Beacon Lights of History, Volume 3, Part 2
John Lord

Part 6 out of 6

prejudices are even the learned and the great.

Let us turn then to give another glance at the fallen philosopher
in his final retreat at Arceti. He lives under restrictions. But
they allow him leisure and choice wines, of which he is fond, and
gardens and friends; and many come to do him reverence. He amuses
his old age with the studies of his youth and manhood, and writes
dialogues on Motion, and even discovers the phenomena of the moon's
libration; and by means of the pendulum he gives additional
importance to astronomical science. But he is not allowed to leave
his retirement, not even to visit his friends in Florence. The
wrath of the Inquisition still pursues him, even in his villa at
Arceti in the suburbs of Florence. Then renewed afflictions come.
He loses his daughter, who was devoted to him; and her death nearly
plunges him into despair. The bulwarks of his heart break down; a
flood of grief overwhelms his stricken soul. His appetite leaves
him; his health forsakes him; his infirmities increase upon him.
His right eye loses its power,--that eye that had seen more of the
heavens than the eyes of all who had gone before him. He becomes
blind and deaf, and cannot sleep, afflicted with rheumatic pains
and maladies forlorn. No more for him is rest, or peace, or bliss;
still less the glories of his brighter days,--the sight of
glittering fields, the gems of heaven, without which

"Neither breath of Morn, when she ascends
With charm of earliest birds, nor rising sun
On this delightful land, nor herb, fruit, flower
Glistering with dew, nor fragrance after showers,
Nor grateful evening mild, . . . is sweet."

No more shall he gaze on features that he loves, or stars, or
trees, or hills. No more to him

Day, or the sweet approach of even or morn,
Or sight of vernal bloom, or summer's rose,
Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine;
But clouds, instead, and ever-during dark
Surround" [him].

It was in those dreary desolate days at Arceti,

In manly beauty Milton stood before him,
Gazing in reverent awe,--Milton, his guest,
Just then come forth, all life and enterprise;
While he in his old age, . . .
. . . exploring with his staff,
His eyes upturned as to the golden sun,
His eyeballs idly rolling."

This may have been the punishment of his recantation,--not
Inquisitorial torture, but the consciousness that he had lost his
honor. Poor Galileo! thine illustrious visitor, when his
affliction came, could cast his sightless eyeballs inward, and see
and tell "things attempted yet in prose or rhyme,"--not

"Rocks, caves, lakes, bogs, fens, and shades of death,
. . . . . . . .
"Where all life dies, death lives, and Nature breeds
. . . . . . . .
"Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimeras dire,"

but of "eternal Providence," and "Eden with surpassing glory
crowned," and "our first parents," and of "salvation," "goodness
infinite," of "wisdom," which when known we need no higher though
all the stars we know by name,--

"All secrets of the deep, all Nature's works,
Or works of God in heaven, or air, or sea."

And yet, thou stricken observer of the heavenly bodies! hadst thou
but known what marvels would be revealed by the power of thy
wondrous instrument after thou should'st be laid lifeless and cold
beneath the marble floor of Sante Croce, at the age of seventy-
eight, without a monument (although blessed on his death-bed by
Pope Urban), having died a prisoner of the Inquisition, yet not
without having rendered to astronomical science services of utmost
value,--even thou might have died rejoicing, as one of the great
benefactors of the world. And thy discoveries shall be forever
held in gratitude; they shall herald others of even greater
importance. Newton shall prove that the different planets are
attracted to the sun in the inverse ratio of the squares of their
distances; that the earth has a force on the moon identical with
the force of gravity, and that all celestial bodies, to the utmost
boundaries of space, mutually attract each other; that all
particles of matter are governed by the same law,--the great law of
gravitation, by which "astronomy," in the language of Whewell,
"passed from boyhood to manhood, and by which law the great
discoverer added more to the realm of science than any man before
or since his day." And after Newton shall pass away, honored and
lamented, and be buried with almost royal pomp in the vaults of
Westminster, Halley and other mathematicians shall construct lunar
tables, by which longitude shall be accurately measured on the
pathless ocean. Lagrange and Laplace shall apply the Newtonian
theory to determine the secular inequalities of celestial motion;
they shall weigh absolutely the amount of matter in the planets;
they shall show how far their orbits deviate from circles; and they
shall enumerate the cycles of changes detected in the circuit of
the moon. Clairaut shall remove the perplexity occasioned by the
seeming discrepancy between the observed and computed motions of
the moon's perigee. Halley shall demonstrate the importance of
observations of the transit of Venus as the only certain way of
obtaining the sun's parallax, and hence the distance of the sun
from the earth; he shall predict the return of that mysterious body
which we call a comet. Herschel shall construct a telescope which
magnifies two thousand times, and add another planet to our system
beyond the mighty orb of Saturn. Romer shall estimate the velocity
of light from the eclipses of Jupiter's satellites. Bessell shall
pass the impassable gulf of space and measure the distance of some
of the fixed stars, although such is the immeasurable space between
the earth and those distant suns that the parallax of only about
thirty has yet been discovered with our finest instruments,--so
boundless is the material universe, so vast are the distances, that
light, travelling one hundred and sixty thousand miles with every
pulsation of the blood, will not reach us from some of those remote
worlds in one hundred thousand years. So marvellous shall be the
victories of science, that the perturbations of the planets in
their courses shall reveal the existence of a new one more distant
than Uranus, and Leverrier shall tell at what part of the heavens
that star shall first be seen.

So far as we have discovered, the universe which we have observed
with telescopic instruments has no limits that mortals can define,
and in comparison with its magnitude our earth is less than a grain
of sand, and is so old that no genius can calculate and no
imagination can conceive when it had a beginning. All that we know
is, that suns exist at distances we cannot define. But around what
centre do they revolve? Of what are they composed? Are they
inhabited by intelligent and immortal beings? Do we know that they
are not eternal, except from the divine declaration that there WAS
a time when the Almighty fiat went forth for this grand creation?
Creation involves a creator; and can the order and harmony seen in
Nature's laws exist without Supreme intelligence and power? Who,
then, and what, is God? "Canst thou by searching find out Him?
Knowest thou the ordinances of Heaven? Canst thou bind the sweet
influences of the Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?" What an
atom is this world in the light of science! Yet what dignity has
man by the light of revelation! What majesty and power and glory
has God! What goodness, benevolence, and love, that even a sparrow
cannot fall to the ground without His notice,--that we are the
special objects of His providence and care! Is there an
imagination so lofty that will not be oppressed with the
discoveries that even the telescope has made?

Ah, to what exalted heights reason may soar when allied with faith!
How truly it should elevate us above the evils of this brief and
busy existence to the conditions of that other life,--

"When the soul,
Advancing ever to the Source of light
And all perfection, lives, adores, and reigns
In cloudless knowledge, purity, and bliss!"


Delambre, Histoire de l'Astronomie; Arago, Histoire de
l'Astronomie; Life of Galileo, in Cabinet Library; Life of Galileo,
by Brewster; Lives of Galileo, by Italian and Spanish Literary Men;
Whewell's History of Inductive Sciences; Plurality of Worlds;
Humboldt's Cosmos; Nichols' Architecture of the Heavens; Chalmers'
Astronomical Discourses; Life of Kepler, Library of Useful
Knowledge; Brewster's Life of Tycho Brahe, of Kepler, and of Sir
Isaac Newton; Mitchell's Stellar and Planetary Worlds; Bradley's
Correspondence; Airy's Reports; Voiron's History of Astronomy;
Philosophical Transactions; Everett's Oration on Galileo; Life of
Copernicus; Bayly's Astronomy; Encyclopaedia Britannica, Art.
Astronomy; Proctor's Lectures.


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