New Lands

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X






That, upon April 25, 1892, Archdeacon Nouri climbed Mt. Ararat. It was his hope that he should find something of archæologic compensation for his clambering. He found Noah's Ark.

About the same time, Dr. Holden, Director of the Lick Observatory, was watching one of the polished and mysterious-looking instruments that, in the new ikonology, have replaced the images of the saints. Dr. Holden was awaiting the appointed moment of the explosion of a large quantity of dynamite in San Francisco Bay. The moment came. The polished little "saint" revealed to the faithful scientist. He wrote an account of the record, and sent copies to the San Francisco newspapers. Then he learned the dynamite had not been fired off. He sent a second messenger after the first messenger, and, because messengers sometimes have velocities proportional to urgencies — "the Observatory escaped ridicule by a narrow margin." See the Observatory, 20-467.(2) This revelation came from Prof. Colton, who, though probably faithful to all the "saints," did not like Dr. Holden.

The system that Archdeacon Nouri represented lost its power because its claims exceeded all conceivableness, and because, in other respects, of its inertness to the obvious. The system that Dr. Holden represented is not different: there is the same seeing of whatever may be desirable, and the same profound meditations upon the remote, with the same inattention to fairly acceptable starting-points. The astronomers like to tell audiences of just what gases are burning in an unimaginably remote star, but have never reasonably made acceptable, for instance, that this earth is round, to start with. Of course I do not mean to say that this, or anything else, can be positively proved, but it is depressing to [42/43] hear it said, so authoritatively, that the round shadow of this earth upon the moon proves that the earth is round, whereas records of angular shadows are common, and whereas, if this earth were a cube, its straight sides would cast a rounded shadow upon the convex moon. That the first part of a receding vessel to disappear should be the lower part may be only such an illusion of perspective as that by which railroad tracks seem to dip toward each other in the distance. Meteors sometimes appear over one part of the horizon and then seem to curve down behind the opposite part of the horizon, whereas they describe no such curve, because to a string of observers each observer is at the center of the seeming curve.

Once upon a time — about the year 1870 — occurred an unusual sporting event. John Hampden, who was noted for his piety and his bad language, whose avowed purpose was to support the principles of this earth's earliest geodesist, offered to bet five hundred pounds that he could prove the flatness of this earth. Somewhere in England is the Bedford Canal, and along a part of it is a straight, unimpeded view, six miles in length. Orthodox doctrine — or the doctrine of the newer orthodoxy, because John Hampden considered that he was orthodox — is that the earth's curvature is expressible in the formula of 8 inches for the first mile and then the square of the distance times 8 inches. For two miles, then, the square of 2, or 4, times 8 inches. An object six miles away should be depressed 288 inches, or, allowing for refraction, according to Proctor (Old and New Astronomy) 216 inches.(3) Hampden said that an object six miles away, upon this part of the Bedford Canal, was not depressed as it "should" be. Dr. Alfred Russell Wallace took up the bet. Mr. Walsh, Editor of the Field, was the stakeholder. A procession went to the Bedford Canal. Objects were looked at through telescopes, or looked for, and the decision was that Hampden had lost. There was rejoicing in the fold of the chosen, though Hampden, in one of his furious bombardments of verses from the Bible, charged conspiracy and malfeasance and confiscation, and what else I don't know, piously and intemperately declaring that he had been defrauded.(4)

In the English Mechanic, 80-40, some one writes to find out [43/44] about the "Bedford Canal Experiment."(5) We learn that the experiment had been made again. The correspondent writes that, if there were basis to the rumors that he had heard, there must be something wrong with the established doctrine. Upon page 138, Lady Blount answers — that, upon May 11, 1904, she had gone to the Bedford Canal, accompanied by Mr. E. Clifton, a well-known photographer, who was himself uninfluenced by her motives, which were the familiar ones of attempting to restore the old gentleman who first took up the study of geodesy.(6) However, she seethes with neither piety nor profanity. She says that, with his telescopic camera, Mr. Clifton had photographed a sheet, six miles away, though by conventional theory the sheet should have been invisible. In a later number of the English Mechanic, a reproduction of this photograph is published.(7) According to this evidence this earth is flat, or is a sphere enormously greater than is generally supposed. But at the 1901 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Mr. H. Yule Oldham read a paper upon his investigations at the Bedford Canal.(8) He, too, showed photographs. In his photographs, everything that should have been invisible was invisible.

I accept that anybody who is convinced that still are there relics upon Mt. Ararat, has only to climb Mt. Ararat, and he must find something that can be said to be part of Noah's Ark, petrified perhaps. If someone else should be convinced that a mistake has been made, and that the mountain is really Pike's Peak, he has only to climb Pike`s Peak and prove that the most virtuous of all lands was once the Holy Land. The meaning that I read in the whole subject is that, in this Dark Age that we're living in, not even such rudimentary matters as the shape of this earth have ever been investigated except now and then to support somebody's theory, because astronomers have instinctively preferred the remote and the not so easily understandable and the safe from external inquiry. In Earth Features and Their Meaning, Prof. Hobbs says that this earth is top-shaped, quite as the sloping extremities of Africa and South America suggest.(9) According to Prof. Hobbs, observations upon the pendulum suggest this earth is shaped like a top.(10) Some years ago, Dr. Gregory read a paper at a meeting of the Royal Geographical So- [44/45] ciety, giving data to support the theory of a top-shaped earth.(11) In the records of the Society, one may read a report of the discussion that followed. There was no ridiculing. The President of the Society closed the discussion with virtual endorsement, recalling that it was Christopher Columbus who first said that this earth is top-shaped. For other expressions of this revolt against ancient dogmas, see Bull. Soc. Astro. de France, 17-315; 18-143; Pop. Sci. News, 31-234; Eng. Mec., 77-159; and, Sci. Amer., 100-441.(12)

As to the supposed motions of this earth, axial and orbital, circumstances are the same, despite the popular supposition that the existence of these motions has been established by syntheses of data and by unanswerable logic. All scientists, philosophers, religionists, are today looking back, wondering what could have been the matter with their predecessors to permit them to believe what they did believe. Granted that there will be posterity, we shall be predecessors. Then what is it that is conventionally taught today that will in the future seem as imbecilic as to all present orthodoxies seem the vaporings of preceding systems?

Well, for instance, that it is this earth that moves, though the sun seems to, by the same illusion by which passengers on a boat, the shore seems to move, though it is the boat that is moving.

Apply this reasoning to the moon. The moon seems to move around the earth — but to passengers on a boat, the shore seems to move, whereas it is the boat that is moving — therefore the moon does not move.

As to the motions of the planets and stars that co-ordinate with the idea of a moving earth — they co-ordinate equally well with the idea of a stationary earth.

In the system that was conceived by Copernicus I find nothing that can be said to resemble foundation: nothing but the appeal of greater simplicity. An earth that rotates and revolves is simpler to conceive of than is a stationary earth with a rigid composition of stars, swinging around it, stars kept apart by some unknown substance, or inter-repulsion. But all those who think that simplification is a standard to judge by are referred to Herbert Spencer's compilations of data indicating that advancing knowledge complicates, making, then, complexity, and [45/46] not simplicity, the standard by which to judge the more advanced. My own acceptance is that there are fluxes one way and then the other way: that the Ptolemaic system was complex and was simplified; that, out of what was once a clarification, new complications have arisen, and that again will come flux toward simplification or clarification — that the simplification by Copernicus has now developed into an incubus of unintelligibilities revolving around a farrago of inconsistencies, to which the complexities of Ptolemy are clear geometry: miracles, incredibilities, puerilities; tottering deductions depending upon flimsy agreements; brutalized observations that are slaves to infatuated principles —

And one clear call that is heard above the rumble of readjusting collapses — the call for a Neo-astronomy — it may not be our Neo-astronomy.

Prof. Young, for instance, in his Manual of Astronomy, says that there are no common, obvious proofs that the earth moves around the sun, but that there are three abstrusities, all of modern determination.(13) Then, if Copernicus founded the present system, he founded upon nothing. He had nothing to base upon. He either never heard of, or could detect one of these abstrusities. All his logic represented in his reasoning upon this earth's rotundity: that this earth is round, because of a general tendency to sphericity, manifesting, for instance, in fruits and in drops of water — showing that he must have been unaware not only of abstrusities, but of icicles and bananas and oysters. It is not that I am snobbishly deriding the humble and more than questionable ancestry of modern astronomy. I am pointing out that a doctrine came into existence with nothing for a foundation: not a datum, not one observation to found upon; no astronomical principles, no mechanical principles to justify it. Our inquiry will be as to how, in the annals of false architecture, it could ever be said that — except miraculously, of course — a foundation was subsequently slipped under this baseless structure, dug under, rammed under, or God knows how devised and fashioned.


1. E.L. Garbett. "Noah's Ark found at last." English Mechanic, 56 (October 14, 1892): 184.

2. "The late Director of the Lick Observatory is apparently not to be allowed...." Observatory, 20 (1897): 466-7. 3. Richard Anthony Proctor. Old and New Astronomy. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1892; 72-3, 76.

4. For more upon the Bedford Canal experiment: Richard Anthony Proctor. Myths and Marvels of Astronomy. New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1903, 278-80. Alfred Russel Wallace. My Life: A Record of Events and Opinions. London: Chapman & Hall, 1908, 361-72.

5. "Kappa." "The flat Earth — Another Bedford Canal experiment." English Mechanic, 80 (August 19, 1904): 40.

6. "The flat earth: Another Bedford Canal experiment." English Mechanic, 80 (September 16, 1904): 137-8.

7. E.A.M. Blount. "The Bedford Canal level experiment." English Mechanic, 80 (October 28, 1904): 277.

8. H. Yule Oldham. "The experimental demonstration of the curvature of the Earth's surface." Annual Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1901, 725-6.

9. William Herbert Hobbs. Earth Features and Their Meaning. New York: Macmillan, 1912, 12-9.

10. Hobbs said it was tetrahedral but compared it to a "peg top." Ibid, 18. 11. J.W. Gregory. "The plan of the earth and its causes." Geographical Journal, 13 (March 1899): 225-51, and diagram following p. 336.

12. "Lune." Bulletin de la Société Astronomique de France, 17 (1903): 315. J. Fernique. "La forme tétraédrique de la Lune." Bulletin de la Société Astronomique de France, 18 (1904): 143-4. M.S. Follen. "Do recent discoveries show that the earth is pear-shaped, as pictured in some newspapers?" Popular Science News, 31 (October 1897): 234. Sterling Heilig. "Is the Earth a pyramid, and not a sphere?" English Mechanic, 77 (April 3, 1903): 159-60. J.F. Springer. "Is the Earth's shape changing?" Scientific American, n.s., 100 (June 12, 1909): 441-2. A pear-shaped earth with its ends located in the Pacific Ocean and in the Sahara Desert was promoted by Sollas and Jeans, after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and the eruption of Vesuvius. Garrett P. Serviss. "Is the earth shaped like a monster pear?" New York Times, June 17, 1906, s. 3 p. 3. A caricature of the exaggerated distortion of the shape of the earth, caused by its diurnal rotation, according to Newton and Cassini, compares their differing results. Isaac Newton. Florian Cajori, rev. Andrew Motte, trans. Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy and His System of the World. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1934, v. 2, 664.

13. Charles Augustus Young. Manual of Astronomy. Boston: Ginn & Co., 1902, 136-7. Young only cites the aberration of light and the annual parallax of the fixed stars.

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