I would like to understand what is meant by this expression:

I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed?

This sentence came in the following context:

When I had arrived at this point and had become as well acquainted with the theory and practice of natural philosophy as depended on the lessons of any of the professors at Ingolstadt, my residence there being no longer conducive to my improvements, I thought of returning to my friends and my native town, when an incident happened that protracted my stay. Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed? It was a bold question, and one which has never been considered as a mystery; yet with how many things are we upon the brink of becoming acquainted, if

What is mean by the principle of life here? And how can this principle of life proceed?

There is a meaning underlying in this expression, but I can't understand it.

  • Give us some context.
    – emsoff
    Apr 14, 2014 at 20:20
  • Done. You can see it.
    – Cloo
    Apr 14, 2014 at 20:25

3 Answers 3


The essential part of the question is in the interrogative.

Whence (adverb) : From what source

The author is saying that though he believed he had accomplished all that he could at his current position, he was still routinely plagued by a question regarding the source of life.

Considering he's discussing natural philosophy I would assume he's referring the source of life from abiotic material. In this case I would consider "principle" to not mean belief, but rather the foundation of something. The question, in my mind, is something like:

What is the foundational source of life?

  • Does principle of life mean aim of life here?
    – Cloo
    Apr 14, 2014 at 20:35
  • @pentanol updated my answer.
    – emsoff
    Apr 14, 2014 at 20:38

The phrase you are asking about is really Whence ... did the principle of life proceed?. In other words

What is the source of the principle of life?

  • Why is this an answer?
    – TylerH
    Apr 14, 2014 at 20:33

Don't forget the Whence, otherwise it doesn't make sense.

Principle means beginning. It comes from Latin where it does not have an 'L'. In the Latin translation of Genesis In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram. In the beginning God created heaven and earth.

  • No, principle does not mean beginning. One of the meanings of Latin principium was beginning, but that tells you approximately nothing about the meaning of any English word.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 15, 2014 at 0:28

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