Слике страница

gold pieces, which I have saved for the day of need—because-(and he smiled in spite of his sufferings)—because hoarding is one of the pleasures of old men. Take them both, and use them discreetly.'

Atterley quitted the cell, and waited with feverish expectation for the termination of the allotted two hours ; when, to his inexpressible delight, he found, on re-entering the cell, that not only did the Brahmin breathe, but that he slept soundly; and, in the course of an hour, he awoke, almost restored to health. This event, however, was the occasion of a more early disclosure of the Brahmin's important secret, but not until he had recovered his ordinary health and vigour :

“I have already told you, my dear Atterley, that I was born and educated at Benares, and that science is there more thoroughly understood and taught than the people of the west are aware of. We have, for many thousands of years, been good astronomers, chymists, mathematicians, and philosophers. We had discovered the secret of gunpowder, the magnetic attraction, the properties of electricity, long sefore they were heard of in Europe. We know more than we have revealed , and much of our knowledge is deposited in the archives of the castle to which I belong ; but, for want of language generally understood and easily learnt, (for these records are always written in the Sanscrit, that is no longer a spoken language,) and the diffusion which is given by the art of printing, these secrets of science are communicated only to a few, and sometimes even sleep with their authors, until a subsequent discovery, under more favourable circumstances, brings them again to light.

“It was at this seat of science that I learned, from one of our sages, the physical truth which I am now about to communicate, and which he discovered, partly by his researches into the writings of ancient Pundits, and partly by his own extraordinary sagacity. There is a principle of repulsion as well gravitation in the earth. It causes fire to rise upwards. It is exhibited in electricity. It occasions water-spouts, volcanoes, and earthquakes. After much labour and research, this principle has been found embodied in a metallic substance, which is met with in the mountain in which we are, united with a very heavy earth ; and this circumstance had great influence in inducing me to settle myself here.

“This metal, when separated and purified, has as great a tendency to fly off from the earth, as a piece of gold or lead has to approach it. After making a number of curious experiments with it, we bethought ourselves of putting it to some use, and soon contrived, with the aid of it, to make cars and ascend into the air. We were very secret in these operations ; for our unhappy country having then recently fallen under the subjection of the British nation, we apprehended that if we divulged our arcanum, they would not only fly away with all our treasures, whether found in palace or pagoda, but also carry off the inhabitants, to make them slaves in their colonies, as their government had not then abolished the African slave trade.

“ After various trials and many successive improvements, in which our desires increased with our success, we determined to penetrate the aerial void as far as we could, providing for that purpose an apparatus, with which you will become better acquainted hereafter. In the course of our experiments, we discovered that this same metal, which was repelled from the earth, was in the same degree attracted towards the moon ; for in one of our excursions, still aiming to ascend higher than we had ever done before, we were actually carried to that satellite; and if we had not there fallen into a lake, and our machine had not been water tight, we must have been dashed to pieces or drowned. You will find in this book,” he added, presenting me with a small volume, bound in green parchment, and fastened with silver clasps, “a minute detail of the apparatus to be provided, and the directions to be pursued in making this wonderful voyage. I have written it since I satisfied my mind that my fears of British rapacity were unfounded, and that I should do more good than harm by publishing the secret.


But still I am not sure,” he added, with one of his faint but significant smiles, " that I am not actuated by a wish to immortalize my name ; for where is the mortal who would be indifferent to this object, if he thought he could attain it? Read the book at your leisure, and study it."

Here, by the way, we may remark, that the kind of vehicle best adapted for conveyance through the aerial void, has been a weighty stumbling block to authors, from the time of the eaglemounted Ganymede, to that of Daniel O'Rourke; or of the wing furnished Dædalus and Icarus, to that of the flying Turk in Constantinople, referred to by Busbequius: or of the flying artist of the happy valley, in Rasselas. When Try gæus was desirous of reaching the Gods, he erected, we are told, a series of small ladders— EREITA LEATA xhepaxeam but receiving a severe contusion on the head, from their downfall, he ingeniously had recourse to a scheme of flying through the air, on a colossal variety of those industrious but not over-delicate insects, the Scarabæus Carnifex—the only insect, notwithstanding, according to Æsop, privileged to ascend to the habitations of the gods

μονος πετεινών εις θεους αφιγμενος * Most of the stories of Pegasi and Hippogriffs, and of flying chariots, from that of Phaeton downwards to Astolfo's,* were evidently intended by their authors as mythical; not so, however, with Bishop Wilkins;-he boldly avers, for several reasons which he keeps to himself, and for others not very comprehensible to us, which he details " seriously and on good grounds," "that it is possible to make a flying chariot, in which a man may sit, and give such a motion unto it, as shall convey him through the air ; and this perhaps might be made large enough to carry divers men at the same time, together with food for their viaticum, and commodities for traffic.” 6 It is not,” lucidly continues the Bishop, “the bigness of any thing in this kind, that can hinder its motion, if the motive faculty be answerable thereunto. We see a great ship swims as well as a small cork; and an eagie flies in the air, as well as a little gnat. This engine may be contrived from the same principles by which Archytas made a wooden dove, and Regiomontanus a wooden eagle. I conceive it were no difficult matter, (if a man had leisure,) to show more particularly the means of composing it”!-which want of lei. sure in the credulous Bishop, our readers will regret with us, especially those inventive geniuses, who, like the projector in the reign of George I., published a scheme for manufacturing pine plank from pine saw-dust, or the still more ingenious undertaker of later times, who proposed to make pine plank out of oak saw-dust, by the mere addition of a little turpentine !

* Aristoph. in Pace. 130.

Orlando furioso, Canto xxxiv. St. 68 and 69.

Again, Swift's flying Island of Laputa is a phenomenon so opposed to all scientific probability, and so directly at variance with natural laws, that it loses in interest in a direct ratio with the violence it does to our feelings. Nor is the mode of conveyance imagined by Voltaire less incongruous than that of Swist. When Micromègas, an inhabitant of Sirius, whose adventures were evidently suggested by those of Gulliver, accompanied by an inhabitant of Saturn, leaves the latter planet, they are, in the first place, made to leap upon the Ring of Saturn, which they find tolerably flat, “comme l'a fort bien deviné un illustre habitant de notre petit globe:" thence they go from moon to moon, and a comet passing close to one of these, they throw themselves upon it, with their attendants and instruments. In their course, they fall in with the satellites of Jupiter, and pass on to Jupiter itself, where they remain for a year; but what becomes of the comet in the mean time, we are not informed ! Leaving Jupiter, they “coast” along the planet Mars, and finally reach the earth, where they resolve to disembark. Accordingly "ils passèrent sur la queue de la comète ; et trouvant une aurore boréale toute prête, ils se mirent dedans, et arrivèrent à terre sur le bord septentrional de la Mer Baltique”!*

The vehicle, however, has not formed the sole obstacle to those projectors :-the viaticum, especially the food, has been a difficulty not readily got over. Before Bishop Wilkins alludes to his flying chariot, he remarks, that even if men could fly, the swiftest of them would probably be half a year in reaching the end of his journey; and hence a problem would arise, “how it were possible to tarry so long without sleep or diet?” of the former obstacle, however, he quickly disposes,—“seeing we do not then spend ourselves in any labour, we shall not, it may be, need the refreshment of sleep: but if we do, we cannot desire a softer bed than the air, where we may repose ourselves firmly and safely as in our chambers”! Of the latter he finds somewhat more difficulty in disposing, -and here it is considerable, that, since our bodies will then be devoid of gravity and other impediments of motion, we shall not at all spend ourselves in any labour, and so, consequently, not much need the reparation of diet, but may perhaps live altogether without it, as those creatures have done, who, by reason of their sleeping for many days together, have not spent any spirits, and so not wanted any food; which is commonly related of serpents, crocodiles, bears, cuckoos, swallows, and such like. To this purpose, Mendoca reckons up divers strange relations, as that of Epimenides, who is storied to have slept seventy-five years; and another of a rustic in Germany, who, being accidentally covered with a hay-rick, slept there for all the autumn and the winter following, without any

Micromègas, Histoire Philosophique, chap. 3.

nourishment. Or, if we must needs feed upon something else, why may not smells nourish us? Plutarch, and Pliny, and divers other ancients, tell us of a nation in India, that lived only upon pleasing odours; and it is the common opinion of physicians, that these do strangely both strengthen and repair the spirits. Hence was it that Democritus was able, for divers days together, to feed himself with the mere smell of hot bread. * Or, if it be necessary that our stomachs must receive the food, why then it is not impossible that the purity of the etherial air, being not mixed with any improper vapours, may be so agreeable to our bodies, as to yield us sufficient nourishment," with many other arguments of the like nature. The Bishop ultimately, however, severs the knot, by the suggestion of his flying chariot, which he makes large enough (for, ce n'est que le premier pas qui coute!) to carry not only food for the viaticum of the passengers, but also commodities for their traffic!

Infinitely more ingenuity did the great comic poet of antiquity display, when he selected the Scarabæus; as the food which had already served the purposes of digestion with the Rider, was still capable of affording nutrition to the animal:-.

νυν δ'ατταν αυτος καταφαγω τα σιτια,

τουτοισι τοις αυτοισι τουτον χορτασω. Now all these schemes, ingenious as they may be, are objec-' • tionable for the same reasons as the flying Island of Laputa

their glaring violation of verisimilitude, and many of them of possibility. In these respects, that of the author of the work before us is liable to less objection: he only resorts to an extension of avowed physical principles; and if we could suppose a substance, which, instead of gravitating towards the earth, is repelled from it and attracted towards the moon, (certainly a difficult “ premier pas,") the remainder of the machinery, for reaching that luminary, would not be inconsistent with probability or the known laws of physics.

But, to return to the narrative:- The Brahmin having given Atterley a description of some of the remarkable objects which he met with, in his voyage to the moon ; expressed his anxiety

* Fuller, a learned contemporary of the Bishop, has given us an amusing case of litigation, originating from this nourishing character of odours:

“ A poor man, being very hungry, staid so long in a cook's shop, who was dishing up meat, that his stomach was satisfied with only the smell thereof. The choleric cook demanded of him to pay for his breakfast; the poor man denied having had any; and the controversy was referred to the deciding of the next man that should pass by, who chanced to be the most notorious idiot in the whole city: he, on the relation of the matter, determined that the poor man's money should be put betwixt two empty dishes, and the cook should be recompensed with the jingling of the poor man's money, as he was satisfied with the smell of the cook's meat.”-Fuller's Holy State, lib. öi. c. 12.

† Aristophan. in pace. 137..

to repeat it, for the purpose of ascertaining some facts about which he had been speculating, as well as of removing the incredulity with which, he could not but perceive, his story had impressed his hearer, notwithstanding his belief in the Hermit's integrity; when Atterley eagerly caught at the proposal. Their preparations, however, required time as well as considerable skill, not only for the construction of the vehicle, but also to avoid suspicion and interruption from the Governor of Mergui, -and the priesthood, who possessed the usual Oriental superstition and intolerance.

For the construction of their apparatus they had recourse to an ingenious artificer in copper and other metals, whose child the Brahmin had been instrumental in curing of a chronic disease, and in whose fidelity as well as good will they could securely rely.

“ The coppersmith agreed to undertake the work we wanted done, for a moderate compensation ; but we did not think it prudent to inform him of our object, which he supposed was to make some philosophical experiment. It was forth with arranged that he should occasionally visit the Hermit, to receive instructions, as if for the purpose of asking medical advice. During this interval my mind was absorbed with our project; and when in company, I was so thoughtful and abstracted, that it has since seemed strange to me that Sing Fou's suspicions that I was planning my escape were not more excited. At length, by dint of great exertion, in about three months every thing was in readiness, and we de. termined on the following night to set out on our perilous expedition.

“The machine in which we proposed to embark, was a copper vessel, that would have been an exact cube of six feet, if the corners and edges had not been rounded off. It had an opening large enough to receive our bodies, which was closed by double sliding pannels, with quilted cloth between them. When these were properly adjusted, the machine was perfectly air-tight, and strong enough, by means of iron bars running alternately inside and out, to resist the pressure of the atmosphere, when the machine should be exhausted of its air, as we took the precaution to prove by the aid of an air pump. On the top of the copper chest and on the outside, we had as much of the lunar metal (which I shall henceforth call lunarium) as we found by calculation and experiment, would overcome the weight of the machine, as well as its contents, and take us to the moon on the third day. As the air which the machine contained, would not be sufficient for our respiration more than about six hours, and the chief part of the space we were to pass through was a mere void, we provided ourselves with a sufficient supply, by condensing it in a small globular vessel, made partly of iron and partly of lunarium, to take off its weight. On my return, I gave Mr. Jacob Perkins, who is now in England, a hint of this plan of condensation, and it has there obtained him great celebrity. This fact I should not have thought it worth while to mention, had he not taken the sole merit of the invention to himself ; at least I cannot hear that in his numerous public notices he has ever mentioned my name.

“But to return. A small circular window, made of a single piece of thick clear glass, was neatly fitted on each of the six sides. Several pieces of lead were securely fastened to screws which passed through the bottom of the machine as well as a thick plank. The screws were so contrived, that by turning them in one direction, the pieces of lead attached to them were immediately disengaged from the hooks with which they were connected. The pieces of lunarium were fastened in like manner to screws, which passed through the top of the machine; so that by turning them in one direction, those metallic pieces would fly into the air with the velocity of a rocket, The Brahmin took with him a thermometer,

« ПретходнаНастави »