Happy 120th birthday to Aldous Huxley, born July 26, 1894!
“There are things known and there are things unknown and in between are the doors of perception.”
Aldous Huxley is widely known as the author of Brave New World, The Doors of Perception, and Island. Did you know he was also the grandson of scientist Thomas Henry Huxley, a Hollywood screenwriter who wrote the screenplay for Pride and Prejudice (1940), lectured on the “Human Potential” at The Esalen Institute in the 1960’s, and was once Eric Arthur Blair’s French teacher at Eton College before Eric went on to write 1984 and Animal Farm with the pen name George Orwell?
Special Collections at Stanford University Libraries has a sketchbook, which Huxley used when he was 17 years old. Dated March 7-July 6, 1912, it is possible that Huxley brought the sketchbook along with him during his travels through Marburg, Germany before attending Oxford University in the fall of 1913.
The sketchbook offers a glimpse into Huxley’s teenage mind and indicates the future of his interests as an adult. Found in the pages is a limerick, various watercolor paintings and pencil drawings of landscapes and soldiers, and a sketch of what appears to be a mechanical object (that looks like it could have been drafted by Duchamp or Picabia) whose purpose is unknown.
This artifact is significant for researchers because many of Huxley’s papers and personal belongings were lost in a fire that destroyed his home in 1961. In the documentary “Huxley on Huxley” he is quoted as saying, “I am a man without a past,” regarding the loss of his house and all of the things in it. The sketchbook also represents a period in his life when he was recovering from near blindness after an eye infection of keratitis punctata. His altered vision would cause some difficulty for him for the rest of his life.
Curious to view this precious piece of history for yourself? Email the Special Collections Reference Desk to set up a viewing of the Aldous Huxley Marburg sketchbook from 1912, call number MISC 168.