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Dear Mr. Batchelder

A wartime letter from Aldous Huxley to Nathaniel Horton Batchelder

In January 1917, recent Oxford University graduate Aldous Huxley typed a letter to Nathaniel Horton Batchelder. He equivocated on a job offer from Loomis’ headmaster, wondering if the school might take him on for only a matter of months. With British men being called to military service by “universal enrollment,” Mr. Huxley cast further doubt on the possibility he might secure a passport and be able to leave England during the years of the Great War.  The letter’s final sentence makes Huxley’s intentions clear: “I am anxious to be in England as soon as possible after the declaration of peace.”

Thirteen teachers and Batchelder comprised Loomis’ all-male faculty during that academic year. Most were experienced

teachers, and Mr. Huxley, if he had accepted the position, would have been one of the two youngest teachers at the school. In September 1917, Mr. Batchelder reported enthusiastically to fellow headmasters on his staff’s commitment to Loomis’ democratic values, “the duty of the individual to the community, [and] development of character and preparation for living.” This was, he noted, “a golden opportunity. The war makes boys more anxious than ever to be of service, willing and even eager to undergo hardship, which makes them spiritually kin to those at the [battle] front.” Mr. B also expected his faculty to clean their own living quarters and make their own beds. More seasoned heads of school had warned him that he would not be able to hire the faculty he wanted “on those terms.” During a 1921 talk to Westtown School alumni, Mr. Batchelder recalled his response to that advice. “I said, ‘Very well, the master who is not willing to make his own bed is not the man I want,’ and I assure you that I never had a candidate for a position decline because of having to make his own bed.”

Mr. Huxley composed his letter to Mr. B a half year after graduating from Oxford. He was then living at Garsington, an Elizabethan manor house six miles from Oxford, frequented by authors of the Bloomsbury literary circle, including Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Clive Bell, Bertrand Russell, and Maynard Keynes. Mr. H had attempted to join the British Army in 1916, but serious vision problems—a partial blindness caused by disease during his high school years—made him ineligible for service. Mr. Huxley took a clerical position with the Air Ministry for a few months in 1917 and, later that fall, began teaching at Eton College, having already published his first volume of poetry. In 1932, he published the book for which he is best known, A Brave New World.

Mr. Huxley did not teach at Loomis nor did his prediction in the letter to Mr. Batchelder for a 1917 end to the war come to pass. The United States entered World War I in April 1917; the 1918 Loomis yearbook listed 26 faculty and alumni in the military or ambulance service. One Loomis teacher—the very first to be hired in 1914—taught his first class on the Island in 1919 after the war’s conclusion. René Chéruy, a graduate of the Sorbonne in Paris and former secretary to the sculptor Auguste Rodin, worked in the Hartford, Connecticut area during the early 1910s. After accepting his position on the Loomis faculty, Monsieur Chéruy returned home to France to work for four years as a military interpreter, eventually earning the French Croix de Guerre and the British Military medal for bravery in the field. Monsieur Chéruy retired in 1940 and soon after answered a different wartime call to service. He returned to Loomis, taking over French classes for a faculty depleted by World War II volunteer and draft enlistments. His final retirement began in 1945 after the war’s end.

 


 

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