On the 5th of October, at
eight p.m., a dense crowd pressed toward the saloons of the Gun
Club at No. 21 Union Square. All the members of the association
resident in Baltimore attended the invitation of their president.
As regards the corresponding members, notices were delivered by
hundreds throughout the streets of the city, and, large as was the
great hall, it was quite inadequate to accommodate the crowd of
savants. They overflowed into the adjoining rooms, down the narrow
passages, into the outer courtyards. There they ran against the
vulgar herd who pressed up to the doors, each struggling to reach
the front ranks, all eager to learn the nature of the important
communication of President Barbicane; all pushing, squeezing,
crushing with that perfect freedom of action which is so peculiar
to the masses when educated in ideas of "self-government."
On that evening a stranger who
might have chanced to be in Baltimore could not have gained
admission for love or money into the great hall. That was reserved
exclusively for resident or corresponding members; no one else
could possibly have obtained a place; and the city magnates,
municipal councilors, and "select men" were compelled to mingle
with the mere townspeople in order to catch stray bits of news from
Nevertheless the vast hall
presented a curious spectacle. Its immense area was singularly
adapted to the purpose. Lofty pillars formed of cannon, superposed
upon huge mortars as a base, supported the fine ironwork of the
arches, a perfect piece of cast-iron lacework. Trophies of
blunderbuses, matchlocks, arquebuses, carbines, all kinds of
firearms, ancient and modern, were picturesquely interlaced against
the walls. The gas lit up in full glare myriads of revolvers
grouped in the form of lustres, while groups of pistols, and
candelabra formed of muskets bound together, completed this
magnificent display of brilliance. Models of cannon, bronze
castings, sights covered with dents, plates battered by the shots
of the Gun Club, assortments of rammers and sponges, chaplets of
shells, wreaths of projectiles, garlands of howitzers-- in short,
all the apparatus of the artillerist, enchanted the eye by this
wonderful arrangement and induced a kind of belief that their real
purpose was ornamental rather than deadly.
At the further end of the saloon
the president, assisted by four secretaries, occupied a large
platform. His chair, supported by a carved gun-carriage, was
modeled upon the ponderous proportions of a 32-inch mortar. It was
pointed at an angle of ninety degrees, and suspended upon
truncheons, so that the president could balance himself upon it as
upon a rocking-chair, a very agreeable fact in the very hot
weather. Upon the table (a huge iron plate supported upon six
carronades) stood an inkstand of exquisite elegance, made of a
beautifully chased Spanish piece, and a sonnette, which, when
required, could give forth a report equal to that of a revolver.
During violent debates this novel kind of bell scarcely sufficed to
drown the clamor of these excitable artillerists.
In front of the table benches
arranged in zigzag form, like the circumvallations of a
retrenchment, formed a succession of bastions and curtains set
apart for the use of the members of the club; and on this especial
evening one might say, "All the world was on the ramparts." The
president was sufficiently well known, however, for all to be
assured that he would not put his colleagues to discomfort without
some very strong motive.
Impey Barbicane was a man of
forty years of age, calm, cold, austere; of a singularly serious
and self-contained demeanor, punctual as a chronometer, of
imperturbable temper and immovable character; by no means
chivalrous, yet adventurous withal, and always bringing practical
ideas to bear upon the very rashest enterprises; an essentially New
Englander, a Northern colonist, a descendant of the old anti-Stuart
Roundheads, and the implacable enemy of the gentlemen of the South,
those ancient cavaliers of the mother country. In a word, he was a
Yankee to the backbone.
Barbicane had made a large
fortune as a timber merchant. Being nominated director of artillery
during the war, he proved himself fertile in invention. Bold in his
conceptions, he contributed powerfully to the progress of that arm
and gave an immense impetus to experimental researches.
He was personage of the middle
height, having, by a rare exception in the Gun Club, all his limbs
complete. His strongly marked features seemed drawn by square and
rule; and if it be true that, in order to judge a man's character
one must look at his profile, Barbicane, so examined, exhibited the
most certain indications of energy, audacity, and sang-froid.
At this moment he was sitting in
his armchair, silent, absorbed, lost in reflection, sheltered under
his high-crowned hat-- a kind of black cylinder which always seems
firmly screwed upon the head of an American.
Just when the deep-toned clock in
the great hall struck eight, Barbicane, as if he had been set in
motion by a spring, raised himself up. A profound silence ensued,
and the speaker, in a somewhat emphatic tone of voice, commenced as
"My brave, colleagues, too long
already a paralyzing peace has plunged the members of the Gun Club
in deplorable inactivity. After a period of years full of incidents
we have been compelled to abandon our labors, and to stop short on
the road of progress. I do not hesitate to state, baldly, that any
war which would recall us to arms would be welcome!" (Tremendous
applause!) "But war, gentlemen, is impossible under existing
circumstances; and, however we may desire it, many years may elapse
before our cannon shall again thunder in the field of battle. We
must make up our minds, then, to seek in another train of ideas
some field for the activity which we all pine for."
The meeting felt that the
president was now approaching the critical point, and redoubled
their attention accordingly.
"For some months past, my brave
colleagues," continued Barbicane, "I have been asking myself
whether, while confining ourselves to our own particular objects,
we could not enter upon some grand experiment worthy of the
nineteenth century; and whether the progress of artillery science
would not enable us to carry it out to a successful issue. I have
been considering, working, calculating; and the result of my
studies is the conviction that we are safe to succeed in an
enterprise which to any other country would appear wholly
impracticable. This project, the result of long elaboration, is the
object of my present communication. It is worthy of yourselves,
worthy of the antecedents of the Gun Club; and it cannot fail to
make some noise in the world."
A thrill of excitement ran
through the meeting.
Barbicane, having by a rapid
movement firmly fixed his hat upon his head, calmly continued his
"There is no one among you, my
brave colleagues, who has not seen the Moon, or, at least, heard
speak of it. Don't be surprised if I am about to discourse to you
regarding the Queen of the Night. It is perhaps reserved for us to
become the Columbuses of this unknown world. Only enter into my
plans, and second me with all your power, and I will lead you to
its conquest, and its name shall be added to those of the
thirty-six states which compose this Great Union."
"Three cheers for the Moon!"
roared the Gun Club, with one voice.
"The moon, gentlemen, has been
carefully studied," continued Barbicane; "her mass, density, and
weight; her constitution, motions, distance, as well as her place
in the solar system, have all been exactly determined.
Selenographic charts have been constructed with a perfection which
equals, if it does not even surpass, that of our terrestrial maps.
Photography has given us proofs of the incomparable beauty of our
satellite; all is known regarding the moon which mathematical
science, astronomy, geology, and optics can learn about her. But up
to the present moment no direct communication has been established
A violent movement of interest
and surprise here greeted this remark of the speaker.
"Permit me," he continued, "to
recount to you briefly how certain ardent spirits, starting on
imaginary journeys, have penetrated the secrets of our satellite.
In the seventeenth century a certain David Fabricius boasted of
having seen with his own eyes the inhabitants of the moon. In 1649
a Frenchman, one Jean Baudoin, published a `Journey performed from
the Earth to the Moon by Domingo Gonzalez,' a Spanish adventurer.
At the same period Cyrano de Bergerac published that celebrated
`Journeys in the Moon' which met with such success in France.
Somewhat later another Frenchman, named Fontenelle, wrote `The
Plurality of Worlds,' a chef-d'oeuvre of its time. About 1835 a
small treatise, translated from the New York American, related how
Sir John Herschel, having been despatched to the Cape of Good Hope
for the purpose of making there some astronomical calculations,
had, by means of a telescope brought to perfection by means of
internal lighting, reduced the apparent distance of the moon to
eighty yards! He then distinctly perceived caverns frequented by
hippopotami, green mountains bordered by golden lace-work, sheep
with horns of ivory, a white species of deer and inhabitants with
membranous wings, like bats. This brochure, the work of an American
named Locke, had a great sale. But, to bring this rapid sketch to a
close, I will only add that a certain Hans Pfaal, of Rotterdam,
launching himself in a balloon filled with a gas extracted from
nitrogen, thirty-seven times lighter than hydrogen, reached the
moon after a passage of nineteen hours. This journey, like all
previous ones, was purely imaginary; still, it was the work of a
popular American author-- I mean Edgar Poe!"
"Cheers for Edgar Poe!" roared
the assemblage, electrified by their president's words.
"I have now enumerated," said
Barbicane, "the experiments which I call purely paper ones, and
wholly insufficient to establish serious relations with the Queen
of the Night. Nevertheless, I am bound to add that some practical
geniuses have attempted to establish actual communication with her.
Thus, a few days ago, a German geometrician proposed to send a
scientific expedition to the steppes of Siberia. There, on those
vast plains, they were to describe enormous geometric figures,
drawn in characters of reflecting luminosity, among which was the
proposition regarding the `square of the hypothenuse,' commonly
called the `Ass's Bridge' by the French. `Every intelligent being,'
said the geometrician, `must understand the scientific meaning of
that figure. The Selenites, do they exist, will respond by a
similar figure; and, a communication being thus once established,
it will be easy to form an alphabet which shall enable us to
converse with the inhabitants of the moon.' So spoke the German
geometrician; but his project was never put into practice, and up
to the present day there is no bond in existence between the Earth
and her satellite. It is reserved for the practical genius of
Americans to establish a communication with the sidereal world. The
means of arriving thither are simple, easy, certain, infallible--
and that is the purpose of my present proposal."
A storm of acclamations greeted
these words. There was not a single person in the whole audience
who was not overcome, carried away, lifted out of himself by the
Long-continued applause resounded
from all sides.
As soon as the excitement had
partially subsided, Barbicane resumed his speech in a somewhat
"You know," said he, "what
progress artillery science has made during the last few years, and
what a degree of perfection firearms of every kind have reached.
Moreover, you are well aware that, in general terms, the resisting
power of cannon and the expansive force of gunpowder are
practically unlimited. Well! starting from this principle, I ask
myself whether, supposing sufficient apparatus could be obtained
constructed upon the conditions of ascertained resistance, it might
not be possible to project a shot up to the moon?"
At these words a murmur of
amazement escaped from a thousand panting chests; then succeeded a
moment of perfect silence, resembling that profound stillness which
precedes the bursting of a thunderstorm. In point of fact, a
thunderstorm did peal forth, but it was the thunder of applause, or
cries, and of uproar which made the very hall tremble. The
president attempted to speak, but could not. It was fully ten
minutes before he could make himself heard.