Uranie, by Camille Flammarion

ii.

The Muse of Heaven — Journey Among Systems and Worlds — Unknown Forms of Humanity.

THEN I beheld the earth sinking into the yawning abyss of immensity. The cupolas of the Observatory, Paris, blazing with light, vanished swiftly from my gaze, while I seemed to be motionless. The sensation I experienced was like that which one feels who is ascending in a balloon, and sees the earth below sinking out of sight. For a long time I continued to ascend, carried on in my magical flight toward the inaccessible zenith. Uranie was at my side, a little above me, regarding me with an expression of sweetness on her countenance, as she pointed out to me the kingdoms beneath us. Day had dawned. I recognized France, the Rhine, Germany, Austria, Italy, the Mediterranean, Spain, the Atlantic Ocean, the British Channel, and England. But all these geographical divisions of the earth, already of Liliputian size, grew smaller every moment. Soon the terrestrial globe was reduced to the apparent dimensions of the moon in her last quarter, then to that of a diminutive full moon.

“Behold!” she said to me, “this famous terrestrial globe, on which so many passions contend, and which holds within its narrow bounds the thoughts of so many millions of beings, whose vision does not extend beyond it. See, how its apparent size diminishes in proportion as our horizon broadens. We can no longer distinguish Europe from Asia. See Canada and North America. How insignificant it all appears!”

In passing near the Moon I had observed the mountainous tracts of our satellite, its peaks glittering with light, its deep valleys shrouded in shadow, and I would have liked to pause, in order to examine more closely this neighbor planet, but Uranie, disdaining to cast a single glance at it, drew me on with her in rapid flight toward the starry regions.

We continued to ascend. The Earth growing smaller and smaller to our gaze, as we left it beneath us, soon looked like a star, shining by the reflected light of the sun in the black void of immensity. We had turned our course toward the Sun, that shone in the depths of space without lighting it up, and at the same time that we saw the Sun, we saw the stars and planets that his rays did not eclipse, because they did not communicate their light to the invisible ether. The celestial goddess pointed out to me Mercury near to the Sun, Venus shining on the opposite side, the Earth, resembling Venus, both in general appearance and in brilliancy; Mars, whose inland seas and streams I recognized; Jupiter, with his four enormous moons; Saturn, Uranus.

“All these worlds,” she said to me, “are sustained in space by the attraction of the sun, around which they swiftly revolve. They are a harmonious choir revolving around a common center. The Earth is but a floating island, a hamlet in this great solar country, and this solar empire is itself only a province in the depths of infinite starry space.”

Still we ascended. The Sun and his system rapidly disappeared from view; the Earth was now only a point in space; Jupiter itself, that colossal world, diminished in size like Mars and Venus, until it looked scarcely larger than the Earth.

We passed in sight of Saturn, girdled by his gigantic rings, which alone would suffice to prove the immense and inconceivable variety that reigns in the universe — Saturn, a veritable system by himself, with his rings formed of atoms thrown off in a rotation of vertiginous velocity, and with his eight satellites, accompanying him like a celestial cortege!

In proportion as we ascended, our sun diminished in size. Soon he sank to the magnitude of a star, then he lost all majesty, all superiority over the sidereal world, seeming himself neither larger nor more brilliant than a star. I gazed at these starry fields of space in which we continued ascending, and tried to recognize the constellations. But they had begun to change their forms perceptibly, owing to the difference of perspective, resulting from my flight through these regions. I thought I saw our sun now, reduced to the size of a star of the smallest magnitude, join the constellation of the Centaur, while a light — pale, blue and unfamiliar — came from the regions toward which Uranie was carrying me. This brightness in no wise resembled terrestrial light; it was like nothing I had seen and admired in the scenery of the Earth, either in the changeful shades of twilight after a storm, or the formless vapors of the morn, or the reflection cast by the rays of the moon in the calm and silent hours of night on the burnished mirror of the sca. This is perhaps what that strange light most nearly resembled, but by degrees it became more and more blue, not with the reflected blue of heaven, or by the force of contrast, as when electric light is brought into proximity with gas-light; but blue, as if the sun that was its source were blue. What was my astonishment when I perceived that we were, in fact, approaching a sun absolutely blue, looking like a brilliant disk cut out of our most beautiful terrestrial skies, and standing out brightly against a background entirely black, besprinkled with stars!

This sapphire sun was the center of a system of planets which received their light from it. We were soon to pass close by one of these planets. The blue sun grew perceptibly larger, but by a new change no less strange than the former one, the light cast from it on the planet had at times a tinge of green. I looked at the sky again, and preceived a second sun, this time of a beautiful emerald green! I could not believe my eyes.

“We are traversing,” said Uranie to me, “the solar system of Gamma of Andromeda, of which you can as yet perceive but a part, because it is composed in reality, not of these two suns only, but of three: a blue sun, a green sun and a yellow-orange sun. The blue sun, which is the smallest, revolves around the green, and this, with its companion, revolves around the great orange sun, which you are now about to behold.”

And in fact, as she spoke, I saw a third sun appear in the heavens, glowing with this vivid color, its rays mingling with those shed by its two companions, and producing, by the contrast, a singular effect. I recognized, indeed, this curious sidereal system, as I had more than once observed it through the telescope; but I had had no conception of its actual splendor. What intensity of light! What dazzling brightness! What vividness of color was there in this wondrous fountain of azure light, in the green radiance of the second sun, and in the tawny gold brilliance of the third!

But we were now close, as I have said, to one of the worlds belonging to the system of the sapphire sun. Everything on it was blue — the landscape, the water, the plants, the rocks slightly tinged with green on that side where the rays of the second sun fell, and scarcely touched by the rays of the orange sun now rising above the far horizon. As we entered the atmosphere of this world, strains of ravishing sweetness filled the air like a perfume, like music heard in a dream. I had never before heard anything resembling it. It seemed to come from a distant orchestra of harps and violins, whose tones were sustained and prolonged by the deep notes of the organ. It was an exquisite melody which charmed the ear at once, which did not need to be analyzed in order to be understood, and held the soul captive. I felt as if I could have listened to it forever. I dared not address a word to my guide, so much did I fear to lose a single note. Uranie perceived this. She stretched forth her arm toward a lake that was to be seen upon the planet, and pointed out to me with her finger, a group of winged creatures hovering above its blue waters.

They had not the human form of our earth. They were beings evidently organized to live in air. They seemed made of light. Seen from afar, I had taken them at first for dragon-flies; they had the same slender and graceful form as these, the same large wings, the same vivacity and lightness. But on observing them more nearly, I took note of their size, which was not inferior to ours, and I saw from the expression of their eyes that they were not animals. They resembled dragon-flies in their heads as much as their other members, and like those aerial beings, they had no legs. The enchanting music I had heard was only the sound produced by their wings in flight. There was a very large number of them — several thousands, perhaps.

On the summits of the mountains were to be seen plants, which were neither trees nor flowers, whose fragile stems rose to an enormous height, spreading out at the top into branches that looked like extended arms, bearing large tulip-shaped cups. These plants were endowed with life — at least as much as, if not more so than, our sensitive plant. Like the Desmodie, with its mobile leaves, they revealed their inward impressions by their movements. These groves were veritable plant cities. The inhabitants of this world had no other dwellings than these thickets, and it was among these fragrant sensitive plants that they reposed when they were not floating in the air.

“This world seems fantastic to you,” said Uranie, “and you ask yourself what can be the thoughts of these beings, what can be their manners, what is their history, what species of art, of literature, of science, can they possess? It would take a long time to answer all the questions you might ask. Let it suffice you to know that their eyes are more far-seeing than our most perfect telescopes; that their nervous systems vibrate at the passage of a comet, and that from the impressions transmitted to them through electric currents they discover facts which you upon the earth will never know. The organs you see under their wings take the place of hands more skillful than yours. Instead of printing, events are with them recorded by direct photographic impressions, and their very words phonetically fixed. For the rest, they occupy themselves only in scientific researches — that is to say, in the study of nature. The three passions which fill up the largest part of life on the earth, the eager desire for wealth, political ambition and love are unknown to them, because they need nothing to sustain life, have no political divisions, nor any other government than a council of administration, and because they are androgynes.”

“Androgynes!” I returned. Then I ventured to add, “Is that better?”

“It is different,” she answered. “It spares the race many serious troubles.”

“It is necessary to detach one’s self entirely,” she continued, “from the sensations and the thoughts of earth, to be able to comprehend the infinite diversity manifested by the different forms of creation. Just as on your planet species have changed from age to age, from the strange beings of the earliest geological periods to the time of the appearance of man; so that now, even the animal and vegetable species of the earth are composed of the most diverse forms; from man to the coral, from the bird to the fish, from the elephant to the butterfly; thus, but over an extent incomparably more vast, the forces of nature have given birth in the innumerable abodes of the sky, to an infinite diversity of beings and substances. The forms of the beings of each world are the result of the elements peculiar to it, such as the substance of which it is composed, its heat, light, electricity, density and gravity. The forms, the organs, the number of the senses — of which you have but five, and those not very perfect ones — depend upon the conditions of life peculiar to each sphere. Life is terrestial on the earth, martial on Mars, saturnian on Saturn, neptunian on Neptune — that is to say, adapted to its surroundings, or rather, to be more correct, produced and developed by each world, according to its organic state and in consonance with a primordial law which all nature must obey: the law of Progress.”

While she was speaking, my glance had followed the flight of the aerial beings toward the city of flowers, and I had seen with amazement the plants move, raising or lowering themselves to receive their guests; the green sun had sunk below the horizon and the orange sun ascended higher in the heavens; the landscape was lighted up by a strange splendor, above which floated a moon of enormous size, half orange and half green. Then the melody that filled the atmosphere ceased, and in the midst of the profound silence that ensued, I heard a song chanted by a voice so clear and sweet, that no human voice could bear comparison with it.

“What a wondrous system must it be,” I cried, “of which a world like this, lighted by splendors so marvelous, forms a part! These then, are the double, triple and multiple stars seen near.”

“These stars are resplendent suns!” responded the goddess. “United in the gracious bonds of a mutual attraction, you on the Earth behold them cradled two by two, in the bosom of the skies, always beautiful, always bright, always clear. Suspended in the infinity of space, they mutually sustain without touching each other, as if their union, moral rather than material, were governed by an invisible and superior power, and following harmonious curves, they gravitate in rhythm, the one around the other; celestial pairs come into existence in the spring time of Creation, in the starry fields of space. While suns, simple as yours, shine starry, motionless, tranquil, in the deserts of Immensity, the double and multiple suns seem to animate by their movements, their color and their life, the silent regions of the eternal void; these starry timepieces mark for you the ages and the eras of other universes. But,” she added, “let us continue our journey. We are only a few trillions of leagues distant from the Earth.”

“A few trillions?”

“Yes. If we could hear at this distance the noises of your planet, its volcanos, its cannonades, its thunders, the vociferations of the mob in times of revolution, or the pious songs of the Churches as they rise toward Heaven, so distant from it are we that, granting these noises could traverse space with the rapidity of light, it would take no less than fifteen millions of years for them to arrive here. We could hear now only what passed on the earth fifteen million years ago.

“Yet, compared with the immensity of the Universe, we are still very near your country. You can still recognize your Sun, a little star there below. We have not yet emerged from the universe to which, with its system of planets, it belongs.

“This universe is composed of myriads of suns separated the one from the other by trillions of leagues.

“Its extent is so great that a flash of lightning with a velocity of three hundred thousand kilometres a second, would take fifteen million years to traverse it.

“And on all sides, wherever we direct our gaze, are suns; everywhere sources of heat and of life; suns of inexhaustible variety; suns of every degree of brilliancy, of every degree of magnitude, of every age, sustained in the luminous ether of the eternal void, by the mutual attraction of all, and by the movement of each; every individual star, an enormous sun, revolves around itself like a globe of fire. Each has its goal. Your sun moves and carries you with it toward the constellation of Hercules; the sun whose system we have just traversed moves to the south of the Pleiades. Sirius rushes toward Columba, Pollux toward the Milky Way. All these millions, all these myriads of worlds rush through space with a velocity two, three, and four hundred thousand metres a second! Action it is, that sustains the Universe in equilibrium, that gives it its organization, its energy and its life.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/f/flammarion/camille/uranie/part1.2.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37