|I love to revel in philosophical matters--especially
astronomy. I study astronomy more than any other foolishness there is. I
am a perfect slave to it. I am at it all the time. I have got more smoked
glass than clothes. I am as familiar with the stars as the comets are. I
know all the facts and figures and I have all the knowledge there is concerning
them. I yelp astronomy like a sun-dog, and paw the constellations like Ursa
- Letter from Mark Twain, San Francisco Alta Calfornia, Aug. 1, 1869
Mark Twain and Halley's Comet
Dave Thomson collection
Illustration by "Dwig" from
|Spectrum analysis enabled the astronomer
to tell when a star was advancing head on, and when it was going the other
way. This was regarded as very precious. Why the astronomer wanted to know,
is not stated; nor what he could sell out for, when he did know. An astronomer's
notions about preciousness were loose. They were not much regarded by practical
men, and seldom excited a broker.
- "The Secret History of Eddypus"
I do not see how astronomers can help feeling exquisitely insignificant, for
every new page of the Book of the Heavens they open reveals to them more and
more that the world we are so proud of is to the universe of careening globes
as is one mosquito to the winged and hoofed flocks and herds that darken the
air and populate the plains and forests of all the earth. If you killed the
mosquito would it be missed? Verily, What is Man, that he should be considered
- Letter to his future wife Olivia Langdon, 8 January 1870
An occultation of Venus is not half so difficult as an eclipse of the sun, but because it comes seldom the world thinks it's a grand thing.
- More Maxims of Mark, 1927
As for myself, I have no difficulty in believing that our newspapers will by & by contain news, not 24 hours old from Jupiter et al--mainly astronomical corrections & weather indications; with now & then a sarcastic fling at the only true religion.
- Letter to W. D. Howells, 15 October 1881
If I were going to construct a God I would furnish Him with some ways and qualities
and characteristics which the Present (Bible) One lacks.....He would spend some
of His eternities in trying to forgive Himself for making man unhappy when He
could have made him happy with the same effort and He would spend the rest of
them in studying astronomy.
- Mark Twain's Notebook (1896)
Constellations have always been troublesome things to name. If you give one
of them a fanciful name, it will always refuse to live up to it; it will always
persist in not resembling the thing it has been named for.
- Following the Equator
For three hundred years now, the Christian astronomer has known that his Diety
didn't make the stars in those tremendous six days; but the Christian astronomer
doesn't enlarge upon that detail. Neither does the priest.
- Letters from the Earth
Every star, unless it has a family of planets, floats in an immeasurable solitude
like a mustard seed in mid-Atlantic.
- marginalia written in Side-Lights on Astronomy and Kindred Fields of Popular Science by Simon Newcomb (Harper & Brothers 1906)
General space -- that sea of ether which has no shores, and stretches on, and
on, and arrives nowhere; which is a waste of black gloom and thick darkness
through which you may rush forever at thought-speed, encountering at weary long
intervals spirit-cheering archipelagoes of suns which rise sparkling far in
front of you, and swiftly grow and swell, and burst into blinding glories of
light, apparently measureless in extent, but you plung through and in a moment
they are far behind, a twinkling archipelago again, and in another moment they
are blotted out in darkness; constellations, these? yes; and the earliest of
them the property of your own solar system; the rest of that unending flight
is through solar systems not known to men.
- No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger
Illustration from HARPER'S WEEKLY, January 30, 1909
from the Dave Thomson collection.
There isn't any Neptune that can outperturbate a dog; and I know, because I
am not speaking from hearsay. Why, if there was a planet two hundred fifty thousand
"light-years" the other side of Neptune's orbit, Professor Pickering
would discover it in a minute if it could perturbate equal to a dog. Give me
a dog every time, when it comes to perturbating.
- "The New Planet"
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