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The great Tuscan astronomer is best known as the first telescopic observer, the fortunate discoverer of the Medicean stars (so Jupiter's satellites were first named); and what discovery more fitted to immortalize its author than one which revealed new worlds and thus gave additional force to the lesson, that the universe, of which we form so small a part, was not created only for our use or pleasure? Those, however, who consider Galileo only as a fortunate observer, form a very inadequate estimate of one of the most meritorious and successful of those great men who have bestowed their time for the advantage of mankind in tracing out the hidden things of nature. Galileo-Galilei was born at Pisa, February 15, 1564. In childhood he displayed considerable mechanical ingenuity, with a decided taste for the accomplishments of music and painting. His father formed a just estimate of his talents, and at some inconvenience entered him, when nineteen years old, at the university of his native town, intending that he should pursue the medical profession. Galileo was then entirely ignorant of mathematics; and he was led to the study of geometry by a desire thoroughly to understand the principles of his favorite arts. This new pursuit proved so congenial to his taste, that from thenceforward his medical books were entirely neglected. The elder Galilei, a man of liberal acquirements and enlarged mind, did not require the devotion of his son's life to a distasteful pursuit. Fortunately the young man's talents attracted notice, and in 1589 he was appointed mathematical lecturer in the University of Pisa. There is reason to believe that, at an early period of his studentship, he embraced, upon inquiry and conviction, the doctrines of Copernicus, of which through life he was an ardent supporter.
Galileo before the Inquisition.
It was not long before Galileo had new and equally important matter to announce. He observed a remarkable appearance in Saturn, as if it were composed of three stars touching each other; his telescope was not sufficiently powerful to resolve them into Saturn and his ring. Within a month he ascertained that Venus exhibits phases like those of the moon--a discovery of great importance in confirming the Copernican system. The same phenomenon he afterward detected in Mars. We close the list with the discovery of the revolution of the sun round his axis, in the space of about a lunar month, derived from careful observation of the spots on his surface.
About this time (1610-1611) Galileo took up his abode in Tuscany, upon the invitation of the grand duke, who offered to him his original situation at Pisa, with a liberal salary, exemption from the necessity of residence, and complete leisure to pursue his studies. In 1612 he published a discourse on "Floating Bodies," in which he investigates the theory of buoyancy, and refutes, by a series of beautiful and conclusive experiments, the opinion that the floating or sinking of bodies depends on their shape.
Neither Copernicus nor his immediate followers suffered inconvenience or restraint on account of their astronomical doctrines; nor had Galileo, until this period of his life, incurred ecclesiastical censure for anything which he had said or written. But the Inquisition now took up the matter as heretical and contrary to the express words of Scripture; and in 1616, Copernicus's work, "De Revolutionibus," Kepler's "Epitome," and some of Galileo's own letters, were placed on the list of prohibited books; and he himself, being then in Rome, received formal notice not to teach that the earth revolves round the sun. He returned to Florence full of indignation; and considering his hasty temper, love of truth, and full belief of the condemned theory, it is rather wonderful that he kept silence so long, than that he incurred at last the censures of the hierarchy. He did, however, restrain himself from any open advocacy of the heretical doctrines, even in composing his great work, the "Dialogue on the Ptolemaic and Copernican Systems." This was completed in 1630, but not printed till 1632, under license from officers of the church, both at Rome and Florence. It is a dialogue between Simplicio, an Aristotelian, Salviati, who represents the author, and Sagredo, a half convert to Salviati's opinions. It professes "indeterminately to propose the philosophical arguments, as well on one side as on the other;" but the neutrality is but ill kept up, and was probably assumed, not with any hope that the court of Rome would be blinded as to the real tendency of the book, but merely that it would accept this nominal submission as a sufficient homage to its authority. If this were so, the author was disappointed; the Inquisition took cognizance of the matter, and summoned him to Rome to undergo a personal examination. Age and infirmity were in vain pleaded as excuses; still, through the urgent and indignant remonstrances of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, he was treated with a consideration rarely shown by that stern tribunal. He was allowed to remain at the Florentine ambassador's palace, with the exception of a short period, from his arrival in February, until the passing of sentence, June 21, 1633. He was then condemned, in the presence of the Inquisitors, to curse and abjure the "false doctrines," which his life had been spent in proving, to be confined in the prison of the Holy Office during pleasure, and to recite the seven penitential psalms once a week during three years. The sentence and the abjuration are given at full length in the "Life of Galileo," in the "Library of Useful Knowledge." "It is said," continues the biographer, "that Galileo, as he rose from his knees, stamped on the ground, and whispered to one of his friends, 'e pur si muove,' it does move though."
Galileo's imprisonment was not long or rigorous, for after four days he was reconducted to the Florentine ambassador's palace; but he was still kept under strict surveillance. In July he was sent to Sienna, where he remained five months in strict seclusion. He obtained permission in December to return to his villa at Arcetri, near Florence: but there, as at Sienna, he was confined to his own premises, and strictly forbidden to receive his friends. It is painful to contemplate the variety of evils which overcast the evening of this great man's life. In addition to a distressing chronic complaint, contracted in youth, he was now suffering under a painful infirmity which by some is said to have been produced by torture, applied in the prisons of the Inquisition to extort a recantation. But the arguments brought forward to show that the Inquisitors did resort to this extremity do not amount to anything like direct proof. In April, 1634, Galileo's afflictions were increased by the death of a favorite, intelligent, and attached daughter. He consoled his solitude, and lightened the hours of sickness, by continuing the observations which he was now forbidden to publish to the world; and the last of his long train of discoveries was the phenomenon known by the name of the moon's libration. In the course of 1636-37 he lost successively the sight of both his eyes. He mentions this calamity in a tone of pious submission, mingled with a not unpleasing pride. "Alas, your dear friend and servant Galileo has become totally and irreparably blind; so that this heaven, this earth, this universe, which with wonderful observations I had enlarged a hundred thousand times beyond the belief of by-gone ages, henceforward for me is shrunk into the narrow space which I myself fill in it. So it pleases God: it shall therefore please me also." In 1638 he obtained leave to visit Florence, still under the same restrictions as to society; but at the end of a few months he was remanded to Arcetri, which he never again quitted. From that time, however, the strictness of his confinement was relaxed, and he was allowed to receive the friends who crowded round him, as well as the many distinguished foreigners who eagerly visited him. Among these we must not forget Milton, whose poems contain several allusions to the celestial wonders observed and published by the Tuscan astronomer. Though blind and nearly deaf, Galileo retained to the last his intellectual powers; and his friend and pupil, the celebrated Torricelli, was employed in arranging his thoughts on the nature of percussion, when he was attacked by his last illness. He died January 8, 1642, aged seventy-eight.
It was disputed whether, as a prisoner of the Inquisition, Galileo had a right to burial in consecrated ground. The point was conceded; but Pope Urban VIII. himself interfered to prevent the erection of a monument to him in the church of Santa Croce, in Florence, for which a large sum had been subscribed. A splendid monument now covers the spot in which his remains repose with those of his friend and pupil, the eminent mathematician Viviani.
For an account of Galileo's application of the pendulum to the mensuration of time; his invention of the thermometer, though in an inaccurate and inconvenient form; his methods of discovering the longitude, and a variety of other points well worth attention, we must refer to the Life of Galileo already quoted. The numerous extracts from Galileo's works convey a lively notion of the author's character, and are distinguished by a peculiar tone of quaint humor. In conclusion, we quote the estimate of Galileo's character, from the same masterly memoir. "The numberless inventions of his acute industry; the use of the telescope, and the brilliant discoveries to which it led; the patient investigation of the laws of weight and motion, must all be looked upon as forming but a part of his real merits, as merely particular demonstrations of the spirit in which he everywhere withstood the despotism of ignorance, and appealed boldly from traditional opinions to the judgment of reason and common sense. He claimed and bequeathed to us the right of exercising our faculties in examining the beautiful creation which surrounds us. Idolized by his friends, he deserved their affection by numberless acts of kindness; by his good humor, his affability, and by the benevolent generosity with which he devoted himself, and a great part of his limited income, to advance their talents and fortunes. If an intense desire of being useful is everywhere worthy of honor; if its value is immeasurably increased when united to genius of the highest order; if we feel for one, who, notwithstanding such titles to regard, is harassed by cruel persecution, then none deserve our sympathy, our admiration, and our gratitude, more than Galileo."
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