I said, "for those who write their names In heaven. Think, father, through all ages now No one can ever watch that starry sky Without remembering you. Your fame ..." And there He stopped me, laid his hand upon my arm, And standing in the darkness with dead leaves Drifting around him, and his bare grey head Bowed in complete humility, his voice Shaken and low, he said like one in prayer, "Celeste, beware of that. Say truth, not fame. If there be any happiness on earth, It springs from truth alone, the truth we live In act and thought. I have looked up there and seen Too many worlds to talk of fame on earth. Fame, on this grain of dust among the stars, The trumpet of a gnat that thinks to halt The great sun-clusters moving on their way In silence! Yes, that's fame, but truth, Celeste, Truth and its laws are constant, even up there; That's where one man may face and fight the world. His weakness turns to strength. He is made one With universal forces, and he holds The password to eternity. Gate after gate swings back through all the heavens. No sentry halts him, and no flaming sword. Say truth, Celeste, not fame." "No, for I'll say A better word," I told him. "I'll say love." He took my face between his hands and said— His face all dark between me and the stars— "What's love, Celeste, but this dear face of truth Upturned to heaven." He left me, and I heard, Some twelve hours later, that this man whose soul Was dedicate to Truth, was threatened now With torture, if his lips did not deny The truth he loved. I tell you all these things Because to help him, you must understand him; And even you may doubt him, if you hear Only those plausible outside witnesses Who never heard his heart-beats as have I. So let me tell you all—his quest for truth, And how this hate began. Even from the first, He made his enemies of those almost-minds Who chanced upon some new thing in the dark And could not see its meaning, for he saw, Always, the law illumining it within. So when he heard of that strange optic-glass Which brought the distance near, he thought it out By reason, where that other hit upon it Only by chance. He made his telescope; And O, how vividly that day comes back, When in their gorgeous robes the Senate stood Beside him on that high Venetian tower, Scanning the bare blue sea that showed no speck Of sail. Then, one by one, he bade them look; And one by one they gasped, "a miracle." Brown sails and red, a fleet of fishing boats, See how the bright foam bursts around their bows! See how the bare-legged sailors walk the decks! Then, quickly looking up, as if to catch The vision, ere it tricked them, all they saw Was empty sea again. Many believed That all was trickery, but he bade them note The colours of the boats, and count their sails. Then, in a little while, the naked eye Saw on the sky-line certain specks that grew, Took form and colour; and, within an hour, Their magic fleet came foaming into port. Whereat old senators, wagging their white beards, And plucking at golden chains with stiff old claws Too feeble for the sword-hilt, squeaked at once: "This glass will give us great advantages In time of war." War, war, O God of love, Even amidst their wonder at Thy world, Dazed with new beauty, gifted with new powers, These old men dreamed of blood. This was the thought To which all else must pander, if he hoped Even for one hour to see those dull eyes blaze At his discoveries. "Wolves," he called them, "wolves"; And yet he humoured them. He stooped to them. Promised them more advantages, and talked As elders do to children. You may call it Weakness, and yet could any man do more, Alone, against a world, with such a trust To guard for future ages? All his life He has had some weanling truth to guard, has fought Desperately to defend it, taking cover Wherever he could, behind old fallen trees Of superstition, or ruins of old thought. He has read horoscopes to keep his work Among the stars in favour with his prince, I tell you this that you may understand What seems inconstant in him. It may be That he was wrong in these things, and must pay A dreadful penalty. But you must explore His mind's great ranges, plains and lonely peaks Before you know him, as I know him now. How could he talk to children, but in words That children understand? Have not some said That God Himself has made His glory dark For men to bear it. In his human sphere My father has done this. War was the dream That filmed those old men's eyes. They did not hear My father, when he hinted at his hope Of opening up the heavens for mankind With that new power of bringing far things near. My heart burned as I heard him; but they blinked Like owls at noonday. Then I saw him turn, Desperately, to humour them, from thoughts Of heaven to thoughts of warfare. Late that night My own dear lord and father came to me And whispered, with a glory in his face As one who has looked on things too beautiful To breathe aloud, "Come out, Celeste, and see A miracle." I followed him. He showed me, Looking along his outstretched hand, a star, A point of light above our olive-trees. It was the star called Jupiter. And then He bade me look again, but through his glass. I feared to look at first, lest I should see Some wonder never meant for mortal eyes. He too, had felt the same, not fear, but awe, As if his hand were laid upon the veil Between this world and heaven. Then . . . I, too, saw, Small as the smallest bead of mist that clings To a spider's thread at dawn, the floating disk Of what had been a star, a planet now, And near it, with no disk that eyes could see, Four needle-points of light, unseen before. "The moons of Jupiter," he whispered low, "I have watched them as they moved, from night to night; A system like our own, although the world Their fourfold lights and shadows make so strange Must—as I think—be mightier than we dreamed, A Titan planet. Earth begins to fade And dwindle; yes, the heavens are opening now. Perhaps up there, this night, some lonely soul Gazes at earth, watches our dawning moon, And wonders, as we wonder." In that dark We knelt together . . . Very strange to see The vanity and fickleness of princes. Before his enemies had provoked the wrath Of Rome against him, he had given the name Of Medicean stars to those four moons In honour of Prince Cosmo. This aroused The court of France to seek a lasting place Upon the map of heaven. A letter came Beseeching him to find another star Even more brilliant, and to call it Henri After the reigning and most brilliant prince Of France. They did not wish the family name Of Bourbon. This would dissipate the glory. No, they preferred his proper name of Henri. We read it together in the garden here, Weeping with laughter, never dreaming then That this, this, this, could stir the little hearts Of men to envy. O, but afterwards, The blindness of the men who thought themselves His enemies. The men who never knew him, The men that had set up a thing of straw And called it by his name, and wished to burn Their image and himself in one wild fire. Men? Were they men or children? They refused Even to look through Galileo's glass, Lest seeing might persuade them. Even that sage, That great Aristotelian, Julius Libri, Holding his breath there, like a fractious child Until his cheeks grew purple, and the veins Were bursting on his brow, swore he would die Sooner than look. And that poor monstrous babe Not long thereafter, kept his word and died, Died of his own pent rage, as I have heard. Whereat my lord and father shook his head And, smiling, somewhat sadly—oh, you know That smile of his, more deadly to the false Than even his reasoning—murmured, "Libri, dead, Who called the moons of Jupiter absurd! He swore he would not look at them from earth, I hope he saw them on his way to heaven." Welser in Augsburg, Clavius at Rome, Scoffed at the fabled moons of Jupiter, It was a trick, they said. He had made a glass To fool the world with false appearances. Perhaps the lens was flawed. Perhaps his wits Were wandering. Anything rather than the truth Which might disturb the mighty in their seat. "Let Galileo hold his own opinions. I, Clavius, will hold mine." He wrote to Kepler; "You, Kepler, are the first, whose open mind And lofty genius could accept for truth The things which I have seen. With you for friend, The abuse of the multitude will not trouble me. Jupiter stands in heaven and will stand, Though all the sycophants bark at him. In Pisa, Florence, Bologna, Venice, Padua, Many have seen the moons. These witnesses Are silent and uncertain. Do you wonder? Most of them could not, even when they saw them, Distinguish Mars from Jupiter. Shall we side With Heraclitus or Democritus? I think, my Kepler, we will only laugh At this immeasurable stupidity. Picture the leaders of our college here. A thousand times I have offered them the proof Of their own eyes. They sleep here, like gorged snakes, Refusing even to look at planets, moons, Or telescope. They think philosophy Is all in books, and that the truth is found Neither in nature, nor the Universe, But in comparing texts. How you would laugh Had you but heard our first philosopher Before the Grand Duke, trying to tear down And argue the new planets out of heaven, Now by his own weird logic and closed eyes And now by magic spells." How could he help Despising them a little? It's an error Even for a giant to despise a midge; For, when the giant reels beneath some stroke Of fate, the buzzing clouds will swoop upon him, Cluster and feed upon his bleeding wounds, And do what midges can to sting him blind. These human midges have not missed their chance. They have missed no smallest spot upon that sun. My mother was not married—they have found— To my dear father. All his children, then, And doubtless all their thoughts are evil, too; But who that judged him ever sought to know Whether, as evil sometimes wears the cloak Of virtue, nobler virtue in this man Might wear that outward semblance of a sin? Yes, even you who love me, may believe These thoughts are born of my own tainted heart; And yet I write them, kneeling in my cell And whisper them to One who blesses me Here, from His Cross, upon the bare grey wall. So, if you love me, bless me also, you, By helping him. Make plain to all you meet What part his enemies have played in this. How some one, somehow, altered the command Laid on him all those years ago, by Rome, So that it reads to-day as if he vowed Never to think or breathe that this round earth Moves with its sister-planets round the sun. 'Tis true he promised not to write or speak As if this truth were 'stablished equally With God's eternal laws; and so he wrote His Dialogues, reasoning for it, and against, And gave the last word to Simplicio, Saying that human reason must bow down Before the power of God. And even this His enemies have twisted to a sneer Against the Pope, and cunningly declared Simplicio to be Urban. Why, my friend, There were three dolphins on the titlepage, Each with the tail of another in its mouth. The censor had not seen this, and they swore It held some hidden meaning. Then they found The same three dolphins sprawled on all the books Landini printed at his Florence press. They tried another charge. I am not afraid Of any truth that they can bring against him; But, O, my friend, I more than fear their lies. I do not fear the justice of our God; But I do fear the vanity of men; Even of Urban; not His Holiness, But Urban, the weak man, who may resent, And in resentment rush half-way to meet This cunning lie with credence. Vanity! O, half the wrongs on earth arise from that! Greed, and war's pomp, all envy, and most hate, Are born of that; while one dear humble heart, Beating with love for man, between two thieves, Proves more than all His wounds and miracles Our Crucified to be the Son of God. Say that I long to see him; that my prayers Knock at the gates of mercy, night and day. Urge him to leave the judgment now with God And strive no more. If he be right, the stars Fight for him in their courses. Let him bow His poor, dishonoured, glorious, old grey head Before this storm, and then come home to me. O, quickly, or I fear 'twill be too late; For I am dying. Do not tell him this; But I must live to hold his hands again, And know that he is safe. I dare not leave him, helpless and half blind, Half father and half child, to rack and cord. By all the Christ within you, save him, you; And, though you may have ceased to love me now, One faithful shadow in your own last hour Shall watch beside you till all shadows die, And heaven unfold to bless you where I failed.
(Scheiner writes to Castelli, after the Trial.)
What think you of your Galileo now, Your hero that like Ajax should defy The lightning? Yesterday I saw him stand Trembling before our court of Cardinals, Trembling before the colour of their robes As sheep, before the slaughter, at the sight And smell of blood. His lips could hardly speak, And—mark you—neither rack, nor cord had touched him. Out of the Inquisition's five degrees Of rigor: first, the public threat of torture; Second, the repetition of the threat Within the torture-chamber, where we show The instruments of torture to the accused; Third, the undressing and the binding; fourth, Laying him on the rack; then, fifth and last, Torture, territio realis; out of these, Your Galileo reached the second only, When, clapping both his hands against his sides, He whined about a rupture that forbade These extreme courses. Great heroic soul Dropped like a cur into a sea of terror, He sank right under. Then he came up gasping, Ready to swear, deny, abjure, recant, Anything, everything! Foolish, weak, old man, Who had been so proud of his discoveries, And dared to teach his betters. How we grinned To see him kneeling there and whispering, thus, Through his white lips, bending his old grey head: "I, Galileo Galilei, born A Florentine, now seventy years of age, Kneeling before you, having before mine eyes, And touching with my hands the Holy Gospels, Swear that I always have believed, do now, And always will believe what Holy Church Has held and preached and taught me to believe; And now, whereas I rightly am accused, Of heresy, having falsely held the sun To be the centre of our Universe, And also that this earth is not the centre, But moves; I most illogically desire Completely to expunge this dark suspicion, So reasonably conceived. I now abjure, Detest and curse these errors; and I swear That should I know another, friend or foe, Holding the selfsame heresy as myself, I will denounce him to the Inquisitor In whatsoever place I chance to be. So help me God, and these His Holy Gospels, Which with my hands I touch!" You will observe His promise to denounce. Beware, Castelli! What think you of your Galileo now?
(Castelli writes, enclosing Schemer's letter, to Campanella.)
What think I? This,—that he has laid his hands Like Samson on the pillars of our world, And one more trembling utterance such as this Will overwhelm us all. O, Campanella, You know that I am loyal to our faith, As Galileo too has always been. You know that I believe, as he believes, In the one Catholic Apostolic Church; Yet there are many times when I could wish That some blind Samson would indeed tear down All this proud temporal fabric, made with hands, And that, once more, we suffered with our Lord, Were persecuted, crucified with Him. I tell you, Campanella, on that day When Galileo faced our Cardinals, A veil was rent for me. There, in one flash, I saw the eternal tragedy, transformed Into new terms. I saw the Christ once more, Before the court of Pilate. Peter there Denied Him once again; and, as for me, Never has all my soul so humbly knelt To God in Christ, as when that sad old man Bowed his grey head, and knelt—at seventy years— To acquiesce, and shake the world with shame. He shall not strive or cry! Strange, is it not, How nearly Scheiner—even amidst his hate— Quoted the Prophets? Do we think this world So greatly bettered, that the ancient cry, "Despised, rejected," hails our God no more?
(Celeste writes to her father in his imprisonment at Siena.)
Dear father, it will seem a thousand years Until I see you home again and well. I would not have you doubt that all this time I have prayed for you continually. I saw A copy of your sentence. I was grieved; And yet it gladdened me, for I found a way To be of use, by taking on myself Your penance. Therefore, if you fail in this, If you forget it—and indeed, to save you The trouble of remembering it—your child Will do it for you. Ah, could she do more! How willingly would your Celeste endure A straiter prison than she lives in now To set you free. "A prison," I have said; And yet, if you were here, 'twould not be so. When you were pent in Rome, I used to say, "Would he were at Siena!" God fulfilled That wish. You are at Siena; and I now say Would he were at Arcctri. So perhaps Little by little, angels can be wooed Each day, by some new prayer of mine or yours, To bring you wholly back to me, and save Some few of the flying days that yet remain. You see, these other Nuns have each their friend, Their patron Saint, their ever near devoto, To whom they tell their joys and griefs; but I Have only you, dear father, and if you Were only near me, I could want no more. Your garden looks as if it missed your love. The unpruned branches lean against the wall To look for you. The walks run wild with flowers. Even your watch-tower seems to wait for you; And, though the fruit is not so good this year (The vines were hurt by hail, I think, and thieves Have climbed the wall too often for the pears), The crop of peas is good, and only waits Your hand to gather it. In the dovecote, too, You'll find some plump young pigeons. We must make A feast for your return. In my small plot, Here at the Convent, better watched than yours, I raised a little harvest. With the price I got for it, I had three Masses said For my dear father's sake.
(Galileo writes to his friend Castelli, after his return to Arcetri.)
Castelli, O Castelli, she is dead. I found her driving death back with her soul Till I should come. I could not even see Her face.—These useless eyes had spent their power On distant worlds, and lost that last faint look Of love on earth. I am in the dark, Castelli, Utterly and irreparably blind. The Universe which once these outworn eyes Enlarged so far beyond its ancient bounds Is henceforth shrunk into that narrow space Which I myself inhabit. Yet I found Even in the dark, her tears against my face, Her thin soft childish arms around my neck, And her voice whispering ... love, undying love; Asking me, at this last, to tell her true, If we should meet again. Her trust in me Had shaken her faith in what my judges held; And, as I felt her fingers clutch my hand, Like a child drowning, "Tell me the truth," she said, "Before I lose the light of your dear face"— It seemed so strange that dying she could see me While I had lost her,—"tell me, before I go." "Believe in Love," was all my soul could breathe. I heard no answer. Only I felt her hand Clasp mine and hold it tighter. Then she died, And left me to my darkness. Could I guess At unseen glories, in this deeper night, Make new discoveries of profounder realms, Within the soul? O, could I find Him there, Rise to Him through His harmonies of law And make His will my own! This much, at least, I know already, that—in some strange way— His law implies His love; for, failing that All grows discordant, and the primal Power Ignobler than His children. So I trust One day to find her, waiting for me still, When all things are made new. I raise this torch Of knowledge. It is one with my right hand, And the dark sap that keeps it burning flows Out of my heart; and yet, for all my faith, It shows me only darkness. Was I wrong? Did I forget the subtler truth of Rome And, in my pride, obscure the world's one light? Did I subordinate to this moving earth Our swiftlier-moving God? O, my Celeste, Once, once at least, you knew far more than I; And she is dead, Castelli, she is dead.
(Viviani, many years later, writes to a friend in England)
I was his last disciple, as you say I went to him, at seventeen years of age, And offered him my hands and eyes to use, When, voicing the true mind and heart of Rome, Father Castelli, his most faithful friend, Wrote, for my master, that compassionate plea; The noblest eye that Nature ever made Is darkened; one so exquisitely dowered, So delicate in power that it beheld More than all other eyes in ages gone And opened the eyes of all that are to come. But, out of England, even then, there shone The first ethereal promise of light That crowns my master dead. Well I recall That day of days. There was no faintest breath Among his garden cypress-trees. They dreamed Dark, on a sky too beautiful for tears, And the first star was trembling overhead, When, quietly as a messenger from heaven, Moving unseen, through his own purer realm, Amongst the shadows of our mortal world, A young man, with a strange light on his face Knocked at the door of Galileo's house. His name was Milton. By the hand of God, He, the one living soul on earth with power To read the starry soul of this blind man, Was led through Italy to his prison door. He looked on Galileo, touched his hand ... O, dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon, Irrecoverably dark .... In after days, He wrote it; but it pulsed within him then; And Galileo rising to his feet And turning on him those unseeing eyes That had searched heaven and seen so many worlds, Said to him, "You have found me." Often he told me in those last sad months Of how your grave young island poet brought Peace to him, with the knowledge that, far off, In other lands, the truth he had proclaimed Was gathering power. Soon after, death unlocked His prison, and the city that he loved, Florence, his town of flowers, whose gates in life He was forbid to pass, received him dead.
You write to me from England, that his name Is now among the mightiest in the world, And in his name I thank you. I am old; And I was very young when, long ago, I stood beside his poor dishonoured grave Where hate denied him even an epitaph; And I have seen, slowly and silently, His purer fame arising, like a moon In marble on the twilight of those aisles At Santa Croce, where the dread decree Was read against him. Now, against two wrongs, Let me defend two victims: first, the Church Whom many have vilified for my master's doom; And second, Galileo, whom they reproach Because they think that in his blind old age He might with one great eagle's glance have cowed His judges, played the hero, raised his hands Above his head, and posturing like a mummer Cried (as one empty rumour now declares) After his recantation—yet, it moves! Out of this wild confusion, fourfold wrongs Are heaped on both sides.—I would fain bring peace, The peace of truth to both before I die; And, as I hope, rest at my master's feet. It was not Rome that tried to murder truth; But the blind hate and vanity of man. Had Galileo but concealed the smile With which, like Socrates, he answered fools, They would not, in the name of Christ, have mixed This hemlock in his chalice. O pitiful Pitiful human hearts that must deny Their own unfolding heavens, for one light word Twisted by whispering malice. Did he mean Simplicio, in his dialogues, for the Pope? Doubtful enough—the name was borrowed straight From older dialogues. If he gave one thought Of Urban's to Simplicio—you know well How composite are all characters in books, How authors find their colours here and there, And paint both saints and villains from themselves. No matter. This was Urban. Make it clear. Simplicio means a simpleton. The saints Are aroused by ridicule to most human wrath. Urban was once his friend. This hint of ours Kills all of that. And so we mortals close The doors of Love and Knowledge on the world. And so, for many an age, the name of Christ Has been misused by man to mask man's hate. How should the Church escape, then? I who loved My master, know he had no truer friend Than many of those true servants of the Church, Fathers and priests who, in their lowlier sphere, Moved nearer than her cardinals to the Christ. These were the very Rome, and held her keys. Those who charge Rome with hatred of the light Would charge the sun with darkness, and accuse This dome of sky for all the blood-red wrongs That men commit beneath it. Art and song That found her once in Europe their sole shrine And sanctuary absolve her from that stain.
But there's this other charge against my friend, And master, Galileo. It is brought By friends, made sharper by their pity and grief, The charge that he refused his martyrdom And so denied his own high faith. Whose faith,— His friends', his Protestant followers', or his own? Faced by the torture, that sublime old man Was still a faithful Catholic, and his thought Plunged deeper than his Protestant followers knew. His aim was not to strike a blow at Rome But to confound his enemies. He believed As humbly as Castelli or Celeste That there is nothing absolute but that Power With which his Church confronted him. To this He bowed his head, acknowledging that his light Was darkness; but affirming, all the more, That Ptolemy's light was even darker yet. Read your own Protestant Milton, who derived His mighty argument from my master's lips: "Whether the sun predominant in heaven Rise on the earth, or earth rise on the sun; Leave them to God above; Him serve and fear." Just as in boyhood, when my master watched The swinging lamp in the cathedral there At Pisa; and, by one finger on his pulse, Found that, although the great bronze miracle swung Through ever-shortening spaces, yet it moved More slowly, and so still swung in equal times; He straight devised another boon to man, Those pulse-clocks which by many a fevered bed Our doctors use; dreamed of that timepiece, too, Whose punctual swinging pendulum on earth Measures the starry periods, and to-day Talks peacefully to children by the fire Like an old grandad full of ancient tales, Remembering endless ages, and foretelling Eternities to come; but, all the while There, in the dim cathedral, he knew well, That dreaming youngster, with his tawny mane Of red-gold hair, and deep ethereal eyes, What odorous clouds of incense round him rose; Was conscious in the dimness, of great throngs Kneeling around him; shared in his own heart The music and the silence and the cry, O, salutaris hostia!—so now, There was no mortal conflict in his mind Between his dream-clocks and things absolute, And one far voice, most absolute of all, Feeble with suffering, calling night and day "Return, return;" the voice of his Celeste. All these things co-existed, and the less Were comprehended, like the swinging lamp, Within that great cathedral of his soul. Often he bade me, in that desolate house Il Giojello, of old a jewel of light, Read to him one sad letter, till he knew The most of it by heart, and while he walked His garden, leaning on my arm, at times I think he quite forgot that I was there; For he would quietly murmur it to himself, As if she had sent it, half an hour ago: "Now, with this little winter's gift of fruit I send you, father, from our southward wall, Our convent's rarest flower, a Christmas rose. At this cold season, it should please you much, Seeing how rare it is; but, with the rose, You must accept its thorns, which bring to mind Our Lord's own bitter Passion. Its green leaves Image the hope that through His Passion we, After this winter of our mortal life, May find the beauty of an eternal spring In heaven." Praise me the martyr, out of whose agonies Some great new hope is born, but not the fool Who starves his heart to prove what eyes can see And intellect confirm throughout the world. Why must he follow the idiot schoolboy code, Torture his soul to reinforce the sight Of those that closed their eyes and would not see. To your own men of science, fifty turns Of the thumbscrew would not prove that earth revolved. Call it Italian subtlety if you will, I say his intricate cause could not be won By blind heroics. Much that his enemies challenged Was not yet wholly proven, though his mind Had leapt to a certainty. He must leave the rest To those that should come after, swift and young,— Those runners with the torch for whom he longed As his deliverers. Had he chosen death Before his hour, his proofs had been obscured For many a year. His respite gave him time To push new pawns out, in the blindfold play Of those last months, and checkmate, not the Church But those that hid behind her. He believed His truth was all harmonious with her own. How could he choose between them? Must he die To affirm a discord that himself denied? On many a point, he was less sure than we: But surer far of much that we forget The movements that he saw he could but judge By some fixed point in space. He chose the sun. Could this be absolute? Could he then be sure That this great sun did not with all its worlds Move round a deeper centre? What became Of your Copernicus then? Could he be sure Of any unchanging centre, whence to judge This myriad-marching universe, but one— The absolute throne of God. Affirming this Eternal Rock, his own uncertainties Became more certain, and although his lips Breathed not a syllable of it, though he stood Silent as earth that also seemed so still, The very silence thundered, yet it moves!
He held to what he knew, secured his work Through feeble hands like mine, in other lands, Not least in England, as I think you know. For, partly through your poet, as I believe, When his great music rolled upon your skies, New thoughts were kindled in the general mind. 'Twas at Arcetri that your Milton gained The first great glimpse of his celestial realm. Picture him,—still a prisoner of our light, Closing his glorious eyes—that in the dark, He might behold this wheeling universe,— The planets gilding their ethereal horns With sun-fire. Many a pure immortal phrase In his own work, as I have pondered it, Lived first upon the lips of him whose eyes Were darkened first,—in whom, too, Milton found That Samson Agonistes, not himself, As many have thought, but my dear master dead. These are a part of England's memories now, The music blown upon her sea-bright air When, in the year of Galileo's death, Newton, the mightiest of the sons of light, Was born to lift the splendour of this torch And carry it, as I heard that Tycho said Long since to Kepler, "carry it out of sight, Into the great new age I must not know, Into the great new realm I must not tread."
If I saw farther, 'twas because I stood On giant shoulders," wrote the king of thought, Too proud of his great line to slight the toils Of his forebears. He turned to their dim past, Their fading victories and their fond defeats, And knelt as at an altar, drawing all Their strengths into his own; and so went forth With all their glory shining in his face, To win new victories for the age to come. So, where Copernicus had destroyed the dream We called our world; where Galileo watched Those ancient firmaments melt, a thin blue smoke Into a vaster night; where Kepler heard Only stray fragments, isolated chords Of that tremendous music which should bind All things anew in one, Newton arose And carried on their fire. Around him reeled Through lingering fumes of hate and clouds of doubt, Lit by the afterglow of the Civil War, The dissolute throngs of that Walpurgis night Where all the cynical spirits that deny Danced with the vicious lusts that drown the soul In flesh too gross for Circe or her swine. But, in his heart, he heard one instant voice. "On with the torch once more, make all things new, Build the new heaven and earth, and save the world."
Ah, but the infinite patience, the long months Lavished on tasks that, to the common eye, Were insignificant, never to be crowned With great results, or even with earth's rewards. Could Rembrandt but have painted him, in those hours Making his first analysis of light Alone, there, in his darkened Cambridge room At Trinity! Could he have painted, too, The secret glow, the mystery, and the power, The sense of all the thoughts and unseen spires That soared to heaven around him! He stood there, Obscure, unknown, the shadow of a man In darkness, like a grey dishevelled ghost, —Bare-throated, down at heel, his last night's supper Littering his desk, untouched; his glimmering face, Under his tangled hair, intent and still,— Preparing our new universe. He caught The sunbeam striking through that bullet-hole In his closed shutter—a round white spot of light Upon a small dark screen. He interposed A prism of glass. He saw the sunbeam break And spread upon the screen its rainbow band Of disentangled colours, all in scale Like notes in music; first, the violet ray, Then indigo, trembling softly into blue; Then green and yellow, quivering side by side; Then orange, mellowing richly into red. Then, in the screen, he made a small, round hole Like to the first; and through it passed once more Each separate coloured ray. He let it strike Another prism of glass, and saw each hue Bent at a different angle from its path, The red the least, the violet ray the most; But all in scale and order, all precise As notes in music. Last, he took a lens, And, passing through it all those coloured rays, Drew them together again, remerging all On that dark screen, in one white spot of light.
So, watching, testing, proving, he resolved The seeming random glories of our day Into a constant harmony, and found How in the whiteness of the sunlight sleep Compounded, all the colours of the world. He saw how raindrops in the clouds of heaven Breaking the light, revealed that sevenfold arch Of colours, ranged as on his own dark screen, Though now they spanned the mountains and wild seas. Then, where that old-world order had gone down Beneath a darker deluge, he beheld Gleams of the great new order and recalled —Fraught with new meaning and a deeper hope— That covenant which God made with all mankind Throughout all generations: I will set My bow in the cloud, that henceforth ye may know How deeper than the wreckage of your dreams Abides My law, in beauty and in power.
Yet for that exquisite balance of the mind, He, too, must pay the price. He stood alone Bewildered, at the sudden assault of fools On this, his first discovery. "I have lost The most substantial blessing of my quiet To follow a vain shadow. I would fain Attempt no more. So few can understand, Or read one thought. So many are ready at once To swoop and sting. Indeed I would withdraw For ever from philosophy." So he wrote In grief, the mightiest mind of that new age. Let those who'd stone the Roman Curia For all the griefs that Galileo knew Remember the dark hours that well-nigh quenched The splendour of that spirit. He could not sleep. Yet, with that patience of the God in man That still must seek the Splendour whence it came, Through midnight hours of mockery and defeat, In loneliness and hopelessness and tears, He laboured on. He had no power to see How, after many years, when he was dead, Out of this new discovery men should make An instrument to explore the farthest stars And, delicately dividing their white rays, Divine what metals in their beauty burned, Extort red secrets from the heart of Mars, Or measure the molten iron in the sun. He bent himself to nearer, lowlier, tasks; And seeing, first, that those deflected rays, Though it were only by the faintest bloom Of colour, imperceptible to our eyes, Must dim the vision of Galileo's glass, He made his own new weapon of the sky,— That first reflecting telescope which should hold In its deep mirror, as in a breathless pool The undistorted image of a star.
In that deep night where Galileo groped Like a blind giant in dreams to find what power Held moons and planets to their constant road Through vastness, ordered like a moving fleet; What law so married them that they could not clash Or sunder, but still kept their rhythmic pace As if those ancient tales indeed were true And some great angel helmed each gliding sphere; Many had sought an answer. Many had caught Gleams of the truth; and yet, as when a torch Is waved above a multitude at night, And shows wild streams of faces, all confused, But not the single law that knits them all Into an ordered nation, so our skies For all those fragmentary glimpses, whirled In chaos, till one eagle-spirit soared, Found the one law that bound them all in one, And through that awful unity upraised The soul to That which made and guides them all.
Did Newton, dreaming in his orchard there Beside the dreaming Witham, see the moon Burn like a huge gold apple in the boughs And wonder why should moons not fall like fruit? Or did he see as those old tales declare (Those fairy-tales that gather form and fire Till, in one jewel, they pack the whole bright world) A ripe fruit fall from some immortal tree Of knowledge, while he wondered at what height Would this earth-magnet lose its darkling power? Would not the fruit fall earthward, though it grew High o'er the hills as yonder brightening cloud? Would not the selfsame power that plucked the fruit Draw the white moon, then, sailing in the blue? Then, in one flash, as light and song are born, And the soul wakes, he saw it—this dark earth Holding the moon that else would fly through space To her sure orbit, as a stone is held In a whirled sling; and, by the selfsame power, Her sister planets guiding all their moons; While, exquisitely balanced and controlled In one vast system, moons and planets wheeled Around one sovran majesty, the sun.
Light and more light! The spark from heaven was there, The flash of that reintegrating fire Flung from heaven's altars, where all light is born, To feed the imagination of mankind With vision, and reveal all worlds in one. But let no dreamer dream that his great work Sprang, armed, like Pallas from the Thunderer's brain. With infinite patience he must test and prove His vision now, in those clear courts of Truth Whose absolute laws (bemocked by shallower minds As less than dreams, less than the faithless faith That fears the Truth, lest Truth should slay the dream) Are man's one guide to his transcendent heaven; For there's no wandering splendour in the soul, But in the highest heaven of all is one With absolute reality. None can climb Back to that Fount of Beauty but through pain. Long, long he toiled, comparing first the curves Traced by the cannon-ball as it soared and fell With that great curving road across the sky Traced by the sailing moon. Was earth a loadstone Holding them to their paths by that dark force Whose mystery men have cloaked beneath a name? Yet, when he came to test and prove, he found That all the great deflections of the moon, Her shining cadences from the path direct, Were utterly inharmonious with the law Of that dark force, at such a distance acting, Measured from earth's own centre.... For three long years, Newton withheld his hope Until that day when light was brought from France, New light, new hope, in one small glistening fact, Clear-cut as any diamond; and to him Loaded with all significance, like the point Of light that shows where constellations burn. Picard in France—all glory to her name Who is herself a light among all lands— Had measured earth's diameter once more With exquisite precision. To the throng, Those few corrected ciphers, his results, Were less than nothing; yet they changed the world. For Newton seized them and, with trembling hands, Began to work his problem out anew. Then, then, as on the page those figures turned To hieroglyphs of heaven, and he beheld The moving moon, with awful cadences Falling into the path his law ordained, Even to the foot and second, his hand shook And dropped the pencil. "Work it out for me," He cried to those around him; for the weight Of that celestial music overwhelmed him; And, on his page, those burning hieroglyphs Were Thrones and Principalities and Powers... For far beyond, immeasurably far Beyond our sun, he saw that river of suns We call the Milky Way, that glittering host Powdering the night, each grain of solar blaze Divided from its neighbour by a gulf Too wide for thought to measure; each a sun Huger than ours, with its own fleet of worlds, Visible and invisible. Those bright throngs That seemed dispersed like a defeated host Through blindly wandering skies, now, at the word Of one great dreamer, height o'er height revealed Hints of a vaster order, and moved on In boundless intricacies of harmony Around one centre, deeper than all suns, The burning throne of God.
He could not sleep. That intellect, whose wings Dared the cold ultimate heights of Space and Time Sank, like a wounded eagle, with dazed eyes Back, headlong through the clouds to throb on earth. What shaft had pierced him? That which also pierced His great forebears—the hate of little men. They flocked around him, and they flung their dust Into the sensitive eyes and laughed to see How dust could blind them. If one prickling grain Could so put out his vision and so torment That delicate brain, what weakness! How the mind That seemed to dwarf us, dwindles! Is he mad? So buzzed the fools, whose ponderous mental wheels Nor dust, nor grit, nor stones, nor rocks could irk Even for an instant. Newton could not sleep, But all that careful malice could design Was blindly fostered by well-meaning folly, And great sane folk like Mr. Samuel Pepys Canvassed his weakness and slept sound all night. For little Samuel with his rosy face Came chirping into a coffee-house one day Like a plump robin, "Sir, the unhappy state Of Mr. Isaac Newton grieves me much. Last week I had a letter from him, filled With strange complainings, very curious hints, Such as, I grieve to say, are common signs —I have observed it often—of worse to come. He said that he could neither eat nor sleep Because of all the embroilments he was in, Hinting at nameless enemies. Then he begged My pardon, very strangely. I believe Physicians would confirm me in my fears. 'Tis very sad.... Only last night, I found Among my papers certain lines composed By—whom d'you think?—My lord of Halifax (Or so dear Mrs. Porterhouse assured me) Expressing, sir, the uttermost satisfaction In Mr. Newton's talent. Sir, he wrote Answering the charge that science would put out The light of beauty, these very handsome lines:
'When Newton walked by Witham stream There fell no chilling shade To blight the drifting naiad's dream Or make her garland fade.
The mist of sun was not less bright That crowned Urania's hair. He robbed it of its colder light, But left the rainbow there.'
They are very neat and handsome, you'll agree. Solid in sense as Dryden at his best, And smooth as Waller, but with something more,— That touch of grace, that airier elegance Which only rank can give. 'Tis very sad That one so nobly praised should—well, no matter!— I am told, sir, that these troubles all began At Cambridge, when his manuscripts were burned. He had been working, in his curious way, All through the night; and, in the morning greyness Went down to chapel, leaving on his desk A lighted candle. You can imagine it,— A sadly sloven altar to his Muse, Littered with papers, cups, and greasy plates Of untouched food. I am told that he would eat His Monday's breakfast, sir, on Tuesday morning, Such was his absent way! When he returned, He found that Diamond (his little dog Named Diamond, for a black patch near his tail) Had overturned the candle. All his work Was burned to ashes. It struck him to the quick, Though, when his terrier fawned about his feet, He showed no anger. He was heard to say, 'O Diamond, Diamond, little do you know...' But, from that hour, ah well, we'll say no more."
Halley was there that day, and spoke up sharply, "Sir, there are hints and hints! Do you mean more?" —"I do, sir," chirruped Samuel, mightily pleased To find all eyes, for once, on his fat face. "I fear his intellects are disordered, sir." —"Good! That's an answer! I can deal with that. But tell me first," quoth Halley, "why he wrote That letter, a week ago, to Mr. Pepys." —"Why, sir," piped Samuel, innocent of the trap, "I had an argument in this coffee-house Last week, with certain gentlemen, on the laws Of chance, and what fair hopes a man might have Of throwing six at dice. I happened to say That Mr. Isaac Newton was my friend, And promised I would sound him." "Sir," said Halley, "You'll pardon me, but I forgot to tell you I heard, a minute since, outside these doors, A very modish woman of the town, Or else a most delicious lady of fashion, A melting creature with a bold black eye, A bosom like twin doves; and, sir, a mouth Like a Turk's dream of Paradise. She cooed, 'Is Mr. Pepys within?' I greatly fear That they denied you to her!" Off ran Pepys! "A hint's a hint," laughed Halley, "and so to bed. But, as for Isaac Newton, let me say, Whatever his embroilments were, he solved With just one hour of thought, not long ago The problem set by Leibnitz as a challenge To all of Europe. He published his result Anonymously, but Leibnitz, when he saw it, Cried out, at once, old enemy as he was, 'That's Newton, none but Newton! From this claw I know the old lion, in his midnight lair.'"
(Sir Isaac Newton writes to Mrs. Vincent at Woolthorpe.)
Your letter, on my eightieth birthday, wakes Memories, like violets, in this London gloom. You have never failed, for more than three-score years To send these annual greetings from the haunts Where you and I were boy and girl together. A day must come-it cannot now be far— When I shall have no power to thank you for them, So let me tell you now that, all my life, They have come to me with healing in their wings Like birds from home, birds from the happy woods Above the Witham, where you walked with me When you and I were young. Do you remember Old Barley—how he tried to teach us drawing? He found some promise, I believe, in you, But quite despaired of me. I treasure all Those little sketches that you sent to me Each Christmas, carrying each some glimpse of home. There's one I love that shows the narrow lane Behind the schoolhouse, where I had that bout Of schoolboy fisticuffs. I have never known More pleasure, I believe, than when I beat That black-haired bully and won, for my reward, Those April smiles from you. I see you still Standing among the fox-gloves in the hedge; And just behind you, in the field, I know There was a patch of aromatic flowers,— Rest-harrow, was it? Yes; their tangled roots Pluck at the harrow; halt the sharp harrow of thought, Even in old age. I never breathe their scent But I am back in boyhood, dreaming there Over some book, among the diligent bees, Until you join me, and we dream together. They called me lazy, then. Oddly enough It was that fight that stirred my mind to beat My bully at his books, and head the school; Blind rivalry, at first. By such fond tricks The invisible Power that shapes us—not ourselves— Punishes, teaches, leads us gently on Like children, all our lives, until we grasp A sudden meaning and are born, through death Into full knowledge that our Guide was Love. Another picture shows those woods of ours, Around whose warm dark edges in the spring Primroses, knots of living sunlight, woke; And, always, you, their radiant shepherdess From Elfland, lead them rambling back for me, The dew still clinging to their golden fleece, Through these grey memory-mists. Another shows My old sun-dial. You say that it is known As "Isaac's dial" still. I took great pains To set it rightly. If it has not shifted 'Twill mark the time long after I am gone; Not like those curious water-clocks I made. Do you remember? They worked well at first; But the least particles in the water clogged The holes through which it dripped; and so, one day, We two came home so late that we were sent Supperless to our beds; and suffered much From the world's harshness, as we thought it then. Would God that we might taste that harshness now.
I cannot send you what you've sent to me; And so I wish you'll never thank me more For those poor gifts I have sent from year to year. I send another, and hope that you can use it To buy yourself those comforts which you need This Christmas-time. How strange it is to wake And find that half a century has gone by, With all our endless youth. They talk to me Of my discoveries, prate of undying fame Too late to help me. Anything I achieved Was done through work and patience; and the men Who sought quick roads to glory for themselves Were capable of neither. So I won Their hatred, and it often hampered me, Because it vexed my mind. This world of ours Would give me all, now I have ceased to want it; For I sit here, alone, a sad old man, Sipping his orange-water, nodding to sleep, Not caring any more for aught they say, Not caring any more for praise or blame; But dreaming-things we dreamed of, long ago, In childhood. You and I had laughed away That boy and girl affair. We were too poor For anything but laughter. I am old; And you, twice wedded and twice widowed, still Retain, through all your nearer joys and griefs, The old affection. Vaguely our blind old hands Grope for each other in this growing dark And deepening loneliness,—to say "good-bye." Would that my words could tell you all my heart; But even my words grow old. Perhaps these lines, Written not long ago, may tell you more. I have no skill in verse, despite the praise Your kindness gave me, once; but since I wrote Thinking of you, among the woods of home, My heart was in them. Let them turn to yours:
_Give me, for friends, my own true folk Who kept the very word they spoke; Whose quiet prayers, from day to day, Have brought the heavens about my way.
Not those whose intellectual pride Would quench the only lights that guide; Confuse the lines 'twixt good and ill Then throne their own capricious will;
Not those whose eyes in mockery scan The simpler hopes and dreams of man; Not those keen wits, so quick to hurt, So swift to trip you in the dirt.
Not those who'd pluck your mystery out, Yet never saw your last redoubt; Whose cleverness would kill the song Dead at your heart, then prove you wrong.
Give me those eyes I used to know Where thoughts like angels come and go; —Not glittering eyes, nor dimmed by books, But eyes through which the deep soul looks.
Give me the quiet hands and face That never strove for fame and place; The soul whose love, so many a day Has brought the heavens about my way._
Was it a dream, that low dim-lighted room With that dark periwigged phantom of Dean Swift Writing, beside a fire, to one he loved,— Beautiful Catherine Barton, once the light Of Newton's house, and his half-sister's child? Yes, Catherine Barton, I am brave enough To face this pale, unhappy, wistful ghost Of our departed friendship. It was I Savage and mad, a snarling kennel of sins, "Your Holiness," as you called me, with that smile Which even your ghost would quietly turn on me— Who raised it up. It has no terrors, dear. And I shall never lay it while I live. You write to me. You think I have the power To shield the fame of Newton from a lie. Poor little ghost! You think I hold the keys Not only of Parnassus, then, but hell.
There is a tale abroad that Newton owed His public office to Lord Halifax, Your secret lover. Coarseness, as you know, Is my peculiar privilege. I'll be plain, And let them wince who are whispering in the dark. They are hinting that he gained his public post Through you, his flesh and blood; and that he knew You were his patron's mistress! Yes, I know The coffee-house that hatched it—to be scotched, Nay, killed, before one snuff-box could say "snap," Had not one cold malevolent face been there Listening,—that crystal-minded lover of truth, That lucid enemy of all lies,—Voltaire. I am told he is doing much to spread the light Of Newton's great discoveries, there, in France. There's little fear that France, whose clear keen eyes Have missed no morning in the realm of thought, Would fail to see it; and smaller need to lift A brand from hell to illume the light from heaven. You fear he'll print his lie. No doubt of that. I can foresee the phrase, as Halley saw The advent of his comet,—jolie niece, Assez amiable, ... then he'll give your name As Madame Conduit, adding just that spice Of infidelity that the dates admit To none but these truth-lovers. It will be best Not to enlighten him, or he'll change his tale And make an answer difficult. Let him print This truth as he conceives it, and you'll need No more defence. All history then shall damn his death-cold lie And show you for the laughing child you were When Newton won his office. For yourself You say you have no fear. Your only thought Is that they'll soil his fame. Ah yes, they'll try, But they'll not hurt it. For all time to come It stands there, firm as marble and as pure. They can do nothing that the sun and rain Will not erase at last. Not even Voltaire Can hurt that noble memory. Think of him As of a viper writhing at the base Of some great statue. Let the venomous tongue Flicker against that marble as it may It cannot wound it. I am far more grieved For you, who sit there wondering now, too late, If it were some suspicion, some dark hint Newton had heard that robbed him of his sleep, And almost broke his mind up. I recall How the town buzzed that Newton had gone mad. You copy me that sad letter which he wrote To Locke, wherein he begs him to forgive The hard words he had spoken, thinking Locke Had tried to embroil him, as he says, with women; A piteous, humble letter. Had he heard Some hint of scandal that he could not breathe To you, because he honoured you too well? I cannot tell. His mind was greatly troubled With other things. At least, you need not fear That Newton thought it true. He walked aloof, Treading a deeper stranger world than ours. Have you not told me how he would forget Even to eat and drink, when he was wrapt In those miraculous new discoveries And, under this wild maze of shadow and sun Beheld—though not the Master Player's hand— The keys from which His organ music rolls, Those visible symphonies of wild cloud and light Which clothe the invisible world for mortal eyes. I have heard that Leibnitz whispered to the court That Newton was an "atheist." Leibnitz knew His audience. He could stoop to it. Fools have said That knowledge drives out wonder from the world; They'll say it still, though all the dust's ablaze With miracles at their feet; while Newton's laws Foretell that knowledge one day shall be song, And those whom Truth has taken to her heart Find that it beats in music. Even this age Has glimmerings of it. Newton never saw His own full victory; but at least he knew That all the world was linked in one again; And, if men found new worlds in years to come, These too must join the universal song. That's why true poets love him; and you'll find Their love will cancel all that hate can do. They are the sentinels of the House of Fame; And that quick challenging couplet from the pen Of Alexander Pope is answer enough To all those whisperers round the outer doors. There's Addison, too. The very spirit and thought Of Newton moved to music when he wrote The Spacious Firmament. Some keen-eyed age to come Will say, though Newton seldom wrote a verse, That music was his own and speaks his faith.
And, last, for those who doubt his faith in God And man's immortal destiny, there remains The granite monument of his own great work, That dark cathedral of man's intellect, The vast "Principia," pointing to the skies, Wherein our intellectual king proclaimed The task of science,—through this wilderness Of Time and Space and false appearances, To make the path straight from effect to cause, Until we come to that First Cause of all, The Power, above, beyond the blind machine, The Primal Power, the originating Power, Which cannot be mechanical. He affirmed it With absolute certainty. Whence arises all This order, this unbroken chain of law, This human will, this death-defying love? Whence, but from some divine transcendent Power, Not less, but infinitely more than these, Because it is their Fountain and their Guide. Fools in their hearts have said, "Whence comes this Power, Why throw the riddle back this one stage more?" And Newton, from a height above all worlds Answered and answers still: "This universe Exists, and by that one impossible fact Declares itself a miracle; postulates An infinite Power within itself, a Whole Greater than any part, a Unity Sustaining all, binding all worlds in one. This is the mystery, palpable here and now. 'Tis not the lack of links within the chain From cause to cause, but that the chain exists. That's the unfathomable mystery, The one unquestioned miracle that we know, Implying every attribute of God, The ultimate, absolute, omnipresent Power, In its own being, deep and high as heaven. But men still trace the greater to the less, Account for soul with flesh and dreams with dust, Forgetting in their manifold world the One, In whom for every splendour shining here Abides an equal power behind the veil. Was the eye contrived by blindly moving atoms, Or the still-listening ear fulfilled with music By forces without knowledge of sweet sounds? Are nerves and brain so sensitively fashioned That they convey these pictures of the world Into the very substance of our life, While That from which we came, the Power that made us, Is drowned in blank unconsciousness of all? Does it not from the things we know appear That there exists a Being, incorporeal, Living, intelligent, who in infinite space, As in His infinite sensory, perceives Things in themselves, by His immediate presence Everywhere? Of which things, we see no more Than images only, flashed through nerves and brain To our small sensories? What is all science then But pure religion, seeking everywhere The true commandments, and through many forms The eternal power that binds all worlds in one? It is man's age-long struggle to draw near His Maker, learn His thoughts, discern His law,— A boundless task, in whose infinitude, As in the unfolding light and law of love. Abides our hope, and our eternal joy. I know not how my work may seem to others—" So wrote our mightiest mind—"But to myself I seem a child that wandering all day long Upon the sea-shore, gathers here a shell, And there a pebble, coloured by the wave, While the great ocean of truth, from sky to sky Stretches before him, boundless, unexplored."
He has explored it now, and needs of me Neither defence nor tribute. His own work Remains his monument He rose at last so near The Power divine that none can nearer go; None in this age! To carry on his fire We must await a mightier age to come.
WILLIAM HERSCHEL CONDUCTS
Was it a dream?—that crowded concert-room In Bath; that sea of ruffles and laced coats; And William Herschel, in his powdered wig, Waiting upon the platform, to conduct His choir and Linley's orchestra? He stood Tapping his music-rest, lost in his own thoughts And (did I hear or dream them?) all were mine:
My periwig's askew, my ruffle stained With grease from my new telescope! Ach, to-morrow How Caroline will be vexed, although she grows Almost as bad as I, who cannot leave My work-shop for one evening. I must give One last recital at St. Margaret's, And then—farewell to music. Who can lead Two lives at once? Yet—it has taught me much, Thrown curious lights upon our world, to pass From one life to another. Much that I took For substance turns to shadow. I shall see No throngs like this again; wring no more praise Out of their hearts; forego that instant joy —Let those who have not known it count it vain— When human souls at once respond to yours. Here, on the brink of fortune and of fame, As men account these things, the moment comes When I must choose between them and the stars; And I have chosen. Handel, good old friend, We part to-night. Hereafter, I must watch That other wand, to which the worlds keep time.
What has decided me? That marvelous night When—ah, how difficult it will be to guide, With all these wonders whirling through my brain!— After a Pump-room concert I came home Hot-foot, out of the fluttering sea of fans, Coquelicot-ribboned belles and periwigged beaux, To my Newtonian telescope. The design Was his; but more than half the joy my own, Because it was the work of my own hand, A new one, with an eye six inches wide, Better than even the best that Newton made. Then, as I turned it on the Gemini, And the deep stillness of those constant lights, Castor and Pollux, lucid pilot-stars, Began to calm the fever of my blood, I saw, O, first of all mankind I saw The disk of my new planet gliding there Beyond our tumults, in that realm of peace.
What will they christen it? Ach—not Herschel, no! Nor Georgium Sidus, as I once proposed; Although he scarce could lose it, as he lost That world in 'seventy-six. Indeed, so far From trying to tax it, he has granted me How much?—two hundred golden pounds a year, In the great name of science,—half the cost Of one state-coach, with all those worlds to win! Well—well—we must be grateful. This mad king Has done far more than all the worldly-wise, Who'll charge even this to madness. I believe One day he'll have me pardoned for that...crime, When I escaped—deserted, some would say— From those drill-sergeants in my native land; Deserted drill for music, as I now Desert my music for the orchestral spheres. No. This new planet is only new to man. His majesty has done much. Yet, as my friend Declared last night, "Never did monarch buy Honour so cheaply"; and—he has not bought it. I think that it should bear some ancient name, And wear it like a crown; some deep, dark name, Like Uranus, known to remoter gods.
How strange it seems—this buzzing concert-room! There's Doctor Burney bowing and, behind him, His fox-eyed daughter Fanny. Is it a dream, These crowding midgets, dense as clustering bees In some great bee-skep? Now, as I lift my wand, A silence grips them, and the strings begin, Throbbing. The faint lights flicker in gusts of sound. Before me, glimmering like a crescent moon, The dim half circle of the choir awaits Its own appointed time. Beside me now, Watching my wand, plump and immaculate From buckled shoes to that white bunch of lace Under his chin, the midget tenor rises, Music in hand, a linnet and a king. The bullfinch bass, that other emperor, Leans back indifferently, and clears his throat As if to say, "This prelude leads to Me!" While, on their own proud thrones, on either hand, The sumptuously bosomed midget queens, Contralto and soprano, jealously eye Each other's plumage. Round me the music throbs With an immortal passion. I grow aware Of an appalling mystery.... We, this throng Of midgets, playing, listening, tense and still, Are sailing on a midget ball of dust We call our planet; will have sailed through space Ten thousand leagues before this music ends. What does it mean? Oh, God, what can it mean?— This weird hushed ant-hill with a thousand eyes; These midget periwigs; all those little blurs, Tier over tier, of faces, masks of flesh, Corruptible, hiding each its hopes and dreams, Its tragi-comic dreams. And all this throng Will be forgotten, mixed with dust, crushed out, Before this book of music is outworn Or that tall organ crumbles. Violins Outlast their players. Other hands may touch That harpsichord; but ere this planet makes Another threescore journeys round its sun, These breathing listeners will have vanished. Whither? I watch my moving hands, and they grow strange! What is it moves this body? What am I? How came I here, a ghost, to hear that voice Of infinite compassion, far away, Above the throbbing strings, hark! Comfort ye...
If music lead us to a cry like this, I think I shall not lose it in the skies. I do but follow its own secret law As long ago I sought to understand Its golden mathematics; taught myself The way to lay one stone upon another, Before I dared to dream that I might build My Holy City of Song. I gave myself To all its branches. How they stared at me, Those men of "sensibility," when I said That algebra, conic sections, fluxions, all Pertained to music. Let them stare again. Old Kepler knew, by instinct, what I now Desire to learn. I have resolved to leave No tract of heaven unvisited. To-night —The music carries me back to it again!— I see beyond this island universe, Beyond our sun, and all those other suns That throng the Milky Way, far, far beyond, A thousand little wisps, faint nebulae, Luminous fans and milky streaks of fire; Some like soft brushes of electric mist Streaming from one bright point; others that spread And branch, like growing systems; others discrete, Keen, ripe, with stars in clusters; others drawn back By central forces into one dense death, Thence to be kindled into fire, reborn, And scattered abroad once more in a delicate spray Faint as the mist by one bright dewdrop breathed At dawn, and yet a universe like our own; Each wisp a universe, a vast galaxy Wide as our night of stars. The Milky Way In which our sun is drowned, to these would seem Less than to us their faintest drift of haze; Yet we, who are borne on one dark grain of dust Around one indistinguishable spark Of star-mist, lost in one lost feather of light, Can by the strength of our own thought, ascend Through universe after universe; trace their growth Through boundless time, their glory, their decay; And, on the invisible road of law, more firm Than granite, range through all their length and breadth, Their height and depth, past, present and to come. So, those who follow the great Work-master's law From small things up to great, may one day learn The structure of the heavens, discern the whole Within the part, as men through Love see God. Oh, holy night, deep night of stars, whose peace Descends upon the troubled mind like dew, Healing it with the sense of that pure reign Of constant law, enduring through all change; Shall I not, one day, after faithful years, Find that thy heavens are built on music, too, And hear, once more, above thy throbbing worlds This voice of all compassion, Comfort ye,— Yes—comfort ye, my people, saith your God?
SIR JOHN HERSCHEL REMEMBERS
True type of all, from his own father's hand He caught the fire; and, though he carried it far Into new regions; and, from southern fields Of yellow lupin, added host on host To those bright armies which his father knew, Surely the crowning hour of all his life Was when, his task accomplished, he returned A lonely pilgrim to the twilit shrine Of first beginnings and his father's youth. There, in the Octagon Chapel, with bared head Grey, honoured for his father and himself, He touched the glimmering keyboard, touched the books Those dear lost hands had touched so long ago.
"Strange that these poor inanimate things outlast The life that used them. Yes. I should like to try This good old friend of his. You'll leave me here An hour or so?" His hands explored the stops; And, while the music breathed what else were mute, His mind through many thoughts and memories ranged. Picture on picture passed before him there In living colours, painted on the gloom: Not what the world acclaimed, the great work crowned, But all that went before, the years of toil; The years of infinite patience, hope, despair. He saw the little house where all began, His father's first resolve to explore the sky, His first defeat, when telescopes were found Too costly for a music-master's purse; And then that dogged and all-conquering will Declaring, "Be it so. I'll make my own, A better than even the best that Newton made." He saw his first rude telescope—a tube Of pasteboard, with a lens at either end; And then,—that arduous growth to size and power With each new instrument, as his knowledge grew; And, to reward each growth, a deeper heaven. He saw the good Aunt Caroline's dismay When her trim drawing-room, as by wizardry, turned Into a workshop, where her brother's hands Cut, ground and burnished, hour on aching hour, Month after month, new mirrors of the sky.
Yet, while from dawn to dark her brother moved Around some new-cut mirror, burnishing it, Knowing that if he once removed his hands The surface would be dimmed and must forego Its heaven for ever, her quiet hands would raise Food to his lips; or, with that musical voice Which once—for she, too, offered her sacrifice— Had promised her fame, she whiled away the hours Reading how, long ago, Aladdin raised The djinns, by burnishing that old battered lamp; Or, from Cervantes, how one crazy soul Tilting at windmills, challenged a purblind world.
He saw her seized at last by that same fire, Burning to help, a sleepless Vestal, dowered With lightning-quickness, rushing from desk to clock, Or measuring distances at dead of night Between the lamp-micrometer and his eyes.
He saw her in mid-winter, hurrying out, A slim shawled figure through the drifted snow, To help him; saw her fall with a stifled cry, Gashing herself upon that buried hook, And struggling up, out of the blood-stained drift, To greet him with a smile. "For any soldier, This wound," the surgeon muttered, "would have meant Six weeks in hospital." Not six days for her! "I am glad these nights were cloudy, and we lost So little," was all she said. Sir John pulled out Another stop. A little ironical march Of flutes began to goose-step through the gloom. He saw that first "success"! Ay, call it so! The royal command,—the court desires to see The planet Saturn and his marvellous rings On Friday night. The skies, on Friday night, Were black with clouds. "Canute me no Canutes," Muttered their new magician, and unpacked His telescope. "You shall see what you can see." He levelled it through a window; and they saw "Wonderful! Marvellous! Glorious! Eh, what, what!" A planet of paper, with a paper ring, Lit by a lamp, in a hollow of Windsor Park, Among the ferns, where Herne the Hunter walks, And Falstaff found that fairies live on cheese. Thus all were satisfied; while, above the clouds— The thunder of the pedals reaffirmed— The Titan planet, every minute, rolled Three hundred leagues upon his awful way. Then, through that night, the vox humanaspoke With deeper longing than Lucretius knew When, in his great third book, the somber chant Kindled and soared on those exultant wings, Praising the master's hand from which he, too, —Father, discoverer, hero—caught the fire. It spoke of those vast labours, incomplete, But, through their incompletion, infinite In beauty, and in hope; the task bequeathed From dying hand to hand. Close to his grave Like a memento mori stood the hulk Of that great weapon rusted and outworn, Which once broke down the barriers of the sky. "Perrupit claustra"; yes, and bridged their gulfs; For, far beyond our solar scheme, it showed The law that bound our planets binding still Those coupled suns which year by year he watched Around each other circling. Had our own Some distant comrade, lost among the stars? Should we not, one day, just as Kepler drew His planetary music and its laws From all those faithful records Tycho made, Discern at last what vaster music rules The vaster drift of stars from deep to deep; Around what awful Poles, those wisps of light Those fifteen hundred universes move? One signal, even now, across the dark, Declared their worlds confederate with our own; For, carrying many secrets, which we now Slowly decipher, one swift messenger comes Across the abyss... The light that, flashing through the immeasurable, From universe to universe proclaims The single reign of law that binds them all. We shall break up those rays and, in their lines And colours, read the history of their stars. Year after year, the slow sure records grow. Awaiting their interpreter. They shall see it, Our sons, in that far day, the swift, the strong, The triumphing young-eyed runners with the torch.
No deep-set boundary-mark in Space or Time Shall halt or daunt them. Who that once has seen How truth leads on to truth, shall ever dare To set a bound to knowledge? "Would that he knew" —So thought the visitant at that shadowy shrine— "Even as the maker of a song can hear With the soul's ear, far off, the unstricken chords To which, by its own inner law, it climbs, Would that my father knew how younger hands Completed his own planetary tune; How from the planet that his own eyes found The mind of man would plunge into the dark, And, blindfold, find without the help of eyes A mightier planet, in the depths beyond."
Then, while the reeds, with quiet melodious pace Followed the dream, as in a picture passed, Adams, the boy at Cambridge, making his vow By that still lamp, alone in that deep night, Beneath the crumbling battlements of St. John's, To know why Uranus, uttermost planet known, Moved in a rhythm delicately astray From all the golden harmonies ordained By those known measures of its sister-worlds. Was there an unknown planet, far beyond, Sailing through unimaginable deeps And drawing it from its path? Then challenging chords Echoed the prophecy that Sir John had made, Guided by his own faith in Newton's law: We have not found it, but we feel it trembling Along the lines of our analysis now As once Columbus, from the shores of Spain, Felt the new continent. Then, in swift fugues, began A race between two nations for the prize Of that new world. Le Verrier in France, Adams in England, each of them unaware Of his own rival, at the selfsame hour Resolved to find it. Not by the telescope now! Skies might be swept for aeons ere one spark Among those myriads were both found and seen To move, at that vast distance round our sun. They worked by faith in law alone. They knew The wanderings of great Uranus, and they knew The law of Newton. By the midnight lamp, Pencil in hand, shut in a four-walled room, Each by pure thought must work his problem out,— Given that law, to find the mass and place Of that which drew their planet from his course.
There were no throngs to applaud them. Each alone, Without the heat of conflict laboured on, Consuming brain and nerve; for throngs applaud Only the flash and tinsel of their day, Never the quiet runners with the torch. Night after night they laboured. Line on line Of intricate figures, moving all in law, They marshalled. Their long columns formed and marched From battle to battle, and no sound was heard Of victory or defeat. They marched through snows Bleak as the drifts that broke Napoleon's pride And through a vaster desert. They drilled their hosts With that divine precision of the mind To which one second's error in a year Were anarchy, that precision which is felt Throbbing through music. Month on month they toiled, With worlds for ciphers. One rich autumn night Brooding over his figures there alone In Cambridge, Adams found them moving all To one solution. To the unseeing eye His long neat pages had no more to tell Than any merchant's ledger, yet they shone With epic splendour, and like trumpets pealed; Three hundred million leagues beyond the path Of our remotest planet, drowned in night Another and a mightier planet rolls; In volume, fifty times more vast than earth, And of so huge an orbit that its year Wellnigh outlasts our nations. Though it moves A thousand leagues an hour, it has not ranged Thrice through its seasons since Columbus sailed, Or more than once since Galileo died.
He took his proofs to Greenwich. "Sweep the skies Within this limited region now," he said. "You'll find your moving planet. I'm not more Than one degree in error." He left his proofs; But Airy, king of Greenwich, looked askance At unofficial genius in the young, And pigeon-holed that music of the spheres. Nine months he waited till Le Verrier, too, Pointed to that same region of the sky. Then Airy, opening his big sleepy lids, Bade Challis use his telescope,—too late, To make that honour all his country's own; For all Le Verrier's proofs were now with Galle Who, being German, had his star-charts ready And, in that region, found one needlepoint Had moved. A monster planet! Honour to France! Honour to England, too, the cry began, Who found it also, though she drowsed at Greenwich. So—as the French said, with some sting in it— "We gave the name of Neptune to our prize Because our neighbour England rules the sea." "Honour to all," say we; for, in these wars, Whoever wins a battle wins for all. But, most of all, honour to him who found The law that was a lantern to their feet,— Newton, the first whose thought could soar beyond The bounds of human vision and declare, "Thus saith the law of Nature and of God Concerning things invisible." This new world What was it but one harmony the more In that great music which himself had heard,— The chant of those reintegrated spheres Moving around their sun, while all things moved Around one deeper Light, revealed by law, Beyond all vision, past all understanding. Yet darkly shadowed forth for dreaming men On earth in music... Music, all comes back To music in the end. Then, in the gloom Of the Octagon Chapel, the dreamer lifted up His face, as if to all those great forebears. The quivering organ rolled upon the dusk His dream of that new symphony,—the sun Chanting to all his planets on their way While, stop to stop replying, height o'er height, His planets answered, voices of a dream:
Light, on the far faint planets that attend me! Light! But for me-the fury and the fire. My white-hot maelstroms, the red storms that rend me Can yield them still the harvest they desire,
I kiss with light their sunward-lifted faces. With dew-drenched flowers I crown their dusky brows. They praise me, lightly, from their pleasant places. Their birds belaud me, lightly, from their boughs.
And men, on lute and lyre, have breathed their pleasure. They have watched Apollo's golden chariot roll; Hymned his bright wheels, but never mine that measure A million leagues of flame from Pole to Pole.
Like harbour-lights the stars grow wide before me, I draw my worlds ten thousand leagues a day. Their far blue seas like April eyes adore me. They follow, dreaming, on my soundless way.
How should they know, who wheel around my burning, What torments bore them, or what power am I, I, that with all those worlds around me turning, Sail, every hour, from sky to unplumbed sky?
My planets, these live embers of my passion, These children of my hurricanes of flame, Flung thro' the night, for midnight to refashion, Praise, and forget, the splendour whence they came.
_Was it a dream that, in those bright dominions, Are other worlds that sing, with lives like mine, Lives that with beating hearts and broken pinions Aspire and fall, half-mortal, half-divine?
A grain of dust among those glittering legions— Am I, I only, touched with joy and tears? 0, silver sisters, from your azure regions, Breathe, once again, your music of the spheres:—_
A nearer sun, a rose of light arises, To clothe my glens with richer clouds of flowers, To paint my clouds with ever new surprises And wreathe with mist my rosier domes and towers;
Where now, to praise their gods, a throng assembles Whose hopes and dreams no sphere but mine has known. On other worlds the same warm sunlight trembles; But life, love, worship, these are mine alone.
And now, as dewdrops in the dawn-light glisten, Remote and cold—see—Earth and Venus roll. We signalled them—in music! Did they listen? Could they not hear those whispers of the soul?
May not their flesh have sealed that fount of glory, That pure ninth sense which told us of mankind? Can some deep sleep bereave them of our story As darkness hides all colours from the blind?
I that am sailing deeper skies and dimmer, Twelve million leagues beyond the path of Mars, Salute the sun, that cloudy pearl, whose glimmer Renews my spring and steers me through the stars.
Think not that I by distances am darkened. My months are years; yet light is in mine eyes. Mine eyes are not as yours. Mine ears have hearkened To sounds from earth. Five moons enchant my skies.
And deeper yet, like molten opal shining My belt of rainbow glory softly streams. And seven white moons around me intertwining Hide my vast beauty in a mist of dreams.
Huge is my orbit; and your flickering planet A mote that flecks your sun, that faint white star; Yet, in my magic pools, I still can scan it; For I have ways to look on worlds afar.
And deeper yet—twelve million leagues of twilight Divide mine empire even from Saturn's ken. Is there a world whose light is not as my light, A midget world of light-imprisoned men?
Shut from this inner vision that hath found me, They hunt bright shadows, painted to betray; And know not that, because their night hath drowned me, My giants walk with gods in boundless day.
Plunge through immensity anew and find me. Though scarce I see your sun,—that dying spark— Across a myriad leagues it still can bind me To my sure path, and steer me through the dark.
I sail through vastness, and its rhythms hold me, Though threescore earths could in my volume sleep! Whose are the might and music that enfold me? Whose is the law that guides me thro' the Deep?
I hear their song. They wheel around my burning! I know their orbits; but what path have I? I that with all those worlds around me turning Sail, every hour, ten thousand leagues of sky?
My planets, these live embers of my passion, And I, too, filled with music and with flame. Flung thro' the night, for midnight to refashion, Praise and forget the Splendour whence we came.
Once more upon the mountain's lonely height I woke, and round me heard the sea-like sound Of pine-woods, as the solemn night-wind washed Through the long canyons and precipitous gorges Where coyotes moaned and eagles made their nest. Once more, far, far below, I saw the lights Of distant cities, at the mountain's feet, Clustered like constellations.. . Over me, like the dome of some strange shrine, Housing our great new weapon of the sky, And moving on its axis like a moon Glimmered the new Uraniborg. Shadows passed Like monks, between it and the low grey walls That lodged them, like a fortress in the rocks, Their monastery of thought. A shadow neared me. I heard, once more, an eager living voice:
"Year after year, the slow sure records grow. I wish that old Copernicus could see How, through his truth, that once dispelled a dream, Broke the false axle-trees of heaven, destroyed All central certainty in the universe, And seemed to dwarf mankind, the spirit of man Laid hold on law, that Jacob's-ladder of light, And mounting, slowly, surely, step by step, Entered into its kingdom and its power. For just as Tycho's tables of the stars Within the bound of our own galaxy Led Kepler to the music of his laws, So, father and son, the Herschels, with their charts Of all those fire-mists, those faint nebulae, Those hosts of drifting universes, led Our new discoverers to yet mightier laws Enthroned above all worlds. We have not found them, And yet—only the intellectual fool Dreams in his heart that even his brain can tick In isolated measure, a centre of law, Amidst the whirl of universal chaos. For law descends from law. Though all the spheres Through all the abysmal depths of Space were blown Like dust before a colder darker wind Than even Lucretius dreamed, yet if one thought, One gleam of law within the mind of man, Lighten our darkness, there's a law beyond; And even that tempest of destruction moves To a lighter music, shatters its myriad worlds Only to gather them up, as a shattered wave Is gathered again into a rhythmic sea, Whose ebb and flow are but the pulse of Life, In its creative passion. The records grow Unceasingly, and each new grain of truth Is packed, like radium, with whole worlds of light. The eclipses timed in Babylon help us now To clock that gradual quickening of the moon, Ten seconds in a century. Who that wrote On those clay tablets could foresee his gift To future ages; dreamed that the groping mind, Dowered with so brief a life, could ever range With that divine precision through the abyss? Who, when that good Dutch spectacle-maker set Two lenses in a tube, to read the time Upon the distant clock-tower of his church, Could dream of this, our hundred-inch, that shows The snow upon the polar caps of Mars Whitening and darkening as the seasons change? Or who could dream when Galileo watched His moons of Jupiter, that from their eclipses And from that change in their appointed times, Now late, now early, as the watching earth Farther or nearer on its orbit rolled, The immeasurable speed of light at last Should be reduced to measure? Could Newton dream When, through his prism, he broke the pure white shaft Into that rainbow band, how men should gather And disentangle ray by delicate ray The colours of the stars,—not only those That burn in heaven, but those that long since perished, Those vanished suns that eyes can still behold, The strange lost stars whose light still reaches earth Although they died ten thousand years ago. Here, night by night, the innumerable heavens Speak to an eye more sensitive than man's, Write on the camera's delicate retina A thousand messages, lines of dark and bright That speak of elements unknown on earth. How shall men doubt, who thus can read the Book Of Judgment, and transcend both Space and Time, Analyse worlds that long since passed away, And scan the future, how shall they doubt His power From whom their power and all creation came?"