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THE RHETORIC OF T. H. HUXLEY WALTER E. HouGHTON FOR anyone so obviously devoted to controversy and propaganda, Huxley enjoyed a reputation for candour and sincerity that seems almost incredible. We can scarcely believe that the self-appointed champion of science, writing in an age of bitter religious controversy, and endowed with both pugnacity and a flair for style, could have resisted the temptation to use rhetorical sophistries of one kind or another. And use them he did, and with all the more success because, by great good luck, he had managed to acquire a reputation for simple honesty and plain speech which disarmed the usual caution of critics, as well as of general readers, on approaching polemical literature. This good fortune (is there any better, or rarer, for a partisan?) was ultimately derived from his well-known championship of freedom of inquiry , and his complementary scorn of hypocrisies and evasions.1 He became something like an apostle of veracity to a generation which found itself caught between belief and unbelief, and often forced, by social pressures or psychological fears, into insincerities as distasteful to them as they now seem to us. His enthusiastic reception in America in 1876 was primarily given to the champion "of freedom and sincerity in thought and word against shams and self-deceptions of every kind. It was not so much the preacher of new doctrines who was welcomed, as the apostle of veracity.))2 This conception of his style, no less than of his thought, was explicitly affirmed by James Routh in 1902 : "The most marked thing about his style is its clearness and sincerity. The man looks you straight in the eyes and speaks with a frankness and an earnestness which come from the bottom of the soul and carry conviction-a conviction of the absolute truthfulness of the man, if not of the soundness of his doctrine.~'8 Clearness, and therefore sincerity, that is a second due to Huxley's reputation. It is because his writing seems, and often is, so lucid and direct in diction and structure, so apparently free from artifice and elaboration, that it escapes the suspicion of rhetorical motivation. In Leonard Huxley's account of his father's style, we can see the identification of honesty and clarity which is now so firmly established in Huxleyan criticism. 1See, for example, his "Autobiography," in Method and Results (New York, 1898), 16; his famous letter to Charles Kingsley, in Leonard Huxley, Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (New York, 1901), I, 237-8; or, for a typical sentence, "Univers :ities: Actual and Ideal," in Science and Education (New York, 1898), 205: "The very air he breathes [the student in an ideal university] should be charged w1th that enthusiasm for truth, that fanaticism of veracity, which is a greater possession than much learning; a nobler gift than the power of increasing knowledge; by so much greater and nobler than these, as the moral nature of man is greater than the intellectual; for veracity is the heart of morality." 2Leonard Huxley, in Life and Letters~ I, 494. The italics are mine. BJames E. Routh, Jr., "Huxley as a Literary Man'' (Century Magazine, LXIII.; 1902, 393). 159 160 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY Have something to say, and say it, was the Duke of Wellington's theory of style; Huxley's was to say that which has to be said in such language that you can stand cross-examination on each word. Be clear, though you may be convicted of error. If you are clearly wrong, you will run up against a fact some time and get set right. If you shuffie with your subject, and study chiefly to use language which will give a loophole of escape either way, there is no hope for you. This was the secret of his lucidity.... In him science and literature, too often divorced, were closely united; and literature owes him a debt for importing into it so much of the highest scientific habit of mind; for showing that truthfulness need not be bald, and that real power lies more in exact accuracy than in luxuriance of diction.4 It is not surprising that this...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 159-175
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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