It is one of the ironies of Huxley’s life that he wrote an essay on the books he would buy if his library burned down in 1947. Sadly, a bushfire put an end to his magnificent collection of books in 1961.
The Huxley Centre’s library is an attempt at reconstructing the library of one of the greatest men of letters of the 20th century.
It is the only collection of its kind in the world. All the authors in Huxley’s 1947 essay have been included, frequently in complete editions which Huxley could theoretically have bought, but probably did not.
For instance, he borrowed the complete Balzac from his brother Julian after saddling himself with the task of writing a book on the famous French author (he never completed it). Most of the works of fiction mentioned in Huxley’s essays, novels, short stories, reviews and letters have been added in the editions Huxley is likely to have had recourse to, such as first editions of D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Marcel Proust and many others. Where original editions were unavailable, modern editions were purchased instead, but they can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
As Huxley read fluently in English, German and Italian, quite a few of the works are in the original language, such as some of Kafka’s novels, all of the French classics and a number of Italian books. The same applies to the second part of the library in the office of the Huxley Centre.
Nearly a thousand works in four languages on mysticism, psychology, politics, science, philosophy, linguistics, history, art, music and criticism and many other areas of study have been included in the editions Huxley would have owned.
Aldous Huxley’s works are exhibited alongside those of his grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley (‘Darwin’s bulldog’ and the coiner of the term ‘agnostic’); his father Leonard Huxley; his aunt, the bestselling novelist Mrs Humphry Ward; his brother Julian, an eminent scientist, prolific writer and the first director-general of UNESCO; and his son, Matthew Huxley.
Additionally, a collection of audiotapes rescued by Huxley’s son Matthew from the garage of his father’s home in Hollywood shortly after it burned down in May 1961. The tapes were digitized in 2015 by Professor David King Dunaway, author of Huxley in Hollywood, with the financial support of Robin Hull, restoring a number of unique audio recordings to research and posterity.