Uranie, by Camille Flammarion


Ad Veritatem Per Scientiam — The Legacy of Spero to Science.

I WAS occupied in my library writing a treatise on the conditions of life in other worlds revolving around other suns, and receiving from them light and life, when, raising my eyes to the chimney-piece, I was struck by the expression, I might almost say, of animation, on the countenance of my dear Uranie. It was the same gracious and animated expression that formerly — Ah! how rapidly the Earth revolves, and how quickly a quarter of a century passes! — that formerly — and it seems to me as if it were but yesterday — that formerly, in those youthful days so swiftly flown, had captivated my thoughts and inflamed my heart. I could not help letting my gaze dwell upon her even now. She was, in truth, as beautiful as then, and my feelings had not changed. She attracted me as the flame attracts the moth. I rose from the table to approach her, and observe anew the singular effect of the light upon her changing countenance, and, held by the spell, remained standing before her, forgetful of my work.

Her gaze seemed to pierce into distance, yet it was animated, and seemed fixed upon some object. On what? On whom? I had a curious conviction that she could really see, and, following the direction of her glance, steadfast and solemn, although not severe, my eyes fell upon the portrait of Spero, hanging on the wall between two book-cases.

Uranie’s gaze was fixed steadfastly upon him. Suddenly the portrait fell with a crash to the ground, its frame breaking into pieces with the fall.

I rushed forward. The picture lay before me on the carpet, the mild face of Spero looking up at me. As I raised it I saw on the ground a large sheet of paper, discolored with age, and covered on both sides with written characters in Spero’s handwriting. How was it that I had never observed this paper before? True, it might easily have remained there unobserved, concealed from view by the paste-board at the back of the portrait. Indeed, when I had brought the picture with me from Christiania, it had not occurred to me to notice how it was framed. But who could have had the strange idea of placing the sheet of paper there? It was with extreme surprise that I recognized my friend’s handwriting, and read those two pages. According to all appearance, they had been written on the last day of the terrestrial existence of the young scientist — the day of his ascent toward the region of the Aurora Borealis — and, doubtless, the father of Iclea had, for greater security, placed these, the last supreme thoughts of Spero, in the frame with his likeness. He had forgotten to tell me of this when he gave me the portrait of my friend, at the time of my pilgrimage to the tomb of the lovers.

Be this as it may, I experienced a vivid emotion as, placing the picture carefully upon the table, I examined each trait of that beloved countenance. How well I remembered those eyes, so mild and yet so piercing, with their mysterious depths, that broad and serene brow, that delicate yet slightly sensual mouth, the transparent coloring of face, neck and hands. No matter where I placed the portrait, its gaze seemed to follow me, but without quitting Uranie. It was a singular fancy of the painter! I could not help thinking of the eyes of the goddess, which seemed to rest with a tender melancholy on her young adorer. As the shades of twilight darken a serene day, so did a divine sorrow seem to cloud that noble countenance.

But I remembered at last the mysterious sheet of paper. The writing upon it was neat and precise, without any erasure. I transcribe it here as it was, without altering a single word or even a comma, for it seems to form the natural conclusion to the events which it has been the purpose of this book to narrate.

It was, word for word, as follows:

* * *

This is the legacy left to science by a soul that even here on earth sought without ceasing to disengage itself from the bonds of matter, and who aspires to be freed from them.

I desire to leave behind me in the form of aphorisms, the result of my researches. I believe we can only arrive at a knowledge of the truth through the study of Nature, that is to say, through science. Here then are what seem to me to be the natural deductions founded on this method of observation.


The visible, tangible, and ponderable universe, incessantly in motion, is composed of invisible, intangible, imponderable and inert atoms.


In order to form bodies and organise beings those atoms must be acted upon by forces.


Force is the essential element of being.


Visibility, tangibility, solidity, density, weight, are relative properties, not absolute realities.


The infinitely little:

Experiments made in gold-beating, show that ten thousand of those leaves occupy a space no thicker than a millimetre.

This quantity has been sub-divided into a thousand equal parts, and infusoria so small, are known to exist, that their bodies placed on a glass slide between two of these atoms do not touch them; the limbs and organs of these beings are composed of cells, those of molecules, those of atoms. Twenty cubic centimetres of oil spread over the surface of a lake will cover a space of 4000 square yards, so that the coating of oil thus spread measures no more than the two hundredth of a millimetre in thickness. Spectrum analysis reveals the presence in a flame of a millionth of a millegram of sodium. The waves of light are composed between 4 and 8 ten-thousandth of a millimetre of violet to red. 2300 waves of light occupy only the space of a millimetre. In the duration of a second the ether which transmits light, performs seven hundred thousand thousand millions of vibrations, each one of which can be mathematically defined. The sense of smell perceives 604,000,000 of a milligram of mercaptan in the air we breathe. The dimension of an atom must be less than a millionth of a millimetre in diameter.


Atoms, intangible, invisible, scarcely conceivable by our minds accustomed to judge by appearances, constitute the only real matter, and that which we call matter is only the effect produced upon our senses by the movements of atoms, that is to say, an incessant possibility of sensations.

It results from this, that matter, like the manifestations of force, is only a mode of motion; if motion were arrested, if force could be annihilated, if the temperature of bodies were reduced to an absolute zero, matter, as we perceive it by our senses, would cease to exist.


The visible universe is composed of invisible atoms. That which we see is made of things which we do not see.

There is only one species of primitive atoms; the constituent molecules of different bodies, — iron, gold, oxygen, hydrogen, differ only in naming and in the grouping and the action of the atoms which compose them.


That which we call matter vanishes when scientific analysis believes it has grasped it. That which maintains the universe in existence, the principle of all the forms of matter, is force, the dynamic elements.

By the exercise of my will I can cause the moon to deviate from her course.

The movements of all the atoms on our earth are the mathematical result of all the undulations of ether; as they reach them from the abysses of infinite space.


The essential principle of the human being is the soul. The body is apparent and transitory.


Atoms are indestructible.

Force, which moves atoms, and rules the universe, is indestructible.

The human soul is indestructible.


The existence of the soul as an individual entity on the earth, is of recent date. Our planet was first nebulous, then a globe of fire, then chaos; at that time no terrestrial being existed. Life commenced with the most rudimentary organism; it has taken centuries to reach its present state, which is not to be its final one. Intelligence, reason, conscience, what we call the faculties of the soul, are of modern date. Spirit has gradually, liberated itself from matter as — if the comparison be not too material — gas liberates itself from coal, the perfume from the flower, the flame from the fire.


Psychic force began to assert itself thirty or forty centuries back: in the superior spheres of terrestrial being its action is as yet in its dawn.

Souls, whether or not they be conscious of their individuality, are, by their very nature, removed from the conditions of time and space. After the death of the body, as during life, they occupy no space. It may be that they go to inhabit other worlds.

Only those souls are conscious of their existence out of the body, and, of their immortality, who are freed from the bonds of matter.


Earth is only a province of the eternal country; it is a part of heaven. Heaven is infinite: All the worlds form a part of Heaven.


The planetary and sidereal systems which constitute the universe are in different grades of organization and progress. The extent of their diversity is infinite; the inhabitants of a world are always in harmony with their environment.


All the worlds are not at present inhabited. The present epoch is of no more importance than the epochs which precede, or than those which are to follow it. Such and such worlds were inhabited in the past, myriads of years ago; such and such others will be inhabited in the future during myriads of ages yet to come. One day nothing will remain of the Earth, and its very ruins will be destroyed.


Terrestrial life is not the type of life on other globes. Infinite diversity reigns throughout the universe. There are abodes where gravity is intense, where light is unknown, where the sense of touch, of smell, of hearing, are the only senses, and where the optic nerve not being formed, all the beings are blind. There are others where gravity is scarcely sensible, and where beings are so light and so tenuous that they would be invisible to terrestrial eyes, where senses of an exquisite delicacy reveal to privileged spirits, sensations unknown to terrestrial humanity.


The space existing between the worlds scattered throughout the universe, does not isolate them from one another. They are all in perpetual communication with each other through the force of attraction which is constantly exerted through space.


The Universe is a unity.


The system of the physical world is the material basis, the habitat of the system of the moral or physical world. Astronomy, therefore, should be the basis of every religious or philosophical creed.

Every thinking being bears within himself the feeling — but also the doubt — of immortality. This is because we are the infinitely little parts of an unknown mechanism.


Man makes his own destiny. He elevates himself, or he lowers himself by his works. Those who are attached to material interests, those who are ambitious, misers, hypocrites, liars, the sons of Tartufe, dwell, with the perverse, in the inferior zones.

But a primordial and absolute law rules the Creation; the law of Progress. In the infinite all things tend upward; faults are falls.


In the upward progress of souls, moral qualities have no less value than intellectual qualities. Goodness, self-devotion, abnegation, sacrifice, purify the soul and exalt it, as knowledge and study do.


Universal creation is a grand symphony of which the Earth is only an insignificant strain, dull, and unintelligible.


Nature is a perpetual becoming. Progress is the law. Progression is eternal.


Eternity would not suffice a soul, to explore the infinite, and learn all that is to be known.


The destiny of the soul is to liberate itself more and more from the material world and to belong definitely to the higher Uranian life, where it dominates matter and suffers no longer. The supreme end of being is a perpetual progress toward absolute perfection and divine happiness.

* * *

Such was the legacy left to science and philosophy by Spero. Does it not seem to have been dictated by Uranie herself?

The nine Muses of ancient mythology were sisters. Modern scientific conceptions tend also, in their turn, to unity. Astronomy, or the knowledge of the material world, psychology, or the knowledge of being, unite today to form the only basis on which it is possible to construct the philosophy of the future.

* * * * * * *

P.S. — The preceding episodes, the researches recorded, and the reflections accompanying them are here brought together in a sort of Essay, to serve as beacons in the solution of the greatest of the problems which can interest the human mind. It is as such that the present work is presented to the attention of those who, as Dante says, occasionally pause “midway in the path of life,” to ask themselves what they are, what are their aims, their thoughts, their dreams.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54