Text: N. C. Brooks (???), “The Atlantis [part 1]” [Text-02], American Museum (Baltimore, MD), vol. I, no. 1, September 1838, pp. 42-65


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[page 42:]

THE ATLANTIS.

A Southern World, — or a Wonderful Continent, — discovered in the great Southern Ocean, and supposed to be The Atlantis [part 1] of Plato, or the Terra Australis Incognita of Dr. Swift, during a voyage conducted by Alonzo Pinzon, Commander of the American Metal Ship Astrea.

BY PETER PROSPERO, L. L. D.; M. A.; P. S.

Salve, magna Parens frugum, Saturnia Tellus!

Magna virum; tibi res antiquæ laudis et artis,

Ingredior, sanctos ausus recludere fortes.   VIRGIL.

CHAPTER I.

The origin of my enterprise.

AS I am undertaking, gentle reader, to give thee an account, if not of a circumnavigation of the globe, at least of the most singular voyage, and most wonderful discovery ever made in the world, not excepting that of Columbus, it is but due courtesy, to gratify thy rational curiosity by informing thee of that process of thought and reasoning by which I was led to the conception of the bold and sublime enterprise. Know, then, that from my earliest years, my ruling passion has been a desire after knowledge, and my whole time has been sedulously devoted to study and reflection. I had the happiness to be born in the state of North Carolina, one of the southern divisions of our great republic, and to be descended from Anglo-Saxon ancestors. My parents, who were not without a relish of elegant literature, and a strong conviction of the immense advantages of education, allowed an unrestrained indulgence of my ardent propensity for reading. Whether, therefore, I was stationed in winter at the domestic fireside, or in summer under the shade of a tree, amidst the bustle of a school- room, or in the quiet seclusion of collegiate life, my book was always my most constant companion, and the best classical productions in Greek, Latin, English and French, were successively perused with rapture. In pursuit of science, I was not contented with that superficial knowledge which seems to satiate the desires and terminate the labors of too many votaries of literature, at the present day; but when I undertook the investigation of any particular branch, I endeavoured to penetrate to its lowest foundations, fathom all its depths and compass its most extended boundaries. Instead of wasting the powers of my understanding in [page 43:] attaining a partial acquaintance with every branch of science, and learning to talk volubly and write plausibly about every topic of polite learning, after that rapid glance at the whole circle which is comprised in a collegiate course, I aimed at a thorough mastery of the few to which I seemed to be most strongly prompted by natural inclination, and acquired habits of thinking and enjoyment. Through this process, I essayed to whet into the keenest edge of discernment, and address the native faculties of my mind, and communicate to them all the energy and perspicuity of which they were susceptible. And I avail myself of this opportunity to remark, that this appears to me to be the only method of study by which the minds of men can be successfully cultured and useful attainments made; and, on these accounts, is to be most earnestly recommended to all the cultivators of learning and aspirants after excellence in the elegant and useful arts.

During the prosecution of my studies and the perusal of ancient and modern authors, I had remarked, that no theologians or writers of history and antiquities, had ever been able to determine in what portion of our globe was situated the Ultima Thule of the classic authors, or the land of Ophir, from which large quantities of gold were imported into Palestine in the time of Solomon. Some supposed this valuable treasure to have been derived from the east, and others from the west, some from Spain, and others from Africa, some from Britain, and others from regions still more remote than England, in the north of Europe. In the Timeus and other works of Plato, I found it stated as a fact, that when Pythagoras was in Egypt, he was told by her learned men of a large and populous island, denominated Atlantis, which lay in the Western Ocean, and had been inhabited by a great and powerful nation, long anterior to the commencement of Grecian history. When to these distinct and significant indications, denoting the existence of some wonderful community in the southern and western world, I added the typical, but satisfactory allusion to it in the authentic memoirs of the “Tale of a Tub,” by Doctor. Swift, in which he maintains that there lies in that direction an immense continent, designated as the “Terra Australia Incognita,” which had been cantoned into various departments by Lord Peter, and advantageously sold to successive emigrants, all of whom were shipwrecked on their passage. I came to a definitive conclusion, that the voyages of Columbus and his rivals in navigation, had not completed the discoveries to be made in the Southern Hemisphere. It appeared evident to my mind, that some continent or large island, distinguished by wonderful peculiarities, and inhabited [page 44:] by a remarkable people, remained to be explored by the enterprise and perseverance of the inquisitive and skilful. By frequently revolving these reflections in my mind, a kind of presentiment was awakened, that i should become the projector and executor of a great undertaking by which a new world, more extraordinary than America, would be revealed to mankind, and those hitherto impassable barriers surmounted which preclude our access to the Southern and Nothern [[Northern]] Pole.

After first conceiving the hint upon this important subject, my imagination brooded over the enterprise until at length I became so inflamed with enthusiasm, that in the year 1835, I resolved no longer to procrastinate the period of its commencement. Accordingly, having an ample fortune at my disposal, I knew of no method by which I could more usefully devote it to the service of my fellow-men, than in making preparation for this voyage of discovery. The first question which recurred that was difficult of solution, related to the best means to be adopted in order to navigate successfully and safely, the Polar regions of the south. As I had seen all the expeditions to the north fitted out by British liberality for similar purposes, defeated, or limited in their success, by the extreme cold of those climates, I had concluded, that if ever the Polar seas were explored, it must be by steam ships, or some mode of navigation which is preferable to these. About this time was suggested the idea of constructing wheels which would move of themselves, and transport the largest carriages or boats by the influence of the magnet and its tendency to attract iron. I seized upon this suggestion with the utmost avidity, and after many experiments made with captain Pinzon, a lineal descendant of the celebrated companion of Columbus, and animated by the same spirit which displayed itself in that great navigator, we came to the conclusion, that a vessel might be propelled in this way, not only with more safety, but with greater velocity, than had ever before been witnessed upon the ocean. Captain Pinzon was now commissioned to select skilful workmen and a master mechanic, who should immediately commence the structure of our magnetic ship, and after various delays, occasioned by difficulties in collecting the materials, procuring provisions and seamen for the voyage, accumulating a small but select library, and philosophical apparatus for our entertainment upon the passage, we found ourselves upon the banks of Trent River, near Newbern, in North Carolina, ready to take our departure, upon the 4th of July, 1836. After celebrating this great anniversary of our independence with our fellow-citizens, [page 45:] amidst the greatest hilarity, and partaking of its festivity with a zest we had never before experienced, we departed in the afternoon amidst the benedictions of numerous friends and the acclamations of the multitude. Seeming to proceed by magical influence, we soon passed, at the rate of twenty miles an hour, through Pamlico sound and Ocracoke bar into the Atlantic Ocean. Our ship, which was about the size of the boats that ply their courses in the Delaware and the Hudson, moved majestically through the deep, and appeared to claim the homage which is due to the great genius of Fulton, to whose exertions are mankind indebted not only for the invention of the steamboat, but for all those improvements in navigation and locomotion which shall arise out of it. Proceeding at the rate of fifteen or twenty, and when aided by winds and currents, thirty miles an hour, we soon reached the extremity of the United States, entered the gulf of Mexico, stopt for amusement at Havanna, thence proceeded along the coast of South America, and soon found ourselves at the mouth of the great river La Plata. Intending to avail ourselves of the whole warmth afforded by the sun upon its return from the equator towards the southern Tropic, we remained in the delightful climate of Buenos Ayres, enjoying the hospitality of the inhabitants and the admiration bestowed upon our curious invention, until the beginning of October, at which time we renewed our voyage with favourable auspices, and under the most exulting hopes. From this period nothing occurred which is worthy of record, until passing by Terra del Fuego and Cape Horn, we had directed our course due south to the sixtieth degree of south latitude. Here our thermometer, which had hitherto denoted a temperate warmth, began rapidly to descend, and we were encountered by masses of floating ice which rendered our progress difficult and precarious. Before we reached the sixty-fifth degree of latitude, we saw at various distances those immense icebergs, which it required all our address and skill to avoid, which rendered some miles circuit necessary to compass them, and from the irresistible force of which, we were repeatedly involved in the greatest danger. In this conflict with icebergs, however, we found the full advantage of our new and voluntary mode of navigation. Being able to advance or recede at our pleasure, we eluded the attacks of these formidable enemies, and in spite of cold, storms and tempests, advanced triumphantly on our way, until in latitude seventy, when Fahrenheit’s thermometer stood at 30° below zero, and we began to sink into despair, a series of phenomena were presented totally unknown to science and in the [page 46:] highest degree interesting to the philosophical observer. From a region of intense and intolerable cold and tempestuous weather, we were transported to a thick and murky atmosphere, in the gloomy and darkened state of which, we found respiration difficult, all our senses seemed disordered, and through the gloom every frightful and fantastic form floated that could be conceived as crude and monstrous. During our passage through this tract of ocean; all our usual prescriptions were suspended, and we sank into what appeared an incurable slumber, or deliquium. How long we continued in this anomalous state of being, it was impossible to calculate. But as the ship, from her pecular [[peculiar]] construction, continued her course with the usual velocity, we soon found ourselves aroused from this lethargic and painful condition, and wafted into a region in which the air was not only respirable, but inconceivably soft and bland, and the light more sweet and serene than we had ever before beheld. The whole ocean and sky seemed now to beam with a smile as enrapturing as any idea we can form of heaven. From the facts which have just stated, captain Pinzon and I agreed in the inference, that the reason why no navigators in these waters, have ever explored the country whose wonders I shall now unfold, is,either that they have been deterred from advancing through the icy regions before described, or that when they came into this air at first irrespirable by human organs, they have perished under its influence, inasmuch as the vessels in which they voyaged, not borne forward as ours by the new contrivance, lave been arrested in their progress, and thus left them without the power of revival. Let captain Wilks, the commander of the squadron just despatched to these regions by the American government, and his assistant officers, who are to conduct this exploration of the South Seas, to whom we have communicated these facts, take warning from our experience, and be upon their guard against fatal disasters, when they shall pass beyond the latitude of seventy-degrees south. Should they be able safely to pass over this irrespirable tract of ocean, all the wonders and glories of Saturnia, will be revealed to them. [page 47:]

CHAPTER II.

Our arrival at Saturnia.

NO sooner had we been aroused from the state of unconsciousness, which was mentioned in our last chapter, than we seemed to be awakened into a new and more rapturous existence, and wafted into an elysian or Paradisal scene. When thoroughly revived from our temporary slumber, our minds and bodies had undergone a renovation, all the senses had become more acute and susceptible of pleasure, and all the perceptions of the understanding more clear, satisfactory and enlivening. In this state of untried enjoyment, the vicissitudes of which had excited superstitious alarms in some of our crew, and the most sanguine expectations in others, we continued our course due south, not doubting that our labours would at length be crowned with the most signal results. We had proceeded in this direction but a few hours longer, when to our equal astonishment, admiration and delight, we descried land, and soon found that we were approaching the mouth of a noble river, like the Hudson, throng K which vessels moving like our own and magnificently constructed, were passing and re assing, at once apprising us of our vicinity to a large capita Upon each side of this river, at its mouth, which appeared about two miles wide, were stationed two superb light-houses to guide mariners in the night, and in the stream were placed luminous buoys extending several feet above the surface, which prevented the navigator from deviating out of the channel. Upon entering the river, we perceived on each side a finely cultivate country, neat but commodious farm-houses, magnificent dwellings, beautiful lawns and gardens laid out in the chastest simplicit and most correct taste, and altogether a country in which the allied arts of agriculture, commerce and manufacture had exerted their utmost skill in advancing it to the highest state of improvement and ,perfection. While regaling ourselves with this sight, and contemplating this delightful residence for man, what was our emotion, when after plying our course about two miles farther within the land, we were ushered into a spacious bay, and the vast panorama of the capital city and its environs, its magnificent buildings, its hills, mountains, valleys and superb monuments of art, were presented to our vision? Vessels and boats of every size and various figures were gliding in every direction through the bay and rivers, while the wharves were thickly crowded with others [page 48:] loading and unloading — innumerable houses appeared to crown the summits of the hills and hang upon their declivities, the streets were arranged with mathematical exactitude, of spacious dimensions and shaded with beautiful trees, at the same time that numerous streams intersected ,the city, all the parts of which were connected by durable and splendid bridges, that in their construction, indicated the highest progress in the arts. Over our heads were floating balloons of all dimensions, that seemed to advance by voluntary effort towards every point of the compass: As far as our sight extended, we saw the steeples of the churches, towers erected for various has a college and observatory, more lofty than we had ever beheld, and whose tops appeared at the moment, to be lost amidst the clouds. Such a vast and sublime assemblage of objects, at once bursting upon our view, seemed to present to us the image of the New Jerusalem, as depicted in the Revelations, and threw mein to an ecstasy of enjoyment, from which I did not recover until under the guidance of captain Pinzon. Our. ship was safely fastened to the wharf of that town, to which we afterwards discovered the inhabitants had affixed the name of Saturnia, the capital city of the republic of Atlantis.

CHAPTER III.

My removal to a Hotel.

NOTHING could exceed the astonishment which was excited by our arrival at Saturnia; the wharf was soon crowded with innumerable spectators, wondering by what contingency we could have. escaped the perils of the deep, and have performed so unheard-of a voyage, and the news of thist`strange event spread rapidly to the remotest quarters of the town — I was equally surprised at the novelty of the objects now presented to my observation, the neatness and elegance of the place, as well as the decency, order and regularity with which every thing seemed to be conducted. The men and women presented the most comely and well-proportioned figures I had ever beheld and were remarkaby [[remarkably]] well dressed; the wharves and houses, constructed of the best stone and marble, were truly magnificent, and the streets, promenades, arbours, parks and pleasure grounds, seemed to be laid out with all the taste and judgment which could be displayed in the workmanship of the most enlightened and scientific artizans and mechanics. — Not a vessel with sails floated within view, and the whole business of commerce and navigation is here conducted [page 49:] by vessels and boats which like our own, moved spontaneously through the waters. Here was more than realized, the bold declaration of Fitch, an ingenious mechanic of New-Jersey, who, above a half a century ago, predicted to the legislature of that state, that not only would our rivers be navigated by steam, but, that, finally, all commerce and trade between the different nations of the earth would be carried on by this method of communication. I cannot adequately describe the impressions made upon my mind by this singular and wonderful scene. I was rapt into a reverie, or rather an ecstasy of delight — the very air of the place appeared to be unusually pure and ethereal, the sun shone with a more serene splendour, and the heavens seemed to shed around us more select influences. Into what kind of country and climate, I inwardly ejaculated, have I been transported? To ascertain this, I was now impelled by irresistible curiosity, and my anticipation of the pleasure which awaited me, in this unexpected condition of being, arose to the highest pitch of enthusiasm.

My next step was to make efforts to disembark, and obtain an agreeable place of residence in the city. Calling for a porter, to bear my trunks and baggage to the most approved hotel, several men of this order immediately presented themselves, who, from the conversation which passed between them I learned were called by the names of Nero, Tiberius, Borgia, and Ravaillac, — what mean these appellations? I exclaimed with sur rise. These are names to which I have become familiarize in history, and nothing to the credit of the persons who bore them, but I never before had the honour of a personal acquaintance with those notorious gentlemen. Are those titles given you in derision, or by way of punishment for any offences you may have committed in this extraordinary world, into which I have been so unexpectedly introduced? These are the names we bore, replied they, holding down their heads, in our former state of being, that world from which, we presume, you have just arrive, and we are but too glad to exercise our present vocations, since we have just been released from very severe punishments to which we were condemned for the parts we performed in our former state of being. Is it possible, I rejoined, and pray, in what city and country am I now to consider myself; for, it seems to me, as if all that is passing before my eyes, are but disturbed visions of the night. Oh! sir, replied Nero, this is the city, of Saturnia and country of Atlantis, the most outlandish and detestable abode that ever gentlemen were constrained to inhabit; all things are sadly [page 50:] altered since those glorious days when I and Tiberius were emperours in Rome. To distribute justice, as they call it, emperours, kings, popes, cardinals, lords, bishops, and all the great men of former times, are here condemned to the most ignominious punishments, and then compelled to labour on the highways or become porters, waiters, lackeys, carmen, and servants. Now, it might be right to. deal in this manner with thieves, robbers, murderers, and villains, among the vile populace, but thus to humble, torment, and trample upon men of high rank and distinction, is intolerable. This singular conversation threw me into a train of profound study and rapt reflection; and I perceived that I had, indeed, reached a land of miracles. What inestimable advantages, thought I, would it be to mankind, did they know that besides that future state which is revealed in Scripture, the would have to pass through such a condition of being — such an intermediate dispensation of good and evil as they find here. In this frame of mind I followed Nero and Tibeirus through several squares of the town, until we arrived at the hotel of which we were in quest. This was a magnificent building, constructed with remarkable simplicity and elegance; all the rooms and appurtenances of which were admirably adapted to the convenience and accommodation of travellers and guests. I took possession of one of the best furnished rooms, and determined as soon as possible to commence those inquiries in regard to the government, lawn, institutions, manners, religion, science, literature, and arts, of this extraordinary people, of which a full account shall be given in the following chapters.

CHAPTER IV.

My meeting with Dr. Franklin, and the proceedings of the Philosophical Society.

AFTER taking supper I retired to my, room to obtain repose, and although from the agitation of my spirits, and extreme excitement of mind, I found some difficulty in composing myself to rest, yet at length I found in that temporary suspension of thought, which takes place in sleep, the relief and refreshment which my, exhausted nature required. Upon waking in the morning, and being summoned to breakfast, it is impossible to describe my sensations when I discovered seated at the table by my side the old and valued friend of my father, Dr. Franklin, upon whose knees I had been oftentimes dandled in early life, in whose society I had been intimate, [page 51:] and for whose character I had always entertained unbounded veneration and sincere attachment. He soon recognized me; and after the warmest salutations, we entered into an interesting conversation, and he promised to introduce me to the acquaintance of the most celebrated men with whom the city of Saturnia abounds. Here, said he, are assembled the great and good of all ages and nations; they unite the labours of their genius in the structure of science, and the perfection of literature and the arts. Thus they improve the happiness of the human family-bringing with them the wisdom and learning they had accumulated during the limited term of their residence in the lower world, as we here denominate it, they have been adding to their stores of knowledge from age to age. At length, they have attained an elevation in science which is truly wonderful. Here, he continued, with increasing vehemence, here `genius of all kinds meets a sure and ample reward — here every motive is furnished to stimulate the human mind into honourable and useful exertion. In this admirable republic you will discover no traces of an unequal distribution of good and evil, of rewards and punishments. Here the clouds that formerly hung over the ways of heaven are gradually dispersed, and its justice shines in its native lustre. Here, as far as human fallibility allows, rank, dignity, and station, are equally conferred upon talents and worth, and virtue becomes, in practice, the only true nobility. All vices are adequately punished, all errours and disorders rectified, and all virtues raised and rewarded. In short, he concluded, this is the state of things, after which in the former world, the philanthropist aspired, the patriot toiled, and the hero encountered sufferings and death, while its ideal image occupied the meditations of philosophers, the visions of poets, and the hopes of Christians. Franklin here appeared animated by an enthusiasm which I had never before seen in him, and I caught the infection from his lips. Our conversation became more and more frank, cordial, and interesting, and the interview terminated in his informing me, that as he knew my devotion to scientific and literary pursuits, he would call upon me in the evening, and begin the task of introducing me to the illustrious men of the republic, by taking me to the hall of the Philosophical Society, and giving me an opportunity of attending to their debates, and witnessing their proceedings . In order to the advancement of science in this city, said he, we have instituted societies whose labors are to be severally appropriated to the branches from which they receive their designation. Thus the Philosophical Society, of which I [page 52:] have just spoken, is exclusively occupied with the departments of natural philosophy and mathematics, the Metaphysical Society with the science of the mind, the Institute of Moral Philosophy with ethics, and the Literary Society with the cultivation of literature. There are also, for similar purposes, theological, medical, chemical, geological and botanical associations, as well as institutes of natural history and political economy, together with an academy of arts. I thanked him cordially for the information which he had been so good as to communicate, and expressed. the pleasure I anticipated from our projected visit to the society in the evening.

After taking leave of Dr. Franklin for the, time, I passed the morning in riding through the city in a vehicle like an omnibus, which by the same philosophical contrivance as that by which they propelled their vessels, seemed self-moving, and which advanced along the smooth pavement with admirable safety and velocity. I found the streets wide, and beautifully paved with smooth stones, and sidewalks of marble; the houses neat and magnificent, but built' in a style of the greatest simplicity, and the inhabitants elegantly clad, but without useless or excessive decoration. When I had ascended the greatest elevations, I came to a square, in which was situated observatory five hundred feet high, with which is connected the building in whose halls the several philosophical societies hold their sittings, while in the adjoining streets were neat and commodious dwellings, constructed in the several orders of architecture, for all the most celebrated philosophers of ancient and modern times. Here dwelt by each other’s side, Newton, Locke, Bacon, Kepler, Gallileo, Gassindi, and the whole list of those who had cultivated natural philosophy, and in due order, came those who had distinguished themselves in the other branches of science. When I cast my eyes over this sublime scene, and beheld in these residences so many monuments reared to the greatest geniuses of the world and benefactors of their race, I could not convince myself that I was not dreaming. In passing forward through other parts of the city, we next beheld still more magnificent structures, erected as the residences of the President of the republic and the different officers of the Government, who were elevated to their present situations on account of their former talents, virtues, and public services. Tyrants and conquerors, and all who had proved themselves traitors to their country and enemies of the human race, those scourges of the nations, were condemned to the most ignominious punishments, while Cicero, Cato, Titus, and the Antonines, Alfred, Henry the Fourth of France, [page 53:] Washington, and several of our Presidents, with a long list of others, who had been raised to the chair of supreme magistracy. Of these state officers, however, we shall give a more tailed account in the sequel, confining our attention at first to the scientific and literary institutions.

At the appointed hour in the evening Dr. Franklin, according to promise, called in his carriage at my hotel, and took me to the meeting of the Philosophical Society. We were introduced into a large hall, brilliantly illuminated, in which was presented to me a scene which all attempts to describe would be unavailing, but which threw me into a tumult of delightful emotion. At the upper end of the hall upon an elevated seat, sat Newton, who presided this evening in his turn, although the same honour was shared in rotation with Ke ler, Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Gallileo, Des Cartes, La Pace, Franklin, Rittenhouse, and all the most illustrious in this department of science. There was a large assemblage upon this occasion; and the gallery was filled with celebrated ladies, some of whom were honorary members, and were allowed the privilege of having their communications read to the society, when they had been previously examined and approved by a standing 'committee, appointed for that purpose. The secretary at this time was the great Huygins, the inventor of the clod, who, I was told, had filled this office after Archimedes, Pythagoras, Dr. Halley, La Grange, and others. The first production which was read was written by Des Cartes, and consisted of an inquiry into the cause of gravitation, and the motions of the heavenly bodies. The process of reasoning by which Des Cartes endeavored to reach a definite conclusion upon this topic, was in substance the following: He remarked that there was a sufficient ground for the opinion that, in every part of nature, whether found in the earth or heavens, there were the same agents exerting their forces, and the same primordial principles or materials upon which they operate. Thus the motions of the heavenly bodies are, in all probability, produced by the same agent as that by which the sap is made to rise in the tree, the air is set in motion, the fuel consumed in the grate, and the vicissitudes of the seasons are occasioned. Now, this universal agent he maintained to be the electric fluid, pervading the whole system of nature, and reaching to the very centre of the sun and planets, and constituting what Newton conjectured to be a thin elastic medium that might be the cause of gravity. In confirmation of this theory, he referred us to a new planetarium, which he had erected in one of the hall& of the observatory, in which he had contrived within a brazen [page 54:] sphere of forty feet diameter, to exhibit all the movements of the planetary system produced by the action o€ the electric fluid collected in it.

After Des Cartes had finished the reading of his communication, I thought I could perceive in the silence of the members a rather ominous signal of incredulity and dissatisfaction with the principle propounded in it, and the experiment by which their truth was tested. In a few moments, however, a member dressed with unusual elegance, of a Grecian physiognomy, noble countenance, and penetrating eye, who, Dr. Franklin informed me, was Aristotle, arose and proposed to refer the subject to the consideration of a committee consisting of three members, appointed by the president, and exclusively devoted to this branch of science ; and in consequence Newton nominated Gallileo, La Place, and Dr. Franklin.

The next contribution was a dissertation by Gallileo, in which he balanced the arguments in regard to the two theories concerning light, the one maintaining, that light emanates from the sun as its source, the other, that light as a medium, is diffused through universal nature, and that the sun is the exciting cause which sets its particles in action, and renders objects visible. To the latter of these opinions, Gallileo seemed disposed to adhere. To make. report upon this topic, a committee of three were appointed, as chairman of which, at the suggestion of Dr. Hailer, Newton was placed, while his two colleagues were Aristotle anti Leibnitz. While this affair was on the tapis, Aristotle took occasion to remark, that his doctrine concerning light had been greatly misunderstood by some of his commentators and interpreters, they supposing that he had asserted this fluid to be a property of bodies, while he had strenuously, maintained its distinct subsistence as a medium by the action of which upon the senses, objects are rendered visible. He allowed that a very, serious objection to the doctrine of its emanation from the sun, is the inconceivable velocity with which under this scheme, it is presumed to travel from that luminary to the earth, and through all the regions of space.

A third piece was read by the great Leibnitz, the Newton of Germany, in which he proposed to ascertain upon philosophical principles whether the same laws of production, decay, and dissolution to which all animal and vegetable nature are liable upon this earth, are also applicable to the planetary system, and whether that system does not contain within itself the seeds of its own perpetual revivescence and renovation, insomuch that it can come to distruction [[destruction]] only by [page 55:] the fiat of that Omnipotence who created its' In this treatise, Leibnitz held, that the system of nature maintains, at all times, an invariable identity , that the same materials are always comprised within its sphere, the same forces exerted, and the same laws prevalent. That while some of the minuter parts rise, decay and perish, ox rather undergo a dissolution, the whole remains unchangeable and eternal, dissolvable only by Him who gave existence to it, and moreover, inasmuch as the immutable attributes of God would prevent him from utterly destroying so beautiful a system as the Solar, it never can and never will be destroyed. In vindicating this doctrine from what some might regard as its hostility to revelation, he maintained that the dogma of the gospel in relation to the great catastrophe of the world, does not imply the destruction, but. some grand renovation, or transfiguration which the system is to undergo prior to the appearance of that new heaven and new earth which is to be the consummation of the present order of things.. This treatise was referred to the examination of Bacon, Locke and M. Pascal.

After these treatises were disposed of, Dr. Halley read a short disquisition by Newton, in which he essayed to demonstrate the existence of Goa from the wise adjustments and select laws indicative of contrivance in the planetary system. This was referred to the consideration of Cicero, Paley and Sir Robert Boyle.

Lord Bacon, next, read a tract intended to prove the utter fallacy, and incompatibility with the true method of philosophizing, of all attempts to ascertain the mode in which the universe is formed, or the process by which it originated, and has continued to advance to its present state. He threw the whole assembly into repeated flashes of merriment, when he exposed to contempt and ridicule, the dancing atoms of Democritus and Epicurus, the whirling vortices of Des Cartes and the still more whimsical theory of the Count de Buffon, who ascribed the formation of planets to the concussions of comets against the sun, and in their eccentric movements, striking off fragments from this orb. Nor did he-treat with 'much less severity, the schemes of Burn et and his followers, and of those numerous philosophical romancers who imagine that they can trace the earth to an aqueous or incandescent state, and amidst the various forms of its fossil remains, both is the animal and vegetable kingdoms, presume to discover indications of progressive stages in improvement, during the successive generations of men and animals. Bacon maintained in thus treatise, that upon no principles of the inductive philosophy, [page 56:] have we reason to conclude that the order of nature and its laws were ever materially different from what they are at present. The only method, said he, by which we could ever arrive at a knowledge of the process through which this world was elaborated, would be from analogy, or actual observation of the origin and progress of similar systems. And as this experience is impossible, there are no facts presented by which we can be led back to the conclusion, that the earth presented any specific form, or series of phenomena at its creation by the Almighty. He declared all cosmogonies, therefore, to be nothing better than the unsubstantial visions of ingenious men, or philosophical air bubbles. This work was committed to the scrutiny of Plato, Dr. Samuel Clarke and Bishop Butler.

The proceedings of this meeting, were concluded by the presentation to the society of a piece by Maupertius, in which this French philosopher, adhering to his old whimsies, endeavoured to show, that the most effectual expedient by which the theory of gravitation might be demonstrated, would be to dig a hole to the centre of the earth, and moreover, that the science of the mind may be most successfully cultivated by anatomical dissections of the heads of giants. The reading of this whimsical production, again threw the. whole assemblage into an agreeable train of merriment and pleasantry, and in the midst of this comic sensation, the meeting was adjourned, after entrusting Maupertius' intellectual offspring to the scrutiny, of Voltaire, Frederick of Prussia, and Archimedes.

Thus passed my second evening in the renowned city of Saturnia and in the republic of Atlantis. When I cast my eyes around upon this illustrious assembly, I felt like the Gauls upon approaching the Roman Senate, as if in a collection of divinities, and that, with infinite satisfaction, I could spend an eternity in such company.

CHAPTER V.

My visit to Dr. Franklin.

THE next morning while I was partaking of an agreeable breakfast, I received an invitation from Dr. Franklin to dine with hire, that day, at four o'clock, as he expected several of his friends to form a party at his house, with whose acquaintance and conversation, he presumed, I would be much gratified.

Accordingly, having been transported to his house at the appointed hour, i was conducted into a parlour sufficiently [page 57:] spacious, and furnished in a style of simple elegance, suited to the taste and habits of a philosopher. Upon my entrance I was introduced to Mrs. Franklin and the sons and daughters of the venerable sage, by his present wife, who were remarkably prepossessing in their appearance, and, as 1 afterwards found, of distinguished intellectual and moral properties. Upon subsequent inquiry, I discovered that the Dr., in the selection of a spouse for iris new state of existence, had realized a dream which he had imagined during his residence as American Minister in Paris. It is reported that while he was a widower at the French capital; becoming enamoured of Madam Helvetius, who had lost her husband, and finding her inclinations unfavorable to his hopes, as one of the expedients he adopted to win her affections, with his usual wit and pleasantry , he had sent her a dream which he had dreamed, in which he represented himself as conveyed into Elysium, and upon his commencing an acquaintance with the shades below, he found that Helvetius, the husband of the lady, and the former Mrs. Franklin since their arrival in those realms, had contracted a matrimonial alliance. His proposal therefore to Madam Helvetius was, that since their partners had already forgotten and deserted them below, they should take their revenge by forming a similar union above. Many a hint given in jest leads to its verification in real fact. Although Madam Helvetius was not won in Paris by the humorous suggestion of Dr. Franklin, yet, it appears, that when she discovered upon her arrival in Saturnia that Mr. Helvetius had consoled himself for her loss by a matrimonial union with Mrs. Franklin, she lent a more patient ear to the application of the Dr., while he found in her society an ample requital for the desertion of his former spouse. Indeed, whether or not it be regarded as a compliment to the morals and sensibility of the Saturnians and people of Atlantis, it is certain that the gentlemen and ladies of this republic are seldom known to take as their new wives and husbands those who had sustained that relation to them in their former state. Perhaps this singular result may be ascribed to that fondness for novelty so prevalent among our race; perhaps to a remembrance of former contests, dissensions, and disagreements, which they were unwilling to renew; and, perhaps, to those hopes, so often delusive, that cling most pertinaciously to the human heart, that in new connections they shall be able to escape those anxieties, crosses, and miseries, by which married life had been previously embittered. Whatever may be the cause or causes of these effects, certain it is that very few of the Atlantians are [page 58:] married to their former wives, except in those cases in which they had been severed from each other by death, either before or immediately after they had passed through the honeymoon. Lovers, indeed, who had poured forth many songs in celebrating the angelic virtues and perfections of their mistresses, but had been unable to obtain them from untoward fortune, are sufficiently eager in the renewal of their addresses, and not infrequently meet the reward of their devotions in the relentings of the fair idols. But of all those persons with whom I became acquainted in Saturnia, scarcely any were so closely knitted in affection to their former companions as not to prefer venturing upon untried hazards in the sea of matrimony, rather than encounter the sure and certain ills they previously experienced. In some instances, persons of both sexes who had obtained partners not from their personal charms or qualifications, but from a respect to their wealth, rank, connexions, influence in society, or any adventitious circumstances, presented their claims to their reluctant help-mates in courts of law and equity, but the validity of such pretensions were always denied by the tribunals, inasmuch, they alleged, as the obligations of the marriage vows, according to the very terms of the contract, terminated at death, and could not extend to this intermediate state between human life and the final resurrection.

But to return to the dinner party assembled at Dr. Franklin’s. I was delighted to discover, that besides the family of the philosopher, all the members of which appeared to be animated by intelligence, we were favoured with the company and conversation of the celebrated Edmund Burke and the President Montesquieu, whose work upon the spirit of laws, is so justly regarded as one of the first monuments of human genius. As soon as we were all seated at table, and. the usual ceremonies had been performed, the conversation commenced upon the part of Mr. Burke, who inquired of me the latest news from our republic, and whether our confederated government still presented the prospect of final success. And when in answer to his interrogatories, I informed him of the admirable harmony which prevailed in our councils, of the growing attachment of the people to their Union, of their ready submission to the laws and their glowing enthusiasm for their free institutions, as well as settled determination to maintain them at all hazards, and through all extremities, these three illustrious men, Franklin, Burke and Montesquieu, seemed to derive equal satisfaction, and expressed a most ardent wish that our great experiment would lead to the most important and glorious results in the history of [page 59:] human affairs. This subject, led us by a natural association of ideas, to a discussion relative to the probable, perpetuity of the American confederacy. It was with infinite satisfaction I heard the declaration from Montesquieu, and acceded to by the other philosophical statesmen, that he could perceive no reason, why this government should not become as stable and permanent, and as competent to all purposes of civil regulation, as the monarchial or despotic, in case adequate efforts were made to diffuse intelligence and promote good morals among the community. He still adhered to the principles maintained in his Spirit of Laws, in reference to the different forms of government, and entertained no doubt that were the states in the Union in a condition of separation from each other, they would speedily undergo all those changes, and experience all the evils to which the republics of Greece and Rome were subjected. But he distinctly acknowledged, that he considered the American confederacy as a new and interesting experiment, which had no archetype in the ancient or modern world, inasmuch as the system was unheard of, much more wisely adjusted in its several parts, than any previously organized, and made a much nearer approximation to the stable forms of government than any of the democracies of antiquity. He regarded the establishment-of [[establishment of ]] a great central government which extends its jurisdiction over the whole country, while its powers are judiciously limited and accurately defined, as a sublime conception in political philosophy, and likely to lead to the most beneficial results. The similitude between our federal system and that of the sun and the planets that revolve around him, which I believe was first traced by general Harper, and has been so often reiterated since, upon the floor of congress, very naturally recurred to this great French jurist and philosopher. He thought that the general government, very aptly adumbrated by the sun, should discreetly adhere to the true analogy of nature, and neither exert too intense an attraction, so as to absorb the state authorities into its vortex, nor too greatly relax its influence so as to allow them to fly from their orbits.

I then requested the opinion of Montesquieu, Burke and Franklin, in regard to the much agitated question concerning the nature of our federal government, whether it should be considered as simply a national government, or a confederation of states, depending for its subsistence upon the obligation of the compact, and leaving each party at liberty to dissolve its connection, and throw off its allegiance at its pleasure. Montesquieu stated it as his opinion, in which the rest concurred, that it is a government neither strictly national, [page 60:] nor strictly federative, but a system compounded of both ingredients, and blending both properties in its characteristic features. We find this mixed character, said he, imprinted upon its whole frame and constitution; although its national characteristics seem evidently to predominate. But, continued he, whether it be deemed a national, or simply federative system, nothing can be more incontrovertible, than that every state after it has acceded to the terms of the contract, is under the most coercive obligations to yield allegiance to its authority, and implicitly. submit to its laws, while it should obtain redress for any grievance complained of by the constitutional provisions. Whether the government be the result of national or state agency, the states are equally bound by its laws, during its continuance. The constitution itself has provided a remedy , for the State against a mal-administration, or the oppressive operation upon them of laws partially evil and injurious, by admitting of alterations through an established process, but it has never contemplated the possibility of its own total dissolution, or a voluntary secession of any of its members. The doctrine which upholds the right of nullification, would convert this firm and admirable contrivance into a mere rope of sand, and utterly incompetent to the great and sublime purposes for which it was instituted. Franklin remarked that he ardently hoped no such doctrine would be countenanced or encouraged by any American patriots. Mr. Burke asserted, that when carried out to its legitimate consequences, it was subversive of all government whatever, since, if in a great federative system, a single state could dissolve its connection with the whole either from considerations of interest, passion, prejudice, or caprice, from the same motives and with similar plausibility, any county in a state might withdraw its allegiance from its legislature.

I next inquired about the form of government instituted in Atlantis, and found that after having been subjected to all the several modifications of the patriarchate, aristocracy, monarchy, and despotism, upon the arrival in these dominions of Cicero, Cato, Brutus, and all the illustrious Roman statesmen and patriots, through their influence, aided by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the Grecian sages, it had been changed into a republic. This republic modelled upon the Roman plan, had lasted until Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and their compeers of America, had made their appearance, at which time it was newly constructed upon our federal organization. Dr. Franklin informed me that this immense republic is exactly conformed in its structure to that [page 61:] of the United States, with some slight modifications arising out of the peculiar circumstances of the country, or which were deemed improvements upon the American scheme. The constitution of the great federal republic is similar to ours, and the whole territory is divided into one hundred different departments of equal extent, and exercising a complete sovereignty within their respective limits, except in reference to those powers which they have transferred to their general government. Their President and Vice President, are elected for four years, their Senate for six, and their House of Representatives for two, while their judicial officers retain their posts during good behaviour. Every state constitution bears a strict analogy to that of the general government, (nature, as Franklin remarked, delighting in analogies,) but the term of office to their rulers is shorter, in order that the popular sentiments may more completely controul them. Upon examination I discovered that while the government remained a monarchy, all the greatest and best men of antiquity had been their sovereigns, such as Numa, Trajan, Titus, Marcus Aurelius, the Antonines, Alfred, and Henry the Fourth of France. After the establishment of the republic upon the Roman model, their consuls were Cicero, Cato, Brutus, and the most illustrious men of that nation, but since the introduction of the American plan, their presidents had been Washington, Jefferson, and other patriots of our country. At the time in which I was with them, General Washington was their President, and it was generally believed that he would be succeeded by General Hamilton, who was deemed one of their purest and most enlightened statesmen.

I next began a conversation with the eldest daughter of Dr. Franklin, who occupied the seat upon my right hand, and whose name was Henrietta, and whose form and features presented to me one of the most perfect models of female beauty I had ever beheld. This conversation was, of course, fertile of materials, and deeply interesting to us both, as she abounded in inquiries concerning the habits and manners of American ladies; and I was extremely anxious to become acquainted with the same particulars in reference to the city of Saturnia. I remarked to her that I had been already much struck and delighted with the neatness, simplicity, and elegance in the costume of the ladies in Saturnia, and at the same time with the modesty and correctness of their deportment, and the readiness and fluency of their style of spewing. She informed me that there was in Saturnia a kind of prescriptive dress for women, which admitted of but slight [page 62:] variations, and, that the object of this seemed to be first to cover the body completely, and next to set off its just proportions and decorate it to the greatest advantage. Their clothing, she continued, may be of the richest texture and various colours, according to the taste and circumstances of the wearer; but the discernment of the public repudiates all superfluous ornaments and fantastic appendages. A lady would here be excluded from polite society who should dress herself off in excessive finery, or while encumbered with a load of frippery, should appear solicitous, indecently, to expose her person to the eye of the beholder. A prurient propensity of this kind does sometimes show its form amidst the numberless freaks to which vanity and folly are prone, and froin which they seem to derive a frivolous gratification, but they are soon banished by the good sense of the community. Ladies too prodigal of their charms, in the public eye, are branded with the appellation of Armidas, and avoided by all decent people, while the Erminas alone are tolerated in good company. It requires, I said, an excellent preparation by previous instruction, to keep alive among women such a just taste in matters of this kind; for I regard the manners of women in a country one of the most infallible standards by which we can determine the degree of improvement, intelligence, and civilization to which a nation has attained. Is there any thing peculiar and commendable in their systems of female education? Yes, she replied, it is not deemed among us, that nature, or the author of nature, has made considerable distinctions between the sexes in their original conformation both of body and mind, nor more in their intellectual 'than moral qualities. The hardy properties are communicated to man, and the more humane and gentle. to woman, as these, respectively, are best suited to their conditions in society, and most accordant to the offices which. they are commissioned to perform. But our schemes of education, if they do not recognize in woman precisely the same intellectual powers as are found in man, regard her as endowed with all those ornamental qualities which are calculated to render her his rational companion, and an able instructress of his children. Hence, our young women, in well endowed institutions of learning, are initiated into all the branches of elegant literature, as well as the elements of those departments of science which are ornamental and more readily attained; therefore, while the would conceive it beneath the dignity of their station the would of their character, to dress themselves out as dolls when they appear in the company of men, as if they were their slaves and mere automata to be moved at their pleasure, they equally [page 63:] despise that light and frivolous style of conversation, from which no useful knowledge is to be derived, from which, in fact, all good sense is excluded, and in which nonsense rattles amidst emptiness and vanity. Our ladies, indeed, by no means, refuse themselves the amusements of wit and pleasantry: they dance, sing, play upon instruments of all kinds, read the most amusing works in prose and poetry, criticise them in conversation, and attend the exhibition of the most finished productions of the drama, and discover an acumen not inferior 'to our men’s,' in distinguishing the beauties and blemishes both of writers and performers. But they participate in such pleasures rather as the condiment to more solid viands, and not as the principal ingredient in their daily enjoyment. It is by no means uncommon among them, in their parties, to hear them discuss with great acuteness subjects of history, antiquity, questions in natural and moral philosophy, the knotty points of theology, and all the most interesting topics of polite literature. The very last time I was in company at Dr. Samuel Johnson’s, whose wife collected a large. assemblage of literary gentlemen and ladies at her house, considerable earnestness and capacity were displayed in determining whether in dramatic compositions an attention or a slavish adherence to the three unifies of time, place, and action, is to be recommended. Dr. Johnson still maintained its inexpediency, and Mr. Addison took the opposite side of the controversy. But what most surprised me was, the declaration of Mr. Pope, that he had had a conversation with Aristotle himself upon this very topic, and that he denied having ever maintained this doctrine to the extent in which it has been ascribed to him by his followers and admirers. Every person, he averred, who is acquainted with the operations of the human mind, and can penetrate into the sources of its pains and pleasures, must know that the nearer we can approximate to these unifies, in, accordance to nature, the more deep and pungent will be the interest we shall take in the events. Unity of action is indispensable since if the attention of the mind is distracted by several great transactions, instead of being fastened upon one, the concern which it would feel in it would be diminished, if not entirely dispersed. But, in regard to place and time, although it may not be advisable to shift the scene unnecessarily, and with wanton variation, yet too close an attention to them may lead the dramatist into greater violations of nature and deprive him of greater advantages, than could, result from an utter disregard of all such artificial restraints. What more forced [page 64:] and unnatural, said Aristotle, than to comprise great transactions within the space of a few hours, and compress them into the compass of the same room “or scene.” The power of vision is not the only one which men can exercise in these exhibitions, the imagination is presumed to be the predominant faculty, and by its quick and magic influence we are easily transported, as in Shakspeare, from Rome to Philippi, and from Venice to Cyprus. And do we take less interest in a course of events which transpires during a few months or even years, than if it had passed in a single day or in a few hours? All that I maintain in my works, continued Aristotle, is, that due attention is to be paid to the unities of action, time, and place, so as not unnecessarily to divide the attention of the mind, or too widely separate from each other the objects of interest; and by this means weaken the impression, allow the subject to lose its hold upon our affections, and by distracting our solicitudes from undue diffusion through time and space, cause them to evaporate.

You awake in me, said I, to Miss Franklin, an ardent desire to partake the pleasures of such intellectual society. You shall soon have that enjoyment, replied she, for tomorrow evening Mrs. Addison is to give a party of the same kind, at her house, and I shall have great satisfaction in introducing you as a stranger and the old friend of my father, which I am sure will be sufficient recommendations to that family. I thanked her for her politeness, and remarked, you speak to me of Mrs. Samuel Johnson and Mrs. Addison, and pray why are these ladies, who have the honour to claim such illustrious names? Dr. Johnson, she replied, not long since, married Miss Hannah Moore, and Mr. Addison, after sustaining some persecution from the Countess of Warwick who insisted upon her prior claims, had prefered [[preferred]] as his present spouse, a beautiful and accomplished daughter of John Milton. And what has become of Mrs. Johnson? said I quickly, surely the venerable sage has not allowed her to suffer, or want a companion and support in this wonderful state of being. Oh! she replied, she was well satisfied to put herself under the matrimonial yoke of Mr. Boswell, who still retains all his admiration of his great Apollo, and devotes himself very faithfully to the jurisdiction of this sacred relict of his friend.

Dinner was now ended and the ladies retired, after which we continued but a very short time, as our whole entertainment, although rich and abundant, was in philosophical style; our wines were excellent, but partaken in moderation; and all the manners, ceremonies and conversation of the parties, [page 65:] characterised by that simplicity, affability and unostentatious grace and elegance, which are the surest indications of just taste and superior intelligence. I departed, therefore, after paying my compliments to our illustrious companions, and fervently desiring still further correspondence with them, under the agreeable expectation of attending Miss Franklin, the next evening, to the assembly of Mrs. Addison.


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - AM, 1838] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Rejected - The Atlantis [part 1] [Text-02]