(Cyrano de Bergerac, 1656)

voyagetomoon00cyrarich_0079…no sooner was his back turned, but I fell to consider attentively my Books and their Boxes, that’s to say, their Covers, which seemed to me to be wonderfully Rich; the one was cut of a single Diamond, incomparably more resplendent than ours; the second looked like a prodigious great Pearl, cloven in two. My Spirit had translated those Books into the Language of that World; but because I have none of their Print, I’ll now explain to you the Fashion of these two Volumes.

As I opened the Box, I found within somewhat of Metal, almost like to our Clocks, full of I know not what little Springs and imperceptible Engines: It was a Book, indeed; but a Strange and Wonderful Book, that had neither Leaves nor Letters: In fine, it was a Book made wholly for the Ears, and not the Eyes. So that when any Body has a mind to read in it, he winds up that Machine with a great many Strings; then he turns the Hand to the Chapter which he desires to hear, and straight, as from the Mouth of a Man, or a Musical Instrument, proceed all the distinct and different Sounds, which the Lunar Grandees make use of for expressing their Thoughts, instead of Language.

When I since reflected on this Miraculous Invention, I no longer wondered that the Young-Men of that Country were more knowing at Sixteen or Eighteen years Old, than the Gray-Beards of our Climate for knowing how to read as soon as Speak, they are never without Lectures, in their Chambers, their Walks, the Town, or Travelling; they may have in their Pockets, or at their Girdles, Thirty of these Books, where they need but wind up a Spring to hear a whole Chapter, and so more, if they have a mind to hear the Book quite through; so that you never want the Company of all the great Men, living and Dead, who entertain you with Living Voices. This Present employed me about an hour; and then hanging them to my Ears, like a pair of Pendants, I went a Walking…

This vision of sound storage and play-back comes from Cyrano de Bergerac’s L’Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune (The Other World; or, the Societies and Governments of the Moon). Published posthumously in 1656, a year after Cyrano’s death, the fantastic tale of a world on the moon is now considered a precursor to science fiction. The tale’s narrator flies to the moon by means of dew-filled bottles that lift him when heated by the sun, and once there encounters exotic ways of life, modes of thought and inventions that not only amuse but also prompt critical reflection on earthly society. The language of upper class lunar people consists of “inarticulate tones, much like our music when the words are not added.” The lunar book, with its clockwork innards, thus resembles a music box as much as a walkman – technologies of which it is prophetic.
Text and image: Histoire comique des États et Empires de la Lune, trans. A Voyage to the Moon, Archibald Lovell (New York: Double Day, 1899), 195-97 (image p. 40).