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Thomas Henry Huxley - Wikipedia

A small beginning has led us to a great ending. If I were to put the bitof chalk with which we started into the hot but obscure flame of burninghydrogen, it would presently shine like the sun. It seems to me thatthis physical metamorphosis is no false image of what has beenthe result of our subjecting it to a jet of fervent, though nowisebrilliant, thought to-night. It has become luminous, and its clear rays,penetrating the abyss of the remote past, have brought within our kensome stages of the evolution of the earth. And in the shifting "withouthaste, but without rest" of the land and sea, as in the endlessvariation of the forms assumed by living beings, we have observednothing but the natural product of the forces originally possessed bythe substance of the universe.

Appleton, 1898), also by Thomas Henry Huxley (page images at HathiTrust; US access only)

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[ We have been recently furnished with in prose: The Iliadof Homer translated by Lang, Leaf and Myers, the first edition ofwhich appeared in 1882, is probably the one to which Huxley refers. TheOdyssey, translated by Butcher and Lang, appeared in 1879. Among thebest of the more recent translations of Homer are the Odyssey by GeorgeHerbert Palmer; the Iliad by Arthur S. Way, and the Odyssey by the sameauthor.]

3. Compare Huxley's way of saying things with some other author's way ofsaying things.

No parts of the Life and Letters are more enjoyable than thoseconcerning the "Happy Family," as a friend of Huxley's names hishousehold. His family of seven children found their father a mostengaging friend and companion. He could tell them wonderful sea storiesand animal stories and could draw fascinating pictures. His son writesof how when he was ill with scarlet fever he used to look forward to hisfather's home-coming. "The solitary days—for I was the first victim inthe family—were very long, and I looked forward with intense interestto one half-hour after dinner, when he would come up and draw scenesfrom the history of a remarkable bull-terrier and his family that wentto the seaside in a most human and child-delighting manner. I haveseldom suffered a greater disappointment than when, one evening, I fellasleep just before this fairy half-hour, and lost it out of my life."

(New York, Appleton, 1872), also by Thomas Henry Huxley (page images at HathiTrust)


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This lecture on A Piece of Chalk together with two others delivered thisyear, seems to me to mark the maturing of his style into that mastery ofclear expression for which he deliberately labored, the saying exactlywhat he meant, neither too much nor too little, without confusion andwithout obscurity. Have something to say, and say it, was the Duke ofWellington's theory of style; Huxley's was to say that which has to besaid in such language that you can stand cross-examination on eachword. Be clear, though you may be convicted of error. If you are clearlywrong, you will run up against a fact sometime and get set right. If youshuffle with your subject, and study chiefly to use language which willgive a loophole of escape either way, there is no hope for you.

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According to Huxley's biographer in the Life and Letters of Thomas HenryHuxley, the essays which represent him at his best are those publishedin 1868. They are A Piece of Chalk, A Liberal Education, and On thePhysical Basis of Life. In connection with the comment on these essaysis the following quotation which gives one interesting information as toHuxley's method of obtaining a clear style:—

Collected Essays of Thomas Henry Huxley - Goodreads

Undoubtedly the subjects about which Huxley writes will "appeal" tothe student; but it is in analysis that the real discipline lies. Foranalysis Huxley's essays are excellent. They illustrate "the clear powerof exposition," and such power is, as Huxley wrote to Tyndall, the onequality the people want,—exposition "so clear that they may think theyunderstand even if they don't." Huxley obtains that perfect clearnessin his own work by simple definition, by keeping steadily before hisaudience his intention, and by making plain throughout his lecture awell-defined organic structure. No X-ray machine is needful to make theskeleton visible; it stands forth with the parts all nicely relatedand compactly joined. In reference to structure, his son and biographerwrites, "He loved to visualize his object clearly. The framework ofwhat he wished to say would always be drawn out first." Professor RayLankester also mentions Huxley's love of form. "He deals with form notonly as a mechanical engineer IN PARTIBUS (Huxley's own description ofhimself), but also as an artist, a born lover of form, a character whichothers recognize in him though he does not himself set it down in hisanalysis." Huxley's own account of his efforts to shape his work issuggestive. "The fact is that I have a great love and respect for mynative tongue, and take great pains to use it properly. Sometimes Iwrite essays half-a-dozen times before I can get them into proper shape;and I believe I become more fastidious as I grow older." And, indeed,there is a marked difference in firmness of structure between theearlier essays, such as On the Educational Value of the Natural HistorySciences, written, as Huxley acknowledges, in great haste, and thelater essays, such as A Liberal Education and The Method of ScientificInvestigation. To trace and to define this difference will be mosthelpful to the student who is building up a knowledge of structure forhis own use.

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If love of truth made Huxley a scholar, it made him, also, a courageousfighter. Man's first duty, as he saw it, was to seek the truth;his second was to teach it to others, and, if necessary, to contendvaliantly for it. To fail to teach what you honestly know to be true,because it may harm your reputation, or even because it may give pain toothers, is cowardice. "I am not greatly concerned about any reputation,"Huxley writes to his wife, "except that of being entirely honest andstraightforward." Regardless of warnings that the publication of Man'sPlace in Nature would ruin his career, Huxley passed on to others whatnature had revealed to him. He was regardless, also, of the confusionand pain which his view would necessarily bring to those who had beennourished in old traditions. To stand with a man or two and to do battlewith the world on the score of its old beliefs, has never been an easytask since the world began. Certainly it required fearlessness anddetermination to wrestle with the prejudices against science in themiddle of the nineteenth century—how much may be gathered from thereading of Darwin's Life and Letters. The attitude of the times towardscience has already been indicated. One may be allowed to give one moreexample from the reported address of a clergyman. "O ye men of science,ye men of science, leave us our ancestors in paradise, and you may haveyours in Zoological gardens." The war was, for the most part, betweenthe clergy and the men of science, but it is necessary to rememberthat Huxley fought not against Christianity, but against dogma; thathe fought not against the past,—he had great reverence for theaccomplishment of the past,—but against unwillingness to accept the newtruth of the present.