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From the Earth to the Moon; and, Round the Moon, Page 2

Jules Verne



  On the 5th of October, at eight p.m., a dense crowd pressedtoward the saloons of the Gun Club at No. 21 Union Square.All the members of the association resident in Baltimore attendedthe invitation of their president. As regards the correspondingmembers, notices were delivered by hundreds throughout the streetsof the city, and, large as was the great hall, it was quiteinadequate to accommodate the crowd of _savants_. They overflowedinto the adjoining rooms, down the narrow passages, into theouter courtyards. There they ran against the vulgar herd whopressed up to the doors, each struggling to reach the front ranks,all eager to learn the nature of the important communication ofPresident Barbicane; all pushing, squeezing, crushing with thatperfect freedom of action which is so peculiar to the masses wheneducated in ideas of "self-government."

  On that evening a stranger who might have chanced to be inBaltimore could not have gained admission for love or money intothe great hall. That was reserved exclusively for resident orcorresponding members; no one else could possibly have obtaineda place; and the city magnates, municipal councilors, and"select men" were compelled to mingle with the mere townspeoplein 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 abase, supported the fine ironwork of the arches, a perfect pieceof cast-iron lacework. Trophies of blunderbuses, matchlocks,arquebuses, carbines, all kinds of firearms, ancient and modern,were picturesquely interlaced against the walls. The gas litup in full glare myriads of revolvers grouped in the form oflustres, while groups of pistols, and candelabra formed ofmuskets bound together, completed this magnificent displayof brilliance. Models of cannon, bronze castings, sights coveredwith dents, plates battered by the shots of the Gun Club,assortments of rammers and sponges, chaplets of shells, wreathsof projectiles, garlands of howitzers-- in short, all theapparatus of the artillerist, enchanted the eye by thiswonderful arrangement and induced a kind of belief that theirreal purpose was ornamental rather than deadly.

  At the further end of the saloon the president, assisted by foursecretaries, occupied a large platform. His chair, supported bya carved gun-carriage, was modeled upon the ponderous proportionsof a 32-inch mortar. It was pointed at an angle of ninety degrees,and suspended upon truncheons, so that the president could balancehimself upon it as upon a rocking-chair, a very agreeable fact inthe very hot weather. Upon the table (a huge iron plate supportedupon six carronades) stood an inkstand of exquisite elegance, madeof a beautifully chased Spanish piece, and a sonnette, which, whenrequired, could give forth a report equal to that of a revolver.During violent debates this novel kind of bell scarcely sufficedto drown the clamor of these excitable artillerists.

  In front of the table benches arranged in zigzag form, like thecircumvallations of a retrenchment, formed a succession ofbastions and curtains set apart for the use of the members ofthe club; and on this especial evening one might say, "All theworld was on the ramparts." The president was sufficiently wellknown, however, for all to be assured that he would not put hiscolleagues 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 immovablecharacter; by no means chivalrous, yet adventurous withal, andalways bringing practical ideas to bear upon the very rashestenterprises; an essentially New Englander, a Northern colonist,a descendant of the old anti-Stuart Roundheads, and theimplacable enemy of the gentlemen of the South, those ancientcavaliers of the mother country. In a word, he was a Yankee tothe backbone.

  Barbicane had made a large fortune as a timber merchant.Being nominated director of artillery during the war, he provedhimself fertile in invention. Bold in his conceptions, hecontributed powerfully to the progress of that arm and gave animmense impetus to experimental researches.

  He was personage of the middle height, having, by a rareexception in the Gun Club, all his limbs complete. His stronglymarked features seemed drawn by square and rule; and if it betrue that, in order to judge a man's character one must look athis profile, Barbicane, so examined, exhibited the most certainindications 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-- akind of black cylinder which always seems firmly screwed uponthe 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, raisedhimself up. A profound silence ensued, and the speaker, in asomewhat emphatic tone of voice, commenced as follows:

  "My brave, colleagues, too long already a paralyzing peace hasplunged the members of the Gun Club in deplorable inactivity.After a period of years full of incidents we have been compelledto abandon our labors, and to stop short on the road of progress.I do not hesitate to state, baldly, that any war which wouldrecall 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 ourcannon shall again thunder in the field of battle. We must makeup our minds, then, to seek in another train of ideas some fieldfor the activity which we all pine for."

  The meeting felt that the president was now approaching thecritical point, and redoubled their attention accordingly.

  "For some months past, my brave colleagues," continuedBarbicane, "I have been asking myself whether, while confiningourselves to our own particular objects, we could not enter uponsome grand experiment worthy of the nineteenth century; andwhether the progress of artillery science would not enable us tocarry it out to a successful issue. I have been considering,working, calculating; and the result of my studies is the convictionthat we are safe to succeed in an enterprise which to any othercountry would appear wholly impracticable. This project, the resultof long elaboration, is the object of my present communication.It is worthy of yourselves, worthy of the antecedents of the GunClub; 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 uponhis head, calmly continued his harangue:

  "There is no one among you, my brave colleagues, who has notseen the Moon, or, at least, heard speak of it. Don't besurprised if I am about to discourse to you regarding the Queenof the Night. It is perhaps reserved for us to become theColumbuses of this unknown world. Only enter into my plans, andsecond me with all your power, and I will lead you to itsconquest, and its name shall be added to those of the thirty-sixstates which compose this Great Union."

  "Three cheers for the Moon!" roared the Gun Club, with one voice.

  "The moon, gentlemen, has been carefully studied," continuedBarbicane; "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 havebeen constructed with a perfection which equals, if it does noteven surpass, that of our terrestrial maps. Photography hasgiven us proofs of the incomparable beauty of our satellite; allis known regarding the moon which mathematical science,astronomy, geology, and optics can learn about her. But up tothe present moment no direct communication has been establishedwith her."

  A violent movement of interest and surprise here greeted thisremark of the speaker.

  "Permit me," he continued, "to recount to you briefly howcertain ardent spirits, starting on imaginary journeys, havepenetrated the secrets of our satellite. In the seventeenthcentury a certain David Fabricius boasted of having seen withhis own eyes the inhabitants of the moon. In 1649 a Frenchman,one Jean Baudoin, published a `Journey performed from the Earthto the Moon by Domingo Gonzalez,' a Spanish adventurer. At thesame period Cyrano de Bergerac published that ce
lebrated`Journeys in the Moon' which met with such success in France.Somewhat later another Frenchman, named Fontenelle, wrote `ThePlurality of Worlds,' a _chef-d'oeuvre_ of its time. About 1835a small treatise, translated from the New York _American_, relatedhow Sir John Herschel, having been despatched to the Cape ofGood Hope for the purpose of making there some astronomicalcalculations, had, by means of a telescope brought to perfectionby means of internal lighting, reduced the apparent distance ofthe moon to eighty yards! He then distinctly perceived cavernsfrequented by hippopotami, green mountains bordered by goldenlace-work, sheep with horns of ivory, a white species of deerand inhabitants with membranous wings, like bats. This _brochure_,the work of an American named Locke, had a great sale. But, tobring this rapid sketch to a close, I will only add that acertain Hans Pfaal, of Rotterdam, launching himself in a balloonfilled with a gas extracted from nitrogen, thirty-seven timeslighter than hydrogen, reached the moon after a passage ofnineteen hours. This journey, like all previous ones, was purelyimaginary; still, it was the work of a popular American author--I mean Edgar Poe!"

  "Cheers for Edgar Poe!" roared the assemblage, electrified bytheir president's words.

  "I have now enumerated," said Barbicane, "the experiments whichI call purely paper ones, and wholly insufficient to establishserious relations with the Queen of the Night. Nevertheless, Iam bound to add that some practical geniuses have attempted toestablish actual communication with her. Thus, a few days ago,a German geometrician proposed to send a scientific expeditionto the steppes of Siberia. There, on those vast plains, theywere to describe enormous geometric figures, drawn in charactersof reflecting luminosity, among which was the propositionregarding the `square of the hypothenuse,' commonly called the`Ass's Bridge' by the French. `Every intelligent being,' saidthe geometrician, `must understand the scientific meaning ofthat figure. The Selenites, do they exist, will respond by asimilar figure; and, a communication being thus onceestablished, it will be easy to form an alphabet which shallenable us to converse with the inhabitants of the moon.' Sospoke the German geometrician; but his project was never putinto practice, and up to the present day there is no bondin existence between the Earth and her satellite. It isreserved for the practical genius of Americans to establish acommunication with the sidereal world. The means of arrivingthither are simple, easy, certain, infallible-- and that is thepurpose of my present proposal."

  A storm of acclamations greeted these words. There was not asingle 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, Barbicaneresumed his speech in a somewhat graver voice.

  "You know," said he, "what progress artillery science has madeduring the last few years, and what a degree of perfectionfirearms of every kind have reached. Moreover, you are wellaware that, in general terms, the resisting power of cannon andthe expansive force of gunpowder are practically unlimited.Well! starting from this principle, I ask myself whether,supposing sufficient apparatus could be obtained constructedupon the conditions of ascertained resistance, it might not bepossible to project a shot up to the moon?"

  At these words a murmur of amazement escaped from a thousandpanting chests; then succeeded a moment of perfect silence,resembling that profound stillness which precedes the burstingof a thunderstorm. In point of fact, a thunderstorm did pealforth, but it was the thunder of applause, or cries, and ofuproar which made the very hall tremble. The presidentattempted to speak, but could not. It was fully ten minutesbefore he could make himself heard.

  "Suffer me to finish," he calmly continued. "I have looked atthe question in all its bearings, I have resolutely attacked it,and by incontrovertible calculations I find that a projectileendowed with an initial velocity of 12,000 yards per second, andaimed at the moon, must necessarily reach it. I have the honor,my brave colleagues, to propose a trial of this little experiment."