A Medieval Discoverer by Bill Nye

Story type: Literature

Galilei, commonly called Galileo, was born at Pisa on the 14th day of February, 1564. He was the man who discovered some of the fundamental principles governing the movements, habits, and personal peculiarities of the earth. He discovered things with marvelous fluency. Born as he was, at a time when the rotary motion of the earth was still in its infancy and astronomy was taught only in a crude way, Galileo started in to make a few discoveries and advance some theories of which he was very fond.

He was the son of a musician and learned to play several instruments himself, but not in such a way as to arouse the jealousy of the great musicians of his day. They came and heard him play a few selections, and then they went home contented with their own music. Galileo played for several years in a band at Pisa, and people who heard him said that his manner of gazing out over the Pisan hills with a far-away look in his eye after playing a selection, while he gently up-ended his alto horn and worked the mud-valve as he poured out about a pint of moist melody that had accumulated in the flues of the instrument, was simply grand.

At the age of twenty Galileo began to discover. His first discoveries were, of course, clumsy and poorly made, but very soon he commenced to turn out neat and durable discoveries that would stand for years.

It was at this time that he noticed the swinging of a lamp in a church, and, observing that the oscillations were of equal duration, he inferred that this principle might be utilized in the exact measurement of time. From this little accident, years after, came the clock, one of the most useful of man’s dumb friends. And yet there are people who will read this little incident and still hesitate about going to church.

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Galileo also invented the thermometer, the microscope and the proportional compass. He seemed to invent things not for the money to be obtained in that way, but solely for the joy of being first on the ground. He was a man of infinite genius and perseverance. He was also very fair in his treatment of other inventors. Though he did not personally invent the rotary motion of the earth, he heartily indorsed it and said it was a good thing. He also came out in a card in which he said that he believed it to be a good thing, and that he hoped some day to see it applied to the other planets.

He was also the inventor of a telescope that had a magnifying power of thirty times. He presented this to the Venetian senate, and it was used in making appropriations for river and harbor improvements.

By telescopic investigation Galileo discovered the presence of microbes in the moon, but was unable to do anything for it. I have spoken of Mr. Galileo, informally calling him by his first name, all the way through this article, for I feel so thoroughly acquainted with him, though there was such a striking difference in our ages, that I think I am justified in using his given name while talking of him.

Galileo also sat up nights and visited with Venus through a long telescope which he had made himself from an old bamboo fishing-rod.

But astronomy is a very enervating branch of science. Galileo frequently came down to breakfast with red, heavy eyes, eyes that were swollen full of unshed tears. Still he persevered. Day after day he worked and toiled. Year after year he went on with his task till he had worked out in his own mind the satellites of Jupiter and placed a small tin tag on each one, so that he would know it readily when he saw it again. Then he began to look up Saturn’s rings and investigate the freckles on the sun. He did not stop at trifles, but went bravely on till everybody came for miles to look at him and get him to write something funny in their autograph albums. It was not an unusual thing for Galileo to get up in the morning, after a wearisome night with a fretful, new-born star, to find his front yard full of albums. Some of them were little red albums with floral decorations on them, while others were the large plush and alligator albums of the affluent. Some were new and had the price-mark still on them, while others were old, foundered albums, with a droop in the back and little flecks of egg and gravy on the title-page. All came with a request for Galileo “to write a little, witty, characteristic sentiment in them.”

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Galileo was the author of the hydrostatic paradox and other sketches. He was a great reader and a fluent penman. One time he was absent from home, lecturing in Venice for the benefit of the United Aggregation of Mutual Admirers, and did not return for two weeks, so that when he got back he found the front room full of autograph albums. It is said that he then demonstrated his great fluency and readiness as a thinker and writer. He waded through the entire lot in two days with only two men from West Pisa to assist him. Galileo came out of it fresh and youthful, and all of the following night he was closeted with another inventor, a wicker-covered microscope, and a bologna sausage. The investigations were carried on for two weeks, after which Galileo went out to the inebriate asylum and discovered some new styles of reptiles.

Galileo was the author of a little work called “I Discarsi e Dimas-Trazioni Matematiche Intorus a Due Muove Scienze.” It was a neat little book, of about the medium height, and sold well on the trains, for the Pisan newsboys on the cars were very affable, as they are now, and when they came and leaned an armful of these books on a passenger’s leg and poured into his ear a long tale about the wonderful beauty of the work, and then pulled in the name of the book from the rear of the last car, where it had been hanging on behind, the passenger would most always buy it and enough of the name to wrap it up in.

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He also discovered the isochronism of the pendulum. He saw that the pendulum at certain seasons of the year looked yellow under the eyes, and that it drooped and did not enter into its work with the old zest. He began to study the case with the aid of his new bamboo telescope and a wicker-covered microscope. As a result, in ten days he had the pendulum on its feet again.

Galileo was inclined to be liberal in his religious views, more especially in the matter of the Scriptures, claiming that there were passages in the Bible which did not literally mean what the translator said they did. This was where Galileo missed it. So long as he discovered stars and isochronisms and such things as that, he succeeded, but when he began to fool with other people’s religious beliefs he got into trouble. He was forced to fly from Pisa, we are told by the historian, and we are assured at the same time that Galileo, who had always been far, far ahead of all competitors in other things, was equally successful as a fleer.

Galileo received but sixty scudi per year as his salary while at Pisa, and a part of that he took in town orders, worth only sixty cents on the scudi.

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