Aldous Huxley - Early Life

Early Life

See also: Huxley family

Aldous Huxley was born in Godalming, Surrey, England, in 1894. He was the third son of the writer and schoolmaster Leonard Huxley and his first wife, Julia Arnold, who founded Prior's Field School. Julia was the niece of poet and critic Matthew Arnold and the sister of Mrs. Humphrey Ward. Aldous was the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, the zoologist, agnostic and controversialist ("Darwin's Bulldog"). His brother Julian Huxley and half-brother Andrew Huxley also became outstanding biologists. Aldous had another brother, Noel Trevelyan Huxley (1891–1914), who committed suicide after a period of clinical depression.

Huxley began his learning in his father's well-equipped botanical laboratory, then continued in a school named Hillside. His teacher was his mother, who supervised him for several years until she became terminally ill. After Hillside, he was educated at Eton College. Huxley's mother died in 1908 when he was 14. In 1911, he suffered an illness (keratitis punctata) which "left practically blind for two to three years". Aldous' near-blindness disqualified him from service in the First World War. Once his eyesight recovered sufficiently, he was able to study English literature at Balliol College, Oxford. In 1916 he edited Oxford Poetry and later graduated (B.A.) with first class honours. His brother Julian wrote,

I believe his blindness was a blessing in disguise. For one thing, it put paid to his idea of taking up medicine as a career ... His uniqueness lay in his universalism. He was able to take all knowledge for his province.

Following his education at Balliol, Huxley was financially indebted to his father and had to earn a living. He taught French for a year at Eton, where Eric Blair (later to become George Orwell) and Stephen Runciman were among his pupils, but was remembered as an incompetent and hopeless teacher who couldn’t keep discipline. Nevertheless, Blair and others were impressed by his use of words. For a short while in 1918, he was employed acquiring provisions at the Air Ministry.

Significantly, Huxley also worked for a time in the 1920s at the technologically advanced Brunner and Mond chemical plant in Billingham, Teesside, and the most recent introduction to his famous science fiction novel Brave New World (1932) states that this experience of "an ordered universe in a world of planless incoherence" was one source for the novel.

Huxley-Arnold Family Tree (partial)
Thomas Arnold 1795–1842 Mary Penrose 1791–1873 George Huxley
Matthew Arnold 1822–1888 Tom Arnold 1823–1900 Thomas Henry Huxley 1825–1895 Ann Heathorn 1825–1915
Mary Augusta Ward 1851–1920 Julia Arnold 1862–1908 Leonard Huxley 1860–1933 Rosalind Bruce 1890–1994 Jessie Huxley 1856–1927
Trevelyan Huxley 1891–1914 Julian Huxley 1887–1975 Maria Nys 1899–1955 Aldous Huxley 1894–1963 Laura Archera 1911–2007 David Bruce Huxley 1915–1992 Andrew Huxley
Richenda Pease 1925–2003
Matthew Huxley 1920–2005

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