« PreviousContinue »
Newton, who, as hath been well observed, took up from Galileo the thread of astronomical science, and carried it from world to world, through regions as yet unexplored and unknown *.
I have been drawn into these notices of Galileo by reading a very interesting little effort of imagination, entitled “ The Dream of Galileo, or the Pleasures of Knowledge,” professedly a translation from the German, and which having been originally published in a voluminous periodical paper now very scarce, I have much pleasure in again bringing before the public eye. It would appear from the moral of this ingenious contribution, which is written with much pathos, and includes the mention of some of the most important astronomical discoveries of the Florentine sage, that the usual equanimity of his temper had occasionally been broken in upon, by the ignorance and persecuting spirit of his opponents; a result not to be wondered at, when we recollect the history of his life, and which, indeed, he must have been more than mortal altogether to have escaped.
* Eulogy of Galileo, by father Frisi. See Monthly Review, old Series, v. liv. p. 556.
“ Galileo, whose labours in the cause of science had given him so fair a claim to immortality, was now living at Arcetri in Tuscany, and enjoying a peaceful and honourable old age. He was already deprived of the noblest of his senses, but he still rejoiced at the appearance of the spring ; partly on account of the nightingale, and the sweet fragrance of the reviving blossoms; and partly on account of the lively recollection which he still retained of the pleasures that were past.
“ It was in the last of these seasons which he lived to enjoy, that Viviani, the youngest and most affectionate of his scholars, carried him out to the fields at Arcetri. He perceived that he was advancing too far for his strength, and therefore entreated his conductor, with a smile, that he would not, in defiance of the prohibition, carry him beyond the boundaries of Florence; for you know, added he, the solemn engagement which I was obliged to come under to the Holy Inquisition. Viviani set him down immediately, to recover his fatigue, upon a little mount, where being still nearer to the plants and flowers, and sitting as it were amidst a cloud of fragrance, he recollected that ardent desire for
liberty, which had seized him once at Rome, upon the approach of the spring; and he was about to discharge upon his barbarous persecutors the last drop of bitterness which he had in his heart, when he checked himself suddenly with this expression : • the spirit of Copernicus must not be provoked.'
“ Viviani, who was totally ignorant of the dream to which Galileo here alluded, begged for an explanation of these words; but the old man, who felt that the evening was too cool and moist for his weak nerves, insisted upon first being carried back to the house.
“ You know, he began when he had refreshed himself a little, with what severity I was treated at Rome, and how long my deliverance was delayed. When I found that all the powerful intercessions of my illustrious protectors, the Medicean princes, and even the recantation to which I had descended, remained wholly without effect, I threw myself down in despair upon my bed, full of the most melancholy reflections upon my fate, and of secret indignation against Providence itself. So far, I I exclaimed, as thy recollection extends, how blameess has been thy course of life! With what unwearied labour and zeal for thy employment hast
thou explored the labyrinths of a false philosophy, in search of that light which thou canst not find ! Hast thou not exerted every faculty of thy soul to establish the glorious temple of truth, upon the ruins of those fabrics of prejudice and error which were reared by ignorance, and sanctified by time ? Didst thou not, as soon as nature was satisfied, retire with reluctance from the social board, and deny thyself even the slightest indulgence which could interfere for a moment with intellectual pursuits? How many hours hast thou stolen from sleep, in order to devote them entirely to wisdom ? How often, when all around thee lay sunk in careless and profound repose, hast thou stood shivering with frost, while employed in contemplating the wonders of the firmament ? or when clouds and darkness concealed them from thy view, hung over the midnight lamp, anxious to contribute by thy discoveries to the glory of the Deity, and the instruction of mankind? Poor wretch ! and what is now the fruit of thy labours ? What recompense hast thou obtained for all thy efforts to glorify thy Creator; and all thy endeavours to illuminate mankind ? only that the anguish occasioned by thy sufferings should dually exhaust all moisture from thine eyes ;-only
that those faithful allies of the soul should be more enfeebled every day ;-and that now these tears, which thou canst not restrain, should extinguish their scanty light for ever!
Thus, Viviani, did I speak to myself; and then threw an envious glance upon my persecutors. These wretches, exclaimed I, who hide their ignorance under mysterious forms, and conceal their vices in a venerable garb; who sanctify their indolence, by imposing on the world the inventions of men for the oracles of God, and join to pursue, with unrelenting fury, the sage who raises the torch of truth, lest their luxurious slumber should be broken by its splendor ; these vile ones, who are only active for their own pleasures, and the corruption of the world ; who laugh at misery in their gilded palaces ; whose life is only one round of dissipation ; how have they robbed merit of all, even of glory, the most precious of its rewards! With what blind devotion do 'the people bow to them, whom they cozen so shamefully of the fruits of their possessions, and provide for themselves the most luxurious entertainments from the fat of their herds, and the produce of their vineyards! And thou, poor wretch!
! who hast hitherto lived only to God and thy own