Sunday 30 December 2018

The Crayfish; an Introduction to the Study of Zoology (1880)

The remarkable English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) was a self-taught comparative anatomist, paleontologist and geologist. He published widely the results of his own technical work on the anatomy and physiology of both vertebrates and invertebrates and their evolutionary relationships. He also become known as Darwin's Bulldog due to his robust public defence of Charles Darwin's work, whilst remaining critical of some aspects of Darwin's theory. Once Huxley had understood the theory of Natural Selection, he remarked; `How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!'  

Huxley was a well known public intellectual who actively tried to educate the Victorian public about  the methods and joys of natural history and biology. In this volume he gives a detailed examination of the crayfish, a class of common freshwater invertebrates related to the lobster, as a means to illustrate his approach to science;
Many persons seem to believe that what is termed Science is of a widely different nature from ordinary knowledge, and that the methods by which scientific truths are ascertained involve mental operations of a recondite and mysterious nature, comprehensible only by the initiated, and as distinct in their character as in their subject matter, from the processes by which we discriminate between fact and fancy in ordinary life.

But any one who looks into the matter attentively will soon perceive that there is no solid foundation for the belief that the realm of science is thus shut off from that of common sense; or that the mode of investigation which yields such wonderful results to the scientific investigator, is different in kind from that which is employed for the commonest purposes of everyday existence. Common sense is science exactly in so far as it fulfils the ideal of common sense; that is, sees facts as they are, or, at any rate, without the distortion of prejudice, and reasons from them in accordance with the dictates of sound judgment. And science is simply common sense at its best; that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.

Huxley tried to show that science was simply common sense at its best by delivering public lectures, many of which were later published. His method was to take an apparently obscure or abstract issue and explain it using commonplace objects that ordinary readers might reasonably be able to relate to. In 1868 he delivered a lecture On a piece of Chalk to the working men of Norwich. In 1870 he spoke at the Philosophical Institute in Bradford On the Formation of Coal.  In 1861 he gave a lecture to the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria & Albert Museum) on A Lobster; Or, the study of Zoology, which was both a precursor to this volume on the crayfish and an explanation of how the various elements of the physical and biological sciences were related. 

In this beautifully illustrated volume, Thomas Huxley aimed;
... to show how the careful study of one of the commonest and most insignificant of animals, leads us, step by step, from every-day knowledge to the widest generalizations and the most difficult problems of zoology; and, indeed, of biological science in general.  
Between 1862 and 1884 Huxley served on eight Royal Commissions, including; trawling, contagious diseases, scientific instruction, vivisection and medical law. Huxley is often referred to as a loyal supporter of Darwin, but he was an outstanding comparative anatomist in his own right.

Scanned copy of Original HERE.

Image Caption: The Australian crayfish. Huxley does not give the full latin name for this specimen, but indicates it is probably Astacoides nobilis or Astacoides armatus.


Holdich, D.M. (Ed.) (2001). Biology of Freshwater Crayfish. Blackwell Science. London.

Huxley, T.H. (1896). Discourses Biological and Geological. Appleton and Company, New York.