Camille Flammarion was one of the leading astronomers of his day and one of the pioneers of the popularization of science. He used all kinds of formats in his attempts to make the produce of scientific research accessible to lay people. He was always eager to bring out the awesome and dramatic aspects of scientific discovery and was fond of writing apocalyptic accounts of possible cosmic disasters. Some of the ideas in Lumen formed the basis of his best-selling novel Uranie (1889; English translations as Uranie, 1890, and Urania, 1891). He was always more comfortable working in more straightforward didactic formats. Although the scientific paper was becoming the standard form of academic reportage by the time Flammarion was active, he found older modes of discourse convenient for his speculative works.
Lumen is the widest ranging but also the most personal of all of Flammarion’s essays, in which he attempted to unite his devout Spiritualism and his scientific knowledge into a coherent vision of the universe. Whereas other adherents of the new cult were content to imagine immortal souls that inhabited an earthbound astral plane, Flammarion wanted the domain of his soul to be the entirety of the vast and wonderful universe revealed to him by his telescopes and spectroscopes, and he wanted the soul to be capable of serial reincarnation in every imaginable form that life might adopt. This was—and arguably...
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