Wonderful Balloon Ascents: or, the Conquest of the Skies.
Part 1 out of 3
This etext was prepared by Metra Kay Christofferson:
Wonderful Balloon Ascents: or, the Conquest of the Skies
A History of Balloons and Balloon Voyages.
from the French of F. Marion
"Let posterity know, and knowing be astonished, that on the
fifteenth day of September, 1784, Vincent Lunardi of Lucca, in
Tuscany, the first aerial traveller in Britain, mounting from the
Artillery Ground in London, and traversing the regions of the air
for two hours and fifteen minutes, on this spot revisited the
earth. In this rude monument for ages be recorded this wondrous
enterprise successfully achieved by the powers of chemistry and
the fortitude of man, this improvement in science which the great
Author of all Knowledge, patronising by his Providence the
inventions of mankind, hath graciously permitted, to their
benefit and his own eternal glory."
The stone upon which the above inscription was carved, stands, or
stood recently, near Collier's End, in the parish of Standon,
Hertfordshire; and it will possibly afford the English reader a
more accurate idea of the feelings with which the world hailed
the discovery of the balloon than any incident or illustration
drawn from the annals of a foreign country.
The work which we now introduce to our readers does not
exaggerate the case when it declares that no discovery of modern
times has aroused so large an amount of enthusiasm, has excited
so many hopes, has appeared to the human race to open up so many
vistas of enterprise and research, as that for which we are
mainly indebted to the Brothers Montgolfier. The discovery or
the invention of the balloon, however, was one of those efforts
of genius and enterprise which have no infancy. It had reached
its full growth when it burst upon the world, and the ninety
years which have since elapsed have witnessed no development of
the original idea. The balloon of to-day--the balloon in which
Coxwell and Glaisher have made their perilous trips into the
remote regions of the air--is in almost every respect the same as
the balloon with which "the physician Charles," following in the
footsteps of the Montgolfiers, astonished Paris in 1783. There
are few more tantalising stories in the annals of invention than
this. So much had been accomplished when Roziers made his first
aerial voyage above the astonished capital of France that all the
rest seemed easy. The new highway appeared to have been thrown
open to the world, and the dullest imagination saw the air
thronged with colossal chariots, bearing travellers in perfect
safety, and with more than the speed of the eagle, from city to
city, from country to country, reckless of all the obstacles--the
seas, and rivers, and mountains--which Nature might have placed
in the path of the wayfarer. But from that moment to the present
the prospect which was thus opened up has remained a vision and
nothing more. There are--as those who visited the Crystal Palace
two years ago have reason to know--not a few men who still
believe in the practicability of journeying by air. But, with
hardly an exception, those few have abandoned all idea of
utilising the balloon for this purpose. The graceful "machine"
which astonished the world at its birth remains to this day as
beautiful, and as useless for the purposes of travel, as in the
first hour of its history. The day may come when some one more
fortunate than the Montgolfiers may earn the Duke of Sutherland's
offered reward by a successful flight from the Mall to the top of
Stafford House; but when this comes to pass the balloon will have
no share in the honour of the achievement. Not the less,
however, is the story of this wonderful invention worthy of being
recorded. It deserves a place in the history of human
enterprise--if for nothing else--because of the daring courage
which it has in so many cases brought to light. From the days of
Roziers down to those of Coxwell, our aeronauts have fearlessly
tempted dangers not less terrible than those which face the
soldier as he enters the imminent deadly breach; and, as one of
the chapters in this volume mournfully proves, not a few of their
number have paid the penalty of their rash courage with their
lives. All the more is it to be regretted that so little
practical good has resulted from their labours and their
sacrifices; and that so many of those who have perished in
balloon voyages have done so whilst serving to better end than
the amusement of a holiday crowd. There is, however, another
aspect which makes at least the earlier history of the balloon
well worth preserving. This is the influence which the invention
had upon the generation which witnessed it. As these pages
show, the people of Europe seem to have been absolutely
intoxicated by the success of the Montgolfiers' discovery. There
is something bitterly suggestive in our knowledge of this fact.
Whilst pensions and honours and popular applause were being
showered upon the inventors of the balloon, Watt was labouring
unnoticed at his improvements of the steam-engine--a very prosaic
affair compared with the gilded globe which Montgolfier had
caused to rise from earth amidst the acclamations of a hundred
thousand spectators, but one which had before it a somewhat
different history to that of the more startling invention.
England, when it remembers the story of the steam-engine, has
little need to grudge France the honour of discovering the
balloon. After all, however, Great Britain had its share in that
discovery. The early observations of Francis Bacon and Bishop
Wilkins paved the way for the later achievement, whilst it was
our own Cavendish who discovered that hydrogen gas was lighter
than air; and Dr. Black of Edinburgh, who first employed that gas
to raise a globe in which it was contained from the earth. The
Scotch professor, we are told, thought that the discovery which
he made when he sent his little tissue-paper balloon from his
lecture-table to the ceiling of his classroom, was of no use
except as affording the means of making an interesting
experiment. Possibly our readers, after they have perused this
volume, may think that Dr Black was not after all so far wrong as
people once imagined. Be this as it may, however, in these pages
is the history of the balloon, and of the most memorable balloon
voyages, and we comprehend the story to our readers not the less
cordially that it comes from the land where the balloon had its
London, January, 1870.
BALLOONS AND AIR JOURNEYS.
PART I. THE CONQUEST OF THE SKIES.--1783.
Chapter I. Introduction.
The title of our introduction to aeronautics may appear ambitious
to astronomers, and to those who know that the infinite space we
call the heavens is for ever inaccessible to travellers from the
earth; but it was not so considered by those who witnessed the
ardent enthusiasm evoked at the ascension of the first balloon.
No discovery, in the whole range of history, has elicited an
equal degree of applause and admiration--never has the genius of
man won a triumph which at first blush seemed more glorious. The
mathematical and physical sciences had in aeronautics achieved
apparently their greatest honours, and inaugurated a new era in
the progress of knowledge. After having subjected the earth to
their power; after having made the waves of the sea stoop in
submission under the keels of their ships; after having caught
the lightning of heaven and made it subservient to the ordinary
purposes of life, the genius of man undertook to conquer the
regions of the air. Imagination, intoxicated with past
successes, could descry no limit to human power; the gates of the
infinite seemed to be swinging back before man's advancing step,
and the last was believed to be the greatest of his achievements.
In order to comprehend the frenzy of the enthusiasm which the
first aeronautic triumphs called forth, it is necessary to recall
the appearance of Montgolfier at Versailles, on the 19th of
September, 1783, before Louis XVI, or of the earliest aeronauts
at the Tuileries. Paris hailed the first of these men with the
greatest acclaim, "and then, as now," says a French writer, "the
voice of Paris gave the cue to France, and France to the world!"
Nobles and artisans, scientific men and badauds, great and small,
were moved with one universal impulse. In the streets the
praises of the balloon were sung; in the libraries models of it
abounded; and in the salons the one universal topic was the great
"machine." In anticipation, the poet delighted himself with
bird's-eye views of the scenery of strange countries; the
prisoner mused on what might be a new way of escape; the
physicist visited the laboratory in which the lightning and the
meteors were manufactured; the geometrician beheld the plans of
cities and the outlines of kingdoms; the general discovered the
position of the enemy or rained shells on the besieged town; the
police beheld a new mode in which to carry on the secret service;
Hope heralded a new conquest from the domain of nature, and the
historian registered a new chapter in the annals of human
"Scientific discoveries in general," says Arago, "even those from
which men expect the most advantage, like those of the compass
and the steam-engine, were greeted at first with contempt, or at
the best with indifference. Political events, and the fortunes
of armies monopolised almost entirely the attention of the
people. But to this rule there are two exceptions--the
discoveries of America and of aerostatics, the advents of
Columbus and of Montgolfier." It is not here our duty to inquire
how it happened that the discoveries made by these two personages
are classed together. Air-travelling may be as unproductive of
actual good to society as filling the belly with the east wind"
is to the body, while every one knows something of the extent to
which the discovery of Columbus has influenced the character, the
civilisation, the destinies, in short, of the human race. We are
speaking at present of the known and well-attested fact, that the
discovery of America and the discovery of the method of
traversing space by means of balloons--however they may differ in
respect of results to man--rank equally in this, that of all
other discoveries these two have attracted the greatest amount of
attention, and given, in their respective eras, the greatest
impulse to popular feeling. Let the reader recall the marks of
enthusiasm which the discovery of the islands on the east coast
of America excited in Andalusia, in Catalonia, in Aragon and
Castile--let him read the narrative of the honours paid by town
and village, not only to the hero of the enterprise, but even to
his commonest sailors, and then let him search the records of the
epoch for the degree of sensation produced by the discovery of
aeronautics in France, which stands in the same relationship to
this event as that in which Spain stands to the other. The
processions of Seville and Barcelona are the exact prototypes of
the fetes of Lyons and Paris. In France, in 1783, as in Spain
two centuries previously, the popular imagination was so greatly
excited by the deeds performed, that it began to believe in
possibilities of the most unlikely description. In Spain, the
conquestadores and their followers believed that in a few days
after they had landed on American soil, they would have gathered
as much gold and precious stones, as were then possessed by the
richest European Sovereigns. In France, each one following his
own notions, made out for himself special benefits to flow from
the discovery of balloons. Every discovery then appeared to be
only the precursor of other and greater discoveries, and nothing
after that time seemed to be impossible to him who attempted the
conquest of the atmosphere. This idea clothed itself in every
form. The young embraced it with enthusiasm, the old made it the
subject of endless regrets. When one of the first aeronautic
ascents was made, the old Marechal Villeroi, an octogenarian and
an invalid, was conducted to one of the windows of the Tuileries,
almost by force, for he did not believe in balloons. The
balloon, meanwhile, detached itself from its moorings; the
physician Charles, seated in the car, gaily saluted the public,
and was then majestically launched into space in his air-boat;
and at once the old Marechal, beholding this, passed suddenly
from unbelief to perfect faith in aerostatics and in the capacity
of the human mind, fell on his knees, and, with his eyes bathed
in tears, moaned out pitifully the words, "Yes, it is fixed! It
is certain! They will find out the secret of avoiding death; but
it will be after I am gone!"
If we recall the impressions which the first air-journeys made,
we shall find that, among people of enthusiastic temperament, it
was believed that it was not merely the blue sky above us, not
merely the terrestrial atmosphere, but the vast spaces through
which the worlds move, that were to become the domain of man--the
sea of the balloon. The moon, the mysterious dwelling-place of
men unknown, would no longer be an inaccessible place. Space no
longer contained regions which man could not cross! Indeed,
certain expeditions attempted the crossing of the heavens, and
brought back news of the moon. The planets that revolve round
the sun, the far-flying comets, the most distant stars--these
formed the field which from that time was to lie open to the
investigations of man.
This enthusiasm one can well enough understand. There is in the
simple fact of an aerial ascent something so bold and so
astonishing, that the human spirit cannot fail to be profoundly
stirred by it. And if this is the feeling of men at the present
day, when, after having been witnesses of ascents for the last
eighty years, they see men confiding themselves in a swinging car
into the immensities of space, what must have been the
astonishment of those who, for the first time since the
commencement of the world, beheld one of their fellow-creatures
rolling in space, without any other assurance of safety than what
his still dim perception of the laws of nature gave him?
Why should we be obliged here to state that the great discovery
that stirred the spirits of men from the one end of Europe to the
other, and gave rise to hopes of such vast discoveries, should
have failed in realising the expectations which seemed so clearly
justified by the first experiments? It is now eighty-six years
since the first aerial journey astonished the world, and yet, in
1870, we are but little more advanced in the science than we were
in 1783. Our age is the most renowned for its discoveries of any
that the world has seen. Man is borne over the surface of the
earth by steam; he is as familiar as the fish with the liquid
element; he transmits his words instantaneously from London to
New York; he draws pictures without pencil or brush, and has made
the sun his slave. The air alone remains to him unsubdued. The
proper management of balloons has not yet been discovered. More
than that, it appears that balloons are unmanageable, and it is
to air-vessels, constructed more nearly upon the model of birds,
that we must go to find out the secret of aerial navigation. At
present, as in former times, we are at the mercy of
balloons--globes lighter than the air, and therefore the sport
and the prey of tempests and currents. And aeronauts, instead of
showing themselves now as the benefactors of mankind, exhibit
themselves mainly to gratify a frivolous curiosity, or to crown
with eclat a public fete.
Chapter II. Attempts in Ancient Times to Fly in the Air.
Before contemplating the sudden conquest of the aerial kingdom,
as accomplished and proclaimed at the end of the last century, it
is at once curious and instructive to cast a glance backward, and
to examine, by the glimmering of ancient traditions, the attempts
which have been made or imagined by man to enfranchise himself
from the attraction of the earth
The greater number of the arts and sciences can be traced along a
chronological ladder of great length: some, indeed, lose
themselves in the night of time." The accomplishment of raising
oneself in the air, however, had no actual professors in
antiquity, and the discovery of Montgolfier seems to have come
into the world, so to speak, spontaneously. By this it is to be
understood that, unlike Copernicus and Columbus, Montgolfier
could not read in history of any similar discovery, containing
the germ of his own feat. At least, we have no proof that the
ancient nations practiced the art of aerial navigation to any
extent whatever. The attempts which we are about to cite do not
strictly belong to the history of aerostatics.
Classic mythology tells us of Daedalus, who, escaping with his
son Icarus from the anger of Minos, in the Isle of Crete, saved
himself from the immediate evil by the aid of wings, which he
made for himself and his son, and by means of which they were
enabled to fly in the air. The wings, it appears, were soldered
with wax, and Icarus, flying too high, was struck by a ray of the
sun, which melted the wax. The youth fell into the sea, which
from him derived its name of Icarian. It is possible that this
fable only symbolisms the introduction of sails in navigation.
Coming down through ancient history, we note a certain Archytas,
of Tarentum, who, in the fourth century B. C., is said to have
launched into the air the first "flying stag," and who, according
to the Greek writers, "made a pigeon of wood, which flew, but
which could not raise itself again after having fallen." Its
flight, it is said, "was accomplished by means of a mechanical
contrivance, by the vibrations of which it was sustained in the
In the year 66 A.D., in the time of Nero, Simon, the
magician--who called himself "the mechanician"--made certain
experiments at Rome of flying at a certain height. In the eyes
of the early Christians this power was attributed to the devil,
and St. Peter, the namesake of this flying man, is said to have
prayed fervently while Simon was amusing himself in space. It
was possibly in answer to his prayers that the magician failed in
his flight, fell upon the Forum, and broke his neck on the spot.
From the summit of the tower of the hippodrome at Constantinople,
a certain Saracen met the same fate as Simon, in the reign of the
Emperor Comnenus. His experiments were conducted on the
principle of the inclined plane. He descended in an oblique
course, using the resistance of the air as a support. His robe,
very long and very large, and of which the flaps were extended on
an osier frame, preserved him from suddenly falling.
The inclined plane probably suggested to Milton the flight of the
angel Uriel, in "Paradise Lost," who descended in the morning
from heaven to earth upon a ray of the sun, and ascended in the
evening from earth to heaven by the same means. But we cannot
quote here the fancies of pure imagination, and we will not speak
of Medeus the magician, of the enchantress Armida, of the witches
of the Brocken, of the hippogriff of Zephyrus with the rosy
wings, or of the diabolical inventions of the middle ages, for
many of which the stake was the only reward.
Roger Bacon, in the thirteenth century, inaugurated a more
scientific era. In his "Treaty of the Admirable Power of Art and
Nature," he puts forth the idea that it is possible "to make
flying-machines in which the man, being seated or suspended in
the middle, might turn some winch or crank, which would put in
motion a suit of wings made to strike the air like those of a
bird." In the same treatise he sketches a flying-machine, to
which that of Blanchard, who lived in the eighteenth century,
bears a certain resemblance. The monk, Roger Bacon, was worthy
of entering the temple of fame before his great namesake the Lord
Chancellor, who in the seventeenth century inaugurated the era of
Jean Baptiste Dante, a mathematician of Perugia, who lived in the
latter part of the fifteenth century, constructed artificial
wings, by means of which, when applied to thin bodies, men might
raise themselves off the ground into the air. It is recorded
that on many occasions he experimented with his wings on the Lake
Thrasymenus. These experiments, however, had a sad end. At a
fete, given for the celebration of the marriage of Bartholomew
d'Alvani, Dante, who must not be confounded with the poet, whose
flights were of quite another kind--offered to exhibit the wonder
of his wings to the people of Perugia. He managed to raise
himself to a great height, and flew above the square; but the
iron with which he moved one of his wings having been bent, he
fell upon the church of the Virgin, and broke his thigh.
A similar accident befell a learned English Benedictine Oliver of
Malmesbury. This ecclesiastic was considered gifted with the
power of foretelling events; but, like other similarly
circumstanced, he does not seem to have beer able to divine the
fate which awaited himself. He constructed wings after the model
of those which according to Ovid, Daedalus made use of. These he
attached to his arms and his feet, and, thus furnished, he threw
himself from the height of a tower. But the wings bore him up
for little more than a distance of 120 paces. He fell at the foot
of the tower, broke his legs, and from that moment led a
languishing life. He consoled himself, however, in his
misfortune by saying that his attempt must certainly have
succeeded had he only provided himself with a tail.
Before going further, let us take notice that the seventeenth
century is, par excellence, the century distinguished for
narratives of imaginary travels. It was then that astronomy
opened up its world of marvels. The knowledge of observers was
vastly increased, and from that time it became possible to
distinguish the surface of the moon and of other celestial
bodies. Thus a new world, as it were, was revealed for human
thought and speculation. We learned that our globe was not, as
we had supposed, the centre of the universe. It was assigned its
place far from that centre, and was known to be no more than a
mere atom, lost amid an incalculable number of other globes. The
revelations of the telescope proved that those who formerly were
considered wise actually knew nothing. Quickly following these
discoveries, extraordinary narratives of excursions through space
began to be given to the world.
Those scientific romances were simply wild exaggerations, based
upon the thinnest foundation of scientific facts. In order,
however, to describe a journey among the stars, it was necessary
to invent some mode of locomotion in these distant regions. In
former times Lucian had been content with a ship which ascended
to the rising moon upon a waterspout; but it was now necessary to
improve upon this very primitive mode, as people began to know
something more of the forces of nature. One of the first of
these travellers in imagination to the moon in modern times was
Godwin (1638), and his plan was more ingenious than that of
Lucian. He trained a great number of the wild swans of St.
Helena to fly constantly upward toward a white object, and,
having succeeded in thus training them, one fine night he threw
himself off the Peak of Teneriffe, poised upon a piece of board,
which was borne upward to the white moon by a great team of the
gigantic swans. At the end of twelve days he arrived, according
to his story, at his destination. A little later another writer
of this peculiar kind of fiction, Wilkins, an Englishman,
professed to have made the same ascent, borne up by an eagle.
Alexandre Dumas, who recently wrote a short romance upon the same
subject, only made a translation of an English work by that
author. Wilkins' work is entitled, "The Discovery of a New
World." One chapter of the book bears the title, "That 'tis
possible for some of our posterity to find out a conveyance to
this other world; and, if there be inhabitants there, to have
commerce with them." It is thus that the right reverend
"If it be here inquired what means there may be conjectured for
our ascending beyond the sphere of the earth's mathematical
vigour, I answer.--1. 'Tis not possible that a man may be able to
fly by the application of wings to his own body, as angels are
pictured, as Mercury and Daedalus are feigned, and as hath been
attempted by divers, particularly by a Turk in Constantinople, a
Busbequius relates. 2. If there be such a great duck in
Madagascar as Marcus Polus, the Venetian, mentions, the feathers
of whose wings are twelve feet long, which can scoop up a horse
and his rider, or an elephant, as our kites do a mouse; why,
then, 'Tis but teaching one of these to carry a man, and he may
ride up thither, as Ganymede does upon an eagle. 3. Or if
neither of these ways will serve yet I do seriously, and upon
good grounds, affirm it is possible to make a flying chariot, in
which a man may sit and give such a motion to it as shall convey
him through the air. And this, perhaps, might be made large
enough to carry divers men at the same time, together with food
for their viaticum, and commodities for traffic. It is not the
bigness of anything in this kind that can hinder its motion if
the motive faculty be answerable "hereunto. We see that; great
ship swims as well as a small cork, and an eagle flies in the air
as well as a little gnat. This engine may be contrived from the
same principles by which Archytas made a wooden dove, and
Regiomontanus a wooden eagle. I conceive it were no difficult
matter (if a man had leisure) to show more particularly the means
of composing it. The perfecting of such an invention would be of
such excellent use that it were enough, not only to make a man
famous but the age wherein he lives. For, besides the strange
discoveries that it might occasion in this other world, it would
be also of inconceivable advantage for travelling, above any
other conveyance that is now in use. So that, notwithstanding
all these seeming impossibilities, it is likely enough that there
may be a means invented of journeying to the moon; and how happy
shall they be that are first successful in this attempt!"
Afterwards comes Cyrano of Bergerac, who promulgates five
different means of flying in the air. First, by means of phials
filled with dew, which would attract and cause to mount up.
Secondly, by a great bird made of wood, the wings of which should
be kept in motion. Thirdly, by rockets, which, going off
successively, would drive up the balloon by the force of
projection. Fourthly, by an octahedron of glass, heated by the
sun, and of which the lower part should be allowed to penetrate
the dense cold air, which, pressing up against the rarefied hot
air, would raise the balloon. Fifthly, by a car of iron and a
ball of magnetised iron, which the aeronaut would keep throwing
up in the air, and which would attract and draw up the balloon.
The wiseacre who invented these modes of flying in the air seems,
some would say, to have been more in want of very strict
confinement on the earth than of the freedom of the skies.
In 1670 Francis Lana constructed the flying-machine shown on the
next page. The specific lightness of heated air and of hydrogen
gas not having yet been discovered, his only idea for making his
globes rise was to take all the air out of them. But even
supposing that the globes were thus rendered light enough to
rise, they must inevitably have collapsed under the atmospheric
As for the idea of making use of a sail to direct the balloon, as
one directs a vessel, that also was a delusion; for the whole
machine, globes and sails, being freely thrown into the air,
would infallibly follow the direction of the wind, whatever that
might be. When a ship lies in the sea, and its sails are
inflated with the wind, we must remember that there are two
forces in operation--the active force of the wind and the passive
force of the resistance of the water; and in working these forces
the one against the other, the sailor can turn within a point of
any direction he pleases. But when we are subjected wholly to a
single force, and have no point of support by the use of which to
turn that force to our own purposes, as is the case with the
aeronaut, we are entirely at the mercy of that force, and must
After the flying-machine of Lana there was constructed by Galien
(who, like the former, was an ecclesiastic) an air-boat, less
chimerical in its form, looked at in view of the conditions of
aerial navigation, but much more singular. Galien describes his
air-boat, in 1755, in his little work entitled, "The Art of
Sailing in the Air." His project was a most extraordinary one,
and its boldness is only equalled by the seriousness of the
narrative. According to him, the atmosphere is divided into two
horizontal layers, the upper of which is much lighter than the
lower. "But," says Galien, "a ship keeps its place in the water
because it is full of air, and air is much lighter than water.
Suppose, then, that there was the same difference of weight
between the upper and the lower layer of air as there is between
the lower stratum and water; and suppose, also, a boat which
rested upon the lower layer of air, with its bulk in the lighter
upper layer--like a ship which has its keel in the water but its
bulk in the air--the same thing would happen with the air-ship as
with the water-ship--it would float in the denser layer of air."
Galien adds that in the region of hail there was in the air a
separation into two layers, the weights of which respectively are
as 1 to 2. "Then," says he, "in placing an air-boat in the region
of hail, with its sides rising eighty-three fathoms into the
upper region, which is much more light, one could sail
But how to get this enormous air-boat up to the region of hail?
This is a minor detail, respecting which Galien is not clear.
From the labours of Lana and Galien, with their impossible flying
machines, the inventor of the balloon could derive no benefit
whatever; nor is his fame to be in the least diminished because
many had laboured in the same field before him. Nor can the story
of the ovoador, or flying man, a legend very confused, and of
which there are many versions, have given to Montgolfier any
valuable hints. It appears that a certain Laurent de Guzman, a
monk of Rio Janeiro, performed at Lisbon before the king, John
V., raising himself in a balloon to a considerable height. Other
versions of the story give a different date, and assign the
pretended ascent to 1709. The above engraving, extracted from
the "Bibliotheque de la Rue de Richelieu," is an exact copy of
Guzman's supposed balloon.
In 1678 a mechanician of Salle, in Maine, named Besnier invented
a flying-machine. The machine consisted of four great wings, or
paddles, mounted at the extremities of levers, which rested on
the shoulders of the man who guided it, and who could move them
alternately by means ,of his hands and feet. The following
description of the machine is given in the Journal de Paris by an
"The 'wings' are oblong frames, covered with taffeta, and
attached to the ends of two rods, adjusted on the shoulders The
wings work up and down. Those in front are worked by the hands;
those behind by the feet, which are connected with the ends of
the rods by strings. The movements were such that when the right
hand made the right wing descend in front, the left foot made the
left wing descend behind; and in like manner the left hand in
front and the right foot behind acted together simultaneously.
This diagonal action appeared very well contrived; it was the
action of most quadrupeds as well as of man when walking; but the
contrivance, like others of the same kind, failed in not being
fitted with gearing to enable the air traveller to proceed in any
other direction than that in which the wind blew him. The
inventor first flew down from a stool, then from a table,
afterwards from a window, and finally from a garret, from which
he passed above the houses in the neighbourhood, and then,
moderating the working of his machine, he descended slowly to the
Tradition records that under Louis XIV. a certain rope-dancer,
named Alard, announced that on a certain day he would perform the
feat of flying in the air. We have no description of his wings.
It is recorded, however, that he set out on his adventurous
flight; but he had not calculated all the necessities of the
case, and, falling to the ground, he was dangerously hurt.
Leonardo da Vinci might have known the art of flying in the air,
and might even have practiced it. A statement to this effect, at
least, is found in several historians. We have, however, no
direct proof of the fact.
The Abbe Deforges, of Etampes, announced in the journals in 1772
that he would perform the great feat. On the appointed day
multitudes of the curious flocked to Etampes. The abbe's machine
was a sort of gondola, seven feet long and about two feet deep.
Gondola conductor, and baggage weighed in all 213 pounds. The
pious man believed that he had provided against everything.
Neither tempest nor rain should mar his flight, and there was no
chance of his being upset; whilst the machine, he had decided,
was to go at the rate of thirty leagues an hour.
The great day came, and the abbe, entering his air-boat amidst
the applause of the spectators, began to work the wings with
which it was provided with great rapidity. "But," says one who
witnessed the feat, "the more he worked, the more his machine
cleaved to the earth, as if it were part and parcel of it."
Retif de la Bretonne, in his work upon this subject, gives the
accompanying picture of a flying man, furnished with very
artistically designed wings, fitting exactly to the shoulders,
and carrying a basket of provisions, suspended from his waist;
and the frontispiece of the "Philosophic sans Pretention" is a
view of a flying-machine. In the midst of a frame of light wood
sits the operator, steadying himself with one hand, and with the
other fuming a cremaillere, which appears to give a very quick
rotatory movement to two glass globes revolving upon a vertical
axis. The friction of the globes is supposed to develop
electricity to which his power of ascending is ascribed.
To wings, however, aerial adventurers mostly adhered. The
Marquis de Racqueville flew from a window of his hotel, on the
banks of the Seine, and fell into a boat full of washerwomen on
the river. All these unfortunate attempts were lampooned,
burlesqued on the stage, and pursued with the mockery of the
Up to this time, therefore, the efforts of man to conquer the air
had miscarried. They were conducted on a wrong principle, the
machinery employed being heavier than the air itself But, even
before the time of Montgolfier, the principles of aerostation
began to be recognised, though nothing was actually done in the
way of acting upon them. Thus, in 1767, Professor Black, of
Edinburgh, announced in his class that a vessel, filled with
hydrogen, would rise naturally in the air; but he never made the
experiment, regarding the fact as capable of being employed only
for amusement. Finally, Cavallo, in 1782, communicated to the
Royal Society of London the experiments he had made, and which
consisted in filling soap-bubbles with hydrogen. The bubbles
rose in the atmosphere, the gas which filled them being lighter
Chapter III. The Theory of Balloons.
A certain proposition in physics, known as the "Principle of
Archimedes," runs to the following effect:--"Every body plunged
into a liquid loses a portion of its weight equal to the weight
of the fluid which it displaces." Everybody has verified this
principle, and knows that objects are much lighter in water than
out of it; a body plunged into water being acted upon by two
forces--its own weight, which tends to sink it, and resistance
from below, which tends to bear it up. But this principle
applies to gas as well as to liquids--to air as well as to water.
When we weigh a body in the air, we do not find its absolute
weight, but that weight minus the weight of the air which the
body displaces. In order to know the exact weight of an object,
it would be necessary to weigh it in a vacuum.
If an object thrown into the air is heavier than the air which it
displaces, it descends, and falls upon the earth; if it is of
equal weight, it floats without rising or falling; if it is
lighter, it rises until it comes to a stratum of air of less
weight or density than itself. We all know, of course, that the
higher you rise from the earth the density of the air diminishes.
The stratum of air that lies upon the surface of the earth is the
heaviest, because it supports the pressure of all the other
strata that lie above. Thus the lightest strata are the highest.
The principle of the construction of balloons is, therefore, in
perfect harmony with physical laws. Balloons are simply globes,
made of a light, air-tight material, filled with hot air or
hydrogen gas which rise in the air because (they are lighter than
the air they displace.
The application of this principle appeared so simple, that at the
time when the news of the invention of the balloon was spread
abroad the astronomer Lalande wrote--"At this news we all cry,
'This must be! Why did we not think of it before?'" It had been
thought of before, as we have seen in the last chapter, but it is
often long after an idea is conceived that it is practically
The first balloon, Montgolfier's, was simply filled with hot air;
and it was because Montgolfier exclusively made use of hot air
that balloons so filled were named Montgolfiers. Of course we
see at a glance that hot air is lighter than cold air, because it
has become expanded and occupies more space--that is to say, a
volume of hot air contains actually less air than a volume of the
same size of air that has not been heated. The difference
between the weight of the hot air and the cold which it displaced
was greater than the weight of tire covering of the balloon.
Therefore the balloon mounted.
And, seeing that air diminishes in density the higher we ascend,
the balloon can rise only to that stratum of air of the same
density as the air it contains. As the warm air cools it gently
descends. Again, as the atmosphere is always moving in currents
more or less strong, the balloon follows the direction of the
current of the stratum of air in which it finds itself.
Thus we see how simply the ascent of Montgolfiers, and their
motions, are explained. It is the same with gas-balloons. A
balloon, filled with hydrogen gas, displaces an equal volume of
atmospheric air; but as the gas is much lighter than the air, it
is pushed up by a force equal to the difference of the density of
air and hydrogen gas. The balloon then rises in the atmosphere
to where it reaches layers of air of a density exactly equal to
its own, and when it gets there it remains poised in its place.
In order that it may descend, it is necessary to let out a
portion of the hydrogen gas, and admit an equal quantity of
atmospheric air; and the balloon does not come to the ground till
all, or nearly all, the gas has been expelled and common air
taken in. Balloons inflated with hydrogen gas are almost the
only ones in use at the present day. Scarcely ever is a
Montgolfier sent up. There are aeronauts, however, who prefer a
journey in a Montgolfier to one in a gas-balloon. The air
voyager in this description of balloon had formerly many
difficulties to contend with. The quantity of combustible
material which he was bound to carry with him; the very little
difference that there is between the density of heated and of
cold air; the necessity of feeding the fire, and watching it
without a moment's cessation, as it hangs in the rechaud over the
middle of the car, rendered this sort of air travelling subject
to many dangers and difficulties. Recently, M. Eugene Godard has
obviated a portion of this difficulty by fitting a chimney, like
that which is found of such incalculable service in the case of
the Davy lamp. It is principally on account of this improvement
that the Montgolfiere has risen so highly in popular esteem.
Generally it is not pure hydrogen that is made use of in the
inflation of balloons. Aeronauts content themselves with the gas
which we burn in our streets and houses, and thus it suffices, in
inflating the balloon, to obtain from the nearest gas-works the
quantity of gas necessary, and to lead it, by means of a pipe or
tube, from the gasometer to the mouth or neck of the machine.
The balloon is made of long strips of silk, sewn together, and
rendered air-tight by means of a coating of caoutchouc. A valve
is fitted to the top, and by means of it the aeronaut can descend
to the earth at will, by allowing some quantity of the gas to
escape. The car in which he sits is suspended to the balloon by
a network, which covers the whole structure. Sacks of sand are
carried in this car as ballast, so that, when descending, if the
aeronaut sees that he is likely to be precipitated into the sea
or into a lake, he throws over the sand, and his air-carriage,
being thus lightened, mounts again and travels away to a more
desirable resting-place. The idea of the valve, as well as that
of the sand ballast, is due to the physician Charles. They
enable the aeronaut to ascend or descend with facility. When he
wishes to mount, he throws over his ballast; when he wants to
come down, he lets the gas escape by the valve at the roof of the
balloon. This valve is worked by means of a spring, having a long
rope attached to it, which hangs down through the neck to the
car, where the aeronaut sits.
The operation of inflating a balloon with pure hydrogen is
represented in the engraving on the next page.
Shavings of iron and zinc, water, and sulphuric acid, occupy a
number of casks, which communicate, by means of tubes, with a
central cask, which is open at the bottom, and is plunged in a
copper full of water. The gas is produced by the action of the
water and the sulphuric acid upon the zinc and the iron this is
hydrogen mixed with sulphuric acid. In passing through the
central copper, or vat, full of water, the gas throws off all
impurities, and comes, unalloyed with any other matter, into the
balloon by a long tube, leading from the central vats. In order
to facilitate the entrance of the gas into the balloon two long
poles are erected. These are furnished with pulleys, through
which a rope, attached also to a ring at the top of the balloon,
passes. By means of this contrivance the balloon can be at once
lightly raised from the ground, and the gas tubes easily joined
to it. When it is half full it is no longer necessary to suspend
the balloon; on the contrary, it has to be secured, lest it
should fly off. A number of men hold it back by ropes; but as
the force of ascension is every moment increasing, the work of
restraining the balloon is most difficult and exciting. At
length, all preparations being complete, the car is suspended,
the aeronaut takes his seat, the words "Let go all!" are shouted,
and away goes the silken globe into space.
The balloon is never entirely filled, for the atmospheric
pressure diminishing as it ascends, allows the hydrogen gas to
dilate, in virtue of its expansive force, and, unless there is
space for this expansion, the balloon is sure to explode in the
An ordinary balloon, with a lifting power sufficient to carry up
three persons, with necessary ballast and materiel, is about
fifty feet high, thirty-five feet in diameter' and 2,250 cubic
feet in capacity. Of such a balloon, the accessories--the skin,
the network, the car--would weigh about 335 lbs.
To find out the height at which he has arrived, the aeronaut
consults his barometer. We know that it is the pressure of the
air upon the cup of the barometer that raises the mercury in the
tube. The heavier the air is, the higher is the barometer. At
the level of the sea the column of mercury stands at 32 inches;
at 3,250 feet--the air being at this elevation lighter--the
mercury stands at 28 inches; at 6,500 feet above sea level it
stands at 25 inches; at 10,000 feet it falls to 22 inches; at
20,000 feet to 15 inches. These, however, are merely the
theoretic results, and are subject to some slight variation,
according to locality, &c.
Sometimes the aeronaut makes his descent by means of the
parachute, a separate and distinct contrivance. If, from any
cause, it appears impracticable to effect a descent from the
balloon itself, the parachute may be of the greatest service to
the voyager at the present day it is chiefly used to astonish the
public, by showing them the spectacle of a man who, from a great
elevation in the air, precipitates himself into space, not to
escape dangers which threaten him in his balloon, but simply to
exhibit his courage and skill. Nevertheless, parachutes are
often of great actual use, and aeronauts frequently attach them
to their balloons as a precautionary measure before setting out
on an aerial excursion.
The shape of a parachute, shown on the previous page, very much
resembles that of the well-known all serviceable umbrella. The
strips of silk of which it is formed are sewn together, and are
bound at the top around a circular piece of wood. A number of
cords, stretching away from this piece of wood, support the car
in which the aeronaut is carried. At the summit is contrived an
opening, which permits the air compressed by the rapidity of the
descent to escape without causing damage to the parachute from
the stress to which it is subjected.
The rapidity of the descent is arrested by the large surface
which the parachute presents to the air. When the aeronaut
wishes to descend by the parachute, all that is required is,
after he has slipped down from the car of the balloon to that of
the parachute, to loosen the rope which binds the latter to the
former, which is done by means of a pulley. In an instant the
aeronaut is launched into space with a rapidity in comparison
with which the wild flights of the balloon are but gentle
oscillations. But in a few moments, the air rushing into the
folds of the parachute, forces them open like an umbrella, and
immediately, owing to the wide surface which this contrivance
presents to the atmosphere, the violence of the descent is
arrested, and the aeronaut falls gently to the ground, without
receiving too rude a shock.
The virtues of the parachute were first tried upon animals.
Thus, Blanchard allowed his dog to fall in one from a height of
6,500 feet. A gust of wind caught the falling parachute, and
swept it away up above the clouds. Afterwards, the aeronaut in
his balloon fell in with the dog in the parachute, both of them
high up in the cloudy reaches of the sky, and the poor animal
manifested by his barking his joy at seeing his master. A new
current separated the aerial voyagers, but the parachute, with
its canine passenger, reached the ground safely a short time
after Blanchard had landed from his balloon.
Experience has proved that, in the case of a descending
parachute, if the rapidity of the descent is doubled the
resistance of the air is quadrupled; if the rapidity is triple
the resistance is increased ninefold; or, to speak in language of
science, the resistance of the air is increased by the square of
the swiftness of the body in motion. This resistance increases
in proportion as the parachute spreads, and thus the uniformity
of its fall is established a minute after it has been disengaged
from the balloon. We can, therefore, check the descent of a body
by giving it a surface capable of distension by the action of the
Garnerin, in the year 1802, conceived the bold design of letting
himself fall from a height of 1,200 feet, and he accomplished the
exploit before the Parisians. When he had reached the height he
had fixed beforehand, he cut the rope which connected the
parachute with the balloon. At first the fall was terribly
rapid; but as soon as the parachute spread out the rapidity was
considerably diminished. The machine made, however, enormous
oscillations. The air, gathering end compressed under it, would
sometimes escape by one side sometimes by the other, thus shaking
and whirling the parachute about with a violence which, however
great, had happily no unfortunate effect.
The origin of the parachute is more remote than is generally
supposed, as there was a figure of one which appeared among a
collection of machines at Venice, in 1617.
Another species of parachute, less perfect, to be sure; than that
of Garnerin, but still a practical machine, was described 189
years before the great aeronaut's feat at Paris. We read in the
narrative of the ambassador of Louis XIV at Siam, at the end of
the seventeenth century, the following passage--"A mountebank at
the court of the King of Siam climbed to the top of a high
bamboo-tree, and threw himself into the air without any other
support than two parasols. Thus equipped, he abandoned himself to
the winds, which carried him, as by chance, sometimes to the
earth, sometimes on trees or houses, and sometimes into the
river, without any harm happening to him."
Is not this the idea of our parachutes?
Chapter IV. First Public Trial of the Balloon.
(Montgolfier's Balloon Annonay, 5th of June of 1783.)
We are accustomed to rank the brothers Joseph and Etienne
Montgolfier as equally distinguished in the field of science.
The reason for thus associating these two names seems to have
been the fraternal friendship which subsisted in an extraordinary
degree in the Montgolfier family, rather than any equality of
claim which they had to the notice of posterity. After special
investigation, we find that Joseph Montgolfier was very superior
to his brother, and that it is to him principally, if not
exclusively, that we owe the invention of aerostation.
Nevertheless, we shall not insist upon this fact; and seeing that
a sacred amity always cemented a perfect union in the Montgolfier
family, we will regard that union as unbroken in any sense, and
will not insinuate that the brother of Montgolfier was
undeserving of the honoured rank which in his lifetime he held.
In 1783, the sons of Pierre Montgolfier, a rich papermaker at
Annonay department of Ardeche, were already in the prime of life,
and it is related of them that their principal occupation was
experimenting in the physical sciences. Joseph Montgolfier,
after being convinced by a number of minor experiments made in
1782 and 1783, that a heat of 180 degrees rarefied the air and
made it occupy a space of TWICE the extent it occupied before
being heated--or, in other words, that this degree of heat
diminished the weight of air by one half--began to speculate on
what might be the shape and the material of a structure which
being filled with air thus heated, would be able to raise itself
from the earth in spite of the weight of its own covering.
His first balloon was a small parallelopiped in very thin
taffeta, containing less than seventy-eight cubic inches of air.
He made it rise to the roof of his apartment in November,
1782--at Avignon, where he then happened to be. Having returned
some little time after to Annonay,
Joseph and his brother performed the same experiment , together
in the open air with perfect success. Certain, then, of the new
principle, they made a balloon of considerable size, containing
upwards of sixty-five feet of heated air.
This machine likewise rose, tore away the cords by which it was
at first held down, and mounting in the air to the height of from
two to three hundred feet, fell upon the neighbouring hills after
a considerable flight. The brothers Montgolfier then made a very
large and strong balloon, with which they wished to bring their
discovery before the public.
The appointed day was the 5th of June, 1783 and the nobility of
the vicinity were invited to be present at the experiment.
Faujas de Saint Fond, author of "La Description des Experiences
de la Machine Aerostatique," published the same year, gives the
following account of it:--
"What," says Saint Fond, "was the general astonishment when the
inventors of the machine announced that immediately it should be
full of gas, which they had the means of producing at will by the
most simple process, it would raise itself to the clouds. It
must be granted that, in spite of the confidence in the ingenuity
and experience of the Montgolfiers, this feat seemed so
incredible to those who came to witness it, that the persons who
knew most about it--who were, at the same time, the most
favourably predisposed in its favour--doubted of its success.
"At last the brothers Montgolfier commenced their work. They
first of all began to make the smoke necessary for their
experiment. The machine--which at first seemed only a covering of
cloth, lined with paper, a sort of sack thirty-five feet
high--became inflated, and grew large even under the eyes of the
spectator, took consistence, assumed a beautiful form, stretched
itself on all sides, and struggled to escape. Meanwhile, strong
arms were holding it down until the signal was given, when it
loosened itself, and with a rush rose to the height of 1,000
fathoms in less than ten minutes." It then described a
horizontal line of 7,200 feet, and as it had lost a considerable
amount of gas, it began to descend quietly. It reached the
ground in safety; and this first attempt, crowned with such
decisive success, secured for ever to the brothers Montgolfier
the glory of one of the most astonishing discoveries.
"When we reflect for a moment upon the numberless difficulties
which such a bold attempt entailed, upon the bitter criticism to
which it would have exposed its projectors had it failed through
any accident, and upon the sums that must have been spent in
carrying it out, we cannot withhold the highest admiration for
the men who conceived the idea and carried it out to such a
Etienne Montgolfier has left us a description of this first
balloon. "The aerostatic machine," he says, "was constructed of
cloth lined with paper, fastened together on a network of strings
fixed to the cloth. It was spherical; its circumference was 110
feet, and a wooden frame sixteen feet square held it fixed at the
bottom. Its contents were about 22,000 cubic feet, and it
accordingly displaced a volume of air weighing 1,980 1bs. The
weight of the gas was nearly half the weight of the air, for it
weighed 990 lbs., and the machine itself, with the frame, weighed
500: it was, therefore, impelled upwards with the force of 490
lbs. Two men sufficed to raise it and to fill it with gas, but
it took eight to hold it down till the signal was given. The
different pieces of the covering were fastened together with
buttons and button-holes. It remained ten minutes in the air,
but the loss of gas by the button-holes, and by other
imperfections, did not permit it to continue longer. The wind at
the moment of the ascent was from the north. The machine came
down so lightly that no part of it was broken."
Chapter V. Second Experiment.
(Charles's Balloon, Paris, Champ de Mars, 27th of August, 1783.)
The indescribable enthusiasm caused by the ascent of the first
balloon at Annonay, spread in all directions, and excited the
wondering curiosity of the savants of the capital. An official
report had been prepared, and sent to the Academy of Sciences in
Paris, and the result was that the Academy named a commission of
inquiry. But fame, more rapid than scientific commissions, and
more enthusiastic than academies, had, at a single flight, passed
from Annonay to Paris, and kindled the anxious ardour of the
lovers of science in that city. The great desire was to rival
Montgolfier, , although neither the report nor the letters from
Annonay had made mention of the kind of gas used by that
experimenter to inflate his balloon. By one of the frequent
coincidences in the history of the sciences, hydrogen gas had
been discovered six years previously by the great English
physician Cavendish, and it had hardly even been tested in the
laboratories of the chemists when it all at once became famous.
A young man well versed in physics, Professor Charles, assisted
by two practical men, the brothers Robert, threw himself ardently
into the investigation of the modes of inflating balloons with
this gas, which was then called INFLAMMABLE AIR. Guessing that
it was much lighter than that which Montgolfier had been obliged
to make use of in his third-rate provincial town, Charles leagued
himself with his two assistants to constrict a balloon of
taffeta, twelve feet in diameter, covered with india-rubber, and
to inflate it with hydrogen.
The thing thus arranged, a subscription was opened. The
projected experiment having been talked of a]l over Paris, every
one was struck with the idea, and subscriptions poured in. Even
the most illustrious names are to be found in the list, which may
be called the first national subscription in France. Nothing had
been written of the forthcoming event in any public paper, yet
all Paris seemed to flock to contribute to the curious
The inflation with hydrogen was effected in a very curious
manner. As much as 1,125 lbs. of iron and 560 lbs. of sulphuric
acid were found necessary to inflate a balloon which had scarcely
a lifting power of 22 lbs., and the process of filling took no
less than four hours. At length, however, at the end of the
fourth hour, the balloon, composed of strips of silk, coated with
varnish, floated, two-thirds full, from the workshop of the
On the morning of the 26th of August, the day before the ascent
was to be made, the balloon was visited at daybreak, and found to
be in a promising state. At two o'clock on the following morning
its constructors began to make preparations to transport it to
the Champ de Mars, from which place it was to be let loose.
Skilled workmen were employed in its removal, and every
precaution was taken that the gas with which it was charged
should not be allowed to escape. In the meantime the excitement
of the people about this wonderful structure was rising to the
highest pitch. The wagon on which it was placed for removal was
surrounded on all sides by eager multitudes, and the
night-patrols, both of horse and foot, which were set to guard
the avenues leading to where it lay, were quite unable to stem
the tide of human beings that poured along to get a glimpse of
The conveyance of the balloon to the Champ de Mars was a most
singular spectacle. A vanguard, with lighted torches, preceded
it; it was surrounded by special attendants, and was followed by
detachments of night-patrols on foot and mounted. The size and
shape of this structure, which was escorted with such pomp and
precaution--the silence that prevailed--the unearthly hour, all
helped to give an air of mystery to the proceedings. At last,
having passed through the principal thoroughfares, it arrived at
the Champ de Mars, where it was placed in an enclosure prepared
for its reception.
When the dawn came, and the balloon had been fixed in its place
by cords, attached around its middle and fixed to iron rings
planted in the earth, the final process of inflation began.
The Champ de Mars was guarded by troops, and the avenues were
also guarded on all sides. As the day wore on an immense crowd
covered the open space, and every advantageous spot in the
neighborhood was crowded with people. At five o'clock the report
of a cannon announced to the multitudes, and to scientific men
who were posted on elevations to make observations of the great
event, that the grand moment had come. The cords were withdrawn,
and, to the vast delight and wonder of the crowd assembled, the
balloon shot up with such rapidity that in two minutes it had
ascended 488 fathoms. At this height it was lost in a cloud for
an instant, and, reappearing, rose to a great height, and was
again lost in higher clouds. The ascent was a splendid success.
The rain that fell damped neither the balloon nor the ardor of
This balloon was 12 feet in diameter, 38 feet in circumference,
and had a capacity of 943 cubic feet. The weight of the
materials of which it was constructed was 25 lbs., and the force
of ascension was that of 35 lbs.
The fall of the balloon was caused by the expansion and
consequent explosion of the hydrogen gas. This event took place
some distance out in the country, close to a number of peasants,
whose terror at the sight and the sound of this strange monster
from the skies was beyond description. The people assembled, and
two monks having told them that the burst balloon was the hide of
a monstrous animal, they immediately began to assail it
vigorously with stones, flails, and pitchforks. The cure of the
parish was obliged to walk up to the balloon to reassure his
terrified flock. They finally attached the burst envelope to a
horse's tail, and dragged it far across the fields.
Many drawings and engravings of the period represent the peasants
armed with pitchforks, flails, and scythes, assailing it, a dog
snapping at it, a garde-champetre firing at it, a fat priest
preaching at it, and a troop of young people throwing stones at
the unfortunate machine.
The news of this fiasco came to Paris, but too late. When search
was made for the covering, scarcely a fragment could be found.
A somewhat humorous result of all this was the issue of a
communication from government to the people, entitled, "Warning
to the People on kidnapping Air-balloons." This document, duly
signed and approved of, describes the ascents at Annonay and at
Paris, explains the nature and the causes of the phenomena, and
warns the people not to be alarmed when they see something like a
"black moon" in the sky, nor to give way to fear, as the seeming
monster is nothing more than a bag of silk filled with gas.
This first ascent in Paris was an important event. Every one,
from the smallest to the greatest, was deeply interested in it,
while to the man of science it was one of the most exciting of
incidents. For the purpose of observing the altitude to which
the balloon rose, and the course it took, Le Gentil was on the
observatory, Prevost was on one of the towers of Notre Dame,
Jeaurat was on La Place Louis XV., and d'Agelet was on the Champ
de Mars. It was only Lalande that frowned as he witnessed the
success of the experiment. He had predicted the year before that
air-navigation was impossible.
Chapter VI. Third Experiment.
(Montgolfier's Balloon, Paris, Faubourg St. Antoine.)
As we have seen, the triumph of aerostation was sudden and
complete. The young Montgolfier had arrived in Paris prior to the
experiment of the 27th of August, and was present as a simple
spectator on that occasion. immediately afterwards he set to
work upon a balloon, which was to be made use of when the Academy
should investigate the phenomenon at Versailles in presence of
the king, Louis XVI.
It was at this time (September, 1783) that those small balloons,
made of gold-beaters' skin, which are used as children's toys to
the present day, were first made. The whole of Paris amused
itself with them, repeating in little the phenomenon of the great
ascent. The sky of the capital found itself all at once traversed
by a multitude of small rosy clouds, formed by the hand of man.
Faujas de Saint Fond says that at first an attempt was made to
construct balloons of fine, light paper; but this material being
permeable, and the gas being inflammable, balloons thus made did
not succeed. It was necessary to seek a material less porous,
and, if possible, still lighter.
The Journal de Paris, of the 11th of September, 1783, informed
the public that the Baron de Beaumanoir, "who cultivated the
sciences and the fine arts with as much success as zeal," would
send up a balloon eighteen inches in diameter. At noon of the
same day he made this experiment in presence of a numerous
assembly in the garden in front of the Hotel de Surgeres.. The
little balloon mounted freely, but was held in, like a kite, by
means of a silk thread. In the course of the same afternoon, the
baron took down the balloon and filled it anew with hydrogen, and
then let it off. The spectators had the pleasure of seeing it
rise to a great height, and pass away in the direction of
Neuilly, and it is said to have been found at a distance of
several leagues, by peasants.
However trifling this experiment may appear at first sight, it
added a new fact to the science of aerostation. The material
employed by the baron was lighter and better than paper. It was
what is called gold-beaters' skin. This skin is simply the
interior lining of the large bowel of the ox. It is carefully
prepared, is relieved of the fat, stringy and uneven parts, is
dried, and is afterwards softened. Little balloons of this
material came to be the fashion, and they are still frequently
At the same time, Montgolfier was busy constructing, at the
request of the Academy of Sciences, a balloon seventy feet high
and forty in diameter, with which it was proposed to repeat the
experiment of Annonay. He took up his quarters in the
magnificent gardens of his friend Reveillon, proprietor of the
royal manufactory of stained paper in the Faubourg St. Antoine.
The new balloon was of a very singular shape: the upper part
represented a prism, twenty-four feet high the top was a pyramid
of the same height; the lower part was a truncated cone, twenty
feet in depth. It was made of packing-cloth, lined with good
paper, both inside and out.
The gossipping and prolix Faujas de Saint Fond thus describes
this machine:--"It was painted blue, represented a sort of tent,
and was richly ornamented with gold Its height was seventy feet;
its weight 1,000 lbs.; the air which it displaced was 4,500 lbs.
in volume, and the vapor with which it was filled was half the
weight of ordinary air. The approach of the equinox having
brought rain, all the conditions under which this balloon was
constructed and exhibited were unfavourable. The structure was
so large that it was impossible to get it together and stitch it,
except in the open air--in the garden, in fact, where Montgolfier
commenced its construction. It was a great labour to turn and
fold this heavy covering, while the liability of the thick paper
to crack was an additional difficulty. Not less than twenty men
were required to move it, and they were obliged to use all their
skill, and every precaution, not to destroy it. No balloon had
ever given so much trouble. On the 11th of September the weather
improved, and the balloon was entirely completed and prepared for
the first experiment. In the evening the attempt was made. It
was with admiration that the beholders saw the beautiful machine
filling itself in the short space of nine minutes, swelling out
on all sides and showing the full symmetry of its artistic form.
It was firmly held in hand, or it would have risen to a great
height. On the following day the actual ascent was to take
place, and the commissioners of the Academy of Sciences were
invited to be present. In the morning thick clouds covered the
horizon, and a tempest was expected; but as there was an ardent
desire that the ascent should take place without delay, and as
all the gearing was in order, it was resolved to proceed.
"Fifty pounds of dry straw were fired in parcels under the
balloon, and upon the fire were thrown at intervals several
pounds of wool. This fuel produced in ten minutes such a volume
of smoke that the huge balloon was speedily filled. It rose,
with a weight of 500 lbs. holding it down, to some height above
the ground, and had the ropes by which it was attached to the
ground been cut, it would have mounted to a great height.
Meantime the storm broke, rain descended, and the wind blew with
great force. The most likely means of saving the balloon was to
let it fly but as it was to ascend again on another occasion, at
Versailles, the greatest efforts were made to bring it down, and
these, together with the damage caused by the storm, eventually
rent it into numberless fragments and tatters. It withstood the
storm for twenty-four hours; then, however, the paper came
peeling off, and this beautiful structure was a wreck."
Chapter VII. Fourth Experiment.
(Versailles, 19th September, 1783, in presence of Louis of XVI.)
Of course another balloon was wanted for the fete at Versailles.
The king had demanded an ascent for the 19th, a week after the
disaster at the Faubourg St. Antoine. Already the possibility of
a man going up with the balloon was discussed, and people
indulged in visions of splendid aerial trips; but the king would
not hear of the proposal. Balloons were novelties, not offering
sufficient security, and he was unwilling that any of his
subjects should risk their lives in attempting the unknown. He
consented, however, to a proposal that animals might be sent up
in the first instance, by way of experiment, suspended in an
osier cage attached to the neck of the balloon.
Montgolfier at once began a new balloon. A few days only were at
his disposal; but, assisted by friends, he worked with such
ardour and success that he was able, on the date appointed, to
produce a magnificent spherical balloon, much stronger than the
former, constructed of good strong cotton cloth, and painted in
It is proper here to remark that the first balloons were much
more elegant in appearance than those afterwards made. The
coloured prints and engravings of the period enable us to form an
opinion of the splendour of their ornamentation and the beauty of
their design. Sometimes the figures painted upon them
represented scenes from the heathen mythology, and sometimes
historical scenes; while rich embroideries, royal insignia, and
gaily-coloured draperies added much to the general effect. The
Versailles balloon was painted blue, with ornaments of gold, and
it presented the form of a richly decorated tent. It was
fifty-seven feet in height, and sixty-seven in diameter.
It was first tried at Paris, and succeeded perfectly. On the
morning of the 19th it was carried to Versailles, where due
preparation had been made for its reception In the great court of
the castle a sort of theatre had been temporarily erected with a
scaffolding, covered throughout with tapestry In the middle was
an opening more than fifteen feet in diameter, in which was
spread a banquet for those who had constructed the balloon. A
numerous guard formed a double cordon around the structure. A
raised platform was used for the fire by means of which the
balloon was to be inflated; a covered funnel or chimney of strong
cloth, painted, was suspended over the fire-place, and received
the hot smoke as it arose. Through this funnel the heated air
ascended straight up into the balloon.
At six in the morning, the road from Paris to Versailles was
covered with carriages. Crowds came from all parts, and at noon
the avenues, the square of the castle, the windows, and even the
roofs of the houses, were crowded with spectators. The noblest,
the most illustrious, and most learned men in France were
present, and the splendour of the scene was complete when their
majesties and the royal family entered within the enclosure, and
went forward to inspect the balloon, and to make themselves
familiar with the preparations for the ascent.
In a short time the fire was lit, the funnel extended over it,
and the smoke rose inside, while the balloon, unfolding,
gradually swelled to its full size, and then, drawing after it
the cage, in which a sheep and some pigeons were enclosed, rose
majestically into the air. Without interreruption, it ascended
to a vast height, where, inclining toward the north, it seemed to
remain stationary for a few seconds, showing all the beauty of
its form, and then, as though possessed of life, it descended
gently upon the wood of Vaucresson, 10,200 feet from the point of
its departure. Its highest elevation, as estimated by the
astronomers Le Gentil and M. Jeaurat, Jeaurat, was about 1,700
Chapter VIII. Men and Balloons.
It is not natural that the human mind should stop upon the way to
the solution of a problem, especially when it seems to be on the
point of arriving at a satisfactory conclusion to its labours.
The osier cage of Versailles very soon transformed itself into a
car, bearing human passengers, and the age of the "Thousand and
One Nights" was expected to come back again. It was resolved to
continue experiments, with the direct object of finding out
whether it was impossible or desperately dangerous for man to
travel in balloons. Montgolfier returned from Versailles, and
constructed a new machine in the gardens of the Faubourg St.
Antoine. It was completed on the 10th of October Its form was
oval, its height 70 feet, its diameter 46 feet and its capacity
60,ooo cubic feet. The upper part, embroidered with
fleurs-de-lis, was further ornamented with the twelve signs of
the zodiac, worked in gold. The middle part bore the monogram of
the king, alternating with figures of the sun, while the lower
part was garnished with masks, garlands, and spread eagles. A
circular gallery made of osiers and festooned with draperies and
other ornaments, was attached by a set of cords to the bottom of
the structure. The gallery was three feet wide, and was
protected by a parapet over three feet in height. It did not in
any way interfere with the opening at the neck of the balloon,
under which was suspended a grating of iron wire upon which the
occupants of the gallery, who were to be provided with dried
straw and wool, could in a few minutes kindle a fire and create
fresh smoke, when that in the balloon began to be exhausted. The
machine weighed, in all, 1,600 lbs. The public had previously
been warned, in the Journal de Paris de Paris, that the
approaching experiments were to be of a strictly scientific
character; and as they would be only interesting to savants,
they would not afford amusement for the merely curious. This
announcement was necessary, to abate in some degree the
excitement of the people until some satisfactory results should
be obtained; it was also necessary for those engaged in the work,
whose firmness of nerve might have suffered from the enthusiastic
cries of excited spectators. On Wednesday, the 15th of October,
Pilatre des Roziers, who had on other occasions given proofs of
his intelligence and courage in performing dangerous feats, and
who had already signalised himself in connection with balloons,
offered to go up in the new machine. His offer was accepted; the
balloon was inflated; stout ropes, more than eighty feet long,
were attached to it, and it rose from the ground to the height
to which this tackle allowed it. At this elevation it remained
four minutes twenty-five seconds; and it is not surprising to
hear that Roziers suffered no inconvenience from the ascent.
What was really the interesting thing in this experiment was,
that it showed how a balloon would fall when the hot air became
exhausted, this being the point which caused the greatest amount
of disquietude among men of science. In this instance the
balloon fell gently; its form distended at the same time, and,
after touching the ground, it rose again a foot or two, when its
human passenger had jumped out.
On Friday, the 17th of October, this experiment was repeated,
and the excitement of the public on this occasion was unbounded.
"All the world" came to see. Roziers was again lifted up in the
balloon, to the height of eighty feet; but so strong was the
wind, and the strain on the ropes was so great, that the balloon
was somewhat unsteady, and the exhibition was not on the whole
such a splendid success as that of the preceding Wednesday.
On Sunday, Montgolfier chose a fine day for the following
ascents:--"First Ascent: On the 19th of October, 1783, at
half-past four, in presence of two thousand spectators, 'the
machine' was filled with gas in five minutes, and Roziers, being
placed in the gallery with a counterbalancing weight of 110 lbs.
in the other side of the gallery, was carried up to the height of
200 feet. The machine remained six minutes at this elevation
without any fire in the grating. Second Ascent: The machine
carried Roziers and the counterbalancing weight--fire being in
the grating--to the height of 700 feet. At this height it
remained stationary eight and a half minutes As it was drawn
back, a wind from the east bore it against a tuft of very tall
trees in a neighbouring garden, where it got entangled, without,
however, losing its equilibrium. The gas was renewed by Roziers,
and the balloon again rising, extricated itself from among the
branches, and soared majestically into the air, followed by the
acclamations of the public. This second ascent was very
instructive, for it had been often asserted that if ever a
balloon fell upon a forest it would be destroyed, and would place
those who travelled in it in the greatest peril. This experiment
proved that the balloon does not FALL it DESCENDS; that it does
not overturn; that it does not destroy itself on trees; that it
neither causes death, nor even damage, to its passengers; that,
on the contrary, the latter, by making new gas, give it the power
of detaching itself from the trees; and that it can resume its
course after such an event. The intrepid Roziers gave in this
ascent a further proof of the facility he had in descending and
ascending at will. When the machine had risen to the height of
200 feet it began to descend lightly, and just before it came to
the earth the aeronaut very cleverly and quickly threw on more
fuel and produced more smoke, at which the balloon, to the
astonishment of every one, suddenly soared away again to its
former elevation. Third Ascent: The balloon rose again with
Roziers, accompanied this time by another aeronaut, Gerond de
Villette; and as the cords had been lengthened, the adventurers
were carried up to the height of 324 feet. At this elevation the
balloon rested in perfect equilibrium for nine minutes. It was
the first time that human beings had ever been carried to an
equal elevation, and the spectators were astonished to find that
they could remain there without danger and without alarm. The
balloon had a superb effect at this elevation; it looked down
upon the whole town, and was seen from all the suburbs. Its size
seemed hardly diminished in the least, though the men themselves
were barely visible. By the aid of glasses, Roziers could be
seen calmly and industriously making new gas. When the balloon
descended the two men declared that they had not experienced the
slightest inconvenience from the elevation. They received the
universal applause which their zeal and courage so well deserved.
The Marquis d'Arlandes, a major of infantry, afterwards went up
with Roziers, and this latter experiment was as successful as the
Some days after these experiments the conductors of the Journal
de Paris who described them, received a letter from Montgolfier,
and also one from Gerond de Villette. The latter only is of
interest here. Gerond de Villette says: "I found myself in the
space of a quarter of a minute raised 400 feet above the surface
of the earth. Here we remained six minutes. My first employment
was to watch with admiration my intelligent companion. His
intelligence, his courage and agility in attending to the fire,
enchanted me. Turning round, I could behold the Boulevards, from
the gate of St. Antoine to that of St. Martin, all covered with
people, who seemed to me a flat band of flowers of various
colours. Glancing at the distance, I beheld the summit of
Montmartre, which seemed to me much below our level. I could
easily distinguish Neuilly, St. Cloud, Sevres, Issy, Ivry,
Charenton, and Choisy. At once I was convinced that this
machine, though a somewhat expensive one, might be very useful in
war to enable one to discover the position of the enemy, his
manoeuvres, and his marches; and to announce these by signals to
one's own army. 1 believe that at sea it is equally possible to
make use of this machine. These prove the usefulness of the
balloon, which time will perfect for us. All that I regret is
that I did not provide myself with a telescope."
Chapter IX. The First Aerial Voyage--Roziers and Arlandes.
These experiments had only one aim--the application of
Montgolfier's discovery to aerial navigation. The knowledge
gained in the Faubourg St. Antoine having led to the most
favourable conclusions, it was resolved that a first aerial
voyage should be attempted.
"If," says Linguet, "there existed an autograph journal, written
by Columbus, descriptive of his first great voyage with what
jealous care it would be preserved, with what confidence it would
be quoted! We should delight to follow the candid account which
he gave of his thoughts, his hopes, his fears; of the complaints
of his followers, of his attempts to calm them, and, finally, of
his joy in the moment which, ratifying his word and justifying
his boldness, declared him the discoverer of a new world All
these details have been transmitted to us, but by stranger hands;
and, however interesting they may be, one cannot help feeling
that this circumstance makes them lose part of their value."
The narrative of the first aerial voyage, written by one of the
two first aeronauts, exists, and we are in a position to place it
before our readers. Such an enterprise certainly demanded great
courage in him who was the first to dare to confide himself to
the unknown currents of the atmosphere It threatened him with
dangers, perhaps with death by a fill, by fire, by cold, or by
straying into the mysterious cloud-land. Two men opposed the
first attempt. Montgolfier temporised, the king forbade it, or
rather only gave his permission on the condition that two
condemned criminals should be placed in the balloon! "What!"
cried Roziers, in indignation at the king's proposal, "allow two
vile criminals to have the first glory of rising into the sky!
No, no; that will never do!" Roziers conjured, supplicated,
agitated in a hundred ways for permission to try the first
voyage. He moved the town and the court; he addressed himself to
those who were most in favour at Versailles; he pleaded with the
Duchess de Polignac, who was all-powerful with the king. She
warmly supported his cause before Louis. Roziers dispatched the
Marquis d'Arlandes, who had been up with him, to the king.
Arlandes asserted that there was no danger, and, as proof of his
conviction, he offered himself to accompany Roziers. Solicited
on all sides, Louis at last yielded.
The gardens of La Muette, near Paris, were fixed upon as the spot
from which this aerial expedition should start. The Dauphin and
his suite were present on the occasion. It was on the 21st of
October, 1783,at one o'clock p.m., that Roziers and Irelands took
their leave of the earth for the first time. The following is
Arlandes' narrative of the expedition, given in the form of a
letter, addressed by the marquis to Faujas de Saint Fond:--"You
wish, my dear Faujas, and I consent most willingly to your
desires, that, owing to the number of questions continually
addressed to me, and for other reasons, I should gratify public
curiosity and fix public opinion upon the subject of our aerial
"I wish to describe as well as I can the first journey which men
have attempted through an element which, prior to the discovery
of MM. Montgolfier, seemed so little fitted to support them.
"We went up on the 21st of October, 1783, at near two o'clock, M.
Roziers on the west side of the balloon, I on the east. The wind
was nearly north-west. The machine, say the public, rose with
majesty; but really the position of the balloon altered so that
M. Roziers was in the advance of our position, I in the rear.
"I was surprised at the silence and the absence of movement which
our departure caused among the spectators, and believed them to
be astonished and perhaps awed at the strange spectacle; they
might well have reassured themselves I was still gazing, when M.
Roziers cried to me--
"'You are doing nothing, and the balloon is scarcely rising a
"'Pardon me,' I answered, as I placed a bundle of straw upon the
fire and slightly stirred it. Then I turned quickly, but already
we had passed out of sight of La Muette. Astonished, I cast a
glance towards the river. I perceived the confluence of the
Oise. And naming the principal bends of the river by the places
nearest them, I cried, 'Passy, St. Germain, St. Denis, Sevres!'
"'If you look at the river in that fashion you will be likely to
bathe in it soon,' cried Roziers. 'Some fire, my dear friend,
"We travelled on; but instead of crossing the river, as our
direction seemed to indicate, we bore towards the Invalides, then
returned upon the principal bed of the river, and travelled to
above the barrier of La Conference, thus dodging about the river,
but not crossing it.
"'That river is very difficult to cross,' I remarked to my
"'So it seems,' he answered; 'but you are doing nothing I suppose
it is because you are braver than 1, and don't fear a tumble.'
"I stirred the fire, I seized a truss of straw with my fork; I
raised it and threw it in the midst of the flames. An instant
afterwards I felt myself lifted as it were into the heavens.
"'For once we move,' said I.
"'Yes, we move,' answered my companion.
"At the same instant I heard from the top of the balloon a sound
which made me believe that it had burst. I watched, yet I saw
nothing. My companion had gone into the interior, no doubt to
make some observations. As my eyes were fixed on the top of the
machine I experienced a shock, and it was the only one I had yet
felt. The direction of the movement was from above downwards I
"'What are you doing? Are you having a dance to yourself?'
"'I'm not moving.'
"'So much the better. It is only a new current which I hope will
carry us from the river,' I answered.
"I turned to see where we were, and found we were between the
Ecole Militaire and the Invalides.
"'We are getting on.' said Roziers.
"'Yes, we are travelling.'
"'Let us work, let us work,' said he.
"I now heard another report in the machine, which I believed was
produced by the cracking of a cord. This new intimation made me
carefully examine the inside of our habitation. I saw that the
part that was turned towards the south was full of holes, of
which some were of a considerable size.
"'It must descend,' I then cried.
"'Look!' I said. At the same time I took my sponge and quietly
extinguished the little fire that was burning some of the holes
within my reach; but at the same moment I perceived that the
bottom of the cloth was coming away from the circle which
"'We must descend,' I repeated to my companion.
"He looked below.
"'We are upon Paris,' he said.
"'It does not matter,' I answered 'Only look! Is there no danger?
Are you holding on well?'
"I examined from my side, and saw that we had nothing to fear. I
then tried with my sponge the ropes which were within my reach.
All of them held firm. Only two of the cords had broken.
"I then said, 'We can cross Paris.'
"During this operation we were rapidly getting down to the roofs.
We made more fire, and rose again with the greatest ease. I
looked down, and it seemed to me we were going towards the towers
of St. Sulpice; but, on rising, a new current made us quit this
direction and bear more to the south. I looked to the left, and
beheld a wood, which I believed to be that of Luxembourg. We
were traversing the boulevard, and I cried all at once--
"'Get to ground!'
"But the intrepid Roziers, who never lost his head, and who
judged more surely than I, prevented me from attempting to
descend. I then threw a bundle of straw on the fire. We rose
again, and another current bore us to were now close to the
ground, between two mills. As soon to the left. We as we came
near the earth I raised myself over the gallery, and leaning
there with my two hands, I felt the balloon pressing softly
against my head. I pushed it back, and leaped down to the
ground. Looking round and expecting to see the balloon still
distended, I was astonished to find it quite empty and flattened.
On looking for Roziers I saw him in his shirt-sleeves creeping
out from under the mass of canvas that had fallen over him.
Before attempting to descend he had put off his coat and placed
it in the basket. After a deal of trouble we were at last all
"As Roziers was without a coat I besought him to go to the
nearest house. On his way thither he encountered the Duke of
Chartres, who had followed us, as we saw, very closely, for I had
had the honour of conversing with him the moment before we set
The following report of this first aerial voyage was drawn up by
scientific observers, among other signatures to it being that of
"Today 21st of October, 1783, at the Chateau de la Muette, an
experiment was made with the aerostatic machine of M.
Montgolfier. The sky was clouded in many parts, clear in
others--the wind north-west. At mid-day a signal was given,
which announced that the balloon was being filled. Soon after,
in spite of the wind, it was inflated in all its parts, and the
ascent was made. The Marquis d'Arlandes and M. Pilatre des
Roziers were in the gallery. The first intention was to raise
the machine and pull it back with ropes, to test it, to find out
the exact weight which it could carry, and to see if everything
was properly arranged before the actual ascent was attempted.
But the machine, driven by the wind, far from rising vertically,
was directed upon one of the walks of a garden, and the cords
which held it shook with so much force that several rents were
made in the balloon. The machine, being brought back to its
place, was repaired in less than two hours. Being again
inflated, it rose once more, bearing the same persons, and when
it had risen to the height of 250 feet, the intrepid voyagers,
bowing their heads, saluted the spectators. One could not resist
a feeling of mingled fear and admiration. Soon the aeronauts were
lost to view, but the balloon itself, displaying its very
beautiful shape, mounted to the height of 3,000 feet, and still
remained visible. The voyagers, satisfied with their experience,
and not wishing to make a longer course, agreed to descend, but,
perceiving that the wind was driving them upon the houses of the
Rue de Sevres, preserved their self-possession, renewed the hot
air, rose anew and continued their course till they had passed
"They then descended tranquilly in the country, beyond the new
boulevard, without having experienced the slightest
inconvenience, having still the greater part of their fuel
untouched. They could, had they desired, have cleared a distance
three times as great as that which they traversed. Their flight
was nearly 30,000 feet, and the time it occupied was from twenty
to twenty-five minutes. This machine was 70 feet high, 46 feet
in diameter, and had a capacity of 60,000 cubic feet."
It is reported that Franklin, more illustrious in his humility
than the most brilliant among the lords of the court, when
consulted respecting the possible use of balloons, answered
simply, "C'est l'enfant qui vient de naitre?"
Chapter X. The Second Arial Voyage.
(1st December 1783.--Charles and Robert at the Tuileries.)
The first ascent of Roziers and Arlandes was a feat of hardihood
almost unique. The men's courage was, so to speak, their only
guarantee. Thanks to the balloon, however, they accomplished one
of the most extraordinary enterprises ever achieved by our race.
On the day after the experiment of the Champ de Mars (27th of
August), Professor Charles--who had already acquired celebrity at
the Louvre, by his scientific collection and by his rank as an
official instructor--and the Brothers Robert, mechanicians, were
engaged in the construction of a balloon, to be inflated with
hydrogen gas, and destined to carry a car and one or two
passengers. For this ascent Charles may be said to have created
all at once the art of aerostation as now practiced, for he
brought it at one bound to such perfection that since his day
scarcely any advance has been made upon his arrangements. His
simple yet complete invention was that of the valve which gives
escape to the hydrogen gas, and thus renders the descent of the
balloon gentle and gradual; the car that carries the travellers;
the ballast of sand, by which the ascent is regulated and the
fall is moderated; the coating of caoutchouc, by means of which
the material of the balloon is rendered airtight and prevents
loss of gas; and, finally, the use of the barometer, which marks
at every instant, by the elevation or the depression of the
mercury, the position in which the aeronaut finds himself in the
atmosphere. Charles created all the contrivances, or, in other
words, all the ingenious precautions which make up the art of
On the 26th of November, the balloon, fitted with its network,
and having the car attached to it, was sent away from the hall of
the Tuileries, where it had been exhibited. The ascent was fixed
for the 1st of December, 1783, a memorable day for the Parisians.
At noon upon that day, the subscribers, who had paid four louis
for their seats, took their places within the enclosure outside
the circle, in which stood the casks employed for making the gas.
The humbler subscribers, at three francs a-head, occupied the
rest of the garden. The number of spectators, as we read
underneath the numerous coloured prints which represent this
spectacle, was 600,000; but though, without doubt, the gardens of
the Tuileries are very large, it is probable this figure is a
considerable overstatement, for this number would have been
three-fourths of the whole population of Paris.
The roofs and windows of the houses were crowded, whilst the Pont
Royal and the square of Louis XV. were covered by an immense
multitude. About mid-day a rumour was spread to the effect that
the king forbade the ascent. Charles ran to the Chief Minister
of State, and plainly told him that his life was the king's, but
his honour was his own: his word was pledged to the country and
he would ascend. Taking this high ground, the bold professor
gained an unwilling permission to carry out his undertaking.
A little afterwards the sound of cannon was heard. This was the
signal which announced the last arrangements and thus dissipated
all doubt as to the rising of the balloon, There had during the
day been considerable disturbance among the crowd, between the
partisans of Charles and Montgolfier; each party extolled its
hero, and did everything possible to detract from the merits of
the rival inventor. But whatever ill-feeling might have existed
was swept away by Professor Charles with a compliment. When he
was ready to ascend, he walked up to Montgolfier, and, with the
true instinct of French politeness, presented him with a little
balloon, saying at the same time--
"It is for you, monsieur, to show us the way to the skies."
The exquisite taste and delicacy of this incident touched the
bystanders as with an electric shock, and the place at once rang
out with the most genuine and hearty applause The little balloon
thrown up by Montgolfier sped away to the north-east, its
beautiful emerald colour showing to fine effect in the sun.
From this point let us follow the narrative of Professor Charles
"The balloon," he says, "which escaped from the hands of M.
Montgolfier, rose into the air, and seemed to carry with it the
testimony of friendship and regard between that gentleman and
myself, while acclamations followed it. Meanwhile, we hastily
prepared for departure. The stormy weather did not permit us to
have at our command all the arrangements which we had
contemplated the previous evening; to do so would have detained
us too long upon the earth. After the balloon and the car were
in equilibrium, we threw over 19 lbs. of ballast, and we rose in
the midst of silence, arising from the emotion and surprise felt
on all sides.
"Nothing will ever equal that moment of joyous excitement which
filled my whole being when I felt myself flying away from the
earth. It was not mere pleasure; it was perfect bliss. Escaped
from the frightful torments of persecution and of calumny, I felt
that I was answering all in rising above all.
"To this sentiment succeeded one more lively still--the
admiration of the majestic spectacle that spread itself out
before us. On whatever side we looked, all was glorious; a
cloudless sky above, a most delicious view around. 'Oh, my
friend,' said I to M. Robert, 'how great is our good fortune! I
care not what may be the condition of the earth; it is the sky
that is for me now. What serenity! what a ravishing scene!
Would that I could bring here the last of our detractors, and say
to the wretch, Behold what you would have lost had you arrested
the progress of science.'
"Whilst we were rising with a progressively increasing speed, we
waved our bannerets in token of our cheerfulness, and in order to
give confidence to those below who took an interest in our fate.
M. Robert made an inventory of our stores; our friends had
stocked our commissariat as for a long voyage--champagne and
other wines, garments of fur and other articles of clothing.
"'Good,' I said; 'throw that out of the window.' He took a
blanket and launched it into the air, through which it floated
down slowly, and fell upon the dome of l'Assomption.
"When the barometer had fallen 26 inches, we ceased to ascend. We
were up at an elevation of 1,800 feet. This was the height to
which I had promised myself to ascend; and, in fact, from this
moment to the time when we disappeared from the eyes of our
friends, we always kept a horizontal course, the barometer
registering 26 inches to 26 inches 8 lines.
"We required to throw over ballast in proportion as the almost
insensible escape of the hydrogen gas caused us to descend, in
order to remain as nearly as possible at the same elevation. If
circumstances had permitted us to measure the amount of ballast
we threw over, our course would have been almost absolutely
"After remaining for a few moments stationary, our car I changed
its course, and we were carried on at the will of the wind. Soon
we passed the Seine, between St. Ouen and Asnieres. We traversed
the river a second time, leaving Argenteuil upon the left. We
passed Sannois, Franconville, Eau-Bonne, St. Leu-Taverny,
Villiers, and finally, Nesles. This was about twenty-seven miles
from Paris, and we had I reached this distance in two hours,
although there was so little wind that the air scarcely stirred.
"During the whole course of this delightful voyage, not the
slightest apprehension for our fate or that of our machine
entered my head for a moment. The globe did not suffer any
alteration beyond the successive changes of dilatation and
compression, which enabled us to mount and descend at will. The
thermometer was, during more than an hour, between ten and twelve
degrees above zero; this being to some extent accounted for by
the fact that the interior of the car was warmed by the rays of
"At the end of fifty-six minutes, we heard the report of the
cannon which informed us that we had, at that moment, disappeared
from view at Paris. We rejoiced that we had escaped, as we were
no longer obliged to observe a horizontal course, and to regulate
the balloon for that purpose.
"We gave ourselves up to the contemplation of the views which the
immense stretch of country beneath us presented. From that time,
though we had no opportunity of conversing with the inhabitants,
we saw them running after us from all parts; we heard their
cries, their exclamations of solicitude, and knew their alarm and
"We cried, 'Vive le Roi!' and the people responded. We heard,
very distinctly--'My good friends, have you no fear? Are you not
sick? How beautiful it is! Heaven preserve you! Adieu, my
"I was touched to tears by this tender and true interest which
our appearance had called forth.
"We continued to wave our flags without cessation, and we
perceived that these signals greatly increased the cheerfulness
and calmed the solicitude of the people below. Often we
descended sufficiently low to hear what they shouted to us. They
asked us where we came from, and at what hour we had started.
"We threw over successively frock-coats, muffs, and habits.
Sailing on above the Ile d'Adam, after having admired the
splendid view, we made signals with our flags, and demanded news
of the Prince of Conti. One cried up to us, in a very powerful
voice, that he was at Paris, and that he was ill. We regretted
missing such an opportunity of paying our respects, for we could
have descended into the prince's gardens, if we had wished, but
we preferred to pursue our course, and we re-ascended. Finally,
we arrived at the plain of Nesles.
"We saw from the distance groups of peasants, who ran on before
us across the fields. 'Let us go,' I said, and we descended
towards a vast meadow.
"Some shrubs and trees stood round its border. Our car advanced
majestically in a long inclined plane. On arriving near the
trees, I feared that their branches might damage the car, so I
threw over two pounds of ballast, and we rose again. We ran
along more than 120 feet, at a distance of one or two feet from
the ground, and had the appearance of travelling in a sledge.
The peasants ran after us without being able to catch us, like
children pursuing a butterfly in the fields.
"Finally, we stopped, and were instantly surrounded. Nothing
could equal the simple and tender regard of the country people,
their admiration, and their lively emotion.
"I called at once for the cures and the magistrates. They came
round me on all sides: there was quite a fete on the spot. I
prepared a short report, which the cures and the syndics signed.
Then arrived a company of horsemen at a gallop. These were the
Duke of Chartres, the Duke of Fitzjames, and M. Farrer. By a
very singular chance, we had come down close by the hunting-lodge
of the latter. He leaped from his horse and threw himself into
my arms, crying, 'Monsieur Charles, I was first!'
"Charles adds that they were covered with the caresses of the
prince, who embraced both of them. He briefly narrated to the
Duke of Chartres some incidents of the voyage.
"'But this is not all, monseigneur. I am going away again,'
"'What! Going away!' exclaimed the duke.
"'Monseigneur, you will see. When do you wish me to come back
again?' I said.
"'In half an hour.'
"'Very well: be it so. In half an hour I shall be with you
"M. Robert descended from the car, and I was alone in the
"I said to the duke, 'Monseigneur, I go.' I said to the peasants
who held down the balloon, 'My friends, go away, all of you, from
the car at the moment I give the signal.' I then rose like a
bird, and in ten minutes I was more than 3,000 feet above the
ground. I no longer perceived terrestrial objects; I only saw
the great masses of nature.
"In going away, Charles had taken his precautions against the
possible explosion of the balloon, and made himself ready to make
certain observations. In order to observe the barometer and the
thermometer, placed at different extremities of the car, without
endangering the equilibrium, he sat down in the middle, a watch
and paper in his left hand, a pen and the cord of the
safety-valve in his right.
"I waited for what should happen," continues he. "The balloon,
which was quite flabby and soft when I ascended, was now taut,
and fully distended. Soon the hydrogen gas began to escape in
considerable quantities by the neck of the balloon, and then,
from time to time, I pulled open the valve to give it two issues
at once; and I continued thus to mount upwards, all the time
losing the inflammable air, which, rushing past me from the neck
of the balloon, felt like a warm cloud.
"I passed in ten minutes from the temperature of spring to that
of winter; the cold was keen and dry, but not insupportable. I
examined all my sensations calmly; _I_ COULD HEAR MYSELF LIVE,
so to speak, and I am certain that at first I experienced nothing
disagreeable in this sudden passage from one temperature to
"When the barometer ceased to move I noted very exactly eighteen
inches ten lines. This observation is perfectly accurate The
mercury did not suffer any sensible movement.
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