100 and 50 years ago

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    100 YEARS AGO

    Huxley's life and work II. “When I reached intellectual maturity,” Huxley tells us, “and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist or a pantheist, a materialist or an idealist, a Christian or a freethinker, I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclusion that I had neither art not part with any of these denominations except the last”. . . These considerations pressed forcibly on him when he joined the Metaphysical Society. “Every variety,” he says, “of philosophical and theological opinion was represented there, and expressed itself with entire openness; most of my colleagues were “ists” of one sort or another; and, however kind and friendly they might be, I, the man without a rag of a habit to cover himself with, could not fail to have some of the uneasy feelings which must have beset the historical fox when, after leaving the trap, in which his tail remained, he presented himself to his normally elongated companions. So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of agnostic. It came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the gnostic of Church history, who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant; and I took the earliest opportunity of parading it at our Society, to show that I, too, had a tail like the other foxes.”

    From Nature 29 November 1900.

    50 YEARS AGO

    The Rumford Medal is awarded to Sir Frank Whittle for his inventions relating to the production and application of power. . . He proposed to take all the air that was necessary for the propulsion of aircraft through a compressor, raise it to a high temperature by the combustion of fuel and expand it through a turbine. The expansion provides all the energy for the operation of the compressor, and the kinetic energy in the exhaust gases provides the propulsive effect. . . As appears to be the case with many pioneers of mechanical engineering, brilliance of inventive genius is coupled in him with great powers of drive, leadership and organization. Whittle is a worthy successor of Watt and Parsons. Thanks to him, the magic carpet is no longer a fantasy of an Arabian Nights Entertainment.

    From Nature 2 December 1950.

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