Mans Place In Nature And Other Essays

AuthorThomas Henry Huxley
SubjectHuman evolution
PublisherWilliams & Norgate

Publication date


Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature is an 1863 book by Thomas Henry Huxley, in which he gives evidence for the evolution of man and apes from a common ancestor. It was the first book devoted to the topic of human evolution, and discussed much of the anatomical and other evidence. Backed by this evidence, the book proposed to a wide readership that evolution applied as fully to man as to all other life.

Precursors of the idea[edit]

In the 18th century Linnaeus and others had classified man as a primate, but without drawing evolutionary conclusions. It was Lamarck, the first to develop a coherent theory of evolution, who discussed human evolution in this context.[2]Robert Chambers in his anonymous Vestiges also clearly made the point.[3]

The book came five years after Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace announced their theory of evolution by means of natural selection,[4] and four years after the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. In the Origin Darwin had deliberately avoided tackling human evolution, but left a gnomic trailer: "Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history".[5] Darwin's sequel came eight years later, with The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871).

Content and structure of the book[edit]


I. On the natural history of the man-like Apes p1–56. This contains a summary of what was known of the great apes at that time.

II. On the relations of Man to the lower animals p57–112. This chapter and its addendum contained most of the controversial material, and is still important today.

Addendum: A succinct history of the controversy respecting the cerebral structure of Man and the apes p113–118 (set in a smaller font).

III. On some fossil remains of Man p119–159. A neanderthal skull-cap and other bones had been found, and various remains of early Homo sapiens. Huxley compares these remains with existing human races.

Previous publication of the content[edit]

As Huxley said in his Advertisement of the Reader, most of the content of his book had been presented to the public before: "The greater part of the following essays has already been published in the form of Oral Discourses, addressed to widely different audiences, during the past three years." The oral presentations began in 1860. The publications in serials included:

  • 1861. On the zoological relations of Man with the lower animals. Natural History Review (new series), p67–84.
  • 1861. Man and the Apes. Letters to the Athenaeum, March 30 and September 21, p433 and 498.
  • 1862. The Brain of Man and Apes. letter to Medical Times & Gazette, October 25, p449.
  • 1862. On some fossil remains of Man. Proceedings of the Royal Institution of Great Britain3 (1858–1862), p420–422.
  • 1862. On some fossil remains of Man. Medical Times & Gazette24, 159–161.

The central argument[edit]

The second chapter contains the basic evidence for man as an animal. After half a dozen preliminary pages Huxley introduces the study of development: "that every living creature commences its existence under a form different from, and simpler to, that which it eventually attains" (p74).[6] Of course, this follows from fertilisation taking place in a single cell. He follows the embryological development of a dog, and its similarities with other vertebrates, before turning to man. "Without question... [man's] early stages of development... [are] far nearer the apes, than apes are to the dog" (p81).

Huxley next begins a comparison of the adult anatomy of apes with man, asking "Is man so different from any of these apes that he must form an order by himself?" (p85). "It is quite certain that the ape which most nearly approaches man is either the Chimpanzee, or the Gorilla..." (p86). "In the general proportions of the body and limbs there is a remarkable difference between the Gorilla and man (p87)... [but]... in whatever proportion the Gorilla differs from man, the other apes depart still more widely from the Gorilla and that, consequently, such differences of proportion can have no ordinal value" (p89). Put simply, Huxley rejects the idea that man should occupy an order separate from the apes. Therefore, they are primates.

Next, the skull and brains. "The difference between a Gorilla's skull and a man's are truly immense." (p92–93).... "Thus in the important matter of cranial capacity, men differ more widely from one another than they do from the apes; while the lowest apes differ as much, in proportion, from the highest, as the latter does from man" (p95). There is much more detailed comparative anatomy, leading to the same type of argument, for example: "Hence it is obvious that, greatly as the dentition of the highest ape differs from man, it differs far more widely from that of the lower and lowest apes" (p101). "Thus, whatever system of organs be studied, the comparison of their modifications in the ape series leads to one and the same result—that the structural differences which separate Man from the Gorilla and the Chimpanzee are not so great as those which separate the Gorilla from the lower apes" (p123). "But if man be separated by no greater structural barrier from the brutes than they are from each other—then it seems to follow that... there would be no rational ground for doubting that man might have originated... by the gradual modification of a man-like ape"... "At the present moment there is but one hypothesis which has any scientific existence—that propounded by Mr. Darwin" (p125).

Huxley's conclusion, that man differs from apes at the level of a family, may be compared with the opinion today that the distinction between the great apes and man is at the level of a subfamily, the Homininae or at the level of the tribe, Hominini or even at the level of a subtribe: the Hominina. The Australopithecines separate man from the great apes, and the genus Homo is almost certainly an offshoot of the early australopithecines, upright apes of the wooded savannah (see human taxonomy). The general opinion today is that man is more closely related to apes than even Huxley thought.

The addendum[edit]

The addendum to Chapter II was Huxley's account of his "Great Hippocampus Question" controversy with Owen about the comparison of human and ape brains. For the full text of the Addendum, see s:The cerebral structure of man and apes. In his Collected Essays this addendum was edited out, and is lacking in most later reprints.

A key event had already occurred in 1857 when Richard Owen presented (to the Linnean Society) his view that man was marked off from all other mammals by possessing features of the brain peculiar to the genus Homo. Having reached this opinion, Owen separated man from all other mammals in a subclass of its own.[7] No other biologist before or since has held such an extreme view.

The subject was raised at the 1860 BA Oxford meeting, when Huxley flatly contradicted Owen, and promised a later demonstration of the facts.

"I redeemed that pledge by publishing, in the January number of the Natural History Review for 1861, an article wherein the truth of the three following propositions was fully demonstrated (loc cit p71):
1. That the third lobe is neither peculiar to, nor characteristic of, man, seeing that it exists in all the higher quadrumana.
2. That the posterior cornu of the lateral ventricle is neither peculiar to, nor characteristic of, man, inasmuch as it also exists in the higher quadrumana.
3. That the 'hippocampus minor' is neither peculiar to, nor characteristic of, man, as it is found in certain of the higher quadrumana." [8]

In fact, a number of demonstrations were held in London and the provinces. In 1862 at the Cambridge meeting of the B.A. Huxley's friend William Flower gave a public dissection to show that the same structures (the posterior horn of the lateral ventricle and the hippocampus minor) were indeed present in apes. Thus was exposed one of Owen's greatest blunders, revealing Huxley as not only dangerous in debate, but also a better anatomist.

As he says, Huxley's ideas on this topic were summed up in January 1861 in the first issue (new series) of his own journal, the Natural History Review: "the most violent scientific paper he had ever composed".[9] The substance of this paper was presented in 1863 as chapter 2 of Man's place in Nature, with the addendum giving his account of the Owen/Huxley controversy about the ape brain.

In due course, Owen did finally concede that there was something that could be called a hippocampus minor in the apes, but said that it was much less developed and that such a presence did not detract from the overall distinction of smaller brain size.[10] Interpreted as an attempt to defend his original decision, Owen's point on brain size was answered by Huxley in Man's Place (excerpt above), and repeated when he wrote a section comparing ape and human brains for the second edition of Darwin's Descent of Man:

"Again, as respects the question of absolute size, it is established that the difference between the largest and the smallest healthy human brain is greater than the difference between the smallest healthy human brain and the largest chimpanzee's or orang's brain." and "A character which is thus variable within the limits of a single group can have no great taxonomic value." [11]

The extended argument on the ape brain, partly in debate and partly in print, backed by dissections and demonstrations, was a landmark in Huxley's career. It was highly important in asserting his dominance of comparative anatomy, and in the long run more influential in establishing evolution amongst biologists than was the debate with Samuel Wilberforce. It also marked the start of Owen's decline in the esteem of his fellow biologists.

Structure of the book[edit]

The first edition of Man's Place in Nature is arranged as follows: 8vo, 9x57/8 inches (23x15 cm), [viii]+159+[i]+8ads. Bound in dark green pebbled cloth with blind-stamped borders on boards, gilt lettering on spine as follows: head: Man's place in nature / [rule] / T.H. Huxley; foot: Williams and Norgate. Dark brick red advertisement end-papers front and back, with Williams & Norgate's publications. Frontispiece diagram of ape skeletons, photographically reproduced, after drawings by Waterhouse Hawkins, from specimens in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons. Title bears Williams & Norgate's medallion logo; date is 1863.

Translations and other editions[edit]

  • English: The original edition was reprinted in 1864. The American edition was first published in New York by Appleton in 1863. The type was reset and the format was slightly smaller than the London edition: 8vo, 81/4x51/4 inches (21x13.3 cm), ix+9–184+8ads+[ii].
  • German: translated by Victor Carus as Zeugnisse für die Stellung des Menschen in der Natur. Vieweg & Sohn, Braunschweig (Brunswick). 1863
  • Russian: translated by Vladimir Kovalevskii, published at St Petersberg. There were two separate editions of Man's Place prepared before Darwin's Origin was translated.[12]
  • French: Paris 1868 and 1910.
  • Italian: Milan 1869.
  • Polish: Warsaw 1874.
  • Chinese: Shanghai 1935.
  • Japanese: Tokyo 1940.

Comparison with Lyell's Antiquity of Man[edit]

In assessing Huxley's work, the content of Charles Lyell's The Antiquity of Man should be considered. It was published in early February 1863, just before Huxley's work, and covered the discoveries of traces of early man in the palaeolithic (Pleistocene). However, Lyell avoided a definitive statement on human evolution. Darwin wrote: "I am fearfully disappointed at Lyell's excessive caution" and "The book is a mere 'digest' ".[13] In other respects Antiquity was a success. It sold well, and it "shattered the tacit agreement that mankind should be the sole preserve of theologians and historians." [14] But when Lyell wrote that it remained a profound mystery how the huge gulf between man and beast could be bridged, Darwin wrote "Oh!" in the margin of his copy.[15] For this reason, despite its merits, Lyell's book did not anticipate the crucial arguments which Huxley presented.

Comparison with the Descent of Man[edit]

Eight years after Man's Place, Darwin's Descent of Man was published. In it Darwin faced the same task of persuading the reader of man's evolutionary heritage. He took, in Chapter 1 The evidence of the descent of man from some lower form, an approach which made good use of his vast supply of information on the natural history of mammals.

Darwin starts: "It is notorious that man is constructed on the same general type or model as other mammals..." (p6)[16] He goes on to discuss infections by similar diseases, the similarity of non-contagious diseases compared with monkeys, the liking of monkeys for tea, coffee and alcohol. He draws a wonderful word picture of baboons grumpily holding their aching heads the day after a drinking session (p7). He was aware that closely related animals always seemed to suffer from closely related parasites. He follows Huxley in his account of man's embryonic development, and then considers the evidence of vestigial organs, which he (and Huxley) called rudiments (p11). The discussion of a rare human hereditary condition permitting its possessors to move their scalps is connected to the regular use of this ability in many monkeys.[17] The fine lanugo, a covering of hair on the human foetus, is thought by Darwin to be a vestige of the first permanent coat of hair in those mammals which are born hairy. The existence of non-erupting third molars is connected to the shortening of the jaw in humans, and, like the shortened caecum in the alimentary canal, is an adaptation to the human change of diet from full herbivory (humans are omnivores) (p20–21).

"The bearing of the three great classes of facts now given[18] is unmistakable... [the facts] are intelligible if we admit their descent from a common ancestor, together with their subsequent adaptation to diversified conditions... Thus we can understand how it has come to pass that man and all other vertebrate animals have been constructed on the same general model, why they pass through the same early stages of development, and why they retain certain rudiments in common. Consequently we ought frankly to admit their community of descent" (p25).

Later, in Chapter 6, Darwin produces his famous passage on the birthplace and antiquity of man, quoting the Chimpanzee and Gorilla as evidence that " these two species are now man's nearest allies, it is somewhat more probable that our early progenitors lived on the African continent than elsewhere" (p155).

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

This illustration was the frontispiece. Huxley applied Darwin's ideas to humans, using comparative anatomy to show that humans and apes had a common ancestor, which challenged the theologically important idea that humans held a unique place in the universe.[1]
Animation showing the location of the hippocampus on either side in the lower central area of the brain.
  1. ^Bowler & Morus 2005, pp. 154–155
  2. ^Lamarck J.B. 1914 [1809]. Zoological philosophy: an exposition with regard to the natural history of animals. Translated by Hugh Elliot. Macmillan, London. p169–173
  3. ^[Chambers, Robert] 1844. Vestiges of the natural history of creation. p217–218
  4. ^Darwin, C.; Wallace, W.R. (1858). "On the Tendency of species to form varieties; and on the perpetuation of varieties and Species by natural means of selection". 3. Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London. Zoology: 46–50. 
  5. ^Darwin, Charles 1859. On the origin of species by means of natural selection. Murray, London. p488. 488.
  6. ^page references are to the Appleton 1863 edition, available on the web.
  7. ^Owen, Richard 1858. On the characters, principles of division, and primary groups of the Class Mammalia. Proc Linnean Society: Zoology2: p1–37
  8. ^Huxley T.H. 1863. Evidence as to Man's place in nature. Williams & Norgate, London. p114–115
  9. ^Browne, Janet 2002. Charles Darwin: the power of place. Volume 2 of a biography. Cape, London.
  10. ^Cosans, Christopher 2009. Owen's Ape and Darwin's Bulldog: beyond Darwinism and Creationism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press p109–111
  11. ^Huxley T.H. 1874. Notes on the resemblances and differences in the structure and the development of the brain in Man and the Apes. In Charles Darwin, Descent of Man and selection in relation to sex. 2nd ed. p309–318
  12. ^Desmond, Adrian 1994. Huxley: the Devil's disciple. Joseph, London. p318
  13. ^Burkhardt F. and Smith S. 1982–present. The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Cambridge, vol 11, p181 & 173.
  14. ^Browne, Janet 2002. Charles Darwin: the power of place. Volume 2 of a biography. Cape, London. p218
  15. ^Bynum W.F. 1984. Charles Lyell's Antiquity of Man and its critics. J. Hist Biol17 153–187.
  16. ^pagination from the 2nd edition of 1874.
  17. ^Darwin, C. 1872. The expression of the emotions in man and animals. Murray, London. p144
  18. ^namely: homologous structures in man and the lower animals; development; and rudimentary structures.

Appleton ed., Vol VII frontispiece

Same as President of the B. A. A. S., in "Hair"

Man's Place in Nature

[v] I AM very well aware that the old are prone to regard their early performances with much more interest than their contemporaries of a younger generation are likely to take in them; moreover, I freely admit that my younger contemporaries might employ their time better than in perusing the three essays, written thirty-two years ago, which occupy the first place in this volume. This confession is the more needful, inasmuch as all the premisses of the argument set forth in "Man's Place in Nature" and most of the conclusions deduced from them, are now to be met with among other well-established and, indeed, elementary truths, in the text-books.

Paradoxical as the statement may seem, however, it is just because every well-informed student of biology ought to be tempted to throw these essays, and especially the second, "On the Relations of Man to the Lower Animals," aside, as a fair mathematician might dispense with the reperusal of Cocker's arithmetic, that I think it [vi] worth while to reprint them; and entertain the hope that the story of their origin and early fate may not be devoid of a certain antiquarian interest, even if it possess no other.

In 1854, it became my duty to teach the principles of biological science with especial reference to paleontology. The first result of addressing myself to the business I had taken in hand was the discovery of my own lamentable ignorance in respect of many parts of the vast field of knowledge through which I had undertaken to guide others. The second result was a resolution to amend this state of things to the best of my ability; to which end, I surveyed the ground; and having made out what were the main positions to be captured, I came to the conclusion that I must try to carry them by concentrating all the energy I possessed upon each in turn. So I set to work to know something of my own knowledge of all the various disciplines included under the head of Biology; and to acquaint myself, at first hand, with the evidence for and against the extant solutions of the greater problems of that science. I have reason to believe that wise heads were shaken over my apparent divagations–now into the province of Physiology or Histology, now into that of Comparative Anatomy, of Development, of Zoology, of Paleontology, or of Ethnology. But even at this time, when I am, or ought to be, so much wiser, I really do not see that I could have [vii] done better. And my method had this great advantage; it involved the certainty that somebody would profit by my effort to teach properly. Whatever my hearers might do, I myself always learned something by lecturing. And to those who have experience of what a heart-breaking business teaching is–how much the can't-learns and won't-learns and don't-learns predominate over the do-learns–will understand the comfort of that reflection.

Among the many problems which came under my consideration, the position of the human species in zoological classification was one of the most serious. Indeed, at that time, it was a burning question in the sense that those who touched it were almost certain to burn their fingers severely. It was not so very long since my kind friend Sir William Lawrence, one of the ablest men whom I have known, had been well-nigh ostracized for his book "On Man," which now might be read in a Sunday-school without surprising anybody; it was only a few years, since the electors to the chair of Natural History in a famous northern university had refused to invite a very distinguished man to occupy it because he advocated the doctrine of the diversity of species of mankind, or what was called "polygeny." Even among those who considered man from the point of view, not of vulgar prejudice, but of science, opinions lay poles asunder. Linnæus had taken one view, Cuvier [viii] another; and, among my senior contemporaries, men like Lyell, regarded by many as revolutionaries of the deepest dye, were strongly opposed to anything which tended to break down the barrier between man and the rest of the animal world.

My own mind was by no means definitely made up about this matter when, in the year 1857, a paper was read before the Linnæan Society "On the Characters, Principles of Division and Primary Groups of the Class Mammalia," in which certain anatomical features of the brain were said to be "peculiar to the genus Homo," and were made the chief ground for separating that genus from all other mammals, and placing him in a division "Archencephala," apart from, and superior to, all the rest. As these statements did not agree with the opinions I had formed, I set to work to reinvestigate the subject; and soon satisfied myself that the structures in question were not peculiar to Man, but were shared by him with all the higher and many of the lower apes. I embarked in no public discussion of these matters; but my attention being thus drawn to them, I studied the whole question of the structural relations of Man to the next lower existing forms, with much care. And, of course, I embodied my conclusions in my teaching.

Matters were at this point, when "The Origin of Species" appeared. The weighty sentence "Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his [ix] history" (lst ed. p. 488) was not only in full harmony with the conclusions at which I had arrived, respecting the structural relations of apes and men, but was strongly supported by them. And inasmuch as Development and Vertebrate Anatomy were not among Mr. Darwin's many specialities, it appeared to me that I should not be intruding on the ground he had made his own, if I discussed this part of the general question. In fact, I thought that I might probably serve the cause of evolution by doing so.

Some experience of popular lecturing had convinced me that the necessity of making things plain to uninstructed people, was one of the very best means of clearing up the obscure corners in one's own mind. So, in 1860, I took the Relation of Man to the Lower Animals, for the subject of the six lectures to working men which it was my duty to deliver. It was also in 1860, that this topic was discussed before a jury of experts, at the meeting of the British Association at Oxford; and, from that time, a sort of running fight on the same subject was carried on, until it culminated at the Cambridge meeting of the Association in 1862, by my friend Sir W. Flower's public demonstration of the existence in the apes of those cerebral characters which had been said to be peculiar to man.

"Magna est veritas et prævalebit!" Truth is great, certainly, but, considering her greatness, it is [x] curious what a long time she is apt to take about prevailing. When, towards the end of 1862, I had finished writing "Man's Place in Nature," I could say with a good conscience, that my conclusions "had not been formed hastily or enunciated crudely." I thought I had earned the right to publish them and even fancied I might be thanked, rather than reproved, for so doing. However, in my anxiety to promulgate nothing erroneous, I asked a highly competent anatomist and very good friend of mine to look through my proofs and, if he could, point out any errors of fact. I was well pleased when he returned them without criticism on that score; but my satisfaction was speedily dashed by the very earnest warning, as to the consequences of publication, which my friend's interest in my welfare led him to give. But, as I have confessed elsewhere, when I was a young man, there was just a little–a mere soupçon– in my composition of that tenacity of purpose which has another name; and I felt sure that all the evil things prophesied would not be so painful to me as the giving up that which I had resolved to do, upon grounds which I conceived to be right. So the book came out; and I must do my friend the justice to say that his forecast was completely justified. The Boreas of criticism blew his hardest blasts of misrepresentation and ridicule for some years; and I was even as one of the [xi] wicked. Indeed, it surprises me, at times, to think how any one who had sunk so low could since have emerged into, at any rate, relative respectability. Personally, like the non-corvine personages in the Ingoldsby legend, I did not feel "one penny the worse." Translated into several languages, the book reached a wider public than I had ever hoped for; being largely helped, I imagine, by the Ernulphine advertisements to which I have referred. It has had the honour of being freely utilized, without acknowledgment, by writers of repute; and, finally, it achieved the fate, which is the euthanasia of a scientific work, of being inclosed among the rubble of the foundations of later knowledge and forgotten.

To my observation, human nature has not sensibly changed during the last thirty years. I doubt not that there are truths as plainly obvious and as generally denied, as those contained in "Man's Place in Nature," now awaiting enunciation. If there is a young man of the present generation, who has taken as much trouble as I did to assure himself that they are truths, let him come out with them, without troubling his head about the barking of the dogs of St. Ernulphus. "Veritas prævalebit"–some day; and, even if she does not prevail in his time, he himself will be all the better and the wiser for having tried to help her. And let him recollect that such great [xii] reward is full payment for all his labour and pains.

"Man's Place in Nature," perhaps, may still be useful as an introduction to the subject; but, as any interest which attaches to it must be mainly historical, I have thought it right to leave the essays untouched. The history of the long controversy about the structure of the brain, following upon the second dissertation, in the original edition, however, is omitted. The verdict of science has long since been pronounced upon the questions at issue; and no good purpose can be served by preserving the memory of the details of the suit.

In many passages, the reader who is acquainted with the present state of science, will observe much room for addition; but, in all cases, the supplements required, are, I believe, either indifferent to the argument or would strengthen it.


The first three Essays were published in January, 1863, under the title of "Man's Place in Nature"; the fourth essay appeared in the Fortnightly Review, the fifth in the Contemporary Review, and they were republished in Critiques and Addresses. The Essay on the Aryan Question appeared in the Nineteenth Century for November, 1890.

Wellcome Museum

Huxley's Collected Essays.

Volume I, Method and Results
Volume II, Darwiniana
Volume III, Science & Education
Volume IV, Science and Hebrew Tradition
Volume V, Science and Christian Tradition
Volume VI, Hume: With Helps to the Study of Berkeley
Volume VII, Man's Place in Nature
Volume VIII, Discourses: Biological & Geological
Volume IX, Evolution & Ethics and Other Essays


§ 1.THH: His Mark§ 2.Voyage of the Rattlesnake§ 3.A Sort of Firm§ 4.Darwin's Bulldog§ 5.Hidden Bond: Evolution§ 6.Frankensteinosaurus§ 7.Bobbing Angels: Human Evolution§ 8.Matter of Life: Protoplasm§ 9.Medusa§ 10.Liberal Education§ 11.Scientific Education§ 12.Unity in Diversity§ 13.Agnosticism§ 14.New Reformation§ 15.Verbal Delusions: The Bible§ 16.Miltonic Hypothesis: Genesis§ 17.Extremely Wonderful Events: Resurrection and Demons§ 18.Emancipation: Gender and Race§ 19.Aryans et al.: Ethnology§ 20.The Good of Mankind§ 21. Jungle Versus Garden


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