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Text: Edgar Allan Poe, "A Chapter on Science and Art" (2nd installment), Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, April 1840, 6:193-194

[page 193:]


    CONJECTURAL DISCOVERY OF A NEW PLANET. — By means of glasses just invented by count Decuppis, an observer is enabled to look at the sun without any inconvenience from its rays — the disc appears of a perfect whiteness, and all the firmamental objects have an equal distinctness. By the aid of his new glass, the count lately observed on the face of the sun a small black spot, entirely free from penumbra, and of perfectly spherical form, which had advanced upon the disc, describing an arc of about seven minutes. Repeated observations convinced him that it had, in the meantime, advanced towards the sun's limb, as much as two minutes and thirty seconds. Presently it disappeared. All astronomers will agree in supposing the object a small planet, hitherto undiscovered, and passing over the sun's disc at the period of survey. Its perfectly round figure, its blackness, the smallness of its diameter, its motion, and the absence of penumbra fully warrant the conjecture. The event is one of the highest importance in an astronomical, or indeed in any point of view. A twelfth world has been added to our system. It will no doubt receive the name of its discoverer, Decuppis.

   THE ROYAL GEORGE. — The submarine operations in respect to this ship have been unsatisfactory but full of interest. Col. Pasley has concluded his labors for the present, but will resume them about the first of June. The wreck is said to be enveloped in total darkness, and completely imbedded in mud. Some means may perhaps be suggested by which light can be diffused below. Lanterns have been tried to no purpose. The divers assert that even on the brightest days of summer, when the sea is perfectly calm, they can scarcely see an inch before them. During the experiments, 12,940 pounds of powder have been consumed. More than one hundred tons of the wreck have been recovered, and placed in the dock-yard at Portsmouth, with five brass and six iron guns; and all expenses have been more than paid by the value of the articles recovered. The advantage to the anchorage is beyond calculation.

    THE PYRAMIDS. — A discovery has been made, in the neighborhood of these monuments, of a great number of apartments and cavities communicating with each other; also, at a distance of many miles of desert, of the foundation of decayed pyramids, whose very granite blocks are dissolved to dust. Who shall tell the vast antiquity of these remains? The pyramids which stand firm to-day about Cairo are universally admitted to be four or five thousand years old. There must be something wrong yet about our chronology.

    SINGULAR SCIENTIFIC ERROR. — In the infancy of rail-road speculation, the engineers resorted to a thousand laborious contrivances with a view of overcoming an obstacle which had no real existence. It was assumed that the adhesion of the smooth wheels of the carriage upon the equally smooth iron-rail must necessarily be so slight, that if it should be attempted to drag any considerable weight, the wheels would only be whirled round, while the carriages would not advance. A patent for an invention to remedy this fancied inconvenience was actually taken out by Mr. Blenkinsop, in 1811.

    IMPROVEMENTS IN THE DAGUERREOTYPE. — Numerous improvements have been lately made in the beautiful art of photogeny. The baron Seguier has exhibited an instrument constructed by himself, with many ingenious modifications, having for their objects a diminution in size and weight, and a simplification, in other respects, of the entire apparatus. Several of the conditions which have been announced as required for the success of the process, may be dispensed with. It is probable, now, that the operations of the art may be rendered practicable in the open country — even those nice and delicate ones which, at present, seem to demand protection against too strong a light. An objective glass has been constructed by M. Cauche, with the view of redressing the image obtained in the Daguerreotype; this image is now presented reversed, a circumstance which has the bad effect of destroying all vraisemblance. The Abbé Moignat has been endeavoring, in conjunction with M. Soleil, (a name quite á propos,) to introduce the light of oxy-hydrogen gas as the principle of illumination to the objects intended to be represented. M. Bayard is said to have fully succeeded in taking impressions on paper. Mr. Fox Talbot, in England, has also done this.

    In America, we have by no means been idle. It has been here ascertained that instead of the costly combination of glasses employed by M. Daguerre, a single Meniscus glass produces an exact and brilliant result. We have also found that we can do without the dilute nitric acid in photogeny, as well as in lithography. The process is thus greatly simplified; for the use of the acid has heretofore been considered one of the nicest points in the preparation of the plate. When unequally applied, the golden color is not uniform. Now, it is only necessary to finish the polish of the plate with dry rotten stone, well levigated and washed, using dry cotton to rub it with afterwards. [page 194:] We made the iodine-box, too, much shallower than does M. Daguerre. With is box, from fifteen to thirty minutes exposure of the plate was required before the proper color was produced. Four inches will be deep enough; and there should be a tray, an inch deep, fitting into the bottom of the box. Upon this tray the iodine is to be spread, and then covered with a double thickness of fine gauze, tacked to the upper edge of the tray — supports being fastened in each corner of the box, at such height as will admit of the plate being lowered to within an inch of the gauze.

    ELECTRICAL COPYING. — The new process of copying metals and other works of art on copper, by means of voltaic electricity is an invention of interest and importance. In the manufacture of plated articles and other ornaments, it is often desirable to copy ornamental work, such as leaves, flowers and arabesque mouldings, and the ordinary process is very difficult, and therefore very expensive. Mr. Spencer's late invention affords a cheap and easy method of performing what is required. By its means the rich ornaments on antique plate, or any similar work, may be copied with entire accuracy — a perfect fac-simile being taken in copper, which may then be silvered or gilt. In the art of button-making the voltaic action is used with advantage; a cast from any pattern of button may now be readily moulded in a few hours, and with little labor. Button-makers formerly required two or three sets of a particular pattern to complete one of which the die was wanting. — The whole application of the voltaic action is excessively simple and certain — the necessary apparatus may be procured for sixpence.

    MARBLE LETHOIDE. — In St. Petersburg, a method has been discovered of giving to the softest stone the hardness, and color, and consequently the polish of marble. The invention is regarded as of high importance, and of certain application. The whole details have not yet reached us — but the process appears to be analogous to that of the scagliola manufacture. The prepared substance is termed marble Lethoide.

    PNEUMATIC ENGINE. — Mr. Levi Bissell, of Newark, N. H., is said to have perfected a pneumatic apparatus, by means of which to employ the atmospheric air as a motive power. This design, in its general terms, is by no means new, an its reduction to practice has been found expensive. Mr. B.'s seems to be the old project — that of constructing pumps at convenient distances on a rail-road of air-pipe, which latter is to be exhausted of air. What is said in the papers about condensed atmosphere, with portable condensers, is probably a misunderstanding.

    RED RAIN. — In Gassendi's "Life of Peiresc," the phenomenon of red-rain which has so often excited the wonder of the ignorant, and the attention of the learned, is very plausibly accounted for. About the beginning of July, 1608, large drops of what was then generally termed "the bloody shower" were observed in the vicinity of Aix, upon the walls of villas, hamlets, and towns. M. Peiresc had found a chrysalis of a remarkable size and form, and had inclosed it in a box. He thought no more of it until, hearing a buzz within the box, he opened it, and perceived the chrysalis changed into a beautiful butterfly, which immediately flew away, leaving at the bottom of the box a red drop of the size of a shilling. As this occurred about the time the shower was supposed to have fallen, and when a great many butterflies were seen in every direction, he properly concluded that the drops in question were excrementitious matter voided by the insects. Looking more closely, he found the drops seldom upon the upper surfaces of objects, but generally in cavities where insects might nestle. He also noticed that they were to be seen upon the walls of those houses only which were near the fields, and not upon the more elevated parts of them, but merely as far up as the butterflies were accustomed to flutter. The common butterfly in England deposits a red fluid very much as described by Peirsec.

    INGENIOUS INVENTION. — A pair of skates, invented by Mr. William Wallace, of Newtown Ardes, watch-maker, are in the highest degree creditable to that gentleman's scientific skill an perseverance. The machinery of this little locomotive is so arranged that it is equally serviceable on ice or on a smooth foot-path, (a flagged footway, for instance.) It consists of two perpendicular plates of iron, with pieces inserted between them, to allow a free rotary motion for three wheels, revolving along the extent covered by the foot. These wheels revolve in the action of skating, and, with the addition of a horizontal plate of wood, elevate the sole of the foot above the surface. There is, also, a large wheel at the toe-end, with a ratched [[ratchet]] or click-wheel attached, on the outside of one of the perpendicular plates, for the purpose of keeping the one foot from retrograding, while the other is progressing forward.

    [There is nothing that is very novel in Mr. Wallace's invention; in our boyhood we used a pair of skates made as above described. A certain M. Perrine undertook for a wager to skate across the gardens of the Tuilleries, at Paris, in the month of August, 1829 — he wore instruments made in a similar manner to Mr. Wallace's. The Ravel Family have, for the last twenty years, used exactly the same sort of skates in one of their ingenious dramas — The Skaters of Wilma.] — EDS. G. M.


In "Fifty Suggestions" (Graham's, June 1849), Poe asks: "What has become of the inferior planet which Decuppis, about nine years ago, declared he saw traversing the disc of the sun?"

Poe's comment about Decuppis' observation establishing the possibility of "A twelfth world" is based on Astronomical science as it stood in 1840. Brandee's Encyclopedia (A Dictionary of Science, Literature and Art, New-York: Harper and Brothers, 1843), lists the following eleven bodies as the planets in our solar system: Mercury, Venus, The Earth, Mars, Vesta, Juno, Ceres, Pallas, Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus. Of these, Vesta, Juno, Ceres and Pallas are no longer considered full planets, being more typically classified as asteroids. For "Asteroids," Braddee's Encyclopedia notes: "ASTEROIDS. A fantastical name by which the four small and recently discovered planets, namely, June, Vesta, Ceres, and Pallas, have been sometimes designated."

Poe had already written two brief comments on the Daguerreotype for Alexander's Weekly Messenger.

[S:0 - BGM, 1840] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - A Chapter on Science and Art [part II]