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Chapter III: Effect of the President's Communication
It is impossible to describe the effect produced by the last
words of the honorable president-- the cries, the shouts, the
succession of roars, hurrahs, and all the varied vociferations
which the American language is capable of supplying. It was a
scene of indescribable confusion and uproar. They shouted, they
clapped, they stamped on the floor of the hall. All the weapons
in the museum discharged at once could not have more violently set
in motion the waves of sound. One need not be surprised at this.
There are some cannoneers nearly as noisy as their own guns.
Barbicane remained calm in the midst of this enthusiastic
clamor; perhaps he was desirous of addressing a few more words
to his colleagues, for by his gestures he demanded silence,
and his powerful alarum was worn out by its violent reports.
No attention, however, was paid to his request. He was presently
torn from his seat and passed from the hands of his faithful
colleagues into the arms of a no less excited crowd.
Nothing can astound an American. It has often been asserted
that the word "impossible" in not a French one. People have
evidently been deceived by the dictionary. In America, all is
easy, all is simple; and as for mechanical difficulties, they
are overcome before they arise. Between Barbicane's proposition
and its realization no true Yankee would have allowed even the
semblance of a difficulty to be possible. A thing with them is
no sooner said than done.
The triumphal progress of the president continued throughout
the evening. It was a regular torchlight procession. Irish, Germans,
French, Scotch, all the heterogeneous units which make up the
population of Maryland shouted in their respective vernaculars;
and the "vivas," "hurrahs," and "bravos" were intermingled in
Just at this crisis, as though she comprehended all this
agitation regarding herself, the moon shone forth with
serene splendor, eclipsing by her intense illumination all the
surrounding lights. The Yankees all turned their gaze toward
her resplendent orb, kissed their hands, called her by all kinds
of endearing names. Between eight o'clock and midnight one
optician in Jones'-Fall Street made his fortune by the sale of
Midnight arrived, and the enthusiasm showed no signs of diminution.
It spread equally among all classes of citizens-- men of science,
shopkeepers, merchants, porters, chair-men, as well as "greenhorns,"
were stirred in their innermost fibres. A national enterprise was
at stake. The whole city, high and low, the quays bordering the
Patapsco, the ships lying in the basins, disgorged a crowd drunk
with joy, gin, and whisky. Every one chattered, argued, discussed,
disputed, applauded, from the gentleman lounging upon the barroom
settee with his tumbler of sherry-cobbler before him down to the
waterman who got drunk upon his "knock-me-down" in the dingy taverns
of Fell Point.
About two A.M., however, the excitement began to subside.
President Barbicane reached his house, bruised, crushed, and
squeezed almost to a mummy. Hercules could not have resisted a
similar outbreak of enthusiasm. The crowd gradually deserted
the squares and streets. The four railways from Philadelphia
and Washington, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Wheeling, which converge at
Baltimore, whirled away the heterogeneous population to the four
corners of the United States, and the city subsided into
On the following day, thanks to the telegraphic wires, five
hundred newspapers and journals, daily, weekly, monthly, or
bi-monthly, all took up the question. They examined it under
all its different aspects, physical, meteorological, economical,
or moral, up to its bearings on politics or civilization.
They debated whether the moon was a finished world, or whether
it was destined to undergo any further transformation. Did it
resemble the earth at the period when the latter was destitute
as yet of an atmosphere? What kind of spectacle would its hidden
hemisphere present to our terrestrial spheroid? Granting that
the question at present was simply that of sending a projectile
up to the moon, every one must see that that involved the
commencement of a series of experiments. All must hope that
some day America would penetrate the deepest secrets of that
mysterious orb; and some even seemed to fear lest its conquest
should not sensibly derange the equilibrium of Europe.
The project once under discussion, not a single paragraph
suggested a doubt of its realization. All the papers,
pamphlets, reports-- all the journals published by the
scientific, literary, and religious societies enlarged upon its
advantages; and the Society of Natural History of Boston, the
Society of Science and Art of Albany, the Geographical and
Statistical Society of New York, the Philosophical Society of
Philadelphia, and the Smithsonian of Washington sent innumerable
letters of congratulation to the Gun Club, together with offers
of immediate assistance and money.
From that day forward Impey Barbicane became one of the greatest
citizens of the United States, a kind of Washington of science.
A single trait of feeling, taken from many others, will serve to
show the point which this homage of a whole people to a single
Some few days after this memorable meeting of the Gun Club, the
manager of an English company announced, at the Baltimore
theatre, the production of "Much ado about Nothing." But the
populace, seeing in that title an allusion damaging to
Barbicane's project, broke into the auditorium, smashed the
benches, and compelled the unlucky director to alter his playbill.
Being a sensible man, he bowed to the public will and replaced
the offending comedy by "As you like it"; and for many weeks he
realized fabulous profits.
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