Reactions to the New Philosophy

Christiaan Huygens, from Cosmotheoros

[Click on image to enlarge] Extraterrestrial life was a subject of speculation in ancient times, and any number of fables describe the people on the moon. But the discoveries made possible by the telescope, early in the seventeenth century, spurred a new fascination with what has been called "the modern scientific moon voyage." Johann Kepler, the father of modern astronomy, left at his death a vision of serpentine moon creatures, Somnium (1634), and John Wilkins, one of the founders of the Royal Society, wrote an influential fantasy, The Discovery of a New World; or, A Discourse tending to prove, that it is probable there may be another Habitable World in the Moon (1638). The most systematic account of extraterrestrial life, however, was Christiaan Huygens's Cosmotheoros, translated from Latin to English as The Celestial Worlds Discover'd: or, Conjectures Concerning the Inhabitants, Plants and Productions of the Worlds in the Planets (1698). Huygens, who first discovered the nature of the rings of Saturn, assumes that rational creatures — especially astronomers — live on each planet.

 

[Click on image to enlarge] A Man that is of Copernicus's Opinion, that this Earth of ours is a planet, carry'd round and enlighten'd by the Sun, like the rest of them, cannot but sometimes have a fancy, that it's not improbable that the rest of the Planets have their Dress and Furniture, nay and their Inhabitants too as well as this Earth of ours: Especially if he considers the later Discoveries made since Copernicus's time of the Attendents of Jupiter and Saturn, and the Champain and hilly Countrys in the Moon, which are an Argument of a relation and kind between our Earth and them, as well as a proof of the Truth of that System * * *

Shall [the Planetarians] have their Governours, Houses, Cities, Trade, and Bartering? Why not? when even the barbarous People of America were at their first discovery found to have somewhat of that nature in use among them. I won't say, that things must be the same there as they are here. We have many that may very well be spared among rational Creatures, and design'd only for the preservation of Society from all Injury, and for the curbing of those men who make an ill use of their Reason to the detriment of others. Perhaps in the Planets they have such plenty and affluence of all good things, as they neither need or desire to steal from one another; perhaps they may be so just and good as to be at perpetual Peace, and never to lie in wait for, or take away the Life of their Neighbour: perhaps they may not know what Anger or Hatred are; which we to our cost and misery know too too well. But still it's more likely they have such a medly as we, such a mixture of good with bad, of wise with fools, of war with peace, and want not that Schoolmistress of Arts Poverty. For these things are of no small use; and if there were no other, 'twould be reason enough that we are as good Men as themselves * * *

We have allow'd that they may have rational Creatures among them, and Geometricians, and Musicians: we have prov'd that they live in Societies, have Hands and Feet, are guarded with Houses and Walls: yet if a man was but carried thither by some powerful Genius, some Pegasus, I don't doubt 'twould be a very pretty sight, pretty beyond all imagination, to see the odd ways, and the unusual manner of their setting about any thing, and their strange methods of living. But since there's no hopes of a Mercury to carry us such a Journey, we shall e'en be contented with what's in our power: we shall suppose our selves there, and inquire as far as we can into the Astronomy of each Planet, and see in what manner the heavens present themselves to their Inhabitants.


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