Havelock Ellis—as he was commonly known—was born in a London suburb to a family of seafarers. However, apart from a trip around the world with his father at age seven, he grew up in the city and was educated in rather poor private schools. As he notes in his autobiography, My Life (1939), his real education came from extensive personal reading. At sixteen he again went voyaging with his father, but this time he remained in Australia, where he taught school for four years. During this period he began to develop a concept of values that combined the scientific and aesthetic. He also moved away from traditional religion.
Ellis returned to England and entered medical school in 1881. He was an indifferent student, sometimes just skipping exams, and failed to get licensed by the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, settling for credentials from the Society of Apothecaries. Fortunately, he rarely practiced. His years in school did provide opportunities. His literary bent was given expression in his work as editor of the Mermaid play reprint series, which provided the first popularly priced unexpurgated editions of many classical dramas. When he gave up that job in 1888, his skill at editing and publishing had produced a significant contribution to English culture. He was also active in scientific publishing; as editor of the Contemporary Science Series, he got many excellent contributors to produce what became standard texts.
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