Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/124

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

tant as if they were near, and, on the other hand, near objects to appear much larger than they are before our eyes."

In 1610 Porta became a member of the Academy. The first academy for scientific investigation to be established in modern times was the Accademia Secretorum Naturæ, which he founded at Naples in 1560. Porta was the President and leading spirit of this Academy until it was interdicted by the Pope, and Porta compelled to go to Rome to defend himself against the charge of magic and black arts. Porta became Vice-President of the Lincei, and some of his greatest works were published under its auspices, among which were Magiæ Naturalis; De Humana Physiognomonia, from which Lavater is said to have borrowed so extensively; Phytognomonica, a treatise on the physiology and virtue of plants; De Refractione, optices parte, in which he speaks of binocular vision; on Pneumatica, and various other works. In the Magiæ Naturalis he describes the camera obscura, which he had discovered, and mentions the many optical experiments he had made with it. He considered the eye a camera obscura, and thus approximated the true idea of vision. Here we find the passage, written several years before, in which he speaks of a combination of lenses by which "we may contrive to recognize our friends at a distance of several miles, and those of weak sight may read the most minute letters from a distance. It is an invention of great utility, and grounded on optical principles, nor is it to be understood by the vulgar, and yet be clear to the sharp-sighted." Who knows what Porta would not have done, with these facts in his possession, had he not been deterred by the charge of resorting to black arts, already resting upon him! Why should he, he may have reasoned, put to practical test that which, in his then present position, would almost certainly lead him to the stake. Galileo was a bolder man, and enjoyed the patronage of the powerful Medici, yet even he paid the penalty of his boldness.

When Galileo brought his little telescope to Rome in 1611, and set it up in the Vatican gardens, very naturally his most enthusiastic supporters were the Lynceans. Early in the year he became a member of the Academy. His signature runs as follows: "Ego Galileus Galilæus Vincentii filius Florentinna ætatis mese anno LII, Sal. 1611 die 23 April: Romæ manu propria scripsi." The whole of this, the first visit of Galileo to Rome, was one continued ovation, being received with the most marked distinction by the ecclesiastics and scientists alike. The experience of one looking through a telescope for the first time, at the moon, for instance, must have been novel indeed.

Those of us who remember the sensations they experienced when witnessing for the first time the workings of the telephone or phonograph can make only an imperfect comparison; for we,