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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

From “The Moon Hoax”

By Richard Adams Locke (1800–1871)

[Born in New York, N. Y., 1800. Died on Staten Island, N. Y., 1871. Great Astronomical Discoveries Lately Made by Sir John Herschel, LL.D., F.R.S., etc., at the Cape of Good Hope.—First Published in the “New York Sun” in August and September, 1835, from the “Supplement to the Edinburgh Journal of Science.”—Reprint of 1859.]


“THE DARK expanse of waters to the south of the first great ocean has often been considered a fourth; but we found it to be merely a sea of the first class, entirely surrounded by land, and much more encumbered with promontories and islands than it has been exhibited in any lunar chart. One of its promontories runs from the vicinity of Pitatus (No. 19), in a slightly curved and very narrow line, to Bullialdus (No. 22), which is merely a circular head to it, 264 miles from its starting place. This is another mountainous ring, a marine volcano, nearly burnt out, and slumbering upon its cinders. But Pitatus, standing upon a bold cape of the southern shore, is apparently exulting in the might and majesty of its fires. The atmosphere being now quite free from vapor, we introduced the magnifiers to examine a large bright circle of hills which sweep close beside the western abutments of this flaming mountain. The hills were either of snow-white marble or semi-transparent crystal, we could not distinguish which, and they bounded another of those lovely green valleys, which, however monotonous in my descriptions, are of paradisaical beauty and fertility, and like primitive Eden in the bliss of their inhabitants. Dr. Herschel here again predicated another of his sagacious theories. He said the proximity of the flaming mountain, Bullialdus, must be so great a local convenience to dwellers in this valley during the long periodical absence of solar light as to render it a place of populous resort for the inhabitants of all the adjacent regions, more especially as its bulwark of hills afforded an infallible security against any volcanic eruption that could occur. We therefore applied our full power to explore it, and rich indeed was our reward.

“The very first object in this valley that appeared upon our canvas was a magnificent work of art. It was a temple—a fane of devotion, or of science—which, when consecrated to the Creator, is devotion of the loftiest order; for it exhibits his attributes purely free from the masquerade, attire, and blasphemous caricature of controversial creeds, and has the seal and signature of his own hand to sanction its aspirations. It was an equitriangular temple, built of polished sapphire, or of some resplendent blue stone, which, like it, displayed a myriad points of golden light twinkling and scintillating in the sunbeams. Our canvas, though fifty feet in diameter, was too limited to receive more than a sixth part of it at one view, and the first part that appeared was near the centre of one of its sides, being three square columns, six feet in diameter at its base, and gently tapering to a height of seventy feet. The intercolumniations were each twelve feet. We instantly reduced our magnitude, so as to embrace the whole structure in one view, and then indeed it was most beautiful. The roof was composed of some yellow metal, and divided into three compartments, which were not triangular planes inclining to the centre, but subdivided, curbed, and separated, so as to present a mass of violently agitated flames rising from a common source of conflagration and terminating in wildly waving points. This design was too manifest, and too skilfully executed to be mistaken for a single moment. Through a few openings in these metallic flames we perceived a large sphere of a darker kind of metal nearly of a clouded copper color, which they enclosed and seemingly raged around, as if hieroglyphically consuming it. This was the roof; but upon each of the three corners there was a small sphere of apparently the same metal us the large centre one, and these rested upon a kind of cornice, quite new in any order of architecture with which we are acquainted, but nevertheless exceedingly graceful and impressive. It was like a half-opened scroll, swelling off boldly from the roof, and hanging far over the walls in several convolutions. It was of the same metal as the flames, and on each side of the building it was open at both ends. The columns, six on each side, were simply plain shafts, without capitals or pedestals, or any description of ornament; nor was any perceived in other parts of the edifice. It was open on each side, and seemed to contain neither seats, altars, nor offerings; but it was a light and airy structure, nearly a hundred feet high from its white glistening floor to its glowing roof, and it stood upon a round green eminence on the eastern side of the valley. We afterwards, however, discovered two others, which were in every respect fac-similes of this one; but in neither did we perceive any visitants besides flocks of wild doves which alighted upon its lustrous pinnacles. Had the devotees of these temples gone the way of all living, or were the latter merely historical monuments? What did the ingenious builders mean by the globe surrounded by flames? Did they by this record any past calamity of their world, or predict any future one of ours? I by no means despair of ultimately solving not only these but a thousand other questions which present themselves respecting the objects in this planet; for not the millionth part of her surface has yet been explored, and we have been more desirous of collecting the greatest possible number of new facts than of indulging in speculative theories, however seductive to the imagination.

“But we had not far to seek for inhabitants of this ‘Vale of the Triads.’ Immediately on the outer border of the wood which surrounded, at the distance of half a mile, the eminence on which the first of these temples stood, we saw several detached assemblies of beings whom we instantly recognized to be of the same species as our winged friends of the Ruby Colosseum near the lake Langrenus. Having adjusted the instrument for a minute examination, we found that nearly all the individuals in these groups were of a larger stature than the former specimens, less dark in color, and in every respect an improved variety of the race. They were chiefly engaged in eating a large yellow fruit like a gourd, sections of which they divided with their fingers, and ate with rather uncouth voracity, throwing away the rind. A smaller red fruit, shaped like a cucumber, which we had often seen pendent from trees having a broad dark leaf, was also lying in heaps in the centre of several of the festive groups; but the only use they appeared to make of it was sucking its juice, after rolling it between the palms of their hands and nibbling off an end. They seemed eminently happy, and even polite, for we saw, in many instances, individuals sitting nearest these piles of fruit, select the largest and brightest specimens, and throw them archwise across the circle to some opposite friend or associate who had extracted the nutriment from those scattered around him, and which were frequently not a few. While thus engaged in their rural banquets, or in social converse, they were always seated with their knees flat upon the turf, and their feet brought evenly together in the form of a triangle. And for some mysterious reason or other this figure seemed to be an especial favorite among them; for we found that every group or social circle arranged itself in this shape before it dispersed, which was generally done at the signal of an individual who stepped into the centre and brought his hands over his head in an acute angle. At this signal each member of the company extended his arms forward so as to form an acute horizontal angle with the extremity of the fingers. But this was not the only proof we had that they were creatures of order and subordination…. We had no opportunity of seeing them actually engaged in any work of industry or art; and so far as we could judge, they spent their happy hours in collecting various fruits in the woods, in eating, flying, bathing, and loitering about upon the summits of precipices…. But although evidently the highest order of animals in this rich valley, they were not its only occupants. Most of the other animals which we had discovered elsewhere, in very distant regions, were collected here, and also at least eight or nine new species of quadrupeds. The most attractive of these was a tall white stag with lofty spreading antlers, black as ebony. We several times saw this elegant creature trot up to the seated parties of the semi-human beings I have described, and browse the herbage close beside them, without the least manifestation of fear on its part or notice on theirs. The universal state of amity among all classes of lunar creatures, and the apparent absence of every carnivorous or ferocious species, gave us the most refined pleasure, and doubly endeared to us this lovely nocturnal companion of our larger but less favored world. Ever again when I ‘eye the blue vault and bless the useful light,’ shall I recall the scenes of beauty, grandeur, and felicity I have beheld upon her surface, not ‘as through a glass darkly, but face to face’; and never shall I think of that line of our thrice noble poet,

  • ‘Meek Diana’s crest
  • Sails through the azure air, an island of the blest,’
  • without exulting in my knowledge of its truth.”

    With the careful inspection of this instructive valley, and a scientific classification of its animal, vegetable, and mineral productions, the astronomers closed their labors for the night; labors rather mental than physical, and oppressive from the extreme excitement which they naturally induced. A singular circumstance occurred the next day, which threw the telescope quite out of use for nearly a week, by which time the moon could be no longer observed that month. The great lens, which was usually lowered during the day, and placed horizontally, had, it is true, been lowered as usual, but had been inconsiderately left in a perpendicular position. Accordingly, shortly after sunrise the next morning, Dr. Herschel and his assistants, Dr. Grant and Messrs. Drummond and Home, who slept in a bungalow erected a short distance from the observatory circle, were awakened by the loud shouts of some Dutch farmers and domesticated Hottentots (who were passing with their oxen to agricultural labor), that the “big house” was on fire! Dr. Herschel leaped out of bed from his brief slumbers, and, sure enough, saw his observatory enveloped in a cloud of smoke.

    Luckily it had been thickly covered, within and without, with a coat of Roman plaster, or it would inevitably have been destroyed with all its invaluable contents; but, as it was, a hole fifteen feet in circumference had been burnt completely through the “reflecting chamber,” which was attached to the side of the observatory nearest the lens, through the canvas field on which had been exhibited so many wonders that will ever live in the history of mankind, and through the outer wall. So fierce was the concentration of the solar rays through the gigantic lens that a clump of trees standing in a line with them was set on fire, and the plaster of the observatory walls, all round the orifice, was vitrified to blue glass. The lens being almost immediately turned, and a brook of water being within a few hundred yards, the fire was soon extinguished, but the damage already done was not inconsiderable. The microscope lenses had fortunately been removed for the purpose of being cleaned, but several of the metallic reflectors were so fused as to be rendered useless. Masons and carpenters were procured from Cape Town with all possible despatch, and in about a week the whole apparatus was again prepared for operation.