English psychologist and author, best known for his writings on sexual psychology. He was born Henry Havelock Ellis on Feb. 2, 1859, at Croydon, near London, the son of a merchant sea captain. During his father's long absences, he was "the only man in the house," and he came to love and admire his mother greatly. At the age of seven he sailed around the world with his father and developed thereafter a personal shyness never mastered. He read a great deal and in 1871 compiled his first book, The Precious Stones of the Bible.
Ellis had a flair for editing, and started the Mermaid Series of Old Dramatists. These were valuable collections of the works of Elizabethan and Restoration playwrights, which he edited using the unexpurgated texts. He also originated the Contemporary Science Series for which he wrote The Criminal (1889), the first English study of criminology. In the same year he published The New Spirit, studies of contemporary writers such as Walt Whitman, Henrik Ibsen, and J. K. Huysmans, who were little known at the time. During this period he was also collecting material for his monumental, seven-volume work, Studies in the Psychology of Sex. In 1894 he published Man and Woman, which was meant to be a preliminary treatise to the Studies.
Ellis was in constant consultation with Sigmund Freud, was the first to mention him, and helped pave the way for him. Unlike Freud, Ellis did not regard sex as the sole root of all human emotions. Studies in the Psychology of Sex was written largely from a biological and anthropological viewpoint and was intended primarily for scientific readers. When Sexual Inversion (volume two of the series but the first to be published) appeared, it was suppressed as obscene and a bookseller who had sold it was brought to trial. Ellis was extremely troubled over this and was oblivious of the fact that his publisher was a swindler who sold the book as pornography. After this experience Ellis never again attempted to publish his studies in England. In 1901, F. A. Davis Co., in Philadelphia, Pa., published the final volumes. The sixth volume was completed in 1910 and Eonism and Supplementary Studies was published in 1928.
Although Havelock Ellis is best known for his studies of sex, he diligently produced literary works such as Affirmations (1936), social works such as The Nationalization of Health (1892) and The Task of Social Hygiene (1912), travel meditations such as The Soul of Spain (1908), and near-science studies such as The World of Dreams (1911) and A Study of British Genius (1904).
Ellis devoted his later years to writing essays on sex education, to casual journalism, and to what he regarded as his masterpiece, My Life (1939), an outspoken but misleading account of his early life and his marriage to Edith Lees.
His personal life provides a commentary on the calm detachment of his ideas. After an unsuccessful love affair with Olive Schreiner, the South African novelist, he had married Edith Lees, with whom he passed a quarter of a century of progressively tragic misunderstanding. After his wife's death in 1916 he met a young Frenchwoman, Mme. FrançoiseFrancoise Cyon, whose account of his later years, Friendship's Odyssey (written under the pseudonym of FrançoiseFrancoise Delisle) makes it clear that he enjoyed married happiness with her before his death. This is almost the only form of sexual activity which is not adequately considered in Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Ellis died in Suffolk, England, on July 8, 1939.