Huxley, Aldous (Leonard) (1894–1963)
Eminent British novelist whose brief volumes The Doors of
Perception (1954) and Heaven and Hell (1956) pioneered discussions
on the relationship between drug experience and mysticism.
Huxley was born in Godalming, England, on July 27,
1894, grandson of a famous biologist. He was educated at Eton
and at Balliol College, Oxford University (B.A., 1916). He suffered
from defective vision and about 1935 began special eyetraining
exercises according to the system of W. H. Bates.
These involved special visualization techniques. Huxley found
a remarkable improvement in vision and describes his experiences
in his book The Art of Seeing (1942).
He went on to write a number of critically hailed novels,
short stories, and essays, including Crome Yellow (1921), Antic
Hay (1923), Point Counter Point (1928), Eyeless in Gaza (1936),
and Ape and Essence (1949). His prophetic novel Brave New
World (1932) rose above all his writings as a particularly effective
statement against modern forms of totalitarianism and of
the threat posed to individual liberty by technology.
Through Huxley’s early friendship with novelist D. H. Lawrence
he began to be interested in mystical perception, and toward
the end of his life this interest deepened and mellowed
his later writings. After a period of living in southern France
the Huxleys eventually settled in Los Angeles. After Huxley’s
wife Maria died in 1955, he married Laura Archera. Huxley
himself died on November 22, 1963 (the same day President
Kennedy was assassinated).
Huxley’s developing interest in occult themes is indicated by
his books The Devils of Loudon (1952), The Doors of Perception
(1954), and Heaven and Hell (1956). Huxley had met occultist
Aleister Crowley in Berlin in 1930 and through him was familiar
with the effects of mescaline, but it was not until summer
1953 that Huxley took the four-tenths of a gram of mescaline
that resulted in his own enthusiasm for the possibilities of hallucinogens.
Huxley’s discussions of consciousness-expanding
drugs were drawn upon by such apostles of the psychedelic revolution
as Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, but Huxley
himself opposed indiscriminate drug-taking. According to his
brother, the famous biologist Sir Julian Huxley, he realized
‘‘that LSD would not bring liberation and understanding to everyone,
and in his last book, Island, he points out its potential
danger . . . though his warnings were not heeded.’’
Sources
Huxley, Aldous. Aldous Huxley’s Hearst Essays. New York
Garland Publishing, 1994.
———. The Devils of Loudon. London Chatto & Windus,
1952.
———. The Doors of Perception. New York Harper, 1954.
———. Heaven and Hell. New York Harper, 1956.
———. Island. London Chatto & Windus, 1962.
———. Moksha Writings on Psychedelics and the Visionary Experience.
New York Stonehill, 1977.