We Are Amphibians tells the fascinating story of two brothers who changed the way we think about the future of our species. As a pioneering biologist and conservationist, Julian Huxley helped advance the “modern synthesis” in evolutionary biology and played a pivotal role in founding UNESCO and the World Wildlife Fund. His argument that we must accept responsibility for our future evolution as a species has attracted a growing number of scientists and intellectuals who embrace the concept of Transhumanism that he first outlined in the 1950s. Although Aldous Huxley is most widely known for his dystopian novel Brave New World, his writings on religion, ecology, and human consciousness were powerful catalysts for the environmental and human potential movements that grew rapidly in the second half of the twentieth century. While they often disagreed about the role of science and technology in human progress, Julian and Aldous Huxley both believed that the future of our species depends on a saner set of relations with each other and with our environment. Their common concern for ecology has given their ideas about the future of Homo sapiens an enduring resonance in the twenty-first century. The amphibian metaphor that both brothers used to describe humanity highlights not only the complexity and mutability of our species but also our ecologically precarious situation.
We Are Amphibians Julian and Aldous Huxley on the Future of Our Species
Fifty years ago, when I was a boy, it seemed completely self-evident that the bad old days were over, that torture and massacre, slavery, and the persecution of heretics, were things of the past. Among people who wore top hats, traveled in trains, and took a bath every morning such horrors were simply out of the question. After all, we were living in the twentieth century.
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited, 1958
On the 28th of April 1900, the Prince of Wales visited the Natural History Museum in London to unveil a statue of the legendary man of science, Thomas Henry Huxley. At the dedication of this monument to his grandfather, Julian Huxley stood beside his ostentatiously erudite father, the schoolmaster and author Leonard Huxley, then at work on the Life and Letters of T. H. Huxley. On his other side stood his beautiful and quick-witted mother, Julia Arnold Huxley, a scion of the Arnold family who was preparing to found a school of her own at Prior's Field in Surrey. It fell to Julian to manage his younger brothers, Trevenen and Aldous, while his mother was busy with his newborn sister, Margaret. Nonetheless, Julian was delighted at this chance to wear his new Eton uniform for all to see: black trousers, a slim black jacket, the distinctively sharp Eton collar, and a brand new top hat. Now thirteen and advancing steadily in his formal education, Julian could remember his first conversations about the life sciences with Thomas Henry Huxley, and he could even recall with some pride the time he had bested the world-famous biologist concerning the familial behavior of a fish known as the stickleback. He was now old enough to know that the family patriarch had made a name for himself by defending Darwin's theory of evolution against a horde of angry critics, including the bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce. Thomas Henry Huxley's supporters had hailed him as an indefatigable advocate of science and progress, while conservative critics on both sides of the Atlantic had accused him of inventing a new bottle, labeled "agnosticism," for what was nothing more than the dangerous old wine of atheism.
So much had changed since that storied debate at Oxford in the summer of 1860. This monument and the presence of the future king Edward VII at its unveiling bore witness to the fact that, five years after his death, Professor Huxley's reputation and his cause were both thoroughly established. Darwin's theory of evolution was now widely accepted by educated people across the industrialized world. Even in China, where the Qing dynasty was caught in its own Darwinian struggle for survival, the court reformer Yen Fu had galvanized the attention of the literati by translating T. H. Huxley's Evolution and Ethics into classical Chinese. In addition to achieving global renown, T. H. Huxley had been the recipient of so many honors from the British establishment in the last decade of his life that he archly joked to his son Leonard that he expected to be appointed as a bishop someday.
While he no doubt enjoyed such vindication and acclaim, T. H. Huxley remained deeply aware of the ethical problems posed by the Darwinian revolution. At the end of his life, he had come to see the human condition, in light of Darwin's discoveries, as a profound paradox: it was imperative for human beings to cherish and protect their sense of morality, even though there was no clear message to be derived from the science of evolutionary biology that might serve as touchstone for human ethics. The burden of his agnostic position was captured in the monument that the prince of Wales unveiled that April morning. The last public monument to be crafted by Royal Academy sculptor Edward Onslow Ford, the piece captures T. H. Huxley seated but certainly not at rest. His left hand is balled in a fist, reflecting the tension on his brow, while his right hand grips the arm of his chair as if he is just about to pull himself up and strike another verbal blow against any one of his myriad adversaries from a life that had been full of public battles.
Julian's youngest brother, Aldous, stood nervously to see the proceedings, and to gaze at this imposing statue through the throng of adults. At six years old, Aldous was very thin and much taller than most children his age. His preternaturally large head seemed ill placed atop his spare frame, prompting his siblings and playmates to give him a nickname that he would remember for the rest of his life, "Ogie"-short for ogre. As he grew up, Aldous would have only the dimmest memories of T. H. Huxley, but, like his eldest brother, he would dream until his adolescence that he would one day also have a career in the sciences. Specifically, Aldous set his sights on the field of medicine, though these aspirations were cut short by an adolescent illness that would badly damage his eyesight. Although he would pursue a career in literature, he never forgot his grandfather's fierce devotion to uncovering the truth about the origins and nature of life, however shocking it might be to our sensibilities.
When he was an old man, the main thing that Julian would remember most vividly about this event was not the fact that the prince of Wales and numerous members of Parliament were there, along with many of the late professor's former students, to honor the memory of his grandfather. He would not remember the statue, which was placed opposite a statue of Richard Owen, one of T. H. Huxley's rivals in more than a few scientific controversies. He did not recall the presiding official's remarks, in which he recounted that donations for the Huxley monument had come from every state in Europe and from the United States, India, and "the remotest colonies," nor did he recall the gratitude expressed that the prince of Wales had survived "the dreadful peril" of a recent assassination attempt by anarchists in Belgium. What Julian Huxley did recollect from that morning was the way in which his sick little brother Aldous nearly spoiled the whole affair for him. It is not difficult to imagine how such a lifelike figure of their late grandfather, so ready to spring up from his chair, may have been disturbing to a gangly boy of six that morning. And his nervousness would have no doubt been compounded by the crowds, the presence of royalty, and the echo of so many feet and so much whispering in the North Hall of the Natural History Museum. Or maybe young Aldous had picked up a virus on the train into London from Surrey. Whatever the case may have been, young Julian was implored "in urgent whispers" by his panicked mother "to give up his top hat . . . for Aldous, queasy, overcome, to be sick in."
Aldous could not have intended to mar Julian's experience of that morning at the museum, but there would be many other times when his goading of his eldest brother would be quite deliberate. For all of their breeding and education, the Huxley brothers could not help but manifest the innate tendency of siblings to needle each other for sport. On the occasion of Julian's twenty-first birthday, Aldous, just shy of fourteen, wrote to Julian, "Thanks for your extremely pseudo-letter. Trev tells me you have of course not written to him." Then in honor of his eldest brother's birthday, Aldous penned a rambling poem, beginning with these lines:
Now let us eat the festal cake
and munch the festal bun
for hoary time shall shortly take
(that nasty chap with scythe and rake)
of J's years twenty-one.
Since that he soon shall come of age
take up his book of life,
and turn it over page by page
youll [sic] find it full of wicked rage
and fratricidal strife.
The ditty continues with an arch salute to "martyred brothers [sic] patient grief" and a brief catalog of Julian's "love affairs beyond belief" in which names are replaced with single initials. Given the date of the letter, May 28, 1908, "the beauteous K." with whom Aldous closes the list is most likely the same "K." to whom Julian was engaged at the time-until she broke off the engagement in the spring of 1913.
For a budding satirist such as Aldous Huxley, the very serious-and frequently self-serious-Julian must have been the perfect straight man on which to practice his craft. The majority of Aldous's papers and letters were destroyed in the Hollywood Hills fire of 1961, including the letters he received from friends and family over the years. Thus there is no evidence remaining to tell us whether the ribbing that Aldous delivers in this letter from May 1908 flustered or upset Julian to any significant degree. In light of the events that would take place in the succeeding months and years-their mother's death from cancer in November 1908 and their brother Trev's suicide in August 1914-the letter takes on a poignancy that its author could barely have imagined as he crafted these rhymes to gently ridicule his eldest brother.
In his memoirs, Julian Huxley describes the reactions of Trev, Aldous, Margaret, and himself to the untimely death of their beloved mother, Julia Arnold Huxley. In a particularly telling passage, Julian recounts how his horror at the sight of his sick mother prompted him to literally run away from her bed: "I was overcome, and ran out into the drive-anywhere in the open air, away from that doomed bed." Although he was a young man of twenty-one who had just won a prestigious literary prize at Oxford, the grief and horror of this scene left Julian utterly incoherent. Moments after he fled from his mother's deathbed, "Mrs. Judson, a Charterhouse master, came to ask how she was: I just couldn't answer and rushed out into the fields with my misery." At the funeral, Julian recalled that "Trev and I were on the verge of tears, and Aldous, then at the critical age of fourteen, stood in stony misery." The youngest Huxley, Margaret, "looked bewildered and frightened, as well she might, destined at an early age to a bereft existence, until my father married again four years later." The death of their mother meant the end of their bucolic life near the Charterhouse School, as their father moved them a few months later into "a gloomy London House in Westbourne Square, away from our beloved Surrey."
Within a few years, the Huxley family would face other calamities. In 1911, Aldous suffered severe damage to his eyesight due to a severe bacterial infection that the domestic servant who was caring for him had failed to recognize in time. For a period of two years Aldous was unable to see printed materials, and so he learned to read Braille by the time his was seventeen. As some of his eyesight returned, he continued his studies at Oxford with the aid of a magnifying glass and thick spectacles. Although he rarely complained about this crisis and its aftermath, it separated him from the things that he already loved as an adolescent: reading, painting, and exploring the English countryside. Aldous also reflected, in a 1957 interview, that it also made him unfit for military service, "and so I no doubt may owe my life to it." As if to compound the general sense of catastrophe, the same month that plunged Europe into the Great War also brought the suicide of Trev.
In the summer of 1914, Julian Huxley was in the same nursing home with Trev. Although he did not yet understand what had precipitated Trev's nervous breakdown, Julian was recovering from his own collapse after a failed love affair that had ended in 1913 with a broken engagement, followed by his first very challenging year of teaching in the United States. Julian described his own feelings for "K.," the young woman whom he had first met when she was a student at his mother's school, and to whom he had been engaged for a year, as a tortured mixture of "attraction, loyalty, and guilt. It must have been clear that I wasn't in love with her, in the true sense of the word; the ambivalent situation was becoming increasingly difficult for both of us." The breakup had precipitated an earlier breakdown for Julian in the summer of 1913, but he had managed to recover sufficiently and traveled to the United States to begin his first year of teaching at the Rice Institute in Houston. When he returned to England in late spring of 1914, Julian relapsed into a state of depression and checked into a boardinghouse in Pass Christian, Mississippi. When he returned to England, he stayed in a nursing home, and discovered that "Trev had had a breakdown too, and was in the same nursing home." Weeks later, Julian went to stay with a family friend, while his brother Trev stayed behind. At the end of June, the news of Archduke Ferdinand's assassination in Sarajevo and the ominous drift toward war dominated Julian's attention so much that when "the disquieting news that Trev was missing from the nursing home" arrived in August, Julian "thought that perhaps he had enlisted in the Army on a sudden impulse. But the news soon came that he had hanged himself in the dense woods nearby." While Aldous would revisit the horror of Trev's suicide in his fiction, Julian attempted, more than fifty years after the fact, to explain it in his memoirs:
Trev had become deeply attached to an attractive and intelligent young housemaid working at the new family home in Bracknell Gardens, and was secretly trying to educate her by taking her out to plays, concerts and lectures. After a time he realized the hopelessness and unsuitability of the situation; and so did the girl, who gave her notice. The break between them was to be final, but she wrote him a letter full of despondency, just as he was recovering from his breakdown. It was too much for him, and he chose to die. Sarah, our faithful parlourmaid, knew about the affair, and was able to explain the girl's letter found in Trev's pocket.
Given that Julian and Aldous wrote so little about the specific events surrounding Trev's suicide, we are left only to guess about why the relationship between this young man and woman, which appeared to be sincere as well as passionate, had ultimately to be abandoned because of the "hopelessness and unsuitability of the situation." The class-consciousness of the Huxley family had been a decisive factor in this suicide. To begin with, Trev had been disappointed in himself for not living up to the high academic standards set by his forebears and siblings. As the son of a schoolteacher, Thomas Henry Huxley had not been fated to attend either Oxford or Cambridge, but he ultimately helped to change the policies of both universities so that they were not the exclusive reserve of Anglicans from the upper classes. Leonard had broken a barrier by matriculating at Oxford, and he further strengthened the family's connection with the rising intellectual aristocracy of Britain when he married the daughter of the noted school inspector Tom Arnold, younger brother to the poet and essayist Matthew Arnold. For any young person who aspired to an intellectual or professional career, having both T. H. Huxley's and Matthew Arnold's family trees was as likely to be as much of a burden as an inspiration. Trev, who unlike Julian and later Aldous, failed to achieve a First at Oxford, felt that burden throughout his short life, but most acutely in the summer of 1914.
Soon after Trev's suicide, Aldous wrote to his cousin Gervas Huxley: "There is-apart from the sheer grief and loss-an added pain in the cynicism of the situation. It is just the highest and best in Trev-his ideals-which have driven him to his death-while there are thousands, who shelter their weakness from the same fate by a cynical, unidealistic outlook on life. Trev was not strong-but he had the courage to face life with ideals-and his ideals were too much for him." Aside from praising Trev for his ideals, these remarks may contain a veiled criticism of the Huxley family and of Aldous himself. The "cynicism of the situation" is a vague remark, but it could well apply to the parvenu fastidiousness within the Huxley family that had doomed Trev's romance, for all of his apparent sincerity, to secrecy and shame.
Aldous's criticism of the "thousands, who shelter their weakness . . . by a cynical unidealistic outlook on life" could well have applied to himself in the coming decade when he described himself as a "Pyrrhonic aesthete" who could not take any ideals at all very seriously. Whether he tried to make sense of it or not, Trev's suicide had left a deep and lasting wound. As the summer of 1914 faded into the dawning horror of the Great War, Aldous wrote to his friend Jelly D'Aranyi, the beautiful Hungarian violinist, about his memories of Trev. To her he would confide both his sense of gratitude at having had a brother such as Trev, and his bitter feelings of emptiness:
One ought to be grateful and thankful for all the years one has spent with one that was among the noblest and best of men-but Oh God, it's bitter sometimes to sit in this room reading before the fire-alone and to think of all the happy evenings we sat there together and all the hours I hoped to have again, when he was better. It's a selfish grief perhaps, but oh Jelly, you know what he meant to me.
Julian saw a direct link between the tragedy of their mother's death and the tone of Aldous Huxley's novels during the following decade: "I am sure that this meaningless catastrophe was the main cause of the protective cynical skin in which he clothed himself and his novels in the 1920s." Undoubtedly the death of his mother did influence Aldous Huxley during the 1920s, along with the subsequent and equally inexplicable tragedies of 1914. As an adolescent he suffered the blow of losing his mother and his life in Surrey, followed by the near-total loss of his eyesight in 1911. As he came into manhood, Aldous had barely recovered when he suffered the loss of his favorite brother to an inexplicable suicide in the same month that saw the commencement of hostilities in Europe and British entry into the war. Aldous had at first met these events with the same nationalistic spirit of his compatriots, but he soon regarded the war as more murderous and absurd with each passing year, and advised his brother Julian to remain in America and stay out of it altogether.
It seems facile, however, to attribute the cynicism of Aldous Huxley's first novels entirely, or even primarily, to some sort of emotional self-defense mechanism. For one thing, the Great War was such an unmitigated disaster that it inspired a virtual pandemic of cynicism among thinking people in its aftermath. Furthermore, Aldous had been less afraid of his mother's death than his elder brother had been at the time. He had stayed beside Julia when he visited her deathbed, and he treasured the words of her last note to him for the rest of his life. In a 1915 letter to his friend Jelly D'Aranyi, Aldous wrote:
You never knew my mother-I wish you had because she was a very wonderful woman: Trev was most like her. I have just been reading again what she wrote to me just before she died. The last words of her letter were "Don't be too critical of other people and 'love much'"-and I have come to see more and more how wise that advice was. It's a warning against a rather conceited and selfish fault of my own and it's a whole philosophy of life.
For all of the diverse philosophies that Aldous had throughout his career, he returned many times to the substance of Julia's advice. In the last years of his life, Aldous remarked, "It is a little embarrassing that after forty five years of research and study, the best advice I can give people is to be a little kinder to each other." Moreover, the courage to face the reality of death became a theme in Aldous Huxley's novels until the end of his life. In Brave New World, the death of the Savage's mother in a London hospital is prophetic of the first-world way of dying that would become almost universal in industrialized countries after 1945: doped up on medication and distracted by the steady stream of meaningless images and sounds from the television screen at the foot of her bed.
Trev's legacy is not discussed much in Julian's memoir, but his life and death clearly had a profound and lifelong effect on Julian. In her memoir, written a decade after Julian's death, his widow, Juliette Huxley, expressed her long-held conviction that her husband's tortured feelings about Trev were at the root of his frequently neurotic and insensitive behavior. Julian had confessed to her that as a child he had deeply resented the arrival of Trev for robbing him of his mother's hitherto exclusive attention. This festering resentment was both complicated and compounded by Trev's suicide. According to Juliette, the conflicted memory of Trev was a destructive neurosis that followed Julian to his deathbed: "A few months before he died, tormented and tormenting, I said to him: 'Julian, you have a demon within yourself, and it is destroying you, and me'-to which, quite casually, he replied, 'Of course I have a demon, had it since I was four.'"
Decades after Trev's suicide, when Aldous and Maria's only child, Matthew Huxley, married and had a young son, Aldous encouraged him to name the boy Trevenen, to honor the brother whom he still remembered as "a very rare being whom we all loved." Beyond that, there is very little in the surviving correspondence of Aldous Huxley to account fully for the causes of Trev's suicide. In two of Aldous Huxley's novels from the 1930s, however, he depicts two pivotal characters whose suicides are motivated at least partially by high ideals and an acute sense of sexual guilt.
The first of these characters is "the Savage" in Brave New World, who condemns the mindless hedonism of the World State and ends up living in an abandoned lighthouse several miles north of London, where he struggles to purify himself and eradicate his infatuation with the beautiful Lenina Crowne through a monastic regime of simple living and self-flagellation. When his practice of whipping himself is recorded by the broadcast media and becomes a fashionable sexual fetish among the citizens of the World State, they flock to the lighthouse to watch his painful ritual. After a steady stream of attention from hordes of adoring voyeurs, the Savage is finally lured into taking soma and participating in an orgy. The next morning, when he remembers what he has done, he ends his life as Trev had ended his, by hanging himself.
Three years later, in his 1934 novel, Eyeless in Gaza, Aldous would describe the suicide of a character with a closer resemblance to Trev. Brian Foxe is a gentle spirit who needlessly complicates his relationship with a young woman whom he loves because of his reticence about both marriage and sex. Brian delays marriage to the young woman by refusing to accept financial assistance from his elders, and he complicates the relationship itself with his fear that any kind of physical intimacy, outside of marriage at least, would turn a beautiful and spiritual relationship into something base and physical. When the novel's protagonist, an aspiring sociologist named Anthony Beavis (based in most respects on Aldous himself), moves to seduce the young woman merely for the sport of it, the whole situation unravels quickly. She writes to Brian Foxe and confesses her deep feelings for Anthony-which she naïvely believes are mutual. Young Brian Foxe, knowing that he has lost his love and been betrayed by his best friend, ends his life by jumping from a cliff while on a hike in the Lake District. The character of Brian Foxe's mother is a saintly and beautiful woman who exemplifies many of the traits of Julia Arnold Huxley, making Eyeless in Gaza a tortured meditation on two of the greatest personal losses in Aldous Huxley's life.
It is impossible to say whether the acute sexual repression that played a role in Brian Foxe's suicide was also a part of Trev's psychological makeup. Such a repressive attitude toward sex was hardly an operative factor in the adult lives of Julian and Aldous Huxley, however. Aldous's wife, Maria, was bisexual and made a habit in the twenties and thirties of arranging liaisons for him, one of which included a ménage à trois with the beautiful socialite Mary Hutchinson, whom Huxley friend and biographer Sybille Bedford describes as one of the fashionable and intimidating "brilliant ones" in the Bloomsbury circle. Late in 1929, Julian, then in his early forties, became infatuated during his travels to eastern Africa with a nineteen-year-old American woman named Viola Ilma, to whom he made this alarming, if vaguely absurd declaration: "I shall conquer you with my mind." The ploy apparently worked, and in a letter home, Julian peremptorily informed his wife that they were now to have an open marriage. Although he declared that he was willing to follow Ilma to a new life in the United States, the affair did not last quite as long as Julian had hoped, as Viola Ilma went on to pursue her career as a writer, editor, and increasingly right-wing spokesperson for various youth movements in the 1930s. The initial betrayal and extended humiliations of this affair deeply wounded Juliette, as she revealed in her memoir. She described Julian's behavior during this period as reflective of his lifelong capacity to torture both himself and others with a domineering personality lacerated by painful and enduring contradictions. Although he was "puritan by upbringing," she observed, Julian exhibited the tendencies of a "repressed romantic, emotionally adolescent" individual deep into middle age. As he carried out his affair with Viola Ilma on his next lecture tour across North America and even attempted, without success, to find a new research position for himself in the United States, Julian encouraged Juliette to have a liaison of her own with another man. This she dutifully did, with the advice and encouragement of her psychoanalyst. Recalling her affair with a man whom she called Jason, who would later be lost at sea during the Second World War, Juliette writes, "What I inevitably missed in Julian, Jason gave me in abundance-a devotion which made no complex demands, a constant understanding and tenderness."
In addition to this affair, Juliette Huxley would soon begin a long-term and intimate relationship with another woman. In 1936, the American poet May Sarton, after an abortive affair with Julian Huxley, became smitten with Juliette. The precise details of their relationship have remained private, but they conducted a secret correspondence that lasted decades. Although Juliette did not even mention May Sarton in her 1986 memoir, her relationship with the poet was documented in letters released years after her death. The fact that both Maria Nys Huxley and Juliette Huxley were bisexual is perhaps not surprising given the attitude toward human sexuality shared by the Huxley brothers and their broad circle of friends. Their letters and writings indicate that Julian and Aldous had a more open and accepting view of same-sex relationships than was common in the early to mid-twentieth century. Lifelong friends with gay men such as the novelist Christopher Isherwood and polymath Gerald Heard, Aldous made the open acceptance of homosexuality an explicit feature of the utopian society he depicted in Island. For his part, Julian was remarkably frank in his memoirs about his feelings of strong romantic attraction to another boy when he was an adolescent.
In his novel Point Counter Point, Aldous described the Great War as a time "when the bottom had been knocked out of everything," including long-standing religious conceptions about who we are, how we should behave, and what place we occupy in the scheme of things. Such instability engendered new ways of thinking not only about sex but also about our relationship with nature. As a professional biologist and avid outdoorsman, Julian Huxley felt the contradictions implicit in such changes acutely. Throughout his life, Julian responded to periods of emotional strain and grief by immersing himself in activity, and this led to an extremely productive and wide-ranging career, punctuated by dramatic collapses and breakdowns. Julian's love of the outdoors was more than a pastime; it was a necessary salve for his nerves and a constant source of revelation for his extraordinarily inquisitive mind. The depth of his attachment to the natural world was reflected in his early commitment to the protection of wild spaces from commercialization. Paradoxically, his lifelong fascination with biology was informed not only by a desire to understand but also to control nature. What he called "the meaningless catastrophe" of his mother's death from cancer colored Julian's view of the natural world and may partly have led him to embrace the goal of complete human control over nature articulated in Britain during the 1920s by provocative Marxist biologists such as J. B. S. Haldane and J. D. Bernal.
Julian was a good friend of both men throughout his career, and he had an even closer working relationship with H. G. Wells, who advocated a similar transformation of nature for human ends to a much broader audience. In the twenties, J. B. S. Haldane would imagine the elimination of motherhood itself, through the process of ectogenesis. Aldous, who also knew Haldane, showcased this idea in a provocative passage in his first published novel, Crome Yellow, published in 1922. Here a very clever and somewhat lecherous Mr. Scogan holds forth to fellow guests on a country retreat about the possibility of completely severing sex from procreation:
With the gramophone, the cinema, and the automatic pistol, the goddess of Applied Science has presented the world with another gift, more precious even than these-the means of dissociating love from propagation. Eros, for those who wish it, is now an entirely free god; his deplorable association with Lucina may be broken at will. In the course of a few centuries, who knows? the world may see a complete severance. . . . An impersonal generation will take the place of Nature's hideous system. In vast state incubators, rows upon rows of gravid bottles will supply the world with the population it requires. The family system will disappear; society, sapped at its very base, will have to find new foundations; and Eros, beautifully and irresponsibly free, will flit like a gay butterfly from flower to flower in a sunlit world.
J. B. S. Haldane would propose this idea in more detailed and serious terms in his February 1923 address to a club of nonconformist intellectuals called the Cambridge Heretics Society, the lecture which he would later publish as Daedalus, or Science and the Future. While the concept of gestating babies in bottles no doubt strikes many people as disturbing, it is possible that for both of the Huxley brothers the freedom that such an image offered from the more confining aspects of traditional family life held no small appeal. Although the Huxley family was marked by more than one generation of exceptional achievements, it also endured more than its share of tragedy and psychological torment. The cult of domesticity that had characterized the Victorian era was remembered as more than a little bit suffocating by a whole generation of writers and thinkers in the early twentieth century, and, for Julian and Aldous, it may well have seemed that Trev had been a casualty of it. It's perhaps not surprising, then, that even three decades after Brave New World, Aldous Huxley's final assay at a plausible utopia, depicted in the pages of Island, presented a society in which child rearing was thoroughly socialized through a process of "Mutual Adoption Clubs" and not left exclusively to one's biological parents.
On a more fundamental level, the early loss of their beloved mother to cancer must have also inspired both of the Huxley brothers to imagine a world in which science and reason had a firm upper hand over the contingencies of nature. Given their instinctive defiance of specialization, it is not surprising that that both Julian and Aldous Huxley reflected on our changing relationship with nature in the broadest terms possible. As the already impressive technological achievements of the Victorian age were exceeded by the spectacular discoveries and innovations of the early twentieth century, radically new forms of political ecology now seemed possible, and both Julian and Aldous were intensely aware of this. The following sections outline the Victorian vision of political ecology articulated by T. H. Huxley in the last decade of the Victorian age, and then explore the dramatic ways in which Julian and Aldous Huxley each modified that vision in the twentieth century.
T. H. Huxley: "Evolution and Ethics"
Like the word "electrocution," the term "scientist" was coined in the United States during the late nineteenth century, and T. H. Huxley had made no secret of his disdain for both neologisms. For him the term "scientist" not only was ugly to the ear but connoted a level of specialization that threatened to thwart the broader mission of science. To say that science was a religion for T. H. Huxley would be an understatement. As he saw it, a fearless devotion to the truth was the perennial religion that transcended all others, and the scientific method was the best tool that human beings had discovered so far to get at the truth. To question everything and accept nothing on faith or authority was more than a procedural starting point for T. H. Huxley. He saw it as the basis of a great intellectual and moral reformation, many times more significant than the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. Where that Reformation had overthrown the authority of clerics, this reformation would rigorously challenge all truth claims based on traditional forms of authority, including scriptural texts that did not comport with the evidence provided by experiment and observation. In light of his grand vision for the revolutionary role of science in the moral and intellectual life of the human race, T. H. Huxley did not view a life dedicated to science as merely a profession or specialization. It was nothing less than a calling, and frequently a call to arms.
Ironically, by the end of his life T. H. Huxley had metamorphosed from an iconoclast into an icon. If his early career as a polemicist had struck a blow against clerical authority in Victorian England, his career as an educator had highlighted the promise of a new way of living based on the ethos of science. Rejecting a professorship at Oxford, and choosing instead to teach at the School of Mines and the Imperial College in London, Huxley had taught some of the most influential figures of Britain's rapidly rising intellectual and professional class. Patrick Geddes, who had studied biology with Huxley, would later attempt to integrate his knowledge of the life sciences with his vision for urban planning as he helped to design new cityscapes in India and Israel, and he would have a profound effect on American thinkers such as the social critic Lewis Mumford and the conservationist Benton MacKaye. Another of T. H. Huxley's students, Herbert George Wells, would both enchant and horrify his myriad readers with his visions of the future as he created the new genre that would come to be known in the 1920s as "science fiction." H. G. Wells would still identify himself, decades after his teacher's death, as "one of Huxley's men."
As with all revolutionaries and reformers, however, the question of precisely what sort of future to build became in itself a burden. It had been a clear enough task to argue for the plausibility of Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection, and to uncover the deficiencies of biblical explanations of the origins of life. It was a much murkier and more hazardous task to outline a new ethos for human beings based on the findings of evolutionary biology. In the seventeenth century, Newton's vision of a rational universe obeying fixed and comprehensible laws engendered a new intellectual confidence in the power of rational human beings to comprehend the universe in which they lived. Darwin's vision of the human race emerging from millions of years of random mutation and constant Malthusian struggle was less likely to generate such utopian optimism. For some of Huxley's generation, such as his friend Herbert Spencer, the way forward was implicit in the process of natural selection itself. Spencer's vision of Social Darwinism enjoyed a great deal of popularity among social elites on both sides of the Atlantic in the late nineteenth century, but was categorically rejected by "Darwin's bulldog" himself. Likewise, the concept of eugenics, conceived by his friend Francis Galton, was an idea that Huxley explicitly rejected. In his last work, Evolution and Ethics, Thomas Henry Huxley had declared that while the paradigm of Darwinian evolution had swept away traditional religious explanations of our origin and purpose in the universe, neither it nor eugenics could offer any basis for a new moral vision for mankind. In this remarkable lecture, Huxley surveyed a broad array of religious and philosophical traditions and found evidence of a perennial foundation for human morals in traditions as historically diverse as Roman Stoicism and Indian Buddhism. That morality, however, did not come from nature. Evolutionary biology, as Huxley saw it, merely described what was, and had nothing to say whatsoever about what should be. It would now be our awesome task, unaided by the authority of scripture or even by the majesty of nature, to answer that question on our own terms.
Throughout his career, T. H. Huxley had defined this task not only as the common duty of civilizing powers such as Britain and the United States, but as the very essence of ethical civilization itself. In Evolution and Ethics, he elaborated at length on the challenge of taming the wilderness and of taming the forces of nature within oneself. Because civilized human ethics are essentially alien and opposed to nature, the establishment of an ethical society in nature resembles the arduous task of building a colony in an alien land:
The process of colonization presents analogies to the formation of a garden, which are highly instructive. Suppose a shipload of colonists sent to form a settlement, in such a country as Tasmania was in the last century. On landing, they find themselves in the midst of a state of nature, widely different from that left behind them in everything but the most general physical conditions. . . . The colonists proceed to put an end to this state of things over as large an area as they desire to occupy. They clear away the native vegetation, extirpate or drive out the animal population, so far as may be necessary, and take measures to protect themselves against the re-immigration of either. In their place, they introduce English grain and fruit trees; English dogs, sheep, cattle, horses; and English men; in fact, they set up a new Flora and Fauna and a new variety of mankind, within the old state of nature.
This scenario presents a distinctly Victorian conception of political ecology. The colonizers have it within their power to entirely displace the native flora, fauna, and human populations of whatever land they choose to inhabit, and replace them with their own. By sheer force of intellect and industry, they can convert the Tasmanian wilderness into an English garden, and thus need not worry about adjusting their civilization to a new landscape, because they can remake the landscape in the image of their civilization. In fact, the only thing that could defeat them would not be any unforeseen consequences from their alteration of the landscape, but only the failure to also master the weaknesses of their own human nature as thoroughly as they can master the landscape around them. The historian Rosalind Williams has written of the late nineteenth century as a period when observers as diverse as Jules Verne, William Morris, and Robert Louis Stevenson recognized that the industrialized empires of the world were hastening the arrival of the "triumph of human empire" that Bacon had first envisioned in the seventeenth century. While many writers and artists would view this trend with a degree of melancholy, T. H. Huxley would see it as a moral imperative.
In his 1876 address at the founding of Johns Hopkins University, T. H. Huxley described the current expansion of both the United States and the British Empire as parallel manifestations of "that secular progress by which the descendents [sic] of savage Britons and wild pirates of the North Sea have become converted into warriors of order and champions of peaceful freedom, exhausting what still remains of that old Berserk spirit in subduing nature, and turning the wilderness into a garden." He thus combined, in one rhetorical flourish, not just the grand sagas of British colonialism and American manifest destiny but also the images that would become his pivotal metaphors in Evolution and Ethics: the colony and the garden.
Julian Huxley: "The Tissue Culture King"
Julian Huxley's vision of this ecology of empire unfolds in his first and only completed foray in the science fiction genre, a story entitled the "The Tissue Culture King." This tale, which has not previously been examined in any scholarly treatments of Julian Huxley's life and thought, was first published in the Yale Review in 1926. Reprinted a year later in the pulp newsprint pages of Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories, Julian's tale of weird science run amok in the African interior is stylistically derivative, owing a partial debt to Conrad's Heart of Darkness and perhaps a greater debt to the breathless adventure fiction and pulp fantasy that were Gernsback's stock in trade in the twenties and thirties. It is the tale of a young English biologist named Hascombe who "goes native" and puts his considerable knowledge of modern biology at the service of a superstitious African priest-king, creating, for the glorification of the king in the eyes of his superstitious subjects, a grotesque array of mutant frogs and armies of human giants and dwarves, as well as a cadre of plump concubines born from the sexless process of parthenogenesis. Reflecting Julian Huxley's fascination with parapsychology, the story also depicts experiments conducted to enhance the power of this priest-king and his chief bishop, in telepathy, mass hypnosis, and mind control.
As dramatically different as this scenario is from the colonial paradigm presented in Evolution and Ethics, the two do share essentially the same idea about progress. In terms of the moral relationship between the metropole and the colony, Julian Huxley retains the same vision that his grandfather espoused: England is the land of light and progress, and the African wilderness is a place of darkness and regress. However, Julian Huxley's depiction of the relationship between civilization and the wilderness lacks the confidence of the Victorian age and reflects the anxieties of a period in which once stable assumptions about the power of colonialism and the Western vision of progress itself are all becoming more precarious. As Europeans found in their forays into central Africa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, this was a landscape that could not be readily Europeanized. Furthermore, the story reflects a growing anxiety that the main source of European power, the fruits of science and technology, could be seized by the natives and used to oppose Europeans, even to enslave them.
But perhaps the most striking innovation in Julian Huxley's vision here is the power of applied science to transform the ecology of the colonial periphery in ways both profound and entirely unforeseen. By creating the chimeras and releasing them into the African wilderness, Hascombe has created a "second nature," a feral landscape neither natural nor tame: "For two days we were marched through pleasant park-like country, with villages at intervals. Every now and then some new monstrosity in the shape of a dwarf or incredibly fat woman or a two-headed animal would be visible, until I thought I had stumbled on the original source of supply of circus freaks." This kingdom of chimeras and "circus freaks" is a place where human interference with an ecology that has developed over millions of years will now reverberate in ways that neither Hascombe nor anyone else can foresee. While Wells's Island of Dr. Moreau had also featured intimations of biotechnology, Julian Huxley's shorter tale has a more enduring salience for two reasons. First, it is founded on a more precise knowledge of heredity, fertility, and physiology than Wells's late Victorian novel; and, second, its scientist character is driven by a passion that all contemporary scientists and scholars can instantly recognize, the desire to obtain steady material support for his research. Thus the same motivation that has led scientists and engineers to put themselves in the employ of tyrants and militarists throughout the world has led the desperate Hascombe to offer his services to an ambitious African chieftain.
In the opening pages of the story, the narrator is surprised to find a kingdom in the middle of sub-Saharan Africa with what strikes him as an anomalous level of sophistication in its architecture and general layout: "[The capital] turned out to be a really large town for Africa, its mud walls of strangely impressive architectural form, with their heavy slabby buttresses, and giants standing guard upon them." As he moves deeper into the capital of this completely isolated African kingdom, he sees something that completely defies his expectations: "I suddenly noted something else that made me feel queer-a telephone wire, with perfectly good insulators, running across from tree to tree. A telephone-in an unknown African town. I gave up."
Soon enough, the narrator finds his explanation for this level of technical sophistication in the heart of Africa. He meets Hascombe, who years ago had been taken prisoner here, but then had managed to use his knowledge of science to put himself in the good graces of the ruling elite. At the top of this social pyramid he came to know the priest-king himself and his bishop, a shrewd and ambitious African by the name of Begala. As the narrator's mysterious compatriot introduces himself, he immediately discloses his credentials as
"lately research worker at Middlesex Hospital, now religious advisor to His Majesty King Mgobe." He laughed again and pushed ahead. He was an interesting figure-perhaps fifty years old, spare body, thin face, with a small beard and rather sunken, hazel eyes. As for his expression, he looked cynical, but also as if he was interested in life. . . . Hascombe had been a medical student of great promise. . . . [A] big commission on sleeping sickness had been organized and Hascombe, restless and eager for travel, had pulled wires and got himself appointed as one of the scientific staff sent to Africa.
Soon after arriving in the interior, Hascombe and his research assistant were taken captive by this tribe. The assistant died trying to escape, but Hascombe became fascinated with the mores of the local culture: "Hascombe (who had interested himself in a dilettante way in anthropology as in most other subjects of scientific inquiry) was much impressed by what he described as the exceedingly religious atmosphere."
Taking note of the tribe's religious fetish for blood, Hascombe showed the chief and his councilors some of his own blood under a microscope and soon earned a place as a trusted religious advisor to the priest-king and his bishop:
Hascombe had a sense of humor, and it was tickled. . . . [W]hy not take the opportunity of doing a little research work at state expense-an opportunity that he and his like were always clamoring for at home? His thoughts began to run away with him. He would find out all he could of the rites and superstitions of the tribe. He would, by aid of his knowledge and his skill, exalt the details of these rites, the expression of those superstitions, the whole physical side of their religiosity, on to a new level which should to them appear truly miraculous.
In a wry allusion to the burgeoning discipline of mass persuasion in the industrialized world, Julian's narrator relates how Hascombe expanded his support for his research projects throughout the kingdom, using modern methods of propaganda: "What an opportunity for scientific advertising! But unfortunately the population could not read. However, war propaganda worked very well in more or less illiterate countries-why not here? Hascombe organized a series of public lectures."
To maintain steady support for his work, Hascombe tailored each of his research proposals to meet the religious needs of the kingdom, from the production of tissue cultures of the priest-king and revered ancestors; to the creation of giants, dwarves, bearded women, and sexually precocious children through glandular injections; to the mass breeding of obese temple prostitutes through parthenogenesis. In explaining his modus operandi, Hascombe also works in a sly criticism of the gap between science and public opinion in modern democracies: "You see, I must always remember that it is no good proposing any line of work that will not benefit the national religion. I suppose state-aided research would have much the same kinds of difficulties in a really democratic state."
In describing Hascombe's achievements working in this milieu, Julian Huxley's tale reveals an element that would be central to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World five years later; namely, the combination of new discoveries in embryology with the mass-production methods of Henry Ford. As Hascombe, he explains it:
"I thought I would see whether art could not improve upon nature, and set myself to recall my experimental embryology. . . . I utilize the plasticity of the earliest stages to give double-headed and cyclopean monsters. . . . I have merely applied the mass-production methods of Mr. Ford. . . . My specialties are three-headed snakes, and toads with an extra heaven-pointing head. The former are a little difficult, but there is a great demand for them and they fetch a good price."
Julian Huxley's tale depicts two vaunted fruits of Western civilization-applied science and the logic of the marketplace-as having a profoundly destabilizing effect, especially in combination with one another. As Hascombe, in order to serve his own material needs as a researcher, puts his knowledge of applied science and the principles of mass production in the service of the local combination of religious and political power, he transforms the wilderness, not into a garden, but into a bizarre and nightmarish landscape.
When the narrator offers to help Hascombe escape from the kingdom, he is horrified to hear that, so engrossed is the young scientist in his research, he has lost all interest in escape: "The experiments which most excited his imagination were those he was conducting in mass telepathy." After convincing the priest-king and his chief advisor, Bishop Begala, that such experiments would exponentially enhance their power, Hascombe was able to forge ahead with research on a scale that would have been impossible in England:
He was soon able to demonstrate the existence of telepathy, by making suggestions to one hypnotized man who transferred them without physical intermediation to another at a distance. Later-and this was the culmination of his work-he found that when he made a suggestion to several subjects at once, the telepathic effect was much stronger than if he had done it to one at a time-the hypnotized minds were reinforcing each other. "I'm after the super-consciousness," Hascombe said. "And I've already got the rudiments of it." [To this news the narrator responded with great enthusiasm:] I must confess I got almost as excited as Hascombe about the possibilities this opened up.
In another pointed allusion to contemporary trends in the age of Benito Mussolini and Edward Bernays, Julian Huxley explicitly compares the use of mass hypnosis in this African kingdom to the modern methods of advertising and propaganda. His narrator describes how the hardnosed Bishop Begala, upon seeing the power of Hascombe's techniques of mass hypnosis, "dreamt dreams before which those of the proprietor of a newspaper syndicate, or even those of a director of propaganda in wartime, would be pale and timid."
In the closing pages of "The Tissue Culture King," the narrator persuades Hascombe to attempt an escape while all of the people of the kingdom are put into a trance. They pack their provisions for the long trek back to civilization, and then Hascombe employs his skills in mass hypnosis to put everyone in this small African city-state, including the king himself and his power-hungry advisor, Begala, into a state of deep sleep. In an inspired detail that perhaps marks a milestone in the folklore of conspiracy theories, the narrator and Hascombe don "caps of metal foil" as they make their escape. These tinfoil hats, the narrator explains, "enormously reduced the effects on ourselves" of the mass hypnosis that gripped the rest of the kingdom. The plan for escape begins well enough, but when they cross the outer frontier of the kingdom, the narrator and Hascombe make a fatal mistake. Believing they are now far enough away from the mass hypnosis to escape its effects, they cast aside their protective tinfoil hats. Soon Hascombe is overcome by an inexplicable feeling that he must return to the kingdom. The narrator is shocked at this proposition, but realizes that he shares the same inexplicable feeling: "It was like that old friend from our boyhood, the voice of conscience. . . . But suddenly checking myself as the thought came under the play of reason . . . I then realized what had happened. Begala had waked up; he had wiped out the suggestion we had given to the super-consciousness and in its place put in another . . . 'Return!'" Now that the narrator, in his capacity for rational thought, has recognized and rejected the programming that came into his mind under the seductive guise of moral conscience, he can reject the programmed message and continue with his plan of escape. But Hascombe is not so strong; he will not listen to the narrator's rational arguments, but follows what he feels is somehow "his sacred duty" to return to the kingdom.
The regressive role played by religious superstition and what the narrator calls "the voice of conscience" in this story is emblematic of Julian Huxley's oft-stated views on religion and science. For Julian Huxley, the imperative to understand the world through rational inquiry was an unqualified good. In contrast to figures such as Dr. Faust or Victor Frankenstein, Hascombe does not get into trouble because he is too eager to attain secret knowledge or the power that comes with it. Rather, his tragic mistake is to subordinate knowledge and power to the service of irrational superstition. The fact that he has carelessly placed this power within the reach of a tyrannical theocracy proves to be his ultimate undoing, as when Begala uses the techniques of mind control that Hascombe has perfected against Hascombe himself. Given the significance that so many late Victorian thinkers, including both Matthew Arnold and T. H. Huxley, placed in the sanctity of conscience, it is telling that it is "that old friend from boyhood, the voice of conscience" that lures Hascombe back to his doom. This is a siren song that Julian Huxley's more rational narrator is able to resist. In a more direct, though far less poetic, manner than Huckleberry Finn, the nameless narrator of "The Tissue Culture King" is able to interrogate his conscience, subject it to the "play of reason," and reject its injunctions. It is the voice of rational thought, and nothing else, that saves the narrator from falling into the same trap as Hascombe.
At the end of "The Tissue Culture King," the narrator apologizes for "sermonizing" as he presents quite explicitly the moral of the story:
The question I want to raise is this: Dr. Hascombe attained to an unsurpassed power in a number of the applications of science-but to what end did all this power serve? It is the merest cant and twaddle to go on asserting, as most of our press and people continue to do, that increase of scientific knowledge and power must in itself be good. I commend to the great public the obvious moral of my story and ask them to think what they propose to do with the power that is gradually being accumulated for them by the labors of those who labor because they like power, or because they want to find the truth about how things work.
Julian makes an argument here that would have increasing salience in the twentieth century. In an age of modern research and development, applied science would come to yield enormous power. When such power was put in the service of superstition and enhanced political control rather than rational progress and individual freedom, the results could be terrifying. For all its flaws as a work of literature, Julian Huxley's science fiction tale anticipates, with its exploration of biotechnology, Fordism, and propaganda, some key elements in Brave New World. It also presents a vision of a feral wilderness that is neither nature nor civilization. Given the ecological chaos engendered by climate change, habitat loss, and failed states around the world, Julian's grotesque idyll of freelance biotechnology in a feral wilderness may prove to be more prophetic, in many regions, than his younger brother's vision of a carefully managed World State.
Aldous Huxley: "O Brave New World, that has such people in it"
In the spring of 1932, just as Brave New World was garnering its first reviews in Britain and the United States, Aldous Huxley wrote to the American novelist Edith Wharton and observed with some amusement that H. G. Wells "had found the book rather annoying." In the same letter, Aldous credited Bertrand Russell with providing much of the novel's intellectual framework: "Fundamentally what is said is the same as what Russell says in the last chapters of The Scientific Outlook only, of course, it can be said with more penetrative energy in a novel." In fact, the parallels between Aldous Huxley's vision of the World State and Russell's description of the "Scientific Society" were so close that Russell had consulted his publisher Stanley Unwin about whether Brave New World was a prima facie case of plagiarism. Russell privately decided to drop the matter, however, and gave the book a favorable review in the New Leader, concluding, with some sense of alarm, "I am afraid . . . that while Mr. Huxley's prophecy is meant to be fantastic, it is all too likely to come true."
Written soon after Aldous attended the founding meeting of Julian Huxley's utilitarian Political and Economic Planning (PEP) group in 1931 and published early the following year, Brave New World lampoons the Fabian brand of utilitarianism advanced by PEP. This Swiftian fantasy also takes aim at a number of ideas-such as ectogenesis, the creation of new kinds of recreational drugs, and the maintenance of youth through hormone therapy-that Julian Huxley had recently advocated in his 1931 book of essays What Dare I Think? Aldous Huxley's depiction of applied science in Brave New World develops the premise that technologies such as ectogenesis would not be used to breed smarter human beings, as both J. B. S. Haldane and Julian Huxley had supposed, but rather for the production of more docile workers and citizens. Furthermore, it would matter little in the long run if the masters of such a scientifically regulated society styled themselves as Bolsheviks, Fascists, or plutocrats, as the practical results of their methods would be essentially the same. By creating a pastiche of names based on contemporary figures from across the political spectrum from Left to Right (such as Lenina Crowne, Benito Hoover, and Polly Trotsky), Aldous drives home his point that ideological distinctions between the varieties of managerial autocracy would count for nothing in the long run.
Charlotte Haldane, who recognized in Brave New World a direct attack on the optimistic vision that her husband had presented in Daedalus, or Science and the Future, diagnosed Aldous as subject to a sort of moral and artistic schizophrenia, unable to choose between his Huxleyan and Arnoldian inheritance: "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are nothing next to Dr. Huxley and Mr. Arnold." She argued that, in the conclusion of Brave New World, the Arnoldian impulse to moralize seizes control: "Dr. Huxley, who knows and cares about biology and music, science and art, is once again ousted by this double of his, [a] morbid, masochistic medieval Christian. . . . The result is distressing." This droll caricature of Aldous Huxley's thinking had some basis in reality. In Brave New World, Aldous was in fact expanding upon concerns about the cultural and moral impact of industrialization that Matthew Arnold had expressed more than a generation earlier. In his seminal essay "Culture and Anarchy," Arnold observed that the broad changes wrought by the rapid advance of science and industry had the power to free modern culture from moribund dogmas and traditions: "But now the iron force of adhesion to the old routine-social, political, religious-has wonderfully yielded; the iron force of exclusion to all which is new has wonderfully yielded." Arnold saw tremendous potential for the growth of art and culture in this age of unceasing innovation. He warned, however, of two serious dangers that lay ahead for modern culture:
The danger now is not that people should obstinately refuse to allow anything but their old routine to pass for reason and the will of God, but either that they should allow some novelty or other to pass for these too easily, or else that they should underrate the importance of them altogether, and that they should think it enough to follow action for its own sake, without troubling themselves to make reason and the will of God prevail therein.
Like Arnold, both Julian and Aldous Huxley were convinced that the dissolution of old religious ideas and traditions by the forces of modern science and industry could be disastrous if it were not guided by the wisdom of, in Arnold's oft-repeated formulation, "the best which has been thought and said." This unease about mass culture displacing high culture is reflected in the narration of Julian Huxley's "The Tissue Culture King," with its passing references to contemporary trends in industrialized societies, but is given full expression in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. While Aldous's friend and admirer H. L. Mencken had made a cottage industry in the previous decade out of ridiculing the beliefs and pastimes of the "booboisie," Aldous went several steps further and depicted the burgeoning world of mass culture as not just insipid but insidious.
Aldous Huxley would later regret that his only detailed alternative to the utilitarian hive of the World State in Brave New World was the feral wilderness of the Savage Reservation. In a radio play adaptation of the novel that he narrated for CBS in the 1950s, Aldous added greater stress to Mustapha Mond's discussion of island communities where exceptional people were allowed to live outside the restrictions of the World State. This idea of an island utopia in a world that has succumbed to both totalitarianism and consumerism would, of course, provide both the inspiration and the title of his last novel, Island. However, the stark dichotomy between the Savage Reservation and the World State does give the novel a dramatic tension that it could not otherwise possess. Lenina Crown reflects on the adventure of visiting a Savage Reservation in the West: "Not more than half a dozen people in the whole Centre had ever been inside a Savage Reservation. As an Alpha-Plus psychologist, Bernard was one of the few men she knew entitled to a permit." The same exotic and forbidden quality that makes the Savage Reservation exciting to Lenina makes the Savage himself a celebrity when he comes into contact with the citizens of the World State.
For all their voyeuristic fascination with the Savage, however, the defining trait of the citizens of the World State is a complete lack of interest in the natural world. It is his vaguely romantic interest in nature that makes Bernard Marx so puzzling, annoying, and even a bit frightening to Lenina:
Bernard considered Electro-magnetic golf a waste of time.
"Then what's time for?" asked Lenina in some astonishment.
Apparently for going on walks in the Lake District; for that is what he now proposed.
In the society of the World State, the natural world has been well preserved, but only as a backdrop for mindless and thoroughly social recreation. One can visit the Lake District, or with the right permits, a Savage Reservation in the American West. But the contemplation of either the beautiful or the sublime in nature itself is dangerous to the health of the social organism, and therefore precluded by thorough social conditioning. The fact that Bernard wants to walk in the heather of the Lake District or contemplate the moon in rough weather over the English Channel is emblematic of his maladjustment:
On their way over the English Channel, Bernard insisted on stopping his propeller and hovering on his helicopter screws within a hundred feet of the waves. The weather had taken a change for the worse; a south-westerly wind had sprung up and the sky was cloudy.
"Look," he commanded.
"But it's horrible," said Lenina shrinking back from the window. She was appalled by the rushing emptiness of the night, by the black foam-flecked water heaving beneath them, by the pale face of the moon, so haggard and distracted among the hastening clouds. "Let's turn on the radio. Quick!" She reached for the dialing knob on the dashboard and turned it at random.
". . . skies are blue inside of you," sang sixteen tremoloing falsettos, "the weather's always . . ."
This scene, as described from Lenina's perspective, evinces how thoroughly she has been conditioned to see nonhuman nature in the purely social terms of the hive mind. The moon is neither distant nor solitary, but seems more like the countenance of a citizen in an urban crowd, "a pale face . . . haggard and distracted." Lenina's reflexive dash for the radio to shut out the sublime image of this seascape and replace it with the comforting noise of the radio is an image from Brave New World that Theodor Adorno found particularly resonant. In his commentary on what he saw as the most salient elements in Brave New World, Adorno wrote, "Huxley is well acquainted with the latest model citizen who contemplates a bay as a tourist attraction while seated in his car listening to radio commercials."
Although Aldous Huxley's childhood ambition of pursuing a medical career was thwarted by the severe damage to his eyesight that he suffered as an adolescent, he remained deeply interested in the life sciences and argued throughout his entire life as a writer and public intellectual that the social, political, and even the religious concerns of the human race could never be disentangled from biology, and thus could never be addressed effectively without considering their biological and ecological dimensions. All of his works of speculative fiction, from the dystopian satires of Brave New World and Ape and Essence to the sensible but doomed utopia that he described in Island, explored such biological concepts as ectogenesis, eugenics, and physiognomy, and all three placed a heavy emphasis on the overarching factors of population and ecology.
In stressing the importance of biology, Julian and Aldous Huxley were following the interests of their grandfather, but not necessarily his convictions. While Thomas Huxley had certainly considered "man's place in nature" to be a subject both fascinating and important, he also argued throughout his career that civilized ethics were constructed and maintained in opposition to nature, while Julian and Aldous both attempted in distinct ways to ground their ideas about human society and ethics in their understanding of the life sciences. Regarding the relationship of the state to nature, Julian and Aldous Huxley differed from their grandfather as well. Delivering his influential Romanes Lecture, "Evolution and Ethics," during an age of high colonialism, T. H. Huxley depicted human ecology, or the relationship between humanity and nature, in colonial terms.
Framing the goal of humanity as the process of taming nature within and without, T. H. Huxley presented as its emblem the example of a disciplined colony that diligently transforms an alien landscape into a civilized landscape. More than a generation later, Julian and Aldous Huxley introduced two new factors into their visions of human ecology: the Faustian power of applied science, and the combination of mass production and mass culture that European intellectuals in the early twentieth century knew simply by the shorthand term "Americanization." While T. H. Huxley's vision of creating a new ecology in an alien landscape reflected the confidence of a colonialist age, the works of his grandsons reflected the anxieties of the late colonial era and even presaged, especially in the case of Aldous, the new anxieties and the new possibilities of the dawning postcolonial age.
A generation before Richard Dawkins first articulated the concept of meme theory, Julian Huxley presented a very similar idea in his lectures on what he called the "psycho-social phase of evolution." In his broad description of the history of the universe, evolution was a process that transcended biology and yielded increasing complexity at every step. Before the advent of life, stars advanced the process of evolution by producing more complex elements, including elements such as carbon that would be the building blocks of life, through the process of nuclear fusion. When the first generation of stars perished in spectacular supernovae, they seeded the cosmos with these elements, and when the gravitational fields of the succeeding generations of stars slowly collected and concentrated this cosmic debris into planets, they created new laboratories for the creation of life. Once life came into the picture, evolution advanced rapidly through the process of natural selection. The third and final phase of evolution, as Julian saw it, began when human beings created symbols. This ignited the "psychosocial phase" of evolution, when ideas and concepts reproduced, mutated, and competed-just as their biological forebears had done for millions of years.
The ideas embraced and propagated by Julian Huxley and his brother Aldous illustrate this process of intellectual inheritance and mutation quite well, though neither Julian nor Aldous Huxley could conceive of their intellectual heritage as something wholly distinct from their bloodline. As members of an established and self-conscious intellectual aristocracy, they could not help but see their genetic and their intellectual inheritance as of a piece, so that ideas and traditions were inextricably intertwined with the blessings and curses of "mother wit" and melancholy inherited from the Huxley and Arnold clans.
When the Victorian era became a target for a new generation intellectuals during and after World War I, Julian and Aldous Huxley could not resist this intellectual tide, but they were not content to follow it wherever it might lead. Aldous Huxley, in spite of his early reputation as an iconoclast, did not admire the Bloomsbury writer and critic Lytton Strachey's attack on his grandparents' generation in Eminent Victorians, and he consciously resisted the most prominent trends in literary modernism embodied in the work of contemporaries such as Joyce and Pound. During his life, Aldous's rejection of most modernist experimentation in fiction helped to brand him as a middlebrow writer, but in the twenty-first century his maintenance of stylistic ties to the nineteenth century has been praised by some novelists as one of his signature strengths. The novelist J. G. Ballard observes that Huxley's novels had a deeper resonance than those of his twentieth-century contemporaries precisely because "he had far deeper roots in the Victorian Age, with a rich mix of high-mindedness and secure moral compass that we find baffling in our culture of soundbite philosophy and focus group wisdom." For Julian, the habit of speculating about the moral and philosophical meaning of evolution, though very common among his grandfather's generation, would put him profoundly out of step with the increasingly specialized and nonnormative culture of twentieth-century biology, especially after 1945.
Both Huxley brothers shared commitments that defied the categories of ideology and intellectual specialization. In their religious thinking, each sought a path to the transcendent that could be reconciled with rational thought, and particularly with the discoveries of evolutionary biology. In their approach to politics, each was committed to a program of economic and social collectivism, either on a global scale, as advocated by Julian, or on a local scale, as envisioned by Aldous. Perhaps the most salient area in which Julian and Aldous Huxley defied categorization was in the field of ecology. Julian Huxley's ecological thought frequently emphasized the rational control of nature in agriculture and industry, but he also pioneered the international effort to set aside large areas across the world as wilderness reserves. For Aldous, the goal of reconciling the human race to its place in nature required the abandonment of wholesale industrialization and the creation of local and decentralized economies, kept small by the voluntary use of birth control and powered by renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. These hybrid visions of our possible future defied the utilitarian and pastoral categories that dominated most environmental discourse in the twentieth century, but each would prove to be influential. Although the contribution of the Huxley brothers to postwar environmentalism has barely been explored by scholars, it is in this last area of ecological sustainability that the Huxley brothers' amphibious ethos has had the most enduring impact. Julian's global foresight led him to help found transnational groups that are still influential today, such as the IUCN and WWF. Aldous Huxley's writings on the potential of decentralized economies, small-scale agriculture, renewable energy, and psychopharmacology all had a profound influence on the counterculture and back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s and '70s, which in turn helped lay the basis for transnational trends such as organic agriculture, renewable energy, and secular spirituality that have continued to grow in this century.