Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/63

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IN the "Fifth Evening" of that delightful, old, out-of-date book of Fontenelle's, on the "Plurality of Worlds," the Astronomer and the Marchioness, who have been making a wonderful pilgrimage through the heavens during their evening strolls in the park, come at last to the starry systems beyond the "solar vortex," and the Marchioness experiences a lively impatience to know what the fixed stars shall turn out to be, for the Astronomer has sharpened her appetite for marvels.

"Tell me," says she, eagerly, "are they, too, inhabited like the planets, or are they not peopled? In short, what can we make of them?"

The Astronomer answers his charming questioner, as we should do to-day, that the fixed stars are so many suns. And he adds to this information a great deal of entertaining talk about the planets that may be supposed to circle around these distant suns, interspersing his conversation with explanations of "vortexes," and many quaint conceits, in which he is helped out by the ready wit of the Marchioness.

Finally, the impressionable mind of the Marchioness is overwhelmed by the grandeur of the scenes that the Astronomer opens to her view, her head swims, infinity oppresses her, and she cries for mercy.

"You show me," she exclaims, "a perspective so interminably long that the eye can not see the end of it. I see plainly the inhabitants of the earth; then you cause me to perceive those of the moon and of the other planets belonging to our vortex (system), quite clearly, yet not so distinct as those of the earth. After them come the inhabitants of planets in the other vortexes. I confess, they seem to me hidden deep in the background, and, however hard I try, I can barely glimpse them at all. In truth, are they not almost annihilated by the very expression which you are obliged to use in speaking of them? You have to call them inhabitants of one of the planets contained in one out of the infinity of vortexes. Surely we ourselves, to whom the same expression applies, are almost lost among so many millions of worlds. For my part, the earth begins to appear so frightfully little to me that henceforth I shall hardly consider any object worthy of eager pursuit. Assuredly, people who seek so earnestly their own aggrandizement, who lay schemes upon schemes, and give themselves so much trouble, know nothing of the vortexes! I am sure my increase of knowledge will redound to the credit of my idleness, and when