Of course, to eat at table, they were obliged to sit on the
“But,” said Clawbonny, “who would n't give all the tallies
and dining-rooms in the world, to dine in north latitude
The thoughts of each one were about their situation. They
had no other idea than the North Pole. The dangers they had
undergone to reach it, those to overcome before returning, were
forgotten in their unprecedented success. What neither Europeans,
Americans, nor Asiatics had been able to do, they had
Hence they were all ready to listen to the doctor
when he told them all that his inexhaustible memory could
recall about their position.
It was with real enthusiasm that he
first proposed their captain's health.
“To John Hatteras!” he said.
“To John Hatteras!” repeated the others.
“To the North Pole!” answered the captain, with a warmth
that was unusual in this man who was usually so self-restrained,
but who now was in a state of great nervous excitement.
touched glasses, and the toasts were followed by earnest hand-shakings.
“It is,” said the doctor, “the most important geographical fact
of our day! Who would have thought that this discovery would
precede that of the centre of Africa or Australia? Really, Hatteras,
you air greater than Livingstone, Burton, and Barth! All
honor to you!”
“You are right, Doctor,” said Altamont; “it would seem, from
the difficulty of the undertaking, that the Pole would be the
last place discovered, Whenever the government was absolutely
determined to know the middle of Africa, it would have
succeeded at the cost of so many men and so much money; but
here nothing is less certain than success, and there might be
obstacles really insuperable.”
“Insuperable!” cried Hatteras with warmth; “there are no
insuperable obstacles; there are more or less determined minds,
that is all!”
“Well,” said Johnson, “we are here, and it is well. But,
Doctor, will you tell me, once for all, what there is so remarkable
about the Pole?”
“It is this, Johnson, that it is the only motionless part of the
globe, while all the rest is turning with extreme rapidity.”
“But I don't see that we are more motionless here than at
“No more than you perceive the motion at Liverpool; and
that is because in both cases you participate in the movement
or the repose. But the fact is no less certain. The earth rotates
in twenty-four hours, and this motion is on an axis with its
extremities at the two poles. Well, we are at one of the extremities
of the axis, which is necessarily motionless.”
“So,” said Bell, “when our countrymen are turning rapidly,
we are perfectly still?”
“Very nearly, for we are not exactly at the Pole.”
“You are right, Doctor,” said Hatteras seriously, and shaking
his head; “we are still forty-five seconds from the precise spot.”
“That is not far,” answered Altamont, “and we can consider
ourselves motionless.”
“Yes,” continued the doctor, “while those living at the equator
move at the rate of three hundred and ninety-six leagues an
“And without getting tired!” said Bell.
“Exactly!” answered the doctor.
“But,” continued Johnson, “besides this movement of rotation,
does n't the earth also move about the sun?”
“Yes, and this takes a year.”
“Is it swifter than the other?”
“Infinitely so; and I ought to say that, although we are at
the Pole, it takes us with it as well as all the people in the
world. So our pretended immobility is a chimera: we are
motionless with regard to the other points of the globe, but not
so with regard to the sun.”
“Good!” said Bell, with an accent of comic regret; “so I, who
thought I was still, was mistaken! This illusion has to be given
up! One can't have a moment's peace in this world.”
“You are right, Bell,” answered Johnson; “and will you tell
us, Doctor, how fast this motion is?”
“It is very fast,” answered the doctor; “the earth moves
around the sun seventy-six times faster than a twenty-four-pound
cannon-ball flies, which goes one hundred and ninety-five fathoms
a second. It moves, then, seven leagues and six tenths per second;
you see it is very different from the diurnal movement of the
“The deuce!” said Bell; “that is incredible, Doctor! More
than seven leagues a second, and that when it would have been
so easy to be motionless, if God had wished it!”
“Good!” said Altamont; “do you think so, Bell? In that case
no more night, nor spring, nor autumn, nor winter!”
“Without considering a still more terrible result,” continued
the doctor.
“What is that?” asked Johnson.
“We should all fall into the sun!”
“Fall into the sun!” repeated Bell with surprise.
“Yes. If this motion were to stop, the earth would fall into
the sun in sixty-four days and a half.”
“A fall of sixty-four days!” said Johnson.
“No more nor less,” answered the doctor; “for it would have
to fall a distance of thirty-eight millions of leagues.”
“What is the weight of the earth?” asked Altamont.
“It is five thousand eight hundred and ninety-one quadrillions
of tons.”
“Good!” said Johnson; “those numbers have no meaning.”
“For that reason, Johnson, I was going to give you two comparisons
which you could remember. Don't forget that it would
take seventy-five moons to make the sun,[1] and three hundred and
fifty thousand earths to make up the weight of the sun.”
“That is tremendous!” said Altamont.
“Tremendous is the word,” answered the doctor; “but, to
return to the Pole, no lesson on cosmography on this part of the
globe could be more opportune, if it does n't weary you.”
“Go on, Doctor, go on!”
“I told you,” resumed the doctor, who took as much pleasure
in giving as the others did in receiving instruction,—“I told
you that the Pole was motionless in comparison with the rest
of the globe. Well, that is not quite true!”
“What!” said Bell, “has that got to be taken back?”
“Yes, Bell, the Pole is not always exactly in the same place;
formerly the North Star was farther from the celestial pole than
it is now. So our Pole has a certain motion; it describes a circle
in about twenty-six years. That comes from the precession of
the equinoxes, of which I shall speak soon.”
“But,” asked Altamont, “might it not happen that some day
the Pole should get farther from its place?”
“Ah, my dear Altamont,” answered the doctor, “you bring up
there a great question, which scientific men investigated for a
long time in consequence of a singular discovery.”
“What was that?”
“This is it. In 1771 the body of a rhinoceros was found on
the shore of the Arctic Sea, and in 1799 that of an elephant on
the coast of Siberia, How did the animals of warm countries
happen to be found in these latitudes? Thereupon there was
much commotion among geologists, who were not so wise as a
Frenchman, M. Elie de Beaumont, has been since. He showed
that these animals used to live in rather high latitudes, and that
the streams and rivers simply carried their bodies to the places
where they were found. But do you know the explanation
which scientific men gave before this one?”
“Scientific men are capable of anything,” said Altamont.
“Yes, in explanation of a fact; well, they imagined that the
Pole used to be at the equator and the equator at the Pole.”
“It was exactly what I tell you. Now, if it had been so, since
the earth is flattened more than five leagues at the pole, the
seas, carried to the equator by centrifugal force, would have
covered mountains twice as high as the Himalayas; all the
countries near the polar circle, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Siberia,
Greenland, and New Britain, would have been buried in five
leagues of water, while the regions at the equator, having become
the pole, would have formed plateaus fifteen leagues high!”
“What a change!” said Johnson.
“0, that made no difference to scientific men!”
“And how did they explain the alteration?” asked Altamont.
“They said it was due to the shock of collision with a comet.
The comet is the deus es machina; whenever one comes to a
difficult question in cosmography, a comet is lugged in. It is
the most obliging of the heavenly bodies, and at the least sign
from a scientific man it disarranges itself to arrange everything.”
“Then,” said Johnson, “according to you, Doctor, this change
is impossible?”
“And if it should take place?”
“If it did, the equator would be frozen in twenty-four hours!”
“Good! if it were to take place now,” said Bell, “people would
as likely as not say we had never gone to the Pole.”
“Calm yourself, Bell. To return to the immobility of the terrestrial
axis, the following is the result: if we were to spend a
winter here, we should see the stars describing a circle about us.
As for the sun, the day of the vernal equinox, March 23d, it
would appear to us (I take no account of refraction) exactly cut
in two by the horizon, and would rise gradually in longer and
longer curves; but here it is remarkable that when it has once
risen it sets no more; it is visible for six mouths. Then its
disk touches the horizon again at the autumnal equinox, September
22d, and as soon as it is set, it is seen no more again all
“You were speaking just now of the flattening of the earth at
the poles,” said Johnson; “be good enough to explain that,
“I will. Since the earth was fluid when first created, you
understand that its rotary movement would try to drive part of the
mobile mass to the equator, where the centrifugal force was
greater. If the earth had been motionless, it would have
remained a perfect sphere; but in consequence of the phenomenon
I have just described, it has an ellipsoidal form, and points
at the pole are nearer the centre of the earth than points at the
equator by about five leagues.”
“So,” said Johnson, “if our captain wanted to take us to the
centre of the earth, we should have five leagues less to go?”
“Exactly, my friend.”
“Well, Captain, it's so much gained! We ought to avail ourselves
of it.”
But Hatteras did not answer. Evidently he had lost all interest
in the conversation, or perhaps he was listening without
“Well,” answered the doctor, “according to certain scientific
men, it would be worth while to try this expedition.”
“What! really?” exclaimed Johnson.
“But let me finish,” answered the doctor. “I will tell you. I
must first tell you this flattening of the poles is the cause of the
precession of the equinoxes; that is to say, why every year the
vernal equinox comes a day sooner than it would if the earth
were perfectly round. This comes from the attraction of the sun
operating in a different way on the heaped-up land of the equator,
which then experiences a retrograde movement. Subsequently it
displaces this Pole a little, as I just said. But, independently of
this effect, this flattening ought to have a more curious and more
personal effect, which we should perceive if we had mathematical
“What do you mean?” asked Bell.
“I mean that we are heavier here than at Liverpool.”
“Yes; ourselves, the dogs, our guns, and instruments!”
“Is it possible?”
“Certainly, and for two reasons: the first is, that we are nearer
the centre of the globe, which consequently attracts us more
strongly, and this force of gravitation is nothing but weight; the
second is, the rotary force, which is nothing at the pole, is very
marked at the equator, and objects there have a tendency to fly
from the earth: they are less heavy.”
“What!” exclaimed Johnson, seriously; “have we not the same
weight everywhere?”
“No, Johnson; according to Newton's law, bodies attract one
another directly as their masses, and inversely to the square of
their distances. Here I weigh more, because I am nearer the
centre of attraction; and on another planet I should weigh more
or less according to the mass of the planet.”
“What?” said Bell, “in the moon—”
“In the moon my weight, which is two hundred pounds at
Liverpool, would be only thirty-two pounds.”
“And in the sun?”
“0, in the sun I should weigh more than five thousand
“Heavens!” said Bell; “you'd need a derrick to move your
“Probably,” answered the doctor, laughing at Bell's amazement;
“but here the difference is imperceptible, and by an equal
effort of the muscles Bell would leap as high as on the docks
at Liverpool.”
“Yes, but in the sun?” urged Bell.
“My friend,” answered the doctor, “the upshot of it all is that
we are well off where we are, and need not want to go elsewhere.”
“You said just now,” resumed Altamont, “that perhaps it
would be worth while to make a journey to the centre of the
world; has such an undertaking ever been thought off?”
“Yes, and this is all I'm going to say about the Pole. There is
no point in the world which has given rise to more chimeras and
hypotheses. The ancients, in their ignorance, placed the garden
of the Hesperides there. In the Middle Ages it was supposed
that the earth was upheld on axles placed at the poles, on which
it revolved: but when comets were seen moving freely, that idea
had to be given up. Later, there was a French astronomer,
Bailly, who said that the lost people mentioned by Plato, the
Atlantides, lived here. Finally, it has been asserted in our own
time that there was an immense opening at the poles, from which
came the Northern Lights, and through which one could reach
the inside of the earth; since in the hollow sphere two planets,
Pluto and Proserpine, were said to move, and the air was luminous
in consequence of the strong pressure it felt.”
“That has been maintained?” asked Altamont.
“Yes, it has been written about seriously. Captain Symmes,
a countryman of ours, proposed to Sir Humphrey Davy, Humboldt,
and Arago, to undertake the voyage! But they declined.”
“And they did well.”
“I think so. Whatever it may be, you see, my friends, that
the imagination has busied itself about the Pole, and that sooner
or later we must come to the reality.”
“At any rate, we shall see for ourselves,” said Johnson, who
clung to his idea.
“Then, to-morrow we'll start,” said the doctor, smiling at
seeing the old sailor but half convinced; “and if there is any
opening to the centre of the earth, we shall go there together.”

1^  Translation error. Verne: soixante-quinze lunes pour faire le poids de la terre, seventy-five moons to make the weight of the earth.




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