On this day 1794, William Whewell, was born. He was to become a philosopher, science historian, writer, poet, and Anglican priest.
In September 1854 an acquaintance brought Frances Rolleston a new book by Whewell, The Plurality of Worlds, an Essay. After reading it, she responded thus:
"The most horrid and detestable book I have seen for many years—it almost made me ill."
And what was so horrid about Whewell's essay? Why, he believed that the solar system consisted entirely of matter—Jupiter water, Saturn cork, Venus bronze, and Mercury silver! And Frances, along with many of her day, believed that these worlds were filled with living beings.
It's hard for us to imagine that only 150 years ago intelligent, educated people believed that life existed on the planets of our solar system. Even the sun was thought to be inhabited. Solar spots were universally admitted to be openings in the luminous stratum, not opaque scoriae floating on its surface. Even Sir William Herschel, who we consider a big name in astronomy, suggested that the light of the sun issues from an outer stratum of self-luminous material, beneath which is a second stratum of clouds designed to protect the solid body of the sun, and its inhabitants, from the intense heat and brilliancy surrounding them.
So Frances is not to be considered ignorant in her horror at Whewell's proposal.