Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

opens like a game-bag, and serves at There is something exquisitely painthe same time as a pocket. His senses ful in watching men as they come near are likewise secured against injury; for great truths and leave them again to he takes out his eyes and puts them in plunge once more, and for centuries, again at will, while his ears are simple into the darkest of errors. Did not plantain-leaves. But the worst remains Plutarch himself inveigh against those to be told. The Man in the Moon is a “paradoxical philosophers, who adman indeed ; there are no women there vance the absurd ideas, that the earth to be his better half.

has the shape of a sphere-that there We are not told whether Lucian's are antipodes, who, head down, hold imagination was exhausted, or the pa- on to the earth as cats do with their tience of his readers; but he returned claws—and that a weight, which should speedily to the earth, and ends his book reach the centre of the globe, would rather abruptly. After the romancer rest there without being held-opinions came the historian ; and the great wri- so very foolish, that the most lively ter, whose lives have, ever since they imagination could not admit them as first were read, formed the delight and possible”? developed the character of so many

His views of the moon present to us thousands, does not neglect the oppor- the same strange mixture of truth with tunity of telling us all he can learn of marvellous errors. Plutarch saw in the the Man in the Moon also. Plutarch moon, as in the earth itself, a deity worsays the lights and shadows on the sur- thy of our gratitude-a being consistface of our faithful satellite are so skil- ing of body and soul, and endowed fully intermingled, that they represent with all the powers of life. Perhaps the natural shape of a human face; and we shall be less disposed to smile at the he is evidently very much annoyed by great historian, if we recollect that this this watchfulness of a countenance belief is by no means extinct, but held which is utterly beyond our reach, and in our day and defended by men of suyet inspects and examines us unceas- perior intelligence, such as the French ingly from the height of the starry reformer, Father Enfantin, and the heavens. It is exceedingly interesting founder of modern Communism, Fouto see how, occasionally, a bright truth rier. Plutarch peoples the moon with shines forth from the dark night of men and animals made after the modignorance in which men lived in those els furnished by the earth, but endowed days. As Plutarch tries to convince us with such delicate organizations that of his accuracy in reading the features they either exist without eating at all, of the Man in the Moon, he takes pains or, at the worst, inhale the odors of to refute the views of those who differ earth-born nourishment. In confirmawith him, and among these adversaries tion of this theory, he quotes the wellhe holds up to our contempt a Greek, known sage, Epimenides, whom we named Aristarchus—and why? Be- might suspect of having known Liecause he bad dared to suppose to the big's Meat-Extract, for he was reported disgust of Vesta and the other guar- to live without any other food than a dians of the universe—that the ether mouthful of a certain paste, which made was immovable, while the earth was in up his daily ration, motion, proceeding along the zodiac, In his effort to explain the difference and, besides, revolving around its own between the inhabitants of the moon axis! And yet that simple truth, felt and ourselves, Plutarch sets forth some and uttered by the ancient Greek, re- startling truths, evidently far in advance mained hid to mankind for thousands of his age. We ought to remember, he of years, was barely acknowledged by says, that their climate, their nature, Galileo, and is not without opponents and their constitutions are all very difeven in our day among the savans of ferent from our own, and must needs the most enlightened nation on earth ! produce very different beings. If we

could not get near the sea, but only saw cut during the increase of the moon;" it from a distance, and knew by report and other authors extended the rule that it was salt and bitter, would we be even to the cutting of their own hair, willing to believe the first man who fearing baldness if they neglected such should tell us that its depths are filled precaution. Physicians of great emiwith countless animals of every size and nence believed, in like manner, that shape, and that they use the water ex- during the increase the brains of men actly as we do air, to breathe and to filled the "golden bowl,” and the blood live? This is precisely the condition abounded in the veins; while, as in ebb of the moon; and we might just as and tide, brains and blood sank below well refuse to believe in lunar men as in the level as the moon grew less and less, marine monsters. He gives an addi- Nor have these doctrines been confined tional interest to the former by connect- to the days of ignorance in antiquity, or ing them intimately with our own life even the Dark Ages of our era; they and death. Quoting the opinions en- are cherished by millions in our day, tertained by wise men living "in an and almanacs derive not a little popuisland of the West, situated far beyond larity from the care with which they Great Britain and not far from the indicate the favorable aspects of the poles "-could he have meant the peo- moon for cupping and leeching, for ple of Boston ?-he states that man con- planting and harvesting, and even for sists of three parts, body, soul, and in- the more serious affairs of life. tellect, of which the last is the greatest. The early Christian writers were perThe body is earthy, of the earth ; the haps wiser, but hardly less painfully soul comes from the moon, and the in- misled, by their habit of literal intertellect from the sun; for the under- pretation of Holy Writ, than the anstanding is the light of the soul, as the cients were by their superstition and sun is the light of the moon. There ignorance. Because the Saviour ordered are two deaths appointed unto man: the apostles to preach the gospel to "all one upon earth, when his body returns the world and to all the nations of the to its first elements; then the soul re- earth," the councils of the Church demains for a while suspended between nied the existence of other worlds, and the earth and the moon, till the innate pious divines were occasionally excomlonging for home draws it up to those municated for entertaining heretical regions of the moon which face the views on this subject. Voyages of dissun ;

here the soul dies also, but only covery were, however, made by saints in order to become a pure and unham- and holy men in a state of vision, pered intellect for all eternity!

Some went to heaven after the manner Nor does Plutarch neglect to men- of the great apostle; others visited purtion the strange influence which the , gatory, and some even descended into changes of the moon have on earthly hell; though none of them equalled the affairs, though he does not ascribe it, as despatch with which Mohammed went other writers of antiquity have done, to through seven heavens, saw all their the liberality of the Man in the Moon, wonders, and ascended to the throne who looks with his full face favorably of the Almighty. For such was his upon the growth of plants and the en- speed, that, when he returned, he found terprises of men, but with darkened his bed still warm, and a vessel filled features askant at others. We must not with hot water, which was just falling forget that the ancients firmly believed over on one side as he left, was kept in the entire dependence of agriculture from spilling a drop by his reappearon the phases of the moon, and regu

But whatever marvellous aclated it accordingly. " Whatever is to counts these heavenly pilgrims brought be cut, shorn, or gathered," says Pliny, home from their ecstatic wanderings, " is done better as the moon decreases; they invariably reasserted the doctrine, but what is to grow again ought to be that, as the Scriptures only speak of one world, and the holy fathers teach him like a globe of limpid diamond. the same, there can be no other world. As he approached nearer, a light-giving Thomas Aquinas, in his famous treatise cloud enveloped him and his guide, and on the “Sum of all Theology," distinct the two travellers passed apparently ly states it to be the great dogma of right into the very substance of which the Church that the earth is the one and the moon is formed. They found it to exclusive aim of the Creator; and that be the place of residence of virginity, the sun, the moon, and the stars were containing pure, virgin-like souls on made only to serve man, “to be for their way to the angelic paradise, where signs and for seasons and for days and the Most High thrones in His glory. years, and to be for lights in the firma- The poet met here the souls of many ment of the heavens, to give light upon who had been forced to break their the earth.” Thus the poor Man in the vows upon earth, but who now enjoyed Moon was abolished with the stroke of degree of bliss, being forgiven, which a pen, and woe was him who should fully contented their heart. Then prohereafter imagine the moon to hold cre- ceeding to other stars, the poet ascendated beings like ourselves !

ance.

ed higher and higher in the scales of It was only after a long and severe eternal happiness, till he reached the struggle that the actual facts perceived Divine Presence itself. by the senses and recorded by men like Another Italian poet, by many esCopernicus and Tycho Brahe succeeded teemed the equal of Dante, also dein making any impression upon the scribes a short journey he made to the mind, and led to a general change of moon. This was Ariosto, whose hero belief. Once, however, subjected to a Astolfo has reached Nubia after many rigorous examination by the light of adventures, and there meets the famous these newly-discovered truths, the old Prester John, the hero of countless superstitions and the forced faith of the legends belonging to the Middle Ages. early Church gave way alike, and sound- Aided by his advice, he defeats the er views began to be entertained by the Harpies who try to bar the way to a better-informed. It was with such lights gigantic mountain from which springs before him that the great bard of Italy the mysterious Nile, but, finding him undertook to embody in his immortal invincible, escape into an opening at poem his views on the worlds lying bc- the foot of the mountain. The hero yond the limits of our earth. On Good follows them and finds himself in hell ; Friday of the year 1300, when barely while high above him, on the summit, thirty-three years old, Dante descended there lies the earthly paradise. Astolfo into hell. He passed through all its visits it, and, having tasted the fruit circles in the short space of twenty-four that grows on its trees, wonders no hours, reached the centre of the earth, longer at the disobedience of our first marked by the gigantic body of Lucifer parents. He discovers at the same time and reascending to the surface of our that, once on the immensely high top globe, he reached on the next day Pur- of this mountain, the road to the moon gatory Mountain. Here Virgil, who is not very long. Enoch, and Elias, and had so far guided his brother-poet, the Apostle St. John, moreover, join in handed him over to Beatrice; with encouraging him to visit the moon, and whom, after being purified, he ascend- offer to accompany him for a special ed into heaven, and there first entered purpose. As soon as the sun has sunk the sphere of the moon. Graceful and into the sea, so as to allow the crescent beauteous above all women, his beloved to become visible, the Saint sends for here turned to him, saying, “Lift up the chariot on which men commonly your grateful heart to God, who has led are carried to heaven, and, after having us to this the first of stars."

driven through the eternal fires, they This first star, which the poet after- arrive in the vast kingdom of the wards calls the Eternal Pearl, looked to

moon.

The paladin finds, to his amazement, mense space around us, to discover new that the moon, which looks so small constellations, and to discern the mounwhen seen from the earth, is in reality tains in the moon, as well as the changes as large as the latter, and so full of life of Venus and the satellites of Jupiter; that his attention is engaged on all but the Church still ruled supreme, and sides, and he has to make a great effort forbade all theories which seemed to to remember his errand. He is next led "make the Incarnate Word a liar.” A to an immense valley filled with all that French writer, P. Chasles, says, with remen lose by their own faults, by the gard to the dread fear which men had ravages of time, or the workings of in those days of the word “heretic," chance; not kingdoms and fortunes be- “We in our age would do no harm to stowed and taken again by capricious our enemy by merely saying that he fortune, but things over which even was a heretic.

But it has not always Fate has no control. The bero sees been so.

Under Louis XIV, a hero here the reputations of men undermined could cheat at play and remain a hero or destroyed by time; all the prayers still. The eighteenth century was not and vows sent by sinners to heaven; so indulgent for these sins; but to steal the tears and sighs of lovers; the time your neighbor's wife was then an elelost in frivolous amusements; plans not gant, graceful thing. In 1793, the man carried out and wishes left unfulfilled. who should have spoken openly in favor As if to make amends for so many lost of Holy Mass would have been guillothings, there is a precious mountain in tined; a hundred years before, a word this valley consisting of Good Sense; against the liturgy would have led to and even in the moon that article, though the funeral pile. In 1620, in the times not as rare as upon earth, is held in such of Galileo, it was heresy that was punhigh appreciation, that it is carefully ished with death.” When the great aspreserved in little phials marked with tronomer first proclaimed bis doctrine the owner's name. Astolfo finds, to his of the rotation of the earth around the surprise, how many wise men he has sun, and of the existence of other planknown on earth have left their good ets besides our own, he was immediately sense in the moon; but takes good attacked from all pulpits and by all the care, when he sees his own name, to means of the press then in existence. grasp his phial and to consume the con- The first accusation was made by a Dotents on the spot. Farther on he meets minican monk, who opened his sermon the Fates spinning busily on the banks with the panning text, “Ye men of of a river, and sees how each thread is Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into ticketed with the name of the owner heaven?" But Galileo had not yet on earth. An active old man steals the been terrified, and he dared even give tickets as fast as the silk is spun, and his opinion of the moon in the followthrows them into the water, where they ing words: “Are there on the moon are quickly lost. A few only are saved herbs, plants, or animals like our own? by two white swans, who carry them to Are there rains, winds, and thunders, as a beautiful nymph. The latter affixes upon the earth ? I do not know, and these names to the gates of the temple do not believe it, and still less that of Immortality, and there they remain there are men in the moon. But, befor eternity, visible to all the dwellers cause nothing exists there exactly like on earth.

what we have, it does not follow that After all these strange superstitions there should not be things there as well and crude notions, light began at last as here, which arise, change, and disto break. The doctrine of the rotation solve again, though different from our of the earth had gained many adherents things, very far from our notions, and, since the days of Copernicus, and the in fact, altogether inconceivable. Just newly-invented instruments had enabled

as a person brought up in a vast forest, the human eye to penetrate into the im- amid wild beasts and birds, and without any conception of the ocean, would Having read Bohemian books, he says, find it impossible to believe that there and among them the story of the Virshould exist another world quite differ- gin Libussa, renowned in the records ent from the firm land, filled with ani- of Magic, and having at the same time mals who, without legs and wings, still spent several hours in watching the move swiftly, not only on the surface, moon and the stars, it was but natural but in the interior, and that men should that, when sleep overcame him, he live near this element and convey on it should dream of the former, He houses and goods, without any exertion thought he was reading a book bought of their own, swiftly and to great dis- at the fair, which gave him the followtances ;-as such a person, I say, could ing account of the Man in the Moon : never have a correct idea of the sea, its Duracoto is his name, and his coun fish, its vessels, and its fleets, so we also try is Iceland, known to the ancients as can have no idea of the inhabitants of Thule. His mother made him write that planet which is separated from us this account after her death. He was by so vast a distance."

brought up in that distant island, and No better description of the probable on the slopes of Mount Hecla, where Man in the Moon could be given in our he was initiated in the mysteries of day, and nothing shows more clearly the magic art. Afterwards he went the immense superiority of Galileo's with his mother to Bergen, in Norway, mind, than the wise reserve with which where the young man was initiated into he treated the subject. How painful is the mysteries of astrology; and one it, after such words of wisdom, to hear fine evening he went off travelling the venerable old man, a few years later, towards the North Pole, till he came declare, while kneeling before the tribu- in contact with the rising crescent of nal of the Inquisition: “I, Galileo, in the moon, and explored that remarkthe seventieth year of my life, being a able orb. He found it to be an island, prisoner and on my knees before Your called by a Hebrew name, Levana, and Eminences, and having before my eyes at a distance of about 250,000 miles the Holy Gospel, which I touch with from the earth. He was most amused my own hands, I abjure, curse, and de- with the fact that the men in the moon test the error and the heresy of the motion looked upon their own home as immovof the earth! Condemned to lifelong able in the heavens, just as we do not imprisonment, and to the weekly recital feel the earth revolving around the sun, of the seven penitential psalms, he was or its own axis. On the other hand, he allowed, in the same year, to retire to found days and nights there, as here his villa near Florence, but under the below, only of nearly equal length. condition that “ he should live there in The Man in the Moon, as he saw him, solitude, invite no one to visit him, and possessed marvellous powers. He could to receive no one who might present walk or fly or sail around his little himself.” His works were prohibited globe in the course of a single day; and put on the Index of forbidden but he had to hide in deep caverns in books--where they still are.

order to protect himself from excessive What Copernicus had only faintly heat and cold. The fruits of the moon anticipated, and Galileo, yielding to bud and ripen also in a single day; but the timidity of the flesh, had failed to every day brings them forth anew. Ocassert, even Kepler, the greatest of them casionally a violent storm disturbs the all, dared not assert openly. The slow peace which otherwise reigns forever and painful discovery of his immortal among these sublime mountains and three laws established forever the true unfathomable gorges; and one of these fraternity of the earth and the other roused Kepler from his dreams before planets; but even his views on the he could fully examine the inhabitants moon he ventured only to publish un

of the moon. der a disguise in his famous “Dream." Nor was Kepler much to be blamed

« IndietroContinua »