The Science of Astronomy is sublime and beautiful. Noble, elevating, consoling, divine, it gives us wings, and bears us through Infinitude. In these ethereal regions all is pure, luminous, and splendid. Dreams of the Ideal, even of the Inaccessible, weave their subtle spells upon us. The imagination soars aloft, and aspires to the sources of Eternal Beauty.
What greater delight can be conceived, on a fine spring evening, at the hour when the crescent moon is shining in the West amid the last glimmer of twilight, than the contemplation of that grand and silent spectacle of the stars stepping forth in sequence in the vast Heavens? All sounds of life die out upon the earth, the last notes of the sleepy birds have sunk away, the Angelus of the church hard by has rung the close of day. But if life is arrested around us, we may seek it in the Heavens. These incandescing orbs are so many points of interrogation suspended above our heads in the inaccessible depths of space.... Gradually they multiply. There is Venus, the white star of the shepherd. There Mars, the little celestial world so near our own. There the giant Jupiter. The seven stars of the Great Bear seem to point out the pole, while they slowly revolve around it.... What is this nebulous light that blanches the darkness of the heavens, and traverses the constellations like a celestial path? It is the Galaxy, the Milky Way, composed of millions on millions of suns!... The darkness is profound, the abyss immense.... See! Yonder a shooting star glides silently across the sky, and disappears!...
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About the Author
Camille Flammarion was born in Montigny-le-Roi, Haute-Marne, France. He was the brother of Ernest Flammarion (1846-1936), founder of the Groupe Flammarion publishing house. He was a founder and the first president of the Société astronomique de France, which originally had its own independent journal, BSAF (Bulletin de la Société astronomique de France), first published in 1887. In January 1895, after 13 volumes of L'Astronomie and 8 of BSAF, the two merged, making L'Astronomie the Bulletin of the Societé. The 1895 volume of the combined journal was numbered 9, to preserve the BSAF volume numbering, but this had the consequence that volumes 9 to 13 of L'Astronomie can each refer to two different publications, five years apart from each other.
The "Flammarion engraving" first appeared in Flammarion's 1888 edition of L'Atmosphère. In 1907, he wrote that he believed that dwellers on Mars had tried to communicate with the Earth in the past. He also believed in 1907 that a seven-tailed comet was heading toward Earth. In 1910, for the appearance of Halley's Comet, he believed the gas from the comet's tail "would impregnate [the Earth's] atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet."
As a young man, Flammarion was exposed to two significant social movements in the western world: the thoughts and ideas of Darwin and Lamarck, and the rising popularity of spiritism with spiritualist churches and organizations appearing all over Europe. He has been described as an "astronomer, mystic and storyteller" who was "obsessed by life after death, and on other worlds, and [who] seemed to see no distinction between the two