'Other Worlds'

Posted by September Blue Saturday, 24 March 2007

(Temple Bar, August 1861, by a 'Mortimer Collins'.)

Other worlds. Those planets evermore
On their golden orbits swiftly glide on –
From quick Hermes by the solar shore
To remote Poseidon.

Are they like this earth? The glory shed
From the ruddy dawn's unfading portals –
Does it fall on regions tenanted
By a race of mortals?

Are there merry maidens, wicked-eyed
Peeping slyly through the cottage lattice?
Have they vintage-bearing countries wide?
Have they oyster-patties?

Have they silent shady forest-realms,
Odorous violets that in grassy nooks hide,
Aged oaks and great ancestral elms
Growing by the brookside?

Does a mighty ocean roar and break
On dark rocks and sandy shores fantastic?
Have they any Darwins there to make
Theories elastic?

Have they landscapes that would set a flat alight
With their beauty? Have they snow-necked clerici?
Poets who be-rhyme each whirling satellite?
Dr. Temple's heresy?

Does their weather change? November fog –
Weeping April – March with many a raw gust?
And do thunder and demented dog
Come to them in August?

Nineteenth-century science should unravel
All these queries, but has somehow missed 'em.
When will it be possible to travel
Through the solar system?

Darwin published The Origin Of Species in 1859; 'Dr. Temple' is Frederick Temple, an Anglican bishop (later Archbishop of Canterbury), whose 'heresy' was the publication of an essay in an 1860 collection titled Essays and Reviews. The controversy over Essays and Reviews, in which a group of liberal Anglicans directly challenged Anglican doctrine, was huge enough to overshadow the debates over Darwin. Ten thousand 'snow-necked clerici' signed a petition of protest, and two of the other contributors were tried for heresy.

Mortimer Collins would have to wait another thirty-five years for the first real depiction of solar system travel, when H. G. Wells' Martians, their intellects (say it with us, Richard Burton) 'vast and cool and unsympathetic', arrived on Earth.