Autobiography and Selected Essays

By Thomas Henry Huxley; Ada L. F. Snell | Go to book overview

ON THE ADVISABLENESS OF IMPROVING NATURAL KNOWLEDGE

THIS time two hundred years ago -- in the beginning of January, 1666 -- those of our forefathers who inhabited this great and ancient city, took breath between the shocks of two fearful calamities: one not quite past, although its fury had abated; the other to come.

Within a few yards of the very spot on which we are assembled, so the tradition runs, that painful and deadly malady, the plague, appeared in the latter months of 1664; and, though no new visitor, smote the people of England, and especially of her capital, with a violence unknown before, in the course of the following year. The hand of a master has pictured what happened in those dismal months; and in that truest of fictions, The History of the Plague Year, Defoe shows death, with every accompaniment of pain and terror, stalking through the narrow streets of old London, and changing their busy hum into a silence broken only by the wailing of the mourners of fifty thousand dead; by the woful denunciations and mad prayers of fanatics; and by the madder yells of despairing profligates.

But, about this time in 1666, the death-rate had sunk to nearly its ordinary amount; a case of plague occurred only here and there, and the richer citizens who had flown from the pest had returned to their dwellings. The remnant of the people began to toil at the accustomed round of duty, or of pleasure; and

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Autobiography and Selected Essays
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents ii
  • Preface iii
  • Introduction iv
  • Autobiography 1
  • On the Advisableness of Improving Natural Knowledge 15
  • A Liberal Education 35
  • On a Piece, of Chalk 44
  • Principal Subjects of Education 73
  • The Method of Scientific Investigation 85
  • On the Physical Basis of Life 95
  • On Coral and Coral Reefs 115
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