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and at last returns to his own Micromégas (the little-big man), home.
under which name the author “Les Voyages de Milord Seton” shadows forth his own opinions, was another of the rather nu. and also some of his own expemerous French romances of the riences, is a native of one of the same class. It describes the ex- planets of the Sirian system, a periences of an English nobleman young man of about eight leagues of the Commonwealth, who, in the in height, and of good understandshape of a fly, and by the good ing. Now, as eight leagues make offices of a friendly genius, traverses more than 120,000ft., and as terthe moon and solar planets. Venus restrials have an average of only according to the author, is the 5ft., mathematical skill easily dis. world par excellence of love, which covers that the globe of the Sirian alone engages all the thoughts of must be exactly 21,600,000 times the happy inhabitants; while (ac- greater in circumference than our commodating the nature of the little Earth. Nothing is more people to the well-known character simple or ordinary in Nature. The istics of the Greek god) avarice and States of some Sovereigns of Gerthe tricks of trade occupy the many or Italy, whose tour one minds of the sordid population of might make in a half hour, comthe globe of Mercury.*
pared with the Empire of Turkey, For the wittiest and most instruc of Russia, or of China, present a tive romance upon the plurality of very feeble image of the prodigious worlds, however, we are indebted differences Nature has placed beto the unrivalled wit of the author tween all beings. At the age of of “ Micromégas.” In this fine piece 450 years, when just emerging of satire Voltaire had a double from boyhood, after having already purpose-first, to hold up to ridi. discovered his genius by divining, cule the absurd pride which would by the mere force of his fine inmake our insignificant globe the tellect, more than fifty proposisole centre of intellectual life; and, tions of Euclid, he composed a secondly, a much less worthy very curious book, but which caused motive, to retaliate upon the him some trouble. The mufti of venerable Fontenelle certain slights his country, “a great stickler for he had received from the Secretary trifles, and very ignorant, found in to the Academy of Sciences. Fon his book some suspected propositenelle, several years previously, tions, ill-sounding, rash, heretical, had published his charming “Con- and smelling of heresy; and purversations sur la Pluralité des sued him with much fierceness. It Mondes," in which he had indulged was a question of knowing whether his imagination a little ; but in a the substantial forms of the fleas very excusable manner. But for of Sirius were of the same nature the genuine wit of “Micromégas” as that of the snails. The trial we should never have been able to lasted 220 years. At length the forgive his attempt to cast ridicule mufti got the book condemned by upon that charming writer; and the lawyers, who had not read it, so much the less worthy was this and the author received orders not attack, as the two philosophers to appear at court for 800 years. were equally agreed upon the He felt but moderately afflicted at plurality of worlds.
banishment from a court full of
* See Dunlop's Hist. of Fiction, III.
shuffling and littlenesses. He com time comes for the return of the posed a witty satire against the body to the elements again, which mufti, who experienced no little is called death, to have lived an embarrassment from it, and set eternity, or to have lived only a out on his travels from planet to day, is precisely the same thing; planet to finish the education of and the Sirian, who had had the his mind, as they say. Our traveller experience of a large number of knew to a marvel the laws of gravi. worlds, assures his friend that tation, and all the attractive and though there are many where they repulsive forces, and made so good live a still longer period than in his, use of his knowledge that, some. they still murmur. After having times by the aid of a sun's rays, communicated to one another "a sometimes by the help of a comet, little of what they did know, and he and his people went from globe a great deal of what they did not to globe much as a bird flits from know” during one revolution of branch to branch. Upon at last the sun, they resolve to make arriving at the globe of Saturn, together a little philosophical accustomed as he was to novelties, expedition. Leaping upon the he could not at first, on seeing its ring of Saturn they proceed to littleness, and its diminutive people, travel from moon to moon. They prevent that smile of superiority then seize the opportunity of a which sometimes escapes from the passing comet, and, with their wisest. For, in fact, Saturn is but domestics and instruments, take 900 times greater than the earth, their places on that erratic conand the citizens are dwarfs of but veyance. When they had traversed 6000ft. in height. But, as the some 150,000,000 leagues the Sirian had a good understanding, satellites of Jupiter come into he very quickly perceived that a view. They pass into that planet, thinking being may very well not and remain a year, learning certain be ridiculous for being only 6000ft. very fine secrets, which would be in height. After the first surprise already in print but for the he got on familiar terms with the gentleman of the Inquisition. Saturnians, and contracted a firm Leaving Jupiter they traverse a friendship with the Secretary of the space of 100,000,000 leagues, and Academy, a man of much wit, overtaking the planet Mars, which, who had invented nothing, but who as we know, is one-fifth the size gave a very good account of the of our little globe, Micromégas, inventions of others, and who made fearing insufficient accommodation, passable verses and some really passes it by just as a paltry village important calculations.”
inn is despised by us. But they The two new friends compare soon repent of their ill-timed notes, and find that though the fastidiousness, inasmuch as they one has seventy-two and the other travel a long time and find no one thousand senses; that the one accommodation at all. At length a lives on an average some fifteen faint glimmer appears. It turns thousand years, and the other out to belong to the Earth. Just enjoys an existence of seven fresh from Jupiter, a feeling of hundred times longer duration, contempt may perhaps be excused complaints of the brevity of life to them. However, not to be are not wanting in their worlds. obliged to repent a second time, For themselves, as they are they decide to land. Passing along philosophers, they find consolation the tail of a comet, and, finding an in the reflection that when the aurora borealis ready to hand, they
The Romance of the Plurality of Worlds. [July arrive upon the northern shore of Saturnian, “this globe is so badly the Baltic Sea July 5th, 1737 (new constructed; it is so irregular and style).
of a shape, as it seems to me, so After reposing a little, and break- ridiculous. All seems to be chaos. fasting upon two mountains, served See you those small streams, of up to them by their servants in an which not one flows in a straight appetising manner, they set about a course; those puddles, neither voyage of discovery, proceeding round, nor square, nor oval, nor of from north to south. The ordinary any descernible shape—all those steps of the Sirian were 30,000ft.: little pointed grains (meaning the Saturnian dwarf followed at a mountains] with which the globe distance, gasping for breath, for, is studded, and which have for one stride of his companion, he scratched my feet? In truth, what had to take twelve steps—e.g., it makes me believe that no life may be allowed to use the com exists here is, that no people enparison of a very small dog follow dowed with sense would desire to ing a captain of the Guards of the live here.” “ Eh bien!” returns King of Prussia. As they walked the Sirian, “ perhaps there are no very fast, they made the tour of our people of good sense inhabiting it: globe in thirty-six hours. With but, in fact, there is some appear. some difficulty the Mediterranean, ance that it is not made for nothing. and that other larger pool which Everything seems to you irregular, we call the Ocean, and which sur say you, because everything is rounds the mole-hills, are made made by the square in Saturn and out; in crossing which the dwarf Jupiter. Perhaps it is for that found himself never more than same reason a little confusion half-way up his leg in water, while reigns here. Have I not told you the Sirian scarcely wetted his that in my voyages I had always heels. To solve the question of remarked variety ?" habitability they try every method The Saturnian dwarf replied: of investigation: they stoop, lie and the dispute might never have down, test the matter in every ended had not Micromégas by way ; “they receive not the slight- good luck, in the impatience of est indication which could lead speaking, burst the thread of his them to suspect that we and our diamond necklace. The diamonds confrères, the rest of the inhabi. which fell to the ground were tants of the earth, have the honour small carats, whose greatest weight of existing.” Our Saturnian, who was 400lb. Picking them up, the judged sometimes a little too dwarf perceived, on close inspechastily, decided at first against any tion, from the fashion in which sort of life, his first reason being they were cut, they formed exthat he had not seen anything of it. cellent microscopes. He took one, Micromégas politely suggests that a small microscope 160ft. diameter; that is to reason rather badly, "for," the Sirian choosing one of 2500ft. said he, "you do not see with your They proved excellent; but at first small eyes certain stars of the nothing could be seen ; they must fiftieth magnitude which I perceive be readjusted. At last the Savery distinctly; do you conclude, turnian sees something scarcely therefore, that those stars exist perceptible moving on the Baltic not ?” “But," says the dwarf, “I sea. It was a whale. He took it have examined the question well.” up skilfully with his little finger, “You may have defective senses,"re- and, placing it upon his thumb plies the Sirian. “But," objects the nail, called the attention of his
friend, who set himself laughing digging iron stakes into his hands, for the second time, at the excessive makes their captor suppose the minuteness of the inhabitants of presence of some sort of little our world. Now convinced of its animal, without giving him susbeing inhabited, the Saturnian picion of anything more. His mijumped to the conclusion that it croscope, which hardly allowed him was only by whales; and, being a to discover a whale and a ship, had, great reasoner, wished to discover of course, not the slightest power whence so small an atom drew its over beings so utterly insignificant as powers of motion ; whether it had men. “I do not wish," says Voltaire, ideas, a will, liberty, &c. Micro. "to shock the vanity of any one; mégas was much embarrassed ; but but I am forced to beg gentlemen he very patiently examined the of importance to make here a little animal, and the result of his remark with me. It is that, in diagnosis was that there was no taking the average human height means, at present, of determining at five feet, we do not cut upon the question. At this stage, the the earth a greater figure than an two travellers inclined to think animal, which should be about the that no intelligent beings were 600,000th part of an inch, would to be found in our world, when, do on a ball of ten feet in circumby the aid of the microscope, ference. Figure to yourselves a they perceived something larger substance which could hold the than a whale floating upon the earth in its hand, and which should Baltic. “It is known that at that have organs in proportion to ours. time a fleet of philosophers was Now conceive, I beg, what they returning from the polar circle. would think of those battles The newspapers said that their which two small villages, which it vessel struck upon the coasts of has been necessary to give up Bothnia, and that they had with again, have cost us. I doubt not difficulty saved their lives ; but that, if a captain of tall grenadiers one never knows in this world the should ever read this work, he reverse of the cards. I am going," would swell himself up two feet at continues Voltaire, “to relate in- least above the heads of his troop; genuously the facts as they but I warn him he will do so to happened, without interlarding no purpose, that he and his will anything, which is no little effort never be but infinitely little.” Our for a historian.”
philosophers experience intense The Sirian, in fine, by the delight, when at last the exis. exercise of rare adroitness, con- tence of beings of their own trives after much trouble, to place form become demonstrable, and the vessel with its living freight in watching their every movement. upon his nail, without compressing The Saturnian, passing from exit too much for fear of crushing cess of distrust to excess of cre. it. Sailors, philosophers, and pas dulity, thinks he detects certain sengers, thinking themselves over curious movements. “Ah !” said taken by a tremendous hurricane, he, “I have caught nature in the precipitated themselves, with all fact."* their goods, overboard. A tick But he “ deceived himself by ap. ling sensation, caused by this pearances which happens but too sudden movement and by their often, whether one uses a microscope or not.” By an ingenious And when our human atom procontrivance Micromégas extem. ceeds to describe animals which are porises a huge speaking trumpet, for the bees what the bees are for like an enormous tunnel, from the men, what the Sirian himself was parings of one of his nails, so that, for the vast animals which he had thanks to his patient ingenuity, the seen in other globes, and what experimentalist was in a short time those great animals are for other enabled to distinguish the humming substances before which they of the microscopic animals. In a would appear as atoms, the few hours he could distinguish astonishment of the strangers in. words, and, in fine, make out the creases to the highest pitch. French language. The Saturnian By degrees the conversation did as much, though with more grows extremely interesting, and difficulty. Surprises crowd upon the Sirian gives utterance to his them : they heard the atoms, feeling of admiration at the happy speak apparently very good sense. condition of beings who,“ having But what was to be done to hold so little matter, and appearing all the conversation for which our mind, must pass their lives in philosophers were dying with im. loving and thinking. It is the patience? Their tones of thunder true spiritual life. I have nowhere must assuredly deafen the atoms else seen true happiness; but withwithout any result. On this new out doubt it is here." All the difficulty, it occurs to them to philosophic atoms, however, at once moderate the insufferable noise by begin shaking their heads violently; putting small toothpicks into their and one, more frank than the others, mouths. The Sirian held the avows that, in fact, “if one exdwarf upon his knees, who, in his cepts a very small proportion of turn, held the ship with its freight inhabitants, all the rest are an upon his nail. Lowering his head, assemblage of fools, knaves, and the Sirian began to whisper. As unfortunates. We have more may be imagined, the first feeling matter a great deal than we need of the atoms was one of utter for doing a great deal of evil, if surprise and terror. “The chaplain the evil come from matter; and of the ship recited formulas of too much mind, if the evil come exorcism, the sailors set them from mind.” He proceeds to selves swearing, and the philoso. speak of some of the horrors of phers invented a system.”
* See “ Conversations sur la Pluralité des Mondes.”
life created by the atoms amongst At length, the first alarms some. themselves; of the wars, e.g., then what appeased, some of the atoms, raging, and their trifling causes. bolder than the rest, ventured to The first impulse of the Sirian is, converse; and, after certain geo- with three kicks of his foot, to metrical observations, to the com overturn the whole ant-hill of such plete surprise of their captors, they ridiculous assassins: but he refrains are proceeding to give the exact on being told he might spare himmeasurement not only of the self the trouble, since they effectuSaturnian dwarf, but also of ally enough worked their own Micromégas himself; and assert destruction. the existence of intelligent The Sirian then delivered him. creatures smaller even than them. self as follows: “Since you know selves, repeating “not what Virgil so well what is external to you, had had said about the bees, but without doubt you know much what Swammerdam had discovered better what is within you. Tell and what Réaumur had dissected.” me what is your soul, and how do