Uranie, by Camille Flammarion

ii.

Iter Extaticum Coeleste.

THE hours spent in the study of psychology and telepathy did not prevent me from observing Mars through the telescope and taking sketches of its surface whenever our atmosphere, so often cloudy, permitted. And then, not only is it true that all the problems of nature and science are related to each other, but also that astronomy and psychology are indissolubly connected, seeing that the psychic universe has for its habitat the material universe; that astronomy has for its object the study of the region of eternal life, and that we could form no idea of that region if we had no knowledge of astronomy. Whether we are aware of it or not, it is none the less a fact that we are dwelling now in the celestial regions. It was, perhaps, with an unconscious divination of the future that the ancients made Uranie the Muse of the sciences.

My thoughts had now been for a long time occupied with our neighbor Mars, when one day, during a solitary ramble on the outskirts of a wood, I seated myself, overcome with the heat of a July day, in the shade of a clump of oak trees, and soon fell fast asleep.

I was greatly surprised on awakening to find myself, after what had seemed a moment’s doze, in the midst of unfamiliar surroundings. The trees that grew close beside me, the river which flowed at the foot of the hill, the undulating meadow, losing itself in the distance, were no longer to be seen. The air vibrated with harmonious sounds, unknown on Earth, and insects, large as birds, flew about among leafless trees which were covered with enormous red flowers. I rose to my feet, but with a bound, as if moved by a spring, for I felt of an extraordinary lightness. I took a few steps and found that half the weight of my body had, as it were, evaporated during sleep. These sensations amazed me more than the transformation of the scene before me had done. I could scarcely believe the evidence of my senses, and, besides, my eyes were no longer the same. I no longer heard in the same manner, and I could perceive even in these first few moments that my organism was endowed with several new senses differing entirely from those of our earthly organism. The most remarkable of these was a magnetic sense by means of which two beings can place themselves in communication without the necessity of translating their thoughts by audible words; this power resembles that of the needle of the compass, in the cellar of the Observatory at Paris, which vibrates and trembles when the Aurora Borealis kindles its light in Siberia, or when an electric explosion takes place in the sun. The Day Star had just sunk into the bosom of a distant lake, and the rosy glow of the sunset floated in the depths of the heavens like a vanishing vision of light.

Two moons shone in the sky; the one, a crescent, hung over the lake into whose bosom the sun had just sunk; the other, in her first quarter, was higher up in the East. Both moons were diminutive, bearing slight resemblance to the great torch that lights our terrestrial nights. It seemed as if they gave their light, bright but scant, reluctantly. I gazed at each in turn with wonder.

The strangest thing of all, perhaps, in this strange spectacle was that the western moon (which was about three times as large as her companion of the East, although but one-fifth the size of our terrestrial moon) moved with a velocity that could be perceivcd by the eye, hurrying from the right to the left, as if hastening on to join her heavenly sister in the East.

There could also be distinguished in the fading light of sunset, a third moon, or rather a brilliant star, smaller than either of the two satellites. She presented to the view no perceptible disk, but her light was dazzling. She shone in the evening sky like Venus, the “shepherd’s star,” when, in her fullest splendor, she rules the languorous nights of spring and inspires their tender dreams. Already the most brilliant of the stars were shining in the heavens; Arcturus with his golden rays; Vega, pure and White; the Seven Stars, and many of the constellations of the zodiac were visible. The evening star, the new Hesperus, glittered in the constellation of Pisces. Taking into consideration my position in the sky with reference to the constellations, the two moons shining in the sky, and the lightness of my body, I was convinced after a few moments reflection that I was on the planet Mars, and that this beautiful evening star was — the Earth!

I let my gaze dwell upon it tenderly while a pang pierced my heart, such as we feel when the thoughts fly toward a beloved being from whom cruel distance separates us. I gazed long at the planet on which I was born, where so many varied emotions contend for the mastery during the changing events of life, and I thought, what a pity it was that none of all the multitudes of human beings with which that little globe swarmed should know in what regions they dwell. It is beautiful, this diminutive Earth, reflecting the sun’s light, with its. moon, still more diminutive, which seems like a point in space beside it. Borne into the invisible by the divine laws of attraction, an atom floating in the infinite harmony of the heavens, she has her place and floats on high in space like an angelic island. But her inhabitants are unaware of this fact. Strange humanity — finding the Earth too vast, they have herded together, and pass their time in shooting each other.

In that celestial island there are as many soldiers as there are inhabitants. They are armed, the one against the other, when they might as easily dwell together in harmony, and their glory consists in changing from time to time the names of countries and the colors of their flags. This is the favorite occupation of nations and the first duty in which citizens are educated. When they are not thus employed they spend their time in the worship of matter. They do not value intellectual worth; they are indifferent to the wonderful mysteries of Creation; they live without an aim. What a pity that it should be so! A native of Paris who knew neither its name nor that of France, could not be more a stranger in his country than they are in theirs.

Ah! if they could behold the earth from the place where I am now, with what pleasure would they return to it, and what a transformation would be effected in their ideas. Then, at least, they would know where the country is situated in which they dwell. That would be a beginning. They would discover by degrees the sublime realities that surround them, instead of passing life aimlessly, enveloped in a fog without horizon, and they would soon learn to live the true life, the life of the spirit.

“What honor he does it! One would suppose he had left friends behind him in that prison!”

I had not spoken, but I heard these words which seemed an answer to my thoughts, uttered with distinctness. Two of the inhabitants of Mars stood beside me contemplating me, and they had understood what was passing within my mind, by means of that sixth sense of magnetic perception mentioned above. I was a little surprised, and, shall I confess it, deeply hurt by this speech. “After all,” I thought, “I love the Earth; it is my country, and as such I love it.”

My two companions laughed at this.

“Yes,” returned one of them, with an amiability that I was not prepared for, “you love your country. It is easily seen that you come from the Earth.”

And the elder of the two added:

“Think no more of your compatriots of the Earth; they will never be either more intellectual or less blind than they are now. They have lived there now for eighty thousand years, and you yourself confess that they are not yet capable of thinking. It is truly surprising that you should regard the Earth with so much tenderness; it shows too much simplicity on your part.”

Have you ever, dear reader, come across men, in your way through life, who believe blindly, and with a confidence not to be shaken, in their superiority to other men? When these haughty individuals find themselves in the presence of one who is their superior, they conceive for him an instantaneous antipathy; they cannot endure him. Well, during the preceding tirade (of which I have given you only a feeble translation), I had felt myself superior to the rest of terrestrial humanity, whom I pitied and whom I prayed Heaven to grant happier times. But when those two inhabitants of Mars seemed to pity me, when I fancied I discovered in them a feeling of unquestioning superiority over me, I was for a moment like one of those stupidly proud men of whom I have spoken; my blood gave a bound, and restraining myself by a last effort of French politeness, I opened my mouth to utter these words:

“After all, gentlemen, the inhabitants of the Earth are not altogether so stupid as you seem to think them; it may be that they are even superior to yourselves.”

Unhappily they did not even let me begin the sentence, for they had divined what I was going to say by the vibrations at the base of my brain.

“Allow me to tell you at once,” said the younger of the two, “that your planet is an absolute failure, in consequence of a circumstance which dates back a dozen million years. It was at the time of the primary period of terrestrial existence. Plants already grew upon the Earth, beautiful plants even, and in the depths of the waters, as well as upon their borders, the earliest animals were beginning to appear — headless mollusks, deaf, dumb and sexless. You know that trees need no other nourishment than the air, and that your most gigantic oaks, your tallest cedars, have never eaten anything. They live by breathing only. An unhappy chance willed it that into the body of the first mollusk there should enter a drop of water more substantial than the surrounding atmosphere. Perhaps he thought it good. This was the origin of the digestive apparatus, which was to exert so fatal an influence over humanity itself. The first assassin was the mollusk who ate.

“Here we do not eat, we have never eaten, we never shall eat. Creation here has unfolded gradually, peacefully, nobly, as it began. The body here is nourished, in other words, renews its molecules by the simple act of breathing, as do your terrestrial trees, of which every leaf is a minute stomach. In your beloved country you could not live a single day, except on the condition of killing. Among you, the law of life is the law of death. Here, the thought has never occurred to any one of killing even a bird. You are all, more or less, butchers! Your hands are imbrued in blood. Your stomachs are gorged with food. How could you expect, with organisms so gross, ever to conceive pure, sound, elevated or — pardon my frankness — even clean thoughts? What sort of souls could dwell in bodies like those? Reflect for an instant, and cease to indulge in vain illusions, too ideal for such a world.”

“What!” I cried, interrupting him, “you deny to us the possibility of having clean thoughts? Do you take human beings for animals? Homer, Plato, Plidias, Seneca, Virgil, Dante, Columbus, Bacon, Galileo, Pascal, Leonardo, Raphael, Mozart, Beethoven, have they never had exalted aspirations?

“You think our bodies gross and repulsive. If you saw pass before you Helen, Phryne, Aspasia, Sappho, Cleopatra, Lucrezia Borgia, Agnes Sorel, Diana de Poitiers, Margaret de Valois; Borghèse, Tallien, Recamier, Georges and their admirable compeers, you would think altogether differently. Ah, my dear Martian, permit me, in my turn, to express my regret that you know the Earth only at a distance.”

“That is where you deceive yourself. I lived on that planet for fifty years. That was sufficient for me, and I assure you that I never desire to return to it. Everything there has proved a failure, even what you think most beautiful. Do you imagine that in all the worlds of the heavens, the flowers produce fruits in the same manner? Would not that be a little cruel? For my own part, my favorite flowers are primroses, and roses in the bud.”

“But,” I rejoined, “notwithstanding all you can say to the contrary, there have been great minds upon the Earth and, indeed, beings worthy of admiration. May we not cherish the hope that physical and moral beauty will go on perfecting themselves unceasingly, as they have done up to the present, and that the mind will become gradually more and more enlightened? We do not spend all our time in eating. All men, we may hope, will be able, at last, notwithstanding their material labors to devote a few hours daily to the cultivation of their intellect. Then, no doubt, they will no longer continue to create petty gods in their own likeness, and perhaps also, they will do away with the childish barriers that keep them apart, and will live together in peace and brotherly unity.”

“No, my friend, because if they so desired they might do it today, but they will take very good care not to do so. The terrestrial man is but an animal of insignificant size, who does not feel the need of thinking, having no independence of soul, and who loves to fight, and openly bases right on might. Such is his good pleasure and such his nature. You will never be able to make a bramble bush bear peaches. Think only that the most charming of the terrestrial beauties, whom you mentioned just now, are coarse monsters compared to our ethereal women of Mars, who live on the airs of our springs and the perfumes of our flowers, and who exercise such a charm, in the very fluttering of their wings, in the ideal kiss of a mouth that has never eaten, that, if Dante’s Beatrice had been endowed with such a nature, the immortal Florentine would never have been able to write a second canto of his Divinia Commedia; he would have begun with Paradise, and would have remained there. Imagine that our youths know as much science at their birth as Pythagoras, Archimedes, Euclid, Kepler, Newton, Laplace or Darwin, after all their laborious studies. Our twelve senses place us in direct communication with the Universe; we feel here, at three hundred millions of miles distance, the attraction of Jupiter as he passes. We divine the appearance of a comet, and our bodies are impregnated by the solar electricity which makes all nature vibrate. There has never been here either religious fanaticism, or executioners, or martyrs, or political dissensions, or wars; but from their earliest days, humanity, by their nature, peaceable and exempt from every material want, have lived in a constant intellectual activity, their minds and bodies alike free, progressing without pause in the knowledge of the truth. But come with us, rather.”

I walked on a little with my interlocutors till we came to the other side of the mountain, when I perceived a multitude of lights of diverse colors, fluttering in the air. These were the inhabitants of the planet, who become luminous at night when they desire it. Aerial chariots, that seemed made of phosphorescent flowers, carried choirs and bands of music. One of these chariots passed near us and we took our seats in it in the midst of a cloud of incense. The sensations I experienced differed strangely from all those I had felt upon the Earth, and this first night on Mars passed swiftly as a dream, for when day dawned I found myself still in the aerial car, discoursing with my two interlocutors and their friends, and strange companions. What a scene did the rising sun disclose! Fruits, flowers, clouds of incense, fairy palaces rising in the midst of orange colored vegetation on islands, lakes like mirrors, and joyous ethereal beings, two by two, fluttering down on these enchanting shores. Here all material labor is done by machinery, directed by some of the more perfected animal races, whose intelligence is almost as great as that of human beings on the Earth. The inhabitants live only by the spirit and for the spirit; their nervous system has attained to such development, that each of these beings, at once extremely delicate and very strong, seems to be an apparatus, and their most material sensations, felt by their souls rather than their bodies, surpass a hundred fold any that our five senses united could ever afford us. A sort of summer palace, lighted by the rays of the rising sun, opened its door to us under our aerial car. My neighbor, whose wings fluttered with impatience, placed her delicate foot on a knot of flowers that grew between two perfumed fountains.

“Will you return to the Earth?” she asked, opening her arms to me.

“Never!” I cried, and I precipitated myself toward her.

But all at once I found myself again alone in the wood on the side of the hill, at whose foot the Seine wound along.

“Never,” I repeated, trying to grasp the sweet vision that had vanished. “Where then, am I? Ah! it was beautiful.”

The sun had just set, and already the planet Mars, at the time very brilliant, glittered in the sky. “Ah,” I cried, as a sudden recollection flashed through my mind, “I was there! Moved by the same attraction the two neighboring planets look at each other across transparent space. May we not, in this celestial brotherhood, have a prefiguring of the eternal journey? The Earth is no longer alone in the universe. The panoramas of the infinite begin to unfold themselves. Whether we dwell here, or there, we are not the citizens of a country or of a world, but, in very truth, CITIZENS OF HEAVEN.”

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