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Henry Thomas Buckle

some details

Thanks are due to Helena Mollo of Brazil

whose interest prompted this overdue research


Buckle, Henry Thomas


Born in the town of Lee, in the county of Kent, England, in 1821

An ancestor, Sir Cuthbert Buckle, was lord mayor of London in 1593.  His father (Thomas Henry b. 1779), was partner in a firm of ship-owners - Buckle, Bagster & Buckle.

In 1811 Thomas Henry married Jane Middleton (of a Yorkshire family).  Jane had two daughters and one son by him.  That son was Henry Thomas (born 1821 during a family visit to Lee, in Kent).

The Buckle family lived in London.





Henry Thomas was a delicate child - a slow learner, and could hardly read at the age of eight.  Even by eighteen he had only read Shakespeare and the `Pilgrim's Progress' and the `Arabian Nights' but was said to have "literally feasted" upon those.

For a time he went to Dr Hollaway's school on condition "that he would learn nothing but what he chose".  He won a prize at mathematics, to which his attention had been accidentally drawn.  At this his father offered him any additional reward he chose - and he chose to leave school.  He was fourteen at the time.

Buckle fell in love several times.  At 17 he challenged a competitor to a duel.  A later passion - for a cousin - was suppressed "in consequence of the parents' objection to marriages of relations".





At nineteen, on the death of his father (Jan 1840), Buckle suffered a seizure.  For his health he was taken by his family on a tour of Belgium, Germany, Holland Italy and France.

Ever after Buckle advocated travel as the best education.  He studied the languages, and by 1850 was able to read 19 with facility, 7 fluently - although his French accent was said to leave something to be desired.

Although reared in a "Tory" family, he came home a radical and a free-thinker.

[Also a chess-player - in France he had met with Keiseritzki and St. Amant, and was able to beat them both when receiving odds of one pawn.]

By 1842 he was studying medieval history and in 1848 began a life of Charles I.  Later in that year he travelled - along with Lord Kimberley - to Germany.  He went onward to Austria and Italy, returning to settle and study for a while in Munich.





However his health worsened and he returned to London to study in earnest.

His working library at times numbered 22,000 volumes, but having a prodigious and accurate memory he would dispose of those of which he had no further need.  Even so he left 11,000 volumes.

Overall a frugal man - during his study-day he ate only bread and fruit "to keep clear the brain" - he was generous to all, including beggars.

His only extravagances were his books and good cigars - yet he allowed himself only 3 cigars per day.

In 1851 he again met with the best European chess players on the occasion of the Great Exhibition.  Apparently he was the equal of all, and beat Anderssen and Loewenthal.

But he begrudged the time away from his studies "and never afterwards took part in a public match"

He was by then well along with shaping the "History of Civilization ~





In 1856 he wrote that "he had been engaged upon his manuscript incessantly for fourteen years".  But, as a biographer said "The work however swelled upon his hands"

An edition, eventually produced in 1857, was instantly popular - overseas.  His biography quotes "The book was already reprinted in America and eagerly discussed at Moscow."

But his science and his views were opposed by most of the English establishment.  J.M. Robertson wrote "For a generation, most notices of his book in his own country were hostile"ref 1

As Robertson explained - "Where Darwin definitely brought within the scope of scientific law the phenomena of biology, as previous pioneers had done those of geology and astronomy, Buckle began anew the most complicated and difficult task of all - the reduction to law of the phenomena of social evolution".  ref 2

[From editor's Introduction to 'New and Revised Edition' of "The History of Civilization ~ " - ed: J.M. Robertson]

[`Perceptions' note: even today the English "Dictionary of National Biography" speaks slightingly of Buckle's work, apparently pre-emptively trying to alienate or confuse serious readers/researchers.]





19 March 1858 he gave a lecture to "an overflowing and enthusiastic audience" on "The Influence of Women on the Progress of Knowledge"  ref 3 - at the Royal Institution, speaking for an hour and forty minutes without once referring to his few notes.

The lecture - acclaimed - was republished for "Fraser's Magazine" for April 1858. [text here]

Buckle had great fondness for his mother.  The first edition of his book was dedicated to her, (the second was dedicated to her memory).

Jane Buckle - nee Middleton - died on the 1st of April 1859.





Buckle's health then deteriorated finally.
As his later editor  ref 4 J.M. Robertson wrote "He was physically faltering years before the end; his tone after his mother's death is that of an aged and lonely man; and even if he had not in 1862 succumbed to fever on his Eastern journey, undertaken to rest his brain and refresh his spirits, it is doubtful whether he could have held out to the extent of completing even the plan of his Introduction."

At the age of forty-one Buckle died of fever at Damascus. [1862]


Buckle - on America

Buckle - on Crime

Buckle's Discourse on Metaphysics

Intro to work of Henry Thomas Buckle

Buckle on `fake History'




Except where otherwise stated all quotations and dates are are from the
English "Dictionary of National Biography"


Thanks to
Shropshire Information Service, 1A Castle Gates, Shrewsbury Shropshire SY1 2AQ



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