Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Appendix [to Hans Phaall]” (Text-D), Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque­  (1840), 2:223-228


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­ [page 223:]

APPENDIX.

IN a note to the title of the story called “Hans Phaal [[Phaall]],” I made allusion to the “moon-hoax” of Mr. Locke. As a great many more persons were actually gulled by this jeu d’esprit than would be willing to acknowledge the fact, it may here afford some little amusement to show why no one should have been deceived — to point out those particulars of the story which should have been sufficient to establish its real character. Indeed, however rich the imagination displayed in this ingenious fiction, it wanted much of the force which might have been given it by a more scrupulous attention to general analogy and physical truth. That the public were misled, even for an instant, merely proves the gross ignorance which is so generally prevalent upon subjects of an astronomical nature.

The moon’s distance from the earth is, in round numbers, 240,000 miles. If we desire to ascertain how near, apparently, a lens would bring the satellite, (or any distant object,) we, of course, have but to divide the distance by the magnifying power of the glass. Mr. L. makes his lens have a magnifying power of 42,000 times. By this divide 240,000 (the moon’s real distance), and we have five miles and five-sevenths, as the apparent distance. No animal at all could be seen so far; much less the minute points particularised in the story. Mr. L. speaks about Sir John Herschell’s perceiving flowers (the Papaver rheas, &c.), and even detecting the color and the shape of the eyes of small birds. Shortly before, too, he has himself ­[page 224:] observed that the lens would not render perceptible objects of less than eighteen inches in diameter; but even this, as I have said, is giving the glass by far too great power. It may be observed, en passant, that his prodigious glass is said to have been moulded at the glass-house of Messrs. Hartley and Grant in Dumbarton; but Messrs. H. and G.’s establishment had ceased operations for many years previous to the publication of the hoax.

On page 13, pamphlet edition, speaking of “a hairy veil” over the eyes of a species of bison, the author says — “It immediately occurred to the acute mind of Dr. Herschell that this was a providential contrivance to protect the eyes of the animal from the great extremes of light and darkness to which all the inhabitants of our side of the moon are periodically subjected.” But this cannot be thought a very “acute” observation of the Doctor’s. The inhabitants of our side of the moon have, evidently, no darkness at all; so there can be nothing of the “extremes” mentioned. In the absence of the sun they have a light from the earth equal to that of thirteen full moons.

The topography throughout, even when professing to accord with Blunt’s Lunar Chart, is entirely at variance with that or any other lunar chart, and even grossly at variance with itself. The points of the compass, too, are in inextricable confusion — the writer appearing to be ignorant that, on a lunar map, these are not in accordance with terrestrial points; the east being to the left, &c.

Deceived, perhaps, by the vague titles, Mare Nubium, Mare Tranquillitatis, Mare Fœcunditatis, &c., given to the dark spots by former astronomers, Mr. L. has entered into long details regarding oceans and other large bodies of water in the moon; whereas there is no astronomical point more positively ascertained than that no such bodies exist there. In examining the boundary between light and darkness (in a crescent or gibbous moon) where this boundary crosses any of the dark places, the line of division is found to be rough and jagged — but were these dark places liquid, it would evidently be even.

The description of the wings of the man-bat, on page 21, is ­[page 225:] but a literal copy of Peter Wilkins’ account of the wings of his flying islanders. This simple fact should have induced suspicion, at least, it might be thought.

On page 23, we have the following. “What a prodigious influence must our thirteen times larger globe have exercised upon this satellite when an embryo in the womb of time, the passive subject of chemical affinity!” This is very fine — but it should be observed that no astronomer would have made such remark, especially to any Journal of Science — for the earth, in the sense intended, is not only 13, but 49 times larger than the moon. A similar objection applies to the whole of the concluding pages, where, by way of introduction to some discoveries in Saturn, the philosophical correspondent enters into a minute schoolboy account of that planet — this to the Edinburgh Journal of Science!

But there is one point, in particular, which should have discovered the fiction. Let us imagine the power actually possessed of seeing animals upon the moon’s surface — what would first arrest the attention of an observer from the earth? Certainly neither their shape, size, nor any other such peculiarity, so soon as their remarkable situation. They would appear to be walking with heels up and head down, in the manner of flies on a ceiling. The real observer would have uttered an instant ejaculation of surprise (however prepared by previous knowledge) at the singularity of their position; the fictitious observer has not even mentioned the subject at all, but speaks of seeing the entire bodies of such creatures, when it is demonstrable that he could have seen only the diameter of their heads!

It might as well be remarked, in conclusion, that the size, and particularly the powers of the man-bats (for example, their ability to fly in so rare an atmosphere — if indeed the moon have any) — with most of the other fancies in regard to animal and vegetable existence, are at variance, generally, with all analogical reasoning on these themes; and that analogy here will often amount to conclusive demonstration. It is, perhaps, scarcely necessary to add, that all the suggestions attributed to Brewster and Herschell, in the beginning of the article, about ­[page 226:] “a transfusion of artificial light through the focal object of vision,” &c., &c., belong to that species of figurative writing which comes, most properly, under the denomination of rigmarole.

I have lately read a singular and somewhat ingenious little book, whose title page runs thus — “L’Homme dans la lvne, ou le Voyage Chimerique fait au Monde de la Lvne, nouuellement decouuert par Dominique Gonzales, Aduanturier Espagnol, autremèt dit le Courier volant. Mis en notre langve par J. B. D. A. Paris, chez François Piot, pres la Fontaine de Saint Benoist. Et chez J. Goignard, au premier pilier de la grand’ salle du Palais, proche les Consultations, MDCXLVIII.” pp. 176.

The writer professes to have translated his work from the English of one Mister D’Avisson (Davidson?) although there is a terrible ambiguity in the statement. “I’en ai eu,” says he, “l’original de Monsieur D’Avisson, medecin des mieux versez qui soient aujourd’huy dans la cònoissance des Belles Lettres, et sur tout de la Philosophie Naturelle. Je lui ai cette obligation entre les autres, de m’auoir non seulement mis en main ce Livre en anglois, mais encore le Manuscrit du Sieur Thomas D’Anan, gentilhomme Eccossois, recommandable pour sa vertu, sur la version duquel j’advoue que j’ay tiré le plan de la mienne.”

After some irrelevant adventures, much in the manner of Gil Blas, and which occupy the first thirty pages, the author relates that, being ill during a sea-voyage, the crew abandoned him, together with a negro servant, on the island St. Helena. To increase the chances of obtaining food, the two separate, and live as far apart as possible. This brings about a training of birds, to serve the purpose of carrier-pigeons between them. By-and-by these are taught to carry parcels of some weight — and this weight is gradually increased. At length the idea is entertained of uniting the force of a great number of the birds, with a view to raising the author himself. A machine is contrived for the purpose, and we have a minute description of it, which is materially helped out by a steel engraving. Here we perceive the Signor Gonzales, with point ruffles and a huge ­[page 227:] periwig, seated astride something which resembles very closely a broomstick, and borne aloft by a multitude of wild swans (ganzas) who have strings reaching from their tails to the machine.

The main event detailed in the Signor’s narrative depends upon a very important fact, of which the reader is kept in ignorance until near the end of the book. The ganzas, with whom he had become so familiar, were not really denizens of St. Helena, but of the moon. Thence it had been their custom, time out of mind, to migrate annually to some portion of the earth. In proper season, of course, they would return home; and the author happening, one day, to require their services for a short voyage, is unexpectedly carried straight up, and in a very brief period arrives at the satellite. Here he finds, among other odd things, that the people enjoy extreme happiness; that they have no law; that they die without pain; that they range from ten to thirty feet in height; that they live five thousand years; that they have an emperor called Irdonozur; and that they can jump sixty feet high, when, being out of the gravitating influence, they fly about with fans.

I cannot forbear giving a specimen of the general philosophy of the volume.

“I must now declare to you,” says the Signor Gonzales, “the nature of the place in which I found myself. All the clouds were beneath my feet, or, if you please, spread between me and the earth. As to the stars, since there was no night where I was, they always had the same appearance; not brilliant, as usual, but pale, and very nearly like the moon of a morning. But few of them were visible, and these ten times larger (as well as I could judge) than they seem to the inhabitants of the earth. The moon, which wanted two days of being full, was of a terrible bigness.

“I must not forget here, that the stars appeared only on that side of the globe turned towards the moon, and that the closer they were to it the larger they seemed. I have also to inform you that, whether it was calm weather or stormy, I found myself always immediately between the moon and the earth. ­[page 228:] [[I]] was convinced of this for two reasons — because my birds always flew in a straight line; and because, whenever we attempted to rest, we were carried insensibly around the globe of the earth. For I admit the opinion of Copernicus, who maintains that it never ceases to revolve from the east to the west, not upon the poles of the Equinoctial, commonly called the poles of the world, but upon those of the Zodiac — a question of which I propose to speak more at length hereafter, when I shall have leisure to refresh my memory in regard to the astrology which I learned at Salamanca when young, and have since forgotten.”

Notwithstanding the blunder italicised, which ‘is no doubt a mere lapsus linguæ, the book is not without some claim to attention, as affording a näïve specimen of the current astronomical notions of the time. One of these assumed, that the “ gravitating power” extended but a short distance from the earth’s surface — and, accordingly, we find our voyager “carried insensibly around the globe,” &c.

THE END.


Notes:

This “appendix” is to Poe’s tale “Hans Phaall

The running header on even numbered pages is: “GROTESQUE AND ARABESQUE.” On odd numbered pages, the page header is: “APPENDIX.”

In the original, the typeface used for the text is smaller than that used for the rest of the tales. This is the final item in the second of the two volumes, hence “The End” appearing at the bottom of the page is not merely the end of the item, but of the book as well.


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[S:1 - TGA, 1840] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Tales - Appendix [to Hans Phaall] (Text-B)