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P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
14.3 (Summer 2014)
A Voyage to the Moon
Cyrano de Bergerac
Everyone is familiar with the Cyrano de Bergerac of Edmond Rostand’s play—the gallant cavalier deformed by a huge nose who aids his best friend in wooing the girl both passionately love (feeding eloquent lines to the tongue-tied comrade from various points of hiding). And the truth? Very different, although the real Cyrano may have possessed a somewhat impressive probiscus. Born in 1619, this extraordinary scribbler, wag, contrarian, and duelist managed to eke out 36 years of unstable life before mysteriously succumbing either to wounds from his skirmishes or a disease owed to other adventures. If Cyrano might be considered typical in any way, it would perhaps be in his maladjustment. Though noble of birth, he was a wastrel who eventually knew reduced circumstances; though well educated, he found no particularly productive outlet for his intelligence and training; though creative to the point of practically prophesying certain theories or developments in the sciences, he was also a thorough sophist who loved to argue untenable positions; though capable of great charm, he also delighted in giving shock. To say that the France of Louis XIV produced a generation of young men who thus misspent their time on earth would be a gross exaggeration; yet Cyrano could well be said to typify that minority which had too many material blessings and too few opportunities to employ them usefully.
L’Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune, published in 1657 (a couple of years after Cyrano’s death), reflects all of these qualities. The ascent to the Moon—indeed, the many ascents, for Cyrano meets several earthlings each of whom had a unique system of transport—belongs to the world of burlesque. None of these mechanisms for getting airborne is seriously intended, though modern readers occasionally sniff out a hint of science-fiction, if not the Wright brothers; all have far more to do with Rabelais’s universe of rip-roaring folkloric giants and hyper-inflated tall tales. The attachment to monstrous exaggeration conducive to an atmosphere that we would recognize as cartoon-like implies a cover, perhaps, for launching dangerous opinions. It is almost impossible, however, to say which harangues or vignettes—which balloons growing out of the mouths of these comic figures—might betray Cyrano in a serious moment. Was he in fact an inveterate enemy of Catholic orthodoxy, committed to rendering essential doctrine as absurd? The Church itself, and even some of the author’s intimates, certainly felt that a scene or a line here and there could not be excused as silly fun, for the work’s text suffers from a great many minor, seemingly last-minute suppressions. Yet the narrative almost always supplies a context in which scoffers and apostates appear to have little credit. Cyrano himself, as a character, is cast out of Eden for mouthing what he himself condemns as foolish impieties.
So for the “scientific” sections. Cyrano had studied under Pierre Gassendi and apparently imbibed from that source an atomistic view of the universe’s construction. One could read into relevant sections of Voyage to the Moon a sincere and spirited argument on behalf of this theory, as well as an early expression of microbial biology; and from the chance encounters by which tiny particles combine into complex organisms, one even finds the rudiments of Darwinian evolution. It is equally sustainable, though, that such passages constitute a bit of an embarrassment to the modern scientist; for in showing that contemporary theories can be raised from the ruins of Aristotle through a vigorous infusion of poetic bluster, do they not reveal to us that theoretical science itself is just another register of the poetic imagination?
For students of English literature, this text is important for at least two reasons. One is its influence on authors such as Jonathan Swift. The lineage connecting several of Cyrano’s experiences among the “lunatics” to the sober Gulliver’s adventures (e.g., the quadruped lunar humans, with their rationale in defense of their natural superiority, and Gulliver’s Houyhnhnm friends) are fairly transparent. If Dean Swift did not draw directly from the French text, he must have been affected by it in some indirect manner. “Parallel evolution” is scarcely an option.
The second reason for giving our attention to this particular publication is simply that it teaches us so much linguistically—about English. Published in 1687, Lovell’s translation shows us how fluid certain conventions of grammar and spelling remained even at this relatively late date. We are accustomed to hearing that Shakespeare used several spellings to write his own name—but that was in the days of Elizabeth. Here we are on the brink of the eighteenth century… and employing “apostrophe + d” to form the past tense is still entirely acceptable in the right circumstances!
The occasional notes in brackets are those of Lovell’s English editor preparing the text for republication in 1899. I have also appended a few at the end of certain chapters.
The link to the complete text is http://archive.org/stream/voyagetomoon00cyrarich/voyagetomoon00cyrarich_djvu.txt.
A VOYAGE TO THE MOON
BY MONSIEUR CYRANO DE BERGERAC
NEW YORK: DOUBLEDAY and McCLURE Co.M. DCCC.XCIX. (1899)
THE COMICAL HISTORY OF THE STATES AND EMPIRES OF THE WORLD OF THE MOON.
Written in French by CYRANO BERGERAC.
And now Englished by A. LOVELL. A.M. LONDON, Printed for Henry Rhodes, next door to the Swan Tavern, near Bride Lane in Fleet Street, 1687.
CHAPTER I. Of How the Voyage Was Conceived.
I Had been with some Friends at Clamard, a House near Paris, and magnificently Entertain ‘d there by Monsieur de Cuigy, when upon our return home, about Nine of the Clock at Night, the Air serene, and the Moon in the Full, the Contemplation of that bright Luminary furnished us with such variety of Thoughts as made the way seem shorter than, indeed, it was. Our Eyes being fixed upon that stately Planet, every one spoke what he thought of it: One would needs have it be a Garret Window of Heaven; another presently affirmed, That it was the Pan whereupon Diana smoothed Apollo’s Bands; whilst another was of Opinion, That it might very well be the Sun him self, who putting his Locks up under his Cap at Night, peeped through a hole to observe what was doing in the World during his absence.
“And for my part, Gentlemen,” said I, “ that I may put in for a share, and guess with the rest; not to amuse my self with those curious Notions wherewith you tickle and spur on slow-paced Time; I believe, that the Moon is a World like ours, to which this of ours serves likewise for a Moon.”
This was received with the general Laughter of the Company. “ And perhaps,” said I, “ just so they laugh now in the Moon, at some who maintain, That this Globe, where we are, is a World.”
But I’d as good have said nothing, as have alledged to them, That a great many Learned Men had been of the same Opinion; for that only made them laugh the faster. However, this thought, which because of its boldness suted my Humor, being confirmed by Contradiction, sunk so deep into my mind, that during the rest of the way I was big with Definitions of the Moon which I could not be delivered of: Insomuch that by striving to verifie this Comical Fancy by Reasons of appearing weight, I had almost perswaded my self already of the truth on’t; when a Miracle, Accident, Providence, Fortune, or what, perhaps, some may call Vision, others Fiction, Whimsey, or (if you will) Folly, furnished me with an occasion that engaged me into this Discourse.
Being come home, I went up into my Closet, where I found a Book open upon the Table, which I had not put there. It was a piece of Cardanus; and though I had no design to read in it, yet I fell at first sight, as by force, exactly upon a Passage of that Philosopher where he tells us, That Studying one evening by Candle-light, he perceived Two tall old Men enter in through the door that was shut, who after many questions that he put to them, made him answer, That they were Inhabitants of the Moon, and thereupon immediately disappeared. I was so surprised, not only to see a Book get thither of it self; but also because of the nicking of the Time so patly, and of the Page at which it lay upon, that I looked upon that Concatenation of Accidents as a Revelation, discovering to Mortals that the Moon is a World.
“How!” said I to my self, having just now talked of a thing, can a Book, which perhaps is the only Book in the World that treats of that matter so particularly, fly down from the Shelf upon my Table; become capable of Reason, in opening so exactly at the place of so strange an adventure; force my Eyes in a manner to look upon it, and then to suggest to my fancy the Reflexions, and to my Will the Designs which I hatch. “Without doubt,” continued I, “the Two old Men, who appeared to that famous Philosopher, are the very same who have taken down my Book and opened it at that Page, to save themselves the labour of making to me the Harangue which they made to Cardan. But,” added I, “ I cannot be resolved of this Doubt, unless I mount up thither.”
“And why not?” said I instantly to my self. “Prometheus heretofore went up to Heaven, and stole fire from thence. Have not I as much Boldness as he? And why should not I, then, expect as favourable a Success?”
CHAPTER II. Of How the Author Set Out, and Where He First Arrived
After these sudden starts of Imagination, which may be termed, perhaps, the Ravings of a violent Feaver, I began to conceive some hopes of succeeding in so fair a Voyage: Insomuch that to take my measures aright, I shut my self up in a solitary Country-house; where having flattered my fancy with some means, proportionated to my design, at length I set out for Heaven in this manner.
I planted my self in the middle of a great many Glasses full of Dew, tied fast about me; upon which the Sun so violently darted his Rays, that the Heat, which attracted them, as it does the thickest Clouds, carried me up so high, that at length I found my self above the middle Region of the Air. But seeing that Attraction hurried me up with so much rapidity that instead of drawing near the Moon, as I intended, she seem’d to me to be more distant than at my first setting out; I broke several of my Vials, until I found my weight exceed the force of the Attraction, and that I began to descend again towards the Earth.
I was not mistaken in my opinion, for some time after I fell to the ground again; and to reckon from the hour that I set out at, it must then have been about midnight. Nevertheless I found the Sun to be in the Meridian, and that it was Noon. I leave it to you to judge, in what Amazement I was; The truth is, I was so strangely surprised, that not knowing what to think of that Miracle, I had the insolence to imagine that in favour of my Boldness God had once more nailed the Sun to the Firmament, to light so generous an Enterprise.
That which encreased my Astonishment was, That I knew not the Country where I was; it seemed to me, that having mounted straight up, I should have fallen down again in the same place I parted from. However, in the Equipage I was in, I directed my course towards a kind of Cottage, where I perceived some smoke; and I was not above a Pistol-shot from it, when 1 saw my self environed by a great number of People, stark naked: They seemed to be exceedingly surprised at the sight of me; for I was the first, (as I think) that they had ever seen clad in Bottles. Nay, and to baffle all the Interpretations that they could put upon that Equipage, they perceived that I hardly touched the ground as I walked; for, indeed, they understood not that upon the least agitation I gave my Body the Heat of the beams of the Noon-Sun raised me up with my Dew; and that if I had had Vials enough about me, it would possibly have carried me up into the Air in their view.
I had a mind to have spoken to them; but as if Fear had changed them into Birds, immediately I lost sight of them in an adjoyning Forest. However, I catched hold of one, whose Legs had, without doubt, betrayed his Heart. I asked him, but with a great deal of pain, (for I was quite choked) how far they reckoned from thence to Paris ? How long Men had gone naked in France? and why they fled from me in so great Consternation?
The Man I spoke to was an old tawny Fellow, who presently fell at my Feet, and with lifted-up Hands joyned behind his Head, opened his Mouth and shut his Eyes: He mumbled a long while between his Teeth, but I could not distinguish an articulate Word; so that I took his Language for the maffling noise of a Dumb-man.
Some time after, I saw a Company of Souldiers marching, with Drums beating; and I perceived Two detached from the rest, to come and take speech of me. When they were come within hearing, I asked them, Where I was? “You are in France” answered they: “But what Devil hath put you into that Dress? And how comes it that we know you not? Is the Fleet then arrived? Are you going to carry the News of it to the Governor? And why have you divided your Brandy into so many Bottles?”
To all this I made answer, That the Devil had not put me into that Dress: That they knew me not; because they could not know all Men: That I knew, nothing of the Seine’ s carrying Ships to Paris: That I had no news for the Marshal de V Hospital; [Hospital, Marechal de France, was Governor of Paris in 1649, the year when the Voyage to the Moon was probably written. Cyrano, thinking he has fallen in France, near Paris, and being asked if he carries news of the fleet to the Governor, naturally answers that he knows nothing of ships going to Paris, and that he carries no news to the Marechal de 1’Hospital.] and that I was not loaded with Brandy.
“Ho, ho,” said they to me, taking me by the Arm, “you are a merry Fellow indeed; come, the Governor will make a shift to know you, no doubt on’t.”
They led me to their Company, where I learnt that I was in reality in France, but that it was in New-France: So that some time after, I was presented before the Governor, who asked me my Country, my Name and Quality; and after that I had satisfied him in all Points, and told him the pleasant Success of my Voyage, whether he believed it, or only pretended to do so, he had the goodness to order me a Chamber in his Apartment. I was very happy, in meeting with a Man capable of lofty Opinions, and who was not at all surprised when I told him that the Earth must needs have turned during my Elevation; seeing that having begun to mount about Two Leagues from Paris, I was fallen, as it were, by a perpendicular Line in Canada.
While it is highly unlikely that Cyrano seriously believed in the strength of rising dew to heft objects from earth, the principle of the hot-air balloon is here implied. Note, too, his insistence upon the planet’s rotation, which would still have raised a few brows in the seventeenth century.
CHAPTER IV. Of How at Last He Set Out Again for the Moon, tho Without His Own Will
Next Day, and the Days following, we had some Discourses to the same purpose: But some time after, since the hurry of Affairs suspended our Philosophy, I fell afresh upon the design of mounting up to the Moon. So soon as she was up, I walked about musing in the Woods, how I might manage and succeed in my Enterprise; arid at length on St. John’s Eve, when they were at Council in the Fort, whether they should assist the Wild Natives of the Country against the Iroqueans; I went all alone to the top of a little Hill at the back of our Habitation, where I put in Practice what you shall hear.
I had made a Machine which I fancied might carry me up as high as I pleased, so that nothing seeming to be wanting to it, I placed my self within, and from the Top of a Rock threw my self in the Air: But because I had not taken my measures aright, I fell with a sosh in the Valley below. Bruised as I was, however, I returned to my Chamber without loosing courage, and with Beef-Marrow I anointed my Body, for I was all over mortified from Head to Foot: Then having taken a dram of Cordial Waters to strengthen my Heart, I went back to look for rny Machine; but I could not find it, for some Soldiers, that had been sent into the Forest to cut wood for a Bonefire, meeting with it by chance, had carried it with them to the Fort: Where after a great deal of guessing what it might be, when they had discovered the invention of the Spring, some said, that a good many Fire-Works should be fastened to it, because their Force carrying them up on high, and the Machine playing its large Wings, no Body but would take it for a Fiery Dragon.
In the mean time I was long in search of it, but found it at length in the Market-place of Kebeck (Quebec), just as they were setting Fire to it. I was so transported with Grief, to find the Work of my Hands in so great Peril, that I ran to the Souldier that was giving Fire to it, caught hold of his Arm, pluckt the Match out of his Hand, and in great rage threw my self into my Machine, that I might undo the Fire-Works that they had stuck about it; but I came too late, for hardly were both my Feet within, when whip, away went I up in a Cloud.
The Horror and Consternation I was in did not so confound the faculties of my Soul, but I have since remembered all that happened to me at that instant. For so soon as the Flame had devoured one tier of Squibs, which were ranked by six and six, by means of a Train that reached every half-dozen, another tier went off, and then another; so that the Salt-Peter taking Fire, put off the danger by encreasing it. However, all the combustible matter being spent, there was a period put to the Fire-work; and whilst I thought of nothing less than to knock my Head against the top of some Mountain, I felt, without the least stirring, my elevation continuing; and adieu Machine, for I saw it fall down again towards the Earth.
That extraordinary Adventure puffed up my Heart with so uncommon a Gladness; that, ravished to see my self delivered from certain danger, I had the impudence to philosophize upon it. Whilst then with Eyes and Thought I cast about to find what might be the cause of it, I perceived my flesh blown up, and still greasy with the Marrow, that I had daubed my self over with for the Bruises of my fall: I knew that the Moon being then in the Wain, and that it being usual for her in that Quarter to suck up the Marrow of Animals, she drank up that wherewith I was anointed, with so much the more force that her Globe was nearer to me, and that no interposition of Clouds weakened her Attraction.
When I had, according to the computation I made since, advanced a good deal more than three quarters of the space that divided the Earth from the Moon; all of a sudden I fell with my Heels up and Head down, though I had made no Trip; and indeed, I had not been sensible of it, had not I felt my Head loaded under the weight of my Body: The truth is, I knew very well that I was not falling again towards our World; for though I found my self to be betwixt two Moons, and easily observed, that the nearer I drew to the one, the farther I removed from the other; yet I was certain, that ours was the bigger Globe of the two: Because after one or two days Journey, the remote Refractions of the Sun, confounding the diversity of Bodies and Climates, it appeared to me only as a large Plate of Gold: That made me imagine, that I byassed [=fell] towards the Moon; and I was confirmed in that Opinion, when I began to call to mind, that I did not fall till I was past three quarters of the way. For, said I to my self, that Mass being less than ours, the Sphere of its Activity must be of less Extent also; and by consequence, it was later before I felt the force of its Center.
CHAPTER V. Of His Arrival There, and of the Beauty of That Country in Which He Fell.
In fine, after I had been a very long while in falling, as I judged, for the violence of my Precipitation hindered me from observing it more exactly: The last thing I can remember is, that I found my self under a Tree, entangled with three or four pretty large Branches which I had broken off by my fall; and my face besmeared with an Apple, that had dashed against it. By good luck that place was, as you shall know by and by… [“the Garden of Eden,” which Cyrano heretically locates in the Moon; and the “Tree” through which he has fallen, and an “Apple” of which has besmeared his face and recalled him to life, is the Tree of Life, that stood “in the midst of the garden.” This is the first of a series of hiatuses, which occur in all the French editions as well as the English. There can be little doubt that the passages were deliberately cut out by some one on account of their “heretical” character. It even seems probable, from passages at the beginning of the Voyage to the Sun, that when the work was circulated in Manuscript, Cyrano had been the object of persecution on account of them.] … that you may very well conclude, that had it not been for that Chance, if I had had a thousand lives, they had been all lost. I have many times since reflected upon the vulgar Opinion, That if one precipitate himself from a very high place, his breath is out before he reach the ground; and from my adventure I conclude it to be false, or else that the efficacious Juyce of that Fruit, which squirted into my mouth, must needs have recalled my soul, that was not far from my Carcass, which was still hot and in a disposition of exerting the Functions of Life.
The truth is, so soon as I was upon the ground my pain was gone, before I could think what it was; and the Hunger, which I felt during my Voyage, was fully satisfied with the sense that I had lost it. When I was got up, I had hardly taken notice of the largest of Four great Rivers, which by their conflux make a Lake; when the Spirit, or invisible Soul, of Plants that breath upon that Country, refreshed my Brain with a delightful smell: And I found that the Stones there were neither hard nor rough; but that they carefully softened themselves when one trode upon them.
I presently lighted upon a Walk with five Avenues, in figure like to a Star; [This beautiful Nature-description, the like of which cannot be found in all seventeenth-century French literature outside of Cyrano’s works, was apparently his favorite passage, since it is the only one he has used twice. Cf. his Lettre XI., “ D’une maison de campagne.”] the Trees whereof seemed to reach up to the Skie, a green plot of lofty Boughs: Casting up my Eyes from the root to the top, and then making the same Survey downwards, I was in doubt whether the Earth carried them, or they the Earth, hanging by their Roots: Their high and stately Forehead seemed also to bend, as it were by force, under the weight of the Celestial Globes; and one would say, that their Sighs and outstretched Arms, wherewith they embraced the Firmament, demanded of the Stars the bounty of their purer Influences before they had lost any thing of their Innocence in the contagious Bed of the Elements.
The Flowers there on all hands, without the aid of any other Gardiner but Nature, send out so sweet (though wild) a Perfume, that it rouzes and delights the Smell: There the incarnate of a Rose upon the Bush, and the lively Azure of a Violet under the Rushes, captivating the Choice, make each of themselves to be judged the Fairest: There the whole Year is Spring; there no poysonous Plant sprouts forth, but is as soon destroyed; there the Brooks by an agreeable murmuring, relate their Travels to the Pebbles; there Thousands of Quiristers make the Woods resound with their melodious Notes; and the quavering Clubs of these divine Musicians are so universal, that every Leaf of the Forest seems to have borrowed the Tongue and shape of a Nightingale; nay, and the Nymph Eccho is so delightful 1 with their Airs, that to hear her repeat, one would say, She were sollicitous to learn them.
On the sides of that Wood are Two Meadows, whose continued Verdure seems an Emerauld reaching out of sight. The various Colours, which the Spring bestows upon the numerous little Flowers that grow there, so delightfully confounds and mingles their Shadows, that it is hard to be known, whether these Flowers shaken with a gentle Breeze pursue themselves, or fly rather from the Caresses of the Wanton Zephyrus; one would likewise take that Meadow for an Ocean, because, as the Sea, it presents no Shoar to the view; insomuch, that mine Eye fearing it might lose it self, having roamed so long, and discovered no Coast, sent my Thoughts presently thither; and my Thoughts, imagining it to be the end of the World, were willing to be perswaded, that such charming places had perhaps forced the Heavens to descend and join the Earth there.
In the midst of that vast and pleasant Carpet, a rustick Fountain bubbles up in Silver Purles, crowning its enamelled Banks with Sets of Violets, and multitudes of other little Flowers, that seem to strive which shall first behold it self in that Chrystal Myrroir: It is as yet in the Cradle, being but newly Born, and its Young and smooth Face shews not the least Wrinkle. The large Compasses it fetches, in circling within it self, demonstrate its unwillingness to leave its native Soyl: And as if it had been ashamed to be caressed in presence of its Mother, with a Murmuring it thrust back my hand that would have touched it: The Beasts that came to drink there, more rational than those of our World, seemed surprised to see it day upon the Horizon, whilst the Sun was with the Antipodes; and durst not bend downwards upon the Brink, for fear of falling into the Firmament.
I must confess to you, That at the sight of so many Fine things, I found my self tickled with these agreeable Twitches, which they say the Embryo feels upon the infusion of its Soul: My old Hair fell off, and gave place for thicker and softer Locks: I perceived my Youth revived, my face grow ruddy, my natural Heat mingle gently again with my radical Moisture: And in a word, I grew younger again by at least Fourteen Years.
In this an immediately ensuing chapters, several gaps in the text testify to doctrinally awkward passages that Cyrano’s friends or editors must have removed to avoid controversy, without always filling in the lacuna coherently. The general notion that the biblical Paradise was not terrestrial—even though the author’s whole fantasy is clearly a burlesque—would have drawn heavy frowns from quarters that had sufficient power to suppress the book.
CHAPTER VI. Of a Youth Whom He Met There, and of Their Conversation: What That Country Was, and the Inhabitants of It
I had advanced half a League, through a Forest of Jessamines and Myrtles, when I perceived something that stirred, lying in the Shade: It was a Youth, whose Majestick Beauty forced me almost to Adoration. He started up to hinder me; crying, “It is not to me but to God that you owe these Humilities.”
“You see one,” answered I, “stunned with so many Wonders that I know not what to admire most; for coming from a World, which without doubt you take for a Moon here, I thought I had arrived in another, which our Worldlings call a Moon also; and behold I am in Paradice at the Feet of a God, who will not be Adored.”
“Except the quality of a God,” replied he, “whose Creature I only am, the rest you say is true: This Land is the Moon, which you see from your Globe, and this place where you are is… [Probably a long passage has been lost here, in which the “Youth” (the Prophet Elijah, who had “translated” himself hither and become young by eating of the Tree of Life) describes the place where they are as the original Garden of Eden; and tells of the Creation, the Fall, and the Banishment of Adam and Eve. At the beginning of the next paragraph he is still speaking, and telling of Adam’s transference from the Moon to the Earth.]
“Now at that time Man’s Imagination was so strong, as not being as yet corrupted, neither by Debauches, the Crudity of Aliments, nor the alterations of Diseases, that being excited by a violent desire of coming to this Sanctuary, and his Body becoming light through the heat of this Inspiration; he was carried thither in the same manner, as some Philosophers, who having fixed their Imagination upon the contemplation of a certain Object have sprung up in the Air by Ravishments, which you call Extasies. The Woman, who through the infirmity of her Sex was weaker and less hot, could not, without doubt, have the imagination strong enough to make the Intension of her Will prevail over the Ponderousness of her Matter; but because there were very few… [?] the Sympathy which still united that half to its whole, drew her towards him as he mounted up, as the Amber attracts the Straw, [as] the Load-stone turns towards the North from whence it hath been taken, and drew to him that part of himself, as the Sea draws the Rivers which proceed from it. “When they arrived in your Earth, they dwelt betwixt Mesopotamia and Arabia: Some People knew them by the name [of Adam and Eve, she being] the woman to the man, from whose side she was taken; and others under that of Prometheus, whom the Poets feigned to have stolen Fire from Heaven, by reason of his Off-spring, who were endowed with a Soul as perfect as his own: So that to inhabit your World, that Man left this destitute; but the All-wise would not have so blessed an Habitation, to remain without Inhabitants; He suffered a few ages after that… [that a holy man, whose name was Enoch], cloyed with the company of Men, whose Innocence was corrupted, had a desire to forsake them.
“This person, however, thought no retreat secure enough from the Ambition of Men, who already Murdered one another about the distribution of your World; except that blessed Land, which his Grand-Father had so often mentioned unto him, and to which no Body had as yet found out the way: But his Imagination supplied that; for seeing he had observed that… [?] he filled Two large Vessels which he sealed Hermetically, and fastened them under his Arm-pits: So soon as the Smoak began to rise upwards, and could not pierce through the Mettal, it forced up the Vessels on high, and with them also that Great Man.
“When he was got as high as the Moon, and had cast his Eyes upon that lovely Garden, a fit of almost supernatural Joy convinced him, that that was the place where his Grand-father had heretofore lived. He quickly untied the Vessels, which he had girt like Wings about his Shoulders, and did it so luckily, that he was scarcely Four Fathom in the Air above the Moon, when he set his Fins a going; yet he was high enough still to have been hurt by the fall, had it not been for the large skirts of his Gown, which being swelled by the Wind, gently upheld him till he set Foot on ground. As for the two Vessels, they mounted up to a certain place, where they have continued: And those are they, which now a-days you call the Balance.
At these words: “Venerable and holy patriarch,” said I to him, “I am eager to know what you understand by that Serpent which was consumed.”
He, with face a smiling, answered me thus: “… [Our author’s treatment of “original sin” is, according to M. Brun, unprintable.] The Tree of Knowledge is planted opposite; its fruit is covered with a Rind which produces Ignorance in whomsoever hath tasted thereof; yet this Rind preserves underneath its thickness all the spiritual virtues of this learned food. God, when he had driven Adam from this fortunate country, rubbed his gums with this same Rind, that he might never find the way back again; for more than fifteen years thereafter he did dote, and did so completely forget all things, that neither he nor any of his descendants till Moses ever remembered even so much as the Creation; but what Power was left of this direful Rind at last passed away through the warmth and brightness of that great Prophet’s genius. I happily met with one among these apples, which through ripeness was despoiled of its skin; hardly had my mouth watered with it, when Universal Knowledge penetrated my being, I felt as it were an infinite number of Eyes fix themselves in my head, and I knew the means of speaking with the Lord.
“When I have since reflected on these miraculous events, I have judged that I could in no wise have overcome, by any occult powers of a simple natural body, the vigilance of that Seraph whom God has ordained to guard this Paradise; but since he is pleased to use second causes, I imagined that he had in- spired me to find this means of entering there; even as he thought good to take of the ribs of Adam to make him a wife, though he could form her of Earth, as well as he did Adam.
“I remained long in this Garden, walking about alone; but in fine, since the angel that was Keeper of the Gate seemed to me to be in chief my Host here, I was taken with the desire to salute him. In an hour’s journey I came to a place where a thousand Lightnings mingled together in one blinding light that served but to make Darkness visible. I was not yet fully recovered from this dazzlement, when I saw before me a beautiful Young man.
“’1 am,’ said he, ‘the Archangel whom you seek, I have but now read in God that he had inspired you with the means of coming here, and that he willed you should here expect his pleasure.’
“He talked with me of many things, and told me among the rest: “That the light wherewith I had been amazed was nothing fearful, but that it appeared almost every evening when he went his rounds, seeing that to avoid sudden attack from the Evil Spirits, which may enter secretly at any place, he was constrained mightily to swing his Flaming Sword in circles, all about the bounds of the Earthly Paradise; and that the light I had seen was the lightnings which the steel of it gave forth. ‘Those also which you perceive from your Earth,’ he added, ‘are of my creation. And if sometimes you see them at a great distance, it is be- cause the clouds of some distant region hold themselves in such disposition as to receive an impression of these unbodied fires, and reflect them to your eyes; just as clouds otherwise disposed may prove themselves fit to make the Rain-bow.’
“I will not instruct you further in these matters, since to be sure the Apple of Knowledge is not far from hence; whereof as soon as you have eaten, you will know all things even as I. But see you make no mistake, for most of the Fruits that hang from that Plant are encased in a Rind, whose taste will abase you even below man; while the part within will make you mount up to be even as the Angels.”
Elijah had come to this point of the teachings of the Seraph, when a little short man came up with us; “This is that Enoch of whom I told you,” said my guide to me apart; and even while he finished the words, Enoch offered us a basketful of I know not what fruits, like to Pomegranates, which he had but discovered that same day in a distant coppice. I took some and put in my pockets, as Elijah bade me. Hereupon Enoch asked him who I might be.
“That is a matter,” answered my guide, “to entertain us at more leisure; this evening when we have withdrawn he shall tell us himself of the miraculous particulars of his journey.”
With these words we arrived beneath a sort of Hermitage, made of palm-branches skilfully interlaced with myrtle and orange-branches. There I saw, in a little nook, great piles of a kind of floss-silk, so white and so delicate that one might take it for the virgin Soul of the snow; and I saw distaffs lying here and there; whereupon I asked my guide what use they served.
“To spin,” he answered me; “when the good Enoch would relax his mind from meditation, he applies himself sometimes to dressing this Lady-distaff, sometimes to weaving the cloth from which they make Shifts for the eleven thousand Virgins. Surely in your world you have met with that something white, which flutters on the winds in Autumn about the season of the Winter-sowings. Your peasant-folk call it Our Lady’s Cotton, but it is no other than the Flock that Enoch purges his Linen of, when he cards it.”
We made little delay there, and but barely took leave of Enoch, whom this cabin served for his Cell; in truth what made us leave him so soon was this: that he said some prayer there every six hours; and it was at least that time since he had finished the last one. As we went forward, I begged Elijah to finish that history which he had begun, of the Assumptions or Translations; and I said, that he had come, I thought, to that of Saint John the Evangelist.
Then said he to me: “Since you have not the patience, to wait till the Apple of Knowledge teach you all these things better than I can, I will even tell you. Know then that God…”
At this word, in some way I know not how, the Devil would have his Finger in that pie; or howsoever it came about, so it was that I could not forbear Interrupting him with raillery.
“I remember that case,” said I: “God heard one day that the Soul of the Evangelist was so loosed from his Body, that he no more kept it in but by shutting his teeth hard; and at that moment the hour when he had foreseen that he should be translated hither was almost past; so having no time to get him a machine made ready for coming, He was constrained to make him suddenly be here, without having time to bring him.”
During all my discourse Elijah bent upon me such a look, as would have been fit to kill me, had I then been capable of dying from aught but Hunger.
“Thou Wretch,” said he, and drew back in horror, “thou hast the insolence to rail at Holy Things! Surely thou shouldst not go unpunished, were it not that the All-wise determines to spare thee as a marvellous example of His long-suffering, a witness to the Nations. Get hence, thou Blasphemer, go thou and publish in this little World, and in the other (for thou art predestined to return thither), the unforgetting Hatred that God bears to Atheists.”
Hardly had he finished this Curse, when he seized me roughly to drag me toward the Gate. When we were arrived beside a great Tree whose branches bent almost to Earth with the burden of their Fruit, “Here,” said he, “is that Tree of Knowledge where thou shouldst have got Enlightenment inconceivable, but for thy Infidelity.”
At that word I feigned to swoon with weakness, and letting my self fall against a low branch I handily filched an Apple from it. And in but a few strides more I was set down outside of that delicious Garden. In that moment, being so violently pressed by Hunger, that I even forgot I was in the grip of the angry Prophet, I drew from my pocket one of those Apples I had filled it with, wherein I buried my teeth as deep as I could. But so it was, that in place of taking one of those Enoch had given me, my hand fell on that very Apple I had plucked from the Tree of Knowledge, which for my misfortune I had not freed of its Rind.
Scarcely had I tasted it, when a thick Cloud over-cast my Soul: I saw no body now near me; and in the whole Hemisphere my Eyes could not discern the least Tract of the way I had made; yet nevertheless I fully remembered every thing that befel me. When I reflected since upon that Miracle, I fanced that the skin of the Fruit which I bit had not rendered me altogether brutish; because my Teeth piercing through it were a little moistened by the Juyce within, the efficacy whereof had dissipated the Malignities of the Rind. I was not a little surprised to see my self all alone, in a Country I knew not. It was to no purpose for me to stare and look about me; for no Creature appeared to comfort me.
It may be that Cyrano is mocking his own perverted spirit, as Lucius does in Apuleius’ ancient tale when his excessive curiosity has him turned into an ass. Yet it may also be true that Cyrano is providing himself with a clever escape should his writings be accused of impiety—for he might point to this passage as proof that he was representing himself as a corrupt being rather than an authority. Montaigne did something rather similar a century earlier when he placed criticisms of the French monarchy in the mouths of cannibals visiting from the New World.
CHAPTER VII. Being Cast out from That Country, of the New Adventures Which Befell Him; and of the Demon of Socrates.
At length I resolved to march forwards, till Fortune should aford me the company of some Beasts, or at least the means of Dying. She favourably granted my desire; for within half a quarter of a League, I met two huge Animals, one of which stopt before me, and the other fled swiftly to its Den; for so I thought at least; because that some time after, I perceived it come back again in company of above Seven or Eight hundred of the same kind, who beset me. When I could discern them at a near distance, I perceived that they were proportioned and shaped like us. This adventure brought into my mind the old Wives Tales of my Nurse concerning Syrenes, Faunes and Satyrs: Ever now and then they raised such furious Shouts, occasioned undoubtedly by their Admiration at the sight of me, that I thought I was e’en turned a Monster.
At length one of these Beast-like men, catching hold of me by the Neck, just as Wolves do when they carry away Sheep, tossed me upon his back and brought me into their Town; where I was more amazed than before, when I knew they were Men, that I could meet with none of them but who marched upon all four.
When these People saw that I was so little, (for most of them are Twelve Cubits long,) and that I walked only upon Two Legs, they could not believe me to be a Man: For they were of opinion, that Nature having given to men as well as Beasts Two Legs and Two Arms, they should both make use of them alike. And, indeed, reflecting upon that since, that situation of Body did not seem to me altogether extravagant; when I called to mind, that whilst Children are still under the nurture of Nature, they go upon all four, and that they rise not on their two Legs but by the care of their Nurses; who set them in little running Chairs, and fasten straps to them, to hinder them from falling on all four, as the only posture that the shape of our Body naturally inclines to rest in.
They said then, (as I had it interpreted to me since) That I was infallibly the Female of the Queens little Animal. And therefore as such, or somewhat else, I was carried streight to the Town-House, where I observed by the muttering and gestures both of the People and Magistrates, that they were consulting what sort of a thing I could be. When they had conferred together a long while, a certain Burgher, who had the keeping of the strange Beasts, besought the Mayor and Aldermen to commit me to his Custody, till the Queen should send for me to couple me to my Male. This was granted without any difficulty, and that Juggler carried me to his House; where he taught me to Tumble, Vault, make Mouths, and shew a Hundred odd Tricks, for which in the Afternoons he received Money at the door from those that came in to see me.
The resemblances between Cyrano’s treatment by these quadruped human giants and Gulliver’s by the Laputans are too numerous to be accidental. The display of the little stranger before amused audiences and his housing in a cage fit for a pet or a zoo animal give two points of reference.
CHAPTER VIII. Of the Languages of the People in the Moon; of the Manner of Feeding There, and Paying the Scot; and of How the Author Was Taken to Court.
Thus, all the comfort I had during the misery of my hard Usage, were the visits of this officious Spirit; for you may judge what conversation I could have with these that came to see me, since besides that they only took me for an Animal, in the highest class of the Category of Bruits, I neither understood their Language, nor they mine. For you must know, that there are but two Idioms in use in that Country, one for the Grandees, and another for the People in general. That of the great ones is no more but various inarticulate Tones, much like to our Musick when the Words are not added to the Air: and in reality it is an Invention both very useful and pleasant; for when they are weary of talking, or disdain to prostitute their Throats to that Office, they take either a Lute or some other Instrument, whereby they communicate their Thoughts as well as by their Tongue: So that sometimes Fifteen or Twenty in a Company will handle a point of Divinity, or discuss the difficulties of a Law-suit, in the most harmonious Consort that ever tickled the Ear. [Cf. The Man in the Moone, of Francis Godwin: “Their Language is very difficult, since it hath no Affinity with any other I ever heard, and consists not so much of Words and Letters, as Tunes and strange Sounds which no Letters can express; for there are few Words but signify several Things, and are distinguished only by their Sounds, which are sung as it were in uttering; yea many Words consist of Tunes only, without Words.”]
The second, which is used by the Vulgar, is performed by a shivering of the Members, but not, perhaps, as you may imagine; for some parts of the Body signifie an entire Discourse; for example, the agitation of a Finger, a Hand, an Ear, a Lip, an Arm, an Eye, a Cheek, every one severally will make up an Oration, or a Period with all the parts of it: Others serve only instead of Words, as the knitting of the Brows, the several quiverings of the Muscles, the turning of the Hands, the stamping of the Feet, the contorsion of the Arm; so that when they speak, as their Custom is, stark naked, their Members being used to gesticulate their Conceptions, move so quick that one would not think it to be a Man that spoke, but a Body that trembled.
Every day almost the Spirit came to see me, and his rare Conversation made me patiently bear with the rigour of my Captivity. At length one morning I saw a Man enter my Cabbin, whom I knew not, who having a long while licked me gently, took me in his Teeth by the Shoulder, and with one of his Paws, wherewith he held me up for fear I might hurt my self, threw me upon his Back; where I found my self so softly seated, and so much at my ease, that, [though] being afflicted to be used like a Beast, I had not the least desire of making my escape; and besides, these Men that go upon all four are much swifter than we, seeing the heaviest of them make nothing of running down a Stagg.
In the mean time I was extreamly troubled that I had no news of my courteous Spirit; and the first night we came to our Inn, as I was walking in the Court, expecting till Supper should be ready, a pretty handsome young Man came smiling in my Face and cast his Two Fore-Legs about my Neck. After I had a little considered him: “How!” said he in French, “do you [not] know your Friend then?”
I leave you to judge in what case I was at that time; really, my surprise was so great, that I began to imagine, that all the Globe of the Moon, all that had befallen me, and all that I had seen, had only been Enchantment: And that Beast-man, who was the same that had carried me all day, continued to speak to me in this manner; “You promised me, that the good Offices I did you should never be forgotten, and yet it seems you have never seen me before;” but perceiving me still in amaze: “ In fine,” said he, “ I am that same Demon of Socrates, who diverted you during your Imprisonment, and who, that I may still oblige you, took to my self a Body, on which I carried you to day.”
“But,” said I interrupting him, “how can that be, seeing that all Day you were of a very long Stature, and now you are very short; that all day long you had a weak and broken Voice, and now you have a clear and vigorous one; that, in short, all day long you were a Grey-headed old Man, and are now a brisk young Blade: Is it then that whereas in my Country, the Progress is from Life to Death; Animals here go Retrograde from Death to Life, and by growing old become young again.”
“So soon as I had spoken to the Prince,” said he, “and received orders to bring you to Court, I went and found you out where you were, and have brought you hither; but the Body I acted in was so tired out with the Journey, that all its Organs refused me their ordinary Functions, so that I enquired the way to the Hospital; where being come in I found the Body of a young Man, just then expired by a very odd Accident, but yet very common in this Country. I drew near him, pretending to find motion in him still, and protesting to those who were present, that he was not dead, and that what they thought to be the cause of his Death, was no more but a bare Lethargy; so that without being perceived, I put my Mouth to his, by which I entred as with a breath. Then down dropt my old Carcass, and as if I had been that young Man, I rose and came to look for you, leaving the Spectators crying a Miracle.”
With this they came to call us to Supper, and I followed ray Guide into a Parlour richly furnished; but where I found nothing fit to be eaten. No Victuals appearing, when I was ready to die of Hunger, made me ask him where the Cloath was laid: But I could not hear what he answered, for at that instant Three or Four young Boys, Children of the House, drew near, and with much Civility stript me to the Shirt. This new Ceremony so astonished me, that I durst not so much as ask my Pretty Valets de Chamber the cause of it ; and I cannot tell how my Guide, who asked me what I would begin with, could draw from me these two Words, A Potage; but hardly had I pronounced them, when I smelt the odour of the most agreeable Soop that ever steamed in the rich Gluttons Nose: I was about to rise from my place, that I might trace that delicious Scent to its source, but my Carrier hindered me.
“Whither are you going,” said he, “we shall fetch a walk by and by; but now it is time to Eat, make an end of your Potage, and then we’ll have something else.”
“And where the Devil is the Potage ?” answered I half angry: “Have you laid a wager you’ll jeer me all this Day?”
“I thought,” replied he, “that at the Town we came from, you had seen your Master or some Bo[dy] else at meal, and that’s the reason I told you not, how People feed in this Country. Seeing then you are still ignorant, you must know, that here they live on Steams. The art of Cookery is to shut up in great Vessels, made on purpose, the Exhalations that proceed from the Meat whilst it is a dressing; and when they have provided enough of several sorts and several tastes, according to the Appetite of those they treat; they open one Vessel where that Steam is kept, and after that another; and so on till the Company be satisfied. Unless you have already lived after this manner, you would never think, that the Nose without Teeth and Gullet can perform the office of the Mouth in feeding a Man; but I’ll make you experience it your self.”
He had no sooner said so, but I found so many agreeable and nourishing Vapours enter the Parlour, one after another, that in less than half a quarter of an Hour I was fully satisfied. When we were got up; “This is not a matter,” said he, “much to be admired at, seeing you cannot have lived so long, and not have observed, that all sorts of Cooks, who eat less than People of another Calling, are nevertheless much Fatter. Whence proceeds that Plumpness, d’ye think, unless it be from the Steams that continually environ them, which penetrate into their Bodies and fatten them? Hence it is, that the People of this World enjoy a more steady and vigorous Health, by reason that their Food hardly engenders any Excrements, which are in a manner the original of all Diseases. You were, perhaps, surprised, that before supper you were stript, since it is a Custom not practised in your Country; but it is the fashion of this, and for this end used, that the Animal may be the more transpirable to the Fumes.”
“ Sir,” answered I, “there is a great deal of probability in what you say, and I have found somewhat of it my self by experience; but I must frankly tell you, That not being able to Unbrute my self so soon, I, should be glad to feel something that my Teeth might fix upon.”
He promised I should, but not before next Day; “because,” said he, “to Eat so soon after your meal would breed Crudities.”
After we had discoursed a little longer, we went up to a Chamber to take our rest; a Man met us on the top of the Stairs, who having attentively Eyed us, led me into a Closet where the floor was strowed with Orange-Flowers Three Foot thick, and my Spirit into another filled with Gilly-Flowers and Jessamines: Perceiving me amazed at that Magnificence, he told me they were the Beds of the Country.
In fine, we laid our selves down to rest in our several Cells, and so soon as I had stretched my self out upon my Flowers, by the light of Thirty large Glow-worms shut up in a Crystal, (being the only Candles Charon uses), [In fact, our translator has made an amusing mistake, for which the printer of the 1661 edition is perhaps partly responsible; in that edition we read : “Caron ne se sert pas d’autres chandelles,” which should of course be, as in the other editions, Car on … ; “For they use no other candles.”] I perceived the Three or Four Boys who had stript me before Supper, One tickling my Feet, another my Thighs, the Third my Flanks, and the Fourth my Arms, and all so delicately and daintily, that in less than in a Minute I was fast asleep.
Next Morning by Sun-rising my Spirit came into my Room and said to me, “Now I’ll be as good as my Word, you shall breakfast this Morning more solidly that you Supped last Night.”
With that I got up, and he led me by the Hand to a place at the back of the Garden, where one of the Children of the House stayed for us, with a Piece in his Hand much like to one of our Fire-Locks. He asked my Guide if I would have a dozen of Larks, because Baboons (one of which he took me to be,) loved to feed on them? I had hardly answered, Yes, when the Fowler discharged a Shot, and Twenty or Thirty Larks fell at our Feet ready Roasted. This, thought I presently with my self, verifies the Proverb in our World, of a Country where Larks fall ready Roasted; without doubt it has been made by some Body that came from hence.
“Fall to, fall to,” said my Spirit, “don’t spare; for they have a knack of mingling a certain Composition with their Powder and Shot, which Kills, Plucks, Roasts, and Seasons the Fowl all at once.”
I took up some of them, and eat them upon his word; and to say the Truth, In all my Life time I never eat any thing so delicious.
Having thus Breakfasted we prepared to be gone, and with a Thousand odd Faces, which they use when they would shew their Love, our Land-lord received a Paper from my Spirit. I asked him, if it was a Note for the Reckoning? He replied, No, that all was paid, and that it was a Copy of Verses.
“How! Verses,” said I, “are your Inn -Keepers here curious of Rhime then?”
“It’s,” said he, “the Money of the Country, and the charge we have been at here, hath been computed to amount to Three Couplets, or Six Verses, which I have given him. I did not fear we should out-run the Constable; for though we should Pamper our selves for a whole Week, we could not spend a Sonnet, and I have Four about me, besides Two Epigrams, Two Odes, and an Eclogue.”
“Would to God,” said I, “it were so in our World; for I know a good many honest Poets there who are ready to Starve, and who might live plentifully if that Money would pass in Payment.”
I farther asked him, If these Verses would always serve, if one Transcribed them? He made answer, No, and so went on: “When an Author has Composed any, he carries them to the Mint, where the sworn Poets of the Kingdom sit in Court. There these versifying Officers essay the pieces; and if they be judged Sterling, they are rated not according to their Coyn; that’s to say, That a Sonnet is not always as good as a Sonnet; but according to the intrinsick value of the piece; so that if any one Starve, he must be a Blockhead: For Men of Wit make always good Chear.”
With Extasie I was admiring the judicious Policy of that Country, when he proceeded in this manner: “There are others who keep Publick-house after a far different manner: When one is about to be gone, they demand, proportionably to the Charges, an Acquittance for the other World; and when that is given them, they write down in a great Register, which they call Doomsday’s Book, much after this manner: Item, The value of so many Verses, delivered’ such a Day, Lo such a Person, which he is to pay upon the receipt of this Acquittance, out of his readiest Cash: And when they find themselves in danger of Death, they cause these Registers to be Chopt in pieces, and swallow them down; because they believe, that if they were not thus digested, they would be good for nothing.”
This Conversation was no hinderance to our Journey; for my Four-legged Porter jogged on under me, and I rid stradling on his Back. I shall not be particular in relating to you all the Adventures that happened to us on our way, till we arrived at length at the Town where the King holds his Residence.
The editor’s notes in the previous chapter alert us that some of Cyrano’s fanciful notions are beholden to a work by the Englishman, Francis Godwin. Whether Swift borrowed from the same curious habits as have just been described—the acquisition of nourishment through smell, the cultivation of a deep sleep by sensory manipulation, etc.—in creating his Brobdingnagians is more doubtful. Swift seems to allegorize certain moral flaws in his airborne race of philosophers. Cyrano appears to be toying half-seriously with the possibility of artificially rearranging our perception of reality by redistributing our sensual awareness.
CHAPTER IX. Of the Little Spaniard Whom He Met There, and of His Quaint Wit; of Vacuum, Specific Weights, and Sundry Other Philosophical Matters.
I was no sooner come, but they carryed me to the Palace, where the Grandees received me with more Moderation, than the People had done as I passed the Streets: But both great and small concluded, That without doubt I was the Female of the Queen’s little Animal. My Guide was my Interpreter; and yet he himself understood not the Riddle, and knew not what to make of that little Animal of the Queen’s; but we were soon satisfied as to that; for the King having some time considered me, ordered it to be brought, and about half an hour after I saw a company of Apes, wearing Ruffs and Breeches, come in, and amongst them a little Man almost of my own Built, for he went on Two Legs; so soon as he perceived me, he Accosted me with a Criado de vuestra merced? I answered his Greeting much in the same Terms. But alas! no sooner had they seen us talk together, but they believed their Conjecture to be true; and so, indeed, it seemed; for he of all the By-standers, that past the most favourable Judgment upon us, protested that our Conversation was a Chattering we kept for Joy at our meeting again.
That little Man told me, that he was an European, a Native of old Castille: [Domingo Gonzales, the hero of Bishop Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moone, who says of himself: “I must acknowledge my Stature is so little, as I think no Man living is less.”] That he had found a means by the help of Birds to mount up to the World of the Moon, where then we were: That falling into the Queen’s Hands, she had taken him for a Monkey, because Fate would have it so, That in that Country they cloath Apes in a Spanish Dress; and that upon his arrival, being found in that habit, she had made no doubt but he was of the same kind.
“It could not otherwise be,” replied I, “but having tried all Fashions of Apparel upon them, none were found so Ridiculous, and by consequence more becoming a kind of Animals which are only entertained for Pleasure and Diversion.”
“That shews you little understand the Dignity of our Nation,” answered he, “for whom the Universe breeds Men only to be our Slaves, and Nature produces nothing but objects of Mirth and Laughter.”
He then intreated me to tell him, how I durst be so bold as to Scale the Moon with the Machine I told him of? I answered, That it was because he had carried away the Birds, which I intended to have made use of. He smiled at this Raillery; and about a quarter of an hour after, the King commanded the Keeper of the Monkeys to carry us back. The King’s Pleasure was punctually obeyed; at which I was very glad, for the satisfaction I had, of having a Mate to converse with during the solitude of my Brutification.
One Day my Male (for I was taken for the Female) told me, That the true reason which had obliged him to travel all over the Earth, and at length to abandon it for the Moon, was that he could not find so much as one Country where even Imagination was at liberty. “Look ye,” said he, “how the Wittiest thing you can say, unless you wear a Cornered Cap, if it thwart the Principles of the Doctors of the Robe, you are an Ideot, a Fool, and something worse perhaps. I was about to have been put into the Inquisition at home, for maintaining to the Pedants Teeth, That there was a Vacuum, and that I knew no one matter in the World more Ponderous than another.”
I asked him, what probable Arguments he had, to confirm so new an Opinion?
“To evince that,” answered he, “you must suppose that there is but one Element; for though we see Water, Earth, Air and Fire distinct, yet are they never found to be so perfectly pure but that there still remains some Mixture. For example, When you behold Fire, it is not Fire but Air much extended; the Air is but Water much dilated; Water is but liquified Earth, and the Earth it self but condensed Water; and thus if you weigh Matter seriously, you’ll find it is but one, which like an excellent Comedian here below acts all Parts, in all sorts of Dresses: Otherwise we must admit as many Elements as there are kinds of Bodies: And if you ask me why Fire burns, and Water cools, since it is but one and the same matter, I answer, That that matter acts by Sympathy, according to the Disposition it is in at the time when it acts. Fire, which is nothing but Earth also, more dilated than is fit for the constitution of Air, strives to change into it self, by Sympathy, what ever it meets with: Thus the heat of Coals, being the most subtile Fire, and most proper to penetrate a Body, at first slides through the pores of our Skin; and because it is a new matter that fills us, it makes us exhale in Sweat; that Sweat dilated by the Fire is converted to a Steam, and becomes Air; that Air being farther ratified by the heat of the Antiperistasis, or of the Neighbouring Stars, is called Fire, and the Earth abandoned by the Cold and Humidity which were Ligaments to the whole, falls to the ground: Water, on the other hand, though it no ways differ from the matter of Fire, but in that it is closer, burns us not; because that being dense by Sympathy, it closes up the Bodies it meets with, and the Cold we feel is no more but the effect of our Flesh contracting it self, because of the Vicinity of Earth or Water, which constrains it to a Resemblance. Hence it is, that those who are troubled with a Dropsie convert all their nourishment into Water; and the Cholerick convert all the Blood that is formed in their Liver into Choler….
… These were the things, I think, with which we past the time; for that little Spaniard had a quaint Wit. Our conversation, however, was only in the Night time; because from Six a clock in the morning until night, Crowds of the People, that came to stare at us in our Lodging, would have disturbed us: For some threw us Stones, others Nuts, and others Grass; there was no talk, but of the Kings Beasts; we had our Victuals daily at set hours. I cannot tell, whether it was that I minded their Gestures and Tones more than my Male did: But I learnt sooner than he to understand their Language, and to smatter a little of it, which made us to be lookt upon in another guess manner than formerly; and the news thereupon flew presently all over the Kingdom, that two Wild Men had been found, who were less than other Men, by reason of the bad Food we had had in the Desarts; and who through a defect of their Parents Seed, had not the fore Legs strong enough to support their Bodies.
The Spaniard’s discourse on Democritean atomism actually runs on and on and on, becoming a serious artistic problem for the narrative (and forcing us to conclude that Cyrano himself must have held with great earnestness similar ideas about the mechanistic universe we know so well from today’s science). Various issues about nationality and gender that come up as this harangue is being framed (e.g., Cyrano’s being mistaken for a female) can also be picked apart into atoms: Cyrano’s “closet” homosexuality, for instance, has been suggested. It seems at least as likely that our author is launching jibes at Spanish and French customs in dress and grooming.
CHAPTER X. Where the Author Comes in Doubt, Whether He Be a Man, an Ape, or an Estridge; and of the Opinion of the Lunar Philosophers Concerning Aristotle.
This belief would have taken rooting by being spread, had it not been for the Learned Men of the Country, who opposed it, saying, That it was horrid Impiety to believe not only Beasts, but Monsters, to be of their kind. It would be far more probable, (added the calmer Sort) that our Domestick Beasts should participate of the privilege of Humanity and by consequence of Immortality, as being bred in our Country, than a Monstrous Beast that talks of being born I know not where, in the Moon; and then observe the difference betwixt us and them. We walk upon Four Feet, because God would not trust so precious a thing upon weaker Supporters, and he was afraid least marching otherwise some Mischance might befall Man; and therefore he took the pains to rest him upon four Pillars, that he might not fall, but disdaining to have a hand in the Fabrick ofthese two Brutes, he left them to the Caprice of Nature, who not concerning her self with the loss of so small a matter, supported them only by Two Feet.
“Birds themselves,” said they, “have not had so hard measure as they; for they have got Feathers at least, to supply the weakness of their, Legs, and to cast themselves in the Air when we pursue them; whereas Nature, depriving these Monsters of Two Legs, hath disabled them from scaping our Justice.
“Besides, consider a little how they have the Head raised toward Heaven; it is because God would punish them with scarcity of all things, that he hath so placed them; for that supplicant Posture shews that they complain to Heaven of him that Created them, and that they beg Permission to make their best of our Leavings. But we, on the contrary, have the Head bending downwards, to behold the Blessings whereof we are the Masters, and as if there were nothing in Heaven that our happy condition needed Envy.”
I heard such Discourses, or the like, daily at my Lodge; and at length they so curbed the minds of the people as to that point, that it was decreed, That at best I should only pass for a Parrot without Feathers; for they confirmed hose who were already perswaded, in that I had but two Legs no more than a Bird, which was the cause that I was put into a Cage by express orders from the Privy Council.
There the Queen’s Bird-keeper taking the pains daily to teach me to Whistle, as they do Stares [Starlings] ‘or Singing-Birds here, I was really happy in that I wanted not Food; In the mean while, with the Sonnets the Spectators stunned me [with], I learnt to speak as they did; so that when I was got to be so much Master of the Idiom as to express most of my thoughts, I told them the finest of my Conceits. The Quaintness of my Sayings was already the entertainment of all Societies, and my Wit was so much esteemed that the Council was obliged to Publish an Edict, forbidding all People to believe that I was endowed with Reason; with express Commands to all Persons, of what Quality or Condition soever, not to imagine but that whatever I did, though never so wittily, proceeded only from Instinct.
Nevertheless, the decision of what I was, divided the Town into Two Factions. The party that stood for me encreased daily; and at length in spight of the Anathema, whereby they endeavoured to scare the multitude: They who held for me, demanded a Convention of the States, for determining that Controversie. It was long before they could agree in the Choice of those who should have a Vote; but the Arbitrators pacified the heat, by making the number of both parties equal, who ordered that I should be brought unto the Assembly, as I was: But I was treated there with all imaginable Severity. My Examiners, amongst other things, put questions of Philosophy to me; I ingenuously told them all that my Tutor had heretofore taught me, but they easily refuted me by more convincing Arguments: So that having nothing to answer for my self, my last refuge was to Principles of Artstotle, which stood me in as little stead, as his Sophisms did; for in two Words, they let me see the falsity of them.
“That same Aristotle,” said they, “ whose Learning you brag so much of, did without doubt accommodate Principles to his Philosophy instead of accommodating his Philosophy to Principles; and besides he ought to have proved them at least to be more rational than those of the other Sects you mentioned to us: Wherefore the good Man will not take it ill, we hope, if we bid him God b’w’ [goodbye].”
In fine, when they perceived that I did nothing but bawl that they were not more knowing than Aristotle and that I was forbid to dispute against those who denied his Principles: They all unanimously concluded, That I was not a Man, but perhaps a kind of Estridge, seeing I carried my Head upright like them, that I walked on two Legs, and that, in short, but for a little Down, I was every way like one of them; so that the Bird-keeper was ordered to have me back to my Cage.
I spent my time pretty pleasantly there, for because I had correctly learned their Language, the whole Court took pleasure to make me prattle. The Queen’s Maids, among the rest, slipt always some Boon into my Basket, and the gentilest of them all, having conceived some kindness for me, was so transported with Joy, when in private I entertained her with the manners and divertisements of the People of our World, and especially our Bells, and other Instruments of Musick, that she protested to me, with Tears in her Eyes, That if ever I found my self in a condition to fly back again to our World, she would follow me with all her Heart….
A few points must be stressed for context. The argument on behalf of quadrupedism as a mark of divine favor turns on its ear the traditional ecclesiastical argument for man’s being given unique privileges by his creator. It is also reproduced by Swift’s horse-people, Houyhnhnms. Furthermore, the “reason” employed to defeat Cyrano is as opinionated as his Aristotle, and the “rational” conclusion that he be banished from the company of reasonable beings is essentially that reached by the Houyhnhnms.
CHAPTER XIII. Of the Little Animals That Make Up Our Life, and Likewise Cause Our Diseases; and of the Disposition of the Towns in the Moon.
… During all this Discourse, I made Signs to my Landlord, that he would try if he could oblige the Philosophers to fall upon some head of the Science which they professed. He was too much my Friend, not to start an Occasion upon the Spot: But not to trouble the Reader with the Discourse and Entreaties that were previous to the Treaty, wherein Jest and Earnest were so wittily interwoven, that it can hardly be imitated; I’ll only tell you that the Doctor, who came last, after many things, spake as follows:
“It remains to be proved, that there are infinite Worlds, in an infinite World: Fancy to your self then the Universe as a great Animal; and that the Stars, which are Worlds, are in this great Animal, as other great Animals that serve reciprocally for Worlds to other Peoples; such as we, our Horses, &c. That we in our turns, are likewise Worlds to certain other Animals, incomparably less than our selves, such as Nits, Lice, Hand-worms, &c. And that these are an Earth to others, more imperceptible ones; in the same manner as every one of us appears to be a great World to these little People. Perhaps our Flesh, Blood, and Spirits, are nothing else but a Contexture of little Animals that correspond, lend us Motion from theirs, and blindly suffer themselves to be guided by our Will, which is their Coachman; or otherwise conduct us, and all Conspiring together, produce that Action which we call Life.
“For tell me, pray, is it a hard thing to be believed, that a Louse takes your Body for a World; and that when any one of them travels from one of your Ears to the other, his Companions say, that he hath travelled the Earth from end to end, or that he hath run from one Pole to the other? Yes, without doubt, those little People take your Hair for the Forests of their Country; the Pores full of Liquor, for Fountains; Buboes and Pimples, for Lakes and Ponds; Boils, for Seas; and Defluxions, for Deluges: And when you Comb your self, forwards, and backwards, they take that Agitation for the Flowing and Ebbing of the Ocean. Doth not Itching make good what I say? What is the little Worm that causes it but one of these little Animals, which hath broken off from civil Society, that it may set up for a Tyrant in its Country? If you ask me, why are they bigger than other imperceptible Creatures? I ask you, why are Elephants bigger than we? And the Irish-men, than Spaniards?
“As to the Blisters, and Scurff, which you know not the Cause of; they must either happen by the Corruption of their Enemies, which these little Blades have killed, or which the Plague has caused by the scarcity of Food, for which the Seditious worried one another and left Mountains of Dead Carcases rotting in the Field; or because the Tyrant, having driven away on all Hands his Companions, who by their Bodies stopt up the Pores of ours, hath made way out for the waterish matter, which being extravasted out of the Sphere of the Circulation of our Blood, is corrupted. It may be asked, perhaps, why a Nit, or Hand-worm, produces so many disorders: But that’s easily conceived, for as one Revolt begets another, so these little People, egg’d on by the bad Example of their Seditious Companions, aspire severally to Sovereign Command; and occasion every where War, Slaughter, and Famine….”
This philosophical discourse, too, extends for many pages. Yet it is a fascinating window into emerging ideas about the presence of microorganisms among us and within us. One must take care, even here, not to confer too high a degree of originality or seriousness upon Cyrano, as if he were a beleaguered scientist speculating under cover of a burlesque ramble. Pascal had famously written decades earlier about the infinitely great and the infinitely small whose midpoint is occupied by a vain, confused human species.
CHAPTER XVII. Of the Author’s Return to the Earth.
At length my Love for my Country took me off of the desire and thoughts I had of staying there; I minded nothing now but to be gone; but I saw so much impossibility in the matter, that it made me quite peevish and melancholick. My Spirit observed it, and having asked me, What was the reason that my Humor was so much altered? I frankly told him the Cause of my Melancholy; but he made me such fair Promises concerning my Return, that I relied wholly upon him. I acquainted the Council with my design; who sent for me, and made me take an Oath, that I should relate in our World, all that I had seen in that. My Pass-ports then were expeded, and my Spirit having made necessary Provisions for so long a Voyage, asked me, What part of my Country I desired to light in? I him, that since most of the Rich Youths of Paris, once in their life time, made a Journey to Rome; imagining after that that there remained no more worth the doing or seeing; I prayed him to be so good as to let me imitate them.
“But withal,” said I, “in what Machine shall we perform the Voyage, and what Orders do you think the Mathematician, who talked t’other day of joyning this Globe to ours, will give me?”
“As to the Mathematician,” said he, “let that be no hinderance to you; for he is a Man who promises much, and performs little or nothing. And as to the Machine that’s to carry you back, it shall be the same which brought you to Court.”
“How,” said I, “will the Air become as solid as the Earth, to bear your steps? I cannot believe that.”
“And it is strange,” replied he, “that you should believe, and not believe. Pray why should the Witches of your World, who march in the Air, and conduct whole Armies of Hail, Snow, Rain, and other Meteors, from one Province into another, have more Power than we? Pray have a little better opinion of me, than to think I would impose upon you.”
“The truth is,” said I, “I have received so many good Offices from you, as well as Socrates, and the rest, for whom you have [had] so great kindness, that I dare trust my self in your hands, as now I do, resigning my self heartily up to you.”
I had no sooner said the word, but he rose like a Whirl-wind, and holding me between his Arms, without the least uneasiness he made me pass that vast space which Astronomers reckon betwixt the Moon and us, in a day and a half day’s time; which convinced me that they tell a Lye who say that a Millstone would be Three Hundred Three-score, and I know not how many years more, in falling from Heaven, since I was so short a while in dropping down from the Globe of the Moon upon this.
At length, about the beginning of the Second day, I perceived I was drawing near our World; since I could already distinguish Europe from Africa, and both from Asia; when I smelt Brimstone which I saw steaming out of a very high Mountain [Vesuvius], that incommoded me so much that I fainted away upon it.
I cannot tell what befel me afterwards; but coming to my self again, I found I was amongst Briers on the side of a Hill, amidst some Shepherds, who spoke Italian. I knew not what was become of my Spirit, and I asked the Shepherds if they had not seen him. At that word they made the sign of the Cross, and looked upon me as if I had been a Devil my self: But when I told them that I was a Christian, and that I begg’d the Charity of them, that they would lead me to some place where I might take a little rest; they conducted me into a Village, about a Mile off; where no sooner was I come but all the Dogs of the place, from the least Cur to the biggest Mastiff, flew upon me, and had torn me to pieces, if I had not found a House wherein I saved my self.
But that hindered them not to continue their Barking and Bawling, so that the Master of the House began to look upon me with an Evil Eye; and really I think, as people are very apprehensive when Accidents which they look upon to be ominous happen, that man could have delivered me up as a Prey to these accursed Beasts, had not I bethought my self that that which madded them so much at me, was the World from whence I came; because being accustomed to bark at the Moon, they smelt I was come from thence, by the scent of my Cloaths, which stuck to me as a Sea-smell hangs about those who have been long on Ship-board, for some time after they come ashore. To Air myself then, I lay three or four hours in the Sun, upon a Terrass-walk; and being afterwards come down, the Dogs, who smelt no more that influence which had made me their Enemy, left barking, and peaceably went to their several homes.
Next day I parted for Rome, where I saw the ruins of the Triumphs of some great men, as well as of Ages: I admired those lovely Relicks; and the Repairs of some of them made by the Modern. At length, having stayed there a fortnight in Company of Monsieur de Cyrano my Cousin, who advanced me Money for my Return, I went to Civita vecchia, and embarked in a Galley that carried me to Marseilles.
During all this Voyage, my mind run upon nothing but the Wonders of the last I made. At that time I began the Memoires of it; and after my return, put them into as good order, as Sickness, which confines me to Bed, would permit. But foreseeing, that it will put an end to all my Studies, and Travels; ‘ that I may be as good as my word to the Council of that World; I have begg’d of Monsieur le Bret, my dearest and most constant Friend, that he would publish them with the History of the Republick of the Sun, that of the Spark, and some other Pieces of my Composing, if those who have Stolen them from us restore them to him, as I earnestly adjure them to do.
Curiously, the “sins” of Cyrano’s conclusion appear to have been too dark even for Lovell’s Victorian editor to touch. The actual ending has the “benign” spirit who has served Cyrano as guide and mediator throughout his lunar travels suddenly spout a vigorous argument in favor of complete atheism as he lies on his deathbed. The Devil appears to snatch away this wretch, and Cyrano literally clings to his coattails. Down they go… to Earth. Fortunately, our traveler releases his hold just as the other two enter Hell by the mouth of Mount Vesuvius. This, admittedly, is pretty strong stuff! Very possibly, Lovell was translating the text as it had actually been published in France, and our editor himself was responding to that text, unaware that another existed.