Galileo (1918)/Chapter 9

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Galileo by Walter William Bryant
IX. Troubles Ensuing on Publication of the "Dialogues"


The great work appeared in February, 1632, and specially bound copies were prepared for sending to Rome, but owing to the plague these were delayed, none being seen even by Castelli until May. By the summer several copies reached Rome, among the first possessors being the two Cardinals Barberini (the Pope's brother and nephew), the Tuscan Ambassador Niccolini, and the Censor Riccardi. The book circulated in all parts of Italy and was eagerly read and applauded among men of independent mind. From Venice, however, to which a manuscript copy had been sent, came a note of warning in March, too late to stop publication, recommending that for safety's sake it would be better not to print the book, but to distribute MS. copies to public libraries in the great towns of Europe, with permission for further copies to be made by those who desired them. In this way all who were unprejudiced would be able to obtain the work, while those who sought a weapon against Galileo would be deprived of that afforded by publication and dissemination among the ignorant.

But the success of the book on the one side was only a measure of the intensity of the opposition on the other, and Riccardi soon realised this, and remarked a few weeks after receiving the book, "The Jesuits will now persecute Galileo with the utmost bitterness". He had already heard that objection had been taken to the title page, but was relieved to find that what had been taken for a skit on the Papal arms was only the printer's device, appearing on all books issued by his firm.

Scheiner, who had in 1630 published a fierce attack on Galileo in his "Rosa Ursina," found his arguments roughly handled in the new work, and took a leading part in the agitation against its author. It was next objected that the preface was in different type, though this was naturally due to the long delay in returning it from Rome; so that the printer had begun on the work itself without waiting for the preface. It was also alleged that the Pope's mighty arguments against Copernicus, which Galileo had undertaken to insert, had been omitted. This was not even true, for the Pope's argument about Omnipotence was duly inserted at the end of the book, and being professedly directed against Copernicus was put into the mouth of Simplicio as a matter of course. It was then admitted that this was the case, but the suggestion was made that Galileo had deliberately insulted the Pope by putting his argument in the mouth of Simplicio, and that Galileo wished to imply that the Pope was a "simpleton". Although Simplicio distinctly states that he had the argument from a "very eminent and learned personage," and although the name of Simplicio was chosen for quite other reasons than that suggested, this ingenious innuendo succeeded to all appearance. Unlikely as it may sound, the Pope was so enraged that he lent a ready ear to further insinuations that the dogmas of the Catholic Faith were in danger from the Copernican doctrines, and that Galileo had obtained the Imprimatur by false pretences. It is certain that Galileo himself attributed his subsequent troubles to the idea thus cunningly suggested that he had been making game of the Pope. It is also clear that, something must have supervened to alter the Pope's known previous sympathetic attitude towards Copernicanism.

Galileo meanwhile, though prepared to meet the usual "scientific" opposition, felt sure that he had safeguarded himself from any accusations made on behalf of the Church. He was therefore astounded when in August, 1632, his publisher received an order from the Inquisition forbidding the sale of the book until further notice. A few days later came the news of the appointment of a special Commission at Rome by order of the Pope to examine the book and report. The Commission was under the presidency of the Pope's nephew, Cardinal F. Barberini, and included nobody with any pretensions to scientific knowledge, such as Castelli, to whom the Pope expressly objected.

Failing to obtain any friendly representation on the Commission, Galileo appealed to the Grand Duke, who demanded on his behalf the right to defend himself against his accusers, expressing, his surprise that a book which had been submitted to the censorship and revised in accordance with its directions, and had then received the Papal Imprimatur, should two years afterwards be prohibited as suspicious; he desired therefore that copies of the accusations should be forwarded to Florence. The Grand Duke's instructions were sent to his ambassador Niccolini, but he encountered great opposition when he attempted to carry them out. The Pope, evidently much irritated against Galileo, exclaimed that both he and Riccardi had been deceived, and cajoled into granting the licence for the book and for its printing at Florence, and that by appointing a special Commission instead of sending the book straight to the Inquisition he was far more generous to Galileo than the latter deserved, since he "did not fear to make game of me". He added that there was no question of "defence," as the rule was for the Holy Office to pronounce judgment and then summon the offender to recant.

Those well qualified to form an opinion on the proceedings of the Commission came to the conclusion that the Copernican doctrines would not be condemned "Ex Cathedrâ," but probably "corrected" in order to maintain the decree of 1616. After a month's sittings the Commission reported that Galileo had, in spite of all warnings, treated the earth's motion as a fact and not merely an hypothesis, that he had attributed the tides to this untrue assumption as to the earth's motion round the sun, and lastly, that he had deceived the authorities by suppressing all mention of the command laid upon him in 1616. This third point is evidently the only one on which verbal corrections would be of no avail, and we now see the deadly effect of the unsigned minute of the earlier proceedings, of which a fuller account has already been given (in Chapter V.). It is evident that on this charge the whole strength of the case against Galileo depended. It does not seem to have occurred to anybody to doubt the validity of the written evidence of the minute, which clearly does not represent the sense of the proceedings to which it refers, as we have pointed out in dealing with Cardinal Bellarmine's admonition. The clique which was working against Galileo must have rejoiced when this unexpected weapon appeared; and Cardinal Bellarmine himself, who, as we have seen, though opposed to the new doctrines was not so strongly prejudiced as to have his sense of justice obscured, could no longer rise to explain the true state of affairs at the time of the minute of 1616. There was no question raised as to the want of a signature authenticating the minute, because, there being no legal trial, no legal points such as this could be brought up.

On the findings of the Commission the Pope sent word to Niccolini that Galileo's affairs would be handed over to the Inquisition, and Galileo himself was cited to appear before the Commissary-General at Rome in October. Galileo was in very poor health, and had been suffering from severe ophthalmia, and moreover, the plague was raging again, so being now of an advanced age he appealed to Cardinal F. Barberini, the Pope's nephew, to try and avoid the necessity of going to Rome, suggesting that the Inquisition should appoint delegates in Florence to investigate his case. Niccolini did his utmost to obtain this concession, but the Pope insisted that Galileo must come to Rome himself, in a litter, and as slowly as might be necessary for his health. The journey was postponed on account of a fresh attack of illness, and time dragged on till the end of December. The Pope then announced that no further evasion could be tolerated, and that Galileo must be brought in irons if necessary, unless he was declared unfit to travel, a commissioner with a physician, being sent to report on this point.

The Grand Duke, helpless to protect Galileo against the Inquisition, arranged for him to be transported in Grand Ducal litters to the Tuscan Embassy at Rome. As we have remarked before, Venice was the only state in Italy that would have dared to defy the Inquisition, and Galileo was now reaping the bitter fruits of his leaving Padua. Even so late as the beginning of these proceedings he had received the offer of reinstatement at Padua on his own terms, his Dialogues to be printed in Venice. Apparently the offer came too late, or Galileo underestimated the danger he was in, or else felt too strongly bound to the service of the Grand Duke.

After a miserable journey at the most inclement time of the year, and a twenty-day quarantine at the frontier, Galileo reached the Tuscan Embassy at Rome, and by special favour was allowed to remain there in seclusion, seeing nobody without express permission. It was now known that the whole proceedings hinged on the question of the injunction of 1616, which Galileo maintained that he had obeyed in the sense in which he had understood it. In the course of the weeks that dragged on while the preliminaries of the case were in progress, Niccolini succeeded in dissuading Galileo from his expressed intention of defending himself to the last, counselling complete submission as the quickest and safest course.