxley 1914, op. cit. (note 21); Huxley 1916, op. cit. (note 21); J. Huxley, Bird-watching and bird behaviour (Chatto & Windus, London, 1930).

  • 24 Standard historiography on the experimental ideal begins with P. J. Pauly, Controlling life: Jacques Loeb and the engineering ideal in biology (Oxford University Press, New York, 1987); P. J. Pauly, Biologists and the promise of American life: from Meriwether Lewis to Alfred Kinsey (Princeton University Press, 2000); J. Maienschein, ‘Shifting assumptions in American biology’, J. Hist. Biol. 14, 89–115 (1981); G. Allen, Life sciences in the twentieth century (Cambridge University Press, 1975). For Huxley, good examples are J. Huxley, ‘Metamorphosis of axolotl caused by thyroid-feeding’, Nature 104, 435 (1920), and J. Huxley, Problems of relative growth (The Dial Press, New York, 1932).

  • 25 Huxley 1932, op. cit. (note 24); Huxley and de Beer 1934, op. cit. (note 22).

  • 26 This is true even in his publicity photographs. See National Portrait Gallery Archives, London, folder ‘Huxley, Julian’. In captions written for studio photographs in the 1920s, Huxley describes himself as ‘biologist’.

  • 27 Allen, op. cit. (note 24).

  • 28 Cain discusses these tensions on the American scene in evolutionary studies: J. Cain, ‘Rethinking the synthesis period in evolutionary studies’, J. Hist. Biol. 42, 621–648 (2009). For comparison, essays in Cain and Ruse's volume undertake the kind of further analysis much needed in this area; see J. Cain and M. Ruse (eds), Descended from Darwin: insights into the history of evolutionary studies, 1900–1970 (American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 2009). The long history of the tension between zoology and biology is shown in Nyhart's superb research into German morphology; see L. K. Nyhart, Modern nature: the rise of the biological perspective in Germany (University of Chicago Press, 2009).

  • 29 Private life of the gannets (A Treasure Chest production, London, 1934) was directed by John Grierson and written by Huxley. The film premiered in Leicester Square in the usual blaze of publicity. Huxley narrated the UK version; his voice was replaced by A. L. Alexander when the film was converted for distribution in the USA. The US version won an Academy Award in 1937 for ‘best one-reel short subject’. It is discussed by G. Mitman, Reel nature: America's romance with wildlife on film (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1999) and T. Boon, Films of fact: a history of science in documentary films and television (Wallflower Press, London, 2008). Relevant correspondence is located in Huxley Papers Rice, box 11. The success surrounding the UK release of Private life coincided with Huxley's recruitment to the ZSL.

  • 30 The narrative structure of Private life varies slightly between the 1934 UK release and the 1937 US release. Here I refer to the 1937 US release.

  • 31 For ants, see J. Huxley, Ants (Chatto & Windus, London, 1930). For birding, see Huxley, 1930, op. cit. (note 23).

  • 32 P. Marren, The new naturalists (Collins, London, 1995).

  • 33 E. B. Ford, Butterflies (Collins (New Naturalist), London, 1945); R. S. R. Fitter, London's natural history (Collins (New Naturalist), London, 1945); L. D. Stamp, Britain's structure and scenery (Collins (New Naturalist), London, 1946); W. Turrill, British plant life (Collins (New Naturalist), London, 1948).

  • 34 Only one volume appeared, published in 1948. Fisher was also in the organizing quartet for the New Naturalist book series. Fisher's book, Watching birds, was a work much in line with Huxley's ‘general biology’ agenda; see J. Fisher, Watching birds (Pelican Books, London, 1941).

  • 35 F. Fraser Darling, ‘Science or skins?’, New Naturalist 1, 128–130 (1948).

  • 36 Marren, op. cit. (note 32), p. 24. One of Huxley's ideas in the Association for the Study of Systematics involved deploying local object-based naturalists and collectors as data-gatherers, reporting to a central body responsible for analysis; see J. Cain, ‘Common problems and cooperative solutions: organizational activity in evolutionary studies, 1936–1947’, Isis 84, 1–25 (1993).

  • 37 Zuckerman described Chalmers Mitchell, Huxley's immediate predecessor, as ‘a distinguished and influential zoologist of the old style’ whose interest focused on structural zoology and speculations regarding phylogeny. Both Chalmers Mitchell and his predecessor, Philip Lutley Sclater, ‘seemed to be unaware that the experimental approach had already started to revolutionise the biological sciences, and that the transformation was going to be permanent.’ Huxley, Zuckerman suggested, was part of the ‘modern school’. In his evolutionary interests, Chalmers Mitchell was a confirmed phylogenist, using comparative anatomy and embryology to determine relatedness and using consilience—‘grouping and codifying the empirical facts’—for his epistemology; see P. Chalmers Mitchell, ‘Evolution’, in Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edn, vol. 10, pp. 22–37 (1910–11). Chalmers Mitchell was typical of evolutionary zoologists of his generation; see P. J. Bowler, Life's splendid drama: evolutionary biology and the reconstruction of life's ancestry, 1860–1940 (University of Chicago Press, 1996). Huxley's action came as news to many sitting around the Council; see Owen, op. cit. (note 12), pp. 29–30.

  • 38 Huxley's activities generally can be followed via his diaries, sporadically kept. These are located in Huxley Papers Rice, boxes 49 and 50.

  • 39 Olby shows a distinct shift in Huxley's publishing from the start to the end of the 1930s, away from development and towards systematics and evolution; see R. Olby, ‘Huxley's place in twentieth-century biology’, in Waters and Van Helden, op. cit. (note 1), pp. 53–75 and 283–286.

  • 40 J. Huxley, ‘Natural selection and evolutionary progress’, Nature 138, 571–573 and 603–605 (1936); J. Huxley, ‘Species formation and geographical isolation’, Proc. Linn. Soc. Lond. 150, 253–264 (1938); J. Huxley, ‘Ecology and taxonomic differentiation’, J. Ecol. 27, 408–420 (1939); J. Huxley, ‘Introductory: towards the new systematics’, in The new systematics (ed. J. Huxley), pp. 1–46 (Oxford University Press, 1940); J. Huxley, ‘Evolutionary genetics’, in Proceedings of the Seventh International Genetical Congress (ed. R. C. Punnett), pp. 157–164 (Cambridge University Press, 1941).

  • 41 J. Huxley, ‘Clines: an auxiliary taxonomic principle’, Nature 142, 219–220 (1938); J. Huxley, ‘Clines: an auxiliary method in taxonomy’, Bijdragen Dierkunde 27, 491–520 (1939).

  • 42 Huxley 1936, op. cit. (note 40); J. Huxley, ‘Threat and warning colouration in birds with a general discussion of the biological functions of colour’, in Proceedings of the 8th International Ornithological Congress (ed. F. C. R. Jourdain), pp. 253–264 (Oxford University Press, 1938); J. Huxley, ‘Discussion on “subspecies” and “varieties”’, Proc. Linn. Soc. Lond. 151, 105–114 (1939); J. Huxley, ‘Ecology and taxonomic differentiation’, J. Ecol. 27, 408–420 (1939); Huxley 1941, op. cit. (note 40).

  • 43 Huxley 1936, op. cit. (note 40); Huxley 1938, op. cit. (note 40).

  • 44 Huxley 1936, op. cit. (note 19), p. 79.

  • 45 For example, comparing professional and popular audiences, see J. Huxley, A. C. Hardy and E. B. Ford (eds), Evolution as a process (George Allen & Unwin, London, 1954); J. Huxley, Evolution in action (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1953).

  • 46 Compare P. Chalmers Mitchell, The Zoological Society of London: guide to the gardens and aquarium, Regents Park, 29th edn (Zoological Society of London, London, 1932), with J. Huxley, Official guide to the gardens and aquarium of the Zoological Society of London, new series, 1st edn (Zoological Society of London, London, 1936). Huxley's Guide underwent annual revision; see new series, 2nd edn (1937), and new series, 3rd edn (1938).

  • 47 Huxley 1936, op. cit. (note 46), p. 86.

  • 48 As Burkhardt (op. cit. (note 21)) and Durant (op. cit. (note 21)) argue, Huxley used academic infrastructure in ethology. He did the same in experimental biology, as with British Journal of Experimental Biology; see S. Erlingsson, ‘The Plymouth laboratory and the institutionalization of experimental zoology in Britain in the 1920s’, J. Hist. Biol. 42, 151–183 (2008); S. Erlingsson, ‘The costs of being a restless intellect: Julian Huxley's popular and scientific career in the 1920s’, Stud. Hist. Phil. Biol. Biomed. Sci. 40, 101–108 (2009). It is no surprise that he suggested the same in speciation studies; see J. Cain, ‘Towards a “greater degree of integration”: the Society for the Study of Speciation, 1939–1941’, Br. J. Hist. Sci. 33, 85–108 (2000).

  • 49 Winsor gives a superb analysis of the systematics discussions in London in which Huxley sometimes took part: see M. P. Winsor, ‘The English debate on taxonomy and phylogeny, 1937–1940’, Hist. Phil. Life Sci. 17, 227–252 (1995), and Cain 1993, op. cit. (note 36). These discussions led to J. Huxley (ed.), The new systematics (Oxford University Press, 1940).

  • 50 Covers to the journals described the distinction: the ‘general and experimental’ series covered ‘animal behaviour, ecology, comparative physiology, experimental and descriptive embryology, genetics, etc.’, whereas the ‘systematic and morphological’ series covered ‘systematics, faunistics, distribution, natural history, morbid and comparative anatomy, palaeontology, morphology, etc.’. The third series published abstracts of papers accepted for publication, whether in Proceedings or Transactions.

  • 51 For instance, volume 108(B) included an experimental paper on the effects of iodine on axolotls (p. 551); and a paper on genetic and taxonomic work compared for mountain voles (p. 663).

  • 52 The Proceedings split with volume 107 in 1937 and reverted with volume 114 in 1944–45. Also see Owen, op. cit. (note 12), pp. 36–37.

  • 53 Clark, op. cit. (note 1), p. 258.

  • 54 Owen, op. cit. (note 12), p. 37.

  • 55 21 January 1932, Huxley to Goodrich, in Huxley Papers Rice, box 11 folder 1.

  • 56 Anonymous, ‘Cinema for the Zoo’, The Morning Post, 24 August 1935.

  • 57 The origins of Pet's Corner are described by Clark, op. cit. (note 1), pp. 260–261. Owen, op. cit. (note 12), pp. 29–30 and 47, describes how Huxley imported the idea from Berlin's ‘animal kindergarten’.

  • 58 The Children's Zoo was formally opened by American Ambassador Joseph Kennedy and his sons Edward and Robert in 1938. Later it was visited by Princess Elizabeth. Huxley knew good publicity when he saw it.

  • 59 Huxley 1937, op. cit. (note 46), p. 15.

  • 60 Minutes of Council, 21 September 1938, in ZSL Archives.

  • 61 Warnings came regularly from Chalmers Mitchell, who continued to keep his hands in various parts of ZSL business. Typical warnings about the amount of time Huxley devoted to ZSL business came from Le Gros Clark (to Huxley, 17 February 1938, in Huxley Papers Rice, box 13 folder 1). Huxley did not think the situation nearly as bad as people complained; in addition, he regularly distinguished between executive and managerial functions; see, for example, Huxley to Lord Onslow, 10 March 1938, in Huxley Papers Rice, box 13 folder 2.

  • 62 Major Pam to Huxley, undated letter cited in Owen, op. cit. (note 12), pp. 35–36.

  • 63 Anonymous, ‘Zoo Secretary to resign?’, Daily Telegraph, 28 February 1940, in Huxley Papers Rice, box 137 folder 1. For correspondence stating Huxley's position, see Huxley Papers Rice, box 120 folder 6, esp. Huxley to Lord Onslow, 4 March 1940, and Bannerman et al., memo to Council, March 1940.

  • 64 Anonymous, ‘Zoo secretaryship’, Daily Telegraph, 2 March 1940, in Huxley Papers Rice, box 137 folder 1.

  • 65 Additional names are provided by Owen, op. cit. (note 12), p. 68.

  • 66 Huxley made the announcement formally at the Council meeting on 15 October 1941. He arrived in the USA on 5 December 1941 and immediately made (negative) headlines by arguing for American intervention in Europe. Though this headline was made moot a few days later by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the embarrassment added fuel to the fire in London over Huxley's affiliation with the ZSL.

  • 67 To be fair to Huxley, with American intervention in the war, any kind of return to London was extremely difficult and dangerous at the start of 1942. Nearly all air travel was seconded by the government; sea travel was not advised. Telegrams home to the contrary, Huxley was in no hurry to leave. For someone with his interests in planning and policy development, the excitement must have been immeasurable of being within easy reach of American policymakers at the very moment of international alliances coming into the open. On such matters Huxley delivered a speech at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's meeting at the end of December 1939; see J. Huxley, ‘Science, war and reconstruction’, Science 91, 151–158 (1940).

  • 68 26 August 1942, Huxley to H. G. Maurice, in Huxley Papers Rice, box 16 folder 3, attachment to letter of resignation of the same date. Huxley's side of the 1942 dispute, along with many press clippings, is well documented in Huxley Papers Rice, esp. box 16 folders 1–4 and box 120 folders 6–7. Useful detail is also provided by Owen, op. cit. (note 12).

  • 69 S. Zuckerman, ‘The Zoological Society of London: evolution of a constitution’, in The Zoological Society of London: 1826–1976 and beyond (ed. S. Zuckerman), pp. 1–16 (Academic Press for the Zoological Society of London, London, 1976), at p. 9.

  • 70 4 September 1942, Evan Morgan, Viscount Tredegar, to Julian Huxley, in Huxley Papers Rice, box 16 folder 3.

  • 71 A. Scott-James, ‘The Zoo votes against reform’, Picture Post, 5 September, 20–21 (1942).

  • 72 Scripts for these lectures are in Huxley Papers Rice, box 65 folder 4.

  • 73 E. J. Larson, Evolution's workshop: God and science on the Galápagos Islands (Basic Books, New York, 2001).

  • 74 J. Huxley, UNESCO, its purpose and its philosophy (Preparatory Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris, 1946); J. Toye and R. Toye, ‘One world, two cultures? Alfred Zimmern, Julian Huxley and the ideological origins of UNESCO’, History 95, 308–331 (2010).

  • 75 20 August 1942, Hemming to Huxley, in Huxley Papers Rice, box 16 folder 3.

  • 76 J. Cain, ‘Ernst Mayr and the “biology of birds”’, in Cain and Ruse, op. cit. (note 27), pp. 111–132.

  • 77 Huxley 1953, op. cit. (note 45), p. vii.

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