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Letter Quotes (109 quotes)

1839—The fermentation satire
THE MYSTERY OF ALCOHOLIC FERMENTATION RESOLVED
(Preliminary Report by Letter) Schwindler
I am about to develop a new theory of wine fermentation … Depending on the weight, these seeds carry fermentation to completion somewhat less than as in the beginning, which is understandable … I shall develop a new theory of wine fermentation [showing] what simple means Nature employs in creating the most amazing phenomena. I owe it to the use of an excellent microscope designed by Pistorius.
When brewer’s yeast is mixed with water the microscope reveals that the yeast dissolves into endless small balls, which are scarcely 1/800th of a line in diameter … If these small balls are placed in sugar water, it can be seen that they consist of the eggs of animals. As they expand, they burst, and from them develop small creatures that multiply with unbelievable rapidity in a most unheard of way. The form of these animals differs from all of the 600 types described up until now. They possess the shape of a Beinsdorff still (without the cooling apparatus). The head of the tube is a sort of proboscis, the inside of which is filled with fine bristles 1/2000th of a line long. Teeth and eyes are not discernible; however, a stomach, intestinal canal, anus (a rose red dot), and organs for secretion of urine are plainly discernible. From the moment they are released from the egg one can see these animals swallow the sugar from the solution and pass it to the stomach. It is digested immediately, a process recognized easily by the resultant evacuation of excrements. In a word, these infusors eat sugar, evacuate ethyl alcohol from the intestinal canal, and carbon dioxide from the urinary organs. The bladder, in the filled state, has the form of a champagne bottle; when empty, it is a small button … As soon as the animals find no more sugar present, they eat each other up, which occurs through a peculiar manipulation; everything is digested down to the eggs which pass unchanged through the intestinal canal. Finally, one again fermentable yeast, namely the seed of the animals, which remain over.
In 'Das entriithselle Geheimiss der geisligen Giihrung', Annalen der Pharmacie und Chemie (1839), 29, 100-104; adapted from English translalion by Ralph E. Oesper, The Human Side of Scientists (1975), 203-205.
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A stands for atom; it is so small No one has ever seen it at all.
B stands for bomb; the bombs are much bigger,
So, brother, do not be too fast on the trigger.
H has become a most ominous letter.
It means something bigger if not something better.
As quoted in Robert Coughlan, 'Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession', Life (6 Sep 1954), 74.
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Eripuit coelo fulmen sceptrumque tyrannis.
He snatched the lightning from the sky and the sceptre from tyrants.
Admiring Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Samuel P. du Pont, c. 1779.
In I. Bernard Cohen, Benjamin Franklin's Experiments (1941), xxvii.
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In a 1852 letter, Nightingale records the opinion of a young surgeon:
The account he gives of nurses beats everything that even I know of. This young prophet says that they are all drunkards, without exception, Sisters and all, and that there are but two whom the surgeon can trust to give the patients their medicines.
Letter to Miss H. Bonham Carter (8 Jan 1852), quoted in Edward Tyas Cook, The Life of Florence Nightingale (1914), Vol. 1, 116.
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A possible explanation for the observed excess noise is the one given by Dicke, Peebles, Roll, and Wilkinson (1965) in a companion letter in this issue.
[The low-key announcement of the detection of the cosmic microwave background radiation which is the afterglow of the Big Bang. Co-author with Robert Wilson. They received the 1978 Nobel Prize for their discovery.]
'A measurement of excess antenna temperature at 4080 Mc/s'. In Astrophysical Journal (1965). Reprinted in R. B. Partridge, 3 K the cosmic microwave background radiation? (1995), Appendix A, 355.
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A scientific writer can scarcely encounter anything more undesirable than, after completing a work, to have one of the foundations shaken. I became aware of this situation through a letter from Mr. Bertrand Russell as the printing of this volume neared completion.
In Epilog, Grundgestze der Arithmetic (1903), Vol. 2, 253. Russell wrote in 1901, just as Frege was about to publish Volume 2 of his last major work. English translation by Webmaster using Google translate and online dictionaries, from the original German: “Einem wissenschaftlichen Schriftsteller kann kaum etwas Unerwünschteres begegnen, als dass ihm nach Vollendung einer Arbeit eine der Grundlagen seines Baues erschüttert wird. In diese Lage wurde ich durch einen Brief des Herrn Bertrand Russell versetzt, als der Druck dieses Bandes sich seinem Ende näherte.” The translation in John E. Hopcroft, 'Turing Machines', Scientific American (May 1984), 250, No. 5, 95, gives: “A scientist can hardly meet with anything more undesirable than to have the foundations give way just as the work is finished. I was put in this position by a letter from Mr. Bertrand Russell when the work was nearly through the press.”
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A troubling question for those of us committed to the widest application of intelligence in the study and solution of the problems of men is whether a general understanding of the social sciences will be possible much longer. Many significant areas of these disciplines have already been removed by the advances of the past two decades beyond the reach of anyone who does not know mathematics; and the man of letters is increasingly finding, to his dismay, that the study of mankind proper is passing from his hands to those of technicians and specialists. The aesthetic effect is admittedly bad: we have given up the belletristic “essay on man” for the barbarisms of a technical vocabulary, or at best the forbidding elegance of mathematical syntax.
Opening paragraph of 'The Study of Man: Sociology Learns the Language of Mathematics' in Commentary (1 Sep 1952). Reprinted in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 2, 1294.
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About eight days ago I discovered that sulfur in burning, far from losing weight, on the contrary, gains it; it is the same with phosphorus; this increase of weight arises from a prodigious quantity of air that is fixed during combustion and combines with the vapors. This discovery, which I have established by experiments, that I regard as decisive, has led me to think that what is observed in the combustion of sulfur and phosphorus may well take place in the case of all substances that gain in weight by combustion and calcination; and I am persuaded that the increase in weight of metallic calxes is due to the same cause... This discovery seems to me one of the most interesting that has been made since Stahl and since it is difficult not to disclose something inadvertently in conversation with friends that could lead to the truth I have thought it necessary to make the present deposit to the Secretary of the Academy to await the time I make my experiments public.
Sealed note deposited with the Secretary of the French Academy 1 Nov 1772. Oeuvres de Lavoisier, Correspondance, Fasc. II. 1770-75 (1957), 389-90. Adapted from translation by A. N. Meldrum, The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Science (1930), 3.
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About ten months ago [1609] a report reached my ears that a certain Fleming [Hans Lippershey] had constructed a spyglass, by means of which visible objects, though very distant from the eye of the observer, were distinctly seen as if nearby... Of this truly remarkable effect several experiences were related, to which some persons gave credence while others denied them. A few days later the report was confirmed to me in a letter from a noble Frenchman at Paris, Jacques Badovere, which caused me to apply myself wholeheartedly to enquire into the means by which I might arrive at the invention of a similar instrument. This I did shortly afterwards, my basis being the theory of refraction. First I prepared a tube of lead, at the ends of which I fitted two glass lenses, both plane on one side while on the other side one was spherically convex and the other concave.
The Starry Messenger (1610), trans. Stillman Drake, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (1957), 28-9.
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After the planet becomes theirs, many millions of years will have to pass before a beetle particularly loved by God, at the end of its calculations will find written on a sheet of paper in letters of fire that energy is equal to the mass multiplied by the square of the velocity of light. The new kings of the world will live tranquilly for a long time, confining themselves to devouring each other and being parasites among each other on a cottage industry scale.
'Beetles' Other People’s Trades (1985, trans. 1989).
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Among the memoirs of Kirchhoff are some of uncommon beauty. … Can anything be beautiful, where the author has no time for the slightest external embellishment?—But—; it is this very simplicity, the indispensableness of each word, each letter, each little dash, that among all artists raises the mathematician nearest to the World-creator; it establishes a sublimity which is equalled in no other art, something like it exists at most in symphonic music. The Pythagoreans recognized already the similarity between the most subjective and the most objective of the arts.
In Ceremonial Speech (15 Nov 1887) celebrating the 301st anniversary of the Karl-Franzens-University Graz. Published as Gustav Robert Kirchhoff: Festrede zur Feier des 301. Gründungstages der Karl-Franzens-Universität zu Graz (1888), 28-29, as translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 186. From the original German, “Gerade unter den zuletzt erwähnten Abhandlungen Kirchhoff’s sind einige von ungewöhnlicher Schönheit. … kann etwas schön sein, wo dem Autor auch zur kleinsten äusseren Ausschmückung die Zeit fehlt?–Doch–; gerade durch diese Einfachheit, durch diese Unentbehrlichkeit jedes Wortes, jedes Buchstaben, jedes Strichelchens kömmt der Mathematiker unter allen Künstlern dem Weltenschöpfer am nächsten; sie begründet eine Erhabenheit, die in keiner Kunst ein Gleiches,–Aehnliches höchstens in der symphonischen Musik hat. Erkannten doch schon die Pythagoräer die Aehnlichkeit der subjectivsten und der objectivsten der Künste.”
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As I strayed into the study of an eminent physicist, I observed hanging against the wall, framed like a choice engraving, several dingy, ribbon-like strips of, I knew not what... My curiosity was at once aroused. What were they? ... They might be shreds of mummy-wraps or bits of friable bark-cloth from the Pacific, ... [or] remnants from a grandmother’s wedding dress... They were none of these... He explained that they were carefully-prepared photographs of portions of the Solar Spectrum. I stood and mused, absorbed in the varying yet significant intensities of light and shade, bordered by mystic letters and symbolic numbers. As I mused, the pale legend began to glow with life. Every line became luminous with meaning. Every shadow was suffused with light shining from behind, suggesting some mighty achievement of knowledge; of knowledge growing more daring in proportion to the remoteness of the object known; of knowledge becoming more positive in its answers, as the questions which were asked seemed unanswerable. No Runic legend, no Babylonish arrowhead, no Egyptian hieroglyph, no Moabite stone, could present a history like this, or suggest thoughts of such weighty import or so stimulate and exalt the imagination.
The Sciences of Nature Versus the Science of Man: A Plea for the Science of Man (1871), 7-9.
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As the component parts of all new machines may be said to be old[,] it is a nice discriminating judgment, which discovers that a particular arrangement will produce a new and desired effect. ... Therefore, the mechanic should sit down among levers, screws, wedges, wheels, etc. like a poet among the letters of the alphabet, considering them as the exhibition of his thoughts; in which a new arrangement transmits a new idea to the world.
A Treatise on the Improvement of Canal Navigation (1796), preface, x.
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At the Egyptian city of Naucratis there was a famous old god whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis was sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters.
Plato
In the Phaedrus. Collected in Plato the Teacher (1897), 171. A footnote gives that Naucratis was a city in the Delta of Egypt, on a branch of the Nile.
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At the entrance to the observatory Stjerneborg located underground, Tycho Brahe built a Ionic portal. On top of this were three sculptured lions. On both sides were inscriptions and on the backside was a longer inscription in gold letters on a porfyr stone: Consecrated to the all-good, great God and Posterity. Tycho Brahe, Son of Otto, who realized that Astronomy, the oldest and most distinguished of all sciences, had indeed been studied for a long time and to a great extent, but still had not obtained sufficient firmness or had been purified of errors, in order to reform it and raise it to perfection, invented and with incredible labour, industry, and expenditure constructed various exact instruments suitable for all kinds of observations of the celestial bodies, and placed them partly in the neighbouring castle of Uraniborg, which was built for the same purpose, partly in these subterranean rooms for a more constant and useful application, and recommending, hallowing, and consecrating this very rare and costly treasure to you, you glorious Posterity, who will live for ever and ever, he, who has both begun and finished everything on this island, after erecting this monument, beseeches and adjures you that in honour of the eternal God, creator of the wonderful clockwork of the heavens, and for the propagation of the divine science and for the celebrity of the fatherland, you will constantly preserve it and not let it decay with old age or any other injury or be removed to any other place or in any way be molested, if for no other reason, at any rate out of reverence to the creator’s eye, which watches over the universe. Greetings to you who read this and act accordingly. Farewell!
(Translated from the original in Latin)
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Because words pass away as soon as they strike upon the air, and last no longer than their sound, men have by means of letters formed signs of words. Thus the sounds of the voice are made visible to the eye, not of course as sounds, but by means of certain signs.
In 'Origin of Writing', Christian Doctrine, Book 2, as translated by J.F. Shaw, collected in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church: Volume II: St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine (1907), 536.
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Chemical signs ought to be letters, for the greater facility of writing, and not to disfigure a printed book ... I shall take therefore for the chemical sign, the initial letter of the Latin name of each elementary substance: but as several have the same initial letter, I shall distinguish them in the following manner:— 1. In the class which I shall call metalloids, I shall employ the initial letter only, even when this letter is common to the metalloid and to some metal. 2. In the class of metals, I shall distinguish those that have the same initials with another metal, or a metalloid, by writing the first two letters of the word. 3. If the first two letters be common to two metals, I shall, in that case, add to the initial letter the first consonant which they have not in common: for example, S = sulphur, Si = silicium, St = stibium (antimony), Sn = stannum (tin), C = carbonicum, Co = colbaltum (colbalt), Cu = cuprum (copper), O = oxygen, Os = osmium, &c.
'Essay on the Cause of Chemical Proportions, and on some circumstances relating to them: together with a short and easy method of expressing them', Annals of Philosophy, 1814, 3,51-2.
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Education is like a diamond with many facets: It includes the basic mastery of numbers and letters that give us access to the treasury of human knowledge, accumulated and refined through the ages; it includes technical and vocational training as well as instruction in science, higher mathematics, and humane letters.
In Proclamation 5463, for Education Day (19 Apr 1986). Collected in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1986 (1988), 490.
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Even today I still get letters from young students here and there who say, Why are you people trying to program intelligence? Why don’t you try to find a way to build a nervous system that will just spontaneously create it? Finally I decided that this was either a bad idea or else it would take thousands or millions of neurons to make it work and I couldn’t afford to try to build a machine like that.
As quoted in Jeremy Bernstein, 'A.I.', The New Yorker (14 Dec 1981), 57, 70.
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Falling in love is not at all the most stupid thing that people do, but gravitation cannot be held responsible for it.
Scribbled by Einstein on a letter received during a visit to England (1933) from a man who suggested that gravity meant that as the world rotated people were sometimes upside down, horizontal, or at 'left angles' and that perhaps, this disorientation explained why people do foolish things like falling in love.
In Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffmann (editors.), Einstein: The Human Side (1981), 56.
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For between true Science, and erroneous Doctrines, Ignorance is in the middle. Naturall sense and imagination, are not subject to absurdity. Nature it selfe cannot erre: and as men abound in copiousnesses of language; so they become more wise, or more mad than ordinary. Nor is it possible without Letters for any man to become either excellently wise, or (unless his memory be hurt by disease, or ill constitution of organs) excellently foolish. For words are wise men's counters, they do but reckon by them; but they are the money of fools that value them by the authority of an Aristotle, a Cicero, or a Thomas, or any other Doctor whatsoever, if but a man.
Leviathan (1651), ed. C. B. Macpherson (1968), Part 1, Chapter 4, 106.
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Fortunate Newton…! Nature to him was an open book, whose letters he could read without effort.
In 'Foreword' to Isaac Newton, Opticks (1952), lix.
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He that in ye mine of knowledge deepest diggeth, hath, like every other miner, ye least breathing time, and must sometimes at least come to terr. alt. for air.
[Explaining how he writes a letter as break from his study.]
Letter to Dr. Law (15 Dec 1716) as quoted in Norman Lockyer, (ed.), Nature (25 May 1881), 24, 39. The source refers to it as an unpublished letter.
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How might letters be most efficiently copied so that the blind might read them with their fingers?
Aphorism 28 in Notebook J (1789-1793), as translated by R. J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 133.
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How often might a man, after he had jumbled a set of letters in a bag, fling them out upon the ground before they would fall into an exact poem, yea, or so much as make a good discourse in prose. And may not a little book be as easily made by chance as this great volume of the world.
In The Works of the Most Reverend Dr. John Tillotson (1714), 15.
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I believe myself to possess a most singular combination of qualities exactly fitted to make me pre-eminently a discoverer of the hidden realities of nature… the belief has been forced upon me…
Firstly: Owing to some peculiarity in my nervous system, I have perceptions of some things, which no one else has… and intuitive perception of… things hidden from eyes, ears, & ordinary senses…
Secondly: my sense reasoning faculties;
Thirdly: my concentration faculty, by which I mean the power not only of throwing my whole energy & existence into whatever I choose, but also of bringing to bear on anyone subject or idea, a vast apparatus from all sorts of apparently irrelevant & extraneous sources…
Well, here I have written what most people would call a remarkably mad letter; & yet certainly one of the most logical, sober-minded, cool, pieces of composition, (I believe), that I ever framed.
Lovelace Papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford University, 42, folio 12 (6 Feb 1841). As quoted and cited in Dorothy Stein (ed.), 'This First Child of Mine', Ada: A Life and a Legacy (1985), 86.
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I cannot let the year run out without sending you a sign of my continued existence and to extend my sincere wishes for the well-being of you and your dear ones in the New Year. We will not be able to send New Year greetings much longer; but even when we have passed away and have long since decomposed, the bonds that united us in life will remain and we shall be remembered as a not too common example of two men, who truly without envy and jealousy, contended and struggled in the same field, yet nevertheless remained always closely bound in friendship.
Letter from Liebig to Wohler (31 Dec 1871). Quoted in Ralph Oesper, The Human Side of Scientists (1975), 206.
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I could burn my fingers that I wrote that first letter to Roosevelt.
…...
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I crave the liberty to conceal my name, not to suppress it. I have composed the letters of it written in Latin in this sentence—
In Mathesi a sole fundes.
[Anagram from Latinized name, Iohannes Flamsteedius]
In Letter (24 Nov 1669) to Brouncker, collected in Macclesfield, Correspondence of Scientific Men (1841), Vol. 2, 90. [The Latin anagram, “In Mathesi a sole fundes” was later corrected as “I mathesin a sole fundes”, which is literally translated as “go, you pour out learning from the Sun” in Eric Gray Forbes, Lesley Murdin, Frances Wilmoth, The Correspondence of John Flamsteed, The First Astronomer Royal (1995), Vol. 1, 42. —Webmaster]
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I end with a word on the new symbols which I have employed. Most writers on logic strongly object to all symbols. ... I should advise the reader not to make up his mind on this point until he has well weighed two facts which nobody disputes, both separately and in connexion. First, logic is the only science which has made no progress since the revival of letters; secondly, logic is the only science which has produced no growth of symbols.
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I forget whether you take in the Times; for the chance of your not doing so, I send the enclosed rich letter. It is, I am sure, by Fitz-Roy. … It is a pity he did not add his theory of the extinction of Mastodon, etc., from the door of the Ark being made too small.
Letter (5 Dec 1859) to Charles Lyell. In Francis Darwin and Albert Charles Seward (eds.), More Letters of Charles Darwin: A Record of his Work in a Series of Hitherto Unpublished Letters (103), Vol. 1, 129. The referenced letters in the Times were on 1 Dec and 5 Dec 1859, signed under the pseudonym “Senex”, on the topic of “Works of Art in the Drift.”
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I fully agree with all that you say on the advantages of H. Spencer's excellent expression of 'the survival of the fittest.' This, however, had not occurred to me till reading your letter. It is, however, a great objection to this term that it cannot be used as a substantive governing a verb; and that this is a real objection I infer from H. Spencer continually using the words, natural selection.
Letter to A. R. Wallace July 1866. In Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Including an Autobiographical Chapter (1887), Vol. 3, 45-6.
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I have been so constantly under the necessity of watching the movements of the most unprincipled set of pirates I have ever known, that all my time has been occupied in defense, in putting evidence into something like legal shape that I am the inventor of the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph.
From a letter to his brother describing the challenge of defending his patents (19 Apr 1848).
Samuel F. B. Morse, His Letters and Journals (1914), vol.2, 283.
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I have had a fairly long life, above all a very happy one, and I think that I shall be remembered with some regrets and perhaps leave some reputation behind me. What more could I ask? The events in which I am involved will probably save me from the troubles of old age. I shall die in full possession of my faculties, and that is another advantage that I should count among those that I have enjoyed. If I have any distressing thoughts, it is of not having done more for my family; to be unable to give either to them or to you any token of my affection and my gratitude is to be poor indeed.
Letter to Augez de Villiers, undated. Quoted in D. McKie, Antoine Lavoisier: Scientist, Economist, Social Reformer (1952), 303.
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I have just received copies of “To-day” containing criticisms of my letter. I am in no way surprised to find that these criticisms are not only unfair and misleading in the extreme. They are misleading in so far that anyone reading them would be led to believe the exact opposite of the truth. It is quite possible that I, an old and trained engineer and chronic experimenter, should put an undue value upon truth; but it is common to all scientific men. As nothing but the truth is of any value to them, they naturally dislike things that are not true. ... While my training has, perhaps, warped my mind so that I put an undue value upon truth, their training has been such as to cause them to abhor exact truth and logic.
[Replying to criticism by Colonel Acklom and other religious parties attacking Maxim's earlier contribution to the controversy about the modern position of Christianity.]
In G.K. Chesterton, 'The Maxims of Maxim', Daily News (25 Feb 1905). Collected in G. K. Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist (ed.), In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (2011), 86.
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I have made this one [letter] longer than usual because I did not have the leisure to make it shorter.
The Provincial Letters, Letter XVI, to the Reverend Jesuit Fathers (4 Dec 1656), ed. A. J. Krailsheimer (1967), 257.
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I have procured some of the mice mentioned in my former letters, a young one and a female with young, both of which I have preserved in brandy. From the colour, shape, size, and manner of nesting, I make no doubt but that the species is nondescript [not known to science]. They are much smaller and more slender than the mus domesticus medius of Ray; and have more of the squirrel or dormouse colour ... They never enter into houses; are carried into ricks and barns with the sheaves; abound in harvest, and build their nests amidst the straws of the corn above the ground, and sometimes in thistles.
[Part of his observations on the harvest mouse, which he was the first to describe as a new species.]
Letter XII (4 Nov 1767) in The Natural History of Selborne (1789, 1899), 31.
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I heard … xenon was a good anesthesia. … I thought, “How can xenon, which doesn’t form any chemical compounds, serve as a general anesthetic? … I lay awake at night for a few minutes before going to sleep, and during the next couple of weeks each night I would think, “…how do anesthetic agents work?" Then I forgot to do it after a while, but I’d trained my unconscious mind to keep this question alive and to call [it] to my consciousness whenever a new idea turned up…. So seven years went by. [One day I] put my feet up on the desk and started reading my mail, and here was a letter from George Jeffrey … an x-ray crystallographer, on his determination of the structure of a hydrate crystal. Immediately I sat up, took my feet off the desk, and said, “I understand anesthesia!” … I spent a year [and] determined the structure of chloroform hydrate, and then I wrote my paper published in June of 1961.
Interview with George B. Kauffman and Laurie M. Kauffman, in 'Linus Pauling: Reflections', American Scientist (Nov-Dec 1994), 82, No. 6, 522-523.
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I often get letters … from people who say … I never give credit to the almighty power that created nature. … I reply … “Well, it’s funny that the people, when they say that this is evidence of the Almighty, always quote beautiful things … orchids and hummingbirds and butterflies and roses.” But I always have to think too of a little boy sitting on the banks of a river in west Africa who has a worm boring through his eyeball, turning him blind before he’s five years old. And I … say, “Well, presumably the God you speak about created the worm as well,” and now, I find that baffling to credit a merciful God with that action. And therefore it seems to me safer to show things that I know to be truth, truthful and factual, and allow people to make up their own minds about the moralities of this thing, or indeed the theology of this thing.
From BBC TV, Life on Air (2002).
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I should like to compare this rearrangement which the proteins undergo in the animal or vegetable organism to the making up of a railroad train. In their passage through the body parts of the whole may be left behind, and here and there new parts added on. In order to understand fully the change we must remember that the proteins are composed of Bausteine united in very different ways. Some of them contain Bausteine of many kinds. The multiplicity of the proteins is determined by many causes, first through the differences in the nature of the constituent Bausteine; and secondly, through differences in the arrangement of them. The number of Bausteine which may take part in the formation of the proteins is about as large as the number of letters in the alphabet. When we consider that through the combination of letters an infinitely large number of thoughts may be expressed, we can understand how vast a number of the properties of the organism may be recorded in the small space which is occupied by the protein molecules. It enables us to understand how it is possible for the proteins of the sex-cells to contain, to a certain extent, a complete description of the species and even of the individual. We may also comprehend how great and important the task is to determine the structure of the proteins, and why the biochemist has devoted himself with so much industry to their analysis.
'The Chemical Composition of the Cell', The Harvey Lectures (1911), 7, 45.
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I think it is a duty I owe to my profession and to my sex to show that a woman has a right to the practice of her profession and cannot be condemned to abandon it merely because she marries. I cannot conceive how women’s colleges, inviting and encouraging women to enter professions can be justly founded or maintained denying such a principle.
(From a letter Brooks wrote to her dean, knowing that she would be told to resign if she married, she asked to keep her job. Nevertheless, she lost her teaching position at Barnard College in 1906. Dean Gill wrote that “The dignity of women’s place in the home demands that your marriage shall be a resignation.”)
As quoted by Margaret W. Rossiter in Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press (1982).
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I was just going to say, when I was interrupted, that one of the many ways of classifying minds is under the heads of arithmetical and algebraical intellects. All economical and practical wisdom is an extension or variation of the following arithmetical formula: 2+2=4. Every philosophical proposition has the more general character of the expression a+b=c. We are mere operatives, empirics, and egotists, until we learn to think in letters instead of figures.
The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858), 1.
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If a little less time was devoted to the translation of letters by Julius Caesar describing Britain 2000 years ago and a little more time was spent on teaching children how to describe (in simple modern English) the method whereby ethylene was converted into polythene in 1933 in the ICI laboratories at Northwich, and to discussing the enormous social changes which have resulted from this discovery, then I believe that we should be training future leaders in this country to face the world of tomorrow far more effectively than we are at the present time.
Quoted in an Obituary, D. P. Craig, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (1972), 18, 461.
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If atoms do, by chance, happen to combine themselves into so many shapes, why have they never combined together to form a house or a slipper? By the same token, why do we not believe that if innumerable letters of the Greek alphabet were poured all over the market-place they would eventually happen to form the text of the Iliad?
The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, Book 2, Chapter 12, 'Apology for Raymond Sebond', trans. M. A. Screech (1991), 612.
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If the world had but a dozen Arbuthnots I would burn my [Gulliver's] Travels.
Letter to Pope, dated 29 Sep 1725, when Arbuthnot was seriously ill
Jonathan Swift, Thomas Sheridan (ed.) John Nichols (ed.) The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift, (1808) , Vol. 11, 297-8.
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If this is what the McCarran Act means in practice, it seems to us a form of organized cultural suicide.
In a letter co-signed with his Princeton University physics professor colleagues, Walker Bleakney and Milton G. White, protesting that Nobel Prize-winning, Cambridge professor, Dirac having been invited for a year's visit to Princeton, had been denied a visa by the U.S. State Department under section 212A of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (McCarran Act). Quoting a report in Physics Today, this regulation includes 'categories of undesireables ranging from vagrants to stowaways.' The real reason remains unclear, but was perhaps related to Dirac's prior science-related visits to Russia. Robert Oppenheimer's security clearance had recently been revoked, and this was the era of McCarthy's rabid anti-Communism hearings.
'Letters to the Times: Denial of Visa to Physicist Seen as Loss to American Science'. New York Times (3 Jun 1954), 26. In A. Pais, 'Playing With Equations, the Dirac Way'. Behram N. Kursunoglu (Ed.) and Eugene Paul Wigner (Ed.), Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac: Reminiscences about a Great Physicist (1990), 108.
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In a purely technical sense, each species of higher organism—beetle, moss, and so forth, is richer in information than a Caravaggio painting, Mozart symphony, or any other great work of art. Consider the typical case of the house mouse, Mus musculus. Each of its cells contains four strings of DNA, each of which comprises about a billion nucleotide pairs organized into a hundred thousand structural nucleotide pairs, organized into a hundred thousand structural genes. … The full information therein, if translated into ordinary-sized printed letters, would just about fill all 15 editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica published since 1768.
'The Biological Diversity Crisis: A Challenge to Science', Issues in Science and Technology (Fall 1985), 2:1, 22. Reprinted in Nature Revealed: Selected Writings, 1949-2006 (2006), 622.
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In England, philosophers are honoured, respected; they rise to public offices, they are buried with the kings... In France warrants are issued against them, they are persecuted, pelted with pastoral letters: Do we see that England is any the worse for it?
'Introduction aux Grands Principes ou Reception d'un Philosophe', in J. Assézat (ed.), Oeuvres Complètes (1875-7), Vol. 2, 80.
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In the printed page the only real things are the paper and the ink; the white spaces play the same part in aiding the eye to take in the meaning of the print as do the black letters.
From Under the Apple-Trees (1916), 302.
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In your letter you apply the word imponderable to a molecule. Don’t do that again. It may also be worth knowing that the aether cannot be molecular. If it were, it would be a gas, and a pint of it would have the same properties as regards heat, etc., as a pint of air, except that it would not be so heavy.
Letter to Lewis Campbell (Sep 1874). In Lewis Campbell and William Garnett, The Life of James Clerk Maxwell (1882), 391.
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Is it possible that a promiscuous Jumble of Printing Letters should often fall into a Method and Order, which should stamp on Paper a coherent Discourse; or that a blind fortuitous Concourse of Atoms, not guided by an Understanding Agent, should frequently constitute the Bodies of any Species of Animals.
In 'Of Wrong Assent, or Error', An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (1706), Book 4, 601.
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It is for such inquiries the modern naturalist collects his materials; it is for this that he still wants to add to the apparently boundless treasures of our national museums, and will never rest satisfied as long as the native country, the geographical distribution, and the amount of variation of any living thing remains imperfectly known. He looks upon every species of animal and plant now living as the individual letters which go to make up one of the volumes of our earth’s history; and, as a few lost letters may make a sentence unintelligible, so the extinction of the numerous forms of life which the progress of cultivation invariably entails will necessarily render obscure this invaluable record of the past. It is, therefore, an important object, which governments and scientific institutions should immediately take steps to secure, that in all tropical countries colonised by Europeans the most perfect collections possible in every branch of natural history should be made and deposited in national museums, where they may be available for study and interpretation. If this is not done, future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations. They will charge us with having culpably allowed the destruction of some of those records of Creation which we had it in our power to preserve; and while professing to regard every living thing as the direct handiwork and best evidence of a Creator, yet, with a strange inconsistency, seeing many of them perish irrecoverably from the face of the earth, uncared for and unknown.
In 'On the Physical Geography of the Malay Archipelago', Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (1863), 33, 234.
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It is not merely as an investigator and discoverer, but as a high-principled and unassuming man, that Scheele merits our warmest admiration. His aim and object was the discovery of truth. The letters of the man reveal to us in the most pleasant way his high scientific ideal, his genuinely philosophic temper, and his simple mode of thought. “It is the truth alone that we desire to know, and what joy there is in discovering it!” With these words he himself characterizes his own efforts.
From History of Chemistry (1899). As quoted in Victor Robinson, Pathfinders in Medicine (1912), 121.
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It is not surprising, in view of the polydynamic constitution of the genuinely mathematical mind, that many of the major heros of the science, men like Desargues and Pascal, Descartes and Leibnitz, Newton, Gauss and Bolzano, Helmholtz and Clifford, Riemann and Salmon and Plücker and Poincaré, have attained to high distinction in other fields not only of science but of philosophy and letters too. And when we reflect that the very greatest mathematical achievements have been due, not alone to the peering, microscopic, histologic vision of men like Weierstrass, illuminating the hidden recesses, the minute and intimate structure of logical reality, but to the larger vision also of men like Klein who survey the kingdoms of geometry and analysis for the endless variety of things that flourish there, as the eye of Darwin ranged over the flora and fauna of the world, or as a commercial monarch contemplates its industry, or as a statesman beholds an empire; when we reflect not only that the Calculus of Probability is a creation of mathematics but that the master mathematician is constantly required to exercise judgment—judgment, that is, in matters not admitting of certainty—balancing probabilities not yet reduced nor even reducible perhaps to calculation; when we reflect that he is called upon to exercise a function analogous to that of the comparative anatomist like Cuvier, comparing theories and doctrines of every degree of similarity and dissimilarity of structure; when, finally, we reflect that he seldom deals with a single idea at a tune, but is for the most part engaged in wielding organized hosts of them, as a general wields at once the division of an army or as a great civil administrator directs from his central office diverse and scattered but related groups of interests and operations; then, I say, the current opinion that devotion to mathematics unfits the devotee for practical affairs should be known for false on a priori grounds. And one should be thus prepared to find that as a fact Gaspard Monge, creator of descriptive geometry, author of the classic Applications de l’analyse à la géométrie; Lazare Carnot, author of the celebrated works, Géométrie de position, and Réflections sur la Métaphysique du Calcul infinitesimal; Fourier, immortal creator of the Théorie analytique de la chaleur; Arago, rightful inheritor of Monge’s chair of geometry; Poncelet, creator of pure projective geometry; one should not be surprised, I say, to find that these and other mathematicians in a land sagacious enough to invoke their aid, rendered, alike in peace and in war, eminent public service.
In Lectures on Science, Philosophy and Art (1908), 32-33.
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It is one of the striking generalizations of biochemistry—which surprisingly is hardly ever mentioned in the biochemical text-books—that the twenty amino acids and the four bases, are, with minor reservations, the same throughout Nature. As far as I am aware the presently accepted set of twenty amino acids was first drawn up by Watson and myself in the summer of 1953 in response to a letter of Gamow's.
'On the Genetic Code', Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1962. In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1942-1962 (1964), 811.
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It is probably no exaggeration to suppose that in order to improve such an organ as the eye at all, it must be improved in ten different ways at once. And the improbability of any complex organ being produced and brought to perfection in any such way is an improbability of the same kind and degree as that of producing a poem or a mathematical demonstration by throwing letters at random on a table.
[Expressing his reservations about Darwin's proposed evolution of the eye by natural selection.]
Opening address to the Belfast Natural History Society, as given in the 'Belfast Northern Whig,' (19 Nov 1866). As cited by Charles Darwin in The Variation of Animals & Plants Under Domestication (1868), 222.
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It often seems to me as if History was like a child’s box of letters, with which we can spell any word we please. We have only to pick out such letters as we want, arrange them as we like, and say nothing about those which do not suit our purpose.
Lecture delivered to the Royal Institution (5 Feb 1864), 'On the Science of History'. Collected in Notices of the Proceedings at the Meetings of the Members of the Royal Institution of Great Britain with Abstracts of the Discourses (1866), Vol. 4, 180.
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It was his [Leibnitz’s] love of method and order, and the conviction that such order and harmony existed in the real world, and that our success in understanding it depended upon the degree and order which we could attain in our own thoughts, that originally was probably nothing more than a habit which by degrees grew into a formal rule. This habit was acquired by early occupation with legal and mathematical questions. We have seen how the theory of combinations and arrangements of elements had a special interest for him. We also saw how mathematical calculations served him as a type and model of clear and orderly reasoning, and how he tried to introduce method and system into logical discussions, by reducing to a small number of terms the multitude of compound notions he had to deal with. This tendency increased in strength, and even in those early years he elaborated the idea of a general arithmetic, with a universal language of symbols, or a characteristic which would be applicable to all reasoning processes, and reduce philosophical investigations to that simplicity and certainty which the use of algebraic symbols had introduced into mathematics.
A mental attitude such as this is always highly favorable for mathematical as well as for philosophical investigations. Wherever progress depends upon precision and clearness of thought, and wherever such can be gained by reducing a variety of investigations to a general method, by bringing a multitude of notions under a common term or symbol, it proves inestimable. It necessarily imports the special qualities of number—viz., their continuity, infinity and infinite divisibility—like mathematical quantities—and destroys the notion that irreconcilable contrasts exist in nature, or gaps which cannot be bridged over. Thus, in his letter to Arnaud, Leibnitz expresses it as his opinion that geometry, or the philosophy of space, forms a step to the philosophy of motion—i.e., of corporeal things—and the philosophy of motion a step to the philosophy of mind.
In Leibnitz (1884), 44-45. [The first sentence is reworded to better introduce the quotation. —Webmaster]
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Know thyself! This is the source of all wisdom, said the great thinkers of the past, and the sentence was written in golden letters on the temple of the gods. To know himself, Linnæus declared to be the essential indisputable distinction of man above all other creatures. I know, indeed, in study nothing more worthy of free and thoughtful man than the study of himself. For if we look for the purpose of our existence, we cannot possibly find it outside ourselves. We are here for our own sake.
As translated and quoted in Ernst Haeckel and E. Ray Lankester (trans.) as epigraph for Chap. 9, The History of Creation (1886), Vol. 1, 244.
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Make it compulsory for a doctor using a brass plate to have inscribed on it, in addition to the letters indicating his qualifications, the words “Remember that I too am mortal.”
In 'Preface on Doctors', The Doctor’s Dilemma (1909, 1911), xci.
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Mr Hooke sent, in his next letter [to Sir Isaac Newton] the whole of his Hypothesis, scil that the gravitation was reciprocall to the square of the distance: ... This is the greatest Discovery in Nature that ever was since the World's Creation. It was never so much as hinted by any man before. I wish he had writt plainer, and afforded a little more paper.
Brief Lives (1680), edited by Oliver Lawson Dick (1949), 166-7.
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Much later, when I discussed the problem with Einstein, he remarked that the introduction of the cosmological term was the biggest blunder he ever made in his life. But this “blunder,” rejected by Einstein, is still sometimes used by cosmologists even today, and the cosmological constant denoted by the Greek letter Λ rears its ugly head again and again and again.
My World Line (1970). Cited in Edward Robert Harrison, Cosmology: the Science of the Universe (2000), 379, which adds: “The Λ force is referred to by various names, such as the cosmological constant, cosmological term, cosmical constant or cosmical term.”
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No nation can be really great unless it is great in peace, in industry, integrity, honesty. Skilled intelligence in civic affairs and industrial enterprises alike; the special ability of the artist, the man of letters, the man of science, and the man of business; the rigid determination to wrong no man, and to stand for righteousness—all these are necessary in a great nation.
Address (2 Jun 1897) at U.S. Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. In 'Washington's Forgotten Maxim', United States Naval Institute Proceedings (1897), 23, 450.
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Numerical logistic is that which employs numbers; symbolic logistic that which uses symbols, as, say, the letters of the alphabet.
In Introduction to the Analytic Art (1591).
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Pauli … asked me to tell him what was happening in America. I told him that Mrs. Wu is trying to measure whether parity is conserved. He answered me: “Mrs. Wu is wasting her time. I would bet you a large sum that parity is conserved.” When this letter came I already knew that parity is violated. I could have sent a telegram to Pauli that the bet was accepted. But I wrote him a letter. He said: “I could never let it out that this is possible. I am glad that we did not actually do the bet because I can risk to lose my reputation, but I cannot risk losing my capital.”
In Discussion after paper presented by Chien-Shiung Wu to the International Conference on the History of Original Ideas and Basic Discoveries, Erice, Sicily (27 Jul-4 Aug 1994), 'Parity Violation' collected in Harvey B. Newman, Thomas Ypsilantis (eds.), History of Original Ideas and Basic Discoveries in Particle Physics (1996), 381.
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Philosophers say, that Man is a Microcosm, or little World, resembling in Miniature every Part of the Great: And, in my Opinion, the Body Natural may be compared to the Body Politic: and if this be so, how can the Epicureans Opinion be true, that the Universe was formed by a fortuitous Concourse of Atoms; which I will no more believe, than that the accidental Jumbling of the Letters of the Alphabet, could fall by Chance into a most ingenious and learned Treatise of Philosophy. Risum teneatis Amici, Hor.
In 'A Tritical Essay Upon the Faculties of the Mind' (6 Aug 1707), collected in various volumes and editions, for example, The Works of J.S, D.D, D.S.P.D.: Volume 1: Miscellanies in Prose (1739), 173. An earlier, undated, fourth volume of Miscellanies gives the 6 Aug 1707 date the essay was written. The final Latin phrase can be translated as, “Can you help laughing, friends?” attributed to Horace. In Jonathan Swift and Temple Scott (ed.), The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift: A Tale of a Tub: the Battle of the Books, and Other Early Works (1897, reprint 1907), Vol. 1, 291, the editor footnotes that “this essay is a parody on the pseudo-philosophical essays of the time, in which all sense was lost in the maze of inconsequential quotations.” Indeed, the rest of the essay is, by design, a jumble of disjointed thoughts and makes next to no sense.
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Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the letters in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one wanders about in a dark labyrinth.
In 'The Assayer' (1623), trans. Stillman Drake, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (1957), 237-8.
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Physicists are, as a general rule, highbrows. They think and talk in long, Latin words, and when they write anything down they usually include at least one partial differential and three Greek letters.
In 'A Newsman Looks at Physicists', Physics Today (May 1948), 1, No. 1, 15.
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Sample recommendation letter:
Dear Search Committee Chair,
I am writing this letter for Mr. John Smith who has applied for a position in your department. I should start by saying that I cannot recommend him too highly.
In fact, there is no other student with whom I can adequately compare him, and I am sure that the amount of mathematics he knows will surprise you.
His dissertation is the sort of work you don’t expect to see these days.
It definitely demonstrates his complete capabilities.
In closing, let me say that you will be fortunate if you can get him to work for you.
Sincerely,
A. D. Visor (Prof.)
In A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper (1995), 43
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Science aims at constructing a world which shall be symbolic of the world of commonplace experience. It is not at all necessary that every individual symbol that is used should represent something in common experience or even something explicable in terms of common experience. The man in the street is always making this demand for concrete explanation of the things referred to in science; but of necessity he must be disappointed. It is like our experience in learning to read. That which is written in a book is symbolic of a story in real life. The whole intention of the book is that ultimately a reader will identify some symbol, say BREAD, with one of the conceptions of familiar life. But it is mischievous to attempt such identifications prematurely, before the letters are strung into words and the words into sentences. The symbol A is not the counterpart of anything in familiar life.
From 'Introduction', The Nature of the Physical World (1928), xiii.
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Science is Christian, not when it condemns itself to the letter of things, but when, in the infinitely little, it discovers as many mysteries and as much depth and power as in the infinitely great.
In Fourth Lecture, 'The Roman Church and Science: Galileo', (7 May 1844). Collected in Edgar Quinet and C. Cocks (trans.), Ultramontanism: Or, The Roman Church and Modern Society (1845), 73.
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Sir,—The Planet [Neptune] whose position you marked out actually exists. On the day on which your letter reached me, I found a star of the eighth magnitude, which was not recorded in the excellent map designed by Dr. Bremiker, containing the twenty-first hour of the collection published by the Royal Academy of Berlin. The observation of the succeeding day showed it to be the Planet of which we were in quest.
Letter, from Berlin (25 Sep 1846). In John Pringle Nichol, The Planet Neptune: An Exposition and History (1848), 89. Galle thus confirmed the existence of the planet Neptune, found at the position predicted in a letter he had just received from Urbain Le Verrier.
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Someone poring over the old files in the United States Patent Office at Washington the other day found a letter written in 1833 that illustrates the limitations of the human imagination. It was from an old employee of the Patent Office, offering his resignation to the head of the department His reason was that as everything inventable had been invented the Patent Office would soon be discontinued and there would be no further need of his services or the services of any of his fellow clerks. He, therefore, decided to leave before the blow fell.
Magazine
Written jokingly, to contrast with the burgeoning of American inventions in the new century. In 'Nothing More to Invent?', Scientific American (16 Oct 1915), 334. Compare that idea, expressed in 1915, with the classic myth still in endless recirculation today, “Everything that can be invented, has been invented,” for example, in Chris Morgan and David Langford, Facts and Fallacies (1981), on the Charles Duell Quotations page on this website, which includes references debunking the myth.
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That the Universe was formed by a fortuitous Concourse of Atoms, I will no more believe than that the accidental Jumbling of the Letters of the Alphabet would fall by Chance into a most ingenious and learned Treatise of Philosophy, Risum teneatis Amici, Hor.
In 'A Tritical Essay Upon the Faculties of the Mind' (6 Aug 1707), collected in various volumes and editions, for example, The Works of J.S, D.D, D.S.P.D.: Volume 1: Miscellanies in Prose (1739), 173. An earlier, undated, fourth volume of Miscellanies gives the 6 Aug 1707 date the essay was written. The final Latin phrase can be translated as, “Can you help laughing, friends?” attributed to Horace.
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The achievements of the Beagle did not just depend on FitzRoy’s skill as a hydrographer, nor on Darwin’s skill as a natural scientist, but on the thoroughly effective fashion in which everyone on board pulled together. Of course Darwin and FitzRoy had their quarrels, but all things considered, they were remarkably infrequent. To have shared such cramped quarters for nearly five years with a man often suffering from serious depression, prostrate part of the time with sea sickness, with so little friction, Darwin must have been one of the best-natured people ever! This is, indeed, apparent in his letters. And anyone who has participated in a scientific expedition will agree that when he wrote from Valparaiso in July 1834 that ‘The Captain keeps all smooth by rowing everyone in turn, which of course he has as much right to do as a gamekeeper to shoot partridges on the first of September’, he was putting a finger on an important ingredient in the Beagle’s success.
From Introduction to The Beagle Record (1979, 2012), 9.
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The business of their weekly Meetings shall be, To order, take account, consider, and discourse of Philosophical Experiments, and Observations: to read, hear, and discourse upon Letters, Reports, and other Papers containing Philosophical matters, as also to view, and discourse upon the productions and rarities of Nature, and Art: and to consider what to deduce from them, or how they may be improv'd for use, or discovery.
'An Abstract of the Statutes of the Royal Society', in Thomas Sprat, History of the Royal Society (1667), 145.
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The language of the genes has a simple alphabet, not with twenty-six letters, but just four. These are the four different DNA bases—adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine (A, G, C and T for short). The bases are arranged in words of three letters such as CGA or TGG. Most of the words code for different amino acids, which themselves are joined together to make proteins, the building blocks of the body.
The Language of the Genes: Biology, History and the Evolutionary Future (1993), 3.
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The letter e may now no longer be used to denote anything other than this positive universal constant.
In Differential and Integral Calculus (1951), 44. This is Landau’s comment after he writes “Definition 13: “e is the solution of log y= 1”.
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The lives of scientists, considered as Lives, almost always make dull reading. For one thing, the careers of the famous and the merely ordinary fall into much the same pattern, give or take an honorary degree or two, or (in European countries) an honorific order. It could be hardly otherwise. Academics can only seldom lead lives that are spacious or exciting in a worldly sense. They need laboratories or libraries and the company of other academics. Their work is in no way made deeper or more cogent by privation, distress or worldly buffetings. Their private lives may be unhappy, strangely mixed up or comic, but not in ways that tell us anything special about the nature or direction of their work. Academics lie outside the devastation area of the literary convention according to which the lives of artists and men of letters are intrinsically interesting, a source of cultural insight in themselves. If a scientist were to cut his ear off, no one would take it as evidence of a heightened sensibility; if a historian were to fail (as Ruskin did) to consummate his marriage, we should not suppose that our understanding of historical scholarship had somehow been enriched.
'J.B.S: A Johnsonian Scientist', New York Review of Books (10 Oct 1968), reprinted in Pluto's Republic (1982), and inThe Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science (1996), 86.
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The most ominous conflict of our time is the difference of opinion, of outlook, between men of letters, historians, philosophers, the so-called humanists, on the one side and scientists on the other. The gap cannot but increase because of the intolerance of both and the fact that science is growing by leaps and bounds.
The History of Science and the New Humanism (1931), 69.Omnious;Conflict;Difference;Opinion;Outlook;Men OfLetters;Historian;Philosopher;Humanist;So-Called;Scientist;Gap;Intolerance;Fact;Growth;Leap;Bound
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The stories of Whitney’s love for experimenting are legion. At one time he received a letter asking if insects could live in a vacuum. Whitney took the letter to one of the members of his staff and asked the man if he cared to run an experiment on the subject. The man replied that there was no point in it, since it was well established that life could not exist without a supply of oxygen. Whitney, who was an inveterate student of wild life, replied that on his farm he had seen turtles bury themselves in mud each fall, and, although the mud was covered with ice and snow for months, emerge again in the spring. The man exclaimed, “Oh, you mean hibernation!” Whitney answered, “I don’t know what I mean, but I want to know if bugs can live in a vacuum.”
He proceeded down the hall and broached the subject to another member of the staff. Faced with the same lack of enthusiasm for pursuing the matter further, Whitney tried another illustration. “I’ve been told that you can freeze a goldfish solidly in a cake of ice, where he certainly can’t get much oxygen, and can keep him there for a month or two. But if you thaw him out carefully he seems none the worse for his experience.” The second scientist replied, “Oh, you mean suspended animation.” Whitney once again explained that his interest was not in the terms but in finding an answer to the question.
Finally Whitney returned to his own laboratory and set to work. He placed a fly and a cockroach in a bell jar and removed the air. The two insects promptly keeled over. After approximately two hours, however, when he gradually admitted air again, the cockroach waved its feelers and staggered to its feet. Before long, both the cockroach and the fly were back in action.
'Willis Rodney Whitney', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs (1960), 357-358.
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The study of letters is the study of the operation of human force, of human freedom and activity; the study of nature is the study of the operation of non-human forces, of human limitation and passivity. The contemplation of human force and activity tends naturally to heighten our own force and activity; the contemplation of human limits and passivity tends rather to check it. Therefore the men who have had the humanistic training have played, and yet play, so prominent a part in human affairs, in spite of their prodigious ignorance of the universe.
Schools and Universities on the Continent (1868), in R. H. Super (ed.) The Complete Prose Works of Matthew Arnold: Schools and Universities on the Continent (1964), Vol. 4, 292.
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The symbol A is not the counterpart of anything in familiar life. To the child the letter A would seem horribly abstract; so we give him a familiar conception along with it. “A was an Archer who shot at a frog.” This tides over his immediate difficulty; but he cannot make serious progress with word-building so long as Archers, Butchers, Captains, dance round the letters. The letters are abstract, and sooner or later he has to realise it. In physics we have outgrown archer and apple-pie definitions of the fundamental symbols. To a request to explain what an electron really is supposed to be we can only answer, “It is part of the A B C of physics”.
In Introduction to The Nature of the Physical World (1928), xiv.
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The ten most important two-letter words in the English language: “if it is to be, it is up to me.” …
[Remember] the African parable of the sparrow who while flying through the sky heard a clap of thunder. He fell to the ground with his two little legs sticking up.
An eagle flying nearby saw the sparrow and asked “Hey, man, what’s happening?”
Replied the sparrow, “The sky is falling down.”
Mocked the eagle, “And what are you going to do, hold it up with those two little legs of yours?”
Replied the sparrow, “One does what one can with what one has.”
In address, to the Economic Club of Detroit (14 Jan 1990), 'Where Do We Go From Here?' on the massiechairs.com website.
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The “hairy quadruped furnished with a tail and, pointed ears, probably arboreal in his habits,” this good fellow carried hidden in his nature, apparently, something destined to develop into a necessity for humane letters.
'Literature and Science', delivered as a lecture during Arnold's tour of the United States in 1883 and published in Discourses in America (1885). Taken from M. H. Abrams (ed.), The Norton Anthology of English Literature (1993), Vol. 2, 1441.
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There prevails among men of letters, an opinion, that all appearance of science is particularly hateful to Women; and that therefore whoever desires to be well received in female assemblies, 'must qualify himself by a total rejection of all that is serious, rational, or important; must consider argument or criticism as perpetually interdicted; and devote all his attention to trifles, and all his eloquence to compliment.
The Rambler, Number 173, 12 Nov 1751. In W. J. Bate and Albrecht B. Strauss (eds.), The Rambler (1969), Vol. 3, 152-3.
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There’s a touch of the priesthood in the academic world, a sense that a scholar should not be distracted by the mundane tasks of day-to-day living. I used to have great stretches of time to work. Now I have research thoughts while making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sure it’s impossible to write down ideas while reading “Curious George” to a two-year-old. On the other hand, as my husband was leaving graduate school for his first job, his thesis advisor told him, “You may wonder how a professor gets any research done when one has to teach, advise students, serve on committees, referee papers, write letters of recommendation, interview prospective faculty. Well, I take long showers.”
In 'In Her Own Words: Six Mathematicians Comment on Their Lives and Careers: Susan Landau', Notices of the AMS (Sep 1991), 38, No. 7, 704.
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They think that differential equations are not reality. Hearing some colleagues speak, it’s as though theoretical physics was just playing house with plastic building blocks. This absurd idea has gained currency, and now people seem to feel that theoretical physicists are little more than dreamers locked away ivory towers. They think our games, our little houses, bear no relation to their everyday worries, their interests, their problems, or their welfare. But I’m going to tell you something, and I want you to take it as a ground rule for this course. From now on I will be filling this board with equations. … And when I'm done, I want you to do the following: look at those numbers, all those little numbers and Greek letters on the board, and repeat to yourselves, “This is reality,” repeat it over and over.
Zig Zag, trans. Lisa Dillman (2008), 63.
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This is all very fine, but it won’t do—Anatomy—botany—Nonsense! Sir, I know an old woman in Covent Garden, who understands botany better, and as for anatomy, my butcher can dissect a joint full as well; no, young man, all that is stuff; you must go to the bedside, it is there alone you can learn disease!
Comment to Hans Sloane on Robert Boyle’s letter of introduction describing Sloane as a “ripe scholar, a good botanist, a skilful anatomist”.
Quoted in John D. Comrie, 'Life of Thomas Sydenham, M. D.', in Comrie (ed.), Selected Works of Thomas Sydenham (1922), 2.
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This part of optics [perspectiva], when well understood, shows us how we may make things a very long way off appear to be placed very close, and large near things appear very small, and how we may make small things placed at a distance appear as large as we want, so that it is possible for us to read the smallest letters at an incredible distance, or to count sand, or grain, or seeds, or any sort of minute objects.
Describing the use of a lens for magnification.
De iride, in Baur, Die philosophischen Werke, 74.
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This survival of the fittest implies multiplication of the fittest.
[The phrase “survival of the fittest” was not originated by Charles Darwin, though he discussed Spencer's “excellent expression” in a letter to A. R. Wallace (Jul 1866).]
In Principles of Biology (1865, 1872), Vol. 1, 444.
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Those who knew that the judgements of many centuries had reinforced the opinion that the Earth is placed motionless in the middle of heaven, as though at its centre, if I on the contrary asserted that the Earth moves, I hesitated for a long time whether to bring my treatise, written to demonstrate its motion, into the light of day, or whether it would not be better to follow the example of the Pythagoreans and certain others, who used to pass on the mysteries of their philosophy merely to their relatives and friends, not in writing but by personal contact, as the letter of Lysis to Hipparchus bears witness. And indeed they seem to me to have done so, not as some think from a certain jealousy of communicating their doctrines, but so that their greatest splendours, discovered by the devoted research of great men, should not be exposed to the contempt of those who either find it irksome to waste effort on anything learned, unless it is profitable, or if they are stirred by the exhortations and examples of others to a high-minded enthusiasm for philosophy, are nevertheless so dull-witted that among philosophers they are like drones among bees.
'To His Holiness Pope Paul III', in Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543), trans. A. M. Duncan (1976), 24.
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Thus died Negro Tom [Thomas Fuller], this untaught arithmetician, this untutored scholar. Had his opportunities of improvement been equal to those of thousands of his fellow-men, neither the Royal Society of London, the Academy of Science at Paris, nor even a Newton himself need have been ashamed to acknowledge him a brother in science.
[Thomas Fuller (1710-1790), although enslaved from Africa at age 14, was an arithmetical prodigy. He was known as the Virginia Calculator because of his exceptional ability with arithmetic calculations. His intellectual accomplishments were related by Dr. Benjamin Rush in a letter read to the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery.]
Obituary
From obituary in the Boston Columbian Centinal (29 Dec 1790), 14, No. 31. In George Washington Williams, History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880 (1882), Vol. 1, 400
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Srinivasa Ramanujan quote: To preserve my brains I want food and this is now my first consideration. Any sympathetic letter from
To preserve my brains I want food and this is now my first consideration. Any sympathetic letter from you will be helpful to me here to get a scholarship…
Letter to G.H. Hardy (27 Feb 1913). Excerpt in obituary notice by G.H. Hardy in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society (2) (1921), 19, xl—lviii. Reprinted in G.H. Hardy, P.V. Seshu Aiyar and B.M. Wilson (eds.) Collected Papers of Srinivasa Ramanujan (1927), xxvii.
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True greatness is when your name is like ampere, watt, and fourier—when it's spelled with a lower case letter.
'You and Your Research', Bell Communications Research Colloquium Seminar, 7 Mar 1986.
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Well beyond the tropostrata
There is a region stark and stellar
Where, on a streak of anti-matter
Lived Dr. Edward anti-Teller.

Remote from Fusion’s origin,

He lived unguessed and unawares
With all his antikith and kin,
And kept macassars on his chairs.

One morning, idling by the sea,
He spied a tin of monstrous girth
That bore three letters: A. E. C.
Out stepped a visitor from Earth.

Then, shouting gladly o’er the sands,
Met two who in their alien ways
Were like as lentils. Their right hands
Clasped, and the rest was gamma rays.
In 'Perils of Modern Living', The New Yorker (10 Nov 1956), 56. Reprinted in Edward Teller with Judith Schoolery, Memoirs: A Twentieth Century Journey in Science and Politics (2002), 428. Webmaster supposes the initials 'A.E.C.' might be for the Atomic Energy Commission.
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We’re very safety conscious, aren’t we? [In 1989,] I did a programme on fossils, Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives, and got a letter from a geologist saying, “You should have been wearing protective goggles when you were hitting that rock. Fragments could have flown into your eye and blinded you. What a bad example you are.” I thought, “Oh, for goodness sake...”
As reported by Adam Lusher in 'Sir David Attenborough', Daily Mail (28 Feb 2014).
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Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.
Leviathan (1651), ed. C. B. Macpherson (1968), Part 1, Chapter 13, 186.
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When I read an Italian letter [Saggio by Voltaire] on changes which had occurred on the surface of the earth, published in Paris this year (1746), I believed that these facts were reported by La Loubère. Indeed, they correspond perfectly with the author’s ideas. Petrified fish are according to him merely rare fish thrown away by Roman cooks because they were spoiled; and with respect to shells, he said that they were from the sea of the Levant and brought back by pilgrims from Syria at the time of the crusades. These shells are found today petrified in France, in Italy and in other Christian states. Why did he not add that monkeys transported shells on top of high mountains and to every place where humans cannot live? It would not have harmed his story but made his explanation even more plausible.
In 'Preuves de la Théorie de la Terre', Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particuliere, Avec la Description du Cabinet du Roi (1749), Vol. I, 281. Trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi.
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Whereas you have a very expensive dept. for destroying human life, would it not be for the honour of the New World to have a little national establishment for the preservation of human life; more especially as the devouring monster, small pox, has already destroyed many millions (some say 40) more lives than there are people now on the face of the earth.
(Conclusion of a letter (14 Dec 1826) to Massachusetts Congressman Edward Everett (1794-1865), in which he outlined his experience with vaccination.)
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While government and laws provide for the safety and well-being of assembled men, the sciences, letters and arts, less despotic and perhaps more powerful, spread garlands of flowers over the iron chains with which men are burdened, stifle in them the sense of that original liberty for which they seemed to have been born, make them love their slavery, and turn them into what is called civilized peoples.
In Discourse on the Sciences and Arts (1750).
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You frequently state, and in your letter you imply, that I have developed a completely one-sided outlook and look at everything and think of everything in terms of science. Obviously my method of thought and reasoning is influenced by a scientific training—if that were not so my scientific training will have been a waste and a failure.
Letter to her father, Ellis Franklin, undated, perhaps summer 1940 while she was an undergraduate at Cambridge. Excerpted in Brenda Maddox, The Dark Lady of DNA (2002), 60.
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You tell your doctor, that y’are ill
and what does he, but write a bill?
Of which you need not read one letter;
The worse the scrawl, the dose the better,
For if you knew but what you take,
Though you recover, he must break.
In Alma Canto III. Collected in Poems on Several Occasions (1709), 262.
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[1665-06-10] ...In the evening home to supper, and there to my great trouble hear that the plague is come into the City (though it hath these three or four weeks since its beginning been wholly out of the City); but where it begin but in my good friend and neighbour's, Dr Burnett in Fanchurch Street - which in both points troubles me mightily. To the office to finish my letters, and then home to bed, being troubled at the sickness ... and particularly how to put my things and estate in order, in case it should please God to call me away.
Diary of Samuel Pepys (10 Jun 1665)
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[1665-09-14] ...my finding that although the Bill [total of dead] in general is abated, yet the City within the walls is encreasd and likely to continue so (and is close to our house there) - my meeting dead corps's of the plague, carried to be buried close to me at noonday through the City in Fanchurch-street - to see a person sick of the sores carried close by me by Grace-church in a hackney-coach - my finding the Angell tavern at the lower end of Tower-hill shut up; and more then that, the alehouse at the Tower-stairs; and more then that, that the person was then dying of the plague when I was last there, a little while ago at night, to write a short letter there, and I overheard the mistress of the house sadly saying to her husband somebody was very ill, but did not think it was of the plague - to hear that poor Payne my waterman hath buried a child and is dying himself - to hear that a labourer I sent but the other day to Dagenhams to know how they did there is dead of the plague and that one of my own watermen, that carried me daily, fell sick as soon as he had landed me on Friday morning last, when I had been all night upon the water ... is now dead of the plague - to hear ... that Mr Sidny Mountagu is sick of a desperate fever at my Lady Carteret's at Scott's hall - to hear that Mr. Lewes hath another daughter sick - and lastly, that both my servants, W Hewers and Tom Edwards, have lost their fathers, both in St. Sepulcher's parish, of the plague this week - doth put me into great apprehensions of melancholy, and with good reason. But I put off the thoughts of sadness as much as I can, and the rather to keep my wife in good heart and family also.
Diary of Samuel Pepys (14 Sep 1665)
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[Napoleon] directed Bourrienne to leave all his letters unopened for three weeks, and then observed with satisfaction how large a part of the correspondence had thus disposed of itself, and no longer required an answer.
Lecture, 'Napoleon', collected in Representative Men (1850), 177.
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[The steamboat] will answer for sea voyages as well as for inland navigation, in particular for packets, where there may be a great number of passengers. He is also of opinion, that fuel for a short voyage would not exceed the weight of water for a long one, and it would produce a constant supply of fresh water. ... [T]he boat would make head against the most violent tempests, and thereby escape the danger of a lee shore; and that the same force may be applied to a pump to free a leaky ship of her water. ... [T]he good effects of the machine, is the almost omnipotent force by which it is actuated, and the very simple, easy, and natural way by which the screws or paddles are turned to answer the purpose of oars.
[This letter was written in 1785, before the first steamboat carried a man (Fitch) on 27 Aug 1787.]
Letter to Benjamin Franklin (12 Oct 1785), in The Works of Benjamin Franklin (1882), Vol. 10, 232.
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[Writing this letter] has permitted me, for a moment, to abstract myself from the dry and dreary waste of politics, into which I have been impressed by the times on which I happened, and to indulge in the rich fields of nature, where alone I should have served as a volunteer, if left to my natural inclinations and partialties.
In letter to Caspar Wistar (21 Jun 1807), collected in Thomas Jefferson Randolph (ed.), Memoir, Correspondence, And Miscellanies, From The Papers Of Thomas Jefferson (1829), Vol. 4, 94.
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…the simplicity, the indispensableness of each word, each letter, each little dash, that among all artists raises the mathematician nearest to the World-creator; it establishes a sublimity which is equalled in no other art,—Something like it exists at most in symphonic music.
As quoted in Robert E. Moritz, 'Meaning, Methods and Mission of Modern Mathematics', The Scientific Monthly (May 1928), 26, No. 5, 424.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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- 10 -
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