A Medieval Discoverer by Edgar Wilson Bill
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
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
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
[Illustration: 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 (Page 202)]
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.
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
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.
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.