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Chapter 2


CHAPTER II


PRESIDENT BARBICANE'S COMMUNICATION


On the 5th of October, at eight p.m., a dense crowd pressed
toward the saloons of the Gun Club at No. 21 Union Square.
All the members of the association resident in Baltimore attended
the invitation of their president. As regards the corresponding
members, notices were delivered by hundreds throughout the streets
of the city, and, large as was the great hall, it was quite
inadequate to accommodate the crowd of _savants_. They overflowed
into the adjoining rooms, down the narrow passages, into the
outer courtyards. There they ran against the vulgar herd who
pressed up to the doors, each struggling to reach the front ranks,
all eager to learn the nature of the important communication of
President Barbicane; all pushing, squeezing, crushing with that
perfect freedom of action which is so peculiar to the masses when
educated in ideas of "self-government."

On that evening a stranger who might have chanced to be in
Baltimore could not have gained admission for love or money into
the great hall. That was reserved exclusively for resident or
corresponding members; no one else could possibly have obtained
a place; and the city magnates, municipal councilors, and
"select men" were compelled to mingle with the mere townspeople
in order to catch stray bits of news from the interior.

Nevertheless the vast hall presented a curious spectacle.
Its immense area was singularly adapted to the purpose.
Lofty pillars formed of cannon, superposed upon huge mortars as a
base, supported the fine ironwork of the arches, a perfect piece
of cast-iron lacework. Trophies of blunderbuses, matchlocks,
arquebuses, carbines, all kinds of firearms, ancient and modern,
were picturesquely interlaced against the walls. The gas lit
up in full glare myriads of revolvers grouped in the form of
lustres, while groups of pistols, and candelabra formed of
muskets bound together, completed this magnificent display
of brilliance. Models of cannon, bronze castings, sights covered
with dents, plates battered by the shots of the Gun Club,
assortments of rammers and sponges, chaplets of shells, wreaths
of projectiles, garlands of howitzers-- in short, all the
apparatus of the artillerist, enchanted the eye by this
wonderful arrangement and induced a kind of belief that their
real purpose was ornamental rather than deadly.

At the further end of the saloon the president, assisted by four
secretaries, occupied a large platform. His chair, supported by
a carved gun-carriage, was modeled upon the ponderous proportions
of a 32-inch mortar. It was pointed at an angle of ninety degrees,
and suspended upon truncheons, so that the president could balance
himself upon it as upon a rocking-chair, a very agreeable fact in
the very hot weather. Upon the table (a huge iron plate supported
upon six carronades) stood an inkstand of exquisite elegance, made
of a beautifully chased Spanish piece, and a sonnette, which, when
required, could give forth a report equal to that of a revolver.
During violent debates this novel kind of bell scarcely sufficed
to drown the clamor of these excitable artillerists.

In front of the table benches arranged in zigzag form, like the
circumvallations of a retrenchment, formed a succession of
bastions and curtains set apart for the use of the members of
the club; and on this especial evening one might say, "All the
world was on the ramparts." The president was sufficiently well
known, however, for all to be assured that he would not put his
colleagues to discomfort without some very strong motive.

Impey Barbicane was a man of forty years of age, calm, cold,
austere; of a singularly serious and self-contained demeanor,
punctual as a chronometer, of imperturbable temper and immovable
character; by no means chivalrous, yet adventurous withal, and
always bringing practical ideas to bear upon the very rashest
enterprises; an essentially New Englander, a Northern colonist,
a descendant of the old anti-Stuart Roundheads, and the
implacable enemy of the gentlemen of the South, those ancient
cavaliers of the mother country. In a word, he was a Yankee to
the backbone.

Barbicane had made a large fortune as a timber merchant.
Being nominated director of artillery during the war, he proved
himself fertile in invention. Bold in his conceptions, he
contributed powerfully to the progress of that arm and gave an
immense impetus to experimental researches.

He was personage of the middle height, having, by a rare
exception in the Gun Club, all his limbs complete. His strongly
marked features seemed drawn by square and rule; and if it be
true that, in order to judge a man's character one must look at
his profile, Barbicane, so examined, exhibited the most certain
indications of energy, audacity, and _sang-froid_.

At this moment he was sitting in his armchair, silent, absorbed,
lost in reflection, sheltered under his high-crowned hat-- a
kind of black cylinder which always seems firmly screwed upon
the head of an American.

Just when the deep-toned clock in the great hall struck eight,
Barbicane, as if he had been set in motion by a spring, raised
himself up. A profound silence ensued, and the speaker, in a
somewhat emphatic tone of voice, commenced as follows:

"My brave, colleagues, too long already a paralyzing peace has
plunged the members of the Gun Club in deplorable inactivity.
After a period of years full of incidents we have been compelled
to abandon our labors, and to stop short on the road of progress.
I do not hesitate to state, baldly, that any war which would
recall us to arms would be welcome!" (Tremendous applause!)
"But war, gentlemen, is impossible under existing circumstances;
and, however we may desire it, many years may elapse before our
cannon shall again thunder in the field of battle. We must make
up our minds, then, to seek in another train of ideas some field
for the activity which we all pine for."

The meeting felt that the president was now approaching the
critical point, and redoubled their attention accordingly.

"For some months past, my brave colleagues," continued
Barbicane, "I have been asking myself whether, while confining
ourselves to our own particular objects, we could not enter upon
some grand experiment worthy of the nineteenth century; and
whether the progress of artillery science would not enable us to
carry it out to a successful issue. I have been considering,
working, calculating; and the result of my studies is the conviction
that we are safe to succeed in an enterprise which to any other
country would appear wholly impracticable. This project, the result
of long elaboration, is the object of my present communication.
It is worthy of yourselves, worthy of the antecedents of the Gun
Club; and it cannot fail to make some noise in the world."

A thrill of excitement ran through the meeting.

Barbicane, having by a rapid movement firmly fixed his hat upon
his head, calmly continued his harangue:

"There is no one among you, my brave colleagues, who has not
seen the Moon, or, at least, heard speak of it. Don't be
surprised if I am about to discourse to you regarding the Queen
of the Night. It is perhaps reserved for us to become the
Columbuses of this unknown world. Only enter into my plans, and
second me with all your power, and I will lead you to its
conquest, and its name shall be added to those of the thirty-six
states which compose this Great Union."

"Three cheers for the Moon!" roared the Gun Club, with one voice.

"The moon, gentlemen, has been carefully studied," continued
Barbicane; "her mass, density, and weight; her constitution,
motions, distance, as well as her place in the solar system,
have all been exactly determined. Selenographic charts have
been constructed with a perfection which equals, if it does not
even surpass, that of our terrestrial maps. Photography has
given us proofs of the incomparable beauty of our satellite; all
is known regarding the moon which mathematical science,
astronomy, geology, and optics can learn about her. But up to
the present moment no direct communication has been established
with her."

A violent movement of interest and surprise here greeted this
remark of the speaker.

"Permit me," he continued, "to recount to you briefly how
certain ardent spirits, starting on imaginary journeys, have
penetrated the secrets of our satellite. In the seventeenth
century a certain David Fabricius boasted of having seen with
his own eyes the inhabitants of the moon. In 1649 a Frenchman,
one Jean Baudoin, published a `Journey performed from the Earth
to the Moon by Domingo Gonzalez,' a Spanish adventurer. At the
same period Cyrano de Bergerac published that celebrated
`Journeys in the Moon' which met with such success in France.
Somewhat later another Frenchman, named Fontenelle, wrote `The
Plurality of Worlds,' a _chef-d'oeuvre_ of its time. About 1835
a small treatise, translated from the New York _American_, related
how Sir John Herschel, having been despatched to the Cape of
Good Hope for the purpose of making there some astronomical
calculations, had, by means of a telescope brought to perfection
by means of internal lighting, reduced the apparent distance of
the moon to eighty yards! He then distinctly perceived caverns
frequented by hippopotami, green mountains bordered by golden
lace-work, sheep with horns of ivory, a white species of deer
and inhabitants with membranous wings, like bats. This _brochure_,
the work of an American named Locke, had a great sale. But, to
bring this rapid sketch to a close, I will only add that a
certain Hans Pfaal, of Rotterdam, launching himself in a balloon
filled with a gas extracted from nitrogen, thirty-seven times
lighter than hydrogen, reached the moon after a passage of
nineteen hours. This journey, like all previous ones, was purely
imaginary; still, it was the work of a popular American author--
I mean Edgar Poe!"

"Cheers for Edgar Poe!" roared the assemblage, electrified by
their president's words.

"I have now enumerated," said Barbicane, "the experiments which
I call purely paper ones, and wholly insufficient to establish
serious relations with the Queen of the Night. Nevertheless, I
am bound to add that some practical geniuses have attempted to
establish actual communication with her. Thus, a few days ago,
a German geometrician proposed to send a scientific expedition
to the steppes of Siberia. There, on those vast plains, they
were to describe enormous geometric figures, drawn in characters
of reflecting luminosity, among which was the proposition
regarding the `square of the hypothenuse,' commonly called the
`Ass's Bridge' by the French. `Every intelligent being,' said
the geometrician, `must understand the scientific meaning of
that figure. The Selenites, do they exist, will respond by a
similar figure; and, a communication being thus once
established, it will be easy to form an alphabet which shall
enable us to converse with the inhabitants of the moon.' So
spoke the German geometrician; but his project was never put
into practice, and up to the present day there is no bond
in existence between the Earth and her satellite. It is
reserved for the practical genius of Americans to establish a
communication with the sidereal world. The means of arriving
thither are simple, easy, certain, infallible-- and that is the
purpose of my present proposal."

A storm of acclamations greeted these words. There was not a
single person in the whole audience who was not overcome,
carried away, lifted out of himself by the speaker's words!

Long-continued applause resounded from all sides.

As soon as the excitement had partially subsided, Barbicane
resumed his speech in a somewhat graver voice.

"You know," said he, "what progress artillery science has made
during the last few years, and what a degree of perfection
firearms of every kind have reached. Moreover, you are well
aware that, in general terms, the resisting power of cannon and
the expansive force of gunpowder are practically unlimited.
Well! starting from this principle, I ask myself whether,
supposing sufficient apparatus could be obtained constructed
upon the conditions of ascertained resistance, it might not be
possible to project a shot up to the moon?"

At these words a murmur of amazement escaped from a thousand
panting chests; then succeeded a moment of perfect silence,
resembling that profound stillness which precedes the bursting
of a thunderstorm. In point of fact, a thunderstorm did peal
forth, but it was the thunder of applause, or cries, and of
uproar which made the very hall tremble. The president
attempted to speak, but could not. It was fully ten minutes
before he could make himself heard.

"Suffer me to finish," he calmly continued. "I have looked at
the question in all its bearings, I have resolutely attacked it,
and by incontrovertible calculations I find that a projectile
endowed with an initial velocity of 12,000 yards per second, and
aimed at the moon, must necessarily reach it. I have the honor,
my brave colleagues, to propose a trial of this little experiment."


Jules Verne

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