Aldous Leonard Huxley (July 26, 1894 – November 22, 1963) was an English writer who emigrated to the United States. He was a member of the famous Huxley family. Best known for his novels and wide-ranging output of essays, he also published short stories, poetry, travel writing, and film stories and scripts. Through his novels and essays Huxley functioned as an examiner and sometimes critic of social mores, societal norms and ideals. While his earlier concerns might be called humanist, ultimately, he became quite interested in spiritual subjects like parapsychology and philosophical mysticism, about which he also wrote. By the end of his life, Huxley was considered, in certain circles, a 'leader of modern thought'.
Aldous Huxley was born in Godalming, Surrey, England. He was the son of the writer and professional herbalist Leonard Huxley by his first wife, Julia Arnold; and grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, one of the most prominent naturalists of the 19th Century, a man known as "Darwin's Bulldog." His brother Julian Huxley was also a noted biologist.
Huxley began his learning in his father's well-equipped botanical laboratory, then continued in a school named Hillside, which his mother supervised for several years until she became terminally ill. After Hillside, he was educated at Eton College. Huxley's mother died in 1908, when Aldous was fourteen, and his sister Margaret died of an unrelated incident in the same month. Three years later Aldous suffered an illness (keratitis punctata) which "left [him] practically blind for two to three years". Aldous's near-blindness disqualified him from service in World War I. Once his eyesight recovered sufficiently, he was able to read English literature at Balliol College, Oxford.
Following his education at Balliol, Huxley was financially indebted to his father and had to earn a living. For a short while in 1918, he was employed acquiring provisions at the Air Ministry. But never desiring a career in administration (or in business), Huxley's lack of inherited means propelled him into applied literary work.
Huxley completed his first (unpublished) novel at the age of seventeen and began writing seriously in his early twenties. His earlier work includes important novels on the dehumanizing aspects of scientific progress, most famously Brave New World, and on pacifist themes (for example, Eyeless in Gaza). Huxley was strongly influenced by F. Matthias Alexander and included him as a character in Eyeless in Gaza.
During World War I, Huxley spent much of his time at Garsington Manor, home of Lady Ottoline Morrell. Later, in Crome Yellow (1921) he caricatured the Garsington lifestyle. He married Maria Nys, whom he had met at Garsington. They had one child, Matthew Huxley, who grew up to be an epidemiologist.
In 1937, Huxley moved to Hollywood, California with his wife Maria and friend Gerald Heard. At this time too Huxley wrote Ends and Means; in this work he explores the fact that although most people in modern civilization agree that they want a world of 'liberty, peace, justice, and brotherly love', they haven't been able to agree on how to achieve it. Heard introduced Huxley to Vedanta, meditation and vegetarianism through the principle of ahimsa. In 1938 Huxley befriended J. Krishnamurti, whose teachings he greatly admired. He also became a Vedantist in the circle of Swami Prabhavananda, and introduced Christopher Isherwood to this circle. Not long after, Huxley wrote his book on widely held spiritual values and ideas, The Perennial Philosophy, which discussed teachings of the world's great mystics.
During this period he was also able to tap into some Hollywood income using his writing skills, thanks to an introduction into the business by his friend Anita Loos, the prolific novelist and screenwriter. He received screen credit for Pride and Prejudice, 1940, and was paid for his work on a number of other films.
For most of his life since the illness in his teens which left Huxley nearly blind, his eyesight was poor (despite the partial recovery which had enabled him to study at Oxford). Around 1939 Huxley encountered the Bates Method for Natural Vision Improvement and a teacher (Margaret Corbett) who was able to teach him in the method. In 1940, relocating from Hollywood to a forty-acre ranchito in the high desert hamlet of Llano, in northernmost Los Angeles County, Huxley claimed his sight improved dramatically as a result of using the Bates Method, particularly utilizing the extreme and pure natural lighting of the Southwestern American desert. He reported that for the first time in over 25 years, he was able to read without spectacles and without strain. He even tried driving a car along the dirt road beside the ranch. He wrote a book about his successes with the Bates Method, The Art of Seeing which was published in 1942 (US), 1943 (UK).
After World War II Huxley applied for United States citizenship, but was denied because he would not say he would take up arms to defend America. Nevertheless he remained in the United States and in 1959 he turned down an offer of a Knight Bachelor by the Macmillan government.
During the 1950s, Huxley's interest in the field of psychical research grew keener and his later works are strongly influenced by both mysticism and his experiences with the psychedelic drug mescaline, to which he was introduced by the psychiatrist Humphry Osmond in 1953. Indeed Huxley was a pioneer of self-directed psychedelic drug use "in a search for enlightenment", famously taking 100 micrograms of LSD as he lay dying and his psychedelic drug experiences are described in the essays The Doors of Perception (the title deriving from some lines in the book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake) and Heaven and Hell. The title of the former became the inspiration for the naming of the rock band, The Doors. Some of his writings on psychedelics became frequent reading among early hippies.
In 1955 Huxley's wife, Maria, died of breast cancer and in 1956 he remarried, to Laura Archera, who was herself an author and who wrote a biography of Huxley.
In 1960, Huxley himself was diagnosed with cancer and in the years that followed, with his health deteriorating, he wrote the utopian novel Island, and gave lectures on "Human Potentialities" at the Esalen institute which were foundational to the forming of the Human Potential Movement. He was also invited to speak at several prestigious American universities and at a speech given in 1961 at the California Medical School in San Francisco, Huxley warned: "There will be in the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it." This idea was based on his 1932 novel, Brave New World, and echoed by contemporary writer J. B. Priestley in his 1954 novel, The Magicians.
Death and legacy
On his deathbed, unable to speak, Huxley made a written request to his wife for "LSD, 100". According to her account of his death (in her book This Timeless Moment), she obliged with an injection at 11:45am, and again a couple of hours later. He died peacefully at 5:20 that afternoon, November 22, 1963. Media coverage of his death was overshadowed by news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on the same day, as did the death of the Irish author C. S. Lewis. This coincidence was the inspiration for Peter Kreeft's book Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley.) Huxley was unaware of Kennedy's assassination as he lay dying.
Amongst humanists, Huxley was considered an intellectual's intellectual. His books were frequently on the required reading lists of English and modern philosophy courses in American colleges and universities and he was one of the twentieth-century thinkers honoured in the Scribners Publishing's "Leaders of Modern Thought" series (a volume of biography and literary criticism by Philip Thody, Aldous Huxley).
Huxley's satirical, dystopian, and utopian novels seldom fail to stimulate thought. The same may be said for his essays and essay collections. Perhaps his main message concerns the tragedy that frequently follows from egocentrism, self-centeredness, and selfishness.