The Essays of Aldous Huxley Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Evaluation

Aldous Huxley wrote essays on a great variety of subjects: on nature, travel, literature, love and sex, psychology, music, painting, and even politics. Yet the division of his essays into groups can be misleading. In many of his studies the ostensible subject is only the point of a wedge and exists as the focus of opinions which are more or less contingent. Some of these opinions, it must be admitted, are in the nature of prejudices, and they are introduced into the essays at some peril.

For example, one of his essays on India, superficially an account of a railroad journey “Between Peshawar and Lahore,” turns out to be an attack a predictable one given Huxley’s passionate secularism on Indian religion in particular and on all religion in general, Huxley encounters on the train an Indian mystic, and the fact that this particular guru seems to be highly unspiritual leads with remarkable rapidity to an indictment of all religious belief. Huxley reflects, always with unquestionable brilliance, malice, and style, on the guru’s character, on those of his disciples, and on his self-evident importance to himself. This particular holy man is dirty and rather objectionably the center of attention moreover, the attention accorded him is decidedly irrational and this fact particularly arouses Huxley’s contempt. In response to his presence Huxley argues—and here one may wish to query the extension of his thought—that it is characteristic of all religions to honor the mindless and obedient, the dirty and the anti-intellectual. The conclusion is a large step from the example to the deduction, but Huxley seems to make it without much difficulty. Yet, with characteristic common sense Huxley stops what he calls his own “Voltairianism.” He states that if all clerics were destroyed and if pure rationalism became the universal religion, all would perhaps be well. But, he adds, all would of course not be well at all, for there are other irrationalities which would soon take the place of religion. Like Voltaire, he sees religion as an institution of use to mankind. His viewpoint, although secular, is pragmatic: he objects to the nature of religion, not to its functions.

The values of Huxley are not to be compassed by religion, or even defined in the religious sense. He stands for a stable mental life, as we see in “Madness, Badness, Sadness”; for a realistic form of love, as we see in “Fashions in Love”; and for scientific toleration, as we see in “Beliefs.” In the first of these essays Huxley reviews the history of the treatment of mental illness and asserts that some of the very worst excesses have been characteristic of religious intervention. He goes so far as to accuse Christianity of turning madness into a form of profit: the practices of Catholic magistrates and Protestant witch hunters were designed to make scapegoats of the mad. Since madmen and non-believers could equally be disposed of under religious repressions, they constituted a most attractive target for those who kept themselves in power by attacking men weaker than themselves. The argument is tenuous. One may note that religious persecution was a characteristic of certain ages as well as of certain institutions, but the point is not dealt with by Huxley. His general assumption is that religion is responsible for all those things which occur in the area it putatively overlooks.

When Huxley addresses himself to the problem of love, he notes that two conceptions of love exist in our minds...

(The entire section is 1427 words.)