Part 1 out of 7
FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON
Table of Contents
I. The Gun Club
II. President Barbicane's Communication
III. Effect of the President's Communication
IV. Reply From the Observatory of Cambridge
V. The Romance of the Moon
VI. The Permissive Limits of Ignorance and Belief in the United States
VII. The Hymn of the Cannon-Ball
VIII. History of the Cannon
IX. The Question of the Powders
X. One Enemy _V._ Twenty-Five Millions of Friends
XI. Florida and Texas
XII. Urbi et Orbi
XIII. Stones Hill
XIV. Pickaxe and Trowel
XV. The Fete of the Casting
XVI. The Columbiad
XVII. A Telegraphic Dispatch
XVIII. The Passenger of the Atlanta
XIX. A Monster Meeting
XX. Attack and Riposte
XXI. How A Frenchman Manages An Affair
XXII. The New Citizen of the United States
XXIII. The Projectile-Vehicle
XXIV. The Telescope of the Rocky Mountains
XXV. Final Details
XXVII. Foul Weather
XXVIII. A New Star
A TRIP AROUND IT
Preliminary Chapter-- Recapitulating the First Part of
This Work, and Serving as a Preface to the Second
I. From Twenty Minutes Past Ten to Forty-Seven Minutes Past Ten P. M.
II. The First Half Hour
III. Their Place of Shelter
IV. A Little Algebra
V. The Cold of Space
VI. Question and Answer
VII. A Moment of Intoxication
VIII. At Seventy-Eight Thousand Five Hundred and Fourteen Leagues
IX. The Consequences of A Deviation
X. The Observers of the Moon
XI. Fancy and Reality
XII. Orographic Details
XIII. Lunar Landscapes
XIV. The Night of Three Hundred and Fifty-Four Hours and A Half
XV. Hyperbola or Parabola
XVI. The Southern Hemisphere
XVIII. Grave Questions
XIX. A Struggle Against the Impossible
XX. The Soundings of the Susquehanna
XXI. J. T. Maston Recalled
XXII. Recovered From the Sea
XXIII. The End
FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON
THE GUN CLUB
During the War of the Rebellion, a new and influential club was
established in the city of Baltimore in the State of Maryland.
It is well known with what energy the taste for military matters
became developed among that nation of ship-owners, shopkeepers,
and mechanics. Simple tradesmen jumped their counters to become
extemporized captains, colonels, and generals, without having
ever passed the School of Instruction at West Point;
nevertheless; they quickly rivaled their compeers of the old
continent, and, like them, carried off victories by dint of
lavish expenditure in ammunition, money, and men.
But the point in which the Americans singularly distanced the
Europeans was in the science of gunnery. Not, indeed, that
their weapons retained a higher degree of perfection than
theirs, but that they exhibited unheard-of dimensions, and
consequently attained hitherto unheard-of ranges. In point of
grazing, plunging, oblique, or enfilading, or point-blank
firing, the English, French, and Prussians have nothing to
learn; but their cannon, howitzers, and mortars are mere
pocket-pistols compared with the formidable engines of the
This fact need surprise no one. The Yankees, the first
mechanicians in the world, are engineers-- just as the Italians
are musicians and the Germans metaphysicians-- by right of birth.
Nothing is more natural, therefore, than to perceive them
applying their audacious ingenuity to the science of gunnery.
Witness the marvels of Parrott, Dahlgren, and Rodman.
The Armstrong, Palliser, and Beaulieu guns were compelled to bow
before their transatlantic rivals.
Now when an American has an idea, he directly seeks a second
American to share it. If there be three, they elect a president
and two secretaries. Given four, they name a keeper of records,
and the office is ready for work; five, they convene a general
meeting, and the club is fully constituted. So things were
managed in Baltimore. The inventor of a new cannon associated
himself with the caster and the borer. Thus was formed the
nucleus of the "Gun Club." In a single month after its formation
it numbered 1,833 effective members and 30,565 corresponding members.
One condition was imposed as a _sine qua non_ upon every
candidate for admission into the association, and that was the
condition of having designed, or (more or less) perfected a
cannon; or, in default of a cannon, at least a firearm of
some description. It may, however, be mentioned that mere
inventors of revolvers, fire-shooting carbines, and similar
small arms, met with little consideration. Artillerists always
commanded the chief place of favor.
The estimation in which these gentlemen were held, according to
one of the most scientific exponents of the Gun Club, was
"proportional to the masses of their guns, and in the direct
ratio of the square of the distances attained by their projectiles."
The Gun Club once founded, it is easy to conceive the result of
the inventive genius of the Americans. Their military weapons
attained colossal proportions, and their projectiles, exceeding
the prescribed limits, unfortunately occasionally cut in two
some unoffending pedestrians. These inventions, in fact, left
far in the rear the timid instruments of European artillery.
It is but fair to add that these Yankees, brave as they have
ever proved themselves to be, did not confine themselves to
theories and formulae, but that they paid heavily, _in propria
persona_, for their inventions. Among them were to be counted
officers of all ranks, from lieutenants to generals; military
men of every age, from those who were just making their _debut_
in the profession of arms up to those who had grown old in the
gun-carriage. Many had found their rest on the field of battle
whose names figured in the "Book of Honor" of the Gun Club; and
of those who made good their return the greater proportion bore
the marks of their indisputable valor. Crutches, wooden legs,
artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc jaws, silver craniums,
platinum noses, were all to be found in the collection; and it
was calculated by the great statistician Pitcairn that throughout
the Gun Club there was not quite one arm between four persons
and two legs between six.
Nevertheless, these valiant artillerists took no particular
account of these little facts, and felt justly proud when the
despatches of a battle returned the number of victims at
ten-fold the quantity of projectiles expended.
One day, however-- sad and melancholy day!-- peace was signed
between the survivors of the war; the thunder of the guns
gradually ceased, the mortars were silent, the howitzers were
muzzled for an indefinite period, the cannon, with muzzles
depressed, were returned into the arsenal, the shot were
repiled, all bloody reminiscences were effaced; the
cotton-plants grew luxuriantly in the well-manured fields, all
mourning garments were laid aside, together with grief; and the
Gun Club was relegated to profound inactivity.
Some few of the more advanced and inveterate theorists set
themselves again to work upon calculations regarding the laws
of projectiles. They reverted invariably to gigantic shells
and howitzers of unparalleled caliber. Still in default of
practical experience what was the value of mere theories?
Consequently, the clubrooms became deserted, the servants dozed
in the antechambers, the newspapers grew mouldy on the tables,
sounds of snoring came from dark corners, and the members of the
Gun Club, erstwhile so noisy in their seances, were reduced to
silence by this disastrous peace and gave themselves up wholly
to dreams of a Platonic kind of artillery.
"This is horrible!" said Tom Hunter one evening, while rapidly
carbonizing his wooden legs in the fireplace of the
smoking-room; "nothing to do! nothing to look forward to! what
a loathsome existence! When again shall the guns arouse us in
the morning with their delightful reports?"
"Those days are gone by," said jolly Bilsby, trying to extend
his missing arms. "It was delightful once upon a time!
One invented a gun, and hardly was it cast, when one hastened
to try it in the face of the enemy! Then one returned to camp
with a word of encouragement from Sherman or a friendly shake
of the hand from McClellan. But now the generals are gone
back to their counters; and in place of projectiles, they
despatch bales of cotton. By Jove, the future of gunnery in
America is lost!"
"Ay! and no war in prospect!" continued the famous James T.
Maston, scratching with his steel hook his gutta-percha cranium.
"Not a cloud on the horizon! and that too at such a critical
period in the progress of the science of artillery! Yes, gentlemen!
I who address you have myself this very morning perfected a
model (plan, section, elevation, etc.) of a mortar destined to
change all the conditions of warfare!"
"No! is it possible?" replied Tom Hunter, his thoughts reverting
involuntarily to a former invention of the Hon. J. T. Maston, by
which, at its first trial, he had succeeded in killing three
hundred and thirty-seven people.
"Fact!" replied he. "Still, what is the use of so many studies
worked out, so many difficulties vanquished? It's mere waste
of time! The New World seems to have made up its mind to live in
peace; and our bellicose _Tribune_ predicts some approaching
catastrophes arising out of this scandalous increase of population."
"Nevertheless," replied Colonel Blomsberry, "they are always
struggling in Europe to maintain the principle of nationalities."
"Well, there might be some field for enterprise down there; and
if they would accept our services----"
"What are you dreaming of?" screamed Bilsby; "work at gunnery
for the benefit of foreigners?"
"That would be better than doing nothing here," returned the colonel.
"Quite so," said J. T. Matson; "but still we need not dream of
"And why not?" demanded the colonel.
"Because their ideas of progress in the Old World are contrary
to our American habits of thought. Those fellows believe that
one can't become a general without having served first as an
ensign; which is as much as to say that one can't point a gun
without having first cast it oneself!"
"Ridiculous!" replied Tom Hunter, whittling with his bowie-knife
the arms of his easy chair; "but if that be the case there, all
that is left for us is to plant tobacco and distill whale-oil."
"What!" roared J. T. Maston, "shall we not employ these
remaining years of our life in perfecting firearms? Shall there
never be a fresh opportunity of trying the ranges of projectiles?
Shall the air never again be lighted with the glare of our guns?
No international difficulty ever arise to enable us to declare
war against some transatlantic power? Shall not the French sink
one of our steamers, or the English, in defiance of the rights
of nations, hang a few of our countrymen?"
"No such luck," replied Colonel Blomsberry; "nothing of the kind
is likely to happen; and even if it did, we should not profit by it.
American susceptibility is fast declining, and we are all going
to the dogs."
"It is too true," replied J. T. Maston, with fresh violence;
"there are a thousand grounds for fighting, and yet we don't fight.
We save up our arms and legs for the benefit of nations who don't
know what to do with them! But stop-- without going out of one's
way to find a cause for war-- did not North America once belong
to the English?"
"Undoubtedly," replied Tom Hunter, stamping his crutch with fury.
"Well, then," replied J. T. Maston, "why should not England in
her turn belong to the Americans?"
"It would be but just and fair," returned Colonel Blomsberry.
"Go and propose it to the President of the United States," cried
J. T. Maston, "and see how he will receive you."
"Bah!" growled Bilsby between the four teeth which the war had
left him; "that will never do!"
"By Jove!" cried J. T. Maston, "he mustn't count on my vote at
the next election!"
"Nor on ours," replied unanimously all the bellicose invalids.
"Meanwhile," replied J. T. Maston, "allow me to say that, if I
cannot get an opportunity to try my new mortars on a real field
of battle, I shall say good-by to the members of the Gun Club,
and go and bury myself in the prairies of Arkansas!"
"In that case we will accompany you," cried the others.
Matters were in this unfortunate condition, and the club was
threatened with approaching dissolution, when an unexpected
circumstance occurred to prevent so deplorable a catastrophe.
On the morrow after this conversation every member of the
association received a sealed circular couched in the
BALTIMORE, October 3.
The president of the Gun Club has the honor to inform his colleagues
that, at the meeting of the 5th instant, he will bring before
them a communication of an extremely interesting nature. He requests,
therefore, that they will make it convenient to attend in
accordance with the present invitation. Very cordially,
IMPEY BARBICANE, P.G.C.
PRESIDENT BARBICANE'S COMMUNICATION
On the 5th of October, at eight p.m., a dense crowd pressed
toward the saloons of the Gun Club at No. 21 Union Square.
All the members of the association resident in Baltimore attended
the invitation of their president. As regards the corresponding
members, notices were delivered by hundreds throughout the streets
of the city, and, large as was the great hall, it was quite
inadequate to accommodate the crowd of _savants_. They overflowed
into the adjoining rooms, down the narrow passages, into the
outer courtyards. There they ran against the vulgar herd who
pressed up to the doors, each struggling to reach the front ranks,
all eager to learn the nature of the important communication of
President Barbicane; all pushing, squeezing, crushing with that
perfect freedom of action which is so peculiar to the masses when
educated in ideas of "self-government."
On that evening a stranger who might have chanced to be in
Baltimore could not have gained admission for love or money into
the great hall. That was reserved exclusively for resident or
corresponding members; no one else could possibly have obtained
a place; and the city magnates, municipal councilors, and
"select men" were compelled to mingle with the mere townspeople
in order to catch stray bits of news from the interior.
Nevertheless the vast hall presented a curious spectacle.
Its immense area was singularly adapted to the purpose.
Lofty pillars formed of cannon, superposed upon huge mortars as a
base, supported the fine ironwork of the arches, a perfect piece
of cast-iron lacework. Trophies of blunderbuses, matchlocks,
arquebuses, carbines, all kinds of firearms, ancient and modern,
were picturesquely interlaced against the walls. The gas lit
up in full glare myriads of revolvers grouped in the form of
lustres, while groups of pistols, and candelabra formed of
muskets bound together, completed this magnificent display
of brilliance. Models of cannon, bronze castings, sights covered
with dents, plates battered by the shots of the Gun Club,
assortments of rammers and sponges, chaplets of shells, wreaths
of projectiles, garlands of howitzers-- in short, all the
apparatus of the artillerist, enchanted the eye by this
wonderful arrangement and induced a kind of belief that their
real purpose was ornamental rather than deadly.
At the further end of the saloon the president, assisted by four
secretaries, occupied a large platform. His chair, supported by
a carved gun-carriage, was modeled upon the ponderous proportions
of a 32-inch mortar. It was pointed at an angle of ninety degrees,
and suspended upon truncheons, so that the president could balance
himself upon it as upon a rocking-chair, a very agreeable fact in
the very hot weather. Upon the table (a huge iron plate supported
upon six carronades) stood an inkstand of exquisite elegance, made
of a beautifully chased Spanish piece, and a sonnette, which, when
required, could give forth a report equal to that of a revolver.
During violent debates this novel kind of bell scarcely sufficed
to drown the clamor of these excitable artillerists.
In front of the table benches arranged in zigzag form, like the
circumvallations of a retrenchment, formed a succession of
bastions and curtains set apart for the use of the members of
the club; and on this especial evening one might say, "All the
world was on the ramparts." The president was sufficiently well
known, however, for all to be assured that he would not put his
colleagues to discomfort without some very strong motive.
Impey Barbicane was a man of forty years of age, calm, cold,
austere; of a singularly serious and self-contained demeanor,
punctual as a chronometer, of imperturbable temper and immovable
character; by no means chivalrous, yet adventurous withal, and
always bringing practical ideas to bear upon the very rashest
enterprises; an essentially New Englander, a Northern colonist,
a descendant of the old anti-Stuart Roundheads, and the
implacable enemy of the gentlemen of the South, those ancient
cavaliers of the mother country. In a word, he was a Yankee to
Barbicane had made a large fortune as a timber merchant.
Being nominated director of artillery during the war, he proved
himself fertile in invention. Bold in his conceptions, he
contributed powerfully to the progress of that arm and gave an
immense impetus to experimental researches.
He was personage of the middle height, having, by a rare
exception in the Gun Club, all his limbs complete. His strongly
marked features seemed drawn by square and rule; and if it be
true that, in order to judge a man's character one must look at
his profile, Barbicane, so examined, exhibited the most certain
indications of energy, audacity, and _sang-froid_.
At this moment he was sitting in his armchair, silent, absorbed,
lost in reflection, sheltered under his high-crowned hat-- a
kind of black cylinder which always seems firmly screwed upon
the head of an American.
Just when the deep-toned clock in the great hall struck eight,
Barbicane, as if he had been set in motion by a spring, raised
himself up. A profound silence ensued, and the speaker, in a
somewhat emphatic tone of voice, commenced as follows:
"My brave, colleagues, too long already a paralyzing peace has
plunged the members of the Gun Club in deplorable inactivity.
After a period of years full of incidents we have been compelled
to abandon our labors, and to stop short on the road of progress.
I do not hesitate to state, baldly, that any war which would
recall us to arms would be welcome!" (Tremendous applause!)
"But war, gentlemen, is impossible under existing circumstances;
and, however we may desire it, many years may elapse before our
cannon shall again thunder in the field of battle. We must make
up our minds, then, to seek in another train of ideas some field
for the activity which we all pine for."
The meeting felt that the president was now approaching the
critical point, and redoubled their attention accordingly.
"For some months past, my brave colleagues," continued
Barbicane, "I have been asking myself whether, while confining
ourselves to our own particular objects, we could not enter upon
some grand experiment worthy of the nineteenth century; and
whether the progress of artillery science would not enable us to
carry it out to a successful issue. I have been considering,
working, calculating; and the result of my studies is the conviction
that we are safe to succeed in an enterprise which to any other
country would appear wholly impracticable. This project, the result
of long elaboration, is the object of my present communication.
It is worthy of yourselves, worthy of the antecedents of the Gun
Club; and it cannot fail to make some noise in the world."
A thrill of excitement ran through the meeting.
Barbicane, having by a rapid movement firmly fixed his hat upon
his head, calmly continued his harangue:
"There is no one among you, my brave colleagues, who has not
seen the Moon, or, at least, heard speak of it. Don't be
surprised if I am about to discourse to you regarding the Queen
of the Night. It is perhaps reserved for us to become the
Columbuses of this unknown world. Only enter into my plans, and
second me with all your power, and I will lead you to its
conquest, and its name shall be added to those of the thirty-six
states which compose this Great Union."
"Three cheers for the Moon!" roared the Gun Club, with one voice.
"The moon, gentlemen, has been carefully studied," continued
Barbicane; "her mass, density, and weight; her constitution,
motions, distance, as well as her place in the solar system,
have all been exactly determined. Selenographic charts have
been constructed with a perfection which equals, if it does not
even surpass, that of our terrestrial maps. Photography has
given us proofs of the incomparable beauty of our satellite; all
is known regarding the moon which mathematical science,
astronomy, geology, and optics can learn about her. But up to
the present moment no direct communication has been established
A violent movement of interest and surprise here greeted this
remark of the speaker.
"Permit me," he continued, "to recount to you briefly how
certain ardent spirits, starting on imaginary journeys, have
penetrated the secrets of our satellite. In the seventeenth
century a certain David Fabricius boasted of having seen with
his own eyes the inhabitants of the moon. In 1649 a Frenchman,
one Jean Baudoin, published a `Journey performed from the Earth
to the Moon by Domingo Gonzalez,' a Spanish adventurer. At the
same period Cyrano de Bergerac published that celebrated
`Journeys in the Moon' which met with such success in France.
Somewhat later another Frenchman, named Fontenelle, wrote `The
Plurality of Worlds,' a _chef-d'oeuvre_ of its time. About 1835
a small treatise, translated from the New York _American_, related
how Sir John Herschel, having been despatched to the Cape of
Good Hope for the purpose of making there some astronomical
calculations, had, by means of a telescope brought to perfection
by means of internal lighting, reduced the apparent distance of
the moon to eighty yards! He then distinctly perceived caverns
frequented by hippopotami, green mountains bordered by golden
lace-work, sheep with horns of ivory, a white species of deer
and inhabitants with membranous wings, like bats. This _brochure_,
the work of an American named Locke, had a great sale. But, to
bring this rapid sketch to a close, I will only add that a
certain Hans Pfaal, of Rotterdam, launching himself in a balloon
filled with a gas extracted from nitrogen, thirty-seven times
lighter than hydrogen, reached the moon after a passage of
nineteen hours. This journey, like all previous ones, was purely
imaginary; still, it was the work of a popular American author--
I mean Edgar Poe!"
"Cheers for Edgar Poe!" roared the assemblage, electrified by
their president's words.
"I have now enumerated," said Barbicane, "the experiments which
I call purely paper ones, and wholly insufficient to establish
serious relations with the Queen of the Night. Nevertheless, I
am bound to add that some practical geniuses have attempted to
establish actual communication with her. Thus, a few days ago,
a German geometrician proposed to send a scientific expedition
to the steppes of Siberia. There, on those vast plains, they
were to describe enormous geometric figures, drawn in characters
of reflecting luminosity, among which was the proposition
regarding the `square of the hypothenuse,' commonly called the
`Ass's Bridge' by the French. `Every intelligent being,' said
the geometrician, `must understand the scientific meaning of
that figure. The Selenites, do they exist, will respond by a
similar figure; and, a communication being thus once
established, it will be easy to form an alphabet which shall
enable us to converse with the inhabitants of the moon.' So
spoke the German geometrician; but his project was never put
into practice, and up to the present day there is no bond
in existence between the Earth and her satellite. It is
reserved for the practical genius of Americans to establish a
communication with the sidereal world. The means of arriving
thither are simple, easy, certain, infallible-- and that is the
purpose of my present proposal."
A storm of acclamations greeted these words. There was not a
single person in the whole audience who was not overcome,
carried away, lifted out of himself by the speaker's words!
Long-continued applause resounded from all sides.
As soon as the excitement had partially subsided, Barbicane
resumed his speech in a somewhat graver voice.
"You know," said he, "what progress artillery science has made
during the last few years, and what a degree of perfection
firearms of every kind have reached. Moreover, you are well
aware that, in general terms, the resisting power of cannon and
the expansive force of gunpowder are practically unlimited.
Well! starting from this principle, I ask myself whether,
supposing sufficient apparatus could be obtained constructed
upon the conditions of ascertained resistance, it might not be
possible to project a shot up to the moon?"
At these words a murmur of amazement escaped from a thousand
panting chests; then succeeded a moment of perfect silence,
resembling that profound stillness which precedes the bursting
of a thunderstorm. In point of fact, a thunderstorm did peal
forth, but it was the thunder of applause, or cries, and of
uproar which made the very hall tremble. The president
attempted to speak, but could not. It was fully ten minutes
before he could make himself heard.
"Suffer me to finish," he calmly continued. "I have looked at
the question in all its bearings, I have resolutely attacked it,
and by incontrovertible calculations I find that a projectile
endowed with an initial velocity of 12,000 yards per second, and
aimed at the moon, must necessarily reach it. I have the honor,
my brave colleagues, to propose a trial of this little experiment."
EFFECT OF THE PRESIDENT'S COMMUNICATION
It is impossible to describe the effect produced by the last
words of the honorable president-- the cries, the shouts, the
succession of roars, hurrahs, and all the varied vociferations
which the American language is capable of supplying. It was a
scene of indescribable confusion and uproar. They shouted, they
clapped, they stamped on the floor of the hall. All the weapons
in the museum discharged at once could not have more violently set
in motion the waves of sound. One need not be surprised at this.
There are some cannoneers nearly as noisy as their own guns.
Barbicane remained calm in the midst of this enthusiastic
clamor; perhaps he was desirous of addressing a few more words
to his colleagues, for by his gestures he demanded silence,
and his powerful alarum was worn out by its violent reports.
No attention, however, was paid to his request. He was presently
torn from his seat and passed from the hands of his faithful
colleagues into the arms of a no less excited crowd.
Nothing can astound an American. It has often been asserted
that the word "impossible" in not a French one. People have
evidently been deceived by the dictionary. In America, all is
easy, all is simple; and as for mechanical difficulties, they
are overcome before they arise. Between Barbicane's proposition
and its realization no true Yankee would have allowed even the
semblance of a difficulty to be possible. A thing with them is
no sooner said than done.
The triumphal progress of the president continued throughout
the evening. It was a regular torchlight procession. Irish, Germans,
French, Scotch, all the heterogeneous units which make up the
population of Maryland shouted in their respective vernaculars;
and the "vivas," "hurrahs," and "bravos" were intermingled in
Just at this crisis, as though she comprehended all this
agitation regarding herself, the moon shone forth with
serene splendor, eclipsing by her intense illumination all the
surrounding lights. The Yankees all turned their gaze toward
her resplendent orb, kissed their hands, called her by all kinds
of endearing names. Between eight o'clock and midnight one
optician in Jones'-Fall Street made his fortune by the sale of
Midnight arrived, and the enthusiasm showed no signs of diminution.
It spread equally among all classes of citizens-- men of science,
shopkeepers, merchants, porters, chair-men, as well as "greenhorns,"
were stirred in their innermost fibres. A national enterprise was
at stake. The whole city, high and low, the quays bordering the
Patapsco, the ships lying in the basins, disgorged a crowd drunk
with joy, gin, and whisky. Every one chattered, argued, discussed,
disputed, applauded, from the gentleman lounging upon the barroom
settee with his tumbler of sherry-cobbler before him down to the
waterman who got drunk upon his "knock-me-down" in the dingy taverns
of Fell Point.
About two A.M., however, the excitement began to subside.
President Barbicane reached his house, bruised, crushed, and
squeezed almost to a mummy. Hercules could not have resisted a
similar outbreak of enthusiasm. The crowd gradually deserted
the squares and streets. The four railways from Philadelphia
and Washington, Harrisburg and Wheeling, which converge at
Baltimore, whirled away the heterogeneous population to the four
corners of the United States, and the city subsided into
On the following day, thanks to the telegraphic wires, five
hundred newspapers and journals, daily, weekly, monthly, or
bi-monthly, all took up the question. They examined it under
all its different aspects, physical, meteorological, economical,
or moral, up to its bearings on politics or civilization.
They debated whether the moon was a finished world, or whether
it was destined to undergo any further transformation. Did it
resemble the earth at the period when the latter was destitute
as yet of an atmosphere? What kind of spectacle would its hidden
hemisphere present to our terrestrial spheroid? Granting that
the question at present was simply that of sending a projectile
up to the moon, every one must see that that involved the
commencement of a series of experiments. All must hope that
some day America would penetrate the deepest secrets of that
mysterious orb; and some even seemed to fear lest its conquest
should not sensibly derange the equilibrium of Europe.
The project once under discussion, not a single paragraph
suggested a doubt of its realization. All the papers,
pamphlets, reports-- all the journals published by the
scientific, literary, and religious societies enlarged upon its
advantages; and the Society of Natural History of Boston, the
Society of Science and Art of Albany, the Geographical and
Statistical Society of New York, the Philosophical Society of
Philadelphia, and the Smithsonian of Washington sent innumerable
letters of congratulation to the Gun Club, together with offers
of immediate assistance and money.
From that day forward Impey Barbicane became one of the greatest
citizens of the United States, a kind of Washington of science.
A single trait of feeling, taken from many others, will serve to
show the point which this homage of a whole people to a single
Some few days after this memorable meeting of the Gun Club, the
manager of an English company announced, at the Baltimore
theatre, the production of "Much ado about Nothing." But the
populace, seeing in that title an allusion damaging to
Barbicane's project, broke into the auditorium, smashed the
benches, and compelled the unlucky director to alter his playbill.
Being a sensible man, he bowed to the public will and replaced
the offending comedy by "As you like it"; and for many weeks he
realized fabulous profits.
REPLY FROM THE OBSERVATORY OF CAMBRIDGE
Barbicane, however, lost not one moment amid all the enthusiasm
of which he had become the object. His first care was to
reassemble his colleagues in the board-room of the Gun Club.
There, after some discussion, it was agreed to consult the
astronomers regarding the astronomical part of the enterprise.
Their reply once ascertained, they could then discuss the
mechanical means, and nothing should be wanting to ensure the
success of this great experiment.
A note couched in precise terms, containing special
interrogatories, was then drawn up and addressed to the
Observatory of Cambridge in Massachusetts. This city, where the
first university of the United States was founded, is justly
celebrated for its astronomical staff. There are to be found
assembled all the most eminent men of science. Here is to be
seen at work that powerful telescope which enabled Bond to
resolve the nebula of Andromeda, and Clarke to discover the
satellite of Sirius. This celebrated institution fully justified
on all points the confidence reposed in it by the Gun Club.
So, after two days, the reply so impatiently awaited was placed
in the hands of President Barbicane.
It was couched in the following terms:
_The Director of the Cambridge Observatory to the President
of the Gun Club at Baltimore._
CAMBRIDGE, October 7.
On the receipt of your favor of the 6th instant, addressed to
the Observatory of Cambridge in the name of the members of the
Baltimore Gun Club, our staff was immediately called together,
and it was judged expedient to reply as follows:
The questions which have been proposed to it are these--
"1. Is it possible to transmit a projectile up to the moon?
"2. What is the exact distance which separates the earth from
"3. What will be the period of transit of the projectile when
endowed with sufficient initial velocity? and, consequently, at
what moment ought it to be discharged in order that it may touch
the moon at a particular point?
"4. At what precise moment will the moon present herself in the
most favorable position to be reached by the projectile?
"5. What point in the heavens ought the cannon to be aimed at
which is intended to discharge the projectile?
"6. What place will the moon occupy in the heavens at the moment
of the projectile's departure?"
Regarding the _first_ question, "Is it possible to transmit a
projectile up to the moon?"
_Answer._-- Yes; provided it possess an initial velocity of
1,200 yards per second; calculations prove that to be sufficient.
In proportion as we recede from the earth the action of gravitation
diminishes in the inverse ratio of the square of the distance;
that is to say, _at three times a given distance the action is
nine times less._ Consequently, the weight of a shot will decrease,
and will become reduced to _zero_ at the instant that the attraction
of the moon exactly counterpoises that of the earth; that is to say
at 47/52 of its passage. At that instant the projectile will
have no weight whatever; and, if it passes that point, it will
fall into the moon by the sole effect of the lunar attraction.
The _theoretical possibility_ of the experiment is therefore
absolutely demonstrated; its _success_ must depend upon the power
of the engine employed.
As to the _second_ question, "What is the exact distance which
separates the earth from its satellite?"
_Answer._-- The moon does not describe a _circle_ round the
earth, but rather an _ellipse_, of which our earth occupies one
of the _foci_; the consequence, therefore, is, that at certain
times it approaches nearer to, and at others it recedes farther
from, the earth; in astronomical language, it is at one time in
_apogee_, at another in _perigee_. Now the difference between
its greatest and its least distance is too considerable to be
left out of consideration. In point of fact, in its apogee the
moon is 247,552 miles, and in its perigee, 218,657 miles only
distant; a fact which makes a difference of 28,895 miles, or
more than one-ninth of the entire distance. The perigee
distance, therefore, is that which ought to serve as the basis
of all calculations.
To the _third_ question.
_Answer._-- If the shot should preserve continuously its initial
velocity of 12,000 yards per second, it would require little
more than nine hours to reach its destination; but, inasmuch as
that initial velocity will be continually decreasing, it will
occupy 300,000 seconds, that is 83hrs. 20m. in reaching the
point where the attraction of the earth and moon will be _in
equilibrio_. From this point it will fall into the moon in
50,000 seconds, or 13hrs. 53m. 20sec. It will be desirable,
therefore, to discharge it 97hrs. 13m. 20sec. before the arrival
of the moon at the point aimed at.
Regarding question _four_, "At what precise moment will the moon
present herself in the most favorable position, etc.?"
_Answer._-- After what has been said above, it will be
necessary, first of all, to choose the period when the moon will
be in perigee, and _also_ the moment when she will be crossing
the zenith, which latter event will further diminish the entire
distance by a length equal to the radius of the earth, _i. e._
3,919 miles; the result of which will be that the final passage
remaining to be accomplished will be 214,976 miles. But although
the moon passes her perigee every month, she does not reach the
zenith always _at exactly the same moment_. She does not appear
under these two conditions simultaneously, except at long
intervals of time. It will be necessary, therefore, to wait for
the moment when her passage in perigee shall coincide with that
in the zenith. Now, by a fortunate circumstance, on the 4th of
December in the ensuing year the moon _will_ present these
two conditions. At midnight she will be in perigee, that is,
at her shortest distance from the earth, and at the same moment
she will be crossing the zenith.
On the _fifth_ question, "At what point in the heavens ought the
cannon to be aimed?"
_Answer._-- The preceding remarks being admitted, the cannon
ought to be pointed to the zenith of the place. Its fire,
therefore, will be perpendicular to the plane of the horizon;
and the projectile will soonest pass beyond the range of the
terrestrial attraction. But, in order that the moon should
reach the zenith of a given place, it is necessary that the
place should not exceed in latitude the declination of the
luminary; in other words, it must be comprised within the
degrees 0@ and 28@ of lat. N. or S. In every other spot the fire
must necessarily be oblique, which would seriously militate
against the success of the experiment.
As to the _sixth_ question, "What place will the moon occupy in
the heavens at the moment of the projectile's departure?"
_Answer._-- At the moment when the projectile shall be discharged
into space, the moon, which travels daily forward 13@ 10' 35'',
will be distant from the zenith point by four times that quantity,
_i. e._ by 52@ 41' 20'', a space which corresponds to the path
which she will describe during the entire journey of the projectile.
But, inasmuch as it is equally necessary to take into account the
deviation which the rotary motion of the earth will impart to the
shot, and as the shot cannot reach the moon until after a deviation
equal to 16 radii of the earth, which, calculated upon the moon's
orbit, are equal to about eleven degrees, it becomes necessary to
add these eleven degrees to those which express the retardation of
the moon just mentioned: that is to say, in round numbers, about
sixty-four degrees. Consequently, at the moment of firing the
visual radius applied to the moon will describe, with the vertical
line of the place, an angle of sixty-four degrees.
These are our answers to the questions proposed to the
Observatory of Cambridge by the members of the Gun Club:
To sum up--
1st. The cannon ought to be planted in a country situated
between 0@ and 28@ of N. or S. lat.
2nd. It ought to be pointed directly toward the zenith of the place.
3rd. The projectile ought to be propelled with an initial
velocity of 12,000 yards per second.
4th. It ought to be discharged at 10hrs. 46m. 40sec. of the 1st
of December of the ensuing year.
5th. It will meet the moon four days after its discharge,
precisely at midnight on the 4th of December, at the moment of
its transit across the zenith.
The members of the Gun Club ought, therefore, without delay, to
commence the works necessary for such an experiment, and to be
prepared to set to work at the moment determined upon; for, if
they should suffer this 4th of December to go by, they will not
find the moon again under the same conditions of perigee and of
zenith until eighteen years and eleven days afterward.
The staff of the Cambridge Observatory place themselves entirely
at their disposal in respect of all questions of theoretical
astronomy; and herewith add their congratulations to those of
all the rest of America.
For the Astronomical Staff,
J. M. BELFAST,
_Director of the Observatory of Cambridge._
THE ROMANCE OF THE MOON
An observer endued with an infinite range of vision, and placed
in that unknown center around which the entire world revolves,
might have beheld myriads of atoms filling all space during the
chaotic epoch of the universe. Little by little, as ages went
on, a change took place; a general law of attraction manifested
itself, to which the hitherto errant atoms became obedient:
these atoms combined together chemically according to their
affinities, formed themselves into molecules, and composed those
nebulous masses with which the depths of the heavens are strewed.
These masses became immediately endued with a rotary motion
around their own central point. This center, formed of
indefinite molecules, began to revolve around its own axis
during its gradual condensation; then, following the immutable
laws of mechanics, in proportion as its bulk diminished by
condensation, its rotary motion became accelerated, and these
two effects continuing, the result was the formation of one
principal star, the center of the nebulous mass.
By attentively watching, the observer would then have perceived
the other molecules of the mass, following the example of this
central star, become likewise condensed by gradually accelerated
rotation, and gravitating round it in the shape of innumerable stars.
Thus was formed the _Nebulae_, of which astronomers have reckoned
up nearly 5,000.
Among these 5,000 nebulae there is one which has received the
name of the Milky Way, and which contains eighteen millions of
stars, each of which has become the center of a solar world.
If the observer had then specially directed his attention to one
of the more humble and less brilliant of these stellar bodies,
a star of the fourth class, that which is arrogantly called the
Sun, all the phenomena to which the formation of the Universe is to
be ascribed would have been successively fulfilled before his eyes.
In fact, he would have perceived this sun, as yet in the gaseous
state, and composed of moving molecules, revolving round its axis
in order to accomplish its work of concentration. This motion,
faithful to the laws of mechanics, would have been accelerated
with the diminution of its volume; and a moment would have arrived
when the centrifugal force would have overpowered the centripetal,
which causes the molecules all to tend toward the center.
Another phenomenon would now have passed before the observer's
eye, and the molecules situated on the plane of the equator,
escaping like a stone from a sling of which the cord had
suddenly snapped, would have formed around the sun sundry
concentric rings resembling that of Saturn. In their turn,
again, these rings of cosmical matter, excited by a rotary
motion about the central mass, would have been broken up and
decomposed into secondary nebulosities, that is to say,
into planets. Similarly he would have observed these planets
throw off one or more rings each, which became the origin of the
secondary bodies which we call satellites.
Thus, then, advancing from atom to molecule, from molecule to
nebulous mass, from that to principal star, from star to sun,
from sun to planet, and hence to satellite, we have the whole
series of transformations undergone by the heavenly bodies
during the first days of the world.
Now, of those attendant bodies which the sun maintains in their
elliptical orbits by the great law of gravitation, some few in
turn possess satellites. Uranus has eight, Saturn eight, Jupiter
four, Neptune possibly three, and the Earth one. This last, one
of the least important of the entire solar system, we call the
Moon; and it is she whom the daring genius of the Americans
professed their intention of conquering.
The moon, by her comparative proximity, and the constantly
varying appearances produced by her several phases, has always
occupied a considerable share of the attention of the
inhabitants of the earth.
From the time of Thales of Miletus, in the fifth century B.C.,
down to that of Copernicus in the fifteenth and Tycho Brahe in
the sixteenth century A.D., observations have been from time to
time carried on with more or less correctness, until in the
present day the altitudes of the lunar mountains have been
determined with exactitude. Galileo explained the phenomena of
the lunar light produced during certain of her phases by the
existence of mountains, to which he assigned a mean altitude of
27,000 feet. After him Hevelius, an astronomer of Dantzic,
reduced the highest elevations to 15,000 feet; but the
calculations of Riccioli brought them up again to 21,000 feet.
At the close of the eighteenth century Herschel, armed with a powerful
telescope, considerably reduced the preceding measurements.
He assigned a height of 11,400 feet to the maximum elevations,
and reduced the mean of the different altitudes to little more
than 2,400 feet. But Herschel's calculations were in their turn
corrected by the observations of Halley, Nasmyth, Bianchini,
Gruithuysen, and others; but it was reserved for the labors of
Boeer and Maedler finally to solve the question. They succeeded
in measuring 1,905 different elevations, of which six exceed
15,000 feet, and twenty-two exceed 14,400 feet. The highest
summit of all towers to a height of 22,606 feet above the surface
of the lunar disc. At the same period the examination of the moon
was completed. She appeared completely riddled with craters, and
her essentially volcanic character was apparent at each observation.
By the absence of refraction in the rays of the planets occulted
by her we conclude that she is absolutely devoid of an atmosphere.
The absence of air entails the absence of water. It became,
therefore, manifest that the Selenites, to support life under
such conditions, must possess a special organization of their
own, must differ remarkably from the inhabitants of the earth.
At length, thanks to modern art, instruments of still higher
perfection searched the moon without intermission, not leaving
a single point of her surface unexplored; and notwithstanding
that her diameter measures 2,150 miles, her surface equals the
one-fifteenth part of that of our globe, and her bulk the
one-forty-ninth part of that of the terrestrial spheroid-- not
one of her secrets was able to escape the eyes of the
astronomers; and these skillful men of science carried to an
even greater degree their prodigious observations.
Thus they remarked that, during full moon, the disc appeared
scored in certain parts with white lines; and, during the
phases, with black. On prosecuting the study of these with
still greater precision, they succeeded in obtaining an exact
account of the nature of these lines. They were long and narrow
furrows sunk between parallel ridges, bordering generally upon
the edges of the craters. Their length varied between ten and 100
miles, and their width was about 1,600 yards. Astronomers called
them chasms, but they could not get any further. Whether these
chasms were the dried-up beds of ancient rivers or not they were
unable thoroughly to ascertain.
The Americans, among others, hoped one day or other to
determine this geological question. They also undertook to
examine the true nature of that system of parallel ramparts
discovered on the moon's surface by Gruithuysen, a learned
professor of Munich, who considered them to be "a system of
fortifications thrown up by the Selenitic engineers." These two
points, yet obscure, as well as others, no doubt, could not be
definitely settled except by direct communication with the moon.
Regarding the degree of intensity of its light, there was
nothing more to learn on this point. It was known that it is
300,000 times weaker than that of the sun, and that its heat has
no appreciable effect upon the thermometer. As to the
phenomenon known as the "ashy light," it is explained naturally
by the effect of the transmission of the solar rays from the
earth to the moon, which give the appearance of completeness to
the lunar disc, while it presents itself under the crescent form
during its first and last phases.
Such was the state of knowledge acquired regarding the earth's
satellite, which the Gun Club undertook to perfect in all its
aspects, cosmographic, geological, political, and moral.
PERMISSIVE LIMITS OF IGNORANCE AND BELIEF IN THE UNITED STATES
The immediate result of Barbicane's proposition was to place upon
the orders of the day all the astronomical facts relative to the
Queen of the Night. Everybody set to work to study assiduously.
One would have thought that the moon had just appeared for the
first time, and that no one had ever before caught a glimpse of
her in the heavens. The papers revived all the old anecdotes in
which the "sun of the wolves" played a part; they recalled the
influences which the ignorance of past ages ascribed to her; in
short, all America was seized with selenomania, or had become moon-mad.
The scientific journals, for their part, dealt more especially with
the questions which touched upon the enterprise of the Gun Club.
The letter of the Observatory of Cambridge was published by them,
and commented upon with unreserved approval.
Until that time most people had been ignorant of the mode in which
the distance which separates the moon from the earth is calculated.
They took advantage of this fact to explain to them that this
distance was obtained by measuring the parallax of the moon.
The term parallax proving "caviare to the general," they further
explained that it meant the angle formed by the inclination of two
straight lines drawn from either extremity of the earth's radius
to the moon. On doubts being expressed as to the correctness of
this method, they immediately proved that not only was the mean
distance 234,347 miles, but that astronomers could not possibly
be in error in their estimate by more than seventy miles either way.
To those who were not familiar with the motions of the moon,
they demonstrated that she possesses two distinct motions, the
first being that of rotation upon her axis, the second being
that of revolution round the earth, accomplishing both together
in an equal period of time, that is to say, in twenty-seven and
The motion of rotation is that which produces day and night on
the surface of the moon; save that there is only one day and one
night in the lunar month, each lasting three hundred and
fifty-four and one-third hours. But, happily for her, the face
turned toward the terrestrial globe is illuminated by it with an
intensity equal to that of fourteen moons. As to the other
face, always invisible to us, it has of necessity three hundred
and fifty-four hours of absolute night, tempered only by that
"pale glimmer which falls upon it from the stars."
Some well-intentioned, but rather obstinate persons, could not
at first comprehend how, if the moon displays invariably the
same face to the earth during her revolution, she can describe
one turn round herself. To such they answered, "Go into your
dining-room, and walk round the table in such a way as to always
keep your face turned toward the center; by the time you will
have achieved one complete round you will have completed one
turn around yourself, since your eye will have traversed
successively every point of the room. Well, then, the room is
the heavens, the table is the earth, and the moon is yourself."
And they would go away delighted.
So, then the moon displays invariably the same face to the
earth; nevertheless, to be quite exact, it is necessary to add
that, in consequence of certain fluctuations of north and south,
and of west and east, termed her libration, she permits rather
more than half, that is to say, five-sevenths, to be seen.
As soon as the ignoramuses came to understand as much as the
director of the observatory himself knew, they began to worry
themselves regarding her revolution round the earth, whereupon
twenty scientific reviews immediately came to the rescue.
They pointed out to them that the firmament, with its infinitude
of stars, may be considered as one vast dial-plate, upon which the
moon travels, indicating the true time to all the inhabitants of
the earth; that it is during this movement that the Queen of
Night exhibits her different phases; that the moon is _full_
when she is in _opposition_ with the sun, that is when the three
bodies are on the same straight line, the earth occupying the
center; that she is _new_ when she is in _conjunction_ with the
sun, that is, when she is between it and the earth; and, lastly
that she is in her _first_ or _last_ quarter, when she makes
with the sun and the earth an angle of which she herself occupies
Regarding the altitude which the moon attains above the horizon,
the letter of the Cambridge Observatory had said all that was to
be said in this respect. Every one knew that this altitude
varies according to the latitude of the observer. But the only
zones of the globe in which the moon passes the zenith, that is,
the point directly over the head of the spectator, are of
necessity comprised between the twenty-eighth parallels and
the equator. Hence the importance of the advice to try the
experiment upon some point of that part of the globe, in order
that the projectile might be discharged perpendicularly, and so
the soonest escape the action of gravitation. This was an
essential condition to the success of the enterprise, and
continued actively to engage the public attention.
Regarding the path described by the moon in her revolution round
the earth, the Cambridge Observatory had demonstrated that this
path is a re-entering curve, not a perfect circle, but an
ellipse, of which the earth occupies one of the _foci_. It was
also well understood that it is farthest removed from the earth
during its _apogee_, and approaches most nearly to it at its _perigee_.
Such was then the extent of knowledge possessed by every
American on the subject, and of which no one could decently
profess ignorance. Still, while these principles were being
rapidly disseminated many errors and illusory fears proved less
easy to eradicate.
For instance, some worthy persons maintained that the moon was
an ancient comet which, in describing its elongated orbit round
the sun, happened to pass near the earth, and became confined
within her circle of attraction. These drawing-room astronomers
professed to explain the charred aspect of the moon-- a disaster
which they attributed to the intensity of the solar heat; only,
on being reminded that comets have an atmosphere, and that the
moon has little or none, they were fairly at a loss for a reply.
Others again, belonging to the doubting class, expressed certain
fears as to the position of the moon. They had heard it said
that, according to observations made in the time of the Caliphs,
her revolution had become accelerated in a certain degree.
Hence they concluded, logically enough, that an acceleration of
motion ought to be accompanied by a corresponding diminution in
the distance separating the two bodies; and that, supposing the
double effect to be continued to infinity, the moon would end by
one day falling into the earth. However, they became reassured
as to the fate of future generations on being apprised that,
according to the calculations of Laplace, this acceleration of
motion is confined within very restricted limits, and that a
proportional diminution of speed will be certain to succeed it.
So, then, the stability of the solar system would not be deranged
in ages to come.
There remains but the third class, the superstitious.
These worthies were not content merely to rest in ignorance;
they must know all about things which had no existence whatever,
and as to the moon, they had long known all about her. One set
regarded her disc as a polished mirror, by means of which people
could see each other from different points of the earth and
interchange their thoughts. Another set pretended that out of
one thousand new moons that had been observed, nine hundred and
fifty had been attended with remarkable disturbances, such as
cataclysms, revolutions, earthquakes, the deluge, etc. Then they
believed in some mysterious influence exercised by her over human
destinies-- that every Selenite was attached to some inhabitant
of the earth by a tie of sympathy; they maintained that the
entire vital system is subject to her control, etc. But in time
the majority renounced these vulgar errors, and espoused the true
side of the question. As for the Yankees, they had no other
ambition than to take possession of this new continent of the sky,
and to plant upon the summit of its highest elevation the star-
spangled banner of the United States of America.
THE HYMN OF THE CANNON-BALL
The Observatory of Cambridge in its memorable letter had treated the
question from a purely astronomical point of view. The mechanical
part still remained.
President Barbicane had, without loss of time, nominated a
working committee of the Gun Club. The duty of this committee
was to resolve the three grand questions of the cannon, the
projectile, and the powder. It was composed of four members of
great technical knowledge, Barbicane (with a casting vote in
case of equality), General Morgan, Major Elphinstone, and J. T.
Maston, to whom were confided the functions of secretary. On the
8th of October the committee met at the house of President
Barbicane, 3 Republican Street. The meeting was opened by the
"Gentlemen," said he, "we have to resolve one of the most
important problems in the whole of the noble science of gunnery.
It might appear, perhaps, the most logical course to devote our
first meeting to the discussion of the engine to be employed.
Nevertheless, after mature consideration, it has appeared to me
that the question of the projectile must take precedence of that
of the cannon, and that the dimensions of the latter must
necessarily depend on those of the former."
"Suffer me to say a word," here broke in J. T. Maston.
Permission having been granted, "Gentlemen," said he with an
inspired accent, "our president is right in placing the question
of the projectile above all others. The ball we are about to
discharge at the moon is our ambassador to her, and I wish to
consider it from a moral point of view. The cannon-ball,
gentlemen, to my mind, is the most magnificent manifestation of
human power. If Providence has created the stars and the planets,
man has called the cannon-ball into existence. Let Providence
claim the swiftness of electricity and of light, of the stars,
the comets, and the planets, of wind and sound-- we claim to
have invented the swiftness of the cannon-ball, a hundred times
superior to that of the swiftest horses or railway train.
How glorious will be the moment when, infinitely exceeding all
hitherto attained velocities, we shall launch our new projectile
with the rapidity of seven miles a second! Shall it not,
gentlemen-- shall it not be received up there with the honors
due to a terrestrial ambassador?"
Overcome with emotion the orator sat down and applied himself to
a huge plate of sandwiches before him.
"And now," said Barbicane, "let us quit the domain of poetry and
come direct to the question."
"By all means," replied the members, each with his mouth full
"The problem before us," continued the president, "is how to
communicate to a projectile a velocity of 12,000 yards per second.
Let us at present examine the velocities hitherto attained.
General Morgan will be able to enlighten us on this point."
"And the more easily," replied the general, "that during the war
I was a member of the committee of experiments. I may say,
then, that the 100-pounder Dahlgrens, which carried a distance
of 5,000 yards, impressed upon their projectile an initial
velocity of 500 yards a second. The Rodman Columbiad threw a
shot weighing half a ton a distance of six miles, with a
velocity of 800 yards per second-- a result which Armstrong and
Palisser have never obtained in England."
"This," replied Barbicane, "is, I believe, the maximum velocity
"It is so," replied the general.
"Ah!" groaned J. T. Maston, "if my mortar had not burst----"
"Yes," quietly replied Barbicane, "but it did burst. We must
take, then, for our starting point, this velocity of 800 yards.
We must increase it twenty-fold. Now, reserving for another
discussion the means of producing this velocity, I will call
your attention to the dimensions which it will be proper to
assign to the shot. You understand that we have nothing to do
here with projectiles weighing at most but half a ton."
"Why not?" demanded the major.
"Because the shot," quickly replied J. T. Maston, "must be big
enough to attract the attention of the inhabitants of the moon,
if there are any?"
"Yes," replied Barbicane, "and for another reason more important still."
"What mean you?" asked the major.
"I mean that it is not enough to discharge a projectile, and
then take no further notice of it; we must follow it throughout
its course, up to the moment when it shall reach its goal."
"What?" shouted the general and the major in great surprise.
"Undoubtedly," replied Barbicane composedly, "or our experiment
would produce no result."
"But then," replied the major, "you will have to give this
projectile enormous dimensions."
"No! Be so good as to listen. You know that optical
instruments have acquired great perfection; with certain
instruments we have succeeded in obtaining enlargements of 6,000
times and reducing the moon to within forty miles' distance.
Now, at this distance, any objects sixty feet square would be
"If, then, the penetrative power of telescopes has not been
further increased, it is because that power detracts from their
light; and the moon, which is but a reflecting mirror, does not
give back sufficient light to enable us to perceive objects of
"Well, then, what do you propose to do?" asked the general.
"Would you give your projectile a diameter of sixty feet?"
"Do you intend, then, to increase the luminous power of the moon?"
"Exactly so. If I can succeed in diminishing the density of the
atmosphere through which the moon's light has to travel I shall
have rendered her light more intense. To effect that object it
will be enough to establish a telescope on some elevated mountain.
That is what we will do."
"I give it up," answered the major. "You have such a way of
simplifying things. And what enlargement do you expect to
obtain in this way?"
"One of 48,000 times, which should bring the moon within an
apparent distance of five miles; and, in order to be visible,
objects need not have a diameter of more than nine feet."
"So, then," cried J. T. Maston, "our projectile need not be more
than nine feet in diameter."
"Let me observe, however," interrupted Major Elphinstone, "this
will involve a weight such as----"
"My dear major," replied Barbicane, "before discussing its
weight permit me to enumerate some of the marvels which our
ancestors have achieved in this respect. I don't mean to
pretend that the science of gunnery has not advanced, but it
is as well to bear in mind that during the middle ages they
obtained results more surprising, I will venture to say, than ours.
For instance, during the siege of Constantinople by Mahomet II.,
in 1453, stone shot of 1,900 pounds weight were employed. At Malta,
in the time of the knights, there was a gun of the fortress of St.
Elmo which threw a projectile weighing 2,500 pounds. And, now,
what is the extent of what we have seen ourselves? Armstrong guns
discharging shot of 500 pounds, and the Rodman guns projectiles
of half a ton! It seems, then, that if projectiles have gained
in range, they have lost far more in weight. Now, if we turn our
efforts in that direction, we ought to arrive, with the progress
on science, at ten times the weight of the shot of Mahomet II.
and the Knights of Malta."
"Clearly," replied the major; "but what metal do you calculate
"Simply cast iron," said General Morgan.
"But," interrupted the major, "since the weight of a shot is
proportionate to its volume, an iron ball of nine feet in
diameter would be of tremendous weight."
"Yes, if it were solid, not if it were hollow."
"Hollow? then it would be a shell?"
"Yes, a shell," replied Barbicane; "decidely it must be. A solid
shot of 108 inches would weigh more than 200,000 pounds, a weight
evidently far too great. Still, as we must reserve a certain
stability for our projectile, I propose to give it a weight of
"What, then, will be the thickness of the sides?" asked the major.
"If we follow the usual proportion," replied Morgan, "a diameter
of 108 inches would require sides of two feet thickness, or less."
"That would be too much," replied Barbicane; "for you will
observe that the question is not that of a shot intended to
pierce an iron plate; it will suffice to give it sides strong
enough to resist the pressure of the gas. The problem,
therefore, is this-- What thickness ought a cast-iron shell to
have in order not to weight more than 20,000 pounds? Our clever
secretary will soon enlighten us upon this point."
"Nothing easier." replied the worthy secretary of the committee;
and, rapidly tracing a few algebraical formulae upon paper,
among which _n_^2 and _x_^2 frequently appeared, he presently said:
"The sides will require a thickness of less than two inches."
"Will that be enough?" asked the major doubtfully.
"Clearly not!" replied the president.
"What is to be done, then?" said Elphinstone, with a puzzled air.
"Employ another metal instead of iron."
"Copper?" said Morgan.
"No! that would be too heavy. I have better than that to offer."
"What then?" asked the major.
"Aluminum!" replied Barbicane.
"Aluminum?" cried his three colleagues in chorus.
"Unquestionably, my friends. This valuable metal possesses the
whiteness of silver, the indestructibility of gold, the tenacity
of iron, the fusibility of copper, the lightness of glass. It is
easily wrought, is very widely distributed, forming the base of
most of the rocks, is three times lighter than iron, and seems to
have been created for the express purpose of furnishing us with
the material for our projectile."
"But, my dear president," said the major, "is not the cost price
of aluminum extremely high?"
"It was so at its first discovery, but it has fallen now to nine
dollars a pound."
"But still, nine dollars a pound!" replied the major, who was
not willing readily to give in; "even that is an enormous price."
"Undoubtedly, my dear major; but not beyond our reach."
"What will the projectile weigh then?" asked Morgan.
"Here is the result of my calculations," replied Barbicane.
"A shot of 108 inches in diameter, and twelve inches in
thickness, would weigh, in cast-iron, 67,440 pounds; cast in
aluminum, its weight will be reduced to 19,250 pounds."
"Capital!" cried the major; "but do you know that, at nine
dollars a pound, this projectile will cost----"
"One hundred and seventy-three thousand and fifty dollars ($173,050).
I know it quite well. But fear not, my friends; the money will not
be wanting for our enterprise. I will answer for it. Now what say
you to aluminum, gentlemen?"
"Adopted!" replied the three members of the committee. So ended
the first meeting. The question of the projectile was
HISTORY OF THE CANNON
The resolutions passed at the last meeting produced a great
effect out of doors. Timid people took fright at the idea of
a shot weighing 20,000 pounds being launched into space; they
asked what cannon could ever transmit a sufficient velocity to
such a mighty mass. The minutes of the second meeting were
destined triumphantly to answer such questions. The following
evening the discussion was renewed.
"My dear colleagues," said Barbicane, without further preamble,
"the subject now before us is the construction of the engine,
its length, its composition, and its weight. It is probable
that we shall end by giving it gigantic dimensions; but however
great may be the difficulties in the way, our mechanical genius
will readily surmount them. Be good enough, then, to give me
your attention, and do not hesitate to make objections at the close.
I have no fear of them. The problem before us is how to communicate
an initial force of 12,000 yards per second to a shell of 108
inches in diameter, weighing 20,000 pounds. Now when a projectile
is launched into space, what happens to it? It is acted upon by
three independent forces: the resistance of the air, the attraction
of the earth, and the force of impulsion with which it is endowed.
Let us examine these three forces. The resistance of the air is of
little importance. The atmosphere of the earth does not exceed
forty miles. Now, with the given rapidity, the projectile will
have traversed this in five seconds, and the period is too brief
for the resistance of the medium to be regarded otherwise than
as insignificant. Proceding, then, to the attraction of the earth,
that is, the weight of the shell, we know that this weight will
diminish in the inverse ratio of the square of the distance.
When a body left to itself falls to the surface of the earth, it
falls five feet in the first second; and if the same body were
removed 257,542 miles further off, in other words, to the distance
of the moon, its fall would be reduced to about half a line in the
first second. That is almost equivalent to a state of perfect rest.
Our business, then, is to overcome progressively this action
of gravitation. The mode of accomplishing that is by the force
"There's the difficulty," broke in the major.
"True," replied the president; "but we will overcome that, for
the force of impulsion will depend on the length of the engine
and the powder employed, the latter being limited only by the
resisting power of the former. Our business, then, to-day is
with the dimensions of the cannon."
"Now, up to the present time," said Barbicane, "our longest guns
have not exceeded twenty-five feet in length. We shall
therefore astonish the world by the dimensions we shall be
obliged to adopt. It must evidently be, then, a gun of great
range, since the length of the piece will increase the detention
of the gas accumulated behind the projectile; but there is no
advantage in passing certain limits."
"Quite so," said the major. "What is the rule in such a case?"
"Ordinarily the length of a gun is twenty to twenty-five times
the diameter of the shot, and its weight two hundred and
thirty-five to two hundred and forty times that of the shot."
"That is not enough," cried J. T. Maston impetuously.
"I agree with you, my good friend; and, in fact, following this
proportion for a projectile nine feet in diameter, weighing 30,000
pounds, the gun would only have a length of two hundred and twenty-
five feet, and a weight of 7,200,000 pounds."
"Ridiculous!" rejoined Maston. "As well take a pistol."
"I think so too," replied Barbicane; "that is why I propose to
quadruple that length, and to construct a gun of nine hundred feet."
The general and the major offered some objections; nevertheless,
the proposition, actively supported by the secretary, was
"But," said Elphinstone, "what thickness must we give it?"
"A thickness of six feet," replied Barbicane.
"You surely don't think of mounting a mass like that upon a
carriage?" asked the major.
"It would be a superb idea, though," said Maston.
"But impracticable," replied Barbicane. "No, I think of sinking
this engine in the earth alone, binding it with hoops of wrought
iron, and finally surrounding it with a thick mass of masonry of
stone and cement. The piece once cast, it must be bored with
great precision, so as to preclude any possible windage. So there
will be no loss whatever of gas, and all the expansive force of
the powder will be employed in the propulsion."
"One simple question," said Elphinstone: "is our gun to be rifled?"
"No, certainly not," replied Barbicane; "we require an enormous
initial velocity; and you are well aware that a shot quits a
rifled gun less rapidly than it does a smooth-bore."
"True," rejoined the major.
The committee here adjourned for a few minutes to tea and sandwiches.
On the discussion being renewed, "Gentlemen," said Barbicane,
"we must now take into consideration the metal to be employed.
Our cannon must be possessed of great tenacity, great hardness,
be infusible by heat, indissoluble, and inoxidable by the
corrosive action of acids."
"There is no doubt about that," replied the major; "and as we
shall have to employ an immense quantity of metal, we shall not
be at a loss for choice."
"Well, then," said Morgan, "I propose the best alloy hitherto
known, which consists of one hundred parts of copper, twelve of
tin, and six of brass."
"I admit," replied the president, "that this composition has
yielded excellent results, but in the present case it would be
too expensive, and very difficult to work. I think, then, that
we ought to adopt a material excellent in its way and of low
price, such as cast iron. What is your advice, major?"
"I quite agree with you," replied Elphinstone.
"In fact," continued Barbicane, "cast iron costs ten times less
than bronze; it is easy to cast, it runs readily from the moulds
of sand, it is easy of manipulation, it is at once economical of
money and of time. In addition, it is excellent as a material,
and I well remember that during the war, at the siege of
Atlanta, some iron guns fired one thousand rounds at intervals
of twenty minutes without injury."
"Cast iron is very brittle, though," replied Morgan.
"Yes, but it possesses great resistance. I will now ask our
worthy secretary to calculate the weight of a cast-iron gun with
a bore of nine feet and a thickness of six feet of metal."
"In a moment," replied Maston. Then, dashing off some
algebraical formulae with marvelous facility, in a minute or two
he declared the following result:
"The cannon will weigh 68,040 tons. And, at two cents a pound,
it will cost----"
"Two million five hundred and ten thousand seven hundred and
Maston, the major, and the general regarded Barbicane with
"Well, gentlemen," replied the president, "I repeat what I
said yesterday. Make yourselves easy; the millions will not
With this assurance of their president the committee separated,
after having fixed their third meeting for the following evening.
THE QUESTION OF THE POWDERS
There remained for consideration merely the question of powders.
The public awaited with interest its final decision. The size
of the projectile, the length of the cannon being settled, what
would be the quantity of powder necessary to produce impulsion?
It is generally asserted that gunpowder was invented in the
fourteenth century by the monk Schwartz, who paid for his grand
discovery with his life. It is, however, pretty well proved
that this story ought to be ranked among the legends of the
middle ages. Gunpowder was not invented by any one; it was the
lineal successor of the Greek fire, which, like itself, was
composed of sulfur and saltpeter. Few persons are acquainted
with the mechanical power of gunpowder. Now this is precisely
what is necessary to be understood in order to comprehend the
importance of the question submitted to the committee.
A litre of gunpowder weighs about two pounds; during combustion
it produces 400 litres of gas. This gas, on being liberated and
acted upon by temperature raised to 2,400 degrees, occupies a
space of 4,000 litres: consequently the volume of powder is to
the volume of gas produced by its combustion as 1 to 4,000.
One may judge, therefore, of the tremendous pressure on this
gas when compressed within a space 4,000 times too confined.
All this was, of course, well known to the members of the committee
when they met on the following evening.
The first speaker on this occasion was Major Elphinstone, who
had been the director of the gunpowder factories during the war.
"Gentlemen," said this distinguished chemist, "I begin with
some figures which will serve as the basis of our calculation.
The old 24-pounder shot required for its discharge sixteen pounds
"You are certain of this amount?" broke in Barbicane.
"Quite certain," replied the major. "The Armstrong cannon
employs only seventy-five pounds of powder for a projectile
of eight hundred pounds, and the Rodman Columbiad uses only one
hundred and sixty pounds of powder to send its half ton shot a
distance of six miles. These facts cannot be called in question,
for I myself raised the point during the depositions taken before
the committee of artillery."
"Quite true," said the general.
"Well," replied the major, "these figures go to prove that the
quantity of powder is not increased with the weight of the shot;
that is to say, if a 24-pounder shot requires sixteen pounds of
powder;-- in other words, if in ordinary guns we employ a
quantity of powder equal to two-thirds of the weight of the
projectile, this proportion is not constant. Calculate, and you
will see that in place of three hundred and thirty-three pounds
of powder, the quantity is reduced to no more than one hundred
and sixty pounds."
"What are you aiming at?" asked the president.
"If you push your theory to extremes, my dear major," said J. T.
Maston, "you will get to this, that as soon as your shot becomes
sufficiently heavy you will not require any powder at all."
"Our friend Maston is always at his jokes, even in serious
matters," cried the major; "but let him make his mind easy, I am
going presently to propose gunpowder enough to satisfy his
artillerist's propensities. I only keep to statistical facts
when I say that, during the war, and for the very largest guns,
the weight of the powder was reduced, as the result of
experience, to a tenth part of the weight of the shot."
"Perfectly correct," said Morgan; "but before deciding the
quantity of powder necessary to give the impulse, I think it
would be as well----"
"We shall have to employ a large-grained powder," continued the
major; "its combustion is more rapid than that of the small."
"No doubt about that," replied Morgan; "but it is very
destructive, and ends by enlarging the bore of the pieces."
"Granted; but that which is injurious to a gun destined to
perform long service is not so to our Columbiad. We shall
run no danger of an explosion; and it is necessary that our
powder should take fire instantaneously in order that its
mechanical effect may be complete."
"We must have," said Maston, "several touch-holes, so as to fire
it at different points at the same time."
"Certainly," replied Elphinstone; "but that will render the
working of the piece more difficult. I return then to my
large-grained powder, which removes those difficulties.
In his Columbiad charges Rodman employed a powder as large
as chestnuts, made of willow charcoal, simply dried in cast-
iron pans. This powder was hard and glittering, left no trace
upon the hand, contained hydrogen and oxygen in large proportion,
took fire instantaneously, and, though very destructive, did not
sensibly injure the mouth-piece."
Up to this point Barbicane had kept aloof from the discussion;
he left the others to speak while he himself listened; he had
evidently got an idea. He now simply said, "Well, my friends,
what quantity of powder do you propose?"
The three members looked at one another.
"Two hundred thousand pounds." at last said Morgan.
"Five hundred thousand," added the major.
"Eight hundred thousand," screamed Maston.
A moment of silence followed this triple proposal; it was at
last broken by the president.
"Gentlemen," he quietly said, "I start from this principle, that
the resistance of a gun, constructed under the given conditions,
is unlimited. I shall surprise our friend Maston, then, by
stigmatizing his calculations as timid; and I propose to double
his 800,000 pounds of powder."
"Sixteen hundred thousand pounds?" shouted Maston, leaping from
"We shall have to come then to my ideal of a cannon half a mile
long; for you see 1,600,000 pounds will occupy a space of about
20,000 cubic feet; and since the contents of your cannon do not
exceed 54,000 cubic feet, it would be half full; and the bore
will not be more than long enough for the gas to communicate to
the projectile sufficient impulse."
"Nevertheless," said the president, "I hold to that quantity
of powder. Now, 1,600,000 pounds of powder will create
6,000,000,000 litres of gas. Six thousand millions!
You quite understand?"
"What is to be done then?" said the general.
"The thing is very simple; we must reduce this enormous quantity
of powder, while preserving to it its mechanical power."
"Good; but by what means?"
"I am going to tell you," replied Barbicane quietly.
"Nothing is more easy than to reduce this mass to one quarter of
its bulk. You know that curious cellular matter which
constitutes the elementary tissues of vegetable? This substance
is found quite pure in many bodies, especially in cotton, which
is nothing more than the down of the seeds of the cotton plant.
Now cotton, combined with cold nitric acid, become transformed
into a substance eminently insoluble, combustible, and explosive.
It was first discovered in 1832, by Braconnot, a French chemist,
who called it xyloidine. In 1838 another Frenchman, Pelouze,
investigated its different properties, and finally, in 1846,
Schonbein, professor of chemistry at Bale, proposed its employment
for purposes of war. This powder, now called pyroxyle, or
fulminating cotton, is prepared with great facility by simply
plunging cotton for fifteen minutes in nitric acid, then washing
it in water, then drying it, and it is ready for use."
"Nothing could be more simple," said Morgan.
"Moreover, pyroxyle is unaltered by moisture-- a valuable
property to us, inasmuch as it would take several days to charge
the cannon. It ignites at 170 degrees in place of 240, and its
combustion is so rapid that one may set light to it on the top
of the ordinary powder, without the latter having time to ignite."
"Perfect!" exclaimed the major.
"Only it is more expensive."
"What matter?" cried J. T. Maston.
"Finally, it imparts to projectiles a velocity four times
superior to that of gunpowder. I will even add, that if we mix
it with one-eighth of its own weight of nitrate of potassium,
its expansive force is again considerably augmented."
"Will that be necessary?" asked the major.
"I think not," replied Barbicane. "So, then, in place of
1,600,000 pounds of powder, we shall have but 400,000 pounds of
fulminating cotton; and since we can, without danger, compress
500 pounds of cotton into twenty-seven cubic feet, the whole
quantity will not occupy a height of more than 180 feet within
the bore of the Columbiad. In this way the shot will have more
than 700 feet of bore to traverse under a force of 6,000,000,000
litres of gas before taking its flight toward the moon."
At this juncture J. T. Maston could not repress his emotion; he
flung himself into the arms of his friend with the violence of
a projectile, and Barbicane would have been stove in if he had
not been boom-proof.
This incident terminated the third meeting of the committee.
Barbicane and his bold colleagues, to whom nothing seemed
impossible, had succeeding in solving the complex problems of
projectile, cannon, and powder. Their plan was drawn up, and it
only remained to put it into execution.
"A mere matter of detail, a bagatelle," said J. T. Maston.
ONE ENEMY _v._ TWENTY-FIVE MILLIONS OF FRIENDS
The American public took a lively interest in the smallest
details of the enterprise of the Gun Club. It followed day by
day the discussion of the committee. The most simple
preparations for the great experiment, the questions of figures
which it involved, the mechanical difficulties to be resolved--
in one word, the entire plan of work-- roused the popular
excitement to the highest pitch.
The purely scientific attraction was suddenly intensified by the
We have seen what legions of admirers and friends Barbicane's
project had rallied round its author. There was, however,
one single individual alone in all the States of the Union who
protested against the attempt of the Gun Club. He attacked it
furiously on every opportunity, and human nature is such that
Barbicane felt more keenly the opposition of that one man than
he did the applause of all the others. He was well aware of the
motive of this antipathy, the origin of this solitary enmity,
the cause of its personality and old standing, and in what
rivalry of self-love it had its rise.
This persevering enemy the president of the Gun Club had never seen.
Fortunate that it was so, for a meeting between the two men would
certainly have been attended with serious consequences. This rival
was a man of science, like Barbicane himself, of a fiery, daring,
and violent disposition; a pure Yankee. His name was Captain
Nicholl; he lived at Philadelphia.
Most people are aware of the curious struggle which arose during
the Federal war between the guns and armor of iron-plated ships.
The result was the entire reconstruction of the navy of both the
continents; as the one grew heavier, the other became thicker
in proportion. The Merrimac, the Monitor, the Tennessee, the
Weehawken discharged enormous projectiles themselves, after
having been armor-clad against the projectiles of others. In fact
they did to others that which they would not they should do to them--
that grand principle of immortality upon which rests the whole art
Now if Barbicane was a great founder of shot, Nicholl was a
great forger of plates; the one cast night and day at Baltimore,
the other forged day and night at Philadelphia. As soon as ever
Barbicane invented a new shot, Nicholl invented a new plate;
each followed a current of ideas essentially opposed to the other.
Happily for these citizens, so useful to their country, a distance
of from fifty to sixty miles separated them from one another, and
they had never yet met. Which of these two inventors had the
advantage over the other it was difficult to decide from the
results obtained. By last accounts, however, it would seem that
the armor-plate would in the end have to give way to the shot;
nevertheless, there were competent judges who had their doubts
on the point.
At the last experiment the cylindro-conical projectiles of
Barbicane stuck like so many pins in the Nicholl plates.
On that day the Philadelphia iron-forger then believed himself
victorious, and could not evince contempt enough for his rival;
but when the other afterward substituted for conical shot simple
600-pound shells, at very moderate velocity, the captain was
obliged to give in. In fact, these projectiles knocked his best
metal plate to shivers.
Matters were at this stage, and victory seemed to rest with the
shot, when the war came to an end on the very day when Nicholl
had completed a new armor-plate of wrought steel. It was a
masterpiece of its kind, and bid defiance to all the projectiles
of the world. The captain had it conveyed to the Polygon at
Washington, challenging the president of the Gun Club to break it.
Barbicane, peace having been declared, declined to try the experiment.
Nicholl, now furious, offered to expose his plate to the shock
of any shot, solid, hollow, round, or conical. Refused by the
president, who did not choose to compromise his last success.
Nicholl, disgusted by this obstinacy, tried to tempt Barbicane
by offering him every chance. He proposed to fix the plate
within two hundred yards of the gun. Barbicane still obstinate
in refusal. A hundred yards? Not even seventy-five!
"At fifty then!" roared the captain through the newspapers.
"At twenty-five yards! and I'll stand behind!"
Barbicane returned for answer that, even if Captain Nicholl
would be so good as to stand in front, he would not fire any more.
Nicholl could not contain himself at this reply; threw out hints
of cowardice; that a man who refused to fire a cannon-shot was
pretty near being afraid of it; that artillerists who fight at
six miles distance are substituting mathematical formulae for
To these insinuations Barbicane returned no answer; perhaps he
never heard of them, so absorbed was he in the calculations for
his great enterprise.
When his famous communication was made to the Gun Club, the
captain's wrath passed all bounds; with his intense jealousy was
mingled a feeling of absolute impotence. How was he to invent
anything to beat this 900-feet Columbiad? What armor-plate
could ever resist a projectile of 30,000 pounds weight?
Overwhelmed at first under this violent shock, he by and by
recovered himself, and resolved to crush the proposal by weight
of his arguments.
He then violently attacked the labors of the Gun Club, published
a number of letters in the newspapers, endeavored to prove Barbicane
ignorant of the first principles of gunnery. He maintained that
it was absolutely impossible to impress upon any body whatever
a velocity of 12,000 yards per second; that even with such a
velocity a projectile of such a weight could not transcend the
limits of the earth's atmosphere. Further still, even regarding
the velocity to be acquired, and granting it to be sufficient,
the shell could not resist the pressure of the gas developed by
the ignition of 1,600,000 pounds of powder; and supposing it to
resist that pressure, it would be less able to support that
temperature; it would melt on quitting the Columbiad, and fall
back in a red-hot shower upon the heads of the imprudent spectators.
Barbicane continued his work without regarding these attacks.
Nicholl then took up the question in its other aspects. Without
touching upon its uselessness in all points of view, he regarded
the experiment as fraught with extreme danger, both to the