John Cleves Symmes

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In 1818, John Cleves Symmes (1779-1829), nephew of the Ohio pioneer of the same name, announced to the world that the earth was hollow, in habitable, and accessible at the poles. He was not the first nor the last hollow earth theorist, but he was certainly among the most interesting, in part because he advanced his theories during when polar exploration was an active concern.

Symmes presented the bare facts of his "theory of concentric spheres and polar voids" in a short piece (reproduced below) entitled Light gives light, to light discover—"ad infinitum." Responses varied from scorn to enthusiasm, even willingness to join his proposed expedition. Symmes' theory was debated in 1824 in the pages of the Cincinnati Literary Gazette—on his "home field"—and the editors of that paper noted that Symmes' local reputation and character added some weight to his speculations. The issue of March 20, 1824 contained the following introduction to a response by Thomas J. Matthews [coming soon]: The very amiable private character of Capt. Symmes; the reputation which he acquired in the army as a brave and active officer, and the exclusive devotion of all his time, talents and property to the-propagation of his new doctrines, have excited a degree of attention and sympathy towards him in this city, which, in many instances, induces a belief of the truth of his theory; and that his opinions are treated with undeserved neglect and contempt by the learned, and by our government. Capt. Symmes' arguments are such as require no scientific knowledge for their comprehension; while those principles of science which have long been considered as the most firmly established, are in opposition to them—but are not generally understood, except by men of liberal education. For the purpose of exhibiting the real merit of Capt. Symmes' theory and making the reasons of the neglect of it intelligible to all, Mr. T. J. Matthews has been induced to deliver the lecture of which the publication is commenced in this number.

Matthews' rebuttal was not, however, the only series contributed in the Gazette in response to Symmes' theories. Three pieces also appeared, under the title "Symmesonian," purporting to be an exchange with one of the inhabitants of the Earth's interior. You'll find these posted further down the page. They're worth a look for a variety of reasons, some of which have very little to do with questions about the Earth's core. Note the concern expressed about the treatment of Native Americans (13 years after the Battle of Tippecanoe), and the humorous comments on English and American national character. But, first, here is John Cleve Symmes' (or Jno. Cleeve Symmes') 1818 announcement, as it appeared in Niles' Weekly Register, Jun 20 (pg. 294).


Light gives light, to light discover—"ad infinitum." ST. LOUIS, (Missouri Territory,) North America, April 10, A.D. 1818 TO ALL THE WORLD! I declare the earth is hollow, and habitable within; containing a number of solid concentric spheres, one within the other, and that it is open at the poles 12 or 16 degrees; I pledge my life in support of this truth, and am ready to explore the hollow, if the worldwill support and aid me in the undertaking. JNO. CLEEVES SYMMES Of Ohio, Late Captain of Infantry.

N.B.—I have ready for the press, a Treatise on the principles of matter, wherein I show proofs of the above positions, account for various phenomena, and disclose Doctor Darwin's Golden Secret.

My terms, are the patronage of this and the new worlds.

I dedicate to my Wife and her ten Children. I select Doctor S.L. Mitchill, Sir H. Davy and Baron Alex. de Humboldt, as my protectors.

I ask one hundred brave companions, well equipped, to start from Siberia in the fall season, with Reindeer and slays, on the ice of the frozen sea: I engage we find warm and rich land, stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals if not men, on reaching one degree northward of latitude 62; we will return in the succeeding spring. J.C.S. [Capt. Symmes is said to be a very respectable man, a man of intelligence, and really sane in mind. He is diligently employed in forwarding his scheme, and it is reported that “upwards of twenty persons have actually engaged in the expedition.”]

Collected texts

Bibliography

1818

  • John Cleves Symmes, “No. 1. Circular,” Niles' Weekly Register (June 20, 1818): 294.
  • [no 2.—original]
  • John Cleves Symmes, “Geology—Memoir 3d,” American Watchman 2 no. 9 (August 15, 1818): 2-3.
  • John Cleves Symmes, “Allegany Mountains,” Spooner's Vermont Journal (Windsor, VT) 36 (1831): 2.
  • Samuel L. Mitchill, “Geological,” Daily National Intelligencer no. 1818 (November 2, 1818)

1819

  • John Cleves Symmes, “Miscellany [Light developes from age to age],” Daily National Intelligencer (February 11, 1819).
  • Admiral Sir Charles Henry Knowles, “An Hypothesis of the Poles of the Globe,” Daily National Intelligencer (March 22, 1819)
  • John Cleves Symmes, “Miscellany [Arctic Memoir],” Daily National Intelligencer (March 23, 1819).
  • [editor’s note], Daily National Intelligencer (July 8, 1819)
  • John Cleves Symmes, “J. C. Symmes on the Weather,” Daily National Intelligencer (August 11, 1819).
  • Thomas Tufts, “Reflections and experiments on central forces, and on the constitution of the globe we inhabit,” Daily National Intelligencer (August 12, 1819).
  • Neophyte, “To the Editors,” Daily National Intelligencer (August 12, 1819).
  • A. B., “On the New Theory,” Daily National Intelligencer no. 2063 (August 23, 1819): .
  • John Cleves Symmes, “On Light Between the Spheres,” Daily National Intelligencer (September 08, 1819).
  • [editors’ note], Daily National Intelligencer (September 08, 1819).
  • “Capt. Symmes’ Hypothesis,” Daily National Intelligencer no. 2081 (September 13, 1819): .
  • Galileo, “On the New Theory,” Daily National Intelligencer (September 15, 1819): 2.
  • D. P., “On the New Theory,” Daily National Intelligencer (September 21, 1819): 2.
  • Rittenhouse, “The New Theory of the Earth,” Daily National Intelligencer (October 6, 1819)
  • [Mitchill's third letter to Symmes, October 9?; not in Intelligencer of that date]
  • John Cleves Symmes, “Geometry—Memoir No. 2,” Daily National Intelligencer (October 13, 1819):.
  • Rittenhouse, “The New Theory of the Earth,” Daily National Intelligencer (October 14, 1819)
  • John Cleves Symmes, “The New Theory—Reply to D. P.’s Strictures,” Daily National Intelligencer No. 2112 (October 19, 1819)
  • John Cleves Symmes, “Messrs. Editors,” Daily National Intelligencer No. 2113 (October 20, 1819)
  • Samuel L. Mitchill, “The New Theory,” Daily National Intelligencer (October 22, 1819)
  • [editor’s note], Daily National Intelligencer (October 22, 1819)
  • “Capt. Symmes’s Theory of the Earth,” Daily National Intelligencer (October 29, 1819)
  • John Cleves Symmes, “Remarks on “Galileo’s” strictures on Mr. Tuffts’ wooden Globe experiment,” The Illinois Gazette (October 30, 1819)
  • John Cleves Symmes, “Remarks on the Blowing up of Mines,” Daily National Intelligencer (November 5, 1819)
  • Hugh Steel, “The New Theory—Extract of a letter from Dr. Steel to Captain Symmes,” Daily National Intelligencer (November 5, 1819)
  • Galileo, “The Symmerian Theory,” Daily National Intelligencer (November 11, 1819)
  • Philo-Hypothesium, “To John Cleves Symmes,” Daily National Intelligencer (November 20, 1819)
  • John Logan, “To John Cleves Symmes,” Daily National Intelligencer (November 29, 1819)
  • [missing article: D. P. in the Western Spy]
  • Symmes, “Cimmerian Theory,” Daily National Intelligencer (December 17, 1819)
  • Senex, “To the Editors,” Daily National Intelligencer (December 28, 1819)

1820

  • John Harwood, “High and Sublime Matters of Consideration, Relative to Planets and Comets,” Daily National Intelligencer (January 17, 1820)
  • John Cleves Symmes, To the Editors,” Daily National Intelligencer (January 19, 1820)
  • John Cleves Symmes, “Symmes’ Theory,” Daily National Intelligencer (January 26, 1820)
  • Trinculum Moon-Calf, “To the Editors,” Daily National Intelligencer (October 7, 1820)
  • Rittenhouse, “The New Theory of the Earth,” Daily National Intelligencer (October 9, 1820)
  • John Cleves Symmes, “The Pamphlet,” Daily National Intelligencer (October 11, 1820)
  • Ignoramus, “To the Editors,” Daily National Intelligencer (October 13, 1820)
  • John Cleves Symmes, “Cursory Remarks on Symmes’s Theory,” Daily National Intelligencer (October 18, 1820)

1821

  • John Cleves Symmes, “Symmes’ Pamphlet,” Daily National Intelligencer, (April 09, 1821)
  • John Cleves Symmes, “to the Maritime and Other Civilized Powers in the World,” Daily National Intelligencer, (May 7, 1821)
  • John Cleves Symmes, “Polar Concavities,” Daily National Intelligencer, (May 15, 1821)
  • Gulliver, “Communication,” Daily National Intelligencer, (May 18, 1821)
  • John Cleves Symmes, “To the Liberal and Enlightened,” Daily National Intelligencer, (August 18, 1821)
  • John Cleves Symmes, “To Geologists,” Daily National Intelligencer, (August 15, 1821)
  • Franklin, “To the Editors,” Daily National Intelligencer, (September 7, 1821)
  • John Cleves Symmes, “To the Editors,” Daily National Intelligencer, (October 23, 1821)
  • John Cleves Symmes, “To the Editors,” Daily National Intelligencer, (December 10, 1821)

1822

  • John Cleves Symmes, “A General Request,” Daily National Intelligencer, (April 19, 1822)
  • John Cleves Symmes, “The Polar Verge,” Daily National Intelligencer, (November 18, 1822)

1823

  • John Cleves Symmes, “Remarks on Passing Events Applied as Corroborating Proofs of the New Theory of the Earth,” Daily National * Intelligencer, (January 30, 1823)
  • [editor’s note], Daily National Intelligencer, (January 30, 1823)
  • “A Phenomenon,” Maryland Gazette and Political Intelligencer, (February 06, 1823)
  • John Cleves Symmes, “The First Chapter of a Series of Questions,” Daily National Intelligencer, (March 27, 1823)
  • [editorial], Providence Patriot, Columbian Phenix (April 9, 1823)
  • John Cleves Symmes “To the Editors,” Daily National Intelligencer, (April 30, 1823) [Icy Cape]
  • John Cleves Symmes “To the Editors,” Daily National Intelligencer, (May 17, 1823) [This letter is intended…]
  • John Cleves Symmes “To the Editors,” Daily National Intelligencer, (June 16, 1823) [The Ice-Bergs…]
  • “Revenge,” Daily National Intelligencer, (July 7, 1823)
  • John Cleves Symmes “To the Editors,” Daily National Intelligencer, (July 10, 1823) [..paper of 11th inst…]
  • “Captain Symmes’ Theory Anticipated,” (July 31, 1823)
  • John Cleves Symmes “To the Editors,” Daily National Intelligencer, (August 22, 1823) [..second series of queries…]
  • John Cleves Symmes “To the Editors,” Daily National Intelligencer, (September 11, 1823) [..third series of queries…]
  • John Cleves Symmes “Remarks on Passing Events—A Rare Exotic,” Daily National Intelligencer, (October 7, 1823)
  • [note on Datura Metel], Daily National Intelligencer, (October 9, 1823)
  • [2 notes on Datura], Daily National Intelligencer, (October 11, 1823)
  • John Cleves Symmes “To the Editors,” Daily National Intelligencer, (November 3, 1823) [..third series of queries…]

1824

  • [Cincinnati Gazette pieces: 2 by Symmes; 1 (in 3 parts) by Matthews]
  • John Cleves Symmes, “A Summary of Positions,” Daily National Intelligencer, (June 9, 1824)
  • "Symmes’ Theory—Inquiries Relative to the Natural History of the Earth," Daily National Intelligencer, (September 18, 1824)
  • [continuation of above; issue unavailable]
  • John Cleves Symmes, “To the Editor of the National Gazette,” Daily National Intelligencer, (November 22, 1824)