It was M Edmond Perrier, director of the museum of the Jardin des Plantes, in Paris, who constructed the first picture of the Martians, as he conceived them.
At the time M Perrier undertook this task, the division among the authorities on Professor Lowell’s theory had assumed wide preportions. Some were decidedly “cold” to the notion that Mars — the question as to Venus was temporarily in eclipse — was inhabited at all, and they considered it futile and profitless, therefore, to attempt to depict a non-existent people. Others, as has happened even recently, considered the matter in a light vein, thinking to get some humor out of it, and one newspaper carried a cartoon, captioned “Hello Central,” showing Professor Lowell “calling up” Mars.
Still another group seemed to take it as a personal affront that the astronomer had sought to enlarge their list of acquaintances by introducing a race about which they had absolutely no knowledge.
M Perrier approached the problem from a highly speculative viewpoint, but made clear the fact, nevertheless, that he saw no reason for condemning the position of Professor Lowell.
“Dreams are not a crime,” contended the French scholar, “and in this case, contradiction is difficult.”
The director of the museum of the Jardin des Plantes led up to his description of the inhabitants of Mars by establishing the premise that conditions on Mars are not inimical to human life. Rain, snow, thunder and hail are known there, as on earth. There are seaweeds in the ocean, grass and trees on the land, fields available for cultivation and a friendly soil to provide food for the people.
“The life which animates the earth also animates other planets,” said the French savant. “From what goes on around us we may divine what is happening elsewhere by examining the exact conditions under which each planet finds itself en rapport with every other. On the planets which are further away, it is impossible that human beings should exist, for no organism could, for example, be formed in the alkaline seas of Jupiter, while Mercury, which is too near the sun, could not engender life. Only Venus, the Earth and Mars are habitable.”
On Mars, M Perrier went on, life is “grand, intense, formidable.” The mean temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit, as against 75 degrees on earth, the winters are more severe, the summers warmer, the year longer and the seasons more marked than ours.
The sea animals are, much like ours, the fishes have a sense of hearing, there are insects in the animal kingdom and flowers and butterflies, but the humans are very, very different.
Before going on and giving M Perrier’s picture of the kind of people the Martians are, and in order to reassure such sensitive souls as may fear to establish speaking relations with a people too alien in appearance to make acceptable neighbors, it should be stated that M Perrier does not agree with the conception of the Martians set forth by H G Wells in his book “War of the Worlds.” Mr Wells, in that work, caused the Martians to resemble cuttlefish, with round, gray bodies, with “sort of faces” and long, groping tentacles.
This conception, M Perrier asserted, did the Martians a great injustice and created a prejudice against them, which is not only unscientific and unsound, but entirely undeserved.
The Martians, the French scholar held, bear a certain resemblance to man, although many of their features are more prominent. For this, the difference in the forces of gravity and in environment are chiefly responsible, he said. Their ears, for example, are very large.
Continuing, the director of the museum of the Jardin des Plantes said: “The low atmospheric pressure has produced a considerable development of the pulmonary apparatus, and consequently the general character of the Martians has been influenced by this development, which is unknown on earth.”
Why Martians are tall
“The men on Mars are tall because the force of gravity is slight. They are blond, because the daylight is less intense. They have less powerful limbs. They have some of the characteristics of our Scandinavian type, although they probably have larger skulls.
“Their large blue eyes, their strong noses, their large ears, constitute a type of beauty which we doubtless would not appreciate except as suggesting superhuman intelligence.”
Going further into details, M. Perrier concluded that the jaw of the Martian is narrower than ours because time and evolution have removed him further from his animal forebears than they have us. His lung capacity is enormous because of the thin atmosphere, although his legs are extremely thin, due to the little effort needed in walking. He has little or no neck.
Touching on the question of intelligence, the French savant deduced that the Martians have solved the problem of existence, and know no such thing as industrial strife. Being older, they are also wiser than we. They have long since conquered disease, and know the hour of their demise, awaiting the event calmly.
They have overcome poverty, are too sophisticated to engage in war, and need no law or government to keep them orderly. Philosophers and brothers, they live in amity and understanding, devoting all their thought to the promotion of large undertakings in which selfishness, avarice and earthly trifles have no part.
They are, in a word, as different from the fanciful And unpleasing picture painted by Wells as are we from the Simian types referred to by Darwin.
Returning to the question of flora and fauna, M Perrier concluded that because of the reduced force of gravity, animals are much larger on Mars than here, and hop, run and fly about much more easily. Grass is higher, fruit is bigger, and the flowers possess undreamed of beauty. The light is something like our dusk, and the general landscape much more attractive than on earth.
Neither M Perrier nor the other scientists who believe in the habitability of other worlds paid so much attention to Venus. They agreed, however, with the head of the Jardin des Plantes that as this planet is much younger than the earth, life there is much less advanced. Because of the greater nearness to the sun, the climate is something like that in our tropics, and the air is always misty. Animals and plants are much like ours, especially at the poles, where the temperature is not so high, but humans are not much beyond the development that existed on earth during the secondary geological period.”The year on Mars is twice as long as our earthly one,” he explained, “and hence plants and insects have twice the time in which to evolve. Mars is the land of huge plants and ideal flowers, of birds abnormally powerful in song and wondrous in appearance, and of four-footed animals with extraordinarily developed fur and skin.”
In other words, there is much less likelihood that those strange Marconi signals came from Venus than that they came from Mars.
Having thus disposed of the kind of beings supposed to exist on the only two eligible planets, two other questions arise — Why are the Martians or the Venusians trying to communicate with us, that is, if they are, and, what atmospheric conditions will we on earth have to overcome in order to reply to them?
As to the first question, a possible explanation may be found in the so-called cataclysm on Mars that was reported by the British Astronomical Association in 1909. In that year the “planet of mystery” was nearer to earth than at any time since 1892, and so in a favorable position for observation.
The phenomenon which was heralded as without parallel in the records of the past was the appearance of a gloomy, yellow veil which enshrouded immense tracts of the Martian surface, obliterating important markings.
On account of the theory, then recently advanced by Professor Lowell, that Mars was inhabited, the changes aroused extraordinary interest. It previously had been suggested that the canals on the planet had been constructed by a dying race, a race menaced by starvation on a desert planet, which had sought by means of these enormous viaducts to carry water from the melting ice caps at the poles, and the appearance of the yellow mist combined with the simultaneous erasure of some of the canal markings gave rise to the fear that a gigantic catastrophe had occurred, the effects of which were only too apparent.
Can it be, some of the observers of conditions now are asking, that some such similar catastrophe has overtaken the Martians, who, in their desperation, are attempting to communicate the fact to us?
In August, 1909, astronomers working at their telescopes had reported what they surmised to be a new fracture of the southern polar cap and the appearance of a dark streak along the line of the break. About the same time a brilliant spot, which may have been a segment of the shattered terrain, had separated itself from the polar cap and had moved over to one of the dusky areas of the planet, partly hiding it from view.