Our Man in the Moone – 1

An elderly man sits by an open window looking out at the moon. It is summer, and the evening air is sweet with hay and blossom. Across the meadow, he can hear the Teme’s gentle progress and far off, the warning call of a goose. The man is Francis Godwin, Bishop of Hereford, and he has left the heat and dirt of the city for Whitbourne; for his summer palace with its cool rooms and clean, rush-strewn floors. He would like to take a walk by the river in the moonlight, but his joints are stiff and his feet swollen with the dropsy. His body is rooted in this place, at this time, the year of our Lord 1632*, but as he stares up at the moon, he wonders whether there might be other ways to roam: he has a fine, sharp mind, an imagination he has chained for too long. He allows that mind to wander away from Herefordshire and all the tethers of duty; to rise above England with its quarrelsome King and his Catholic wife; above the Earth and onwards, light as a swan feather, towards the high bright moon.

The Man in the Moone – One

Dear Reader, allow me to introduce myself: Domingo Gonsales, nobleman and adventurer, a proud Spaniard of the true Catholic faith. I am a short man but I have proved myself the equal of anyone for bravery and resourcefulness so please read on, and you will discover my extraordinary story. 

I was born in Seville in 1552 and was studying for the Church until I heard news of the Duke of Alva’s expedition to the Low Countries to quell the heretical Protestant rebels. I sold my books and belongings, borrowed twenty ducats which bought me a little nag, and travelled thriftily (at least for a nobleman of my status) until – you will be appalled to hear – I was attacked near Antwerp by a pack of cursed Calvinist Sea Beggars! They took my horse and money and, thus prevented from joining the Duke, I had no choice but to enter the service of a Frenchman. My detractors gave out that I was his horse-keeper’s boy, but my place was honourable and my Frenchman was very glad to have a Spaniard of my quality about him. He furnished me with a fine horse, and armour, and put me to service writing his letters (after I had mastered the French tongue, a task I accomplished swiftly as I have a talent for languages as you will see). If I did indeed dress my own horse now and then – what of it!  I will stand up to anyone who mocks me for it.

As I told you, I am a resourceful fellow and was soon out of service and off to the Duke of Alva again. It happened like this, dear Reader: I encountered an enemy horseman, a lusty tall fellow, and contrived to shoot his horse so that it fell on his leg. Although he called for mercy, I viewed it as my duty to my King and country to ensure my own safety and dispatched him there and then as he lay pinned on the ground, most courageously. He carried a fat purse of crowns and when I reached the Duke’s court and showed this round as my own, the nobles were ready enough to know me. The Duke took me into his service, and favoured me, although he enjoyed jesting about the smallness of my person more than I found palatable. After all, my size is the work of God and should not be dishonoured, and I am living proof that great and wonderful things may be performed by the most unlikely bodies, if the mind is good and the person has the blessing of our Lord.

Well, I framed myself as best I could to stomach the Duke’s merriments and journeyed with him back to Spain.  By the time I was reunited with my parents my funds had increased to some three thousand crowns and in seeing this, my mother and father suddenly lost their displeasure that I had abandoned my studies to go to war and greeted me with great joy. They found me a wife in the daughter of a wealthy Lisbon merchant to swell my fortune further and I lived then in Spain, well and most contented for many years.

Dear Reader, fate intervened in my fortunes again. I fell out with a kinsman and this disagreement grew until we went alone to fight it out to the death with our rapiers. The likelihood of victory was against me, as he was a man of great strength and tall stature, but what I lacked in height and power I supplied with courage, and my nimbleness outranked his size. I killed him and found myself forced to flee to Lisbon as an outlaw, lurking in hiding until I might seek an acquittal.

In this year of 1596, a certain Spanish Count returned from the West Indies and became the accidental cause of my later adventures and the means of eternalising the name of Domingo Gonsales for ever! Read on, dear Reader, and you will learn of my discoveries.  You will see men fly from place to place in the air; you will be able (without the movement or work of any creature) to see messages sent in an instant many miles off and receive answer again immediately; you will be able to tell your thoughts to your friend even when you are remote from them. Reader, you will be told of so many wonders, but far, far above these, you will learn of a New World more incredible than all the ancient and modern philosophers could ever have dreamed of.

I have burned to tell my tales for so long, but one should always, in these dangerous times, be circumspect. I have waited until the statesmen pronounced how the knowledge and use of such matters might stand with the policy of our country. I have waited until the Fathers of the Church assessed whether the publication of my discoveries might prove prejudicial to the true Catholic faith. Of course, my only motivation in telling my story is to further the common good and I have no expectation of glory or of any temporal, less honourable, reward, but I know I might be misjudged and felt it wise to be discreet.  

But, dear Reader, to go forward now with my narration. You will remember that I had killed a man in a duel? Well, the Spanish Count, late of the Indies, made much of this man’s death, insisting he was beloved kin to him, although he made it clear that if I were to give him a thousand ducats, his grief might be lessened enough to stop seeking vengeance. I disliked the thought of beggaring my wife and two sons and decided on a different course. I found a carrack bound for the East Indies and, taking two thousand ducats with me, escaped him and voyaged off to trade.

            I prospered very well in the Indies and spent my stock of coins on jewels which I sent home and heard that they had yielded ten times the purchase price. I followed after them but fell grievously ill and would, I think, have died on the ship had we not reached the paradise of St Helena.

It is a miracle of nature that such a little piece of land as St Helena should arise in the middle of a huge and tempestuous ocean. It has a very good harbour on the south side, and many Portuguese buildings, including a pretty chapel with a tower and a bell. There is a fresh brook nearby, and walks lined with oranges trees, and lemons, vines: all the fruit one might imagine, except apples. There are garden herbs and vegetables and crops – and so many animals: domesticated cattle, fowls, goats, swine, sheep and horses, and game birds beyond imagining. I was most interested in a certain type of wild swan – which become essential to my tale, as you will see – that are numerous in the months of February and March, but which then vanish in the manner of our own cuckoos and nightingales and are no more to be seen.

I was set ashore on this island with a blackamoor servant, Diego, to attend me, and I rested for a year recovering my health. Diego lived at the west end of the island in a cave so that we could have separate hunting areas. If one had a lean patch, the other would invite him to dine, and we soon needed a system of communication. I tamed a team of partridges and a fox, using them as messengers to Diego with notes tied round their necks. Eventually, I made Diego move to a promontory on the north west part of the island, within sight of my house and the chapel and we signalled to each other using a system of my invention and this, dear Reader, was the first of my intelligent devices, as you will see.

And, at this, Bishop Godwin puts down his pen and rubs his eyes. It is late. He has voyaged far with Gonsales on this moonlit night and his mind is filled with the roar of the sea against the bows of a carrack, the lush scents of fruit trees on an island in an ocean. He wonders where his little Spanish Catholic has come from: is there some part of himself that cleaves to the old religion? When he was a student and the Armada breasted the Channel, had he secretly yearned for the enemy to win? He has no answers and thinks perhaps that he should destroy the pages he has written – but then, he thinks of the proud little Spaniard in his puffed doublet and hose and is not ready to bid farewell. But old age has made him wary. He thinks of the burnings and denouncements of the last decades, still so alive in old memories. He thinks of the change stirring now in England’s fragile calm. He thinks how his imaginings must be hidden. He blots the paper and conceals it within the pages of an ancient ledger and brushes it gently with dust. Gonsales is wise. One should always, in dangerous times, be circumspect.

* We have no way of knowing exactly when Godwin wrote his book, but it is believed it was towards the end of his life.

Our Man in the Moone – 2

Sleep can be an elusive companion for an old man. Godwin wakes, as he often wakes now, too early, when the mist is low upon the Teme and birdsong is swelling into chorus. His mind is unquiet: for the first time in his long life he is beginning to question the path he has chosen. In 1596, when Gonsales was deserting his studies to go to war with the Duke of Alva, what had he, Francis Godwin, been doing? He remembers his life then, secreted with his books in a room in Exeter, milky light coming cold through a high window to mottle the soft vellum under his fingers. His course had been marked early: the son of a Bishop, the husband of a Bishop’s daughter. It had been the safest life he could make, solid in the established church, scratching away at his staid Catalogue of the Bishops of England to make his reputation with the Queen.  He wonders if there might have been another way if he’d had the courage to look for it. But now at long last he is taking a risk so contrary to the tenor of his life; his heart flutters when he thinks of the dangers of his enterprise. He picks up his pen, lowers it, raises it again and writes. Little Gonsales struts and preens and catches at his imagination and he will not let him go.

The Man in the Moone – Two.

Dear Reader, you left me puzzling over how I might communicate with my servant Diego. Well, at night, I set up a light in the bell tower: a large room, white-washed inside and well glassed so that even a small lamp reflected over a great distance. Diego also had a lamp and I devised a code of covering and uncovering the lights to signal our thoughts and intentions. In daylight, we used smoke or dust, and I decided that this system might prove very profitable for mankind if used rightly, as a message might dispatch in an hour where a messenger would have taken days. In truth, I am an extraordinarily intelligent and resourceful man.

            The wild swans I mentioned before fed on fish and birds and were odd creatures with one foot bearing talons, and the other built webbed, as a normal water fowl. I took some thirty or forty young of these birds, and reared them by hand, partly for my own recreation and partly because I already had the germ of an idea how to use them. I taught them to come to me on the signal of a white cloth, and by the time they were three months old I began to train them to fly with cargos, and if Diego called them by raising a white sheet, they would carry bread or meat to him, and would return to me similarly loaded.

            I began to wonder whether these birds might be joined together to bear a greater burden, even, to enable a man to be carried in the air safely. I experimented but found that unless they could be prevailed upon to rise all at once, the first to rise would be discouraged at the great weight and give up. I used my ingenuity and soon devised a machine of pulleys and corks trying it out with a live lamb, and how I envied it as the first living creature to make such a flight!

            I yearned to be carried into the air myself and to have the honour of being the first man to fly. I told Diego that the Gansas – as I was now calling my swans – would not be strong enough to carry him as he was at least twice my weight. So instead, I placed myself and all my valuable goods on the top of a rock at the mouth of the river, asked Diego to signal them with the sheet, and my birds – some twenty-five in number – rose as one and carried me over to him, around a quarter of a league distance.

            How my heart swelled with joy and admiration at my own invention! How often did I wish myself back in Spain then so that I might fill the world with the fame of my glory and renown! Every hour I longed for the Spanish fleet to arrive and take me home with them, but they were delayed, and then as their carracks were weather-beaten and their crew sick and weak, they stayed to refresh themselves on our island for one whole month, and I had to subdue my impatience, and wait.

            I confided the details of my flying engine device and Gansas to the Admiral of the fleet, being the only way to persuade him to allow so many large and greedy birds on board his ship. There was a risk that he might murder me and claim to our noble King that the invention was his own but if I had left my birds behind, I am sure I would never have found their like in all Christendom again. In the event, I was never to know how he might have used me before we arrived in Spain as we were intercepted, with disastrous results.

            On Thursday 21st June 1599, we embarked on our journey, but after two months at sea, we encountered an English fleet some ten leagues from the island of Tenerife. Our Spanish fleet carried five times the number of men and was well provided with munitions, yet we thought it wiser to flee – not to save our own lives (which a man of courage like Domino Gonsales cares nothing of) but the estates of many poor merchants. Our fleet then consisted of five ships: three carracks, one barque and one caravel. The English had three.

            The English made a play for us and our Captain unwisely commanded the fleet to disperse. The caravel turned too hastily and damaged one of the carracks enough for the English to easily catch and enter her. The caravel sank, the barque escaped, another carrack was taken and then we came under attack. Our Captain gave direction to run aground on Tenerife saying that he preferred to save some of our lives and some of the goods and lose the rest, rather than surrender and commit all to the mercy of the enemy.

            The sea was high, and I knew that the coast was full of hidden rocks so that our vessel could not hope to come near land before being torn into fragments. I tried to persuade the Captain to try the mercy of the enemy rather than lose his own life and those of so many brave men. He would not listen, and so I decided I had to shift for myself.

            I concealed my jewels in my sleeve, harnessed the Gansas to my engine and climbed onto it, trusting (as indeed it happily fell out) that when the ship split my birds would not wait for their white sheet signal and would think to save their own lives and take off towards the land.  When the carrack struck a rock and split, I loosened my birds’ reins and at the shock of the impact they all rose and carried me to land on the Island of Tenerife. 

            Now, I had pitched upon that part of the island where their famous high mountain El Pico begins to rise, and the slopes of this country are inhabited by a savage kind of people. Hours after my landing, they spied me, and, thinking me a great prize, made for me as fast as they could bearing long staves and weapons. Dear Reader, I knew that they were intent on cutting me into a thousand pieces.

            I spied a white cliff on the side of the mountain which I hoped my Gansas might see as a signal and take off towards so that I might escape, so as quickly as I could, I put myself back on my engine and loosed the reins of the Gansas and they all took off in one direction. But what then? Prick up your ears, prepare yourself to listen to the strangest chance that ever fell to any mortal man!

            My Gansas, like so many horses with the bit between their teeth, made not towards the cliff I’d aimed at but took me to the top of El Pico – some fifteen leagues above the level of the sea. When we set down, my poor Gansas fell to panting and blowing and gasping for breath so that I was afraid they might die. I thought it best to not trouble them for a while and had no notion of what would follow.

            It was now the season that these Gansas were wont to take their flight away for the winter and I realised later that they must have been mindful of their usual voyage. As I prepared to unharness them they rose up, and having no higher place from the mountain top to make toward, to my unspeakable fear and amazement they struck bolt upright – and never left soaring up and up for the space of one whole hour. Towards the end of this time I saw that they were labouring less and less until – O incredible thing! – they stopped moving their wings but remained in the air as steady as if they were on so many perches. The reins slackened, but neither the engine nor I moved at all, merely stayed still as if we had no manner of weight. I found then by this experience that which no philosopher had ever dreamed of: that those things that we call ‘heavy’ do not sink towards the centre of the Earth but rather are drawn by a secret property of the globe of the Earth, just as lodestone draws iron. This was indeed a wonderful thing to know, but, O Reader, what magic there was to come!

Bishop Godwin is brought back to land by his servant’s step on the stairs. It is a surprise, to hear the creaks and groans of the old house breaking into the activities of the day when he is so far away.  He thinks of Gonsales and Diego signalling across the bay and wonders whether he has wasted his God-given brain and its capacity for invention – for how might this system have helped armies to win battles and save lives? He feels his shoulders tense and shrugs to ease them. His gut is large and heavy, and he thinks what a thing it must be to soar free of this earth and fly. He closes his eyes and drifts up until he is high on a mountain, lashed to a device balanced on the snowy summit. He feels frost nip his nose and the beating of  swans’ wings fills the thin pale air. 

Our Man in the Moone – 3

From his bed chamber window, Bishop Godwin can see an orchard to the west, beyond the kitchen garden. The apple blossom has faded now, and Godwin knows the fruit will be forming, small nuggets of green flourishing under the English sun. His St Helena had no apples – there was no need to dream them when he has made his home in a county of orchards. He has told his household that he is tired and needs a rest from the heat of the day, but he is becoming a dissembler as his skill at the telling of fables grows. In truth, Gonsales is calling him for how can the traveller voyage on without Godwin’s imagination to conjure his path? They are becoming intertwined, these two, and when Godwin looks in his glass he feels surprise to see the greying English face of an old man.

The Man in the Moone  – Three

My Gansas stayed unmoving without the support of anything other than the air but were still carried swiftly along – and I could not tell whether it was upward, downward or sidelong: all seemed the same. The swiftness of the motion almost stopped my breath: If I were to liken it to an arrow shot from a bow, or a stone cast down from a high tower it would come vastly short of it. Truly, I must confess that the horror and amazement of that place was such that if I had not been armed with a true noble Spanish courage and resolution, I would certainly have died of fright!

And then, dear Reader, more horror! The illusion of devils and wicked spirits – in the likenesses of men and women – came about me in great numbers and enticed me to become one of their fraternity and make covenants with their master (whom they would not name). If I agreed, I should not only be brought safely to my home but would have the command of all earthly pleasures there, at all times, for the rest of my days. I mistrusted them but did not dare to openly refuse their offer: I stalled for time, and asked them to help me with some food so that I did not starve – although I felt no hunger and indeed, my Gansas likewise had had ample opportunity to seize many kinds of insects and birds but I never saw them feed on anything at all.

The devils brought me various sorts of flesh and fish, well dressed; exceedingly fresh and without salt. I also tasted wine there, as good as any in Spain, and beer as good as any in Antwerp.  I dared to decline their offer and eventually was rid of them, having filled my pockets with as many victuals as I could pack in, including a little bottle of good Canary wine.

As I flew on, I could see the clouds spread under me and the Earth below them. It seemed always day, and the stars never altered, not shining brightly and then disappearing, as we see them from Earth, but always a whitish colour, like that of the moon in daytime. Those stars I saw were at least ten times larger than we see them from Earth, and the moon appeared fearfully huge to me.       

            Dear Reader, some observations about this space: stars only appeared on that part of the hemisphere that was next to the moon, and the nearer they were to her, the more of them there seemed. I’d perceived that my Gansas were taking a route directly towards the moon and that when we rested we were either carried without obvious motion around the globe of the Earth or we stayed static and parallel to the Earth, and the Earth itself was carried about, turning perpetually from West to East. The air in that place was quiet and windless, and temperate, neither hot nor cold. I had never thought the speculation of the philosophers that the air above the Earth contains both heat and moisture any more than a fancy, and I was proved right. Lastly, it must be remembered that after my departure from the Earth I never felt any hunger or thirst. I cannot tell why, but so I found it and I remained in perfect health and strength of body and mind – indeed, even above my usual vigour.

            My Gansas pressed on, still directing their course toward the moon. They moved so swiftly I believe they gained fifty leagues each hour and, in that passage, I noted three remarkable things:

            The first, that the further we went, the lesser the globe of the Earth appeared to us whereas the moon showed more and more monstrously huge. The second, that the Earth masked itself with a kind of brightness like another moon, and even as we on Earth discern certain spots on the moon, so did I then in the Earth. But whereas those moon spots continue constantly the same, the spots on the Earth changed every hour. I believe that the Earth’s natural motion is to turn on her own axis every twenty-four hours from West to East (as Copernicus tells us). I saw at first in the body of the Earth, a shape like a pear with a morsel bitten from one side. After a while, I saw that shape slide away to the east revealing the African coast; then came a great shining brightness in the space, which was undoubtedly the Atlantic Ocean. After that came a spot almost oval in shape, as we see America to be on our maps. Then, another vast clearness representing the West Ocean, and lastly, a medley of spots like the countries of the East Indies. So that then it seemed to me that the Earth was nothing other than a huge mathematical globe, turning so that I was able to see within the space of twenty-four hours all the countries and oceans of our world. And this turning was the only way I had of measuring the days and reckoning time.

            Now, reader, philosophers and mathematicians have made the world believe that the Earth has no motion, and to make their hypothesis fit, they attribute to all the celestial bodies two motions quite contrary to each other: one is from the East to the West to be performed in twenty-four hours and the other from West to East. They expect us to believe this? That the huge bodies of the highest stars fixed within the celestial spheres, each more than one hundred times as big as the entire Earth, should be as so many nails in a cart wheel, to be whirled about in the short space of a day and night? Whereas, in fact, it is many thousands of years (no less, I believe, than thirty thousand) before the celestial orb finishes his course from West to East. These philosophers are wilful and blind; their theories are absurd.

The moon rotates in twenty-seven days; the Sun, Venus or Mercury in a year or thereabouts; Mars in three years, Jupiter in twelve years and Saturn in thirty: each one has his single and proper motion. I will not go as far as Copernicus in making the sun the centring point of the Earth, and unmoveable, and I will not be positive about anything apart from saying that the Earth has a natural motion – and my eyes can now testify this to be true.  

            But, dear Reader, let me apologise. I promised you a history, and I have fallen into philosophising. Let me return to my story and tell you of another matter worthy of special mention. During the time of my journey I saw a reddish cloud approaching which was revealed to be a huge swarm of locusts. Those who have read the writings of learned men concerning locusts will know how they are seen in the air for many days before they fall upon a country, and I know now that these creatures come from the globe of the moon.

            I passed on my journey for eleven or twelve days, carried all the while directly to the moon with such a violent whirling and speed that cannot be expressed – most strange given that my Gansas moved their wings only now and then. They held them stretched out, and as eagles and kites will sometimes do when they rest upon the air and I believe my Gansas took their naps then, for I never saw them sleep at any other time.

            As for myself, I was bound so fast to my engine I took my rest with ease, sleeping as easily – although this will seem incredible – as if I were in the best feather bed in Antwerp.

            Eventually, we neared the globe of the Moon. The first difference between it and our Earth was that it showed itself in its natural colours – whereas with the Earth, we are only removed from it a league or so before it appears as a lurid blue. I perceived also that the moon was covered for the most part with a mighty sea, the dry land being those pieces we see from Earth as darker than the rest of the moon’s body and which the country people call ‘the Man in the Moon’. As for that part which shines so clearly in our eyes, it is another ocean, sprinkled here and there with islands which are so small we cannot discern them from Earth. So, in truth, that splendour that appears to us and gives light to our night, appears to be nothing other than the reflection of sunbeams off water, as out of a glass. Again, how badly this chimes with that which the philosophers teach in their schools and how I, Gonsales, have proved them wrong.

The hour is small. The moon is stark white against the jewelled sky and Godwin feels it must have dazzled him into dreaming up these strange and uninvited visions of demons, these convictions about the sun and its stars. He wonders whether he has made a pact with the Devil in a moment of abstraction: that he, like Doctor Faust, has bargained his soul for knowledge. For he has seen the future: messages instant in time and men flying through the air and friends sharing thoughts from afar, and he does not know how this prophecy came. Had Copernicus or Galileo flown towards the moon as he has and seen the Earth and its land and oceans set out below? He feels shame, for if they had, they were braver men than he, facing the wrath of the Church and the mockery of others whilst he skulks in his chamber and hides his thoughts in a ledger and tells no one.  

Our Man in the Moone – 4

The English sun is gentle in the late afternoon, but Godwin barely sees the slanting light laying shadows across the ground. He treads heavily along straight paths of sand, between clipped box and through arbours sweet with white roses. He does not hear the bees fussing around the lavender, the whirr of the turtle dove beyond the moat. He is not here, in this peaceful garden by the river. He is flying to the moon.

The Man in the Moone – Four

Dear Reader, eventually, we landed. On Tuesday the eleventh day of September my Gansas set me down upon the top of a very high hill in that other world of the moon, where I was immediately presented with many most strange and unusual sights.

I first observed that although the Earth showed much bigger from the moon than the moon does to us on Earth, perhaps three times the diameter, yet every feature on the moon was larger: ten, twenty, perhaps thirty times as great. Their trees were at least three times as high and more than five times the breadth and thickness. So was their vegetation, and their birds and beasts, although most of their species did not resemble ours. Only swallows and nightingales, cuckoos, woodcocks, bats and some kinds of wild fowl, including my Gansas which, I now know, spend the seasons they are not with us on Earth up in their other habitat, the moon.

As soon as we landed, I was surprised with a ravenous hunger. I fastened my engine and my Gansas to a tree and set about searching my pockets for the victuals the devils had given me. But, to my great amazement and discomfort, I did not find the partridge and capon I’d reserved there but a mingle mangle of dry leaves, goats’ hair, sheep or goats’ dung, moss and similar rubbish. As for my Canary wine, it was turned to a stinking and filthy kind of liquor like the urine of a beast. 

Now, while I stood musing and wondering at this strange metamorphosis, my Gansas fell greedily upon a shrub which they could reach within the constraints of their harness. I put a leaf of this shrub between my teeth and cannot express the pleasure I found in the taste, and if I had not moderated my appetite, I would have gorged on it far too much. As it was, it contented my birds, and my own requirements, at a time we all had need of good refreshment.

I had scarcely ended this banquet when I was surrounded by people whose features, demeanour and apparel were most strange. Their stature varied but was generally twice the height of ours. Their colour and countenance were most pleasing, and their clothing was extraordinary.  I had never seen the kind of cloth, silk or other material that their garments were made of, nor can I find words to describe the colour of their clothing – and all were clothed the same. It was neither black nor white, yellow nor red, green nor blue, nor any colour composed of these. It was a colour never seen in our earthly world and not easily imagined. In truth, there was nothing that more delighted me during my stay in that new world of the moon than the vision of that most resplendent colour.

Dear reader, it remains to me now to speak of the demeanour of these people, who startled me so much with their sudden arrival and remarkable appearance that I crossed myself and cried out, ‘Jesus Maria!’ As soon as the word ‘Jesus’ was out of my mouth, all, young and old, fell down upon their knees (at which I rejoiced not a little at their reduction in height being somewhat overshadowed until now), held up both their hands on high and repeated words which I could not understand. When they all arose, the tallest of them embraced me with great kindness and took me by the hand to his dwelling, some half a league from where I had first alighted.

            It was a building of such immense size and beauty that none in our world can be compared to it, although against those I saw afterwards it would appear as a mere cottage. There was not a door less than thirty feet high or twelve feet wide. The rooms were between forty and fifty feet high – indeed, they had to be as the master who inhabited them was twenty-eight feet tall. As for the inhabitant’s weight, if we had him here to weigh him against our own, he must have weighed at least twenty-five times as much, perhaps thirty.

            After I had rested with him for the equivalent of one of our days, he led me some five leagues off to the palace of the Prince of the country, a man taller than my host, called ‘Pylonas’, which signifies ‘First’ in their language, and denotes his dignity and authority, the prime man in that area of the moon. I discovered there was one supreme monarch of the Lunars, a man of even greater stature, who commanded over the entirety of the moon. He had under him twenty-nine other princes of great power, and each of these commanded over twenty-four more, of which my host Prince Pylonas was one. The people relate that the first ancestor of this great monarch came from the Earth and by marrying with the heiress of the Lunar monarchy obtained government over the moon, and his descendants hold it still, after forty thousand days or moons, around 3077 years.

            This first ancestor’s name was Irdonozur and his heirs assume the same name. They say that he lived and reigned there for nearly four hundred moons and, having begotten various children, returned (by which means they do not tell) to Earth again. I expect that they have their invented fables, as do we, and because our histories make no mention of any earthly man to have been in the Lunar world before me, and much less to have returned home again, I struggle to treat their myths as anything other than false and fantastical. Yet, on the other hand, I must tell you that learning is greatly prized by them and they seem to detest all lying and falsehood, which is severely punished, and so this perhaps may yield some credence to their histories after all.

            Many of them live for a wonderfully long time. Some told me that they were thirty thousand moons old, which amounts to upwards of a thousand years and perhaps some reach back to the time of the first Irdonozur. Generally, I noted that the taller people are, the more excellent are their minds and the longer they live. Their heights are diverse with some scarcely taller than we are – and these smaller moon-men seldom live above a thousand moons, which equals to eighty of our years. They are also thought of as base creatures, little better than beasts, and the tall people employ them to do all the most servile tasks, calling them by a word which means ‘bastard-men’, counterfeits, or changelings. Those who are accounted true, genuine and natural Lunars exceed the others generally thirty times in both body size and longevity, and this fits with the length of their days as theirs contain some thirty of ours.

            Now, dear Reader, we travelled to the palace of Pylonas in the most extraordinary way: before we set off, we were each given two feather fans, not unlike those that our Spanish ladies carry to cool themselves in the heat of the summer. The moon is not altogether lacking a pull of attraction like the Earth, but it is so much weaker than ours that if a man springs upward with all his force (as dancers do) he can ascend for some fifty or sixty feet to beyond the pull of the moon’s surface and then cannot fall, so by using these fans as wings, the Lunars can convey themselves in the air wherever they please.

            In two hours, we were carried five leagues – a group of around sixty of us altogether. My host gained audience with Prince Pylonas and told him that he had brought him a splendid present – me! – and I was called in by the Prince’s attendants. I judged his greatness from the stateliness of his palace, and the reverence done to him, and framed myself to win his favour as best I might. You may remember that I told you of a certain little casket of jewels, the remainder of those I had brought out of the East Indies? Well, I took these out of my pocket before I was called in and choosing some of each variety, I made them ready to be presented.

Godwin runs his hand over the embroidered cloth on his table and thinks of the splendour of the Lunar people; the shimmering of their clothing, the swish of fabric around statuesque limbs. His garments have always been fusty black. He wonders how it would have been to wear silks and velvets and lace, to glitter as the King’s courtiers do and dazzle like the strange creatures of his imagination. He cannot sleep and readies his pen. He must hurry to the moon whilst he is still able: before he is discovered or the weakness of age creeps through his veins.

Our Man in the Moone – 5

The summer is dying. The meadows along the Teme are pale and dusty, and there is a slow heat in the air. Bishop Godwin has been ill with an ague that caused his family to journey to Whitbourne and keep company with him while they could. They sent for a physician and confided that Godwin has grown distracted: he does not eat, he seems scarcely aware of where he is. They think he is deaf, but his hearing is sharp, and he hears talk of second childishness and canker of the mind. He is prescribed leeches. A light diet of soup and jellies. The banishment of sunlight. When they come to his chamber he pretends to sleep and they leave him alone, creeping out as if he were a dog of uncertain temper. When his sickness fades, his sons give him news. The Archbishop of Canterbury is rarely seen and Bishop Laud is in the ascendant. There will be change, they say, and trouble. In London, there are pamphlets, and fervent talk; Mr van Dyck is knighted for the fealty of his brushstrokes; the theatres are surging with life. But there are men, too, in sober suits and linen collars, who cut their hair and grow open with their disgust. Bishop Godwin nods and listens, but these matters are less real to him now than the adventures of his mind. If he has talked of these things in his fever, they will be watching him for madness and he thinks again how he must be careful.

The Man in the Moone – Five

Now, Dear Reader, we return to Prince Pylonas. I found him sitting in a most magnificent chair of state, with his Queen on one side and his eldest son on the other, both with many attendants. All along the side of the room stood a great number of nobles, of which scarcely any were shorter than Pylonas, whose age they say is now twenty-one thousand moons. When I entered, I fell down upon my knees and thought to speak to him of our Lord in Latin: propitious sit tibi Princeps Illustrissime Dominus noster Jesus Christus etc. As with the people I’d met already, so they, King, Queen and all the rest, on hearing the holy name of our saviour, fell down upon their knees too. When they had risen again, I proceeded thus: et Maria Salvatoris Genetrix, Petrus et Paulus etc. and then ran through a number of saints to see if there were any one saint whom they honoured as their patron. At last I chanced upon St Martin, and they all bowed their bodies and held up their hands in a gesture of great reverence as Martin, in their language, signifies God. Then, taking out my prepared jewels, I presented seven stones to the Prince: a diamond, a ruby, an emerald, a sapphire, a topaz, a turquoise and an opal, which he accepted with great joy and admiration as having not seen any such before.

            Then I offered some others to the Queen and Prince and was about to bestow more on other people present when Pylonas forbade them to accept, thinking (I afterwards learned) that they were all I had and wanting them to be reserved for Irdonozur his sovereign.

            After this, he embraced me with great kindness and began to ask me questions by way of signing and gesturing, which I answered with signs and the truth as best I could. Where I had come from, how I had arrived on the moon, what my name was, what my purpose was and such like. He gave me a guard of a hundred or so of his ‘giants’ and commanded them to ensure I might have everything I required, to not allow any of the ‘dwarf’ lunars near me, and to teach me their language as quickly as possible.

            It seemed that I was in a veritable paradise, although I was not so overcome with pleasure that I did not think often and sadly of my wife and children. And because of this, and willing to foster any small spark of hope of my return, I took charge of the attendance of my Gansas and tended them myself each day with great care. Fortunately, other men learned their care as well, for the time approached when all people of my stature – including me – had to sleep for a stretch of some thirteen days.

            In that place, by some secret and irresistible natural power, when the day begins to appear and the moon is lightened by sun beams (which is at the first quarter of the moon), all people who are human height and stature fall into a deep sleep and cannot be woken until the sun is set and withdrawn from their sight. Even as owls and bats on Earth cannot endure the daylight, so we on the moon are dazed by it and fall immediately asleep until the light departs again at the last quarter of the moon.

            Now, can I hear a curious reader demanding to know what light there might be in the world of the moon? Well, there are two sorts of light: one of the sun and another of the Earth. That of the Earth was now at the highest, like a full moon with us, and as the light of the moon increases with us, so the light of the Earth decreases with them. I found the light there, (although the sun was absent), similar in quality to ours as it is in the daytime when the sun is covered by clouds. But towards the quarter, it diminishes a little at a time until it leaves a strange but functional light.

            Strangely, in the other hemisphere of the moon (the one opposite to the one I had happened on), they do not see the sun and the Earth never appears to them, but they still have a kind of light (not unlike our moonlight, as they describe it) which comes from the nearness to them of the stars and other planets.

            Now, my Readers, to tell more about the Lunar people. There are three degrees of them: some a little taller than we, perhaps ten or twelve feet high, who must sleep when the Earth and sun both shine as they cannot endure the beams of both.  Others are twenty feet or so, who can ordinarily endure all light, both Earth and sun. There are also on a certain island – the mysteries of which none may know – men whose stature is at least twenty-seven feet high and if any other person lands there in the moon’s day time, they will fall asleep immediately. They call this God’s Island, or Insula Martini in their language, and it has a Governor named Hiruch who is 65,000 moons of age, around 5,000 of our years.

            There is another high Lunar, Imozes, who visits the island a great deal – he commands (throughout the whole moon) in all matters of religion as absolutely as our holy Father, the Pope.

            When it was time for me to settle myself to sleep, my attendants took charge of my birds, prepared my lodgings and signed to me what would happen. It was about the middle of September, and I perceived the air to grow more clear than ordinarily, and with the increasing of the light I began to feel myself at first dull, then heavy and wanting to sleep, although I had been sleeping generally well on the moon. At last, I delivered myself into this sister of Death, and was her prisoner for almost a fortnight after. When I awoke, it is not to be believed how fresh and nimble, how vigorous, were all the faculties of my body and mind.

            I set about immediately learning the language, which (a marvellous thing to consider), unlike the Earth, is the same throughout all the regions of the moon. Although, I suppose as the land of the moon is not a fortieth part of our inhabited Earth, it is not so much to be wondered at. The moon is much smaller than the Earth and their seas cover three or four times the extent of their land, and ours is equal, land and sea.

            The difficulty of their language is immense, for two reasons: first, because it bears no similarity to any other I have ever found, and secondly because it consists not so much of words and letters, as of tunes and uncouth sounds that no letters can express. For they have few words, but they signify different things depending on their tunes and the way they are sung in utterance. Many words are tunes only, for example, they have a common greeting that means (verbatim) Glory be to God alone, which they express by this tune:


They express the names of men the same way and I soon learned they sounded Gonsales thus:


Now, notwithstanding the difficulty of this language,  I had acquired sufficient knowledge of it within two months to be able to understand most questions demanded of me, and with signs and words make a reasonable success of making myself understood. When Pylonas discovered this, he often sent for me and taught me many things that my guardians dared not. Yet, I will say this of my guardians – they never told me any untruths, but if I asked a question they did not want to answer they would shake their heads and shrug in the Spanish way, and pass on to something else.

The swallows have gone. Bishop Godwin wonders whether they have joined the nightingales and Gansas up there on the hidden moon. He cannot fathom that he once saw that moon as a pale anonymous sphere – as he stares out through his window, the shadows on the moon’s surface shape into hills and dips and mountains that are as real to him now as the smell of tallow from his candle or the itching of his skin.  There is a swelling in Godwin’s legs, and the small duties of the day have tired him, but sleep comes rarely. He envies Gonsales, swept away by the light into a kind of death, an oblivion that will does not come to Godwin during the dark hours in the closed cabin of his bed.  He rises and struggles to his table, squinting at the words of his story in the feeble candlelight. His old fingers ache as they pinch the quill, but he must continue. There is little time, and too many things he wants to tell.

Our Man in the Moone – 6

Sometimes, Bishop Godwin is glad he has come near the end of his life’s journey. He has navigated a course through capricious waters more than once and has kept his head low and his voice lower, as his father had done before him. He was born in the new, uncertain years of the great Queen’s reign when the fire of Mary’s rule was still smouldering in churchmen’s minds. He has seen war and exploration, the swinging of Christianity’s pendulum one way, then another, and now, perhaps, beginning to spin in the air. He sits in the darkness of an autumn evening and listens to the wind thickening through the trees, and he thinks about the tiny King in his velvet and silk, and how on the moon his sovereign Charles would be the lowest of all. To be so small and undistinguished, and yet to hold the harmony of the country in his hand. He smiles at the absurdity of it. There is sedition in Godwin’s old heart, and it is wonderful.

The Man in the Moone – Six

After seven months, the great Irdonozur was progressing to a place some two hundred leagues away from the Palace of Pylonas and sent for me. He would not admit me into his presence but talked to me through a window. I offered him the remainder of my jewels, which he accepted with gratitude and returned my generosity with gifts such as a man would give mountains of gold for: nine stones, of three sorts, Poleastis, Machrus and Ebelus. Poleastis is as big as a hazel nut and very like jet and has, among many other incredible virtues, the property that once being heated in a fire, it will ever after retain its heat (although without any outward change in appearance) until it is quenched with some kind of liquid – and it can be heated and quenched a thousand times with no detrimental effect. Its heat is so vehement it will make any metal that comes within a foot of it red hot, and if put in a chimney, will make a room as warm as if a great fire were kindled there.

            The Machrus, far more precious than the Poleastis, is the colour of topaz, but so shining and resplendent that, although only the size of a bean, if placed in the centre of a large church at night time will make it as light as a hundred lamps.

            But my Ebelus! This is even greater than the others, greater than all the jewels our Earth could yield. Its colour is the strange Lunar colour I mentioned before, the shape is somewhat flat, the breadth of a piece of eight, and twice the thickness. One side is more lustrous than the other, and this side, being held against the skin of a man, takes all weight away from it. If the other side is held against a man, it adds force to the pulling beams of a planet (either our Earth or the moon) and makes a body weigh half as much again as it did before. Do you, dear Reader, marvel at why I should prize this particular stone so much? You shall understand more later.

            After less than a quarter of a moon there I was sent back to Pylonas: just in time, for if we’d stayed a day or two longer the sun would have overtaken us before we reached home. Now, it was strange that after it was known that the great monarch Irdonozur had honoured me with such gifts, the Lunars respected me far more than before. My guardians became much more open with me about the government of their world so I learnt, partly from them and partly from Pylonas, all I will tell you on the matter.

            So, O Readers, a taste of their society. They have had no thieves or whoremongers amongst them for at least a thousand years as they have all that they need: food grows everywhere without anyone having to work for it, the Superiors provide clothes and housing and anything else they might require. They do have to do a little work for this, but it is more like playing, and they do it with pleasure.

            Their women are all of perfect beauty and once a man has known a woman, he will never desire another. As for murder, it has never been heard of – it is not even possible, as there is no wound that cannot be cured. They assured me – and I do believe it – that even if a man’s head were cut off, if it were put back on his body at any point within three months and anointed with a certain local herb, it would be joined together again and perfectly whole within a few hours.

            But the chief reason for their blameless behaviour is that all the people, young and old, hate all manner of vice and live in such love, peace and friendship so that the society of the moon seems to be another paradise. Any imperfect beings are discerned at their birth, and as no one is put to death, they are sent away to the Earth (although I have no idea how) and are changed for other children before they can do anything amiss. They have to be kept there for a while before the changing to allow their colour to alter to ours. The normal destination for these children is a certain high hill in North America, whose people I can easily believe are descended from them – partly from their colour, and partly because they continually use tobacco, of which the Lunars are inordinately fond. Sometimes, the Lunars mistake their aim, and the changeling children alight in Christendom, or Asia, or Africa, but this is seldom. Some years ago, I read some stories confirming the dispersal of Lunar children on earth, especially one chapter of William of Newburgh’s History of English Affairs, which tells of the Green Children of St Martins’ Land. There are other but I, Domingo Gonsales, care nothing for others’ testimonies. I can give proof of all I tell and remove all doubt.

            There are no lawyers on the moon as contention is stopped before it even starts. With no crime there need be no execution of justice. They have no physicians – they never eat badly, their air is temperate and pure, and I never heard of any of them fall sick. When the time that nature assigns to them has been spent, they simply cease to live – dying painlessly as a candle does when its tallow is consumed.

            I attended the departure of one of them. Despite the happy life he had had, and the multitude of friends and children he would be leaving, as soon as he understood his end to be approaching, he prepared a great feast, gathered his favourites and loved ones around him and bade them rejoice with him for he would soon leave the counterfeit pleasures of this world and gain true and perfect happiness in the next. I wondered not so much at his stoicism, but rather at his friends’ reactions. On Earth, we mourn, or pretend to. Here, all rejoiced. Their dead bodies do not putrefy and are not buried but kept in certain rooms designed for the purpose so most Lunars can show their ancestors’ bodies undecayed for many generations.

            There is never any rain there, wind or change in the air, never summer nor winter, rather, a perpetual spring. Oh, my wife and children! What wrong have you done me to cause my return from the happiness of that place?

            I had taken off from El Pico on the ninth of September. By March 1601, I asked Pylonas – as I had often done before – to give me leave to depart back to Earth again. He tried to dissuade me, talking of the danger of the voyage, the misery of my homeland and the abundant happiness I now enjoyed. But, the memory of my wife and children overcame all these sound reasons and also, to tell you the truth, I was so keen for the renown I knew would come my way when I returned and told my tale I thought I would not deserve the name of a Spaniard if I wouldn’t hazard twenty lives rather than lose the chance of fame and glory. I answered Pylonas that my desire to see my wife and children was so great that I knew I couldn’t live much longer if I had no hope of being reunited with them. And it must be now or never: my birds were beginning to droop from being denied their normal migration. Three were now dead and if a few more failed I would never get home.

            At last, he agreed, having first told the great Irdonozur of my desire. My birds had begun to bay often and loudly and were evidently longing to take flight. I prepared my engine and took my leave of Pylonas who required only one thing of me: to promise him that if I ever had the chance, I should send a greeting from him to Queen Elizabeth of England, whom he termed the most glorious of all women living and could not talk enough of her. He also sent me with a precious gift for her and although I see her as an enemy of Spain, I shall not fail to perform this promise as soon as I am able.

            On the 29th March, three days after my last moon-sleep awakening, I fastened myself to my engine and took, not only the jewels Irdonozur had given me, but also a small quantity of food of whichI had great use of afterwards. An enormous multitude of people, including Pylonas, watched as I loosed the reins on my birds and the birds quickly carried me out of sight.

When he dreams he is weightless. His old bloating body floats free of the earth as if buoyed by a force he cannot see just as Gonsales’ Gansas rested in the air. If he wakes alone and uncomfortable in the smallest hours, he is not sure whether his dreams continue, or whether he is creating again, inventing and imagining how, one day, it might be. How there might be secrets hidden in rocks and minerals and elements that could help a man to fly. That could create a source of heat without morning sticks or fallen wood. That could perhaps light up the great nave of Hereford Cathedral with a gesture as light as a finger tapping on a wall. He will never see the revelation of those secrets but he has faith in God to keep pressing man on to greater things: science, discoveries, health. Sometimes, he feels God’s disappointment settle upon him until he has to kneel in prayer to block it out. As Irdonozur gave Gonsales gifts, so has God given Godwin a fine brain, an extraordinary imagination. Perhaps God had intended him to be one of the inventers of the future and he has wasted his brain hiding in this quiet corner of England. Perhaps he could have created light and heat from the merest tap or flick; perhaps there will be a reckoning.

Our Man in the Moone – 7

As with my first voyage, I never felt hunger or thirst until I arrived in China, on a high mountain, some five leagues from the mighty city of Peking. My journey had taken less than nine days, I had seen none of the devils that had plagued my ascending, nothing delayed me. Maybe it was the eager desire of my birds to return to Earth as they had missed a season, or whether the attraction of the Earth, so much greater than the moon, had helped them on their way, but I made the journey quicker, and with three birds less than I’d had before.

            For the first eight days, my birds flew down with my engine and myself behind. On the ninth, as I approached the clouds, the engine sunk towards the Earth in front of the birds. I was horribly afraid that the birds would not hold us sufficiently and we would all plummet to the earth, so I pulled out the Ebelus jewel and clapped it to the bare flesh within my hose, and this eased the burden for my birds. Indeed, I don’t think they would have been able to take me down safely without the help.

            China is a very populous country and some of the country people saw me in the air before I landed, and seized me when they could, ready to carry me off to an officer. I surrendered but pretended I wanted to obey a call of nature (by signing to them) and they permitted me to go into the bushes, thinking that it would be impossible for me to escape. I tied all my jewels into my handkerchief apart from the Ebelus, which I again clasped to me, and fled from my guards, showing them a fair pair of heels. I had no wish for them to find the jewels on me and take them and in a quarter league, I entered a thick wood and found a pretty spring within it which I took for my marker. I thrust my jewels into a mole-hole, refreshed myself with my victuals and then quietly allowed my pursuers to take me once they had caught me up.

            They led me to an officer who commanded a kind of boxed seat to be made of planks, and they closed me in until only my head was free and carried me on the shoulders of four slaves as if I were a master criminal to a man of great authority called a Mandarin who lived some two days away from Peking.

            I could not understand their language but discerned that I was being vehemently accused of something: it seemed they believed I was a magician, given my mode of arrival; that I was strange in my language and clothes, and had entered China, contrary to the law, without a permit and with probably no good intent. The Mandarin listened carefully and being a man of quick brain and studious of novelties, answered them that he would take charge of me and that my bold attempt would be punished. But when they had all departed, he ordered his servants that I should be detained in a remote part of his palace, strictly watched but courteously used. I guessed this from what followed: I was lodged well, fed well, attended well, and could find fault with nothing but the fact that I was imprisoned. I continued thus for many months, desperately worried about my Gansas which I guessed might be irrecoverably lost – and indeed they were. But during this time, with hard work and the help of my Guards, I learned to speak the language of that province (each province has its own) to a reasonable level, and they thought highly of this.

            At last, I was permitted to take the air and brought into the palace garden, a place of great pleasure and delight, planted with herbs and sweet and beautiful flowers and an almost infinite variety of fruits. The Mandarin entered the garden and indicated that I should kneel before him. I humbly obeyed, and craved favour towards a poor stranger who had arrived in the parts by chance. He spoke to me in the separate Mandarin language all such high officials use – and which consists mostly of tunes rather as the Lunar language – and was interpreted by one of his servants. He wished me to be of good comfort as he meant no harm to me, and so passed on. The next day I was brought before him into an exquisitely painted sumptuous dining room. The Mandarin sent everyone away and then spoke to me in the provincial language, asking where I came from, who my prince was, the religion and manners of the people. He progressed to my education and studies, and what had brought me into this remote country. I then told him all the adventure of my life, only omitting details I rather he had no knowledge of – such as the jewels given to me by Irdonozur. He was much amazed by the strangeness of my story but found no evidence of magic in it – and then began to admire the excellence of my wit, telling me to rest after my long narration, and that I was the most fortunate man the world had ever produced.

            After this, he sent for me every day and took great delight in me. Eventually, he advised me to wear the clothes of that country – which I willingly did – and gave me not only the liberty of his house but took me with him when he went to Peking, so that I had the opportunity by degrees to learn the disposition of the people and the policy of the country – which I shall reserve for my second part. With this attendance on him, I gained not only knowledge but the possibility of being restored to my native land and to those dearest to me above all the world, my wife and children. For, by my frequent visits to Peking, I learned of some Jesuit fathers who had won the favour of the King of that country by presenting some European trifles like clocks, watches, dials and so on, which he viewed as exquisite rarities. The Mandarin gave me leave to visit them, and they were full of wonder to see a lay Spaniard in a place they had arrived in with such difficulty. There, I related to Father Pantoja and those other Jesuits all the adventures you have heard, and at their direction, wrote them down and sent them to Spain in advance of my arrival, via Macau. And as the Mandarin was most indulgent to me, I was able to consult with the Jesuits frequently about many secret things. I also laid, with them, the foundation for my return, the blessed hour of which I patiently expect, and I hope that by enriching my country with the knowledge of hidden mysteries, I may once again reap the glory of my fortunate misfortunes.


Bishop Godwin packs away his story within the pages of the ledger for the last time. He had hoped for another volume, but the sand in his hourglass is through.  He runs a hand over the books on his table: writings by Copernicus and Galileo, Hakluytt’s travellers’ tales, verse by Doctor Donne, and he knows he will not read them again. They have taught him much, and he has learned, too, from his dealings with people: he knows how light and shade work within the human soul. He hopes that the things he has predicted will come to pass but that will be for others to achieve. He has done what he can by writing his visions. Perhaps they will be found and read, when he is gone. He steadies himself by the window. The moon is high in the late winter sky, cold and bright. He wonders whether there is an old man there now, sitting in the midst of his family and friends and enjoying a feast before he quietly and painlessly allows his flame to fade. Godwin raises a cup of wine to his lips, and smiles.

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