Symmes, John Cleves

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(1779-1829) US army officer, nephew of the politician and land speculator John Cleves Symmes (1742-1814); he reached the rank of Captain, distinguished himself in the War of 1812, retired, and subsequently devoted his life to propagandizing (largely through speeches, apparently charismatic) on behalf of his theory of a Hollow Earth consisting of five concentric spheres, with openings at the poles. He twice petitioned Congress (1822, 1823) for funds to mount an expedition to the (literal) interior, but failed. His health failed, too, after many lecture tours, and he died quite young. He did not leave any account in book form of his theories, though he did issue a "Circular" (the first of several) in 1818, stating that:

... the earth is hollow, habitable within; containing a number of solid concentrick spheres, and that it is open at the pole[s] twelve or sixteen degrees. I pledge my life in support of this truth, and am ready to explore the hollow if the world will support and aid me in the undertaking.

Symmes' Theory of Concentric Spheres; Demonstrating That the Earth is Hollow, Habitable Within, and Widely Open About the Poles (1826 chap) was by a disciple, James McBride, and The Symmes Theory of Concentric Spheres: Compiled by Americus Symmes from the Writings of his Father Captain John Cleves Symmes (1878) was edited by Americus Symmes, his tenth child. Although it has been thought that the novel Symzonia (1820) as by Adam Seaborn may have been written pseudonymously by Symmes – a theory which J O Bailey accepted in his 1965 reprint of the text – it has been pointed out (by E F Bleiler) that this is unlikely since, although the book alludes to Symmes in its title, it actually subjects some of Symmes's ideas to Satire. [See the entry on Adam Seaborn for more detail.]

Symmes's ideas were not sui generis, and indeed belong to a long tradition of Pseudoscience theorizing; the origins in Proto SF of concept go back at least to Mundus Subterraneus ["The World Underground"] (1665 2vols) by Athanasius Kircher; another important milestone was a 1692 paper by the astronomer Edmond Halley (1656-1742), published by the Royal Society in London, arguing for nested spheres (and an internal sun). Symmes's version was, however, directly influential through much of the nineteenth century. There are many further examples, the later ones tending to a conscious nostalgia: The Hollow Earth: The Narrative of Mason Algiers Reynolds of Virginia (1990) The Hollow Earth: The Narrative of Mason Algiers Reynolds of Virginia (1990) by Rudy Rucker describes a Symmesian inner world (mentioning Symmes by name); and the hollow planet in Iain M Banks's Matter (2008) is constructed on Symmesian lines. [PN/JC]

see also: Lost Worlds.

John Cleves Symmes

born Sussex, New Jersey: 25 November 1779

died Butler, Ohio: 29 May 1829


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