Wonderful Balloon Ascents: or, the Conquest of the Skies.
Part 3 out of 3
prey may be seen to the best advantage hovering with outstretched
wings, I have come to the conclusion that they first of all
attain the requisite height and then, extending their wings in
the form of a parachute, let themselves glide gradually towards
the desired spot. Marshal Niel confirms this opinion by his
experience in the mountains of Algeria. It is, therefore, clear
from these examples that we should possess the power of
transporting ourselves from place to place if we could only
discover a means of raising a weight perpendicularly in the air,
which would then act as a capital of power, only requiring to be
expended at will."
From the foregoing remarks we may gather an idea of the
importance which may be attached to aerial locomotion
notwithstanding the successive failures of all those who have
hitherto taken up the subject. We come now to the description of
the memorable ascent of the 'Geant.'
We learn from the very interesting account of the 'Geant,'
published at the time, all the mishaps and adventures it outlived
from the time of the first stitch in its covering to its final
inflation with gas. We must, however, be content to take up the
narrative at the point at which the 'Geant,' with thirteen
passengers on board, had, in obedience to the order to "let go,"
been released from the bonds which held it to the earth. The
narrative is, as our readers will perceive, written in somewhat
"The 'Geant' gave an almost imperceptible shake on finding itself
free, and then commenced to rise. The ascent was slow and
gradual at first--the monster seemed to be feeling its way. An
immense shout rose with it from the assembled multitude. We
ascended grandly, whilst the deafening clamour of two hundred
thousand voices seemed to increase. We leant over the edge of
the car, and gazed at the thousands of faces which were turned
towards us from every point of the vast plain, in every
conceivable angle of which we were the common apex. We still
ascended. The summits of the double row of trees which surround
the Champ de Mars were already under us. We reached the level of
the cupola of the Military School. The tremendous uproar still
reached us. We glided over Paris in an easterly direction, at
the height of about six hundred feet. Every one took up the best
possible position on the six light cane stools, and on the two
long bunks at either end of the car, and contemplated the
marvellous panorama spread out under us, of which we never grew
"There is never any dizziness in a balloon, as is often
erroneously supposed, for in it you are the only point in space
without any possibility of comparison with another, and therefore
the means of becoming giddy are not at hand.
A very experienced aeronaut, who numbers his ascents by hundreds,
has assured me that he never knew of a single case of dizziness.
"The earth seems to unfold itself to our view like an immense and
variegated map, the predominant colour of which is green in all
its shades and tints. The irregular division of the country into
fields made it resemble a patchwork counterpane. The size of the
houses, churches, fortresses, was so considerably diminished as
to make them resemble nothing so much as those playthings
manufactured at Carlsruhe. This was the effect produced by a
microscopic train, which whistled very faintly to attract our
attention, and which seemed to creep along at a snail's pace,
though doubtless going at the rate of thirty miles an hour, and
was enveloped in a minute cloud of smoke. What a lasting
impression this microscopic neatness makes on us! What is that
white puff I see down there? the smoke of a cigar? No: it is a
cloud of mist. It must be a perfect plain that we are looking
at, for we cannot distinguish between the different altitudes of
a bramble-bush and an oak a hundred years old!
"It is one of the delights of an aeronaut to gaze on the familiar
scenes of earth from the immense height of the car of a balloon!
What earthly pleasure can compare with this! Free, calm, silent,
roving through this immense and hospitable space, where no human
form can harm me, I despise every evil power; I can feel the
pleasure of existence for the first time, for I am in full
possession, as on no other occasion, of perfect health of mind
and body. The aeronauts of the 'Geant' will scarcely condescend
to pity those miserable mortals whom they can only faintly
recognise by their gigantic works, which appear to them not more
dignified than ant-hills!
"The sun had already set behind the purple horizon in our rear.
The atmosphere was still quite clear round the 'Geant,' although
there was a thick haze underneath, through which we could
occasionally see lights glimmering from the earth. We had
attained a sufficient altitude to be only just able to hear
noises from villages that we left beneath us, and were beginning
to enjoy the delicious calm and repose peculiar to aerial
"There is, however, a talk about dinner, or rather supper, and
night is now fast approaching. Every one eats with the best
possible appetite. Hams, fowls and dessert only appear to
disappear with an equal promptitude, and we quench our thirst
with bordeaux and champagne. I remind our companions of the
pigeons we brought with us, and which are hanging in a cage
outside the railing. I knew there was no danger of their flying
away, so fearlessly opened the cage. The three or four birds I
had put in the car seemed struck with terror. They flew
awkwardly towards the centre of our party, tumbling among the
plates and dishes and under our feet. It was not a case of
hunger with them, and I ought to have remembered that their
feeding time was long since past. I replaced them in their cage.
"Meanwhile, the sun has left us for some time. Our longing gaze
followed it behind the dark clouds in the horizon, whose edges it
tipped with a glorious purple. Its last rays shone on us, and
then came a bluish-grey twilight. Suddenly we are enveloped in a
dense fog. We look around, above us. Everything has disappeared
in the mist. The balloon itself is no longer visible. We can
see nothing except the ropes which suspend us, and these are only
visible for a few feet above our heads, when they lose themselves
in the fog. We are alone with our wickerwork house in an
"We still ascend, however, through the compact and terrible fog,
which is so solid-looking as to seem capable of being carved into
forms with a knife. As we were without a moon, and had no light
at all, in fact, we were unable to distinguish nicely the
different shades of colour in these thick clouds. Now and then,
when the clouds seemed to be lighter, they had a bluish tinge;
but the thicker ones were dirty and muddy-looking. Dante must
have seen some like these.
"Water trickled down our faces, hands, and clothes, and the ropes
and sides of our car.
"The water did not fall in rain-drops or in flakes, as it
sometimes does in the tropics; but we were as completely
saturated by this heavy, penetrating mist as if we had been under
a waterfall. We still continued to traverse these rainy regions.
The thick fog which the balloon dislodged in forcing a passage
closed immediately after it. At one moment I thought I felt
something press against my cheek, which could only be compared to
the points of a thousand needles, or to floating particles of
ice. We were all of us too much absorbed with our situation to
think of the hour or of the height to which we had attained.
Suddenly the Prince of Wittgenstein, who was standing at my left
hand, cried out under his breath--
"'Look at the balloon, sir! look at the balloon!'
"I raised my eyes, in company with several others, and shall
never forget the magnificent sight which awaited them. I saw the
balloon, for which I had been searching in vain a few minutes
before. It had undergone a transformation . It looked now as if
coated with silver, and floating in a pale phosphorescent
glimmer. All the ropes and cords seemed to be of new, bright,
and liquid silver, like mercury, caused by the mist which had
rested on them becoming suddenly congealed. Two luminous arcs
intervened between us, in a sea of mother-of-pearl and opal, the
lower one being the colour of red ochre and the upper one orange.
Both of them, blinding in their brilliancy, seemed about to
embrace one another.
"'How far are they off?' thought I to myself. 'Can I touch them
with my hand, or are they separated from me by an immense space?'
We are not capable of forming ideas of perspective, floating as
we are in the midst of such a glimmering splendour.
"Above and around us are nothing but thick fogs and enormous
black clouds, whose ragged edges and backs are relieved by a pale
silver coating. They undulate ceaselessly to and fro, and either
usurp quietly the place of others, or disappear only to be
superseded by more formidable ones. But the last ray of
reflected light has died out, and we plunge into this chaos of
dreadful forms. Monsters seem to wish to approach us, and to
envelop us in their dark embraces. One of them, on my right
hand, looks like a deformed human arm in a menacing attitude,
writhing its jagged top like a blind serpent feeling its way.
The vague monster has disappeared; but the momentary splendour
being followed by the original gloom, we plunge once more into a
darkness that can be felt.
"The water which had collected on the balloon during its ascent
now began to take effect, and caused it to descend with such
rapidity into the dark abyss that the ballast, which was
immediately thrown overboard, was overtaken in its descent and
fell on our heads again
"I hear exclamations and voices near me. My companions are
evidently agitated, and with good reason, too; for the lights
which we could see a long way below us approach with terrible
rapidity. We reached the earth rather quicker than we left it.
"Suddenly we feel a dreadful shock, followed by ominous
crackings. The car has grounded. The 'Geant' has made its
descent. But in what part of the habitable globe, and under what
zone? At Meaux!"
To employ an expression of M. Nadar's it seems that these
gentlemen never before experienced such a "knock-down blow."
After all these preparations, all this trouble, all the energy
employed in the undertaking--sufficient, indeed, wherewith to
attempt to cross the Atlantic--to "descend at Meaux!"
The 'Geant,' however, had its revenge. Its second ascent gave it
this revenge. We shall be as brief as possible in relating this
voyage; but the details are all so very interesting that we
regret extremely our being unable to give more than extracts from
Our travellers committed themselves again to the mercy of the
air. The Emperor, following the example of a former King of
France, took considerable interest in the construction of this
aerial monster, and wished the aeronaut "Bon voyage" at starting.
The passengers endeavoured to pass the night as comfortably as
possible, having first instituted a four hours' watch, as on
The aerial vessel glided rapidly through the air. "We
repeatedly," said Nadar, "passed over some manufacturing centre,
whose lights were not yet extinguished. I either hailed them
with my speaking-trumpet or rang our two bells. Sometimes we
received a reply from below, in the shape of a shout, for,
although we still had no moon, the night was occasionally clear
enough for people to distinguish us; and sometimes we heard a
peal of laughter from out of the atmosphere in which we were
travelling. It was another party of aeronauts in a smaller
balloon, who left at the same time as we did, and who would
persist in keeping the 'Geant' company. We are passing over a
small town; we hear the usual shouting and the report of a gun.
Our first thoughts are--Was it loaded with shot or ball? The
inhuman brute who fired will say, 'Certainly not;' but as
balloons have often been damaged in this way, we may be confident
there was more than powder in this one. It would be
satisfactory, at any rate, if the name of the person could be
ascertained who favoured us with this welcome. But it is rather
late to make inquiries on this subject. It was between a quarter
and half-past nine o'clock when this occurred. 'The sea!' cried
Jules; 'look at the revolving lights of the lighthouses. There:
one has just disappeared: it will flash out again in a moment!'
But what is this? Before us, as far as our eyes can reach, we
distinguish faint lights, which in this case are neither lamps
nor torches. As we continue to draw nearer we get a better view
of these numerous, violent, and smoking furnaces. Loud and
ringing sounds strike on our ear at the same time. Am I right in
my conjectures? Is this not that splendid country I love more
than ever now? It must be Erquelines! And the dignified
Custom-house official, had it been possible, would have added
"We still continue to pass over fires, forges, tall chimneys, and
coal mines at frequent intervals. Not long after we distinguish
a large town on our right hand, which, by its size and brilliant
lighting by gas, we recognise as Brussels. There could be no
mistake, for close by, more modest in size and appearance, we see
Catholic Malines. We have left it behind us.
"Onward! Onward! Behind us the fires fade gradually away, and
disappear one after anopther. Before us nothing at present
visible. We seemed to drift on for about one hundred or one
hundred and fifty yards more. We cannot distinguish a single
point in front of us on which to fix our gaze. But we still
continue our course in silence.
"This mournful darkness, this endless shroud, in which we can
discover neither rent nor spangle, still continues. Where are
we? Over what strange country, possessing neither cities, towns,
nor villages, are we hovering in the tomb-like silence of this
interminable darkness? We seem, indeed, to have been carried by
a puff of wind towards the west.
"But something seems to approach us. What are those pale rays of
light which we can faintly see a long, long way before us--rays
pale and soft, quite unlike those flaming fires we have left
behind us? Surely these do not denote the presence of human
activity! As we continue to advance, these pale flakes of
light--resembling nothing so much in appearance as molten
lead--which at first were scanty and isolated, gradually expand,
and leave only narrow strips of darkness to divide them into
fantastic shapes. By their help we discovered we were passing
over the immense marshes of Holland, which extended to and lost
themselves in the hazy horizon. On our right hand we hear a deep
moan, still distant, but rapidly approaching every moment. It is
undoubtedly the rushing of the wind. A fresh breeze for five
minutes would bring us to the sea.
"We experienced another shock not less formidable than the first.
The 'Geant' is trembling from its effects. The cable of our
first anchor has just broken like a piece of thread. We could
not hope for a better result. The violence of the wind which is
carrying us along seems to be redoubled. A bump: another and
another--then shock after shock.
"'The second dead men!'
"Our swift pace was shock after shock.
"'The anchor is lost,' cries Jules; 'we are all dead men!
"This truth is too palpable to all of us to require expressing in
so many words, for we are just commencing that furious, tearing
course called 'trailing.'
"Our swift pace was considerably accelerated by the lower part of
the balloon, which--limp, empty, and forming nearly a third of
the whole--had been set free at the first shock, and flapped
against the distended part, acting as a sail. The shocks
continued to multiply so fast that it was impossible to count
them. The car continued to rebound from these shocks to the
height of five, ten, sometimes thirty, forty, and even fifty
feet, for all the world like an India-rubber ball from the hands
of an indefatigable player. Unfortunately, all our human
freight, terror stricken and without advice, had crowded into one
side of the car; and as this happened to be the side on which we
invariably bumped, we experienced all the worst effects of the
"What a dizzy whirl! What a succession of breathless shocks!
What a strain on both muscles and nerves! By the least
negligence or slip, or by the loss of presence of mind for one
moment, we should have been thrown out and dashed to atoms.
"Every collision tries our muscles and strains our wrists or our
shoulders; and every rebound dashes us one against the other,
constituting each individual a tormentor and victim at the same
time. Our flight is so rapid that we can only distinguish an
occasional glimpse of anything. Far, far in the distance we
distinguish an isolated tree. We approach it like lightning, and
we break it as though it were a straw.
"Two terrified horses, with manes and tails erect, endeavour to
fly from us. But we consume distances; we leave them behind
immediately. We skip over a flock of affrighted sheep in one of
our bounds. But now comes the real danger.
"At this moment, when we were perfectly benumbed with fear, and
had lost all power of articulation, we saw a locomotive, drawing
two carriages, running along an embankment at right angles to our
course. A few more revolutions of the wheels, and it will be all
over with us, for we seem to be fated to meet with geometrical
precision at one spot!
"What will happen?
"Travelling at our present hurricane pace, we shall undoubtedly
lift up and overturn the machine and what it is drawing. But
shall we not be crushed ourselves? A few paces still intervene
between us and our foe, and we give vent to a shout of terror.
"It is heard, and the locomotive answers it by a whistle, then
slackens its pace, and after seeming to hesitate an instant backs
quickly and only just in time to give us a free passage, whilst
the driver, waving his cap, salutes us with--
"'Look out for the wires!'
"The caution was well timed, for we had not noticed the four
telegraph wires which we rapidly approached. We energetically
ducked our heads on seeing them, but fortunately we escaped any
more damage than having two or three of our ropes cut. These we
continued to drag after us like the tail of a ragged comet,
having the telegraph-wires and the posts which lately supported
them attached to us."
After having been dragged thus for some time at the mercy of a
hurricane which they ought to have been able to avoid, these
aerial navigators at last got entangled in the outskirts of a
wood near Rethem, in Hanover. A few broken arms and legs paid
for their temerity in meddling with this monster, and one and all
of the passengers have reason to be thankful that it will be
unnecessary for us to proclaim their virtues and their fate in
our next chapter.
Chapter X. The Necrology of Aeronautic
We will conclude this second part by giving a brief notice of
some of those who, in the early days of aerostation, fell martyrs
to their devotion to the new cause, and sometimes victims to
their own want of foresight and their inexperience.
First among these is Pilatre des Roziers, with whose courage and
ingenuity our readers are already familiar. After the passage of
Blanchard from England over to France this hero, who was the
first to trust himself to the wide space of the sky, resolved to
undertake the return voyage from France to England--a more
difficult feat, owing to the generally adverse character of the
winds and currents. In vain did Roziers' friends attempt to make
him understand the perils to which this enterprise must expose
him; his only reply was that he had discovered a new balloon
which united in itself all the necessary conditions of security,
and would permit the voyager to remain an unusually long time in
the air. He asked and obtained from government the sum of 40,000
livres, in order to construct his machine. It then became clear
what sort of balloon he had contrived. He united in one machine
the two modes previously made use of in aerostation. Underneath
a balloon filled with hydrogen gas, he suspended a Montgolfiere,
or a balloon filled with hot air from a fire. It is difficult to
understand what was his precise object in making this
combination, for his ideas seem to have been confused upon the
subject. It is probable that, by the addition of a Montgolfiere,
he wished to free himself from the necessity of having to throw
over ballast when he wished to ascend and to let off this gas
when he wished to descend. The fire of the Montgolfiere might,
he probably supposed, be so regulated as to enable him to rise or
fall at will.
This mixed system has been justly blamed. It was simply "putting
fire beside powder," said Professor Charles to Roziers; but the
latter would not listen, and depended for everything on his own
intrepidity and scientific skill of which he had already given so
many proofs. There were, perhaps, other reasons for his
unyielding obstinacy. The court that had furnished him with the
funds for the construction of the balloon pressed him, and he
himself was most ambitious to equal the achievement of Blanchard,
who was the first to cross the Channel, on the 7th of January,
The fact was that at this time the prevailing fear in France was,
that Great Britain should bear off all the honours and profits of
aerostation before any of these had been won by France. It was
thus that with an untried machine, and under conditions the most
unfavourable for his enterprise, Roziers prepared to risk his
life in this undertaking, which was equally dangerous and
The double balloon was alternately inflated and emptied. While
under cover it was assailed by the rats that gnawed holes in it,
and when brought out of its place it was exposed to the tempests,
so that the longer the experiment was delayed, the worse chance
there was of getting through it successfully. At length Roziers
went to Boulogne, and announced the day of his departure; but, as
if by a special Providence, his attempt was delayed by
unfavourable weather. For many weeks in succession the little
trial balloons thrown up to show the course of the wind were
driven back upon the shores of France. During all these trials
the impatient Roziers continued to chafe and torment himself.
At last, on the 13th and 14th of June, 1785, the
Aero-Montgolfiere remained inflated, waiting a favourable moment
for departure. On the 15th at four in the morning, a little
pilot balloon that had been thrown up fell back on the spot from
which it had been thrown free, thus showing that there was no
wind. Seven hours later Roziers, accompanied by his brother
Romain, one of the constructors of the balloon, appeared in the
gallery. A nobleman present threw a purse of 200 louis into the
car, and was preparing to follow it and join in the adventure.
Roziers forbade him to enter, gently but firmly.
"The experiment is too unsafe," he said, "for me to expose to
danger the life of another."
"Finally," says a narrative of the time, "the Aero-Montgolfiere
rose in an imposing manner. The sound of cannon signalised the
departure, the voyagers saluted the crowd, who responded with
loud shouts. The balloon advanced until it began to traverse the
sea, and every one with eyes fixed upon the fragile machine,
regarded it with fear. It had traversed upwards of a league of
its journey, and had reached the height of 700 feet above sea
level, when a wind from the west drove it back toward the shore,
after having been twenty-seven minutes in the air.
"At this moment the crowd beneath perceived that the voyagers
were showing signs of alarm. They seemed suddenly to lower the
grating of the Montgolfiere. But it was too late. A violet
flame appeared at the top of the balloon, then spread over the
whole globe, and enveloped the Montgolfiere and the voyagers.
"The unfortunate men were suddenly precipitated from the clouds
to the earth, in front of the Tour de Croy, upwards of a league
from Boulogne, and 300 feet from the sea beach.
"The dead body of Roziers was found burnt in the gallery, many of
the bones being broken. His brother was still breathing, but he
was not able to speak, and in a few minutes he expired."
De Maisonfort, who, against his own will, was left on the earth,
was witness of this sad event. He has given the following
explanation of it:--
"Some minutes after their departure the voyagers were assailed by
contrary winds, which drove them back again upon the land. It is
probable that then, in order to descend and seek a more
favourable current of air, which would take them out again to
sea, Roziers opened the valve of the gas balloon; but the cord
attached to this valve was very long, it worked with difficulty,
and the friction which it occasioned tore the valve. The stuff
of the balloon, which had suffered much from many preliminary
attempts, and from other causes, was torn to the extent of
several yards, and the valve fell down inside the balloon, which
at once emptied itself."
According to this narrative, there was no conflagration of the
gas in the middle of the atmosphere, nor is it stated precisely
whether the grating of the Montgolfiere was lighted.
Maisonfort ran to the spot when the travellers fell, found them
covered with the cloth of the balloon, and occupying the same
positions which they had taken up on departing.
By a sad chance, that seems like irony, they were thrown down
only a few paces from the monument which marks the spot where
Blanchard descended. At the present day Frenchmen going to
England via Calais do not fail to visit at the forest of Guines
the monument consecrated to the expedition of Blanchard. A few
paces from this monument the cicerone will point out with his
finger the spot where his rivals expired.
"Such was the end of the first of aeronauts, and the most
courageous of men," says a contemporaneous historian. "He died
a martyr to honour and to zeal. His kindness, amiability, and
modesty endeared him to all who knew him. She who was dearest to
him--a young English lady, who boarded at a convent at Boulogne,
and whom he had first met only a few days prior to his last
ascent--could not support the news of his death. Horrible
convulsions seized her and she expired, it is said, eight days
after the dreadful catastrophe. Roziers died at the age of
twenty-eight and a half years."
Olivari perished at Orleans on the 25th of November, 1802. He
had ascended in a Montgolfiere made of paper, strengthened only
by some bands of cloth. His car, made of osiers, and loaded with
combustible matter, was suspended below the grating; and when at
a great elevation it became the prey of the flames. The
aeronaut, thus deprived of his support, fell, at the distance of
a league from the spot from which he had risen.
Mosment made his last ascent at Lille on the 7th of April, 1806.
His balloon was made of silk, and was filled with hydrogen gas.
Ten minutes after his departure he threw into the air a parachute
with which he had provided himself. It is supposed that the
oscillations consequent on the throwing off of the parachute were
the cause of they aeronaut's fall. Some pretend that Mosment had
foretold his death, and that it was caused by a willful
carelessness. However this may be, the balloon continued its
flight alone, and the body of the aeronaut was found partly
buried in the sand of the fosse which surrounds the town.
Bittorff made a great many successful ascents. He never used any
machine but the Montgolfiere. At Manheim, on the 17th of July,
the day of his death his balloon, which was of paper, sixteen
metres in diameter, and twenty in height, took fire in the air,
and the aeronaut was thrown down upon the town. His fall was
Harris, an old officer of the English navy, together with another
English aeronaut, named Graham, had made a great many ascents.
He conceived the idea of constructing a balloon upon an original
plan; but his alterations do not seem to have been improvements.
In May, 1824, he attempted an ascent from London, which had much
apparent success, but which terminated fatally. When at a great
elevation, it seems, the aeronaut, wishing to descend, opened the
valve. It had not been well constructed, and after being opened
it would not close again. The consequent loss of gas brought the
balloon down with great force. Harris lost his life with the
fall; but the young lady who had accompanied him received only a
Sadler, a celebrated English aeronaut, who, in one of his many
experiments, had crossed the Irish Channel between Dublin and
Holyhead, lost his life miserably near Bolton, on the 28th of
September, 1824. Deprived of his ballast, in consequence of his
long sojourn in the air, and forced at last to descend, at a late
hour, upon a number of high buildings, the wind drove him
violently against a chimney. The force of the shock threw him
out of his car, and he fell to the earth and died. His prudence
and knowledge were unquestionable, and his death is to be
ascribed alone to accident. It was an aerial shipwreck.
Cocking had gone up twice in Mr. Green's balloon as a simple
amateur. He took it into his head to go up a third time. He
wished to attempt a descent in a parachute of his own
construction, which he believed was vastly superior to the
ordinary one. He altered the form altogether, though that form
had been proved to be satisfactory. In place of a concave
surface, supporting itself on a volume of air, Cocking used an
inverted cone, of an elaborate construction, which, instead of
supporting him in the air, only accelerated his fall. Unhappily,
Green participated in this experiment. The two made an ascent
from Vauxhall, on the 27th of September, 1836, Green having
suspended Cocking's wretched contrivance from the car of his
balloon. Cocking held on by a rope, and at the height of from
1,000 to 1,200 feet the amateur, with his patent parachute, were
thrown off from the balloon. A moment afterwards Green was
soaring away safely in his machine, but Cocking was launched into
"The descent was so rapid," says one who witnessed it, "that the
mean rate of the fall was not less than twenty yards a second.
In less than a minute and a half the unfortunate aeronaut was
thrown to the earth, and killed by the fall."
Madame Blanchard, thinking to improve upon Garnerin, who had
decorated the balloon which ascended in celebration of the
coronation of Napoleon I. with coloured lights, fixed fireworks
instead to hers. A wire rope ten yards long was suspended to her
car; at the bottom of this wire rope was suspended a broad disc
of wood, around which the fireworks were ranged. These consisted
of Bengal and coloured lights. On the 6th of July, 1819, there
was a great fete at Tivoli, and a multitude had assembled around
the balloon of Madame Blanchard. Cannon gave the signal of
departure, and soon the fireworks began to show themselves. The
balloon rose splendidly, to the sound of music and the shoutings
of the people. A rain of gold and thousands of stars fell from
the car as it ascended. A moment of calm succeeded, and then to
the eyes of the spectators, still fixed on the balloon, an
unexpected light appeared. This light did not come from under
the balloon, where the crown of fireworks was already
extinguished, but shone in the car itself. It was evident that
the lady aeronaut, although now so high above the spectators, was
busy about something. The light increased, then disappeared
suddenly; then appeared again, and showed itself finally at the
summit of the balloon, in the form of an immense jet of gas. The
gas with which the balloon was inflated had taken fire, and the
terrible glare which the light threw around was perceived from
the boulevards, and all the Quartier Montmartre.
It was at this moment--a frightful one for those who perceived
what had taken place--that a general sentiment of satisfaction
and admiration among the spectators found vent in cries of
"Brava! Vive Madame Blanchard!" &c. The people thought the lady
was giving them an unexpected treat. Meantime, by the light of
the flame, the balloon was seen gradually to descend. It
disappeared when it reached the houses, like a passing meteor, or
a train of fire which a blast of wind suddenly extinguishes. A
number of workmen and other persons, who had perceived that some
accident had taken place, ran in the direction in which the
balloon appeared to descend. They arrived at a house in the Rue
de Provence. On the roof of this house the balloon had fallen,
and the unfortunate Madame Blanchard, thrown out of the car by
the shock, was killed by her fall to the earth.
This news spread rapidly from Tivoli, where it occasioned a
stupefying surprise. It was the first time that a fall of the
kind had taken place from the sky at Paris. Fireworks were from
this time discontinued, the fete came to an end, and a
subscription was rapidly organised, producing some thousands of
francs, which shortly afterwards were employed in erecting a
monument to the lady, which is now to be seen in the cemetery of
Madame Blanchard had wished to surpass the ordinary spectacle of
an aerial ascent; she had really prepared a SURPRISE for the
spectators. She had prepared and she took with her a small
parachute of about two yards in diameter. After the extinction
of the crown or star of fireworks, she intended to throw this
little parachute loose; and as it was terminated by another
supply of fireworks, it was supposed that the effect would be as
beautiful as surprising.
The unhappy lady was small in stature, and very light, and
unfortunately made use of a very small balloon. That of the 6th
of July, 1819, was only seven metres in diameter; and to make it
ascend with the weight it carried it had to be filled to the neck
with inflammable air. In quitting the earth some of this gas
escaped, and rising above the balloon, formed a train like one of
powder, which would certainly flash into a blaze the moment it
came in contact with the fire. But on this day it was she who
with her own hand fired this train. At the moment when,
detaching the little parachute from her car, she took the light
for the fireworks in her other hand, she crossed this train with
the light and set it on fire. Then the brave woman, throwing
away the parachute and the match, strove to close the mouth of
the balloon, and to stifle the fire. These efforts being
unavailing, Madame Blanchard was distinctly seen to sit down in
her car and await her fate.
The burning of the hydrogen lasted several minutes, during which
time the balloon gradually descended. Had it not been that it
struck on the roof of the house Madame Blanchard would have been
saved. At the moment of the shock she was heard to cry out, "A
moi." These were her last words. The car, going along the roof
of the house, was caught by an iron bar and overturned, and the
lady was thrown head foremost upon the pavement.
When she reached the ground she immediately expired. Her head
and shoulders were slightly burnt, otherwise she exhibited no
marks of the fire which had destroyed the balloon.
PART III. Scientific Experiments--Applications of Ballooning.
Chapter I. Experiments of Robertson, Lhoest, Saccarof, &c.
Robertson is regarded by many as a sort of mountebank; yet such
men as Arago have put themselves to the trouble of examining the
aerostatic feats of this aeronaut, and of examining the results
of his observations.
"The savant Robertson," says Arago, "performed at Hamburg on the
18th of July, 1803, with his countryman, Lhoest, the first
aeronautic voyage from which science has been able to draw useful
deductions. The two aeronauts remained suspended in the air
during five hours, and came down near Hanover, twenty-five
leagues from the spot from which they set off."
The first time that Robertson appears in the annals of
aerostation is in 1802, on the occasion of the sale of the
balloon used at the battle of Fleurus, of which mention will be
made in the chapter on military aerostation. But three years
previously he had been instructed to make a balloon of an
original form, which should ascend in honour of the Turkish
ambassador at the garden of Tivoli. The fete was completely
successful. Turks, Chinese, Persians, and Bedouins will always
be welcome, as on this occasion, at Paris, appearing as they do
only at rare intervals, and for a short time.
The fete took place on the 2nd of July. Robertson presented
himself at the house of Esseid-Ali, to obtain his autograph. The
Turkish ambassador willingly granted the request, and wrote his
name in letters, each of which was two inches in height, on a
sheet of paper. He then offered the aeronaut coffee and comfits,
and promised to be present to witness the balloon ascent. His
name was painted in large characters on a balloon fifteen feet in
diameter, and on the form of which was the figure of a crescent.
The experiment delighted the ambassador, and was well received by
Jacques Garnerin, when he came to make his debut as an aeronaut,
made an attempt with the parachute, the following August, at the
garden of the Hotel de Biron. The ambassador was asked to honour
the fete, but he declined, saying that he had "made up his mind
that man was not intended for flying--Mahomet had not so willed
Of one of Robertson's more interesting ascents he himself has
left us the following sketch:--
"I rose in the balloon at nine a.m., accompanied by my
fellow-student and countryman, M. Lhoest. We had 140 lbs. of
ballast. The barometer marked twenty-eight inches; the
thermometer sixteen degrees Reaumur. In spite of some slight
wind from the north-west, the balloon mounted so perpendicularly
that in all the streets each of the spectators believed we were
mounting straight up above his head. In order to quicken our
ascent I discharged a parachute made of silk, and weighted in a
way to prevent oscillations. The parachute descended at the rate
of two feet per second, and its descent was uniform. From the
moment when the barometer began to sink we became very careful of
our ballast, as we wished to test from experience the different
temperatures through which we were about to pass.
"At 10.15, the barometer was at nineteen inches, and the
thermometer at three above zero. We now felt all the
inconvenience of an extremely rarefied atmosphere coming upon us,
and we commenced to arrange some experiments in atmospheric
electricity. Our first attempts did not succeed. We threw over
part of our ballast, and mounted up till the cold and the
rarefaction of the air became very troublesome. During our
experiments we experienced an illness throughout our whole
system. Buzzing in the cars commenced, and went on increasing.
The pain we felt was like that which one feels when he plunges
his head in water. Our chests seemed to be dilated, and failed
in elasticity. My pulse was quickened, M. Lhoest's became
slower; he had, like me, swelled lips and bleeding eyes; the
veins seemed to come out more strongly on the hands. The blood
ran to the head, and occasioned a feeling as if our hats were too
tight. The thermometer continued to descend, and, as we ascended,
our illness increased, and we could with difficulty keep awake.
Fearing that my travelling companion might go to sleep, I
attached a cord to my thigh and to ]his, and we held the
extremities of the cord in our hands. Thus trammelled, we had to
commence the experiments which I had proposed to make.
"At this elevation, the glass, the brimstone, and the Spanish wax
were not electrified in a manner to show any signs under
friction--at least, I obtained no electricity from the conductors
or the electrometer.
"I had in my car a voltaic pile, consisting of sixty
couples--silver and zinc. It worked very well on the occasion of
our departure from the earth, and gave, without the condenser,
one degree to the electrometer. At our great elevation, the pile
gave only five-sixths of a degree to the same electrometer. The
galvanic flame seemed more active at this elevation than on the
"I took two birds with me on coming into the balloon--one of
these was now dead, the other appeared stupefied. After having
placed it upon the brink of the gondola, I tried to frighten it
to make it take to flight. It moved its wings, but did not leave
the spot; then I left it to itself, and it fell perpendicularly
and with great rapidity. Birds are certainly not able to
maintain themselves at such elevations.
"It is notable that the atmosphere, which was of a perfect purity
near the earth, was grey and misty above our heads, and the
beautiful blue sky seen from the surface did not exist for us,
although the weather was calm and serene, and the day the most
beautiful that could be. The sun did not seem dazzling to us,
and its heat was diminished owing to our elevation.
"At half-past eleven, the balloon was no longer visible from
Hamburg. The heavens were so pure beneath us that everything was
distinctly seen by us, though very much diminished by distance.
At 11.40, the town of Hamburg seemed only a red point in our
eyes; the Elbe looked like a straight ribbon. I wished to make
use of an opera-glass, but what surprised me was that when I
lifted it up it was so cold that I had to wrap my handkerchief
around it to enable me to hold it.
"Not being able to support our position any longer, we descended,
after having used up much gas and ballast. Our descent caused
that degree of terror among the inhabitants which the size of our
balloon was calculated to inspire in a country where such
machines had never before been seen. We descended above a poor
village called Radenburg, a place amid the heaths of Hanover.
Our appearance caused great alarm, and even the beasts of the
field fled from us.
"While our balloon rapidly approached the earth, we waved our
hats and flags, and shouted to the inhabitants, but our voices
only increased their terror. The villagers rushed away with
cries of terror, leaving their herds, whose bellowings increased
the general alarm. When the balloon touched the ground, every man
had shut himself up in his own house. Having appealed in vain,
and fearing that the villagers might do us some injury, we
resolved to re-ascend.
"In making this second ascent, we threw over all our ballast; but
in this we were imprudent, for after sailing about at a great
height, and having lost much gas, I perceived that our descent
would be very rapid, and to provide against accident, I gathered
together all the instruments, the bread, the ropes, and even such
money as we had with us, and placed them in three sacks, to which
I attached a rope of a hundred feet in length. This precaution
saved us a shock. The weight, amounting to thirty pounds,
reached the ground before us, and the balloon, thus lightened,
came softly to the ground between Wichtenbech and Hanover, after
having run twenty-five leagues in five and a half hours."
After this ascent Robertson became acquainted with some savants
of Hamburg, and amongst others with Professor Pfaff, who was
interested in aerial travelling as a means of settling certain
meteorological problems. Some days after Robertson's ascent, the
professor wrote to him--
"You speak of a certain height at which the hydrogen gas will
find itself in equilibrium in the air of the atmosphere. I
believe that this height is the extremity of the atmosphere
itself; for as the gas has an elasticity much greater than that
of the air, it will go on dilating as it mounts into the higher
regions of the atmosphere, and its specific weight will diminish
as the weight of atmospheric air diminishes; and it will not
cease to mount until it rises above the atmosphere itself, if two
conditions be completely fulfilled--1, the condition that the gas
may be allowed to dilate without leaving the balloon as it rises;
2, the condition that the gas shall not be allowed to mix at all
with the atmospheric air."
Another ascent was arranged for the 14th of August, in which
Robertson was to be accompanied by the professor, but the latter,
yielding to the entreaties of his family, did not go. "I went up
with my friend Lhoest," says Robertson, "at forty-two minutes
past twelve midday. In a minute or two we rose up between two
masses of cloud, which seemed to open up and offer us a passage.
The upper surfaces of these clouds are not uniformly level, like
the under sides seen from the earth, but they are of a conical or
pyramidal shape. These imposing masses seem to precipitate
themselves upon the earth, as if to engulf it, but this optical
illusion was due to the apparent immobility of the balloon, which
at the moment was rising at the rate of about twenty feet per
"The fear of losing the view of the Baltic, which we perceived
between the clouds at intervals, obliged us to renounce the
project of rising as high as on the last occasion. The barometer
was at fifteen inches, and the thermometer one degree below zero,
when I let off two pigeons.
"One descended in a diagonal direction, its wings half open but
not moving, with a swiftness which seemed that of a fall. The
other flew for an instant, and then placed itself upon the car,
and did not wish to quit us. Acting on the hint of Dr. Reimarus,
I tried the same experiment with butterflies, but the air was too
much rarefied for them; they attempted in vain to raise
themselves by their wings, but they did not forsake the car.
"The wind continuing to carry me towards the sea, I resolved to
bring my observations to an end. I effected my descent in a
meadow, near the village of Rehorst, in Holstein, after having
run sixteen leagues from France in sixty-five minutes."
At the commencement of the year 1804, Laplace, at the Institute,
proposed to take advantage of the means offered by aerostation to
verify at great heights certain scientific points--as, for
example, those which concern magnetism. This proposition was made
at a favourable time, and was, so far, carried out in the best
possible way. The aeronauts who were appointed to carry out the
expedition were Biot and Gay-Lussac, the most enthusiastic
aeronauts of the period.
The following is their report:--
"We observed the animals we had with us at all the different
heights, and they did not appear to suffer in any manner. For
ourselves, we perceived no effect any more then a quickening of
the pulse. At 10,000 feet above the ground we set a little
green-finch at liberty. He flew out at once, but immediately
returning, settled upon our cordage; afterwards, setting out
again, he flew to the earth, describing a very tortuous line in
his passage. We followed him with our eyes till he was lost in
the clouds. A pigeon, which we set free at the same elevation,
presented a very curious spectacle. Placed at liberty on the
edge of the car, he remained at rest for a number of instants, as
if measuring the length of his flight; then he launched himself
into space, flying about irregularly, as if to try his wings.
Afterwards he began his descent regularly, sweeping round and
round in great circles, ever reaching lower, until he also was
lost in the clouds."
As to the voyagers themselves, this is how they speak of their
situation at the height of 3,000 yards:--
"About this elevation we observed our animals. They did not
appear to suffer from the rarity of the air, yet the barometer
was at twenty inches eight lines.. We were much surprised that
we did not suffer from the cold; on the contrary, the sun warmed
us much. We had thrown aside the gloves which had been put on
board, and which were of no use to us. Our pulses were very
quick; that of M. Gay-Lussac, which is 62 in the minute on
ordinary occasions, now gave 80; and mine, which is ordinarily
89, gave 111. This acceleration was felt by both of us in nearly
the same proportion. Nevertheless, our respiration was in no way
interfered with, we experienced no illness, and our situation
seemed to us extremely agreeable."
The following is their report to the Galvanic Society--
"We have known for a long time that no animal can with safety
pass into an atmosphere much more dense or much more rare than
that to which it has been accustomed. In the first case it
suffers from the outer air, which presses upon it severely; in
the second case there are liquids or fluids in the animal's body
which, being less pressed against than they should be, become
dilated, and press against their coverings or channels. In both
cases the symptoms are nearly the same--pain, general illness,
buzzing in the ears, and even haemorrhage. The experience of the
diving-bell has long made us familiar with what aeronauts suffer.
Our colleague (Robertson), and his companion, have experienced
these effects in great intensity. They had swelled lips, their
eyes bled, their veins were dilated, and, what is very
remarkable, they both preserved a brown or red tinge which
astonished those that had seen them before they made the ascent.
This distension of the blood-vessels would necessarily produce an
inconvenience and a difficulty in the muscular action."
Chapter II. Ascent of M. Gay-Lussac Alone--Excursions of MM.
Barral and Bixio.
Respecting this ascent, Arago states that M. Gay-Lussac has
reduced to their proper value the narratives of the physical
pains which aeronauts say they suffer in lofty aerial ascents.
M. Gay-Lussac says:--"Having arrived at the most elevated point
of my ascent, 21,000 feet above sea level, my respiration was
rendered sensibly difficult, but I was far from experiencing any
illness of a kind to make me descend. My pulse and my breathing
were very quick; breathing very frequently in an extremely dry
atmosphere, I should not have been surprised if my throat had
been so dry as to make it painful to swallow bread."
After having finished his observations, which referred chiefly to
the magnetic needle, with all the tranquillity of a doctor in his
study, Gay-Lussac descended to the earth between Rouen and
Dieppe, eighty leagues from Paris.
After the names of Robertson, Gay-Lussac, and Biot, science has
registered those of Barral and Bixio, two men whose aeronautic
achievements have enriched meteorology with more important
discoveries, perhaps, than any we have yet mentioned.
These gentlemen had conceived the project of rising by means of a
balloon to a great height, in order to study, with the assistance
of the very best instruments in use in their day, a multitude of
phenomena then imperfectly known. The subjects to which they
were specially to direct their attention, were the law of the
decrease of temperature in progress upwards, the discovery of
whether the chemical composition of the atmosphere is the same
throughout all its parts, the comparison of the strength of the
solar rays in the higher regions of the atmosphere and on the
surface of the earth, the ascertaining whether the light
reflected and transmitted by the clouds is or is not polarised,
All the preparations having been made in the garden of the
Observatory at Paris, the ascent took place on the 29th of June,
1850, at 10.27 a.m., the balloon being filled with hydrogen gas.
The first ascent was a signal failure. It was found that the
weather being bad, the envelope of the balloon was torn in
several places, and had to be mended in all haste. Immediately
preceding the moment of ascent, a torrent of rain fell. But the
voyagers were determined to ascend. They placed themselves in
the car, and, when thrown off from the fastenings, they rose
through the air with the speed of an arrow. The height to which
the balloon reached made it suddenly dilate, and the network,
which was much too small, was stretched to the utmost. The
balloon was forced down upon them by the dilation, and one of
them, in the endeavour to work the valve, made a rent in the
lower part of the globe, from which the gas escaping almost over
the heads of the travellers, nearly choked them. The escape of
the gas had the usual result--the balloon descended rapidly, and
fell in a vineyard near Lugny, where they were found by the
peasants holding on to the trees by their legs and arms, and thus
attempting to stop the horizontal advance of the car. They had
risen to the height of over 17,000 feet, and they had descended
from this height in from four to five minutes.
For all practical purposes, the ascent was a failure, and the
aeronauts immediately commenced preparations for a new voyage,
which took place a month afterwards. They rose to very great
altitudes, but experienced no illness from the rarefied air. M.
Bixio did not feel the sharp pains in the ears from which he had
suffered on the former occasion. They passed through a mass of
cloud 15,000 feet in thickness, and they had not yet passed quite
through it, when at the height of over 21,000 feet from the
ground, they began to descend, their descent being caused by a
rent in the envelope of the balloon, from which the gas escaped.
They might, in throwing out the last of their ballast, have,
perhaps, prolonged for a little their sojourn in space, but the
circumstances in which they were placed did not permit them to
make many more scientific observations than those they had made,
and thus they were obliged to submit to their fate. When they
had reached their greatest height, there seemed to open up in the
midst of the vaporous mass a brilliant space, from which they
could see the blue of heaven. The polariscope, directed towards
this region, showed an internal polarisation, but, when pointed
to the side where the mist still prevailed, there was no
An optical phenomenon of a remarkable kind was witnessed when the
voyagers had attained their highest point. They saw the sun
through the upper mists, looking quite white, as if shorn of its
strength; and, at the same time, below the horizontal plane,
below their horizon, and at an angular distance from the plane
equal to that of the sun above it, they saw a second sun, which
resembled the reflection of the actual sun in a sheet of water.
It is natural to suppose that the second sun was formed by the
reflection of the sun's rays upon the horizontal faces of the ice
crystals floating in this high cloud.
Chapter III. Ascents of the Mssrs. Welsh, Glaisher and Coxwell.
The most recent balloon ascents in England deserving attention
have been undertaken for scientific objects, and in this country,
more than in any other, it may be said that the conquest of the
air has been made to serve a practical end.
In July, 1852, the Committee of the Kew Observatory resolved to
undertake a number of balloon voyages. This resolution was
approved of by the British Association for the Advancement of
Science, and the necessary instruments for making a number of
meteorological observations were prepared. The balloon employed
was that of Mr. Green, who was accompanied in his ascents by Mr.
Welsh. The greatest height to which Mr. Welsh rose was on the
fourth ascent which took place on the 10th of November, 1852.
The balloon rose 22,930 feet, and the lowest temperature observed
was 26 degrees below zero.
It is to Mr. Glaisher and Mr. Coxwell, however, that the highest
honours of scientific aerostation belong. The ascents made by
these gentlemen--Mr. Glaisher being the scientific observer, and
Mr. Coxwell the practical aeronaut--have become matters of
history. Not only did they, in the course of a large number of
ascents undertaken under the auspices of the British Association,
succeed in gathering much valuable meteorological information,
but they reached a greater height than that ever gained on any
previous or subsequent occasion, and penetrated into that distant
region of the skies in which it has been satisfactorily proved
that no life can be long maintained. It was on the 5th of
September, 1862,that Mr. Glaisher and Mr. Coxwell made the famous
ascent in which they reached the greatest height ever attained by
an aeronaut, and were so nearly sacrificed to their unselfish
daring. Mr. Glaisher has given an admirable account of this
ascent, which took place from Wolverhampton. He says:--"Our
ascent had been delayed, owing to the unfavourable state of the
weather. It commenced at three minutes past one p.m., the
temperature of the air being 59 degrees, and the dew-point 48
degrees. At the height of one mile the temperature was 41
degrees and the dew-point 38 degrees. Shortly after wards clouds
were entered of about 1,100 feet in thickness. Upon emerging
from them at seventeen minutes past one, I tried to take a view
of their surface with the camera, but the balloon was ascending
too rapidly and spiraling too quickly to allow me to do so. The
height of two miles was reached at twenty-one minutes past one.
The temperature of the air had fallen to 32 degrees and the
dew-point to 26 degrees. The third mile was passed at
twenty-eight minutes past one, with an air temperature of 18
degrees, and a dew-point of 13 degrees. The fourth mile was
passed at thirty-nine minutes past one, with an air temperature
of 8 degrees, and a dew-point of minus 6 degrees and the fifth
mile about ten minutes later, with an air temperature minus 5
degrees, and a dew-point minus 36 degrees.
"Up to this time I had experienced no particular inconvenience.
When at the height of 26,000 feet I could not see the fine column
of the mercury in the tube; then the fine divisions on the scale
of the instrument became invisible. At that time I asked Mr.
Coxwell to help me to read the instruments, as I experienced a
difficulty in seeing them. In consequence of the rotary motion of
the balloon, which had continued without ceasing since the earth
was left, the valve line had become twisted, and he had to leave
the car, and to mount into the ring above to adjust it. At that
time I had no suspicion of other than temporary inconvenience in
seeing. Shortly afterwards I laid my arm upon the table,
possessed of its full vigour; but directly after, being desirous
of using it, I found it powerless. It must have lost its power
momentarily. I then tried to move the other arm, but found it
powerless also. I next tried to shake myself, and succeeded in
shaking my body. I seemed to have no legs. I could only shake
my body. I then looked at the barometer, and whilst I was doing
so my head fell on my left shoulder. I struggled, and shook my
body again, but could not move my arms. I got my head upright,
but for an instant only, when it fell on my right shoulder; and
then I fell backwards, my back resting against the side of the
car, and my head on its edge. In that position my eyes were
directed towards Mr. Coxwell in the ring. When I shook my body
I seemed to have full power over the muscles of the back, and
considerable power over those of the neck, but none over my
limbs. As in the case of the arms, all muscular power was lost
in an instant from my back and neck. I dimly saw Mr. Coxwell in
the ring, and endeavoured to speak, but could not do so; when in
an instant intense black darkness came over me, and the optic
nerve lost power suddenly. I was still conscious, with as active
a brain as whilst writing this. I thought I had been seized with
asphyxia, and that I should experience no more, as death would
come unless we speedily descended. Other thoughts were actively
entering my mind when I suddenly became unconscious, as though
going to sleep. I could not tell anything about the sense of
hearing: the perfect stillness of the regions six miles from the
earth--and at that time we were between six and seven miles
high--is such that no sound reaches the ear. My last observation
was made at 29,000 feet, about fifty-four minutes past one. I
suppose two or three minutes elapsed between my eyes becoming
insensible to seeing the fine divisions and fifty-four minutes
past one, and that other two or three minutes elapsed before I
became unconscious; therefore I think that took place about
fifty-six or fifty-seven minutes past one. Whilst powerless I
heard the words 'temperature,' and 'observation,' and I knew Mr.
Coxwell was in the car, speaking to me, and endeavouring to rouse
me; and therefore consciousness and hearing had returned. I then
heard him speak more emphatically, but I could not speak or move.
Then I heard him say, 'Do try; now do!' Then I saw the
instruments dimly, next Mr. Coxwell, and very shortly I saw
clearly. I rose in my seat and looked round, as though waking
from sleep, and said to Mr. Coxwell, 'I have been insensible.' He
said, 'Yes; and I too, very nearly.' I then drew up my legs,
which had been extended out before me, and took a pencil in my
hand to note my observations. Mr. Coxwell informed me that he
had lost the use of his hands, which were black, and I poured
brandy over them. I resumed my observations at seven minutes
past two. I suppose three or four minutes were occupied from the
time of my hearing the words 'temperature' and 'observation,'
until I began to observe. If so, then returning consciousness
came at four minutes past two, and that gives about seven minutes
of total insensibility. Mr. Coxwell told me that in coming from
the ring he thought for a moment that I had laid back to rest
myself; that he spoke to me without eliciting a reply; that he
then noticed that my legs projected, and my arms hung down by my
side. That my countenance was serene and placid, without
earnestness or anxiety, he had noticed before going into the
ring. It then struck him that I was insensible. He wished then
to approach me, but could not, and he felt insensibility coming
over himself. He became anxious to open the valve, but, in
consequence of having lost the use of his hands, he could not;
and ultimately he did so by seizing the cord with his teeth and
dipping his head two or three times. No inconvenience followed
our insensibility. When we dropped it was in a country where no
accommodation of any kind could be obtained, so that we had to
walk between seven and eight miles. At the time of ceasing our
observations the ascent was at the rate of 1,000 feet per minute,
and on resuming observations the descent was at the rate of 2,000
feet per minute. These two positions must be connected, having
relation to the interval of time which elapsed between them; and
they can scarcely be connected at a point less than 36,000 or
37,000 feet high. Again, a very delicate minimum thermometer was
found to read minus 12 degrees, and that reading would indicate
an elevation exceeding 36,000 feet. There cannot be any doubt
that the balloon attained the great height of seven miles--the
greatest ever reached. In this ascent six pigeons were taken up.
One was thrown out at three miles. It extended its wings, and
dropped like a piece of paper. A second at four miles, and it
flew with vigour. A third between four and five miles, and it
fell downwards. A fourth was thrown out at four miles in
descending, and it alighted on the top of the balloon. Two were
brought to the ground. One was dead, and the other was ill, but
recovered so as to fly away in a quarter of an hour."
The results gathered by Mr. Glaisher from his numerous ascents
are very interesting. He found that in no instance did the
temperature of the air decrease uniformly with the increase of
height. In fact, the decrease in the first mile is double that
in the second, and nearly four times as great as the change of
temperature in the fifth mile. The distribution of aqueous
vapour in the air is no less remarkable. The temperature of the
dew-point on leaving the earth decreases less rapidly than the
temperature of the air; so that the difference between the two
temperatures becomes less and less, till the vapour or cloud
plane is reached, when they are usually together, and always most
nearly approach each other, and that point is usually at about
the height of one mile. On leaving the upper surface of cloud,
the dew point decreases more rapidly than the air, and at
extremely high situations the difference between the two
temperatures is wonderfully great, indicating an extraordinary
degree of dryness, and an almost entire absence of water. Under
these circumstances, the presence of cirrus clouds far above this
dry region, apparently as much above as when viewed from the
earth, is very remarkable, and leads to the conclusion that they
are not composed of water.
In the propagation of sound, M. Glaisher made many curious
experiments. In one ascent (July 17th) he found, when at a
distance of 11,800 feet above the earth, that a band was heard;
at a height of 22,000 feet, a clap of thunder was heard; and at a
height of 10,070 feet, the report of a gun was heard. On one
occasion, he heard the dull hum of London at a height of 9,000
feet above the city, and on another occasion, the shouting of
many thousands of persons could not be heard at the height of
Chapter IV. Balloons Made Useful in Warfare.
Wars of the French Republic--Company of "Ballooneers"--Battle of
Fleurus--The Balloons of Egypt--Napoleon--Modern Services War in
Italy--War in America--Conclusion.
We will conclude our work with a glance at aerostation as applied
to warfare. Scarcely had the first ascents astonished the world,
than the more adventurous spirits began to use the new discovery
for a thousand purposes directly useful to man. The first point
of view in which aerostation was regarded, was in that of its
practical utility If one refers to the pre-occupations of the
time--to the great events then occurring in the history of
France, one will easily understand that the Committee of Public
Safety soon thought of employing balloons in the observation of
the forces and the movements of hostile troops. In 1794, the
idea was practically carried out, and the French armies were
provided with two companies of aeronauts. The command of one of
these companies was given to Captain Coutelle, a young physicist
of great talent, who rendered memorable services at the battle of
Fleurus. The balloons were not thrown free, but were retained
attached by means of long cords. In this way they took up, so to
speak, aerial posts of observation. Placed in his car, the
captain transmitted his instructions to his men below by means of
coloured flags. Coutelle has left us a lively narrative of
certain incidents connected with one of the grand days of the old
Republic. He had been commissioned by the Committee of Public
Safety to go to Maubeuge, where Jourdan's army was encamped, and
to offer him the use of his balloon. The representative to whom
the young doctor presented his commission, knew nothing about
balloons, and not being able to understand the order of the
Committee of Public Safety, it suddenly dawned upon him that
Coutelle, with his trumpery forgery about balloons, was nothing
else than a spy, and he was about to have him shot. The
genuineness of the order from the Committee, however, was proved,
and Coutelle's case was listened to.
"The army was at Beaumont," says Coutelle, "and the enemy, placed
at a distance of only three miles, could attack at any moment.
The general told me this fact, and engaged me to return and
communicate it to the Committee. This I did. The Commission
then felt the necessity of making an experiment with a balloon
that could raise two persons, and the minister placed at my
service the garden and the little mansion of Meudon. Many of the
members of the Commission came to witness the first ascent of a
balloon held in hand, like a kite, by means of two cords. The
Commissioners ordered me to place myself in the car, and
instructed me as to a number of signals which I must repeat, and
observations which I must make. I raised myself to the full
length of the cord, a height of 1,500 feet, and at this height,
with the help of a glass, I could distinctly see the seven bends
of the river Seine. On returning to the earth, I received the
compliments of the Commission.
"Arrived at Maubeuge, my first care was to find a suitable spot
to erect my furnace, and to make every preparation for the
arrival of my balloon from Meudon. Each day my observations
contained something new either in the works which the Austrians
had thrown up during the night, or in the arrangement of their
forces. On the fifth day a piece of cannon had been brought to
bear upon the balloon, and shots were fired at me as soon as I
appeared above the ramparts. None of the shots took effect, and
on the following day the piece was no longer in position.
Experience enforced upon me the necessity of forming some
provision against these unexpected attacks. I employed the night
in fixing cords all round the middle of my balloon. Each of the
aerostiers had charge of one of the ropes, and by means of them I
could easily move about, and thus get myself out of range of any
gun that had been trained to bear against me. I was afterwards
ordered to make a reconnaissance at Mayence, and I posted myself
between our lines and the enemy at half range of cannon. When
the wind, which was tempestuous at first, became calmer, I was
able to count the number of cannon on the ramparts, as well as
the troops that marched through the streets and in the squares.
"Generally the soldiers of the enemy, all who saw the observer
watching them and taking notes, came to the idea that they could
do nothing without being seen. Our soldiers were of the same
opinion, and consequently they regarded us with great admiration
and trust. On the heavy marches they brought us prepared food
and wine, which my men were hardly able to get for themselves, so
closely did they require to attend to the ropes. We were
encamped upon the banks of the Rhine at Manheim when our general
sent me to the opposite bank to parley. As soon as the Austrian
officers were made aware that I commanded the balloon, I was
overwhelmed with questions and compliments.
"What causes an impression which, till one is accustomed to it,
is very alarming, is the noise which the balloon makes when it is
struck by successive gales of wind. When the wind has passed,
the balloon, which has been pressed into a concave form by the
wind, suddenly resumes its globular form with a loud noise heard
at a great distance. The silk of the balloon would often burst
in a case of this kind, were it not for the restraining power of
After the days of Coutelle we do not read that balloons were made
much use of in warfare. The only ascent in the Egypt campaign
was that of a tricolor balloon thrown up to commemorate a fete.
That Napoleon knew full well the value of the scientific
discoveries of his time is clear from the following conversation
with a learned Mohammedan, which took place in the great pyramid
Mussamed. "Noble successor of Alexander, honour to shine
invincible arms, and to the unexpected lightning with which your
warriors are furnished."
Bonaparte. "Do you believe that that lightning is the work of
the children of men? Allah has placed it in our hands by means
of the genius of war."
Mussamed. "We recognised by your arms that it is Allah that has
sent you--the Delta and all the neighbouring countries are full
of thy miracles. But would you be a conqueror if Allah did not
Bonaparte. "A celestial body will point by my orders to the
dwelling of the clouds, and lightning will descend towards the
earth, along a rod of metal from which I can call it forth."
Napoleon did not favour the use of balloons in war. Perhaps it
was because he himself had such a splendid genius for war that he
depended alone upon himself, and scorned assistance. Perhaps it
was because if balloons were discovered to be of real utility,
his enemies might make use of them as well as himself, and France
retain no special advantage in them. But however this may be, on
his return from Egypt he sold the balloon of Fleurus to
Robertson. The company of ballooneers was dissolved, and the
balloons themselves disappeared in smoke.
During the war in America, the role which the balloon played was
a more important one. The Government of the United States
conferred the title of aeronautic engineer upon Mr. Allan, of
Rhode Island, who originated the idea of communicating by a
telegraphic wire from the balloon to the camp. The first
telegraphic message which was transmitted from the aerial regions
is that of Professor Love, at Washington, to the President of the
United States. The following is this despatch:--
"WASHINGTON, Balloon the 'Enterprise.'
"SIR,--The point of observation commands an extent of nearly
fifty miles in diameter. The city, with its girdle of
encampments, presents a superb scene. I have great pleasure in
sending you this despatch--the first that has been telegraphed
from an aerial station--and to know that I should be so much
encouraged, from having given the first proof that the aeronautic
science can render great assistance in these countries."
In the month of September, 1861, one of the most hardy aeronauts
(La Mountain) furnished important information to General
M'Clellan. The balloon of La Mountain, which arose from the
northern camp upon the Potomac, passed above Washington. La
Mountain then cut the cord that connected his balloon with the
earth, and rising rapidly to the height of a mile and a half, he
found himself directly above his enemies' lines. There he was
able to observe perfectly their position and their movements. He
then threw over ballast, and ascended to the height of three
miles. At this height he encountered a current which carried him
in the direction of Maryland, where he descended in safety.
General M'Clellan was so much satisfied with the observations
taken in the balloon, that, at his request, the order was given
to the War Department to construct four new balloons.
If this volume of "The Library of Wonders" had not had for its
single object "balloons and their history," we would have devoted
a chapter to the numerous attempts made to steer balloons. We
shall only say here that aerial navigation should be divided into
two kinds with balloons, and without balloons. In the first
case, it is limited to the study of aerial currents, and to the
art of rising to those currents which suit the direction of the
voyage undertaken. The balloon is not the master of the
atmosphere; on the contrary, it is its powerless slave. In the
second case, the discovery of Montgolfier is useless; and the
question is, to find out a new machine capable of flying in the
air, and at the same time heavier than the air. Birds are,
without doubt, the best models to study. But with what force
shall we replace LIFE? The air-boat of M. Pline seems to us one
of the best ideas; but the working of it presents many
difficulties. Let us find a motive power at once light and
powerful (aluminium and electricity, for example), and we will
have definitively conquered the empire of the air.
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