Dionysius Lardner.

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his enemies with having then abjured his opinions j
and he was taunted as a criminal who had been actually
punished for his offences. As a refutation of these
calumnies, Cardinal Bellarmine had given him a certifi-
cate in his own handwriting, declaring that he neither
abjured his opinions, nor suffered punishment for them ;
and that the doctrine of the earth's motion, and the
sun's stability, was only denounced to him as contrary
to scripture, and as one which could not be defended.
To this certificate the cardinal did not add, because he
was not called upon to do it, that Galileo was enjoined
not to teach in any manner the doctrine thus denounced ;
and Galileo ingeniously avails himself of this supposed
omission, to account for his having, in the lapse of
fourteen or sixteen years, forgotten the injunction. He
assigned the same excuse for his having omitted to
mention this injunction to Riccardi, and to the inquisi-


tor-general at Florence, when he obtained the licence to
print his dialogues. The court held the production of
this certificate to he at once a proof and an aggravation
of his offence ; because the certificate itself declared
that the obnoxious doctrines had been pronounced con-
trary to the Holy Scriptures.

Having duly weighed the confessions and excuses of
their prisoner, and considered the general merits of the
case, the inquisition came to an agreement upon the
sentence which they were to pronounce, and appointed
the 22d of June as the day on which it was to be deli-
vered. Two days previous to this, Galileo was sum-
moned to appear at the holy office ; and on the morning
of the 21st, he obeyed the summons. On the 22d of
June he was clothed in a penitential dress, and con-
ducted to the convent of Minerva, where the inquisition
was assembled to give judgment. A long and elaborate
sentence was pronounced, detailing the former proceed-
ings of the inquisition, and specifying the offences
which he had committed in teaching heretical doctrines,
in violating his former pledges, and in obtaining by
improper means a licence for the printing of his Dia-
logues. After an invocation of the name of our
Saviour, and of the Holy Virgin, Galileo is declared to
have brought himself under strong suspicions of heresy,
and to have incurred all the censures and penalties
which are enjoined against delinquents of this kind ;
but from all these consequences he is to be held ab-
solved, provided that with a sincere heart, and a faith
unfeigned, he abjures and curses the heresies he has
cherished, as well as every other heresy against the
Catholic church. In order that his offence might not
go altogether unpunished, that he might be more cau-
tious in future, and be a warning to others to abstain
from similar delinquencies, it was also decreed that his
Dialogues should be prohibited by public edict ; that he
himself should be condemned to the prison of the in-
quisition during their pleasure, and that during the next


three years he should recite once a week the seven
penitential psalms.

The ceremony of Galileo's abjuration was one of
exciting interest, and of awful formality. Clothed in
the. sackcloth of a repentant criminal, the venerable sage
fell upon his knees before the assembled cardinals ; and
laying his hands upon the Holy Evangelists, he invoked
the divine aid in abjuring and detesting,, and vowing
never again to teach, the doctrine of the earth's motion,
and of the sun's stability. He pledged himself that he
would never again, either in words or in writing, propa-
gate such heresies ; and he swore that he would fulfil
and observe the penances which had been inflicted upon
him.* At the conclusion of this ceremony, in which
he recited his abjuration word for word, and then
signed it, he was conveyed, in conformity with his sen-
tence, to the prison of the inquisition.

The account which we have now given of the trial
and the sentence of Galileo, is pregnant with the deepest
interest and instruction. Human nature is here drawn
in its darkest colouring ; and in surveying the melan-
choly picture, it is difficult to decide whether religion
or philosophy has been most degraded. While we
witness the presumptuous priest pronouncing infallible
the decrees of his own erring judgment, we see the
high-minded philosopher abjuring the eternal and im-
mutable truths which he had himself the glory of
establishing. In the ignorance and prejudices of the
age, in a too literal interpretation of the language of
Scripture, in a mistaken respect for the errors that
had become venerable from their antiquity, and in the
peculiar position which Galileo had taken among the
avowed enemies of the church, we may find the ele-
ments of an apology, however poor it may be, for the
conduct of the inquisition. But what excuse can we

* It has been said, but upon what authority we cannot find, that when
Galileo rose from his knees, he stamped on the ground, and said in a
whisper to one of his friends, " E pur si muove." " It does move, though."
Life of Galileo, Lib. Use. Knowledge, part ii. p. 63.



devise for the humiliating confession and abjuration of
Galileo ? Why did this master-spirit of the age
this high-priest of the stars this representative of
science this hoary sage, whose career of glory was
near its consummation, why did he reject the crown
of martyrdom which he had himself coveted, and which,,
plaited with immortal laurels, was about to descend
upon his head ? If, in place of disavowing the laws of
nature, and surrendering in his own person the intellec-
tual dignity of his species, he had boldly owned the
truth of his opinions, and confided his character to
posterity, and his cause to an all-ruling Providence, he
would have strung up the hair-suspended sabre, and
disarmed for ever the hostility which threatened to
overwhelm him. The philosopher, however, was sup-
ported only by philosophy ; and in the love of truth he
found a miserable substitute for the hopes of the martyr.
Galileo cowered under the fear of man, and his submis-
sion was the salvation of the church. The sword of
the inquisition descended on his prostrate neck ; and
though its stroke was not physical, yet it fell with a
moral influence fatal to the character of its victim, and
to the dignity of science.

In studying with attention this portion of scientific
history, the reader will not fail to perceive that the
church of Rome was driven into a dilemma from which
the submission and abjuration of Galileo could alone
extricate it. He who confesses a crime and denounces
its atrocity, not only sanctions but inflicts the punish-
ment which is annexed to it. If Galileo had declared
his innocence, and avowed his sentiments ; and if he
had appealed to the past conduct of the church itself,
to the acknowledged opinions of its dignitaries^ and even
to the acts of its pontiffs, he would have at once con-
founded his accusers, and escaped from their toils. After
Copernicus, himself a catholic priest, had openly main-
tained the motion of the earth, and the stability of the
sun : after he had dedicated the work which advocated
these opinions to pope Paul III., on the express ground


that the authority of the pontiff might silence the ca-
lumnies of those who attacked these opinions by argu-
ments drawn from Scripture : after the cardinal Schon-
berg and the bishop of Culm had urged Copernicus to
publish the new doctrines ; and after the bishop of
Ermeland had erected a monument to commemorate his
great discoveries j how could the church of Rome have
appealed to its pontifical decrees as the ground of per-
secuting and punishing Galileo ? Even in later times,
the same doctrines had been propagated with entire
toleration ; nay, in the very year of Galileo's first per-
secution, Paul Anthony Foscarinus, a learned Carmelite
monk., wrote a pamphlet, in which he iUustrates and
defends the mobility of the earth, and endeavours to re-
concile to this new doctrine the passages of Scripture
which had been employed to subvert it. This very
singular production was dated from the Carmelite con-
vent at Naples ; was dedicated to the very reverend
Sebastian Fantoni, general of the Carmelite order ; and,
sanctioned by the ecclesiastical authorities, it was pub-
lished at Florence, three years before the second perse-
cution of Galileo.

By these acts, tolerated for more than a century, the
decrees of the pontiffs against the doctrine of the earth's
motion were virtually repealed; and Galileo might have
pleaded them with success in arrest of judgment. Un-
fortunately, however, for himself and for science, he
acted otherwise. By admitting their authority, he re-
vived in fresh force these obsolete and obnoxious enact-
ments ; and, by yielding to their power, he riveted for
another century the almost broken chains of spiritual

Pope Urban VII. did not fail to observe the full ex-
tent of his triumph ; and he exhibited the utmost sa-
gacity in the means which he employed to secure it.
While he endeavoured to overawe the enemies of the
church by the formal promulgation of Galileo's sen-
tence and abjuration, and by punishing the officials who
had assisted in obtaining the licence to print his work,

E 2


he treated Galileo with the utmost lenity,, and yielded
to every request that was made to diminish, and almost
to suspend, the constraint under which he lay. The
sentence of abjuration was ordered to be publicly read
at several universities. At Florence the ceremonial was
performed in the church of Santa Croce, and the friends
and disciples of Galileo were especially summoned to
witness the public degradation of their master. The
inquisitor at Florence was ordered to be reprimanded
for his conduct ; and Riccardi, the master of the sacred
palace, and Ciampoli, the secretary of pope Urban him-
self, were dismissed from their situations.

Galileo had remained only four days in the prison of
the inquisition, when, on the appli cation of Niccolini,the
Tuscan ambassador, he was allowed to reside with him
in his palace. As Florence still suffered under the con-
tagious disease which we have already mentioned, it was
proposed that Sienna should be the place of Galileo's con-
finement, and that his residence should be in one of the
convents of that city. Niccolini, however, recommended
the palace of the archbishop Piccolomoni as a more
suitable residence ; and though the archbishop was one
of Galileo's best friends, the pope agreed to the arrange-
ment, and in the beginning of July Galileo quitted Rome
for Sienna.

After having spent nearly six months under the
hospitable roof of his friend, with no other restraint
than that of being confined to the limits of the palace,
Galileo was permitted to return to his villa near Florence
under the same restrictions ; and as the contagious
disease had disappeared in Tuscany, he was able in the
month of December to re-enter his own house at Arcetri,
where he spent the remainder of his days.

Although Galileo had now the happiness of rejoining
his family under their paternal roof, yet, like all sub-
lunary blessings, it was but of short duration. His
favourite daughter Maria, who along with her sister had
joined the convent of St. Matthew in the neighbourhood
of Arcetri, had looked forward to the arrival of her


father with the most affectionate anticipation : she hoped
that her filial devotion might form some compensation
for the malignity of his enemies ; and she eagerly as-
sumed the labour of reciting weekly the seven peni-
tentiary psalms which formed part of her father's
sentence. These sacred duties, however, were destined
to terminate almost at the moment they were begun.
She was seized with a fatal illness in the same month in
which she rejoined her parent, and before the month of
April she was no more. This heavy blow, so suddenly
struck, overwhelmed Galileo in the deepest agony.
Owing to the decline of his health, and the recurrence of
his old complaints, he was unable to oppose to this
mental suffering the constitutional energy of his mind.
The bulwarks of his heart broke down, and a flood of
grief desolated his manly and powerful mind. He felt,
as he expressed it, that he was incessantly called by his
daughter, his pulse intermitted, his heart was agi-
tated with unceasing palpitations, his appetite entirely
left him, and he considered his dissolution so near at
hand, that he would not permit his son Vicenzo to set out
upon a journey which he had contemplated.

From this state of melancholy and indisposition,
Galileo slowly, though partially, recovered ; and, with the
view of obtaining medical assistance, he requested leave
to go to Florence. His enemies, however, refused this
application, and he was given to understand that any
additional importunities would be visited with a more
vigilant surveillance. He remained, therefore, five years
at Arcetri, from 1634- to 163S, without any remission
of his confinement, and pursuing his studies under the
influence of a continued and general indisposition.

There is no reason to think that Galileo or his friends
renewed their application to the church of Rome ; but,
in 1638, the pope transmitted, through the inquisitor
Fariano, his permission that he might remove to Florence
for the recovery of his health, on the condition that he
should present himself at the office of the inquisitor to
learn the terms upon which this indulgence was granted.

E 3


Galileo accepted of the kindness thus unexpectedly
proffered ; but the conditions upon which it was given
were more severe than he expected : he was prohibited
from leaving his house,, or admitting his friends ; and
so sternly was this system pursued, that he required a
special order for attending mass during Passion week.

The severity of this order was keenly felt by Galileo.
While he remained at Arcetri, his seclusion from the
world would have been an object of choice, if it had not
been the decree of a tribunal ; but to be debarred from
the conversation of his friends in Florence, in that city
where his genius had been idolised, and where his fame
had become immortal, was an aggravation of punishment
which he was unable to bear. With his accustomed
kindness, the grand duke made a strong representation
on the subject to his ambassador at the court of Rome.
He stated that, from his great age and infirmities,
Galileo's career was near its close ; that he possessed
many valuable ideas, which the world might lose if
they were not matured and conveyed to his friends;
and that Galileo was anxious to make these commu-
nications to father Castelli, who was then a stipendiary
of the court of Rome. The grand duke commanded
his ambassador to see Castelli on the subject ; to urge
him to obtain leave from the pope to spend a few months
in Florence, and to supply him with money, and every
thing that was necessary for his journey. Influenced
by this kind and liberal message, Castelli obtained an
audience of the pope, and requested leave to pay a visit
to Florence. Urban instantly suspected the object of
his journey ; and, upon Castelli's acknowledging that
he could not possibly refrain from seeing Galileo., he
received permission to visit him in the company of an
officer of the inquisition. Castelli accordingly went to
Florence ; and, a few months afterwards, Galileo was
ordered to return to Arcetri.

During Galileo's confinement at Sienna and Arcetri,
between 1633 and 1636, his time was principally oc-
cupied in the composition of his " Dialogues on Local


Motion." This remarkable work,, which was considered
by its author as the best of his productions., was printed
by Louis Elzevir, at Amsterdam, and dedicated to the
count de Noailles, the French ambassador at Rome.
Various attempts to have it printed in Germany had
failed ; and,, in order to save himself from the malignity
of his enemies,, he was obliged to pretend that the
edition published in Holland had been printed from a
MS. entrusted to the French ambassador.

Although Galileo had for a long time abandoned his
astronomical studies, yet his attention was directed,
about the year 1636, to a curious appearance in the
lunar disc, which is known by the name of the moon's
libration. When we examine with a telescope the out-
line of the moon, we observe that certain parts of her
disc, which are seen at one time, are invisible at another.
This change or libration is of four different kinds ; viz.
the diurnal libration, the libration in longitude, the
libration in latitude, and the spheroidal libration. Galileo
discovered the first of these kinds of libration, and ap-
pears to have had some knowledge of the second j but
the third was discovered by Hevelius, and the fourth by

This curious discovery was the result of the last
telescopic observations of Galileo. Although his right
eye had for some years lost its power, yet his general
vision was sufficiently perfect to enable him to carry on
his usual researches. In 1636, however, this affection
of his eye became more serious ; and, in 1637, his left
eye was attacked with the same disease. His medical
friends at first supposed that cataracts were formed in
the crystalline lens, and anticipated a cure from the
operation of couching. These hopes were fallacious.
The disease turned out to be in the cornea, and every
attempt to restore its transparency was fruitless. In
a few months the white cloud covered the whole aper-
ture of the pupil, and Galileo became totally blind.
This sudden and unexpected calamity had almost

* These phenomena are explained in the volume on " Astronomy."

E 4-


overwhelmed Galileo and his friends. In writing
to a correspondent he exclaims,, " Alas i your dear
friend and servant has become totally and irreparably
blind. These heavens, this earth, this universe, which
by wonderful observation I had enlarged a thousand
times beyond the belief of past ages, are henceforth
shrunk into the narrow space which I myself occupy.
So it pleases God; it shall, therefore, please me also."
His friend, father Castelli, deplores the calamity in the
same tone of pathetic sublimity: " The noblest eye,"
says he, " which nature ever made, is darkened ; an
eye so privileged, and gifted with such rare powers,
that it may truly be said to have seen more than the
eyes of all that are gone, and to have opened the eyes
of all that are to come."

Although Galileo had been thwarted in his attempt
to introduce into the Spanish marine his new method of
finding the longitude at sea, yet he never lost sight of
an object to which he attached the highest importance.
As the formation of correct tables of the motion of
Jupiter's satellites was a necessary preliminary to its
introduction, he had occupied himself for twenty-four
years in observations for this purpose, and he had made
considerable progress in this laborious task. After the
publication of his " Dialogues on Motion," in 1636, he
renewed his attempts to bring his method into actual
use. For this purpose he addressed himself to Lorenzo
Real, who had been the Dutch governor-general in
India, and offered the free use of his method to the
states-general of Holland.* The Dutch government
received this proposal with an anxious desire to have it
carried into effect. At the instigation of Constantine

* It is a curious fact, that Morin had about this time proposed to deter-
mine the longitude by the moon's distance from a fixed star, and that the
commissioners assembled in Parts to examine it, requested Galileo's opi-
nion of its value and practicability. Gal-leo's opinion was highly un.
favourable. He saw clearly, and explained distinctly, the objection to
Morin's method, arising from the imperfection of the lunar tables, and the
inadequacy of astronomical instruments ; but he seemed not to be con-
scious that the very same objections applied, with even greater force, to his
own method, which has since been supplanted by that of the French sa-
vant. See Life of Galileo, Library of Useful Knowledge, p. 94.


Huygens, the father of the illustrious Huygens, and the
secretary to the prince of Orange, they appointed com-
missioners to communicate with Galileo; and while they
transmitted him a gold chain as a mark of their esteem,
they at the same time assured him, that if his plan
should prove successful it should not pass unrewarded.
The commissioners entered into an active correspond-
ence with Galileo, and had even appointed one of their
number to communicate personally \vith him in Italy.
Lest this, however, should excite the jealousy of the
court of Rome, Galileo objected to the arrangement, so
that the negotiation was carried on solely by correspond-

It was at this time that Galileo was struck with
blindness. His friend and pupil, Renieri, undertook,
in this emergency, to arrange and complete his observ-
ations and calculations ; but before he had made much
progress in the arduous task, each of the four commis-
sioners died in succession, and it was with great difficulty
that Constantine Huygens succeeded in renewing the
scheme. It was again obstructed, however, by the death
of Galileo ; and when Renieri was about to publish, by
the order of the grand duke, the " Ephemeris/' and
" Tables of the Jovian Planets," he was attacked with a
mortal disease, and the manuscripts of Galileo, which he
was on the eve of publishing, were never more heard of.
By such a series of misfortunes were the plans of Ga-
lileo and of the states-general completely overthrown.
It is some consolation, however, to know that neither
science nor navigation suffered any severe loss. Not-
withstanding the perfection of our present tables of
Jupiter's satellites, and of the astronomical instruments
by which their eclipses may be observed, the method of
Galileo is still impracticable at sea.

In consequence of the strict seclusion to which Gali-
leo had been subjected, he was in the practice of dating
his letters from his prison at Arcetri : but after he had
lost the use of his eyes, the Inquisition seems to have
relaxed its severity, and to have allowed him the freest


intercourse with his friends. The grand duke of Tus-
cany paid him frequent visits; and among the celebrated
strangers who came from distant lands to see the orna-
ment of Italy, were Gassendi, Deodati, and our illus-
trious countryman Milton. During the last three years
of his life, his eminent pupil Viviani formed one of his
family; and in October, 1641, the celebrated Torri-
celli, another of his pupils, was admitted to the same

Though the powerful mind of Galileo still retained its
vigour, yet his debilitated frame was exhausted with
mental labour. He often complained that his head was
too busy for his body ; and the continuity of his studies
was frequently broken with attacks of hypochondria,
want of sleep, and acute rheumatic pains. Along with
these calamities, he was afflicted with another stih 1 more
severe with deafness almost total ; but though he was
now excluded from all communication with the external
world, yet his mind still grappled with the material
universe, and while he was studying the force of per-
cussion, and preparing for a continuation of his " Dia-
logues on Motion," he was attacked with fever and
palpitation of the heart, which, after continuing two
months, terminated fatally on the 8th of January, 1 642,
in the 78th year of his age.

Having died in the character of a prisoner of the In-
quisition, this odious tribunal disputed his right of
making a will, and of being buried in consecrated
ground. These objections, however, were withdrawn ;
but though a large sum was subscribed for erecting a mo-
nument to him in the church of Santa Croce, in Florence,
the pope would not permit the design to be carried into
execution. His sacred remains were, therefore, depo-
sited in an obscure corner of the church, and remained for
more than thirty years unmarked with any monumental
tablet. The following epitaph, given without any re-
mark in the Leyden edition of his Dialogues, is, we pre-
sume, the one which was inscribed on a tablet in the
church of Santa Croce :


Philosopho et Geometrae vere lynceo,

Naturae GEdipo,

Mirabilium semper inventorum machinatori,

Online LibraryDionysius LardnerEminent literary and scientific men of Italy, Spain, and Portugal .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 5 of 34)