Aldous Huxley was early exposed to Europe through travel and books, and although he took a brilliant first-class degree in English literature from Balliol College, Oxford, the polymath Huxley was well versed in other European languages and literatures, beginning formal study of German and music in Marburg during the spring of 1912. In France he studied French poetry and composed imitations of Mallarmé and Baudelaire. He married a francophone Belgian in 1919; the couple took up permanent residence in Florence in 1921 and vacationed often on the Italian Riviera at Forte dei Marmi. Although they returned to England frequently, they remained based in southern Europe, first in Tuscany, then in Paris, and finally in Sanary, a coastal village situated between Toulon and Marseille. In 1937 they left Europe permanently, eventually settling in California. Maria died in 1955, and in the following year Huxley married the Italian violinist Laura Archera. He was fluent in French and adept in Italian, maintaining, not surprisingly, a lively interest in these two Romance languages and cultures until the end of his life. Indeed, in the Memorial Volume to Huxley (1965), André Maurois recalled that when Huxley wrote about French poetry, “it was as though written by Paul Valéry, ” adding that Huxley was “as much a man of French as of English culture.” In the poem “Italy” Huxley reveals a deep fondness for that country, “Full of an all but human grace” (Collected Poetry, 59).
Huxley was an inveterate traveler and published two volumes of travel diaries, Jesting Pilate (1926) and Beyond the Mexique Bay (1934), recounting his travels in the Orient and Central America. As Jerome Meckier observes, “Huxley continues to be a cross-cultural spokesperson whose influence is worldwide” (1996, 3).