Wonderful Balloon Ascents: or, the Conquest of the Skies.
Part 2 out of 3
"At the end of some minutes the cold caught my fingers; I could
hardly hold the pen, but I no longer had need to do so. I was
stationary, or rather moved only in a horizontal direction.
"I raised myself in the middle of the car, and abandoned myself
to the spectacle before me. At my departure from the meadow the
sun had sunk to the people of the valleys; soon he shone for me
alone, and came again to pour his rays upon the balloon and the
car. I was the only creature in the horizon in sunshine--all the
rest of nature was in shade. Ere long, however, the sun
disappeared, and thus I had the pleasure of seeing him set twice
in the same day. I contemplated for some moments the mists and
vapours that rose from the valley and the rivers The clouds
seemed to come forth from the earth, and to accumulate the one
upon the other. Their colour was a monotonous grey--a natural
effect, for there was no light save that of the moon.
"I observed that I had tacked round twice, and I felt currents
which called me to my senses. I found with surprise the effect
of the wind, and saw the cloth of my flag: extended horizontally.
"In the midst of the inexpressible pleasure of this state of
ecstatic contemplation, I was recalled to myself by a most
extraordinary pain which I felt in the interior of the ears and
in the maxillary glands. This I attributed to the dilation of
the air contained in the cellular tissue of the organ as much as
to the cold outside. I was in my vest, with my head uncovered.
I immediately covered my head with a bonnet of wool which was at
my feet, but the pain only disappeared with my descent to the
"It was now seven or eight minutes since I had arrived at this
elevation, and I now commenced to descend. I remembered the
promise I had made to the Duke of Chartres, to return in half an
hour. I quickened my descent by opening the valve from time to
time. Soon the balloon, empty now to one half, presented the
appearance of a hemisphere.
"Arrived at twenty-three fathoms from the earth, I suddenly threw
over two or three pounds of ballast, which arrested my descent,
and which I had carefully kept for this purpose. I then slowly
descended upon the ground, which I had, so to speak, chosen."
Such is the narrative of the second aerial voyage. After such a
memorable ascent one is astonished to learn that Professor
Charles never repeated his experiment. It has been said that, in
descending from his car, he had vowed that he would never again
expose himself to such perils, so strong had been the alarm he
felt when the peasants ceasing to hold him down he shot up into
the sky with the rapidity of an arrow. But after him a thousand
others have followed the daring example he set. With this ascent
the memorable year 1783 closed, and the seed which had been sown
soon began to be productive.
The History of Aerostation from the Year 1783.
Chapter I. The Open Route--Travels and Travellers--Great
Increase in the Number of Air Voyages--Lyons, Ascent of "Le
Flesselles--Milan, Ascent of Adriani--Flight of a Balloon from
London--Lost Balloons in the Chief Towns of Europe
From the year 1783, in which aerostation had its birth, and in
which it was carried to a degree of perfection, beside which the
progress of aeronauts in our days seems small, a new route was
opened up for travellers. The science of Montgolfier, the
practical art of Professor Charles, and the courage of Roziers,
subdued the scepticism of those who had not yet given in their
adhesion to the possible value of the great discovery, and
throughout the whole of France a feverish degree of enthusiasm in
the art manifested itself Aerial excursions now became quite
fashionable. Let it be understood that we do not here refer to
ascents in fixed balloons, that is, in balloons which were
attached to the earth by means of ropes more or less long.
M. Biot narrates that, in his young days, when aeronautic ascents
were less known than they are in these times, there was in the
plain of Grenelle, at the mill of Javelle, an establishment where
balloons were constantly maintained for the accommodation of
amateurs of both sexes who wished to make ascents in what were
called "ballons captifs," or balloons anchored, so to speak, to
the earth by means of long ropes They were for a considerable
time the rage of fashionable society, and it is not recorded that
any accidents resulted from the practice. Of course it may be
easily understood with these safe balloons the adventurous
aeronauts never ascended to any great height. The reader will
find this subject treated under the chapter of military
We are at present specially engaged with the narrative of the
first attempts in aerostation--the first experiments in the new
discovery. We have followed with interest the exciting details
of the first adventurous ascents, in which the genius of man
first essayed the unexplored paths of the heavens. Yet a
continued record of aerial voyages would not be of the same
interest. The results of subsequent expeditions, and the
impressions of subsequent aeronauts are the same as those already
described, or differ from them only in minor points. No
important advance is recorded in the art. We shall therefore
endeavour not to confine ourselves to the narrative of a dry and
monotonous chronology, but to select from the number of ascents
that have taken place within the last eighty years, only those
whose special character renders them worthy of more detailed and
In order to give an idea of the rapid multiplication of
aeronautic experiments, it will suffice to state that the only
aeronauts of 1783 are Roziers, the Marquis d'Arlandes, Professor
Charles, his collaborateur the younger Robert, and a carpenter,
named Wilcox, who made ascents at Philadelphia and London.
A number of balloons were remarkable for the beauty and elegance
which we have already spoken of. Among the most beautiful we may
mention the "Flesselles" balloon and Bagnolet's balloon.
Of the ascents which immediately succeeded those that have been
treated in the first part of our volume, and which are the most
memorable in the early annals of aerostation, that of the I7th of
January, 1784, is remarkable. It took place at Lyons. Seven
persons went into the car on this occasion--Joseph Montgolfier,
Roziers, the Comte de Laurencin, the Comte de Dampierre, the
Prince Charles de Ligne, the Comte de Laporte d'Anglifort, and
Fontaine, who threw himself into the car when it had already
begun to move.
A most minute account of this experiment is given in a letter of
Mathon de la Cour, director of the Academy of Sciences at
Lyons:--"After the experiments of the Champ de Mars and
Versailles had become known," he says, "the citizens of this town
proposed to repeat them" and a subscription was opened for this
purpose. On the arrival of the elder Montgolfier, about the end
of September, M. de Flesselles, our director, always zealous in
promoting whatever might be for the welfare of the province and
the advancement of science and art, persuaded him to organise the
subscription. The aim of the experiment proposed by Montgolfier
was not the ascent of any human being in the balloon. The
prospectus only announced that a balloon of a much larger size
than any that had been made would ascend--that it would rise to
several thousand feet, and that, including the animals that it
was proposed it should carry, it would weigh 8,000 lbs. The
subscription was fixed at L12, and the number of subscribers was
It was on these conditions that Montgolfier commenced his balloon
of 126 feet high and 100 feet in diameter, made of a double
envelope of cotton cloth, with a lining of paper between. A
strength and consistency was given to the structure by means of
ribbons and cords.
The work was nearly finished when Roziers went up in his
fire-balloon from La Muette. Immediately the Comte de Laurencin
pressed Montgolfier to allow him to go up in the new machine.
Montgolfier was only too glad of the opportunity--refused up to
this time by the king--of going up himself. From thirty to forty
people made application to go with the aeronauts; and on the 26th
of December, 1678, Roziers, the Comte de Dampierre, and the Comte
de Laporte, arrived in Lyons with the same intention. Prince
Charles also arrived; and as his father had taken one hundred
subscriptions, his claim to go up could not be refused.
But while the public papers were full of ascents at Avignon,
Marseilles, and Paris, it is impossible to describe the vexation
of Roziers, when he discovered that Montgolfier's new balloon was
not intended to carry passengers, and had not been, from the
first, constructed with that view. He suggested a number of
alterations, which Montgolfier adopted at once.
On the 7th of January, 1784, all the pieces of which the balloon
was composed were carried out to the field called Les Brotteaux,
outside the town, from which the ascent was to be made. This
event was announced to take place on the 10th and at five o'clock
on the morning of that day; but unexpected delays occurred, and
in the necessary operations the covering was torn in many places.
On the 15th the balloon was inflated in seventeen minutes, and
the gallery was attached in an hour--the fire from which the
heated air was obtained requiring to be fed at the rate of 5 lbs.
of alder-wood per minute; but the preparations had occupied so
much time, that it was found, when everything was complete, that
the afternoon was too far advanced for the ascent to be made.
This machine was destined to suffer from endless misfortunes. It
took fire while being inflated, and, several days afterwards, it
was damaged by snow and rain. Put nothing discouraged Roziers
and his companions. Places had been arranged in the gallery for
six persons. After the balloon was at last inflated, Prince
Charles and the Comes de Laurencin, Dampierre, and Laporte threw
themselves into the gallery. They were all armed, and were
determined not to quit their places to whoever might come.
Roziers, who wished at the last to enjoy a high ascent, proposed
to reduce the number to three, and to draw lots for the purpose.
But the gentlemen would not descend. The debate became animated.
The four voyagers cried to cut the ropes. The director of the
Academy, to whom application was made in this emergency, admiring
the resolution and the courage of the four gentlemen, wished to
satisfy them in their desire. Accordingly the ropes were cut;
but at that moment M. Montgolfier and Roziers threw themselves
into the gallery. At the same time a certain M. Fontaine, who
had had much to do in the construction of the machine, threw
himself in, although it had not previously been arranged that he
should be of the party. His boldness in jumping in was pardoned,
on the ground of his services and his zeal.
In going away the machine turned to the south-west, and bent a
little. A rope which dragged along the ground seemed to retard
its ascent; but some intelligent person having cut this with a
hatchet, it began to right itself and ascend. At a certain
height it turned to the north east. The wind was feeble, and the
progress was slow, but the imposing effect was indescribable.
The immense machine rose into the air as by some effect of magic.
Nearly 100,000 spectators were present, and they were greatly
excited at the view. They clapped their hands and stretched
their arms towards the sky; women fainted away, or (for some
reasons best known to themselves) found relief for their
excitement in tears; while the men, uttering cries of joy, waved
their handkerchiefs, and threw their hats into the air.
The form of the machine was that of a globe, rising from a
reversed and truncated cone, to which the gallery was attached.
The upper part was white, the lower part grey; and the cone was
composed of strips of stuff of different colours. On the sides
of the balloon were two paintings, one of which represented
History, the other Fame. The flag bore the arms of the director
of the Academy, and above it were inscribed the words "Le
The voyagers observed that they did not consume a fourth of the
quantity of combustibles after they had risen into the air, which
they consumed when attached to the earth. They were in the
gayest humour, and they calculated that the fuel they had would
keep them floating till late in the evening. Unfortunately,
however, after throwing more wood on the fire, in order to get up
to a greater altitude, it was discovered that a rent had been
made in the covering, caused by the fire by which the balloon had
been damaged two or three days previously. The rent was four
feet in length; and as the heated air escaped very rapidly by it,
the balloon fell, after having sailed above the earth for barely
The descent only occupied two or three minutes, and yet the shock
was supportable. It was observed that as soon as the machine had
touched the earth all the cloth became unfolded in a few seconds,
which seemed to confirm the opinion of Montgolfier, who believed
that electricity had much to do in the ascent of balloons. The
voyagers were got out of the balloon without accident, and were
greeted with the most enthusiastic applause.
On the day of the ascent, the opera of "Iphigenia in Aulis" was
given, and the theatre was thronged by a vast assemblage,
attracted thither in the hope of seeing the illustrious
experimentalists. The curtain had risen when M. and Madame de
Flesselles entered their box, accompanied by Montgolfier and
Roziers. At sight of them the enthusiasm of the house rose to
fever pitch. The other voyagers also entered, and were greeted
with the same demonstrations. Cries arose from the pit to begin
the opera again, in honour of the visitors. The curtain then
fell, and when it again rose, after a few moments, the actor who
filled the role of Agamemnon advanced with crowns, which he
handed to Madame de Flesselles, who distributed them to the
aeronauts. Roziers placed the crown that had been given to him
upon Montgolfier's head.
When the actress who played the part of Clytemnestra, sung the
"I love to see these flattering honours paid,"
the audience at once applied her song to the circumstances, and
re-demanded it, which request the actress complied with,
addressing herself to the box in which the distinguished visitors
sat. The demonstrations of admiration were continued after the
opera was over; and during the whole of the night the gentlemen
of the balloon ascent were serenaded.
Two days afterwards, Roziers having appeared at a ball, received
further proofs of admiration and honours; and when, on the 22nd
of January, he departed for Dijon on his return to Paris, he was
accompanied as in a triumph by a numerous cavalcade of the most
distinguished young men of the city.
There was, however, at Paris, much discontent with the ascent of
"Le Flesselles;" and the Journal de Paris de Paris, which notices
so enthusiastically the other ascents of that epoch, speaks
slightingly of that at Lyons.
The next great ascent took place at Milan, on the 25th of
February, 1784, under the direction of the Chevalier Paul
Andriani, who had a balloon constructed by the Brothers Gerli, at
his own expense. We read that this balloon was 66 feet in
diameter, and that the envelope was composed of cloth, lined in
the interior with fine paper.
The balloon was not in all respects constructed like that which
rose at Lyons. The grating which supported the fire that kept up
the supply of hot air was placed at the mouth of the opening. It
was made of copper, was six feet in diameter, and was secured by
a number of transverse beams of wood. M. Andriani thought it
best to place his fire--contrary to general usage--a little way
above the mouth of the opening, and he found out that the
activity of the fire was in proportion with that of the air which
entered and fed it.
In place of making use of a gallery like that employed by
Montgolfier, as much to manage the fire as to carry the traveller
and the fuel, he substituted a wide basket, suspended by cords to
the edge of the opening of the balloon, at such a distance that
fuel could be thrown on with the hand without being
inconvenienced by the heat.
Everything being in readiness, the machine was carried to
Moncuco, the splendid domain of Andriani, where the first
experiments were made; for this gentlemen knew that as the
populace are impatient, they are also often un-reasonable, and
jump to the hastiest and most inconsiderate conclusion when, in
witnessing scientific experiments, any of the arrangements happen
to be imperfect, and the results in any respect prove
Andriani did not deceive himself, for, sure enough, his first
attempt did not come up to expectation. The reasons for this
failure were the too great quantity of air which the fire drew
in, and the unsuitable character of the fuel used.
On the 25th of February, 1784, a second attempt was made. The
fire was lighted under the machine, at first with dry birch-wood.
and afterwards with a bituminous composition, ingeniously
concocted by one of the Brothers Gerli. In less than four
minutes the balloon was completely inflated, and the men employed
to hold it down with ropes perceived that it was on the point of
rising. The aeronauts then gave the order to let go. Scarcely
was the balloon let off, when it gently rose a short distance,
and then flew in a horizontal direction towards a palace in the
neighbourhood. In order that the structure should not be
destroyed on the walls and the roof of the palace, the voyagers
heaped on the fuel, and the spectators, who had gathered together
from the surrounding villages, then saw this strange vessel of
the air rising with rapidity to a surprising height. Such a
phenomenon was so astonishing, that those who beheld it could
hardly believe their own eyes; and when the balloon disappeared
from view, the delight they had manifested was dashed with fear
for the fate of the bold aeronauts. The latter, seeing that the
balloon was driving through the air towards a range of rocky
hills in the neighbourhood, and perceiving, on the other hand,
that their stock of combustibles was nearly exhausted, judged it
prudent to descend. They diminished their fire, and came
gradually down, warning the multitude below of their intention by
means of a speaking-trumpet.
In the course of the descent the balloon alighted upon a large
tree, to the great peril of the travellers; but as soon as the
fire was increased it again mounted and got clear from the
branches while the people below, grasping the cords that were
hung out to them, guided the machine to the spot which the
voyagers indicated. To descend to terra firma was then a
comparatively easy matter, and it was safely accomplished. The
fire, which in the case of the French balloons had dried,
calcined, and almost consumed the upper part of the balloon, had
no evil effect upon that of Andriani, which came down looking as
fresh as if it had never been used.
The new idea had now passed the frontiers of France, in which it
was originally conceived, and among the other nations, as at
first in France, the power of the inflated balloon came to be
tested everywhere by the construction of small toy globes.
It was just about five months after the first experiment at
Annonay--viz., on the 25th of November, 1783--that the first
balloon ascended in London. We are informed, in the History of
Aerostation by Tiberius Cavallo, that an Italian, Count
Zambeccari, who was staying in the English capital, made a
balloon of silk, covered with a varnish of oil. Its diameter was
ten feet, and its weight eleven pounds. It was gilded for the
double purpose of enhancing its appearance and preventing the
escape of air. After having been exposed to public inspection
for several days, it was filled three parts full of hydrogen gas,
a tin bottle was suspended from it, containing an address to
whoever might find it when it should fall, and it was let off
from the Artillery Ground, in presence of a vast assembly.
On the 11th of December, 1783, a little balloon, made of
gold-beaters' skin, was let off publicly at Turin. This was an
experiment similar to that which had been tried at Paris in
September. The balloon was seen to penetrate the clouds, then to
mount still higher, and finally to disappear entirely in five
minutes fifty-four seconds from the time when it was set free.
It was natural, after the experiments made long before with
electric paper kites, to employ the balloon in the investigation
of the electric conditions of the atmosphere. The first to use
it for this purpose was the Abbe Berthelon de Montpellier. He
sent up a number of balloons, to which he had attached pieces of
metal, long and narrow, and terminating in a cylinder of glass,
or other substance suitable for the purpose of isolation, and he
obtained sufficient electricity by these means to demonstrate the
phenomena of attraction and repulsion, as well as electric
Cavallo mentions an accident which took place in England about
this time, and which served as a warning to all who had to do
with balloons filled with hydrogen gas. A balloon thus inflated
had been sent up at Hopton, near Matlock, and was found by two
men near Cheadle, in Staffordshire. These ingenious persons
carried it within doors, and having wished to fully inflate
it--half the gas having by this time escaped--they applied a pair
of bellows to its mouth. By this means they only forced out the
volume of the hydrogen gas that was left; and this gas, coming in
contact with a candle that had been placed too near, exploded.
The report was louder than that of a cannon, and so powerful was
the shock that the men were thrown down, the glass blown out of
the windows, and the house otherwise damaged. The men suffered
severely, their hair, beards, and eyebrows being completely burnt
away, and their faces severely scorched.
At Grenoble, in Dauphine, De Baron let off a balloon on the 13th
of January, 1784. It rose, and at first took a northern
direction; but, having encountered a current of air, it was
carried away in a south-easterly direction, and after flying a
distance of three-quarters of a mile, it fell, having traversed
this distance in fifteen minutes.
A society, under the presidency of the Abbe de Mably, having
constructed a balloon thirty-seven feet high and twenty feet in
diameter, sent it off from the court of the Castle of Pisancon,
near Romano, on the same day, the 13th of February. At first it
was carried to the south by a strong north wind, but after it had
risen to 1,000 feet above the surface, its course was changed
towards the north. It was calculated that, in less than five
minutes, this balloon rose to the height of 6,000 feet.
On the 16th of the same month the Count d'Albon threw off from
his gardens at Franconville a balloon inflated with gas, and made
of silk, rendered air-tight by a solution of gum-arabic. It was
oblong, and measured twenty-five feet in height, and seventeen
feet in diameter. To this balloon a cage, containing two
guinea-pigs and a rabbit, was suspended. The cords were cut, and
the inflated globe rose to an enormous height with the greatest
rapidity. Five days afterwards it was found at the distance of
eighteen miles, and it is remarkable that, in spite of the cold
of the season, and particularly of the elevated region through
which the balloon had been passing, the animals were not only
living, but in good condition.
On the 3rd of February, 1784, the Marquis de Bullion sent up a
paper balloon, of about fifteen feet in diameter. A flat sponge,
about a foot square, placed in a tin dish and drenched with a
pint of spirits of wine, was the only apparatus made use of to
create a supply of heated air. It rose at Paris, and three hours
afterwards it was found near Basville, about thirty miles from
On the 15th of the same month Cellard de Chastelais sent up a
paper balloon. Heated air was supplied on this occasion by a
paper roll, enclosing a sponge, and soaked in oil, spirits of
wine, and grease. A cage, which contained a cat, was attached to
this air globe. In thirty-five minutes it had mounted so high
that it looked but like the smallest star, and in two hours it
had flown a distance of forty-six miles from the place where it
was thrown off. The cat was dead, but it was not discovered from
The first balloon that traversed the English channel was sent off
at Sandwich, in Kent, on the 22nd of February, 1784. It was five
feet in diameter, and was inflated with hydrogen gas. It rose
rapidly, and was carried toward France by a north-west wind. Two
hours and a half after it had been let off it was found in a
field about nine miles from Lille. The balloon carried a letter,
instructing the finder of the balloon to communicate with William
Boys, Esq., Sandwich, and to state where and at what time it was
found. This request was complied with.
On the 19th of February a similar balloon, five feet in diameter,
was sent up from Queen's College, Oxford. It was spherical, and
was made of Persian silk, coated with varnish. It was the first
balloon sent up from that city.
De Saussure makes mention, in a letter dated from Geneva, the
26th of March, 1784, of certain experiments made in that town
with the electricity of the atmosphere by means of fixed
balloons--i.e., balloons attached to the earth by ropes, which
gave forth sparks and positive electricity.
Mention is also made of a certain M. Argand, of Geneva, who had
the honour of making balloon experiments at Windsor in the
presence of King George III., Queen Charlotte, and the royal
family. About this time (1784) balloons became "the fashion,"
and frequent instances occur of their being raised by day and
night, by means of spirit-lamps, to the great delight of
multitudes of spectators.
A letter from Watt to Dr. Lind, of Windsor, dated from
Birmingham, 25th December, 1784, narrates an experiment made the
summer preceding with a balloon inflated Wit]l hydrogen. The
balloon was made of fine paper covered with a varnish of oil and
filled two-thirds with hydrogen gas, and one-third common air.
To the neck of the balloon was attached a sort of squib two feet
long, the fuse of which was ignited when the balloon was
inflated. The night was calm and dark, and a great multitude was
assembled to witness the ascent, which was accomplished with a
success that gave delight to all; for, at the end of six minutes
the fuse communicated with the squib, and the explosion was like
the sound of thunder. The men who saw it from a distance, but
were not present at its ascent, took it for a meteor. "Our
intention," says Watt, "was, if possible, to discover whether the
reverberating sound of thunder was due to echoes or to successive
explosions. The sound occasioned by the detonation of the
hydrogen gas of the balloon in this experiment, does not enable
us to form a definite judgment; all that we can do is to refer to
those who were near the balloon, and-who affirm that the sound
was like that of thunder."
Chapter II. Experiments and Studies--Blanchard at Paris--Guyton
de Morveau at Dijon.
The most popular name in aerostation during the Revolution and
the Consulate in France is, without doubt, that of Blanchard. We
have already referred to him in the chapter which treats of
experiments made prior to the discovery of Montgolfier, and we
now have to speak of his famous ascent from the Champ de Mars, on
the 2nd of March 1784, and of the ascents which followed.
We have seen that he constructed a sort of flying boat, a machine
furnished with oars and rigging, with which he managed to sustain
himself some moments in the air at the height of eighty feet.
This curious machine was exhibited in 1782 in the gardens of the
great hotel of the Rue Taranne. But a little time afterwards
Montgolfier's discoveries quite altered the conditions under
which the aerostatic art was to be pursued. It had no sooner
become known than it became public property. The idea was too
simple in its grandeur, and was of too easy a kind not to call up
a host of imitators. Of these Blanchard was one of the first;
but this mechanician was anxious to incorporate his own invention
with that of Montgolfier, and he arranged that on the 2nd of
March, 1784, he should make an ascent in what he still called his
"flying vessel," which he furnished with four wings.
Blanchard and his companion, Pesch, a Benedictine priest, were
prevented from going up in the balloon, as represented in our
illustration, which was drawn before the event it was intended to
commemorate. A certain Dupont de Chambon persisted in
accompanying the voyagers. Pushed back by them, he drew his
sword, leaped into the car or boat, wounded Blanchard, cut the
rigging, and broke the oars or wings. The aeronaut was
consequently compelled to have his machine partly re-fitted in
great haste, and in the course of a few hours he made the ascent
alone in the usual way. Blanchard should have known the
uselessness of oars, though he did not abandon their employment
in subsequent ascents. The Brothers Montgolfier had dreamed of
the employment of oars as a means of guidance, but had ultimately
rejected the idea. Joseph wrote to his brother Etienne, about
the end of the year 1783:
"For my sake, my good friend, reflect; calculate well before you
employ oars. Oars must either be great or small; if great, they
will be heavy; if small, it will be necessary to move them with
great rapidity. I know no sufficient means of guidance, except
in the knowledge of the different currents of air, of which it is
necessary to make a study; and these are generally regulated by
the elevation." The two brothers often recurred to this idea.
The pictures of the first ascent of Blanchard from the Champ de
Mars on the 2nd of March, 1784, in the presence of a vast
multitude, show us the oars and the mechanism of his
flying-machine fitted to a balloon. The design which we here
give seems to us deserving of being considered only as one of the
caricatures of the time, especially when we look at the personage
dressed in the fool's head-gear, who sits behind and accompanies
the triumphant ascent of the aeronaut with music.
It was not with this apparatus that Blanchard effected his
ascent, for we have seen that the gearing of his vessel was
broken by the infuriated Dupont de Chambon. Yet the aeronaut
pretends to have been, to some extent, assisted by his mechanical
contrivances. The following is his narrative:--
"I rose to a certain height over Plassy, and perceiving Villette,
which I did not despair of reaching in spite of the misfortune
that had happened to me, I attached a rope of my rigging to my
leg, not being able to make use of my left hand, which I had
wrapped in my handkerchief on account of the sword-wound it had
received. I fixed up a piece of cloth, and thus made a sort of
sail with which I hugged the wind. But the rays of the sun had
so heated and rarefied the inflammable air that soon I forgot my
rigging in thinking of the terrible danger that threatened me."
Going on to narrate the dangers that beset him, Blanchard
describes a number of most extraordinary experiences, which would
be better worthy of a place here if they were more like the
truth. His curious narrative is thus brought to a close:--
"Escaped from these impetuous and contrary winds, during which I
had felt a great degree of cold, I mounted perpendicularly. The
cold became excessive. Being hungry I ate a morsel of cake. I
wished to drink, but in searching the car nothing was to be seen
but the debris of bottles and glasses, which my assailant had
left behind him when we were about to depart. Afterwards all was
so calm that nothing could be seen or heard. The silence became
appalling, and to add to my alarm I began to lose consciousness.
I now wished to take snuff, but found I had left my box behind
me. I changed my seat many times; I went from prow to stern, but
the drowsiness only ceased to assail me when I was struck by two
furious winds, which compressed my balloon to such an extent that
its size became sensibly diminished to the eye. I was not sorry
when I began to descend rapidly upon the river, which at first
seemed to me a white thread, afterwards a ribbon, and then a
piece of cloth. As I followed the course of the river, the fear
that I should have to descend into it, made me agitate the oars
very rapidly. I believe that it is to these movements that I owe
my being able to cross the river transversely, and get above dry
land. When I saw myself upon the plain of Billancourt, I
recognised the bridge of Sevres, and the road to Versailles. I
was then about as high as the towers above the plain, and I could
hear the words and the cries of joy of the people who were
following me below. At length I came to a plain about 200 feet
in extent. The people then assisted me and brought my vessel to
anchor. Immediately I was surrounded by gentlemen and foot
passengers who had run together from all parts."
This voyage lasted one hour and a quarter. The most important
incident of it was that the balloon was very nearly burst by the
expansion of the hydrogen gas. No balloon, as we have already
seen, should be entirely inflated at the beginning of a journey.
Blanchard had a narrow escape from being the victim of his
ignorance of physics, and it is a wonder he was not left to the
mercy of fate in a burst balloon, at several thousand feet above
Biot, the savant, who had watched the experiment, declared that
Blanchard did not stir himself, and that the variations of his
course are alone to be attributed to the currents of air that he
encountered. As he had inscribed upon his flags, his balloons,
and his entrance tickets, from which he realised a considerable
sum, the ambitious legend, Sic itur ad astra, the following
epigram was produced respecting him:--
From the Field of Mars he took his flight:
In a field close by he tumbled;
But our money having taken
He smiled though sadly shaken,
As Sic itur ad astra he mumbled.
What is most important to examine in each of the great aerial
voyages that have been made, is the special character which
distinguishes them from average experiments. All our great
voyages are rendered special and particular by the ideas of the
men who undertook them, and the aims which they severally meant
to achieve by them. The early ascents of Montgolfier had for
their aim the establishment of the fact that any body lighter
than the volume of air which it displaces will rise in the
atmosphere; those of Roziers were undertaken to prove that man
can apply this principle for the purpose of making actual aerial
voyages; those of Robertson, Gay-Lussac, &c., were undertaken for
the purpose of ascertaining certain meteorological phenomena;
those of Conte Coutelle applied aerostation to military uses. A
considerable number were made with the view of organising a
system of aerial navigation analogous to that of the sea-steerage
in a certain direction by means of oars or sails--in a word, to
investigate the possibility of sailing through the air to any
point fixed upon. It was with this object that the experiments
at Dijon took place, and these were the most serious attempts
down to our times that have been made to steer balloons.
At the middle of the globe of the balloon were placed four oars,
two sails, and a helm and these were under the management of the
voyagers, who sat in the car and worked them by means of ropes.
The car was also furnished with oars. The report of Guyton de
Morveau to the Academy at Dijon informs us that these different
paraphernalia were not altogether useless. The following
extracts are from this report:--
"The very strong wind which arose immediately before our
departure, had driven us down to tee ground many times, making us
fear for the safety of our oars, &c., when we resolved to throw
over as much ballast as would enable us to rise against the wind.
The ballast, including from 70 to 80 lbs. of provisions, was
thrown over, and then we rose so rapidly that all the objects
around were instantly passed and were very soon lost to view.
The swelling form of our balloon told us that the gas inside had
expanded under the heat of the sun and the lessening density of
the surrounding air. We opened the two valves, but even this
outlet was insufficient, and we had to cut a hole about seven or
eight inches long in the lower part of the balloon, through which
the gas might escape. At five minutes past five we passed above
a village which we did not know, and here we let fall a bag
filled with bran, and carrying with it a flag and a written
message to the effect that we were all well, and that the
barometer was recording 20 inches 9 lines, and the thermometer
one degree and a half below zero."
Very keen cold attacked the ears, but this was the only
inconvenience experienced, until the voyagers were lost in a sea
of clouds that shut them out from the view of the earth. The sun
at length began to descend, and they then perceived, by a
slackening in the lower part of the balloon, that it was time for
them to think of returning to the earth. Judging from the
compass that they were not far from the town of Auxonne, they
resolved to use all their endeavours to reach that place. The
sailing appliances had been considerably damaged by the rough
weather at starting. The rigging being disarranged, one of the
oars had got broken, another had become entangled in the rigging,
so that there remained only two of the four oars, and these,
being on the same side, were absolutely useless during the
greatest part of the voyage. The adventurers, however, assert
that they made them work from eight to nine minutes with the
greatest ease, making use of them to tack to the south-east.
"We hoped then to be able to descend near where we judged Auxonne
to be," the writer continues, "but we lost much gas by the
opening in the balloon, and descended more rapidly than we
expected or wished. We looked to our small stock of ballast with
anxiety, but there was no need of it, and we came very softly
down upon a slope."
When the aeronauts arrived at Magny-les-Auxonne, the inhabitants
gazed upon them in terror, and two men and three women fell down
on their knees before them.
Here is an extract from the report of the experiment of the 12th
of June, the principal object of which was the attempt to
discover the means of steering in a certain direction:--
"M. de Verley and myself mounted in the balloon," says Guyton de
Morveau, "at seven o'clock. We rose rapidly and in an almost
perpendicular direction. The fall of the mercury in the
barometer was scarcely perceptible when the dilation of the
hydrogen gas in the balloon had become considerable. The globe
swelled out, and a light vapour around the mouth announced to us
that the gas was commencing to escape by the safety-valve. We
assisted its escape by pulling the valve-string.
"Having reduced the dilation sufficiently for our purposes, we
resolved to attempt the working of the balloon before the whole
town and to turn it from the east to the north. We saw with
pleasure that our machinery answered By the working of the helm,
the prow of our air-boat was turned in the direction we desired.
The oars, working only on one side, supported the helm, and
altogether we got on as we wished. We described a curve,
crossing the road from Dijon to Langres. The mercury had
descended to 24 inches 8 lines, which announced that we were
gradually rising. We attempted for some time to follow the route
to I Langres, but the wind drove us off our course in spite of
all our efforts. At nine o'clock our barometer informed us that
we had ascended to the height of 6,000 feet. M. de Verley took
advantage of this elevation to put some touch wood to a
burning-glass 18 lines in diameter, and the touch wood lighted
The aeronauts decided to direct their course for Dijon. After
re-setting the helm with this intention, they worked their oars,
and proceeded in that direction more than 1,000 feet. But heat
and fatigue obliged them to suspend their endeavours, and the
current drove them upon Mirebeau, where, throwing out the last of
their ballast and regulating their descent, they came softly down
upon a corn-field.
The adventurers were cordially welcomed by the ecclesiastics and
the magistrates of the place, and after a time they, with their
balloon, were carried back on men's shoulders to Dijon.
Chapter III. Experiment in Montgolfiers--Roziers and Proust--The
Duke of Chartres--The Comte d'Artois--Voyage of the Abbe Carnus
The longest course travelled by Montgolfiere balloons, and the
highest elevation reached by them, were achieved by Roziers and
Proust with the Montgolfiere la Marie Antoinefte, at Versailles,
on the 23rd of June, 1784. Roziers himself has left us a
picturesque narrative of this excursion from Versailles to
Compiegne. He says:--
"The Montgolfiere rose at first very gently in a diagonal line,
presenting an imposing spectacle. Like a vessel which has just
been precipitated from the stocks, this astonishing machine hung
balanced in the air for some time, and seemed to have got beyond
human control. These irregular movements intimidated a portion
of the spectators, who, fearing that, should there be a fall,
their lives would be in danger, scattered away with great speed
from under us. After having fed my fire, I saluted the people,
who answered me in the most cordial manner. I had time to remark
some faces, in which there was a mixed expression of apprehension
and joy. In continuing our upward progress, I perceived that an
upper current of air made the Montgolfiere bend, but on
increasing the heat, we rose above the current. The size of
objects on the earth now began perceptibly to diminish, which
gave us an idea of the distance at which we were from them. It
was then that we became visible to Paris and its suburbs, and so
great was our elevation that many in the capital thought we were
directly over their heads.
"When we had arrived among the clouds, the earth disappeared from
our view. Now a thick mist would envelop us, then a clear space
showed us where we were, and again we rose through a mass of
snow, portions of which stuck to our gallery. Curious to know
how high we could ascend, we resolved to increase our fire and
raise the heat to the highest degree, by raising our grating, and
holding up our fagots suspended on the ends of our forks.
"Having gained these snowy elevations, and not being able to
mount higher, we wandered about for some time in regions which we
felt were now visited by man for the first time. Isolated and
separated entirely from nature, we perceived beneath us only
enormous masses of snow, which, reflecting the sunshine, filled
the firmament with a glorious light. We remained eight minutes
at this elevation, 11,732 feet above the earth. This situation,
however agreeable it might have been to the painter or the poet,
promised little to the man of science in the way of acquiring
knowledge; and so we determined, eighteen minutes after our
departure, to return through the clouds to the earth. We had
hardly left this snowy abyss, when the most pleasant scene
succeeded the most dreary one. The broad plains appeared before
our view in all their magnificence. No snow, no clouds were now
to be seen, except around the horizon, where a few clouds seemed
to rest on the earth. We passed in a minute from winter to
spring. We saw the immeasurable earth covered with towns and
villages, which at that distance appeared only so many isolated
mansions surrounded with gardens. The rivers which wound about
in all directions seemed no more than rills for the adornment of
these mansions; the largest forests looked mere clumps or groves,
and the meadows and broad fields seemed no more than garden
plots. These marvellous tableaux, which no painter could render,
reminded us of the fairy metamorphoses; only with this
difference, that we were beholding upon a mighty scale what
imagination could only picture in little. It is in such a
situation that the soul rises to the loftiest height, that the
thoughts are exalted and succeed each other with the greatest
rapidity. Travelling at this elevation, our fire did not demand
continual attention, and we could easily walk about the gallery.
We were as much at peace upon our lofty balcony as we should have
been upon the terrace of a mansion, enjoying all the pictures
which unrolled themselves before us continually, without
experiencing any of the giddiness which has disturbed so many
persons. Having broken my fork in my exertions to raise the
balloon, I went to obtain another one. On my way to get it, I
encountered my companion, M. Proust. We ought never to have been
on the same side of the balloon, for a capsize and the escape of
all our hydrogen gas might have been the result. As it was, so
well was the machine ballasted, that the only effect of our being
on the one side made the balloon incline a little in that
direction. The winds, although very considerable, caused us no
uneasiness, and we only knew the swiftness of our progress
through the air by the rapidity with which the villages seemed to
fly away from under our feet; so that it seemed, from the
tranquillity with which we moved, that we were borne along by the
diurnal movement of the globe. Often we wished to descend, in
order to learn what the people were crying to us the simplicity
of our arrangements enabled us to rise, to descend, to move in
horizontal or oblique lines, as we pleased and as often as we
considered necessary, without altogether landing."
When they came to Luzarche, the delighted aeronauts resolved to
land. Already the people were testifying their pleasure at
seeing them. Men came running together from all directions,
while all the animals rushed away with equal precipitation, no
doubt taking the balloon for some wild beast. Finding that their
course would lead them straight against certain houses, the
aeronauts again increased their fire, and, slightly rising,
escaped the buildings that had been in their way. Shortly
afterwards they safely landed forty miles from the spot from
which they had started.
It was not only the man of science or the mechanician that
devoted himself to the task of taking possession of the new
empire, but the nobles gave their hands to the aeronauts, and
humbly asked the favour of an ascent. The king had addressed
letters to the Brothers Montgolfier, and the marvellous invention
had become an affair of state. The princes of the blood and the
nobles of the court considered it an honour to count among the
number of their friends a celebrated aeronaut.
The Count d'Artois, afterwards Charles X., and the Duke de
Chartres, father of Louis Philippe, made experiments in aerial
navigation. The chemists Alban and Vallet made a magnificent
balloon for the Count, who went up many times in it, with several
persons of all ranks.
Already at St. Cloud, the Duke of Chartres, afterwards Philippe
Egalite, had, on the 15th of July, 1784, made, with the Brothers
Robert, an ascent which put their courage to terrible tests. The
hydrogen gas balloon was oblong, sixty feet high and forty feet
in diameter, and it had been constructed upon a plan supplied by
Meunier. In order to obviate the use of the valve, he had placed
inside the balloon a smaller globe, filled with ordinary air.
This was done on the supposition that, when the balloon rose
high, the hydrogen being rarefied would compress the little globe
within, and press out of it a quantity of ordinary air equal to
the amount of its dilation.
At eight o'clock, the Brothers Robert--Collin and Hullin--and the
Duke of Chartres, ascended in presence of an immense multitude.
The nearest ranks kneeled down to allow those behind to have a
view of the departure of the balloon, which disappeared among the
clouds amid the acclamations of the prostrate multitude. The
machine, obedient to the stormy and contrary winds which it met,
turned several times completely round. The helm, which had been
fitted to the machine, and the two oars, gave such a purchase to
the winds that the voyagers, already surrounded by the clouds,
cut them away. But the oscillations continued, and the little
globe inside not being suspended with cords, fell down in such an
unfortunate manner as to close up the opening of the large
balloon, by means of which provision had been made for the egress
of the gas now dilated by the heat of the sun, which poured down
its rays, a sudden gust having cleared the space of the clouds.
It was feared that the case of the balloon would crack, and the
whole thing collapse, in spite of the efforts of the aeronauts to
push back the smaller balloon from the opening. Then the Duke of
Chartres seized one of the flags they carried, and with the
lance-head pierced the balloon in two places. A rent of about
nine feet was the consequence, and the balloon began to descend
with amazing rapidity. They would have fallen into a lake had
they not thrown over 60 lbs. of ballast, which caused them to
rise a little, and pass over to the shore, where they got safely
to the earth.
The expedition lasted only a few minutes. The Duke of Chartres
was rallied by his enemies, who accused him of cowardice; and
Monjoie, his historian, making allusion to the combat of
Ouessant, says that he had given proofs of his cowardice in the
three elements--earth, air, and water
M. Gray, professor at the seminary of Rodez, presented us some
years ago with the following letter from the Abbe Carnus, upon
the aerial voyage which he undertook, August 6th, 1784:--
"The progress of the Montgolfiere was so sudden that one might
almost have believed that it arose all inflated and furnished out
of some chasm in the earth The air was calm, the sky without
clouds, the sun very strong. Our fuel and instruments were put
into the gallery, my companion, M. Louchet, was at his post, and
I took mine. At twenty minutes past eight the cords were
loosened, we waved a farewell to the spectators, and while two
cannon-shots announced our departure, we were already high above
the loftiest buildings.
"To the general acclamations of the crowd succeeded a profound
silence. The spectators, half in fear, half in admiration, stood
motionless, with eyes fixed, and gazing eagerly at the superb
machine, which rose almost vertically with rapidity and also with
grandeur. Some women, and even some men, fainted away; others
raised their hands to heaven; others shed tears; all grew pale at
the sight of our bright fire.
"'We have quitted the earth,' said I to my companion.
"'I compliment you on the fact,' he answered; 'keep up the fire!'
"A truss of hay, steeped in spirits of wine accelerated the
swiftness of our ascent. I cast my glance upon the town, which
seemed to flee rapidly from under our feet. Terrestrial objects
had already lost their shape and size. The burning heat which I
felt at first now gave place to a temperature of the most
agreeable kind, and the air which we breathed seemed to contain
healthful elements unknown to dwellers on the lower earth.
"'How well I am!' I said to Louchet; 'how are you?'
"'As well as can be. Would that I could dispatch a message to
"Immediately I threw over a roll of paper on which I had written
the words, 'All well on board the City of Rodez.'
"At thirty-two minutes past eight our elevation was at least
6,000 feet above sea level. A flame from our fire, rising from
eighteen to twenty feet, sent us up another 1,000 feet. It was
then that our machine was seen by every spectator within a
circuit of nine miles, and it appeared to be right over the heads
of all of them.
"'Send us up out of sight,' said my adventurous confrere.
"I had to moderate his ardour--a larger fire would have burnt our
"From our moving observatory the most splendid view developed
itself. The boundaries of the horizon were vastly extended. The
capital of the Rouergue appeared to be no more than a group of
stones, one of which seemed to rise to the height of two or three
feet. This was no other than the superb tower of the cathedral.
Fertile slopes, agreeable valleys, lofty precipices, waste lands,
ancient castles perched upon frowning rocks, these form the
endlessly varied spectacle which the Rouergue and the
neighbouring provinces present to the view of those who traverse
the surface of the earth. But how different is the scene to the
aerial voyager! We could perceive only a vast country, perfectly
round, and seemingly a little elevated in the middle, irregularly
marked with verdure, but without inhabitants, without towns,
valleys, rivers, or mountains. Living beings no longer existed
for us; the forests were changed into what looked like grassy
plains; the ranges of the Cantal and the Cevennes had
disappeared; we looked in vain for the Mediterranean, and the
Pyrenees seemed only a long series of piles of snow, connected at
their bases. Our own balloon, which from Rodez appeared about
the size of a marble, was the only object that for us retained
its natural dimensions. What wonderful sensations then arose
within us! I had often reflected upon the works of nature; their
magnificence had always filled me with admiration. In this
soul-stirring moment how beautiful did nature seem--how grand!
With what majesty did it strike my imagination. Never did man
appear to me before such an excellent being His latest triumph
over the elements recalled to my mind his other conquests of
nature. My companion was animated with the same sentiments, and
more than once we cried out, 'Vive Montgolfier! Vive Roziers!
Vivent ceux qui ont du courage et de la constance!'
"In the meantime our fuel was getting near the end. In eighteen
minutes we had run a distance of 12,000 feet. 'Make your
observations while I attend to the fire,' said my companion to
me. I examined the barometer, the thermometer, and the compass,
and having sealed up a small bottle of the air at this elevation,
I asked my companion to reduce the fire. We descended 1,800
feet, and at this height I filled another bottle with air.
"Afterwards we felt the refreshing breath of a slight breeze,
which carried us gently toward the south-east. In six minutes we
had run 18,000 feet. Then, having only sufficient fuel to enable
us to choose the place of our descent, we considered whether we
should not bring our aerial voyage to a termination. We had
neither lake nor forest to fear, and we were secure against
danger from fire, as we could detach the grating at some distance
from the earth. At fifty-eight minutes past eight all our fuel
was exhausted, except two bundles of straw, of four pounds each,
which we reserved for our descent. The balloon came gradually
down, and terrestrial objects began again to resume their proper
forms and dimensions. The animals fled at the sight of our
balloon, which seemed likely to crush them in its fall. Horsemen
were obliged to dismount and lead their frightened horses.
Terrified by such an unwonted sight, the labourers in the fields
abandoned their work. We were not more than 600 feet from the
earth. We threw on the two bundles of straw, but still gradually
descended. The grating was then detached, and I had no
difficulty in leaping to the ground. But now a most surprising
and unlooked-for event happened. M. Louchet had not been able to
descend at the same moment as myself, and the balloon, now free
from my weight, immediately re-ascended with the speed of a bird,
bearing away my companion. I followed him with my eyes, and it
was to my agreeable surprise that I heard him crying to me, 'All
is well; fear not!' though it was not without a species of
jealousy that I saw him mounting up to the height of 1,400 or
1,500 feet. The balloon, after having run a distance of 3,600
feet in a horizontal direction, began gently to descend at four
minutes past nine, at the village of Inieres, after having
travelled 42,000 feet from the point of departure. When it had
touched the ground it bumped up again two or three feet. M.
Louchet jumped out, and seized one of the ropes, but had much
difficulty in holding the balloon in hand. He cried to the
frightened peasants to come and help him. But they seemed to
regard him as a dangerous magician, or as a monster, and they
feared to touch the ropes lest they might be swallowed up by the
balloon. Soon afterwards I came to the rescue. The balloon was
in as thorough repair as when we began our journey. We then
pressed out the hot air, folded up the envelope, placed it upon a
small cart drawn by two oxen, and drove off with it."
Chapter IV. Serio-Comic Aspect of the Subject--The Public
Duped--The Abbes Miolan and Janninet at the
Luxembourg--Cariacatures--The "Minerva" of Robertson, and its
Voyage Round the World.
The discovery like that of balloons could not be made public in
France without being travestied, and without offering some comic
side for the amusement of the wits of the day. Under some old
coloured prints, designed with the intention of satirising such
unfortunate aeronauts as had collected their money from the
spectators, but had failed in inflating their balloons, is
written, "The Infallible Means of Raising Balloons"--the
infallible means consisting of ropes and pulleys.
While caricature was thus turning its irony upon the efforts of
believers in the new idea, serious pamphlets were being written
and published with the same object. One of these declares that
the discovery is IMMORAL, I. Because since God has not given
wings to man, it is impious to try to improve his works, and to
encroach upon his rights as a Creator; 2. Because honour and
virtue would be in continual danger, if balloons were permitted
to descend, at all hours of the night, into gardens and close to
windows; 3. Because, if the highway of the air were to remain
open to all and sundry, the frontiers of nations would vanish,
and property national and personal would be invaded, &c. We do
not wish to gather together here the stones which critics threw
against the new discovery, unaware all the time that these stones
were falling upon their own heads.
It is only fair to state that after the first ascents the public
were often duped by pretending aeronauts, whose single aim was to
sell their tickets, and who disappeared when the time came for
ascending. The result of these frauds was that sometimes honest
men were made to suffer as rogues. Even in our own day, when an
ascent, seriously intended, fails to succeed, owing to some
unforeseen circumstances, the public frequently manifests a
decided ill-will to the aeronaut, who is perfectly honest, and
The famous ascent of the Abbes Miolan and Janninet, at the
Luxembourg, may be cited as among the failures which suffered
most from the satire of the time. Their immense balloon,
constructed at great expense at the observatory, was expected to
rise beyond the clouds, and a multitude, each of whom had paid
dearly for his ticket, had assembled at the Luxembourg. The
morning had been occupied in removing the balloon from the
observatory to the place of ascent, and at midday the inflation
of it began. The rays of a burning July sun--and one knows what
that is in the Luxembourg in Paris--streamed down on the heads of
the thousands of spectators. From six in the morning till four
in the evening they had waited to see the unheard-of wonder; the
ascent, however, was to be so imposing, that nothing could be
lost by waiting for it.
But at five in the afternoon the heavy machine was still
motionless--inert upon the ground. We need not attempt to
describe the scene which took place as the impatience of the
multitude increased. Sneers of derision made themselves heard on
all sides. A universal murmur, rapidly developing into a
clamour, arose amongst the multitude; then, wild with
disappointment, the frenzied populace threw themselves upon the
barricade, broke it, attacked the gallery of the balloon, the
instruments, the apparatus, trampling them under foot, and
smashing them in bits. They then rushed upon the balloon and
fired it. There was then a general melee. Far from fleeing the
fire, every one struggled to seize and carry off a bit of the
balloon, to preserve as a relic. The two abbes escaped as they
best could, under protection of a number of friends.
After this there fell a perfect shower of lampoons and
caricatures. The Abbe Miolan was represented as a cat with a band
round its neck, while Janninet appeared as a donkey; and in a
coloured print the cat and the ass are shown arriving in triumph
upon their famous balloon at the Academy of Montmartre, and are
received at the hill of Moulins-a-Vent by a solemn assembly of
turkey-cocks and geese in different attitudes. Numerous songs
and epigrams, of which the unfortunate abbes were the subjects,
also appeared at this time. The letters which composed the words
"l'Abbe Miolan" were found to form the anagram, Ballon
abime--"the balloon swallowed up."
The most extravagant balloon project was that of Robertson, who
published a scheme for making a tour of the world. He called it
"La Minerva, an aerial vessel destined for discoveries, and
proposed to all the Academies of Europe, by Robertson, physicist"
(Vienna, 1804; reprinted at Paris, 1820), Robertson dedicated his
project to Volta, and in his dedication he does not scruple to
say: "In our age, my friendship seeks only one gratification,
that we should both live a sufficiently long time together to
enable you to calculate and utilise the results of this great
machine, while I take the practical direction of it." The
following is this aeronaut's prospectus:--
"There is no limit to the sciences and the arts, which
cultivation does not overstep. We have everything to hope and to
expect from time, from chance, and from the genius of man. The
difference which there is between the canoe of the savage and the
man-of-war of 124 guns is perhaps as great as that of balloons as
they now are and as they will be in the course of a century. If
you ask of an aeronaut why he cannot command the motions of his
balloon, he will ask of you in his turn why the inventor of the
canoe did not immediately afterwards construct a man-of-war. It
must be recollected that there have not yet elapsed forty years
since the discovery of the balloon, and that to perfect it would
be a work of difficulty, as much from the increased knowledge
which such a work would demand, as from the pecuniary sacrifices
and the personal devotion which it would involve.
"Thus this invention, after having at first electrified all
savants from the one end of the world to the other, has suffered
the fate of all discoveries--it was all at once arrested. Did
not astronomy wait long for Newton, and chemistry for Lavoisier,
to raise them to something like the splendour they now enjoy? Was
not the magnet a long time a toy in the hands of the Chinese,
without giving birth to the idea of the compass? The electric
fluid was known in the time of Thales, but how many ages did we
wait for the discovery of galvanism? Yet these sciences, which
may be studied in silent retreats, were more likely to yield
fruit to the discoverer than aerostatics, which demand courage
and skill, and of which the experiments, which are always public,
are attended with great cost."
Robertson's proposed machine was to be 150 feet in diameter, and
would be capable of carrying 150,000 lbs. Every precaution was
to be taken in order to make the great structure perfect. It was
to accommodate sixty persons to be chosen by the academics, who
should stay in it for several months should rise to all possible
elevations, pass through all climates in all seasons, make
scientific observations, &c. This balloon, penetrating deserts
inaccessible by other means of travel, and visiting places which
travellers have never penetrated, would be of immense use in the
science of geography: and when under the line, if the heat near
the earth should be inconvenient, the aeronauts would, of course,
easily rise to elevations where the temperature is equal and
agreeable. When their observations, their needs, or their
pleasures demanded it, they could descend to within a short
distance of the earth, say ninety feet, and fix themselves in
their position by means of an anchor. It might, perhaps, be
possible, by taking the advantage of favourable winds, to make
the tour of the world. "Experience will perhaps demonstrate that
aerial navigation presents less inconvenience and less dangers
than the navigation of the seas."
The immensity of the seas seemed to be the only source of
insurmountable difficulties; "but," says Robertson, "over what a
vast space might not one travel in six months with a balloon
fully furnished with the necessaries of life, and all the
appliances necessary for safety? Besides, if, through the
natural imperfection attaching to all the works of man, or either
through accident or age, the balloon, borne above the sea, became
incapable of sustaining the travellers, it is provided with a
boat, which can withstand the waters and guarantee the return of
Such were the ideas promulgated regarding the "Minerva." The
following is the serious description given of the machine. The
numbers correspond with those on the illustration.
"The cock (3) is the symbol of watchfulness; it is also the
highest point of the balloon. An observer, getting up through
the interior to the point at which the watchful fowl is placed,
will be able to command the best view to be had in the 'Minerva.'
The wings at the side (1 and 2) are to be regarded as ornamental.
The balloon will be 150 feet in diameter, made expressly at Lyons
of unbleached silk, coated within and without with indict-rubber.
This globe sustains a ship, which contains or has attached to it
all the things necessary for the convenience, the observations,
and even the pleasures of the voyagers.
"(a) A small boat, in which the passengers might take refuge in
case of necessity, in the event of the larger vessel falling on
the sea in a disabled state.
"(b) A large store for keeping the water, wine, and all the
provisions of the expedition.
"(cc) Ladders of silk, to enable the passengers to go to all
parts of the balloon.
"(h) Pilot's room.
"(1) An observatory, containing the compasses and other
scientific instruments for taking the latitude.
"(g) A room fitted up for recreations, walking, and gymnastics.
"(m) The kitchen, far removed from the balloon. It is the only
place where a fire shall be permitted.
"(p) Medicine room.
"(v) A theatre, music room, &c.
"(x) The tents of the air-marines, &c. &c."
This balloon is certainly the most marvellous that has ever been
imagined--quite a town, with its forts, ramparts, cannon,
boulevards, and galleries. One can understand the many squibs
and satires which so Utopian a notion provoked.
Chapter V. First Aerial Voyage in England--Blanchard Crosses the
Sea in a Balloon.
In spite of their known powers of industry and perseverance, the
English did not throw themselves with any great ardour into the
exploration of the atmosphere. From one cause or another it is
the French and the Italians that have chiefly distinguished
themselves in this art. The English historian of aerostation
gives some details of the first aerial voyage made in this
country by the Italian, Vincent Lunardy.
The balloon was made of silk covered with a varnish of oil, and
painted in alternate stripes--blue and red. It was three feet in
diameter. Cords fixed upon it hung down and were attached to a
hoop at the bottom, from which a gallery was suspended. This
balloon had no safety-valve--its neck was the only opening by
which the hydrogen gas was introduced, and by which it was
allowed to escape.
In September, 1784, it was carried to the Artillery Ground and
filled with gas. After being two-thirds filled, the gallery was
attached with its two oars or wings, and Lunardy, accompanied by
Biggin and Madame Sage, took his place; but it was found that the
balloon had not sufficient lifting power to carry up the whole
three, and Lunardy went up alone, with the exception of the
pigeon, the cat, and the dog, that were with him.
The balloon rose to the height of about twenty feet, then
followed a horizontal line, and descended. But the gallery had
no sooner touched the earth than Lunardy threw over the sand that
served as ballast, and mounted triumphantly, amid the applause of
a considerable multitude of spectators. After a time he
descended upon a common, where he left the cat nearly dead with
cold, ascended, and continued his voyage. He says, in the
narrative which he has left, that he descended by means of the
one oar which was left to him, the other having fallen over; but,
as he states that, in order to rise again, he threw over the
remainder of his ballast, it is natural to believe that the
descent of the balloon was caused by the loss of gas, because, if
he descended by the use of the oar, he must have re-ascended when
he stopped using it. He landed in the parish of Standon, where
he was assisted by the peasants.
He assures us again that he came down the second time by means of
the oar. He says:--"I took my oar to descend, and in from
fifteen to twenty minutes I arrived at the earth after much
fatigue, my strength being nearly exhausted. My chief desire was
to escape a shock on reaching the earth, and fortune favoured
me." The fear of a concussion seems to indicate that he
descended more because of the weight of the balloon than by the
action of the oar.
It appears that the only scientific instrument he had was a
thermometer which fell to 29 degrees. The drops of water which
had attached themselves to the balloon were frozen.
The second aerial journey in England was undertaken by Blanchard
and Sheldon. The latter, a professor of anatomy in the Royal
Academy, is the first Englishman who ever went up in a balloon.
This ascent was made from Chelsea on the 16th October, 1784.
The same balloon which Blanchard had used in France served him on
this occasion, with the difference that. the hoop which went
round the middle of it, and the parasol above the car, were
dispensed with. At the extremity of his car he had fitted a sort
of ventilator, which he was able to move about by means of a
winch. This ventilator, together with the wings and the helm,
were to serve especially the purpose of steering at will, which
he had often said was quite practicable as soon as a certain
elevation had been reached.
The two aeronauts ascended, haying with them a number of
scientific and musical instruments, some refreshments, ballast,
&c. Twice the ascent failed, and eventually Sheldon got out, and
Blanchard went up again alone.
Blanchard says that, on this second ascent, he was carried first
north-east, then east-south-east of Sunbury in Middlesex. He
rose so high that he had great difficulty in breathing, the
pigeon he had with him escaped, but could hardly maintain itself
in the rarefied air of such an elevated region, and finding no
place to rest, came back and perched on the side of the car.
After a time, the cold becoming excessive, Blanchard descended
until he could distinguish men on the earth, and hear their
shouting. After many vicissitudes he landed upon a plain in
Hampshire, about seventy-five miles from the point of departure.
It was observed that, so long as he could be clearly seen, he
executed none of the feats with his wings, ventilator, &c., which
he had promised to exhibit.
Enthusiasm about aerial voyages was now at its climax; the most
wonderful deeds were spoken of as commonplace, and the word
"impossible" was erased from the language. Emboldened by his
success, Blanchard one day announced in the newspapers that he
would cross from England to France in a balloon--a marvellous
journey, the success of which depended altogether upon the course
of the wind, to the mercy of which the bold aeronaut committed
A certain Dr. Jeffries offered to accompany Blanchard. On the
7th of January the sky was calm, in consequence of a strong frost
during the preceding night, the wind which was very light, being
from the north-north-west. The arranged meets were made above
the cliffs of Dover. When the balloon rose, there were only
three sacks of sand of 10 lbs. each in it. They had not been
long above ground when the barometer sank from 29.7 to 27.3. Dr.
Jeffries, in a letter addressed to the president of the Royal
Society, describes with enthusiasm the spectacle spread out
before him: the broad country lying behind Dover, sown with
numerous towns and villages, formed a charming view; while the
rocks on the other side, against which the waves dashed, offered
a prospect that was rather trying.
They had already passed one-third of the distance across the
Channel when the balloon descended for the second time, and they
threw over the last of their ballast ; and that not sufficing,
they threw over some books, and found themselves rising again.
After having got more than half way, they found to their dismay,
from the rising of the barometer, that they were again
descending, and the remainder of their books were thrown over.
At twenty-five minutes past two o'clock they had passed
three-quarters of their journey, and they perceived ahead the
inviting coasts of France. But, in consequence either of the
loss or the condensation of the inflammable gas, they found
themselves once more descending. They then threw over their
provisions, the wings of the car, and other objects. "We were
obliged," says Jeffries, "to throw out the only bottle we had,
which fell on the water with a loud sound, and sent up spray like
They were now near the water themselves, and certain death seemed
to stare them in the face. It is said that at this critical
moment Jeffries offered to throw himself into the sea, in order
to save the life of his companion.
"We are lost, both of us," said he; "and if you believe that it
will save you to be lightened of my weight, I am willing to
sacrifice my life."
This story has certainly the appearance of romance, and belief in
it is not positively demanded.
One desperate resource only remained--they could detach the car
and hang on themselves to the ropes of the balloon. They were
preparing to carry out this idea, when they imagined they felt
themselves beginning to ascend again. It was indeed so. The
balloon mounted once more; they were only four miles from the
coast of France, and their progress through the air was rapid.
All fear was now banished. Their exciting situation, and the
idea that they were the first who had ever traversed the Channel
in such a manner, rendered them careless about the want of
certain articles of dress which they had discarded. At three
o'clock they passed over the shore half-way between Cape Blanc
and Calais. Then the balloon, rising rapidly, described a great
arc, and they found themselves at a greater elevation than at any
part of their course. The wind increased in strength, and
changed a little in its direction. Having descended to the tops
of the trees of the forest of Guines, Dr. Jeffries seized a
branch, and by this means arrested their advance. The valve was
then opened, the gas rushed out, and the aeronauts safely reached
the ground after the successful accomplishment of this daring and
A number of horsemen, who had watched the recent course of the
balloon, now rode up, and gave the adventurers the most cordial
reception. On the following day a splendid fete was celebrated
in their honour at Calais. Blanchard -was presented with the
freedom of the city in a box of gold, and the municipal body
purchased the balloon, with the intention of placing it in one of
the churches as a memorial of this experiment, it being also
resolved to erect a marble monument on the spot where the famous
Some days afterwards Blanchard was summoned before the king, who
conferred upon him an annual pension of 1,200 livres. The queen,
who was at play at the gambling table, placed a sum for him upon
a card, and presented him with the purse which she won.
Chapter VI. Zambeccari's Perilous Trip Across the Adriatic Sea.
There is not in the whole annals of aerostation a more moving
catastrophe than that of the unfortunate Comte Zambeccari, who,
during an aerial journey on October the 7th, 1804, was cast away
on the waves of the Adriatic.
The history of Zambeccari is dramatic throughout. After having
been taken by the Turks and thrown into the Bay of
Constantinople, from which he with difficulty escaped, he devoted
himself to the study and practice of aerial navigation. He
fancied he could make use of a lamp supplied with spirits of
wine, the flame of which he could direct at will, in the hope of
thus being able to steer the balloon in whatever direction he
chose. One day his balloon damaged itself against a tree at
Boulogne, and the spirits of wine set his clothes on fire. The
flames with which the aeronaut was covered only served to
increase the ascending power of the balloon, and the frightened
spectators, among whom were Zambeccari's young wife and children,
saw him carried up into the clouds out of sight. He succeeded,
however, in extinguishing the fire which surrounded him.
In 1804, he organised a series of experiments at Milan, for which
he received, in advance, the sum of 8,000 crowns; but the
experiments failed, in consequence of the inclemency of the
weather, the treachery of his assistants, and the malice of his
At length, on the 7th of October, after a fall of rain which
lasted forty-eight hours, and which had delayed the announced
ascent, he resolved, whatever might happen, to carry it out,
though all the chances were against him. Eight young men whom he
had instructed, and who had promised him their assistance in
filling the balloon, failed him at the critical moment. Still,
however, he continued his labours, with the help of two
companions, Andreoli and Grassetti. Wearied with his
long-continued efforts, dis-appointed and hungry, he took his
place in the car.
The two companions whom we have named went with him. They rose
gently at first, and hovered over the town of Bologna.
Zambeccari says, "The lamp, which was intended to increase our
ascending force, became useless. We could not observe the state
of the barometer by the feeble light of a lantern. The
insupportable cold that prevailed in the high region to which we
had ascended, the weariness and hunger arising from my having
neglected to take nourishment for twenty-four hours, the vexation
that embittered my spirit--all these combined produced in me a
total prostration, and I fell upon the floor of the gallery in a
profound sleep that was like death. 'The same misfortune
overtook my companion Grassetti. Andreoli was the only one who
remained awake and able for duty--no doubt because he had taken
plenty of food and a large quantity of rum. Still he suffered
from the cold, which was excessive, and his endeavours to wake me
were for a long time vain. Finally, however, he succeeded in
getting me to my feet, but my ideas were confused, and I demanded
of him, like one newly awaking from a dream, 'What is the news?
Where are we? What time is it? How is the wind?'
"It was two o'clock. The compass had been broken, and was
useless; the wax light in the lantern would not burn in such a
rarefied atmosphere. We descended gently across a thick layer of
whitish clouds, and when we had got below them, Andreoli heard a
sound, muffled and almost inaudible, which he immediately
recognised as the breaking of waves in the distance. Instantly
he announced to me this new and fearful danger. I listened, and
had not long to wait before I was convinced that he was speaking
the truth. It was necessary to have light to examine the state
of the barometer, and thus ascertain what was our elevation above
the sea level, and to take our measures in consequence. Andreoli
broke five phosphoric matches, without getting a spark of fire.
Nevertheless, we succeeded, after very great difficulty, by the
help of the flint and steel, in lighting the lantern. It was now
three o'clock in the morning--we had started at midnight. The
sound of the waves, tossing with wild uproar, became louder and
louder, and I suddenly saw the surface of the sea violently
agitated just below us. I immediately seized a large sack of
sand, but had not time to throw it over before we were all in the
water, gallery and all. In the first moment of fright, we threw
into the sea everything that would lighten the balloon--our
ballast, all our instruments, a portion of our clothing, our
money, and the oars. As, in spite of all this, the balloon did
not rise, we threw over our lamp also. After having torn and cut
away everything that did not appear to us to be of indispensable
necessity, the balloon, thus very much lightened, rose all at
once, but with such rapidity and to such a prodigious elevation,
that we had difficulty in hearing each other, even when shouting
at the top of our voices. I was ill, and vomited severely.
Grassetti was bleeding at the nose; we were both breathing short
and hard, and felt oppression on the chest. As we were thrown
upon our backs at the moment when the balloon took such a sudden
start out of the water and bore us with such swiftness to those
high regions, the cold seized us suddenly, and we found ourselves
covered all at once with a coating of ice. I could not account
for the reason why the moon, which was in its last quarter,
appeared on a parallel line with us, and looked red as blood.
"After having traversed these regions for half an hour, at an
immeasurable elevation, the balloon slowly began to descend, and
at last we fell again into the sea, at about four in the morning
I cannot determine at what distance we were from land when we
fell the second time. The night was very dark, the sea rolling
heavily, and we were in no condition to make observations. But
it must have been in the middle of the Adriatic that we fell.
Although we descended gently, the gallery was sunk, and we were
often entirely covered with water. The balloon being now more
than half empty, in consequence of the vicissitudes through,
which we had passed, gave a purchase to the wind, which pressed
against it as against a sail, so that by means of it we were
dragged and beaten about at the mercy of the storm and the waves.
At daybreak we looked out and found ourselves opposite Pesaro,
four miles from the shore. We were comforting ourselves with the
prospect of a safe landing, when a wind from the land drove us
with violence away over the open sea. It was now full day, but
all we could see were the sea, the sky, and the death that
threatened us. Certainly some boats happened to come within
sight; but no sooner did they see the balloon floating and
striping upon the water than they made all sail to get away from
it. No hope was then left to us but the very small one of making
the coasts of Dalmatia, which were opposite, but at a great
distance from us. Without the slightest doubt we should have
been drowned if heaven had not mercifully directed towards us a
navigator who, better informed than those we had seen before,
recognised our machine to be a balloon and quickly sent his
long-boat to our rescue. The sailors threw us a stout cable,
which we attached to the gallery, and by means of which they
rescued us when fainting with exposure. The balloon thus
lightened, immediately rose into the air, in spite of all the
efforts of the sailors who wished to capture it. The long boat
received a severe shock from its escape, as the rope was still
attached to it, and the sailors hastened to cut themselves free.
At once the balloon mounted with incredible rapidity, and was
lost in the clouds, where it disappeared for ever from our view.
It was eight in the morning when we got on board. Grassetti was
so ill that he hardly showed any signs of life. His hands were
sadly mutilated. Cold, hunger, and the dreadful anxiety had
completely prostrated me. The brave captain of the vessel did
everything in his power to restore us. He conducted us safely to
Ferrara, whence we were carried to Pola, where we were received
with the greatest kindness, and where I was compelled to have my
Chapter VII. Garnerin--Parachutes--Aerostation at Public Fetes.
"On the 22nd October, 1797," says the astronomer Lalande, "at
twenty-eight minutes past five, Citizen Garnerin rose in a
balloon from the park of Monceau. Silence reigned in the
assembly, anxiety and fear being painted on the visages of all.
When he had ascended upwards of 2,000 feet, he cut the cord that
connected his parachute and car with the balloon. The latter
exploded, and Garnerin descended in his parachute very rapidly.
He made a dreadful lurch in the air, that forced a sudden cry of
fear from the whole multitude, and made a number of women faint.
Meanwhile Citizen Garnerin descended into the plain of Monceau;
he mounted his horse upon the spot, and rode back to the park,
attended by an immense multitude, who gave vent to their
admiration for the skill and talent of the young aeronaut.
Garnerin was the first to undertake this most daring and
dangerous venture. He had conceived the idea of this feat while
lying a prisoner of state in Buda, Hungary." Lalande adds that
he went and announced his success at the Institute National,
which was assembled at the time, and which listened to him with
the greatest interest.
Robertson conducted an experiment of descending by means of a
parachute at Vienna, in 1804, in which he received all the glory,
without partaking of any of the danger. He made the public
preparations for an ascent in the balloon, his pupil, Michaud,
however, took his place in the car, and made the ascent.
Robertson says that on this occasion he yielded to the entreaties
of a young man who was his pupil, and had begged to be allowed to
make his debut before such a great multitude. In this case a
slight improvement was made in the parachute. The car was
surrounded by a cloth of silk, which, when the aeronaut cut
himself away from the balloon, spread itself out in such a way as
to form a second parachute.
Robertson made all the preparations, and Michaud had no more to
do than place himself in the car. Loud applause arose on all
sides. Michaud had ascended 900 feet above the earth when the
signal for his cutting himself clear of the balloon was given, by
the firing of a cannon. He at once cut the two strings, and the
balloon soared away into the upper regions, whilst he was left
for one terrible moment to fate. The fall was at first rapid,
but the two parachutes soon opened themselves simultaneously, and
presented a majestic appearance. In a few seconds the aeronaut
had traversed the space that intervened between him and the
assembly, and found himself safely landed on the ground, at a
short distance from the place whence he had set out, while the
whole air was rent with shouts of applause. This experiment was
deemed a most extraordinary one. Compliments were showered upon
Robertson from all sides, and the court presented him with rich
Balloons have always formed a prominent feature at the fetes of
Paris, for the celebration of the chief events of the Revolution,
the Consulate, and the Empire--the first of these epochs being
that in which these aerial vessels were held in highest esteem.
Jacques Garnerin had played a brilliant role as aeronaut under
the Directory, the Consulate, and the Empire; and it was he who
after the coronation of the Emperor Napoleon I., was charged with
the raising of a monster balloon, which was arranged to ascend,
with the accompaniment of fireworks, on the evening of the 16th
of December, 1804.
An uncommon incident connected with this event serves to show us
the spirit of fatalism with which the character of Napoleon I.
was infected. "The Man of Destiny" believed in the destiny of
man; he had faith in his star alone; and from the height of his
greatness the new ruler, consecrated emperor and king by the
Pope, beheld a presage of misfortune in a chance circumstance,
insignificant to all but himself, in the experiment of which we
are about to recount the history.
The fete given by the city of Paris to their majesties embraced
the whole town, from the Champs Elysees to the Barriere du Trone,
on the square of the Hotel de Ville. Upon the river throughout
its length between the Isle of St. Louis and the bridge of Notre
Dame, an immense display of fireworks was to take place. The
scene to be represented was the passage of Mont St. Bernard.
Garnerin was stationed with his balloon in front of the gate of
the church of Notre Dame. At eleven o'clock in the evening, at
the moment when the first discharge of fireworks made the air
luminous with a hundred thousand stars, Garnerin threw off his
immense balloon. The chief feature of it was the device of a
crown, designed in coloured lanterns arranged round the globe. It
rose splendidly, and with the most perfect success.
On the following morning the inhabitants of Rome were astounded
to behold advancing toward them from the horizon a luminous
globe, which threatened to descend upon their city. The
excitement was intense. The balloon passed the cupola of St.
Peter's and the Vatican; then descending, it touched the ground,
but rose again, and finally it sank into the wafers of Lake
It was drawn from the water, and the following inscription,
emblazoned in letters of gold upon its vast circumference, was
printed, published, and read throughout the whole of
Italy--"Paris, 25eme Primaire, an XIII., couronnement de
l'empereur Napoleon, 1er par S.S. Pie VII."
In touching the earth, the balloon happened to strike against the
tomb of the Emperor Nero, and, owing to the concussion, a portion
of the crown was left upon this ancient monument. The Italian
journals, which were not so strictly under the supervision of the
government as were the journals of France, gave the full
particulars of these minor events; and certain of them,
connecting the names of Nero and Napoleon, indulged in malicious
remarks at the expense of the French emperor. These facts came
to the ear of the great general, who manifested much indignation,
dismissed the innocent Garnerin from his post, and appointed
Madame Blanchard to the supervision of all the balloon ascents
which took place at the public fetes.
The balloon was preserved in the vaults of the Vatican in Rome,
accompanied with an inscription narrating its travels and
wonderful descent--minus the circumstance of the tomb. It was
removed, as might be supposed, in 1814. From this time the
ascents of balloons took place for the most part only on the
occasions of coronations and other great public fetes.
Chapter VIII. Green's Great Journey Across Europe.
It is probable that at the origin of navigation, man, before he
had invented oars and sails, made use of trunks of trees upon
which he trusted himself, leaving the rest to the winds and the
currents of the water, whether these were known or unknown.
There is some analogy between such rude rafts, the first
discovered means of navigation on water, and balloons, the first
discovered means of navigation in air. But unquestionably the
advantage is with the latter. No means have yet been found of
directly steering balloons, but by allowing the gas to escape the
aeronaut can descend at will, and by lightening his car of part
of the ballast he carries he can ascend as readily. It must also
be remembered that the currents of air vary in their directions,
according to their elevation, and were the aeronaut perfectly
acquainted with aerial currents, he might, by raising or lowering
himself, find a wind blowing in the direction in which he wished
to proceed, and the last problem of aerostation would be solved.
That any such knowledge can ever be acquired it is impossible to
say; but this much may with safety be advanced, that distant
journeys may frequently be taken with balloons for useful
One of the most remarkable excursions of this kind was that
superintended by Green, in 1836, from London to Germany. This
journey, 1,200 miles in length, is the longest that has been yet
accomplished. Green set out from London on the 7th of November,
1836, accompanied by two friends--Monk-Mason, the historian of
the journey, and a gentleman named Molland. Not knowing to what
quarter of the globe he might be blown, Green provided himself
with passports to all the states of Europe, and with a quantity
of provisions sufficient to last him for some time, should he be
driven by the wind over the sea. Shortly after mid-day the
balloon rose with great grandeur, and, urged by a light breeze,
floated to the south-east, over the plains of Kent. At four
o'clock the voyagers sighted the sea.
"It was forty-eight minutes past four," says Monk-Mason, "that we
first saw the line of waves breaking on the shores beneath us. It
would have been impossible to have remained unmoved by the
grandeur of the spectacle that spread out before us. Behind us
were the coasts of England, with their white cliffs half lost in
the coming darkness. Beneath us on both sides the ocean spread
out far end wide to where the darkness closed in the scene.
Opposite us a barrier of thick clouds like a wall, surmounted all
along its line with projections like so many towers, bastions,
and battlements, rose up from the sea as if to stop our advance.
A few minutes afterwards we were in the midst of this cloudy
barrier, surrounded with darkness, which the vapours of the night
increased. We heard no sound. The noise of the waves breaking
on the shores of England had ceased, and our position had for
some time cut us off from all the sounds of earth."
In an hour the Straits of Dover were cleared, the lights of
Calais shone out toward the voyagers, and the sound of the town
drums rose up toward them. "Darkness was now complete," continues
the writer, "and it was only by the lights, sometimes isolated,
sometimes seen in masses, and showing themselves far down on the
earth beneath us, that we could form a guess of the countries we
traversed, or of the towns and villages which appeared before us
every moment. The whole surface of the earth for many leagues
round showed nothing but scattered lights, and the face of the
earth seemed to rival the vault of heaven with starry fires.
Every moment in the earlier part of the night before men had
betaken themselves to repose, clusters of lights appeared
indicating large centres of population.
Those on the horizon gave us the notion of a distant
conflagration. In proportion as we approached them, these masses
of lights appeared to increase, and to cover a greater space,
until, when right over them, they seemed to divide themselves
into different parts, to stretch out in long streets, and to
shine in starry quadrangles round the squares, so that we could
see the exact plan of each city, given as on a small map. It
would be difficult to give an idea of what sort of effect such a
scene in such circumstances produces. To find oneself
transported in the darkness of night, in the midst of vast
solitudes of air, unknown, unperceived, in secret and in silence,
exploring territories, traversing kingdoms, watching towns which
come into view, and pass out of it before one can examine them in
detail--these circumstances are enough in themselves to render
sublime a science which, independent of these adjuncts, would be
so interesting. If you add to this the uncertainty which,
increasing as we went on into the night, began to assail us
respecting our voyage, our ignorance of where we were, and what
were the objects we were attempting to discover, you may form
some idea of our singular position.
About midnight, the travellers found themselves above Liege.
Situated in the midst of a thickly-peopled country, full of
foundries, smelting works, and forges, this town was quite a
blaze of light. The gas-lamps with which this town is so well
lighted, clearly marked out for our travellers the main streets,
the squares, and the public buildings. But after midnight, at
which time the lamps in continental towns are mostly put out, the
whole of the under world disappeared from the view of the
"After the turn of the night," says Mason, "the moon did not show
itself, and the heavens, always more sombre when regarded from
great altitudes, seemed to us to intensify the natural darkness.
On the other hand, by a singular contrast, the stars shone out
with unusual brilliancy, and seemed like living sparks sown upon
the ebony vault that surrounded us. In fact, nothing could
exceed the intensity of the night which prevailed during this
part of our voyage. A black profound abyss surrounded us on all
sides, and, as we attempted to penetrate into the mysterious
deeps, it was with difficulty we could beat back the idea and the
apprehension that we were making a passage through an immense
mass of black marble, in which we were enclosed, and which, solid
to within a few inches of us, appeared to open up at our
Until three o'clock the voyagers were in this state. The height
of the balloon, as calculated by the barometer, was 2,000 feet.
They had not then anything to fear from a disastrous encounter,
when all at once a sudden explosion was heard, the silk of the
balloon quivered, the car received a violent shock, and seemed to
be shot suddenly into the gloomy abyss. A second explosion and a
third succeeded, accompanied each time by this fearful shock to
the car. The travellers soon found out that, owing to the great
altitude, the gas had expanded, and the rope which surrounded it,
saturated with water, and frozen with the intense cold, had
yielded to the pressure, in jerks which caused the report and the
"From time to time," continues Mason, "vast masses of clouds
covered the lower regions of the atmosphere, and spread a thick,
whitish veil over the earth, intercepting our view, and leaving
us for some time uncertain if this was not a continuation of the
same plains covered with snow which we had already noticed. From
these masses of vapour, there seemed more than once during the
night to come a sound as of a great fall of water, or the
contending waves of the sea; and it required all the force of our
reason, joined to our knowledge--such as it was--of the direction
of our route, to repress the idea that we were approaching the
sea, and that, driven by the wind, we had, been carried along the
coasts of the North Sea or the Baltic. As the day advanced these
apprehensions disappeared. In place of the unbroken surface of
the sea, we gradually made out the varied features of a
cultivated country, in the midst of which flowed a majestic
river, which lost itself, at both extremities, in the mist that
still lay on the horizon."
This river was the Rhine, and as the neighbourhood seemed
suitable for a descent, and as the travellers did not wish to be
carried too far into the heart of Europe, they allowed a portion
of the gas to escape, came gradually down, and dropped their
It was then half-past seven in the morning. It was only then
that the inhabitants, who had hitherto held themselves aloof,
watching the movements of the strangers from under the brushwood,
began to assemble from all sides. A few words in German spoken
from the balloon dissipated their fears, and, recovering from
their mistrust, they hastened immediately to lend assistance to
the aeronauts The latter were now informed that the place they
had selected for their descent was in the Duchy of Nassau. The
town of Wiberg, where Blanchard had descended, after his ascent
at Frankfort in 1785 was, by a singular chance, only two leagues
distant. The three aeronauts received a most flattering
reception, and, in memory of the event, they placed the flag
which they had borne in their car during their adventurous
excursion in the ducal palace, side by side with that of
"Thus," says Mason, "terminated an expedition which, whether we
regard the extent of the journey, the length of time occupied in
it, or the results which were the objects of the experiment, may
justly be considered as one of the most interesting and most
important ever undertaken. The best answer which one could give
to those who would be disposed to criticise the employment of the
peculiar means which we made use of, or to doubt their
efficiency, would be to state that, after having traversed
without hindrance, without either danger or difficulty, so large
a portion of the European continent, we arrived at our
destination still in possession of as much force as, had we
wished it, might have carried us round the whole world."
Chapter IX. The "Geant" Balloon.
Not a few of our readers will remember the ascent of Nadar's
colossal balloon from Paris, on Sunday, the 18th of October,
1863. This balloon was remarkable as having attached to it a
regular two-story house for a car. Its ascent was witnessed by
nearly half a million of persons. The balloon, after passing
over the eastern part of France, Belgium, and Holland, suffered a
disastrous descent in Hanover the day after it started on its
perilous journey. It was a fool-hardy enterprise to construct
such a gigantic and unmanageable balloon, presenting such an
immense surface to the atmosphere, and being so susceptible to
adverse aerial currents as to become the helpless prey of the
elements; and it was still more fool-hardy to place the lives of
its passengers at the mercy of such terrible and ungovernable
forces. A large section of the public laboured under the
delusion that Nadar's balloon was one capable of being steered.
In reality, however, the 'Geant' was unquestionably the most
rebellious and unruly specimen of its class that has been made
since the days of Montgolfier. The object in view when this
formidable monster was designed and constructed was to create the
means to collect sufficient funds to form a "Free Association for
Aerial Navigation by means of MACHINES HEAVIER THAN AIR," and for
the construction of machines on this principle. The receipts
from the exhibition of the "Geant" were intended to form the
first capital of the association. The hopes, however, of the
promoters have not been realised in this respect; for while the
expenses of the construction of the balloon have amounted,
directly and indirectly, to the sum of L8,300, its two ascents in
Paris and its exhibition in London produced only L3,300.
Space forbids us to enter at length on the various stages of the
idea of aerial navigation by means of an apparatus heavier than
the atmosphere. The idea is not, however, by any means so absurd
as it appears at first sight. Those who, like Arago, declare
that the word "impossible" does not exist, except in the higher
mathematics, and those who look hopefully to the future instead
of resting content with the past, will join in applauding the
spirit which dictated the manifesto of aerial locomotion to the
founder of the association which we are about to describe. M.
Babinet, speaking on this subject before the French Polytechnic
Association, said: "It is absurd to talk of guiding balloons.
How will you set about it? How is it possible that a
balloon--say, for instance, like the Flesselles, whose diameter
measures 120 feet--can resist and manoeuvre against opposing
winds or currents of air? It would require a power equal to 400
horses for the sails of a ship to struggle on equal terms with
the wind. Suppose an impossibility, namely, that a balloon could
carry with it a force equal to 400 horse-power; this result would
be of little use, for under the immense weight the fragile
covering of the balloon would instantly collapse. If all the
horses of a regiment were harnessed to the car of a balloon by
means of a long rope, the result would be that the balloon would
fly into shivers, being too fragile to withstand these two
opposing forces. Man must seek to raise himself in the air by
another mode of operation altogether, if he wish to guide himself
at the same time. Some time ago I bought a play thing, very much
in vogue at that time, called a Stropheor. This toy was composed
of a small rotating screw propeller, which revolved on its own
support when the piece of string wound round it was pulled
sharply. The screw was rather heavy, weighing nearly a quarter
of a pound, and the wings were of tin, very broad and thick.
This machine, however, was rather too eccentric for parlour use,
for its flight was so violent that it was continually breaking
the pier glass, if there was one in the room; and, failing this,
it next attacked the windows. The ascending force of this
machine is so great that I have seen one of them fly over Antwerp
Cathedral, which is one of the highest edifices in the world.
The air from underneath the machine is exhausted by the action of
the screw, which, passing under the wings, causes a vacuum, while
the air above it replenishes and fills this void, and under the
influence of these two causes the apparatus mounts from the
earth. But the problem is not solved by means of this plaything,
whose motive power is exterior to it. Messrs. Nadar, Ponton,
D'Amecourt, and De la Landelle teach us better than this,
although the wings of their different models are entirely
unworthy of men who desire to demonstrate a truth to short-lived
mortals. We have only arrived as yet at the infancy of the
process, but we have made a good beginning, for, having once
proved that a machine capable of raising itself in the air,
wholly unaided from without, can be made, we have overcome with
this apparently small result the whole difficulty. The principle
of propulsion by means of a screw is by no means a novelty. It
was first utilised in windmills, whose sails are nothing more nor
less than an immense screw which is turned by the action of the
wind on its surface. In the case of turbine water-wheels, where
perhaps 970 cubic feet of water are utilised by means of a
mechanism not larger than a hat, we see another illustration of
it, with this difference, that water takes the place of wind as
the motive power.
"The aerial screw is beset with great difficulties, but if we can
succeed through its agency in raising even the smallest weight,
we may be confident of being able to raise a heavier one, for a
large machine is always more powerful in proportion to its size
than a small one.
"Mlle. Garnerin once made a bet that she would guide herself in
her descent from a considerable altitude towards a fixed spot on
the earth at some distance, with no other help than the
parachute; and she was really able to guide herself to within a
few feet of the specified spot, by simply altering the
inclination of the parachute.
"From observations in mountainous districts, where large birds of
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