Sailing to the Moon: Francis Bacon, Francis Godwin and the First Science Fiction

  • Catherine Gimelli Martin
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine book series (PLSM)

Abstract

At least superficially, Francis Godwin’s 1638 tale of a Spanish adventurer flying to the Moon and back with a kite-like, bird-driven craft seems to belong to the realm of myth or fantasy, not science fiction.3 Yet the historical context of The Man in the Moone indicates precisely the opposite: that long before the appearance of the work now usually considered the first science fiction, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Godwin (1562–1633) composed a tale fully deserving that title, not least because it meets all five “scientific givens” featured in the strictest definitions of the genre.4 Godwin’s adventure also reveals startling deviations from myth and fantastic flying lore both in detail and general outlook. Legendary inventors like Daedalus were typically punished for their hubris in attempting to fly like birds or gods, and when Greco-Roman heroes like Bellepheron and Perseus flew on the winged horse Pegasus, they too met evil ends. After succumbing to a fatal temptation to fly to Mt. Olympus, the ancient equivalent of the “Other” world above the Earth, Bellepheron was lamed and blinded by Zeus. His alter-ego, Perseus, escaped that fate, but he either accidentally killed his grandfather or was himself killed by an avenger—or perhaps both. The logic of all these tales seems to be that whenever men use divine instruments like winged horses or flying sandals to conquer the skies, they prove as literally “fallible” as Daedalus’s son Icarus.5

Keywords

Migration Europe Explosive Assure Bark 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Johannes Kepler, Somnium, trans. Edward Rosen (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967), 39.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Francis Bacon, “Experiment Solitary Touching Flying in the Air,” in Sylva Sylvarum, in The Works of Francis Bacon, ed. James Spedding, Robert Leslie Ellis and Douglas Denon Heath, 14 vols. (London: Longman and Company, 1900), 5: 109. Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum in the Spedding edition can be found in vol. 4, pages 141–483, and continues in vol. 5, pages 7–163. All references to Bacon’s work are taken from this Spedding edition.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Francis Godwin, The Man in the Moone, ed. William Poole (1638; Peterborough, Canada: Broadview Press, 2009).Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    See Lucian of Samosata, Certaine Select Dialogues (Oxford: William Turner, 1634).Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Adam Roberts, The History of Science Fiction (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), vii, xi.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    On the scientific ideals of Bacon’s near-contemporaries, see Thomas Sprat, History of the Royal Society, ed. Jackson I. Cope and Harold Whitmore Jones (St. Louis: Washington University Press, 1966). At the time, the new scientists’ aspirations were also frequently mocked on the popular stage and later in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels as quixotic, presumptuous and utterly impracticable—criticism that largely if not completely vanished after Newton. In the late eighteenth century and beyond, the Romantic movement deeply lamented the effects of industrialism but was not hostile to science per se. Not until the early twentieth century was Baconianism subjected to the sustained ideological critiques associated with the Frankfort School. See especially Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (1944; rpt. New York: Continuum Publishing Co., 1969), and in literary studies, the work of the New Historicists, feminists and their many fellow travelers. For a reply, see Catherine G. Martin, “The Ahistoricism of the New Historicism: Knowledge as Power versus Power as Knowledge in Bacon’s New Atlantis,” Faultlines in the Field, ed. Claude Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002), 22–49Google Scholar
  7. Julie R. Solomon and Catherine G. Martin, “Introduction,” Francis Bacon and the Refiguring of Early Modern Thought: Essays to Commemorate “The Advancement of Learning” (1605–2005) (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005).Google Scholar
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    Robert M. Philmus, Into the Unknown: The Evolution of Science Fiction from Francis Godwin to J. G. Wells (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970), 42.Google Scholar
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    Francis Bacon, Advancement of Learning, in Spedding, Works of Francis Bacon, 3: 259–491.Google Scholar
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  12. 22.
    Thomas Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957), 225.Google Scholar
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  14. 24.
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  15. 25.
    John Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. Alastair Fowler, 2nd edn (London: Pearson, 2007), 2.638, 927, 942, 3.520, 4.159, 5.268, 6.534, 9.515.Google Scholar
  16. 26.
    Howard Marchitello, “Telescopic Voyages: Galileo and the Invention of Lunar Cartography,” Travel Narratives, the New Science, and Literary Discourse, 1569–1750, ed. Judy A. Hayden (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012), 176.Google Scholar
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    Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels (London: Penguin Books, 2003), Part IV: “A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms.”Google Scholar
  18. 29.
    See Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being: The History of an Idea (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1936), passim.Google Scholar
  19. 31.
    John Wilkins, The Discovery of a World in the Moone or, A Discourse tending to prove that’tis probable there may be another habitable World in that Planet (London: Michael Sparke and Edward Forrest, 1638).Google Scholar
  20. 32.
    See Barbara Shapiro’s John Wilkins 1614–1672: An Intellectual Biography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 44, where she cites John Wilkins, Mathematical Magick (London, 1648), 87, 92, 95. On wind wagons, see Mathematical Magick, 95–96; on artificial images, 96, 101; on artificial sounds that could imitate the songs of birds, cries of animals and the human voice, 104–105; Wilkins also describes submarines as a feasible invention, 105. Poole’s edition of Godwin’s Man in the Moone includes an appendix containing his Nuncius Animatus, see 125–134, and another appendix containing extracts from Mathematical Magick’s section “Concerning the Art of Flying,” which recommends Godwin’s gansas as a “most … probable” means. See “Appendix H: From John Wilkins, Mathematical Magick (1648),” in Godwin, The Man in the Moone, ed. Poole, 159–163, particularly 160.Google Scholar
  21. 38.
    Charles Morton, Essay Towards the Probable Solution of this Question … where [certain] Birds do probably make their Recess and Abode (London: Samuel Crouch, 1703), 18.Google Scholar
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    Diodorus Siculus, Diodorus Siculus, trans. and ed. C. H. Oldfeather (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1935).Google Scholar
  23. 49.
    On Chinese, see Paul Cornelius, Languages in Seventeenth-and Eighteenth-Century Imaginary Voyages (Geneva: Librarie Droz, 1965), 55–57. The interest in universal language schemes persisted long after Godwin’s death and to some degree has not entirely faded.Google Scholar
  24. 50.
    Robert M. Philmus, “Murder Most Fowl: Butler’s Edition of Francis Godwin,” Science Fiction Studies 69, 23.2 (1996), 261.Google Scholar
  25. 55.
    Thomas A. Copeland, “Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moone A Picaresque Satire,” Extrapolation 16 (1975), 156–163.Google Scholar
  26. 57.
    On this point, see Roger Bozzetto and Arthur B. Evans, “Kepler’s Somnium Or, Science Fiction’s Missing Link,” Science Fiction Studies 17.3 (1990), 370–382.Google Scholar

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© Catherine Gimelli Martin 2016

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  • Catherine Gimelli Martin

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