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The World of Havelock Ellis - PDF - / Send As Email
Havelock Ellis: Philosopher of Love, by Houston Peterson
by Robert Morss Lovett
In The Bookman, July 1928, pp. 573-575 - Previous Article / Next Article

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T is a matter of gratification that Havelock
Ellis has come into his kingdom.
After a long and laborious life with scantyrewards
and much depreciation, he has
achieved recognition as one of the masters
of the modern age---a recognition of which
the success of his "Dance of Life" and the
two biographies, one by Dr. Isaac Goldberg
and the present more complete study---Havelock
Ellis, Philosopher of Love, by Houston
Peterson (Houghton Mifflin, $4.50)---are
evidence rather than cause.
The reasons for the depreciation which
Ellis so long suffered are, chiefly, the fact
that he elected to make the basis of his examination
of modern life the study of sex,
coupled with the accident which led him to
publish, as the first of a series of scientific
observations, a book on sexual inversion, and
the further accident which involved this book
in a criminal case against the bookseller at
the time of the excitement caused by the
Oscar Wilde trial. All this was enough to
cause the late-Victorian public to label him
at best charlatan, and at worst perverter of
morality. In addition to this, Ellis had been
a leader in the movement to bring the scientific
attitude into literary criticism in "The
New Spirit". He had been a coadjutor of
Arthur Symons in the last stronghold of the
decadents. The Savoy, and had spoken without
reprobation of Zola, Nietzsche, Casanova
and "Jude the Obscure". He had initiated
the Mermaid Series of selected plays from
the Elizabethan dramatists, of which the
title-page bore the inciting word "Unexpurgated".
Altogether, Haveloek Ellis was in
the forefront of offenders against the sacred
cause of reticence. Only gradually the selfdenial
of the man, who continued to publish
in the most discreet and guarded form volumes
of investigations which through popular
exploitation would have made him a
millionaire, won him respect; the successive
volumes of "Impressions and Comments",
By Robert Morss Lovett
with their revelation of a personality so sensitive
in feeling and so rich in mind, and of
a philosophy which preserved the intrinsic
values of living in a world preoccupied by
knowing and doing, brought him the gratitude
and affection which clearly are to him
the greatest of rewards.
There is a further, more subtle, reason for
the long season of indifference toward Havelock
Ellis. As Mr. Peterson more than once
remarks, Ellis has been in respect to no
cause the extremist, the partisan, the foe of
compromise. He always has looked at both
sides: "This notion of reconciling opposites
became a passion with Ellis, and one of the
most outstanding characteristics of his work.
He has been, like Remy de Gourmont, almost
incapable of taking sides in capital
issues, for he has seen that men are usually
right in their affirmations; and only wrong
in their denials". Ellis has never, like Huxley,
exulted in controversy, nor won the devotion
of partisans the more fervent because
of his enemies. He has more than once
turned aside from active support of movements
in which he was enlisted when they
ceased to satisfy his fastidious intellectual
conscience. Thus it was with the Fabians;
with the Suffragettes, with the War. Thus
it came about that when his book on "Sexual
Inversion" became a symbol in the war for
intellectual freedom, Ellis withdrew from
the battle. "To wrestle in the public arena
for freedom of speech," he wrote, "is a noble
task which may worthily be undertaken by
any man who can devote to it the best energies
of his life. It is riot, however, a task
which I have ever contemplated." To many
reformers, Ellis seemed to abandon a position
fundamental to all. In a world in which
there is only too much reason to argue that
programs become realized because of the
fanatical capacity of their advocates for
making a nuisance of themselves, Ellis has

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