"The same memorable day is marked by the setting of one of the most
brilliant stars in the firmament of art and the rising of another in the
sphere of science, which was to enlighten the world with beams of equal
splendor. On the 18th of February, 1564, Michael Angelo Buonarotti
closed his eyes at Rome, and Galileo Galilei first saw the light at
Thus writes young Karl von Gebler, in the best life of Galileo ever
written, his dying contribution to literature. Some other authorities
place Galileo's birth on February 15.
He was the oldest in a family of five children born to Vincenzo Galilei,
a Florentine noble, and Giulia Ammanati, who also belonged to an ancient
family. Vincenzo wrote learnedly about music, and taught his boy to play
on the lute and the organ; but he was poor and life was a struggle.
However beneficial poverty may be in the development of character, most
of us do not crave it for our children, so Vincenzo decided to place his
son where he could earn a comfortable support. Music did not bring
money. Galileo therefore should become a dealer in cloth; a necessity
of life, rather than a luxury.
But the boy soon showed great skill in music, surpassing his father. He
excelled in drawing and color, and could have become a noted artist. He
loved poetry, and had a decided taste for mechanics, making machines of
great ingenuity. It soon became evident that such a lad would not be
satisfied to spend his life trading in wool.
He must be educated, but how? The family had moved from Pisa, where
there were schools of repute, to Florence. An effort had to be made, by
the greatest economy, to prepare Galileo to go back to the Pisan
University. He showed great aptitude for Latin and Greek, and at
seventeen was ready for Pisa.
For what profession should he study? Not what best suited his tastes,
but that in which his father thought he could make money, medicine. Poor
Vincenzo! who can blame him that he hated poverty for his brilliant son?
At college, Galileo became an ardent student of philosophy, and because
he dared to think for himself, and did not always agree with the
teachings of Aristotle, he was called "the wrangler." Until he was
twenty he was scarcely acquainted with the rudiments of mathematics,
because his father thought this study was a waste of time for a man who
was to become a physician. How many parents make the mistake of bending
their children to their own plans, instead of ascertaining what a boy
or girl can do best in the world, and then fitting him or her for it!
While Galileo was studying medicine in Pisa, boarding with a relative,
the court of Tuscany came to the city for a few months. Among the suite
was Ostilio Ricci, a distinguished mathematician, and Governor of the
Pages of the Grand Ducal Court. He was a friend of the Galilei family,
and was pleased to see the bright young son, Galileo. When he taught
Euclid, the medical student would stand shyly at the schoolroom door,
and listen with intense interest. Soon he began to study mathematics
secretly; then begged Ricci to teach him, who gladly consented, till the
father forbade it, seeing that Euclid interfered with medicine.
Meantime, the youth of nineteen, kneeling at prayers in the Pisa
Cathedral, had dreamily watched a bronze lamp swinging from an arch. The
oscillations were at first considerable, but as they grew less and less,
Galileo observed that they were all performed in the same time,
measuring the time by feeling his pulse. The idea occurred to him that
an instrument could be constructed which should mark the rate and
variation of the pulse. He began to experiment, and soon invented the
pulselogia, which the physicians hailed with great delight. The pendulum
was not applied to clocks till a half-century later, but its invention
attracted the attention of all scholars.
After four years' residence at Pisa, Vincenzo Galilei appealed to the
reigning Grand Duke, Ferdinand de Medici, to grant to his son one of the
forty free places founded for poor students, but the request was denied,
and Galileo, unable to pay for his doctor's degree, was obliged to leave
the university without it. Already he had learned bitter lessons of
privation and disappointment, but youth has a brave heart, and looks
ever toward the sunlight.
He went back to his home in Florence to study the works of Archimedes,
whom he called his "master," to write his first essay on his Hydrostatic
Balance, and to earn the reputation of a bold inquirer in geometrical
and mechanical speculations. The father had now given up all hope of a
fortune coming through medicine! Henceforward, the genius which was to
shed lustre on his own name, otherwise buried in obscurity, was to have
its own bent, and work out its own destiny.
If we are in earnest, a door opens sooner or later; but our own hands
usually open it. At twenty-four a door opened to Galileo. Marquis
Guidubaldo, a celebrated mathematician, appreciating what the young
scientist had done, began a correspondence with him, and a valuable
friendship resulted. The marquis asked him to study the position of the
centre of gravity in solid bodies. Galileo applied himself to it, and
wrote a valuable essay, which waited fifty years for publication.
Perhaps no person can be really great who has not learned patience, and
Galileo had many lessons in this virtue before he died.
Through the influence of the marquis, he was brought to the notice of
Ferdinand I., reigning Grand Duke, who appointed him to the mathematical
professorship at Pisa. This was a great honor for a young man of
twenty-six, one who had been too poor to take his degree. The salary was
small, less than a hundred dollars a year; but he earned somewhat by the
practice of medicine, by lectures on Dante and other literary subjects,
and by lessons to private pupils. Of course, he had little or no
leisure; but he thus learned one of the most valuable lessons of
life,--to treasure time as though it were gold. How glad his father and
mother must have been that their wool projects had come to naught!
The professors at Pisa, with a single exception, Jacopo Mazzoni, in the
chair of philosophy, were opposed to the new-comer. They were all
disciples of Aristotle, and had not Galileo, when a boy among them,
dared to oppose the great Grecian? And now, to make matters worse, he
had taken some friends to the top of the Leaning Tower, and had put to
the test the belief of two thousand years,--that the rate at which a
body falls depends upon its weight. When the different weights fell to
the pavement at the foot of the Leaning Tower, at the same time, the
learned were astonished. If Aristotle could be wrong in one thing, he
might in others, and this young man would revolutionize the teaching of
The feeling became so strong against the investigator that after three
years at Pisa he resigned. When will the world learn toleration for
those whose opinions are different from the popular thought? From
Galileo to Darwin we have persecuted the men and women whose views were
unlike our own in theology, in science, or in social matters.
Through his friend, the Marquis Guidubaldo, the mathematical
professorship at Padua was obtained for Galileo. He was now twenty-nine,
and becoming widely known throughout Italy. His father had just died,
leaving the whole family, a wife and four children, dependent upon him
for support; not a small matter for an ambitious and hard-working
Padua gave the young man cordial welcome. Vincenzo Pinelli, a learned
nobleman, who possessed eighty thousand volumes, mentioned him to Tycho
Brahe, the great Danish astronomer, as a man whom it would be well to
cultivate; but the Dane was too cautious about his own reputation, and
did not write Galileo till eight years later, and died the following
An associate of Tycho Brahe was wiser than his master, and sent Galileo
his new book, "Prodromus Dissertationum Cosmographicum." A warm letter
of thanks went back to the immortal John Kepler, saying: "Many years ago
I became a convert to the opinions of Copernicus, and by that theory
have succeeded in fully explaining many phenomena which on the contrary
hypothesis are altogether inexplicable. I have drawn up many arguments
and compilations of the opposite opinions, which, however, I have not
hitherto dared to publish, fearful of meeting the same fate as our
master Copernicus, who, although he has earned for himself immortal fame
amongst the few, yet amongst the greater number appears as only worthy
of hooting and derision; so great is the number of fools."
John Kepler, like Galileo, lived a pathetic life. His childhood was
spent in the little beer-shop of his wretchedly poor father. At six he
had a severe attack of small-pox, and his eyes were permanently
weakened. He was put to the plough, but his delicate body could not bear
the work. At last, through charity, he became a theological student at
Tuebingen. But here he began to think for himself, and, probably, would
have been obliged to leave the university.
Fortunately for science, he heard some lectures given by Michael
Moestlen, famous in mathematics and astronomy. A new world opened to
Kepler. He applied himself with all the ardor of youth, and at
twenty-two became professor of mathematics at Graetz, in Styria. He was
soon driven away from this Catholic stronghold, on account of his
Protestant faith. Tycho Brahe heard of his needs, and made him his
assistant at Prague, with a salary of seven hundred and fifty dollars a
year. This seemed regal splendor to the poor astronomer. Now he studied
the heavens with hope and delight.
But sorrows soon came. His children died, his wife became insane, and
died also. The salary could not be paid, on account of the religious
wars which convulsed Germany. He wrote almanacs, took private pupils,
and in all ways tried to support his second wife and children, while he
studied the heavens year by year, discovering his three great laws. The
mathematical calculations for the first law, that the planets move in
elliptical orbits round the sun, which is placed at one of the foci,
filled seven hundred pages. His "Harmonies of the World" contained his
third great law: "The squares of the periodic times of the planets are
proportioned to the cubes of their mean distances from the sun."
Such was his joy when he discovered this law, after seventeen years of
labor, that he said, "I have written my book. It will be read; whether
in the present age or by posterity matters little. It can wait for its
readers. Has not God waited six thousand years for one to contemplate
his works?" In a last fruitless attempt to recover twenty-nine thousand
florins, owed him by the government, worn out with want and
disappointment, he fell ill and died at Ratisbon, leaving thirty-three
works, twenty-two volumes in manuscript, and his family in the direst
poverty. Such was the man who admired Galileo in his youth, and who
stands with him in the admiration of the generations that have come and
gone since these two men lived and wrote and suffered.
At Padua, Galileo soon attracted great numbers to his class-room. Often
a thousand gathered to hear his lectures, and when the hall was too
cramped, he spoke to the people in the open air. He was above the middle
height, well proportioned, with cheerful countenance, witty in
conversation, and enthusiastic in his manner. So learned that he could
repeat by heart much of the works of Virgil, Ovid, Horace, and Seneca;
he was yet modest and unassuming, saying that he never met a man so
ignorant but that something might be learned from him.
He labored incessantly. He wrote treatises on Fortifications, on
Mechanics, on Gnomonics, on the laws of motion, on the celestial globe,
which were copied by his pupils, and sent by them far and wide over
Europe. He took a workman into his family, and began to superintend the
making of the compass which he had invented, and the thermoscope, or
heat indicator, which led in later years to the thermometer. His
experiment was made by a "glass bottle about the size of a hen's egg,
the neck of which was two palms long, and as narrow as a straw. Having
well heated the bulb in his hands, he placed its mouth in a vessel
containing a little water, and withdrawing the heat of his hand from the
bulb, instantly the water rose in the neck, more than a palm above the
level of the water in the vessel."
During the first six years at Padua, his salary rose from about one
hundred dollars to five hundred dollars, yearly. All this time, when his
mind should have been free from care for his great work, he was beset
with difficulties. His sister, Virginia, had married before his father's
death, but a promised dowry had never been paid, and now the
brother-in-law demanded the payment. The mother, worried over the
prospect, wrote to her son, Galileo, "If you carry into effect your
intention of coming here next month, I shall be rejoiced, only you must
not come unprovided with funds, for I see that Benedetto is determined
to have his own, that is to say, what you promised him; and he threatens
loudly that he will have you arrested the instant you arrive here. And
as I hear you bound yourself to pay, he would have the power to arrest
you, and he is just the man to do it. So I warn you, for it would grieve
me much if anything of the kind were to happen."
Livia, another sister, had become engaged to a Pisan gentleman, with the
promise of a dowry of eighteen hundred ducats, eight hundred of which
must be paid down. The "Pisan gentleman" could not burden himself with a
wife, without funds to help support her and himself. So Galileo
generously, if not wisely, borrowed six hundred ducats, and paid the
necessary eight hundred, giving his sister beautiful clothes and house
Besides these sisters, Galileo had a lazy brother to provide for,
Michelangelo, a young man of some musical talent and elegant manners,
with the not unusual gift of being able to spend much and earn little.
Galileo obtained a situation for him with a Polish prince, and spent two
hundred crowns in getting him ready for the new position. He went
thither, but soon returned, and another place had to be procured for
him, at the court of the Duke of Bavaria.
While there, instead of helping to pay his sister's dowry, as he had
promised, he married; had an extravagant wedding feast, and then wrote
his hard-working brother: "I know that you will say that I should have
waited, and thought of our sisters before taking a wife. But, good
heavens! the idea of toiling all one's life just to put by a few
farthings to give one's sisters! This yoke would be indeed too heavy and
bitter; for I am more than certain that in thirty years I should not
have saved enough to cover this debt."
With all the pressure upon him for money, Galileo kept steadily on in
his absorbing studies. In the year 1609, he constructed a telescope. It
is true that Hans Lipperhey, of Germany, had invented a spy-glass, and
presented it to Prince Maurice, so that the principle was understood;
but nobody gave it practical illustration till Galileo, having heard of
the glass, began to reflect how an instrument could be made to bring
distant objects near. In a leaden tube, he fixed two glasses, both
having one side flat, and the other side of the one concave, and the
other convex. By this, objects appeared three times nearer and nine
times larger. A few days later, he hastened with his leaden tube to
Venice, to exhibit it to the Doge and the Senate. He wrote to a
"Many gentlemen and senators, even the oldest, have ascended at various
times the highest bell-towers in Venice, to spy out ships at sea, making
sail for the mouth of the harbor, and have seen them clearly, though
without my telescope they would have been invisible for more than two
hours. The effect of this instrument is to show an object at a distance
of, say, fifty miles, as if it were but five miles off.
"Perceiving of what great utility such an instrument would prove in
naval and military operations, and seeing that His Serenity greatly
desired to possess it, I resolved four days ago to go to the palace and
present it to the Doge as a free gift. And on quitting the
presence-chamber, I was commanded to bide awhile in the hall of the
senate, whereunto, after a little, the Illustrissimo Prioli, who is
Procurator and one of the Riformatori of the University, came forth to
me from the presence-chamber, and, taking me by the hand, said, 'that
the senate, knowing the manner in which I had served it for seventeen
years at Padua, and being sensible of my courtesy in making it a present
of my telescope, had immediately ordered the Illustrious Riformatori to
elect me (with my good-will) to the professorship for life, with a
stipend of one thousand florins yearly.'"
This must have been a comfort to the now famous Galileo, as it was,
doubtless, to the useless Michelangelo, and the two brothers-in-law! He
could now live in comparative peace and rest.
On his return to Padua, he began eagerly to study the heavens. He found
that the surface of the moon was mountainous; that the Milky Way was
composed of an immense number of small stars and nebulous matter; that
Orion, instead of being made up of seven heavenly bodies, had over five
hundred stars; and that the Pleiades were not seven, but thirty-six. In
January, 1610, he discovered the four moons of Jupiter, and that they
revolved around him. July 25 of the same year, he discovered the ring of
Saturn; in October, the phases of Venus, and later, the solar spots.
Florence and Padua were in a blaze of excitement. These new discoveries
seemed to prove that the earth was not the centre of the universe, but
that Copernicus was right when he declared the sun to be the centre.
Great opposition began to develop itself. Some of the Aristotelians
declared that the telescope of Galileo showed things which do not exist.
"It was ridiculous," they said, "that four planets (Jupiter's moons)
were chasing each other around a large planet.
"It is angels who make Saturn, Jupiter, the sun, etc., turn round. If
the earth revolves, it must also have an angel in the centre to set it
in motion; but if only devils live there, it would, therefore, be a
devil who would impart motion to the earth.
"The planets, the sun, the fixed stars, all belong to one species;
namely, that of stars--they, therefore, all move, or all stand still.
"It seems, therefore, to be a grievous wrong to place the earth, which
is a sink of impurity, among the heavenly bodies, which are pure and
Libri, one of the Pisan professors, spoke of the new discoveries as
"celestial trifles." When he died, Galileo naively remarked, "Libri did
not choose to see my celestial trifles while he was on earth; perhaps he
will, now he is gone to heaven."
Galileo now longed for freedom from teaching, that he might have his
time for study and writing. He had planned, he said, "two books on the
system of the universe; an immense work (idea, concetto), full of
philosophy, astronomy, and geometry: three books on local motion, a
science entirely new; no one, either ancient or modern, having
discovered any of the marvellous accidents which I demonstrate in
natural and violent motions; so that I may, with very great reason, call
it a new science, discovered by me from its very first principles: three
books on mechanics, two on the demonstration of its first principles,
and one of problems; and though this is a subject which has already been
treated by various writers, yet all which has been written hitherto
neither in quantity nor otherwise is the quarter of what I am writing
on it. I have also various treatises on natural subjects, on sound and
speech, on sight and colors, on the tide, on the composition of
continuous quantity, on the motion of animals, and others; besides, I
have also an idea of writing some books on the military art, giving not
only a model of a soldier, but teaching, with very exact rules, all
which it is his duty to know that depends on mathematics; as, for
instance, the knowledge of encampment, drawing up battalions,
fortifications, assaults, planning, surveying, the knowledge of
artillery, the use of various instruments, etc."
With all this work in mind, he resigned the professorship at Padua, and
removed to Florence, the Grand Duke Cosmo II. giving him a yearly salary
of about one thousand dollars, and the title of Philosopher to His
His first thought, as ever, was for his family. He asked an advance of
two years' salary, and paid the dowry debts of his sisters' grasping
In 1611, his expenses paid by the Grand Duke, he went to Rome to show
his "celestial novelties," as they were called, to the pope and the
cardinals. He was received with great attention, and all seemed
delighted to look upon the wonders of the heavens, provided always that
nothing could be proved against the supposed assertion of the Bible that
the earth did not move!
Galileo soon published his "Discourse on Floating Bodies," which
aroused violent opposition; "Spots observed on the Body of the Sun," and
the "Discourse on the Tides."
Four years later, he was again in Rome to plead for the Copernican
system, and to defend his own conduct in advocating a thing in
opposition to the Catholic church. He said: "I am inclined to think that
the authority of Holy Scripture is intended to convince men of those
truths which are necessary for their salvation, and which, being far
above man's understanding, cannot be made credible by any learning, or
any other means than revelation by the Holy Spirit. But that the same
God, who has endowed us with senses, reason, and understanding, does not
permit us to use them, and desires to acquaint us in any other way with
such knowledge as we are in a position to acquire for ourselves by means
of those faculties, that, it seems to me, I am not bound to believe,
especially concerning those sciences about which the Holy Scriptures
contain only small fragments and varying conclusions; and this is
precisely the case with astronomy, of which there is so little that the
planets are not even all enumerated."
However, in spite of Galileo's logic, the church decreed that all books
which stated the Copernican system as true should be prohibited; as a
mathematical hypothesis, it might be speculated upon. This was a great
disappointment to Galileo, who loved and revered the Roman Catholic
faith. He went home to the Villa Segni, at Bellosguardo, near Florence,
and for seven years led a studious and secluded life.
His greatest comfort, during these quiet years, was the devotion of his
daughter, Polissena, who had entered a convent as Sister Maria Celeste.
While in Padua, Galileo had three children by Marina Gamba, a Venetian
woman of inferior station. She afterwards married a man of her own
class, and Galileo took his children to his own home; a condition of
things possible with the low moral standard of the time. The two
daughters were placed in a convent, while the son, Vincenzo, was
educated for the profession of medicine, but he seems to have been a
disappointment and a source of discomfort.
Maria Celeste, in the convent of St. Matthew, loving and tender, and
helpful to all around her, wrote constantly to the man whom she
idolized. "I put by carefully," she says, "the letters you write me
daily, and when not engaged with my duties, I read them over and over
again. This is the greatest pleasure I have, and you may think how glad
I am to read the letters you receive from persons who, besides being
excellent in themselves, have you in esteem."
Again she writes, "I leave you to imagine how pleased I am to read the
letters you constantly send me. Only to see how your love for me prompts
you to let me know fully what favors you receive from these gentlemen is
enough to fill me with joy. Nevertheless I feel it a little hard to hear
that you intend leaving home so soon, because I shall have to do
without you, and for a long time too, if I am not mistaken. And your
lordship may believe that I am speaking the truth when I say that except
you there is not a creature who gives me any comfort. But I will not
grieve at your departure because of this, for that would be to complain
when you had cause for rejoicing. Therefore I too will rejoice, and
continue to pray God to give you grace and health to make a prosperous
journey, so that you may return satisfied, and live long and happily,
all which, I trust, will come to pass by God's help.
"I send two baked pears for these days of vigil. But as the greatest
treat of all, I send you a rose, which ought to please you extremely,
seeing what a rarity it is at this season. And with the rose, you must
accept its thorns, which represent the bitter passion of our Lord, while
the green leaves represent the hope we may entertain that through the
same Sacred Passion we, having passed through the darkness of this short
winter of our mortal life, may attain to the brightness and felicity of
an eternal spring in heaven."
"Only in one respect does cloister life weigh heavily on me; that is,
that it prevents my attending on you personally, which would be my
desire, were it permitted. My thoughts are always with you."
And so the seven years of study went by, with the sweet love of Maria
Celeste to brighten them. There are none so great that they can live
At the end of the seven years, Urban VIII. came to the pontifical
throne, and Galileo and other scientists rejoiced, for he had seemed
liberal in thought and generous in heart. When he was cardinal, he had
sent a letter to Galileo, saying, "The esteem which I always entertain
for yourself and your great merits has given occasion to the enclosed
verses. If not worthy of you, they will serve at any rate as a proof of
my affection, while I purpose to add lustre to my poetry by your
renowned name. Without wasting words, then, in further apologies, which
I leave to the confidence which I place in you, I beg you to receive
with favor this insignificant proof of my great affection."
At Easter, 1624, Galileo, now sixty years old, resolved to proceed to
Rome, to welcome the new pope, and urge his approval of the Copernican
theory. Frail in health, he was carried most of the way in a litter.
During a visit of six weeks, he had six long audiences with Urban VIII.;
but, though he was affably received, the pope was in no wise convinced,
but rather tried to convince Galileo that he was in error.
Yet so kind was he that Galileo went back to Florence with the hope and
belief that he could bring out his great work, "Dialogues on the Two
Principal Systems of the World, the Ptolemaic and Copernican," without
opposition from the church. In this book, Galileo gave the results of
scientific research and discovery in the half century preceding, using
such clear yet brilliant style in writing as to make the work attractive
even to the unlearned.
It was ready for publication in March, 1630, but to be sure that the
pope did not object, Galileo was urged to go in person to Rome. He went
and presented the matter to Urban, who gave his consent provided that
the title should show that the Copernican system was treated as a
hypothesis merely, and that he, the pope, should write the closing
Rather than forego the publication of that upon which he had worked for
years, Galileo consented, and returned to Florence. A license to publish
was then obtained from the Inquisitor-General, and the Vicar-General of
Florence, after great delay. A second and a third time the papal
authorities wished to look over the manuscript. Two years went slowly
Other anxieties came to the man of sixty-eight, besides the long delay.
The impecunious Michelangelo sent his wife, seven children, and a German
nurse, to the home of Galileo, to be taken care of. The eldest nephew
was sent to Rome to study music. He was found to be obstinate, impudent,
and dissolute, "wicked ways" which his weak and indulgent father said
"he did not learn from me, or any one else belonging to him. It must
have been the fault of his wet nurse!"
Galileo's son Vincenzo had married and brought his wife home to live.
Strange fortune for this man of genius! Strange that he must have
helpless relatives, and constant pecuniary troubles. Most great lives
are as pathetic as they are great.
As ever, the one gleam of light was the daily letter from Maria Celeste,
in which she expressed a tenderness beyond what any daughter ever had
for a father. "But I do not know how to express myself, except by saying
that I love you better than myself. For, after God, I belong to you; and
your kindnesses are so numberless that I feel I could put my life in
peril, were it to save you from any trouble, excepting only that I would
not offend His Divine Majesty."
Finally Galileo moved to Arcetri, over against the convent, to be near
the one who alone satisfied his heart.
In January, 1632, the "Dialogues" appeared. Copies were sent to his
friends and disciples throughout Italy. The whole country applauded, and
at last Galileo seemed to have won the homage he had so long deserved.
But a storm was gathering. Enemies were at work prejudicing the mind of
Urban VIII., making him feel that Galileo had wrought evil to the
church. At once an order came from the Inquisition to secure every copy
in the booksellers' shops throughout Italy, and to forward all copies to
In October of the same year of publication, Galileo was summoned to
appear at Rome, to answer to that terror of past centuries, the charge
of heresy. His friends urged that he was old and feeble, and that he
would die on the journey, but Urban's commands were peremptory.
Galileo was deeply depressed by the summons, and wrote a friend: "This
vexes me so much that it makes me curse the time devoted to these
studies, in which I strove and hoped to deviate somewhat from the beaten
track generally pursued by learned men. I not only repent having given
the world a portion of my writings, but feel inclined to suppress those
still in hand, and to give them to the flames, and thus satisfy the
longing desire of my enemies, to whom my ideas are so inconvenient."
On January 20, 1633, the decrepit old man set out in a litter for Rome,
arriving on February 13. On April 12, he was brought before the
Inquisition, and briefly examined and then remanded to prison, though
treated with great leniency. The anxiety and deprivation from outdoor
exercise brought on illness, and he was confined to his bed till led a
second time before the Inquisition, April 30.
Weak, aged, in fear of torture, he made the melancholy confession that
his "error had been one of vainglorious ambition, and pure ignorance and
inadvertence." Pure ignorance! from the man who had studied for fifty
years all that the world knew of science! But he recalled how men had
died at the stake for offending the church. The world is not full of
men and women who can suffer death for their convictions, however much
we may admire such courage. On May 10, he was summoned a third time
before the Inquisition, and told that he had eight days in which to
write his defence. In touching language he stated how the book had been
examined and re examined by the authorities, so that there might be
nothing heterodox in it; and then he urged them to consider his age and
A fourth time he came before the Holy Congregation, June 21, and was
asked whether he held that the sun is the centre of the solar system,
and that the earth is not the centre, and that it moves. He replied, "I
do not hold, and have not held this opinion of Copernicus since the
command was intimated to me that I must abandon it; for the rest, I am
here in your hands,--do with me what you please."
And then June 22, in the forenoon, in the large hall of the Dominican
Convent of St. Maria sopra la Minerva, in the presence of cardinals and
prelates, he heard his sentence.
"The proposition that the sun is the centre of the world and does not
move from its place is absurd, and false philosophically, and formally
heretical, because it is expressly contrary to the Holy Scripture.
"The proposition that the earth is not the centre of the world and
immovable, but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is equally
absurd and false philosophically; and theologically considered, at
least, erroneous in faith.... Invoking, therefore, the most holy name of
our Lord Jesus Christ and of His most glorious mother and ever Virgin
Mary ... we say, pronounce, sentence, declare, that you, the said
Galileo, by reason of the matters adduced in process, and by you
confessed as above, have rendered yourself, in the judgment of this Holy
Office, vehemently suspected of heresy,--namely, of having believed and
held the doctrine, which is false and contrary to the sacred and divine
Scriptures,--that the sun is the centre of the world and does not move
from east to west, and that the earth moves and is not the centre of the
world.... We condemn you to the formal prison of this Holy Office during
our pleasure, and, by way of salutary penance, we enjoin that for three
years to come you repeat once a week the seven Penitential Psalms."
Galileo was also required to "abjure, curse, and detest the aforesaid
errors and heresies." And then the white-haired man of seventy, humbly
kneeling before the whole assembly, made the pitiful abjuration of his
belief. "I abjure with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith, I curse and
detest the said errors and heresies, and, generally, all and every error
and sect contrary to the Holy Catholic Church."
Pitiful spectacle of intolerance! If we of this nineteenth century have
learned to tolerate and treat with respect the beliefs of others though
widely divergent from our own, perhaps this wretched drama was not acted
It has been said that Galileo exclaimed as he rose from his feet, "E
pur si muove," "It moves, for all that," but this would have been well
nigh an impossibility, in the midst of men who would instantly have
taken him to a dungeon, and the story is no longer believed.
On July 9, poor Galileo was allowed to leave Rome for Siena, where he
stayed five months in the house of the archbishop, and then became a
prisoner in his own house at Arcetri, with strict injunctions that he
was "not to entertain friends, nor to allow the assemblage of many at a
He wrote sadly to Maria Celeste, "My name is erased from the book of the
living." Tender words came back, saying that it seemed "a thousand
years" since she had seen him, and that she would recite the seven
penitential psalms for him, "to save you the trouble of remembering it."
In less than a year, sweet Maria Celeste had said the last psalms for
him. She died April 1, 1634, at thirty-three years of age, leaving
Galileo heart-broken; "a woman," he said, "of exquisite mind, singular
goodness, and most tenderly attached to me."
He went to work on another book, but he said, pathetically, "I hear her
constantly calling me!" Beautiful spirit, that will forever shed a halo
around the name of Galileo Galilei!
In the summer of 1636, he completed his "Dialogues on Motion," and sent
it to Leyden for publication. The next year he made his last discovery,
known as the moon's librations.
The house at Arcetri had become dark and lonely. The wife of
Michelangelo, her three daughters and a son, had all died of the plague.
It was doubly dark, for Galileo had become hopelessly blind, "so that
this heaven, this earth, this universe, which I by my marvellous
discoveries and clear demonstrations had enlarged a hundred thousand
times beyond the belief of the wise men of bygone ages, henceforward for
me is shrunk into such a small space as is filled by my own bodily
His last work was a short treatise on the secondary light of the moon.
"I am obliged now," he said, sadly, "to have recourse to other hands and
other pens than mine since my sad loss of sight. This, of course,
occasions great loss of time, particularly now that my memory is
impaired by advanced age; so that in placing my thoughts on paper, many
and many a time I am forced to have the foregoing sentences read to me
before I can tell what ought to follow; else I should repeat the same
thing over and over."
He had planned other work, but death came on the evening of January 8,
1642, eight years after Celeste left him. His beloved pupils, Torricelli
and Viviani, and his son Vincenzo, stood by his bedside.
He desired to be buried in the family vault of the Galilei in Santa
Croce, at Florence, and the city at once voted a public funeral and
three thousand crowns for a marble mausoleum. But the church at Rome
prevented, lest the pernicious doctrine that the earth moves, should
thereby have confirmation. He was therefore buried in an obscure corner
of Del Noviziato, a side chapel of Santa Croce.
A century later, March 12, 1737, in the presence of the learned men of
Italy, with great ceremony, the bones of Galileo were removed to a new
resting-place in Santa Croce, and buried with his beloved friend,
Viviani. An imposing monument was erected over him. The truth finally
triumphed, as it always does. The works of Galileo, in sixteen volumes,
are no longer prohibited, as they were in his lifetime.