A Brave Old Philosopher Revisited: Aldous Huxley
A star-filled and productive mind: HuxleyClick thumbnail to view full-size
A Brilliant and Contentious Mind
“Single-mindedness is all very well in cows or baboons; in an animal claiming to belong to the same species as Shakespeare it is simply disgraceful.“ Aldous Huxley…
How many hubbers, or online visitors, remember the epic reads, “Brave New Worlds, “ or “Brave New Worlds Revisited?”
This writer read both publications, but that which the inspired author had to say is sunk deep into the cornucopia of an investigative journalist’s memories, and I cannot bring a single phrase to mind, save the above.
Huxley had a pretty good start in life, born into a family of scientists and intellectuals which included Grandpa Thomas Henry Huxley, a contemporary and champion of Charles Darwin.
He went on to attend Eton and Oxford, assuring himself of success in any field he chose; the old boy network from these institutions supports both genius and buffoon, the last obvious among our brain-dead politicians, most of whom are Oxbridge grads, and survive mainly due to the “buddy“ system.
He was to enjoy much fame, yet endure much pain, in his 69 years on this mortal coil.
His beloved mother passed away with cancer when he was just 14, an age, perhaps, when a child most needs his or her parents. Then, one of his brothers committed suicide, and many of his contemporaries were killed in the trenches of the “Great” war (1914-1918), an oxymoron if ever I heard one.
To top all of this, while the brilliant young man was still at school, and infection struck him practically blind for more than 2 years.
Not a chap to let minor inconvenience like death and blindness hold him back, Huxley taught himself Braille in just a couple of weeks and even learned to play the piano! He played with alternate hands, while following the Braille music score with the unoccupied one!
He did get much of his vision back, which says a lot for the doctors of his day, lacking both the knowledge and technology available to today’s ophthalmologists. His vision was not good enough for him to follow his preferred career of medicine, although through the years he actually improved his vision further using the “Bates System“
Likewise, he corrected his posture (he was tall and reed thin) by diligently practicing the “Alexander Technique”
His contemporaries at Oxford included luminaries such as D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf, budding literary giants whom no doubt influenced young Aldous to become a writer himself, after a spate of dead-end jobs. He even tried teaching and hated it! (I empathize!).
He first tried his hand as a playwright, selling a few sketches which he was able to sell.
This was the post-WW1 years of the 1920’s and the county’s gay young things (in the original sense of the word…who told homosexuals they could sequester this fine old Anglo-Saxon word, anyway!?) were squandering their lives in luxurious decadence.
Perhaps due to his surfeit of suffering as a young man, Huxley, a humanist, first and foremost all his life, teased and mocked the giddy gadflies and their shallow self-indulgence in early publications, such as “Antic Hay.”
But would he have preferred today’s youth and their dependence on cell phones, lap-tops, texting and Face-booking, over flappers and their chinless, pipe-smoking and babbling escorts?
Although almost forgotten now, especially by a generation who can barely read, Huxley penned more than 50 books, including the stand-outs mentioned in my first sentence.
“Brave New Worlds” is, even today, a must read for anyone even remotely interested in the society of Huxley’s days, and how it’s perceptions and criticisms are, in many case, just as applicable now.
Huxley saw so much coming which we regard as part and parcel of today’s science, such as genetic engineering and the effects of pollution. As time went on, and other erudite voices agreed with Huxley and published their own work, Huxley began to take on the mantle of a sage.
Hollywood called, and Aldous settled there with his first wife, Maria in 1937. That was well before emigrating to the United States became almost as difficult as reaching the Moon. He took on screenwriting, producing humorous prose for films such as Jayne Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, as well as a treatment of Madame Curie.
Swimming against the sentiment to go to war in the USA before WW2, to help the old cousins across the pond, Huxley, enjoying the company of icons such as Greta Garbo, embroiled himself in the Pacifist Movement, neatly dividing his adherents and detractors; Mahatma Gandhi become his inspiration.
Huxley had one of the most active and curious minds of the last Century. He also loved his new nation and would ceaselessly travel around by motor vehicle, often accompanied by close friend, Gerald Heard. He marveled over the Grand Canyon; the huge trees of California’s north-east, the turbulent Pacific, and the grandeur of the unconquerable Rockies.
Letting Heard drive, Huxley’s lanky frame sprawled across the back seat as he devoured facts from the latest edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, his snorts of amazement and discovery amusing his friend. A friend, Bertram Russell, himself to become one of the greatest and most quoted minds of the following epoch, mused, “One could always tell by Huxley’s current interests, which section of Britannica he was on.”
Shocked and disgusted by the carnage of the two World Wars, he turned to Eastern mysticism for intellectual relief. The teaching found their way into his writing.
His quest led him into taking mescaline with Osmond, a British psychiatrist, saying his ‘trips’ expanded his consciousness, and causing him to actually invent the word “psychedelic,” referring to the flowering of the mind. But he stopped short of advocating the use of stronger hallucinogenics, such as LSD, saying they should be the province of professional experiments.
This huge intellect was stilled by cancer too soon, in 1963, just as the new age of social and sexual freedom was gathering a ‘pace. He had received many literary awards during his productive life, filled by his brilliant perceptions of his life and times - as well as accurate insight in what was to come…