1970, November 8: Letter from Peter to G&H
This is a four-page handwritten letter, written on lined three-hole-punch paper. And it’s yet another letter where I’m missing significant context. It starts out looking like just a set of quotations, but then it turns into something else. For more on that, see my comments after the letter.
8 Nov. 1970, 1:00 a.m.
Dear Parents —— Happy Hanukkah, Already!
Here are some stories:
“On observing the Moon, Galileo saw mountains and craters. He even estimated the heights of Moon-mountains from their shadows. What he saw was unwelcome to many who had been taught that the Moon is a smooth round ball. Mountains and craters made the Moon earthy and broke the Aristotelians’ sharp distinction between the rough, corruptible Earth and the polished unchangeable heavens. The telescope dealt a smashing blow to the old astronomy of perfect spheres and globes. Human beings are conservatives and do not like to have their settled opinions changed by a newcomer who proves he is right. Far from being pleased at being shown something new, they are angry to find their beliefs upset, particularly if those beliefs have been firmly established in childhood —— their sense of security is assailed. So Galileo found some people angry over his discovery. When he offered a convincing look through his telescope, many were delighted but some refused, and others looked and then said they didn’t believe it. One Aristotelian admitted the mountains were there but explained away the damage by saying that the valleys between them are filled with invisible crystal material to bring the surface back to a perfect sphere. Sure, said Galileo, and there are mountains of invisible crystal there as well, that stick out ten times as far!”
(from chapter on Galileo, in
“Physics for the Enquiring Mind,”
c. 1960, by Eric Rogers…)
“Science liberates humankind
From the terror of the gods”
“I believe a leaf of grass is no less
than the journeywork of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect,
and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren,
And the tree-toad is a chef-
d’œuvre for the highest,
And the running blackberry would
adorn the parlors of heaven,
And the narrowest hinge in my hand
puts to scorn all machinery,
And a cow crunching with depressed
head surpasses any statue,
And a mouse is miracle enough
to stagger sextillions of infidels,
And I could come every afternoon
of my life to look at the
farmer’s girl boiling her iron
tea-kettle and baking shortcake.
. . .
“I think I could turn and live
awhile with the animals… they
are so placid and self-contained,
I stand and look at them
sometimes half the day long,
They do not sweat and whine
about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark
and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick
discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied…not one is
demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another nor to his
kind that live thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or industrious
over the whole earth.”
Leaves of Grass)
(Doubleday, N. Y.)
I copied all three of these out of the book I’m using for a physics text —— it’s really very clear, and well worth reading…
Well, anyway, we were glad to receive your letter today, and not very surprised at its contents: of course you will be not very surprised when we show up anyway —— because although it saddens me to be disinvited by you, still my other brothers, john, david, and paul, have extended warm invitations, and since we’ll have (hopefully) a ’61 VW-bus, we won’t lack for a roof to keep the snow off our sleep-sacks; ho, ho, ho, everything works together for them as love the Lord.
“O it’s hard to try to understand
Einstein through my pores, and nerves,
when so many people haven’t really
quite caught up to Copernicus,
can’t really quite believe in their nerves
& sinews that this Earth swings round the Sun;
it’s hard to revaluate all values,
& swing allegiance to a Greater Center;
but if God is your Father, then
I am your brother, and
you know that we all are One…”
love, peter, marcy, jed, & joaquin
…I have no idea what that paragraph in the middle is about. Presumably we were headed up to Washington for a visit, but why did George and Helen disinvite us? And was it more of a “sorry, we won’t have room for all of you to stay over that night” kind of disinvitation, or more of a “we disown you and never want to see you again” kind of disinvitation?
Presumably not entirely the latter, as the letters continue unabated. But possibly more than the former, as the next letter (which I’ll post next week) included some significant disagreement with G&H.
And given that paragraph in the middle, I’m not sure whether the quotations are meant as chastisements.
Anyway. For more on the invisible-crystal thing, see Galileo at Work, by Stillman Drake, p. 168.