Henry Thomas Buckle  

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"When we recall that Buckle, who was a free thinker in religious matters, still clung to the idea of immortality of the soul because he could not tolerate the thought." --The Erotic Motive in Literature (1919) by Albert Mordell

"It was Henry Thomas Buckle who was the first to realise the value of a critical study of the influence of nature upon individuals and peoples. One glance at the map of Europe shows most clearly how the peculiar position of England must have influenced the character of the English." --Sex Life in England

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Henry Thomas Buckle (24 November 1821 – 29 May 1862) was an English historian, author of a History of Civilization in England.


The son of Thomas Henry Buckle, a wealthy London merchant and shipowner, he was born at Lee in Kent. His delicate health prevented him obtaining much formal education. However, the love of reading he felt as a child was given many outlets. He first gained distinction as a chess player, being known, before he was twenty, as one of the best in the world. After his father's death in January 1840, he travelled with his mother on the continent (1840-1844). He had by then resolved to direct all his reading and to devote all his energies to the preparation of some great historical work. Over the next seventeen years, he is said to have spent ten hours a day on it.

At first he planned a history of the Middle Ages, but by 1851 he had decided in favour of a history of civilization. The next six years were occupied in writing, altering and revising the first volume, which appeared in June 1857. It made its author a literary and social celebrity. On 19 March 1858 he delivered a public lecture at the Royal Institution (the only one he ever gave) on the Influence of Women on the Progress of Knowledge, which was published in Fraser's Magazine for April 1858, and reprinted in the first volume of the Miscellaneous and Posthumous Works.

On 1 April 1859, his mother died. It was under the immediate impression of his loss that he concluded a review he was writing of John Stuart Mill's Essay on Liberty with an argument for immortality, based on the yearning of the affections to regain communion with the beloved dead -- on the impossibility of standing up and living, if we believed the separation were final. The review appeared in Fraser's Magazine, and is to be found also in the Miscellaneous and Posthumous Works (1872).

The second volume of Buckle's history was published in May 1861. Soon afterwards, he left England to travel for the sake of his health. He spent the winter of 1861-2 in Egypt, from which he went over the deserts of Sinai and of Edom to Syria, reaching Jerusalem on 19 April 1862. After eleven days, he set out for Europe by Beirut, but at Nazareth he was attacked by fever; and he later died at Damascus.


  • See his Life by AW Huth (1880).

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