THE NEW PLANET
(The astronomers at Hanard have observed “perturbations In the orbital movement of Neptune,” such as might be caused by the presence of a new planet in the vicinity.)
I BELIEVE in the new planet. I was eleven years old in 1846, when Leverrier and Adams and Mary Somerville discovered Neptune through the disturbance and discomfort it was causing Uranus. “Perturbations,” they call that kind of disturbance. I had been having those perturbations myself, for more than two months; in fact, all through watermelon time, for they used to keep dogs in some of the patches in those days. You notice that these recent perturbations are considered remarkable because they perturbate through three seconds of arc, but really that is nothing: often I used to perturbate through as much as half an hour if it was a dog that was attending to the pertur-bating. There isn’t any Neptune that can outper-turbate a dog; and I know, because I am not speak-ing from hearsay. Why, if there was a planet two hundred and fifty thousand “Hght-years” the other side of Neptune’s orbit. Professor Pickering would discover it in a minute if it could perturbate equal to a dog. Give me a dog every time, when it comes to perturbating. You let a dog jump out at you all of a sudden in the dark of the moon, and you will see what a small thing three seconds of arc is : the shudder that goes through you then would open the seams of Noah’s Ark itself, from figurehead to rudder post, and you would drop that melon the same as if you had never had any but just a casual interest in it. I know about these things, because this is not tradition I am writing, but history.
Now then, notice this. About the end of August, 1846, a change came over me and I resolved to lead a better life, so I reformed; but it was just as well, anyway, because they had got to having guns and dogs both. Although I was reformed, the pertur-bations did not stop! Does that strike you? They did not stop, they went right on and on and on, for three weeks, clear up to the 23d of September; then Neptune was discovered and the whole myster>’ stood explained. It shows that I am so sensitively constructed that I perturbate when any other planet is disturbed. This has been going on all my life. It only happens in the watermelon season, but that has nothing to do with it, and has no significance: geologists and anthropologists and horticulturists all tell me it is only ancestral and hereditary, and that is what I think myself. Now then, I got to p)ertur-bating again, this summer — all summer through; all through watermelon time : and where, do you think ? Up here on my farm in Connecticut. Is that signifi-cant? Unquestionably it is, for you couldn’t raise a watermelon on this farm with a derrick.
That perturbating was caused by the new planet. That Washington Observatory may throw as much doubt as it wants to, it cannot affect me, because I know there is a new planet. I know it because I don’t perturbate for nothing. There has got to be a dog or a planet, one or the other; and there isn’t any dog around here, so there’s got to be a planet. I hope it is going to be named after me; I should just love it if I can’t have a constellation.
Text from The Complete Works of Mark Twain. Authorized Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1923. 355-357.
Illustrated page from Harper’s Weekly, 30 January 1909.