A View Of The Moon From The Sun: 1835


A deputation from Yale College hurried to New York to inspect the original articles—the “Supplement”—from Scotland. The professors were given a thorough runaround, from Sun office to print shop and back; they retreated to New Haven in bafflement. Harriet Martineau, a British commentator, amusedly reported the following story, for whose reliability she did not vouch: … the astronomer has received at the Cape a letter from a large number of Baptist clergymen of the United States congratulating him on his discovery, informing him that it had been die occasion of much edifying preaching and of prayer-meetings for the benefit of brethren in die newlyexplored regions; and beseeching him to inform his correspondents whedier science affords any prospects of a method of conveying die Gospel to residents in the moon.

But even before Herschel was confronted—to his utter amazement—with a copy of the Sun ’s pamphlet, Locke himself had exposed the hoax. New York’s lordly Journal of Commerce had finally capitulated to public demand and decided to reprint the moon stories. A Journal reporter and friend mentioned the decision to Locke, who blurted out—apparently to keep his friend from looking foolish if the hoax were uncovered—“Don’t print it right away. I wrote it myself.” The Journal promptly denounced the hoax, and other papers chimed in. The Sun finally admitted the deception on September 16, but, just to keep the pot boiling, proudly took credit for gulling the academic community and for amusing the public. Indeed, the Sun felt that it had provided a valuable public service in “diverting the public mind, for a while, from that bitter apple of discord, the abolition of slavery.” And if, in the bargain, it had brought off a gaudy coup, had stampeded its competitors into copying its material, and had put new heart into the struggling penny press—why, so much the better. Lunatics have done crazier things.