The knowledge which we at present possess of the phenomena of nature and of their connection has not by any means been regularly progressive, as we might have expected, from the time when they first drew the attention of mankind. Without entering into the question touching the scientific acquirements of eastern nations at a remote period, it is certain that some among the early Greeks were in possession of several truths, however acquired, connected with the economy of the universe, which were afterwards suffered to fall into neglect and oblivion. But the philosophers of the old school appear in general to have confined themselves at the best to observations; very few traces remain of their having instituted experiments, properly so called. This putting of nature to the torture, as Bacon calls it, has occasioned the principal part of modern philosophical discoveries. The experimentalist may so order his examination of nature as to vary at pleasure the circumstances in which it is made, often to discard accidents which complicate the general appearances, and at once to bring any theory which he may form to a decisive test. The province of the mere observer is necessarily limited: the power of selection among the phenomena to be presented is in great measure denied to him, and he may consider himself fortunate if they are such as to lead him readily to a knowledge of the laws which they follow.
Perhaps to this imperfection of method it may be attributed that natural philosophy continued to be stationary, or even to decline, during a long series of ages, until little more than two centuries ago. Within this comparatively short period it has rapidly reached a degree of perfection so different from its former degraded state, that we can hardly institute any comparison between the two. Before that epoch, a few insulated facts, such as might first happen to be noticed, often inaccurately observed and always too hastily generalized, were found sufficient to excite the naturalist’s lively imagination; and having once pleased his fancy with the supposed fitness of his artificial scheme, his perverted ingenuity was thenceforward employed in forcing the observed phenomena into an imaginary agreement with the result of his theory; instead of taking the more rational, and it should seem, the more obvious, method of correcting the theory by the result of his observations, and considering the one merely as the general and abbreviated expression of the other. But natural phenomena were not then valued on their own account, and for the proofs which they afford of a vast and beneficent design in the structure of the universe, so much as for the fertile topics which the favourite mode of viewing the subject supplied to the spirit of scholastic disputation: and it is a humiliating reflection that mankind never reasoned so ill as when they most professed to cultivate the art of reasoning. However specious the objects, and alluring the announcements of this art, the then prevailing manner of studying it curbed and corrupted all that is free and noble in the human mind. Innumerable fallacies lurked every where among the most generally received opinions, and crowds of dogmatic and self-sufficient pedants fully justified the lively definition, that “logic is the art of talking unintelligibly on things of which we are ignorant.”
The error which lay at the root of the philosophy of the middle ages was this: — from the belief that general laws and universal principles might be discovered, of which the natural phenomena were effects, it was thought that the proper order of study was, first to detect the general cause, and then to pursue it into its consequences; it was considered absurd to begin with the effect instead of the cause; whereas the real choice lay between proceeding from particular facts to general facts, or from general facts to particular facts; and it was under this misrepresentation of the real question that all the sophistry lurked. As soon as it is well understood that the general cause is no other than a single fact, common to a great number of phenomena, it is necessarily perceived that an accurate scrutiny of these latter must precede any safe reasoning with respect to the former. But at the time of which we are speaking, those who adopted this order of reasoning, and who began their inquiries by a minute and sedulous investigation of facts, were treated with disdain, as men who degraded the lofty name of philosophy by bestowing it upon mere mechanical operations. Among the earliest and noblest of these was Galileo.
It is common, especially in this country, to name Bacon as the founder of the present school of experimental philosophy; we speak of the Baconian or inductive method of reasoning as synonimous and convertible terms, and we are apt to overlook what Galileo had already done before Bacon’s writings appeared. Certainly the Italian did not range over the circle of the sciences with the supreme and searching glance of the English philosopher, but we find in every part of his writings philosophical maxims which do not lose by comparison with those of Bacon; and Galileo deserves the additional praise, that he himself gave to the world a splendid practical illustration of the value of the principles which he constantly recommended. In support of this view of the comparative deserts of these two celebrated men, we are able to adduce the authority of Hume, who will be readily admitted as a competent judge of philosophical merit, where his prejudices cannot bias his decision. Discussing the character of Bacon, he says, “If we consider the variety of talents displayed by this man, as a public speaker, a man of business, a wit, a courtier, a companion, an author, a philosopher, he is justly the object of great admiration. If we consider him merely as an author and philosopher, the light in which we view him at present, though very estimable, he was yet inferior to his contemporary Galileo, perhaps even to Kepler. Bacon pointed out at a distance the road to true philosophy: Galileo both pointed it out to others, and made himself considerable advances in it. The Englishman was ignorant of geometry: the Florentine revived that science, excelled in it, and was the first that applied it, together with experiment, to natural philosophy. The former rejected with the most positive disdain the system of Copernicus: the latter fortified it with new proofs derived both from reason and the senses.”
If we compare them from another point of view, not so much in respect of their intrinsic merit, as of the influence which each exercised on the philosophy of his age, Galileo’s superior talent or better fortune, in arresting the attention of his contemporaries, seems indisputable. The fate of the two writers is directly opposed the one to the other; Bacon’s works seem to be most studied and appreciated when his readers have come to their perusal, imbued with knowledge and a philosophical spirit, which, however, they have attained independently of his assistance. The proud appeal to posterity which he uttered in his will, “For my name and memory, I leave it to men’s charitable speeches, and to foreign nations, and the next ages,” of itself indicates a consciousness of the fact that his contemporary countrymen were but slightly affected by his philosophical precepts. But Galileo’s personal exertions changed the general character of philosophy in Italy: at the time of his death, his immediate pupils had obtained possession of the most celebrated universities, and were busily engaged in practising and enforcing the lessons which he had taught them; nor was it then easy to find there a single student of natural philosophy who did not readily ascribe the formation of his principles to the direct or remote influence of Galileo’s example. Unlike Bacon’s, his reputation, and the value of his writings, were higher among his contemporaries than they have since become. This judgment perhaps awards the highest intellectual prize to him whose disregarded services rise in estimation with the advance of knowledge; but the praise due to superior usefulness belongs to him who succeeded in training round him a school of imitators, and thereby enabled his imitators to surpass himself.
The biography of men who have devoted themselves to philosophical pursuits seldom affords so various and striking a succession of incidents as that of a soldier or statesman. The life of a man who is shut up during the greater part of his time in his study or laboratory supplies but scanty materials for personal details; and the lapse of time rapidly removes from us the opportunities of preserving such peculiarities as might have been worth recording. An account of it will therefore consist chiefly in a review of his works and opinions, and of the influence which he and they have exercised over his own and succeeding ages. Viewed in this light, few lives can be considered more interesting than that of Galileo; and if we compare the state in which he found, with that in which he left, the study of nature, we shall feel how justly an enthusiastic panegyric pronounced upon the age immediately following him may be transferred to this earlier period. “This is the age wherein all men’s minds are in a kind of fermentation, and the spirit of wisdom and learning begins to mount and free itself from those drossie and terrene impediments wherewith it has been so long clogged, and from the insipid phlegm and caput mortuum of useless notions in which it hath endured so violent and long a fixation. This is the age wherein, methinks, philosophy comes in with a spring tide, and the peripatetics may as well hope to stop the current of the tide, or, with Xerxes, to fetter the ocean, as hinder the overflowing of free philosophy. Methinks I see how all the old rubbish must be thrown away, and the rotten buildings be overthrown and carried away, with so powerful an inundation. These are the days that must lay a new foundation of a more magnificent philosophy, never to be overthrown, that will empirically and sensibly canvass the phenomena of nature, deducing the causes of things from such originals in nature as we observe are producible by art, and the infallible demonstration of mechanics: and certainly this is the way, and no other, to build a true and permanent philosophy.”
Galileo’s Birth — Family — Education — Observation of the Pendulum — Pulsilogies — Hydrostatical Balance — Lecturer at Pisa.
Galileo Galilei was born at Pisa, on the 15th day of February, 1564, of a noble and ancient Florentine family, which, in the middle of the fourteenth century, adopted this surname instead of Bonajuti, under which several of their ancestors filled distinguished offices in the Florentine state. Some misapprehension has occasionally existed, in consequence of the identity of his proper name with that of his family; his most correct appellation would perhaps be Galileo de’ Galilei, but the surname usually occurs as we have written it. He is most commonly spoken of by his Christian name, agreeably to the Italian custom; just as Sanzio, Buonarotti, Sarpi, Reni, Vecelli, are universally known by their Christian names of Raphael, Michel Angelo, Fra Paolo, Guido, and Titian.
Several authors have followed Rossi in styling Galileo illegitimate, but without having any probable grounds even when they wrote, and the assertion has since been completely disproved by an inspection of the registers at Pisa and Florence, in which are preserved the dates of his birth, and of his mother’s marriage, eighteen months previous to it.
His father, Vincenzo Galilei, was a man of considerable talent and learning, with a competent knowledge of mathematics, and particularly devoted to the theory and practice of music, on which he published several esteemed treatises. The only one which it is at present easy to procure — his Dialogue on ancient and modern music — exhibits proofs, not only of a thorough acquaintance with his subject, but of a sound and vigorous understanding applied to other topics incidentally discussed. There is a passage in the introductory part, which becomes interesting when considered as affording some traces of the precepts by which Galileo was in all probability trained to reach his preeminent station in the intellectual world. “It appears to me,” says one of the speakers in the dialogue, “that they who in proof of any assertion rely simply on the weight of authority, without adducing any argument in support of it, act very absurdly: I, on the contrary, wish to be allowed freely to question and freely to answer you without any sort of adulation, as well becomes those who are truly in search of truth.” Sentiments like these were of rare occurrence at the close of the sixteenth century, and it is to be regretted that Vincenzo hardly lived long enough to witness his idea of a true philosopher splendidly realized in the person of his son. Vincenzo died at an advanced age, in 1591. His family consisted of three sons, Galileo, Michel Angelo, and Benedetto, and the same number of daughters, Giulia, Virginia, and Livia. After Vincenzo’s death the chief support of the family devolved upon Galileo, who seems to have assisted them to his utmost power. In a letter to his mother, dated 1600, relative to the intended marriage of his sister Livia with a certain Pompeo Baldi, he agrees to the match, but recommends its temporary postponement, as he was at that time exerting himself to furnish money to his brother Michel Angelo, who had received the offer of an advantageous settlement in Poland. As the sum advanced to his brother, which prevented him from promoting his sister’s marriage, did not exceed 200 crowns, it may be inferred that the family were in a somewhat straitened condition. However he promises, as soon as his brother should repay him, “to take measures for the young lady, since she too is bent upon coming out to prove the miseries of this world.” — As Livia was at the date of this letter in a convent, the last expression seems to denote that she had been destined to take the veil. This proposed marriage never took place, but Livia was afterwards married to Taddeo Galletti: her sister Virginia married Benedetto Landucci. Galileo mentions one of his sisters, (without naming her) as living with him in 1619 at Bellosguardo. Michel Angelo is probably the same brother of Galileo who is mentioned by Liceti as having communicated from Germany some observations on natural history. He finally settled in the service of the Elector of Bavaria; in what situation is not known, but upon his death the Elector granted a pension to his family, who then took up their abode at Munich. On the taking of that city in 1636, in the course of the bloody thirty years’ war, which was then raging between the Austrians and Swedes, his widow and four of his children were killed, and every thing which they possessed was either burnt or carried away. Galileo sent for his two nephews, Alberto and a younger brother, to Arcetri near Florence, where he was then living. These two were then the only survivors of Michel Angelo’s family; and many of Galileo’s letters about that date contain allusions to the assistance he had been affording them. The last trace of Alberto is on his return into Germany to the Elector, in whose service his father had died. These details include almost every thing which is known of the rest of Vincenzo’s family.
Galileo exhibited early symptoms of an active and intelligent mind, and distinguished himself in his childhood by his skill in the construction of ingenious toys and models of machinery, supplying the deficiencies of his information from the resources of his own invention; and he conciliated the universal good-will of his companions by the ready good nature with which he employed himself in their service and for their amusement. It is worthy of observation, that the boyhood of his great follower Newton, whose genius in many respects so closely resembled his own, was marked by a similar talent. Galileo’s father was not opulent, as has been already stated: he was burdened with a large family, and was unable to provide expensive instructors for his son; but Galileo’s own energetic industry rapidly supplied the want of better opportunities; and he acquired, under considerable disadvantages, the ordinary rudiments of a classical education, and a competent knowledge of the other branches of literature which were then usually studied. His leisure hours were applied to music and drawing; for the former accomplishment he inherited his father’s talent, being an excellent performer on several instruments, especially on the lute; this continued to be a favourite recreation during the whole of his life. He was also passionately fond of painting, and at one time he wished to make it his profession: and his skill and judgment of pictures were highly esteemed by the most eminent contemporary artists, who did not scruple to own publicly their deference to young Galileo’s criticism.
When he had reached his nineteenth year, his father, becoming daily more sensible of his superior genius, determined, although at a great personal sacrifice, to give him the advantages of an university education. Accordingly, in 1581, he commenced his academical studies in the university of his native town, Pisa, his father at this time intending that he should adopt the profession of medicine. In the matriculation lists at Pisa, he is styled Galileo, the son of Vincenzo Galilei, a Florentine, Scholar in Arts. His instructor was the celebrated botanist, Andreas Cæsalpinus, who was professor of medicine at Pisa from 1567 to 1592. Hist. Acad. Pisan.; Pisis, 1791. It is dated 5th November, 1581. Viviani, his pupil, friend, and panegyrist, declares that, almost from the first day of his being enrolled on the lists of the academy, he was noticed for the reluctance with which he listened to the dogmas of the Aristotelian philosophy, then universally taught; and he soon became obnoxious to the professors from the boldness with which he promulgated what they styled his philosophical paradoxes. His early habits of free inquiry were irreconcileable with the mental quietude of his instructors, whose philosophic doubts, when they ventured to entertain any, were speedily lulled by a quotation from Aristotle. Galileo thought himself capable of giving the world an example of a sounder and more original mode of thinking; he felt himself destined to be the founder of a new school of rational and experimental philosophy. Of this we are now securely enjoying the benefits; and it is difficult at this time fully to appreciate the obstacles which then presented themselves to free inquiry: but we shall see, in the course of this narrative, how arduous their struggle was who happily effected this important revolution. The vindictive rancour with which the partisans of the old philosophy never ceased to assail Galileo is of itself a sufficient proof of the prominent station which he occupied in the contest.
Galileo’s earliest mechanical discovery, to the superficial observer apparently an unimportant one, occurred during the period of his studies at Pisa. His attention was one day arrested by the vibrations of a lamp swinging from the roof of the cathedral, which, whether great or small, seemed to recur at equal intervals. The instruments then employed for measuring time were very imperfect: Galileo attempted to bring his observation to the test before quitting the church, by comparing the vibrations with the beatings of his own pulse, and his mind being then principally employed upon his intended profession, it occurred to him, when he had further satisfied himself of their regularity by repeated and varied experiments, that the process he at first adopted might be reversed, and that an instrument on this principle might be usefully employed in ascertaining the rate of the pulse, and its variation from day to day. He immediately carried the idea into execution, and it was for this sole and limited purpose that the first pendulum was constructed. Viviani tells us, that the value of the invention was rapidly appreciated by the physicians of the day, and was in common use in 1654, when he wrote.
Instrument no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4
Santorio, who was professor of medicine at Padua, has given representations of four different forms of these instruments, which he calls pulsilogies, (pulsilogias,) and strongly recommends to medical practitioners. These instruments seem to have been used in the following manner: No. 1 consists merely of a weight fastened to a string and a graduated scale. The string being gathered up into the hand till the vibrations of the weight coincided with the beatings of the patient’s pulse, the length was ascertained from the scale, which, of course, if great, indicated a languid, if shorter, a more lively action. In No. 2 the improvement is introduced of connecting the scale and string, the length of the latter is regulated by the turns of a peg at a, and a bead upon the string at b showed the measure. No. 3 is still more compact, the string being shortened by winding upon an axle at the back of the dial-plate. The construction of No. 4, which Santorio claims as his own improvement, is not given, but it is probable that the principal index, by its motion, shifted a weight to different distances from the point of suspension, and that the period of vibration was still more accurately adjusted by a smaller weight connected with the second index. Venturi seems to have mistaken the third figure for that of a pendulum clock, as he mentions this as one of the earliest adaptations of Galileo’s principle to that purpose; but it is obvious, from Santorio’s description, that it is nothing more than a circular scale, the index showing, by the figure to which it points, the length of string remaining unwound upon the axis. We shall, for the present, postpone the consideration of the invention of pendulum clocks, and the examination of the different claims to the honour of their first construction.
At the time of which we are speaking, Galileo was entirely ignorant of mathematics, the study of which was then at a low ebb, not only in Italy, but in every part of Europe. Commandine had recently revived a taste for the writings of Euclid and Archimedes, and Vieta Tartalea and others had made considerable progress in algebra, Guido Ubaldi and Benedetti had done something towards establishing the principles of statics, which was the only part of mechanics as yet cultivated; but with these inconsiderable exceptions the application of mathematics to the phenomena of nature was scarcely thought of. Galileo’s first inducement to acquire a knowledge of geometry arose from his partiality for drawing and music, and from the wish to understand their principles and theory. His father, fearful lest he should relax his medical studies, refused openly to encourage him in this new pursuit; but he connived at the instruction which his son now began to receive in the writings of Euclid, from the tuition of an intimate friend, named Ostilio Ricci, who was one of the professors in the university. Galileo’s whole attention was soon directed to the enjoyment of the new sensations thus communicated to him, insomuch that Vincenzo, finding his prognostics verified, began to repent his indirect sanction, and privately requested Ricci to invent some excuse for discontinuing his lessons. But it was fortunately too late; the impression was made and could not be effaced; from that time Hippocrates and Galen lay unheeded before the young physician, and served only to conceal from his father’s sight the mathematical volumes on which the whole of his time was really employed. His progress soon revealed the true nature of his pursuits: Vincenzo yielded to the irresistible predilection of his son’s mind, and no longer attempted to turn him from the speculations to which his whole existence was thenceforward abandoned.
After mastering the elementary writers, Galileo proceeded to the study of Archimedes, and, whilst perusing the Hydrostatics of that author, composed his earliest work, — an Essay on the Hydrostatical Balance. In this he explains the method probably adopted by Archimedes for the solution of Hiero’s celebrated question, and shows himself already well acquainted with the true principles of specific gravities. This essay had an immediate and important influence on young Galileo’s fortunes, for it introduced him to the approving notice of Guido Ubaldi, then one of the most distinguished mathematicians of Italy. At his suggestion Galileo applied himself to consider the position of the centre of gravity in solid bodies, a choice of subject that sufficiently showed the estimate Ubaldi had formed of his talents; for it was a question on which Commandine had recently written, and which engaged at that time the attention of geometricians of the highest order. Galileo tells us himself that he discontinued these researches on meeting with Lucas Valerio’s treatise on the same subject. Ubaldi was so much struck with the genius displayed in the essay with which Galileo furnished him, that he introduced him to his brother, the Cardinal Del Monte: by this latter he was mentioned to Ferdinand de’ Medici, the reigning Duke of Tuscany, as a young man of whom the highest expectations might be entertained. By the Duke’s patronage he was nominated, in 1589, to the lectureship of mathematics at Pisa, being then in his twenty-sixth year. His public salary was fixed at the insignificant sum of sixty crowns annually, but he had an opportunity of greatly adding to his income by private tuition.
Galileo at Pisa — Aristotle — Leonardo da Vinci — Galileo becomes a Copernican — Urstisius — Bruno — Experiments on falling bodies — Galileo at Padua — Thermometer.
No sooner was Galileo settled in his new office than he renewed his inquiries into the phenomena of nature with increased diligence. He instituted a course of experiments for the purpose of putting to the test the mechanical doctrines of Aristotle, most of which he found unsupported even by the pretence of experience. It is to be regretted that we do not more frequently find detailed his method of experimenting, than occasionally in the course of his dialogues, and it is chiefly upon the references which he makes to the results with which the experiments furnished him, and upon the avowed and notorious character of his philosophy, that the truth of these accounts must be made to depend. Venturi has found several unpublished papers by Galileo on the subject of motion, in the Grand Duke’s private library at Florence, bearing the date of 1590, in which are many of the theorems which he afterwards developed in his Dialogues on Motion. These were not published till fifty years afterwards, and we shall reserve an account of their contents till we reach that period of his life.
Galileo was by no means the first who had ventured to call in question the authority of Aristotle in matters of science, although he was undoubtedly the first whose opinions and writings produced a very marked and general effect. Nizzoli, a celebrated scholar who lived in the early part of the 16th century, had condemned Aristotle’s philosophy, especially his Physics, in very unequivocal and forcible terms, declaring that, although there were many excellent truths in his writings, the number was scarcely less of false, useless, and ridiculous propositions. About the time of Galileo’s birth, Benedetti had written expressly in confutation of several propositions contained in Aristotle’s mechanics, and had expounded in a clear manner some of the doctrines of statical equilibrium. Within the last forty years it has been established that the celebrated painter Leonardo da Vinci, who died in 1519, amused his leisure hours in scientific pursuits; and many ideas appear to have occurred to him which are to be found in the writings of Galileo at a later date. It is not impossible (though there are probably no means of directly ascertaining the fact) that Galileo may have been acquainted with Leonardo’s investigations, although they remained, till very lately, almost unknown to the mathematical world. This supposition is rendered more probable from the fact, that Mazenta, the preserver of Leonardo’s manuscripts, was, at the very time of their discovery, a contemporary student with Galileo at Pisa. Kopernik, or, as he is usually called, Copernicus, a native of Thorn in Prussia, had published his great work, De Revolutionibus, in 1543, restoring the knowledge of the true theory of the solar system, and his opinions were gradually and silently gaining ground.
It is not satisfactorily ascertained at what period Galileo embraced the new astronomical theory. Gerard Voss attributes his conversion to a public lecture of Mæstlin, the instructor of Kepler; and later writers (among whom is Laplace) repeat the same story, but without referring to any additional sources of information, and in most instances merely transcribing Voss’s words, so as to shew indisputably whence they derived their account. Voss himself gives no authority, and his general inaccuracy makes his mere word not of much weight. The assertion appears, on many accounts, destitute of much probability. If the story were correct, it seems likely that some degree of acquaintance, if not of friendly intercourse, would have subsisted between Mæstlin, and his supposed pupil, such as in fact we find subsisting between Mæstlin and his acknowledged pupil Kepler, the devoted friend of Galileo; but, on the contrary, we find Mæstlin writing to Kepler himself of Galileo as an entire stranger, and in the most disparaging terms. If Mæstlin could lay claim to the honour of so celebrated a disciple, it is not likely that he could fail so entirely to comprehend the distinction it must confer upon himself as to attempt diminishing it by underrating his pupil’s reputation. There is a passage in Galileo’s works which more directly controverts the claim advanced for Mæstlin, although Salusbury, in his life of Galileo, having apparently an imperfect recollection of its tenor, refers to this very passage in confirmation of Voss’s statement. In the second part of the dialogue on the Copernican system, Galileo makes Sagredo, one of the speakers in it, give the following account: — “Being very young, and having scarcely finished my course of philosophy, which I left off as being set upon other employments, there chanced to come into these parts a certain foreigner of Rostoch, whose name, as I remember, was Christianus Urstisius, a follower of Copernicus, who, in an academy, gave two or three lectures upon this point, to whom many flocked as auditors; but I, thinking they went more for the novelty of the subject than otherwise, did not go to hear him; for I had concluded with myself that that opinion could be no other than a solemn madness; and questioning some of those who had been there, I perceived they all made a jest thereof, except one, who told me that the business was not altogether to be laughed at: and because the man was reputed by me to be very intelligent and wary, I repented that I was not there, and began from that time forward, as oft as I met with any one of the Copernican persuasion, to demand of them if they had been always of the same judgment. Of as many as I examined I found not so much as one who told me not that he had been a long time of the contrary opinion, but to have changed it for this, as convinced by the strength of the reasons proving the same; and afterwards questioning them one by one, to see whether they were well possessed of the reasons of the other side, I found them all to be very ready and perfect in them, so that I could not truly say that they took this opinion out of ignorance, vanity, or to show the acuteness of their wits. On the contrary, of as many of the Peripatetics and Ptolemeans as I have asked, (and out of curiosity I have talked with many,) what pains they had taken in the book of Copernicus, I found very few that had so much as superficially perused it, but of those who I thought had understood the same, not one: and, moreover, I have inquired amongst the followers of the Peripatetic doctrine, if ever any of them had held the contrary opinion, and likewise found none that had. Whereupon, considering that there was no man who followed the opinion of Copernicus that had not been first on the contrary side, and that was not very well acquainted with the reasons of Aristotle and Ptolemy, and, on the contrary, that there was not one of the followers of Ptolemy that had ever been of the judgment of Copernicus, and had left that to embrace this of Aristotle; — considering, I say, these things, I began to think that one who leaveth an opinion imbued with his milk and followed by very many, to take up another, owned by very few, and denied by all the schools, and that really seems a great paradox, must needs have been moved, not to say forced, by more powerful reasons. For this cause I am become very curious to dive, as they say, into the bottom of this business.” It seems improbable that Galileo should think it worth while to give so detailed an account of the birth and growth of opinion in any one besides himself; and although Sagredo is not the personage who generally in the dialogue represents Galileo, yet as the real Sagredo was a young nobleman, a pupil of Galileo himself, the account cannot refer to him. The circumstance mentioned of the intermission of his philosophical studies, though in itself trivial, agrees very well with Galileo’s original medical destination. Urstisius is not a fictitious name, as possibly Salusbury may have thought, when alluding to this passage; he was mathematical professor at Bâle, about 1567, and several treatises by him are still extant. According to Kästner, his German name was Wursteisen. In 1568 Voss informs us that he published some new questions on Purbach’s Theory of the Planets. He died at Bâle in 1586, when Galileo was about twenty-two years old.
It is not unlikely that Galileo also, in part, owed his emancipation from popular prejudices to the writings of Giordano Bruno, an unfortunate man, whose unsparing boldness in exposing fallacies and absurdities was rewarded by a judicial murder, and by the character of heretic and infidel, with which his executioners endeavoured to stigmatize him for the purpose of covering over their own atrocious crime. Bruno was burnt at Rome in 1600, but not, as Montucla supposes, on account of his “Spaccio della Bestia trionfante.” The title of this book has led him to suppose that it was directed against the church of Rome, to which it does not in the slightest degree relate. Bruno attacked the fashionable philosophy alternately with reason and ridicule, and numerous passages in his writings, tedious and obscure as they generally are, show that he had completely outstripped the age in which he lived. Among his astronomical opinions, he believed that the universe consisted of innumerable systems of suns with assemblages of planets revolving round each of them, like our own earth, the smallness of which, alone, prevented their being observed by us. He remarked further, “that it is by no means improbable that there are yet other planets revolving round our own sun, which we have not yet noticed, either on account of their minute size or too remote distance from us.” He declined asserting that all the apparently fixed stars are really so, considering this as not sufficiently proved, “because at such enormous distances the motions become difficult to estimate, and it is only by long observation that we can determine if any of these move round each other, or what other motions they may have.” He ridiculed the Aristotelians in no very measured terms — “They harden themselves, and heat themselves, and embroil themselves for Aristotle; they call themselves his champions, they hate all but Aristotle’s friends, they are ready to live and die for Aristotle, and yet they do not understand so much as the titles of Aristotle’s chapters.” And in another place he introduces an Aristotelian inquiring, “Do you take Plato for an ignoramus — Aristotle for an ass?” to whom he answers, “My son, I neither call them asses, nor you mules, — them baboons, nor you apes, — as you would have me: I told you that I esteem them the heroes of the world, but I will not credit them without sufficient reason; and if you were not both blind and deaf, you would understand that I must disbelieve their absurd and contradictory assertions.” Bruno’s works, though in general considered those of a visionary and madman, were in very extensive circulation, probably not the less eagerly sought after from being included among the books prohibited by the Romish church; and although it has been reserved for later observations to furnish complete verification of his most daring speculations, yet there was enough, abstractedly taken, in the wild freedom of his remarks, to attract a mind like Galileo’s; and it is with more satisfaction that we refer the formation of his opinions to a man of undoubted though eccentric genius, like Bruno, than to such as Maestlin, who, though a diligent and careful observer, seems seldom to have taken any very enlarged views of the science on which he was engaged.
With a few exceptions similar to those above mentioned, the rest of Galileo’s contemporaries well deserved the contemptuous epithet which he fixed on them of Paper Philosophers, for, to use his own words, in a letter to Kepler on this subject, “this sort of men fancied philosophy was to be studied like the Æneid or Odyssey, and that the true reading of nature was to be detected by the collation of texts.” Galileo’s own method of philosophizing was widely different; seldom omitting to bring with every new assertion the test of experiment, either directly in confirmation of it, or tending to show its probability and consistency. We have already seen that he engaged in a series of experiments to investigate the truth of some of Aristotle’s positions. As fast as he succeeded in demonstrating the falsehood of any of them, he denounced them from his professorial chair with an energy and success which irritated more and more against him the other members of the academic body.
There seems something in the stubborn opposition which he encountered in establishing the truth of his mechanical theorems, still more stupidly absurd than in the ill will to which, at a later period of his life, his astronomical opinions exposed him: it is intelligible that the vulgar should withhold their assent from one who pretended to discoveries in the remote heavens, which few possessed instruments to verify, or talents to appreciate; but it is difficult to find terms for stigmatizing the obdurate folly of those who preferred the evidence of their books to that of their senses, in judging of phenomena so obvious as those, for instance, presented by the fall of bodies to the ground. Aristotle had asserted, that if two different weights of the same material were let fall from the same height, the heavier one would reach the ground sooner than the other, in the proportion of their weights. The experiment is certainly not a very difficult one, but nobody thought of that method of argument, and consequently this assertion had been long received, upon his word, among the axioms of the science of motion. Galileo ventured to appeal from the authority of Aristotle to that of his own senses, and maintained that, with the exception of an inconsiderable difference, which he attributed to the disproportionate resistance of the air, they would fall in the same time. The Aristotelians ridiculed and refused to listen to such an idea. Galileo repeated his experiments in their presence from the famous leaning tower at Pisa: and with the sound of the simultaneously falling weights still ringing in their ears, they could persist in gravely maintaining that a weight of ten pounds would reach the ground in a tenth part of the time taken by one of a single pound, because they were able to quote chapter and verse in which Aristotle assures them that such is the fact. A temper of mind like this could not fail to produce ill will towards him who felt no scruples in exposing their wilful folly; and the watchful malice of these men soon found the means of making Galileo desirous of quitting his situation at Pisa. Don Giovanni de’ Medici, a natural son of Cosmo, who possessed a slight knowledge of mechanics on which he prided himself, had proposed a contrivance for cleansing the port of Leghorn, on the efficiency of which Galileo was consulted. His opinion was unfavourable, and the violence of the inventor’s disappointment, (for Galileo’s judgment was verified by the result,) took the somewhat unreasonable direction of hatred towards the man whose penetration had foreseen the failure. Galileo’s situation was rendered so unpleasant by the machinations of this person, that he decided on accepting overtures elsewhere, which had already been made to him; accordingly, under the negotiation of his staunch friend Guido Ubaldi, and with the consent of Ferdinand, he procured from the republic of Venice a nomination for six years to the professorship of mathematics in the university of Padua, whither he removed in September 1592.
Galileo’s predecessor in the mathematical chair at Padua was Moleti, who died in 1588, and the situation had remained unfilled during the intervening four years. This seems to show that the directors attributed but little importance to the knowledge which it was the professor’s duty to impart. This inference is strengthened by the fact, that the amount of the annual salary attached to it did not exceed 180 florins, whilst the professors of philosophy and civil law, in the same university, were rated at the annual stipends of 1400 and 1680 florins. Galileo joined the university about a year after its triumph over the Jesuits, who had established a school in Padua about the year 1542, and, increasing yearly in influence, had shown symptoms of a design to get the whole management of the public education into the hands of their own body. After several violent disputes it was at length decreed by the Venetian senate, in 1591, that no Jesuit should be allowed to give instruction at Padua in any of the sciences professed in the university. It does not appear that after this decree they were again troublesome to the university, but this first decree against them was followed, in 1606, by a second more peremptory, which banished them entirely from the Venetian territory. Galileo would of course find his fellow-professors much embittered against that society, and would naturally feel inclined to make common cause with them, so that it is not unlikely that the hatred which the Jesuits afterwards bore to Galileo on personal considerations, might be enforced by their recollection of the university to which he had belonged.
Galileo’s writings now began to follow each other with great rapidity, but he was at this time apparently so careless of his reputation, that many of his works and inventions, after a long circulation in manuscript among his pupils and friends, found their way into the hands of those who were not ashamed to publish them as their own, and to denounce Galileo’s claim to the authorship as the pretence of an impudent plagiarist. He was, however, so much beloved and esteemed by his friends, that they vied with each other in resenting affronts of this nature offered to him, and in more than one instance he was relieved, by their full and triumphant answers, from the trouble of vindicating his own character.
To this epoch of Galileo’s life may be referred his re-invention of the thermometer. The original idea of this useful instrument belongs to the Greek mathematician Hero; and Santorio himself, who has been named as the inventor by Italian writers, and at one time claimed it himself, refers it to him. In 1638, Castelli wrote to Cesarini that “he remembered an experiment shown to him more than thirty-five years back by Galileo, who took a small glass bottle, about the size of a hen’s egg, the neck of which was twenty-two inches long, and as narrow as a straw. Having well heated the bulb in his hands, and then introducing its mouth into a vessel in which was a little water, and withdrawing the heat of his hand from the bulb, the water rose in the neck of the bottle more than eleven inches above the level in the vessel, and Galileo employed this principle in the construction of an instrument for measuring heat and cold.” In 1613, a Venetian nobleman named Sagredo, who has been already mentioned as Galileo’s friend and pupil, writes to him in the following words: “I have brought the instrument which you invented for measuring heat into several convenient and perfect forms, so that the difference of temperature between two rooms is seen as far as 100 degrees.” This date is anterior to the claims both of Santorio and Drebbel, a Dutch physician, who was the first to introduce it into Holland.
Galileo’s thermometer, as we have just seen, consisted merely of a glass tube ending in a bulb, the air in which, being partly expelled by heat, was replaced by water from a glass into which the open end of the tube was plunged, and the different degrees of temperature were indicated by the expansion of the air which yet remained in the bulb, so that the scale would be the reverse of that of the thermometer now in use, for the water would stand at the highest level in the coldest weather. It was, in truth, a barometer also, in consequence of the communication between the tube and external air, although Galileo did not intend it for this purpose, and when he attempted to determine the relative weight of the air, employed a contrivance still more imperfect than this rude barometer would have been. A passage among his posthumous fragments intimates that he subsequently used spirit of wine instead of water.
Viviani attributes an improvement of this imperfect instrument, but without specifying its nature, to Ferdinand II., a pupil and subsequent patron of Galileo, and, after the death of his father Cosmo, reigning duke of Florence. It was still further improved by Ferdinand’s younger brother, Leopold de’ Medici, who invented the modern process of expelling all the air from the tube by boiling the spirit of wine in it, and of hermetically sealing the end of the tube, whilst the contained liquid is in this expanded state, which deprived it of its barometrical character, and first made it an accurate thermometer. The final improvement was the employment of mercury instead of spirit of wine, which is recommended by Lana so early as 1670, on account of its equable expansion. For further details on the history and use of this instrument, the reader may consult the Treatises on the Thermometer and Pyrometer.
Astronomy before Copernicus — Fracastoro — Bacon — Kepler — Galileo’s Treatise on the Sphere.
This period of Galileo’s lectureship at Padua derives interest from its including the first notice which we find of his having embraced the doctrines of the Copernican astronomy. Most of our readers are aware of the principles of the theory of the celestial motions which Copernicus restored; but the number of those who possess much knowledge of the cumbrous and unwieldy system which it superseded is perhaps more limited. The present is not a fit opportunity to enter into many details respecting it; these will find their proper place in the History of Astronomy: but a brief sketch of its leading principles is necessary to render what follows intelligible.
The earth was supposed to be immoveably fixed in the centre of the universe, and immediately surrounding it the atmospheres of air and fire, beyond which the sun, moon, and planets, were thought to be carried round the earth, fixed each to a separate orb or heaven of solid but transparent matter. The order of distance in which they were supposed to be placed with regard to the central earth was as follows: The Moon, Mercury, Venus, The Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. It became a question in the ages immediately preceding Copernicus, whether the Sun was not nearer the Earth than Mercury, or at least than Venus; and this question was one on which the astronomical theorists were then chiefly divided.
We possess at this time a curious record of a former belief in this arrangement of the Sun and planets, in the order in which the days of the week have been named from them. According to the dreams of Astrology, each planet was supposed to exert its influence in succession, reckoning from the most distant down to the nearest, over each hour of the twenty-four. The planet which was supposed to predominate over the first hour, gave its name to that day. The general reader will trace this curious fact more easily with the French or Latin names than with the English, which have been translated into the titles of the corresponding Saxon deities. Placing the Sun and planets in the following order, and beginning, for instance, with Monday, or the Moon’s day; Saturn ruled the second hour of that day, Jupiter the third, and so round till we come again and again to the Moon on the 8th, 15th, and 22d hours; Saturn ruled the 23d, Jupiter the 24th, so that the next day would be the day of Mars, or, as the Saxons translated it, Tuisco’s day, or Tuesday. In the same manner the following days would belong respectively to Mercury or Woden, Jupiter or Thor, Venus or Frea, Saturn or Seater, the Sun, and again the Moon. In this manner the whole week will be found to complete the cycle of the seven planets.
Cycle of the Seven Planets.
The other stars were supposed to be fixed in an outer orb, beyond which were two crystalline spheres, (as they were called,) and on the outside of all, the primum mobile or first moveable, which sphere was supposed to revolve round the earth in twenty-four hours, and by its friction, or rather, as most of the philosophers of that day chose to term it, by the sort of heavenly influence which it exercised on the interior orbs, to carry them round with a similar motion. Hence the diversity of day and night. But beside this principal and general motion, each orb was supposed to have one of its own, which was intended to account for the apparent changes of position of the planets with respect to the fixed stars and to each other. This supposition, however, proving insufficient to account for all the irregularities of motion observed, two hypotheses were introduced. — First, that to each planet belonged several concentric spheres or heavens, casing each other like the coats of an onion, and, secondly, that the centres of these solid spheres, with which the planet revolved, were placed in the circumference of a secondary revolving sphere, the centre of which secondary sphere was situated at the earth. They thus acquired the names of Eccentrics or Epicycles, the latter word signifying a circle upon a circle. The whole art of astronomers was then directed towards inventing and combining different eccentric and epicyclical motions, so as to represent with tolerable fidelity the ever varying phenomena of the heavens. Aristotle had lent his powerful assistance in this, as in other branches of natural philosophy, in enabling the false system to prevail against and obliterate the knowledge of the true, which, as we gather from his own writings, was maintained by some philosophers before his time. Of these ancient opinions, only a few traces now remain, principally preserved in the works of those who were adverse to them. Archimedes says expressly that Aristarchus of Samos, who lived about 300 B. C., taught the immobility of the sun and stars, and that the earth is carried round the central sun. Aristotle’s words are: “Most of those who assert that the whole concave is finite, say that the earth is situated in the middle point of the universe: those who are called Pythagoreans, who live in Italy, are of a contrary opinion. For they say that fire is in the centre, and that the earth, which, according to them, is one of the stars, occasions the change of day and night by its own motion, with which it is carried about the centre.” It might be doubtful, upon this passage alone, whether the Pythagorean theory embraced more than the diurnal motion of the earth, but a little farther, we find the following passage: “Some, as we have said, make the earth to be one of the stars: others say that it is placed in the centre of the Universe, and revolves on a central axis.” From which, in conjunction with the former extract, it very plainly appears that the Pythagoreans maintained both the diurnal and annual motions of the earth.
Some idea of the supererogatory labour entailed upon astronomers by the adoption of the system which places the earth in the centre, may be formed in a popular manner by observing, in passing through a thickly planted wood, in how complicated a manner the relative positions of the trees appear at each step to be continually changing, and by considering the difficulty with which the laws of their apparent motions could be traced, if we were to attempt to refer these changes to a real motion of the trees instead of the traveller. The apparent complexity in the heavens is still greater than in the case suggested; because, in addition to the earth’s motions, with which all the stars appear to be impressed, each of the planets has also a real motion of its own, which of course greatly contributes to perplex and complicate the general appearances. Accordingly the heavens rapidly became, under this system,
crossing and penetrating each other in every direction. Maestlin has given a concise enumeration of the principal orbs which belonged to this theory. After warning the readers that “they are not mere fictions which have nothing to correspond with them out of the imagination, but that they exist really, and bodily in the heavens,” he describes seven principal spheres belonging to each planet, which he classes as Eccentrics, Epicycles, and Concentrepicycles, and explains their use in accounting for the planet’s revolutions, motions of the apogee, and nodes, &c. &c. In what manner this multitude of solid and crystalline orbs were secured from injuring or interfering with each other was not very closely inquired into.
The reader will cease to expect any very intelligible explanation of this and numberless other difficulties which belong to this unwieldy machinery when he is introduced to the reasoning by which it was upheld. Gerolamo Fracastoro, who lived in the sixteenth century, writes in the following terms, in his work entitled Homocentrica, (certainly one of the best productions of the day,) in which he endeavours to simplify the necessary apparatus, and to explain all the phenomena (as the title of his book implies) by concentric spheres round the earth. “There are some, not only of the ancients but also among the moderns, who believe that the stars move freely without any such agency; but it is difficult to conceive in what manner they have imbued themselves with this notion, since not only reason, but the very senses, inform us that all the stars are carried round fastened to solid spheres.” What ideas Fracastoro entertained of the evidence of the “senses” it is not now easy to guess, but he goes on to give a specimen of the “reasoning” which appeared to him so incontrovertible. “The planets are observed to move one while forwards, then backwards, now to the right, now to the left, quicker and slower by turns; which variety is consistent with a compound structure like that of an animal, which possesses in itself various springs and principles of action, but is totally at variance with our notion of a simple and undecaying substance like the heavens and heavenly bodies. For that which is simple, is altogether single, and singleness is of one only nature, and one nature can be the cause of only one effect; and therefore it is altogether impossible that the stars of themselves should move with such variety of motion. And besides, if the stars move by themselves, they either move in an empty space, or in a fluid medium like the air. But there cannot be such a thing as empty space, and if there were such a medium, the motion of the star would occasion condensation and rarefaction in different parts of it, which is the property of corruptible bodies and where they exist some violent motion is going on; but the heavens are incorruptible and are not susceptible of violent motion, and hence, and from many other similar reasons, any one who is not obstinate may satisfy himself that the stars cannot have any independent motion.”
Some persons may perhaps think that arguments of this force are unnecessarily dragged from the obscurity to which they are now for the most part happily consigned; but it is essential, in order to set Galileo’s character and merits in their true light, to show how low at this time philosophy had fallen. For we shall form a very inadequate notion of his powers and deserts if we do not contemplate him in the midst of men who, though of undoubted talent and ingenuity, could so far bewilder themselves as to mistake such a string of unmeaning phrases for argument: we must reflect on the difficulty every one experiences in delivering himself from the erroneous impressions of infancy, which will remain stamped upon the imagination in spite of all the efforts of matured reason to erase them, and consider every step of Galileo’s course as a triumph over difficulties of a like nature. We ought to be fully penetrated with this feeling before we sit down to the perusal of his works, every line of which will then increase our admiration of the penetrating acuteness of his invention and unswerving accuracy of his judgment. In almost every page we discover an allusion to some new experiment, or the germ of some new theory; and amid all this wonderful fertility it is rarely indeed that we find the exuberance of his imagination seducing him from the rigid path of philosophical induction. This is the more remarkable as he was surrounded by friends and contemporaries of a different temperament and much less cautious disposition. A disadvantageous contrast is occasionally furnished even by the sagacious Bacon, who could so far deviate from the sound principles of inductive philosophy, as to write, for instance, in the following strain, bordering upon the worst manner of the Aristotelians: — “Motion in a circle has no limit, and seems to emanate from the appetite of the body, which moves only for the sake of moving, and that it may follow itself and seek its own embraces, and put in action and enjoy its own nature, and exercise its peculiar operation: on the contrary, motion in a straight line seems transitory, and to move towards a limit of cessation or rest, and that it may reach some point, and then put off its motion.” Bacon rejected all the machinery of the primum mobile and the solid spheres, the eccentrics and the epicycles, and carried his dislike of these doctrines so far as to assert that nothing short of their gross absurdity could have driven theorists to the extravagant supposition of the motion of the earth, which, said he, “we know to be most false.” Instances of extravagant suppositions and premature generalizations are to be found in almost every page of his other great contemporary, Kepler.
It is with pain that we observe Delambre taking every opportunity, in his admirable History of Astronomy, to undervalue and sneer at Galileo, seemingly for the sake of elevating the character of Kepler, who appears his principal favourite, but whose merit as a philosopher cannot safely be brought into competition with that of his illustrious contemporary. Delambre is especially dissatisfied with Galileo, for taking no notice, in his “System of the World,” of the celebrated laws of the planetary motions which Kepler discovered, and which are now inseparably connected with his name. The analysis of Newton and his successors has now identified those apparently mysterious laws with the general phenomena of motion, and has thus entitled them to an attention of which, before that time, they were scarcely worthy; at any rate not more than is at present the empirical law which includes the distances of all the planets from the sun (roughly taken) in one algebraical formula. The observations of Kepler’s day were scarcely accurate enough to prove that the relations which he discovered between the distances of the planets from the sun and the periods of their revolutions around him were necessarily to be received as demonstrated truths; and Galileo surely acted most prudently and philosophically in holding himself altogether aloof from Kepler’s fanciful devices and numeral concinnities, although, with all the extravagance, they possessed much of the genius of the Platonic reveries, and although it did happen that Galileo, by systematically avoiding them, failed to recognise some important truths. Galileo probably was thinking of those very laws, when he said of Kepler, “He possesses a bold and free genius, perhaps too much so; but his mode of philosophizing is widely different from mine.” We shall have further occasion in the sequel to recognise the justice of this remark.
In the treatise on the Sphere which bears Galileo’s name, and which, if he be indeed the author of it, was composed during the early part of his residence at Padua, he also adopts the Ptolemaic system, placing the earth immoveable in the centre, and adducing against its motion the usual arguments, which in his subsequent writings he ridicules and refutes. Some doubts have been expressed of its authenticity; but, however this may be, we have it under Galileo’s own hand that he taught the Ptolemaic system, in compliance with popular prejudices, for some time after he had privately become a convert to the contrary opinions. In a letter, apparently the first which he wrote to Kepler, dated from Padua, 1597, he says, acknowledging the receipt of Kepler’s Mysterium Cosmographicum, “I have as yet read nothing beyond the preface of your book, from which however I catch a glimpse of your meaning, and feel great joy on meeting with so powerful an associate in the pursuit of truth, and consequently such a friend to truth itself, for it is deplorable that there should be so few who care about truth, and who do not persist in their perverse mode of philosophizing; but as this is not the fit time for lamenting the melancholy condition of our times, but for congratulating you on your elegant discoveries in confirmation of the truth, I shall only add a promise to peruse your book dispassionately, and with a conviction that I shall find in it much to admire. This I shall do the more willingly because many years ago I became a convert to the opinions of Copernicus, and by that theory have succeeded in fully explaining many phenomena, which on the contrary hypothesis are altogether inexplicable. I have arranged many arguments and confutations of the opposite opinions, which however I have not yet dared to publish, fearing the fate of our master Copernicus, who, although he has earned immortal fame among a few, yet by an infinite number (for so only can the number of fools be measured) is exploded and derided. If there were many such as you, I would venture to publish my speculations; but, since that is not so, I shall take time to consider of it.” This interesting letter was the beginning of the friendship of these two great men, which lasted uninterruptedly till 1632, the date of Kepler’s death. That extraordinary genius never omitted an opportunity of testifying his admiration of Galileo, although there were not wanting persons envious of their good understanding, who exerted themselves to provoke coolness and quarrel between them. Thus Brutius writes to Kepler in 1602: “Galileo tells me he has written to you, and has got your book, which however he denied to Magini, and I abused him for praising you with too many qualifications. I know it to be a fact that, both in his lectures, and elsewhere, he is publishing your inventions as his own; but I have taken care, and shall continue to do so, that all this shall redound not to his credit but to yours.” The only notice which Kepler took of these repeated insinuations, which appear to have been utterly groundless, was, by renewed expressions of respect and admiration, to testify the value he set upon his friend and fellow-labourer in philosophy.
Galileo re-elected Professor at Padua — New star — Compass of proportion — Capra — Gilbert — Proposals to return to Pisa — Lost writings — Cavalieri.
Galileo’s reputation was now rapidly increasing: his lectures were attended by many persons of the highest rank; among whom were the Archduke Ferdinand, afterwards Emperor of Germany, the Landgrave of Hesse, and the Princes of Alsace and Mantua. On the expiration of the first period for which he had been elected professor, he was rechosen for a similar period, with a salary increased to 320 florins. The immediate occasion of this augmentation is said by Fabroni, to have arisen out of the malice of an ill wisher of Galileo, who, hoping to do him disservice, apprized the senate that he was not married to Marina Gamba, then living with him, and the mother of his son Vincenzo. Whether or not the senate might consider themselves entitled to inquire into the morality of his private life, it was probably from a wish to mark their sense of the informer’s impertinence, that they returned the brief answer, that “if he had a family to provide for, he stood the more in need of an increased stipend.”
During Galileo’s residence at Padua, and, according to Viviani’s intimation, towards the thirtieth year of his age, that is to say in 1594, he experienced the first attack of a disease which pressed heavily on him for the rest of his life. He enjoyed, when a young man, a healthy and vigorous constitution, but chancing to sleep one afternoon near an open window, through which was blowing a current of air cooled artificially by the fall of water, the consequences were most disastrous to him. He contracted a sort of chronic complaint, which showed itself in acute pains in his limbs, chest, and back, accompanied with frequent hæmorrhages and loss of sleep and appetite; and this painful disorder thenceforward never left him entirely, but recurred intermittingly, with greater or less violence, as long as he lived. Others of the party did not even escape so well, but died shortly after committing this imprudence.
In 1604, the attention of astronomers was called to the contemplation of a new star, which appeared suddenly with great splendour in the constellation Serpentarius, or Ophiuchus, as it is now more commonly called. Maestlin, who was one of the earliest to notice it, relates his observations in the following words: “How wonderful is this new star! I am certain that I did not see it before the 29th of September, nor indeed, on account of several cloudy nights, had I a good view till the 6th of October. Now that it is on the other side of the sun, instead of surpassing Jupiter as it did, and almost rivalling Venus, it scarcely matches the Cor Leonis, and hardly surpasses Saturn. It continues however to shine with the same bright and strongly sparkling light, and changes its colours almost with every moment; first tawny, then yellow, presently purple and red, and, when it has risen above the vapours, most frequently white.” This was by no means an unprecedented phenomenon; and the curious reader may find in Riccioli a catalogue of the principal new stars which have at different times appeared. There is a tradition of a similar occurrence as early as the times of the Greek astronomer Hipparchus, who is said to have been stimulated by it to the formation of his catalogue of the stars; and only thirty-two years before, in 1572, the same remarkable phenomenon in the constellation Cassiopeia was mainly instrumental in detaching the celebrated Tycho Brahe from the chemical studies, which till then divided his attention with astronomy. Tycho’s star disappeared at the end of two years; and at that time Galileo was a child. On the present occasion, he set himself earnestly to consider the new phenomenon, and embodied the results of his observations in three lectures, which have been unfortunately lost. Only the exordium of the first has been preserved: in this he reproaches his auditors with their general insensibility to the magnificent wonders of creation daily exposed to their view, in no respect less admirable than the new prodigy, to hear an explanation of which they had hurried in crowds to his lecture room. He showed, from the absence of parallax, that the new star could not be, as the vulgar hypothesis represented, a mere meteor engendered in our atmosphere and nearer the earth than the moon, but must be situated among the most remote heavenly bodies. This was inconceivable to the Aristotelians, whose notions of a perfect, simple, and unchangeable sky were quite at variance with the introduction of any such new body; and we may perhaps consider these lectures as the first public declaration of Galileo’s hostility to the old Ptolemaic and Aristotelian astronomy.