THE DOMINION OF THE AIR
The Story of Aerial Navigation
by Rev. J. M. Bacon
CHAPTER I. THE DAWN OF AERONAUTICS.
"He that would learn to fly must be brought up to the constant practice of it from his youth, trying first only to use his wings as a tame goose will do, so by degrees learning to rise higher till he attain unto skill and confidence."
So wrote Wilkins, Bishop of Chester, who was reckoned a man of genius and learning in the days of the Commonwealth. But so soon as we come to inquire into the matter we find that this good Bishop was borrowing from the ideas of others who had gone before him; and, look back as far as we will, mankind is discovered to have entertained persistent and often plausible ideas of human flight. And those ideas had in some sort of way, for good or ill, taken practical shape. Thus, as long ago as the days when Xenophon was leading back his warriors to the shores of the Black Sea, and ere the Gauls had first burned Rome, there was a philosopher, Archytas, who invented a pigeon which could fly, partly by means of mechanism, and partly also, it is said, by aid of an aura or spirit. And here arises a question. Was this aura a gas, or did men use it as spiritualists do today, as merely a word to conjure with?
Four centuries later, in the days of Nero, there was a man in Rome who flew so well and high as to lose his life thereby. Here, at any rate, was an honest man, or the story would not have ended thus; but of the rest—and there are many who in early ages aspired to the attainment of flight—we have no more reason to credit their claims than those of charlatans who flourish in every age.
In medieval times we are seriously told by a saintly writer (St. Remigius) of folks who created clouds which rose to heaven by means of "an earthen pot in which a little imp had been enclosed." We need no more. That was an age of flying saints, as also of flying dragons. Flying in those days of yore may have been real enough to the multitude, but it was at best delusion. In the good old times it did not need the genius of a Maskelyne to do a "levitation" trick. We can picture the scene at a "flying seance." On the one side the decidedly professional showman possessed of sufficient low cunning; on the other the ignorant and highly superstitious audience, eager to hear or see some new thing—the same audience that, deceived by a simple trick of schoolboy science, would listen to supernatural voices in their groves, or oracular utterances in their temples, or watch the urns of Bacchus fill themselves with wine. Surely for their eyes it would need no more than the simplest phantasmagoria, or maybe only a little black thread, to make a pigeon rise and fly.
It is interesting to note, however, that in the case last cited there is unquestionably an allusion to some crude form of firework, and what more likely or better calculated to impress the ignorant! Our firework makers still manufacture a "little Devil." Pyrotechnic is as old as history itself; we have an excellent description of a rocket in a document at least as ancient as the ninth century. And that a species of pyrotechny was resorted to by those who sought to imitate flight we have proof in the following recipe for a flying body given by a Doctor, eke a Friar, in Paris in the days of our King John:—
"Take one pound of sulphur, two pounds of willowcarbon, six pounds of rock salt ground very fine in a marble mortar. Place, when you please, in a covering made of flying papyrus to produce thunder. The covering in order to ascend and float away should be long, graceful, well filled with this fine powder; but to produce thunder the covering should be short, thick, and half full."
Nor does this recipe stand alone. Take another sample, of which chapter and verse are to be found in the MSS. of a Jesuit, Gaspard Schott, of Palermo and Rome, born three hundred years ago:—
"The shells of hen-eggs, if properly filled and well secured against the penetration of the air, and exposed to solar rays, will ascend to the skies and sometimes suffer a natural change. And if the eggs of the larger description of swans, or leather balls stitched with fine thongs, be filled with nitre, the purest sulphur quicksilver, or kindred materials which rarify by their caloric energy, and if they externally resemble pigeons, they will easily be mistaken for flying animals."
Thus it would seem that, hunting back in history, there were three main ideas on which would-be aeronauts of old exercised their ingenuity. There was the last-mentioned method, which, by the way, Jules Verne partly relies on when he takes his heroes to the moon, and which in its highest practical development may be seen annually on the night of "Brock's Benefit" at the Crystal Palace. There is, again, the "tame goose" method, to which we must return presently; and, lastly, there is a third method, to which, as also to the brilliant genius who conceived it, we must without further delay be introduced. This may be called the method of "a hollow globe."
Roger Bacon, Melchisedeck-fashion, came into existence at Ilchester in 1214 of parentage that is hard to trace. He was, however, a born philosopher, and possessed of intellect and penetration that placed him incalculably ahead of his generation. A man of marvellous insight and research, he grasped, and as far as possible carried out, ideas which dawned on other men only after centuries. Thus, many of his utterances have been prophetic. It is probable that among his chemical discoveries he re-invented gunpowder. It is certain that he divined the properties of a lens, and diving deep into experimental and mechanical sciences, actually foresaw the time when, in his own words, "men would construct engines to traverse land and water with great speed and carry with them persons and merchandise." Clearly in his dreams Bacon saw the Atlantic not merely explored, but on its bosom the White Star liners breaking records, contemptuous of its angriest seas. He saw, too, a future Dumont circling in the air, and not only in a dead calm, but holding his own with the feathered race. He tells his dream thus: "There may be made some flying instrument so that a man sitting in the middle of the instrument and turning some mechanism may put in motion some artificial wings which may beat the air like a bird flying."
But he lived too long before his time. His ruin lay not only in his superior genius, but also in his fearless outspokenness. He presently fell under the ban of the Church, through which he lost alike his liberty and the means of pursuing investigation. Had it been otherwise we may fairly believe that the "admirable Doctor," as he was called, would have been the first to show mankind how to navigate the air. His ideas are perfectly easy to grasp. He conceived that the air was a true fluid, and as such must have an upper limit, and it would be on this upper surface, he supposed, as on the bosom of the ocean, that man would sail his air-ship. A fine, bold guess truly. He would watch the cirrus clouds sailing grandly ten miles above him on some stream that never approached nearer. Up there, in his imagination, would be tossing the waves of our ocean of air. Wait for some little better cylinders of oxygen and an improved foot-warmer, and a future Coxwell will go aloft and see; but as to an upper sea, it is truly there, and we may visit and view its sun-lit tossing billows stretching out to a limitless horizon at such times as the nether world is shrouded in densest gloom. Bacon's method of reaching such an upper sea as he postulated was, as we have said, by a hollow globe.
"The machine must be a large hollow globe, of copper or other suitable metal, wrought extremely thin so as to have it as light as possible," and "it must be filled with ethereal air or liquid fire." This was written in the thirteenth century, and it is scarcely edifying to find four hundred years after this the Jesuit Father Lana, who contrived to make his name live in history as a theoriser in aeronautics, arrogating to himself the bold conception of the English Friar, with certain unfortunate differences, however, which in fairness we must here clearly point out. Lana proclaimed his speculations standing on a giant's shoulders. Torricelli, with his closed bent tube, had just shown the world how heavily the air lies above us. It then required little mathematical skill to calculate what would be the lifting power of any vessel void of air on the earth's surface. Thus Lana proposed the construction of an air ship which possibly because of its picturesquesness has won him notoriety. But it was a fraud. We have but to conceive a dainty boat in which the aeronaut would sit at ease handling a little rudder and a simple sail. These, though a schoolboy would have known better, he thought would guide his vessel when in the air.
So much has been claimed for Father Lana and his mathematical and other attainments that it seems only right to insist on the weakness of his reasoning. An air ship simply drifting with the wind is incapable of altering its course in the slightest degree by either sail or rudder. It is simply like a log borne along in a torrent; but to compare such a log properly with the air ship we must conceive it WHOLLY submerged in the water and having no sail or other appendage projecting into the air, which would, of course, introduce other conditions. If, however, a man were to sit astride of the log and begin to propel it so that it travels either faster or slower than the stream, then in that case, either by paddle or rudder, the log could be guided, and the same might be said of Lana's air boat if only he had thought of some adequate paddle, fan, or other propeller. But he did not. One further explanatory sentence may here be needed; for we hear of balloons which are capable of being guided to a small extent by sail and rudder. In these cases, however, the rudder is a guide rope trailing on earth or sea, so introducing a fresh element and fresh conditions which are easy to explain.
Suppose a free balloon drifting down the wind to have a sail suddenly hoisted on one side, what happens? The balloon will simply swing till this sail is in front, and thus continue its straightforward course. Suppose, however, that as soon as the side sail is hoisted a trail rope is also dropped aft from a spar in the rigging. The tendency of the sail to fly round in front is now checked by the dragging rope, and it is constrained to remain slanting at an angle on one side; at the same time the rate of the balloon is reduced by the dragging rope, so that it travels slower than the wind, which, now acting on its slant sail, imparts a certain sidelong motion much as it does in the case of a sailing boat.
Lana having in imagination built his ship, proceeds to make it float up into space, for which purpose he proposes four thin copper globes exhausted of air. Had this last been his own idea we might have pardoned him. We have, however, pointed out that it was not, and we must further point out that in copying his great predecessor he fails to see that he would lose enormous advantage by using four globes instead of one. But, beyond all, he failed to see what the master genius of Bacon saw clearly—that his thin globes when exhausted must infallibly collapse by virtue of that very pressure of the air which he sought to make use of.
It cannot be too strongly insisted on that if the too much belauded speculations of Lana have any value at all it is that they throw into stronger contrast the wonderful insight of the philosopher who so long preceded him. By sheer genius Bacon had foreseen that the emptied globe must be filled with SOMETHING, and for this something he suggests "ethereal air" or "liquid fire," neither of which, we contend, were empty terms. With Bacon's knowledge of experimental chemistry it is a question, and a most interesting one, whether he had not in his mind those two actual principles respectively of gas and air rarefied by heat on which we launch our balloons into space to-day.
Early progress in any art or science is commonly intermittent. It was so in the story of aeronautics. Advance was like that of the incoming tide, throwing an occasional wave far in front of its rising flood. It was a phenomenal wave that bore Roger Bacon and left his mark on the sand where none other approached for centuries. In those centuries men were either too priest-ridden to lend an ear to Science, or, like children, followed only the Will-o'-the-Wisp floating above the quagmire which held them fast. They ran after the stone that was to turn all to gold, or the elixir that should conquer death, or the signs in the heavens that should foretell their destinies; and the taint of this may be traced even when the dark period that followed was clearing away. Four hundred years after Roger's death, his illustrious namesake, Francis Bacon, was formulating his Inductive Philosophy, and with complete cock-sureness was teaching mankind all about everything. Let us look at some of his utterances which may help to throw light on the way he regarded the problem we are dealing with.
"It is reported," Francis Bacon writes, "that the Leucacians in ancient time did use to precipitate a man from a high cliffe into the sea; tying about him, with strings, at some distance, many great fowles; and fixing unto his body divers feathers, spread, to breake the fall. Certainly many birds of good wing (as Kites and the like) would beare up a good weight as they flie. And spreading of feathers, thin and close, and in great breadth, will likewise beare up a great weight, being even laid without tilting upon the sides. The further extension of this experiment of flying may be thought upon."
To say the least, this is hardly mechanical. But let us next follow the philosopher into the domain of Physics. Referring to a strange assertion, that "salt water will dissolve salt put into it in less time than fresh water will dissolve it," he is at once ready with an explanation to fit the case. "The salt," he says, "in the precedent water doth by similitude of substance draw the salt new put in unto it." Again, in his finding, well water is warmer in winter than summer, and "the cause is the subterranean heat which shut close in (as in winter) is the more, but if it perspire (as it doth in summer) it is the less." This was Bacon the Lord. What a falling off—from the experimentalist's point of view—from Bacon the Friar! We can fancy him watching a falcon poised motionless in the sky, and reflecting on that problem which to this day fairly puzzles our ablest scientists, settling the matter in a sentence: "The cause is that feathers doe possess upward attractions." During four hundred years preceding Lord Verulam philosophers would have flown by aid of a broomstick. Bacon himself would have merely parried the problem with a platitude!
At any rate, physicists, even in the brilliant seventeenth century, made no material progress towards the navigation of the air, and thus presently let the simple mechanic step in before them. Ere that century had closed something in the nature of flight had been accomplished. It is exceedingly hard to arrive at actual fact, but it seems pretty clear that more than one individual, by starting from some eminence, could let himself fall into space and waft himself away for some distance with fair success and safety, It is stated that an English Monk, Elmerus, flew the space of a furlong from a tower in Spain, a feat of the same kind having been accomplished by another adventurer from the top of St. Mark's at Venice.
In these attempts it would seem that the principle of the parachute was to some extent at least brought into play. If also circumstantial accounts can be credited, it would appear that a working model of a flying machine was publicly exhibited by one John Muller before the Emperor Charles V. at Nuremberg. Whatever exaggeration or embellishment history may be guilty of it is pretty clear that some genuine attempts of a practical and not unsuccessful nature had been made here and there, and these prompted the flowery and visionary Bishop Wilkins already quoted to predict confidently that the day was approaching when it "would be as common for a man to call for his wings as for boots and spurs."
We have now to return to the "tame goose" method, which found its best and boldest exponent in a humble craftsman, by name Besnier, living at Sable, about the year 1678. This mechanical genius was by trade a locksmith, and must have been possessed of sufficient skill to construct an efficient apparatus out of such materials as came to his hand, of the simplest possible design. It may be compared to the earliest type of bicycle, the ancient "bone shaker," now almost forgotten save by those who, like the writer, had experience of it on its first appearance. Besnier's wings, as it would appear, were essentially a pair of double-bladed paddles and nothing more, roughly resembling the double-paddle of an old-fashioned canoe, only the blades were large, roughly rectangular, and curved or hollowed. The operator would commence by standing erect and balancing these paddles, one on each shoulder, so that the hollows of the blades should be towards the ground. The forward part of each paddle was then grasped by the hands, while the hinder part of each was connected to the corresponding leg. This, presumably, would be effected after the arms had been raised vertically, the leg attachment being contrived in some way which experience would dictate.
The flyer was now fully equipped, and nothing remained for him save to mount some eminence and, throwing himself forward into space and assuming the position of a flying bird, to commence flapping and beating the air with a reciprocal motion. First, he would buffet the air downwards with the left arm and right leg simultaneously, and while these recovered their position would strike with the right hand and left leg, and so on alternately. With this crude method the enterprising inventor succeeded in raising himself by short stages from one height to another, reaching thus the top of a house, whence he could pass over others, or cross a river or the like.
The perfecting of his system became then simply a question of practice and experience, and had young athletes only been trained from early years to the new art it seems reasonable to suppose that some crude approach to human flight would have been effected. Modifications and improvements in construction would soon have suggested themselves, as was the case with the bicycle, which in its latest developments can scarcely be recognised as springing from the primitive "bone-shaker" of thirty-three years ago. We would suggest the idea to the modern inventor. He will in these days, of course, find lighter materials to hand. Then he will adopt some link motion for the legs in place of leather thongs, and will hinge the paddle blades so that they open out with the forward stroke, but collapse with the return. Then look on another thirty-three years—a fresh generation—and our youth of both sexes may find a popular recreation in graceful aerial exercise. The pace is not likely to be excessive, and molestations from disguised policemen—not physically adapted, by the way, to rapid flight—need not be apprehended.
One of the best tests of Besnier's measure of success is supplied by the fact that he had pupils as well as imitators. First on this list must be mentioned a Mr. Baldwin, a name which, curiously enough, twice over in modern times comes into the records of bold aerial exploits. This individual, it appears, purchased a flying outfit of Besnier himself, and surpassed his master in achievement. A little later one Dante contrived some modification of the same apparatus, with which he pursued the new mode of progress till he met with a fractured thigh.
But whatever the imitators of Besnier may have accomplished, to the honest smith must be accorded the full credit of their success, and with his simple, but brilliant, record left at flood mark, the tide of progress ebbed back again, while mankind ruminated over the great problem in apparent inactivity. But not for long. The air-pump about this period was given to the world, and chemists were already busy investigating the nature of gases. Cavallo was experimenting on kindred lines, while in our own land the rival geniuses of Priestley and Cavendish were clearing the way to make with respect to the atmosphere the most important discovery yet dreamed of. In recording this dawn of a new era, however, we should certainly not forget how, across the Atlantic, had arisen a Rumford and a Franklin, whose labours were destined to throw an all-important sidelight on the pages of progress which we have now to chronicle.
CHAPTER II. THE INVENTION OF THE BALLOON.
It was a November night of the year 1782, in the little town of Annonay, near Lyons. Two young men, Stephen and Joseph Montgolfier, the representatives of a firm of paper makers, were sitting together over their parlour fire. While watching the smoke curling up the chimney one propounded an idea by way of a sudden inspiration: "Why shouldn't smoke be made to raise bodies into the air?"
The world was waiting for this utterance, which, it would seem, was on the tip of the tongue with many others. Cavendish had already discovered what he designated "inflammable air," though no one had as yet given it its later title of hydrogen gas. Moreover, in treating of this gas—Dr. Black of Edinburgh, as much as fifteen years before the date we have now arrived at, had suggested that it should be made capable of raising a thin bladder in the air. With a shade more of good fortune, or maybe with a modicum more of leisure, the learned Doctor would have won the invention of the balloon for his own country. Cavallo came almost nearer, and actually putting the same idea into practice, had succeeded in the spring of 1782 in making soap bubbles blown with hydrogen gas float upwards. But he had accomplished no more when, as related, in the autumn of the same year the brothers Montgolfier conceived the notion of making bodies "levitate" by the simpler expedient of filling them with smoke.
This was the crude idea, the application of which in their hands was soon marked with notable success. Their own trade supplied ready and suitable materials for a first experiment, and, making an oblong bag of thin paper a few feet in length, they proceeded to introduce a cloud of smoke into it by holding crumpled paper kindled in a chafing dish beneath the open mouth. What a subject is there here for an imaginative painter! As the smoky cloud formed within, the bag distended itself, became buoyant, and presently floated to the ceiling. The simple trial proved a complete success, due, as it appeared to them, to the ascensive power of a cloud of smoke.
An interesting and more detailed version of the story is extant. While the experiment was in progress a neighbour, the widow of a tradesman who had been connected in business with the firm, seeing smoke escaping into the room, entered and stood watching the proceedings, which were not unattended with difficulties. The bag, half inflated, was not easy to hold in position over the chafing dish, and rapidly cooled and collapsed on being removed from it. The widow noting this, as also the perplexity of the young men, suggested that they should try the result of tying the dish on at the bottom of the bag. This was the one thing wanted to secure success, and that good lady, whose very name is unhappily lost, deserves an honoured place in history. It was unquestionably the adoption of her idea which launched the first balloon into space.
The same experiment repeated in the open air proving a yet more pronounced success, more elaborate trials were quickly developed, and the infant balloon grew fast. One worthy of the name, spherical in shape and of some 600 cubic feet capacity, was now made and treated as before, with the result that ere it was fully inflated it broke the strings that held it and sailed away hundreds of feet into the air. The infant was fast becoming a prodigy. Encouraged by their fresh success, the inventors at once set about preparations for the construction of a much larger balloon some thirty-five feet diameter (that is, of about 23,000 cubic feet capacity), to be made of linen lined with paper and this machine, launched on a favourable day in the following spring, rose with great swiftness to fully a thousand feet, and travelled nearly a mile from its starting ground.
Enough; the time was already ripe for a public demonstration of the new invention, and accordingly the 5th of the following June witnessed the ascent of the same balloon with due ceremony and advertisement. Special pains were taken with the inflation, which was conducted over a pit above which the balloon envelope was slung; and in accordance with the view that smoke was the chief lifting power, the fuel was composed of straw largely mixed with wool. It is recorded that the management of the furnace needed the attention of two men only, while eight men could hardly hold the impatient balloon in restraint. The inflation, in spite of the fact that the fuel chosen was scarcely the best for the purpose, was conducted remarkable expedition, and on being released, the craft travelled one and a half miles into the air, attaining a height estimated at over 6,000 feet.
From this time the tide of events in the aeronautical world rolls on in full flood, almost every half-year marking a fresh epoch, until a new departure in the infant art of ballooning was already on the point of being reached. It had been erroneously supposed that the ascent of the Montgolfier balloon had been due, not to the rarefaction of the air within it—which was its true cause—but to the evolution of some light gas disengaged by the nature of the fuel used. It followed, therefore, almost as a matter of course, that chemists, who, as stated in the last chapter, were already acquainted with so-called "inflammable air," or hydrogen gas, grasped the fact that this gas would serve better than any other for the purposes of a balloon. And no sooner had the news of the Montgolfiers' success reached Paris than a subscription was raised, and M. Charles, Professor of Experimental Philosophy, was appointed, with the assistance of M. Roberts, to superintend the construction of a suitable balloon and its inflation by the proposed new method.
The task was one of considerable difficulty, owing partly to the necessity of procuring some material which would prevent the escape of the lightest and most subtle gas known, and no less by reason of the difficulty of preparing under pressure a sufficient quantity of gas itself. The experiment, sound enough in theory, was eventually carried through after several instructive failures. A suitable material was found in "lustring," a glossy silk cloth varnished with a solution of caoutchouc, and this being formed into a balloon only thirteen feet in diameter and fitted without other aperture than a stopcock, was after several attempts filled with hydrogen gas prepared in the usual way by the action of dilute sulphuric acid on scrap iron.
The preparations completed, one last and all-important mistake was made by closing the stop-cock before the balloon was dismissed, the disastrous and unavoidable result of this being at the time overlooked.
On August 25, 1783, the balloon was liberated on the Champ de Mars before an enormous concourse, and in less than two minutes had reached an elevation of half a mile, when it was temporarily lost in cloud, through which, however, it penetrated, climbing into yet higher cloud, when, disappearing from sight, it presently burst and descended to earth after remaining in the air some three-quarters of an hour.
The bursting of this little craft taught the future balloonist his first great lesson, namely, that on leaving earth he must open the neck of his balloon; and the reason of this is obvious. While yet on earth the imprisoned gas of a properly filled balloon distends the silk by virtue of its expansive force, and in spite of the enormous outside pressure which the weight of air exerts upon it. Then, as the balloon rises high in the air and the outside pressure grows less, the struggling gas within, if allowed no vent, stretches the balloon more and more until the slender fabric bursts under the strain.
At the risk of being tedious, we have dwelt at some length on the initial experiments which in less than a single year had led to the discovery and development of two distinct methods—still employed and in competition with each other—of dismissing balloons into the heavens. We are now prepared to enter fully into the romantic history of our subject which from this point rapidly unfolds itself.
Some eleven months only after the two Montgolfiers were discovered toying with their inflated paper bag, the younger of the two brothers was engaged to make an exhibition of his new art before the King at Versailles, and this was destined to be the first occasion when a balloon was to carry a living freight into the sky. The stately structure, which was gorgeously decorated, towered some seventy feet into the air, and was furnished with a wicker car in which the passengers were duly installed. These were three in number, a sheep, a cock, and a duck, and amid the acclamations of the multitude, rose a few hundred feet and descended half a mile away. The cock was found to have sustained an unexplained mishap: its leg was broken; but the sheep was feeding complacently, and the duck was quacking with much apparent satisfaction.
Now, who among mortals will come forward and win the honour of being the first to sail the skies? M. Pilitre de Rozier at once volunteered, and by the month of November a new air ship was built, 74 feet high, 48 feet in largest diameter, and 15 feet across the neck, outside which a wicker gallery was constructed, while an iron brazier was slung below all. But to trim the boat properly two passengers were needed, and de Rozier found a ready colleague in the Marquis d'Arlandes. By way of precaution, de Rozier made a few preliminary ascents with the balloon held captive, and then the two intrepid Frenchmen took their stand on opposite sides of the gallery, each furnished with bundles of fuel to feed the furnace, each also carrying a large wet sponge with which to extinguish the flames whenever the machine might catch fire. On casting off the balloon rose readily, and reaching 3,000 feet, drifted away on an upper current.
The rest of the narrative, much condensed from a letter of the Marquis, written a week later, runs somewhat thus: "Our departure was at fifty-four minutes past one, and occasioned little stir among the spectators. Thinking they might be frightened and stand in need of encouragement, I waved my arm. M. de Rozier cried, 'You are doing nothing, and we are not rising!' I stirred the fire, and then began to scan the river, but Pilitre cried again, 'See the river; we are dropping into it!' We again urged the fire, but still clung to the river bed. Presently I heard a noise in the upper part of the balloon, which gave a shock as though it had burst. I called to my companion, 'Are you dancing?' The balloon by now had many holes burned in it, and using my sponge I cried that we must descend. My companion, however, explained that we were over Paris, and must now cross it. Therefore, raising the fire once more, we turned south till we passed the Luxemburg, when, extinguishing the flame, the balloon came down spent and empty."
Daring as was this ascent, it was in achievement eclipsed two months later at Lyons, when a mammoth balloon, 130 feet in height and lifting 18 tons, was inflated in seventeen minutes, and ascended with no less than seven passengers. When more than half a mile aloft this machine, which was made of too slender material for its huge size, suddenly developed a rent of half its length, causing it to descend with immense velocity; but without the smallest injury to any of the passengers. This was a memorable performance, and the account, sensational as it may read, is by no means unworthy of credit; for, as will be seen hereafter, a balloon even when burst or badly torn in midair may, on the principle of the parachute, effect its own salvation.
In the meanwhile, the rival balloon of hydrogen gas—the Charliere, as it has been called—had had its first innings. Before the close of the year MM. Roberts and Charles constructed and inflated a hydrogen balloon, this time fitted with a practicable valve, and in partnership accomplished an ascent beating all previous records. The day, December 17, was one of winter temperature; yet the aeronauts quickly reached 6,000 feet, and when, after remaining aloft for one and a half hours, they descended, Roberts got out, leaving Charles in sole possession. Left to himself, this young recruit seems to have met with experiences which are certainly unusual, and which must be attributed largely to the novelty of his situation. He declared that at 9,000 feet, or less than two miles, all objects on the earth had disappeared from view, a statement which can only be taken to mean that he had entered cloud. Further, at this moderate elevation he not only became benumbed with cold, but felt severe pain in his right ear and jaw. He held on, however, ascending till 10,500 feet were reached, when he descended, having made a journey of thirty miles from the start.
Ascents, all on the Continent, now followed one another in rapid succession, and shortly the MM. Roberts essayed a venture on new lines. They attempted the guidance of a balloon by means of oars, and though they failed in this they were fortunate in making a fresh record. They also encountered a thunderstorm, and by adopting a perfectly scientific method—of which more hereafter—succeeded in eluding it. The storm broke around them when they were 14,000 feet high, and at this altitude, noting that there were diverse currents aloft, they managed to manoeuvre their balloon higher or lower at will and to suit their purpose, and by this stratagem drew away from the storm centre. After six and a half hours their voyage ended, but not until 150 miles had been covered.
It must be freely granted that prodigious progress had been made in an art that as yet was little more than a year old; but assuredly not enough to justify the absurdly inflated ideas that the Continental public now began to indulge in. Men lost their mental balance, allowing their imagination to run riot, and speculation became extravagant in the extreme. There was to be no limit henceforward to the attainment of fresh knowledge, nor any bounds placed to where man might roam. The universe was open to him: he might voyage if he willed to the moon or elsewhere: Paris was to be the starting point for other worlds: Heaven itself had been taken by storm.
Moderation had to be learned ere long by the discipline of more than one stern lesson. Hitherto a marvellous—call it a Providential—good fortune had attended the first aerial travellers; and even when mishaps presently came to be reckoned with, it may fairly be questioned whether so many lives were sacrificed among those who sought to voyage through the sky as were lost among such as first attempted to navigate the sea.
It is in such ventures as we are now regarding that fortune seems readiest to favour the daring, and if I may digress briefly to adduce experiences coming within my own knowledge, I would say that it is to his very impulsiveness that the enthusiast often owes the safety of his neck. It is the timid, not the bold rider, that comes to grief at the fence. It is the man who draws back who is knocked over by a tramcar. Sheer impetus, moral or physical, often carries you through, as in the case of a fall from horse-back. To tumble off when your horse is standing still and receive a dead blow from the ground might easily break a limb. But at full gallop immunity often lies in the fact that you strike the earth at an angle, and being carried forward, impact is less abrupt. I can only say that I have on more than one occasion found the greatest safety in a balloon venture involving the element of risk to lie in complete abandonment to circumstances, and in the increased life and activity which the delirium of excitement calls forth. In comparing, however, man's first ventures by sky with those by sea, we must remember what far greater demand the former must have made upon the spirit of enterprise and daring.
We can picture the earliest sea voyager taking his first lesson astride of a log with one foot on the bottom, and thus proceeding by sure stages till he had built his coracle and learned to paddle it in shoal water. But the case was wholly different when the first frail air ship stood at her moorings with straining gear and fiercely burning furnace, and when the sky sailor knew that no course was left him but to dive boldly up into an element whence there was no stepping back, and separated from earth by a gulf which man instinctively dreads to look down upon.
Taking events in their due sequence, we have now to record a voyage which the terrors of sky and sea together combined to make memorable. Winter had come—early January of 1785—when, in spite of short dark days and frosty air, M. Blanchard, accompanied by an American, Dr. Jeffries, determined on an attempt to cross the Channel. They chose the English side, and inflating their balloon with hydrogen at Dover, boldly cast off, and immediately drifted out to sea. Probably they had not paid due thought to the effect of low sun and chilly atmosphere, for their balloon rose sluggishly and began settling down ere little more than a quarter of their course was run. Thereupon they parted with a large portion of their ballast, with the result that they crept on as far as mid-Channel, when they began descending again, and cast out the residue of their sand, together with some books, and this, too, with the uncomfortable feeling that even these measures would not suffice to secure their safety.
This was in reality the first time that a sea passage had been made by sky, and the gravity of their situation must not be under-estimated. We are so accustomed in a sea passage to the constant passing of other vessels that we allow ourselves to imagine that a frequented portion of the ocean, such as the Channel, is thickly dotted over with shipping of some sort. But in entertaining this idea we are forgetful of the fact that we are all the while on a steamer track. The truth, however, is that anywhere outside such a track, even from the commanding point of view of a high-flying balloon, the ocean is seen to be more vast than we suppose, and bears exceedingly little but the restless waves upon its surface. Once fairly in the water with a fallen balloon, there is clearly no rising again, and the life of the balloon in this its wrong element is not likely to be a long one. The globe of gas may under favourable circumstances continue to float for some while, but the open wicker car is the worst possible boat for the luckless voyagers, while to leave it and cling to the rigging is but a forlorn hope, owing to the mass of netting which surrounds the silk, and which would prove a death-trap in the water. There are many instances of lives having been lost in such a dilemma, even when help was near at hand.
Our voyagers, whom we left in mid-air and stream, were soon descending again, and this time they threw out their tackle—anchor, ropes, and other gear, still without adequately mending matters. Then their case grew desperate. The French coast was, indeed, well in sight, but there seemed but slender chance of reaching it, when they began divesting themselves of clothing as a last resort. The upshot of this was remarkable, and deserves a moment's consideration. When a balloon has been lightened almost to the utmost the discharge of a small weight sometimes has a magical effect, as is not difficult to understand. Throwing out ten pounds at an early stage, when there may be five hundred pounds more of superfluous weight, will tell but little, but when those five hundred pounds are expended then an extra ten pounds scraped together from somewhere and cast overboard may cause a balloon to make a giant stride into space by way of final effort; and it was so with M. Blanchard. His expiring balloon shot up and over the approaching land, and came safely to earth near the Forest of Guiennes. A magnificent feast was held at Calais to celebrate the above event. M. Blanchard was presented with the freedom of the city in a gold box, and application was made to the Ministry to have the balloon purchased and deposited as a memorial in the church. On the testimony of the grandson of Dr. Jeffries the car of this balloon is now in the museum of the same city.
A very noteworthy example of how a balloon may be made to take a fresh lease of life is supplied by a voyage of M. Testu about this date, which must find brief mention in these pages. In one aspect it is laughable, in another it is sublime. From every point of view it is romantic.
It was four o'clock on a threatening day in June when the solitary aeronaut took flight from Paris in a small hydrogen balloon only partially filled, but rigged with some contrivance of wings which were designed to render it self-propelling. Discovering, however, that this device was inoperative, M. Testu, after about an hour and a half, allowed the balloon to descend to earth in a corn field, when, without quitting hold of the car, he commenced collecting stones for ballast. But as yet he knew not the ways of churlish proprietors of land, and in consequence was presently surprised by a troublesome crowd, who proceeded, as they supposed, to take him prisoner till he should pay heavy compensation, dragging him off to the nearest village by the trail rope of his balloon.
M. Testu now had leisure to consider his situation, and presently hit on a stratagem the like of which has often since been adopted by aeronauts in like predicament. Representing to his captors that without his wings he would be powerless, he suffered them to remove these weighty appendages, when also dropping a heavy cloak, he suddenly cut the cord by which he was being dragged, and, regaining freedom, soared away into the sky. He was quickly high aloft, and heard thunder below him, soon after which, the chill of evening beginning to bring him earthward, he descried a hunt in full cry, and succeeded in coming down near the huntsmen, some of whom galloped up to him, and for their benefit he ascended again, passing this time into dense cloud with thunder and lightning. He saw the sun go down and the lightning gather round, yet with admirable courage he lived the night out aloft till the storms were spent and the midsummer sun rose once more. With daylight restored, his journey ended at a spot over sixty miles from Paris.
We have, of course, recounted only a few of the more noteworthy early ballooning ventures. In reality there had up to the present time been scores of ascents made in different localities and in all conditions of wind and weather, yet not a life had been lost. We have now, however, to record a casualty which cost the first and boldest aeronaut his life, and which is all the more regrettable as being due to circumstances that should never have occurred.
M. Pilatre de Rosier, accompanied by M. Romain, determined on crossing the Channel from the French side; and, thinking to add to their buoyancy and avoid the risk of falling in the sea, hit on the extraordinary idea of using a fire balloon beneath another filled with hydrogen gas! With this deadly compound machine they actually ascended from Boulogne, and had not left the land when the inevitable catastrophe took place.
The balloons caught fire and blew up at a height of 3,000 feet, while the unfortunate voyagers were dashed to atoms.
CHAPTER III. THE FIRST BALLOON ASCENT IN ENGLAND.
As may be supposed, it was not long before the balloon was introduced into England. Indeed, the first successful ascent on record made in our own country took place in the summer of 1784, ten months previous to the fatal venture narrated at the close of the last chapter. Now, it is a remarkable and equally regrettable circumstance that though the first ascent on British soil was undoubtedly made by one of our own countrymen, the fact is almost universally forgotten, or ignored, and the credit is accorded to a foreigner.
Let us in strict honesty examine into the case. Vincent Lunardi, an Italian, Secretary to the Neapolitan Ambassador, Prince Caramanico, being in England in the year 1784, determined on organising and personally executing an ascent from London; and his splendid enterprise, which was presently carried to a successful issue, will form the principal subject of the present chapter. It will be seen that remarkable success crowned his efforts, and that his first and ever memorable voyage was carried through on September 15th of that year.
More than a month previously, however, attention had been called to the fact that a Mr. Tytler was preparing to make an ascent from Edinburgh in a hot air balloon, and in the London Chronicle of August 27th occurs the following circumstantial and remarkable letter from a correspondent to that journal:
"Edinburgh, Aug. 27, 1784.
"Mr. Tytler has made several improvements upon his fire balloon. The reason of its failure formerly was its being made of porous linen, through which the air made its escape. To remedy this defect, Mr. Tytler has got it covered with a varnish to retain the inflammable air after the balloon is filled.
"Early this morning this bold adventurer took his first aerial flight. The balloon being filled at Comely Garden, he seated himself in the basket, and the ropes being cut he ascended very high and descended quite gradually on the road to Restalrig, about half a mile from the place where he rose, to the great satisfaction of those spectators who were present. Mr. Tytler went up without the furnace this morning; when that is added he will be able to feed the balloon with inflammable air, and continue his aerial excursions as long as he chooses.
"Mr. Tytler is now in high spirits, and in his turn laughs at those infidels who ridiculed his scheme as visionary and impracticable. Mr. Tytler is the first person in Great Britain who has navigated the air."
Referring to this exploit, Tytler, in a laudatory epistle addressed to Lunardi, tells of the difficulties he had had to contend with, and artlessly reveals the cool, confident courage he must have displayed. No shelter being available for the inflation, and a strong wind blowing, his first misfortune was the setting fire to his wicker gallery. The next was the capsizing and damaging of his balloon, which he had lined with paper. He now substituted a coat of varnish for the paper, and his gallery being destroyed, so that he could no longer attempt to take up a stove, he resolved to ascend without one. In the end the balloon was successfully inflated, when he had the hardihood to entrust himself to a small basket (used for carrying earthenware) slung below, and thus to launch himself into the sky. He did so under the conviction that the risk he ran was greater than it really was, for he argued that his craft was now only like a projectile, and "must undoubtedly come to the ground with the same velocity with which it ascended." On this occasion the crowd tried for some time to hold him near the ground by one of the restraining ropes, so that his flight was curtailed. In a second experiment, however, he succeeded in rising some hundreds of feet, and came to earth without mishap.
But little further information respecting Mr. Tytler is apparently forthcoming, and therefore beyond recording the fact that he was the first British aeronaut, and also that he was the first to achieve a balloon ascent in Great Britain, we are unable to make further mention of him in this history.
Of his illustrious contemporary already mentioned there is, on the contrary, much to record, and we would desire to give full credit to his admirable courage and perseverance. It was with a certain national and pardonable pride that the young Italian planned his bold exploit, feeling with a sense of self-satisfaction, which he is at no pains to hide, that he aimed at winning honour for his country as well as for himself. In a letter which he wrote to his guardian, Chevalier Gherardo Compagni, he alludes to the stolid indifference of the English people and philosophers to the brilliant achievements in aeronautics which had been made and so much belauded on the Continent. He proclaims the rivalry as regards science and art existing between France and England, attributing to the latter an attitude of sullen jealousy. At the same time he is fully alive to the necessity of gaining English patronage, and sets about securing this with tactful diplomacy. First he casts about for a suitable spot where his enterprise would not fail to enlist general attention and perhaps powerful patrons, and here he is struck by the attractions and facilities offered by Chelsea Hospital. He therefore applies to Sir George Howard, the Governor, asking for the use of the famous hospital, to which, on the occasion of his experiments, he desires that admittance should only be granted to subscribers, while any profits should be devoted to the pensioners of the hospital. His application having been granted, he assures his guardian that he "still maintains his mental balance, and his sleep is not banished by the magnitude of his enterprise, which is destined to lead him through the path of danger to glory."
This letter was dated the 15th of July, and by the beginning of August his advertisement was already before the public, inviting subscribers and announcing a private view of his balloon at the Lyceum, where it was in course of construction, and was being fitted with contrivances of his own in the shape of oars and sails. He had by this time not only enlisted the interest of Sir George Howard, and of Sir Joseph Banks, but had secured the direct patronage of the King.
But within a fortnight a most unforeseen mishap had occurred, which threatened to overwhelm Lunardi in disappointment and ruin. A Frenchman of the name of Moret, designing to turn to his own advertisement the attention attracted by Lunardi's approaching trials, attempted to forestall the event by an enterprise of his own, announcing that he would make an ascent with a hot air balloon in some gardens near Chelsea Hospital, and at a date previous to that fixed upon by Lunardi. In attempting, however, to carry out this unworthy project the adventurer met with the discomfiture he deserved. He failed to effect his inflation, and when after fruitless attempts continued for three hours, his balloon refused to rise, a large crowd, estimated at 60,000, assembled outside, broke into the enclosure, committing havoc on all sides, not unattended with acts of violence and robbery.
The whole neighbourhood became alarmed, and it followed as a matter of course that Lunardi was peremptorily ordered to discontinue his preparations, and to announce in the public press that his ascent from Chelsea Hospital was forbidden. Failure and ruin now stared the young enthusiast in the face, and it was simply the generous feeling of the British public, and the desire to see fair play, that gave him another chance. As it was, he became the hero of the hour; thousands flocked to the show rooms at the Lyceum, and he shortly obtained fresh grounds, together with needful protection for his project, at the hands of the Hon. Artillery Company. By the 15th of September all incidental difficulties, the mere enumeration of which would unduly swell these pages, had been overcome by sheer persistence, and Lunardi stood in the enclosure allotted him, his preparations in due order, with 150,000 souls, who had formed for hours a dense mass of spectators, watching intently and now confidently the issue of his bold endeavour.
But his anxieties were as yet far from over, for a London crowd had never yet witnessed a balloon ascent, while but a month ago they had seen and wreaked their wrath upon the failure of an adventurer. They were not likely to be more tolerant now. And when the advertised hour for departure had arrived, and the balloon remained inadequately inflated, matters began to take a more serious turn. Half an hour later they approached a crisis, when it began to be known that the balloon still lacked buoyancy, and that the supply of gas was manifestly insufficient. The impatience of the mob indeed was kept in restraint by one man alone. This man was the Prince of Wales who, refusing to join the company within the building and careless of the attitude of the crowd, remained near the balloon to check disorder and unfair treatment.
But an hour after time the balloon still rested inert and then, with fine resolution, Lunardi tried one last expedient. He bade his colleague, Mr. Biggen, who was to have ascended with him, remain behind, and quietly substituting a smaller and lighter wicker car, or rather gallery, took his place within and severed the cords just as the last gun fired. The Prince of Wales raised his hat, imitated at once by all the bystanders, and the first balloon that ever quitted English soil rose into the air amid the extravagant enthusiasm of the multitude. The intrepid aeronaut, pardonably excited, and fearful lest he should not be seen within the gallery, made frantic efforts to attract attention by waving his flag, and worked his oars so vigorously that one of them broke and fell. A pigeon also gained its freedom and escaped. The voyager, however, still retained companions in his venture—a dog and a cat.
Following his own account, Lunardi's first act on finding himself fairly above the town was to fortify himself with some glasses of wine, and to devour the leg of a chicken. He describes the city as a vast beehive, St. Paul's and other churches standing out prominently; the streets shrunk to lines, and all humanity apparently transfixed and watching him. A little later he is equally struck with the view of the open country, and his ecstasy is pardonable in a novice. The verdant pastures eclipsed the visions of his own lands. The precision of boundaries impressed him with a sense of law and order, and of good administration in the country where he was a sojourner.
By this time he found his balloon, which had been only two-thirds full at starting, to be so distended that he was obliged to untie the mouth to release the strain. He also found that the condensed moisture round the neck had frozen. These two statements point to his having reached a considerable altitude, which is intelligible enough. It is, however, difficult to believe his further assertion that by the use of his single oar he succeeded in working himself down to within a few hundred feet of the earth. The descent of the balloon must, in point of fact, have been due to a copious outrush of gas at his former altitude. Had his oar really been effective in working the balloon down it would not have needed the discharge of ballast presently spoken of to cause it to reascend. Anyhow, he found himself sufficiently near the earth to land a passenger who was anxious to get out. His cat had not been comfortable in the cold upper regions, and now at its urgent appeal was deposited in a corn field, which was the point of first contact with the earth. It was carefully received by a country-woman, who promptly sold it to a gentleman on the other side of the hedge, who had been pursuing the balloon.
The first ascent of a balloon in England was deserving of some record, and an account alike circumstantial and picturesque is forthcoming. The novel and astonishing sight was witnessed by a Hertfordshire farmer, whose testimony, published by Lunardi in the same year, runs as follows:—
This deponent on his oath sayeth that, being on Wednesday, the 15th day of September instant, between the hours of three and four in the afternoon, in a certain field called Etna, in the parish of North Mimms aforesaid, he perceived a large machine sailing in the air, near the place where he was on horseback; that the machine continuing to approach the earth, the part of it in which this deponent perceived a gentleman standing came to the ground and dragged a short way on the ground in a slanting direction; that the time when this machine thus touched the earth was, as near as this deponent could judge, about a quarter before four in the afternoon. That this deponent being on horseback, and his horse restive, he could not approach nearer to the machine than about four poles, but that he could plainly perceive therein gentleman dressed in light coloured cloaths, holding in his hand a trumpet, which had the appearance of silver or bright tin. That by this time several harvest men coming up from the other part of the field, to the number of twelve men and thirteen women, this deponent called to them to endeavour to stop the machine, which the men attempted, but the gentleman in the machine desiring them to desist, and the machine moving with considerable rapidity, and clearing the earth, went off in a north direction and continued in sight at a very great height for near an hour afterwards. And this deponent further saith that the part of the machine in the which the gentleman stood did not actually touch the ground for more than half a minute, during which time the gentleman threw out a parcel of what appeared to this deponent as dry sand. That after the machine had ascended again from the earth this deponent perceived a grapple with four hooks, which hung from the bottom of the machine, dragging along the ground, which carried up with it into the air a small parcel of loose oats, which the women were raking in the field. And this deponent further on his oath sayeth that when the machine had risen clear from the ground about twenty yards the gentleman spoke to this deponent and to the rest of the people with his trumpet, wishing them goodbye and saying that he should soon go out of sight. And this deponent further on his oath sayeth that the machine in which the gentleman came down to earth appeared to consist of two distinct parts connected together by ropes, namely that in which the gentleman appeared to be, a stage boarded at the bottom, and covered with netting and ropes on the sides about four feet and a half high, and the other part of the machine appeared in the shape of an urn, about thirty feet high and of about the same diameter, made of canvas like oil skin, with green, red, and yellow stripes.
Sworn before me this twentieth day of September, 1784, WILLIAM BAKER.
It was a curious fact, pointed out to the brave Italian by a resident, that the field in which the temporary descent had been made was called indifferently Etna or Italy, "from the circumstance which attended the late enclosure of a large quantity of roots, rubbish, etc., having been collected there, and having continued burning for many days. The common people having heard of a burning mountain in Italy gave the field that name."
But the voyage did not end at Etna. The, as yet, inexperienced aeronaut now cast out all available ballast in the shape of sand, as also his provisions, and rising with great speed, soon reached a greater altitude than before, which he sought to still farther increase by throwing down his plates, knives, and forks. In this somewhat reckless expenditure he thought himself justified by the reliance he placed on his oar, and it is not surprising that in the end he owns that he owed his safety in his final descent to his good fortune. The narrative condensed concludes thus:—
"At twenty minutes past four I descended in a meadow near Ware. Some labourers were at work in it. I requested their assistance, but they exclaimed they would have nothing to do with one who came on the Devil's Horse, and no entreaties could prevail on them to approach me. I at last owed my deliverance to a young woman in the field who took hold of a cord I had thrown out, and, calling to the men, they yielded that assistance at her request which they had refused to mine."
As may be supposed, Lunardi's return to London resembled a royal progress. Indeed, he was welcomed as a conqueror to whom the whole town sought to do honour, and perhaps his greatest gratification came by way of the accounts he gathered of incidents which occurred during his eventful voyage. At a dinner at which he was being entertained by the Lord Mayor and judges he learned that a lady seeing his falling oar, and fancying that he himself was dashed to pieces, received a shock thereby which caused her death. Commenting on this, one of the judges bade him be reassured, inasmuch as he had, as if by compensation, saved the life of a young man who might live to be reformed. The young man was a criminal whose condemnation was regarded as certain at the hands of the jury before whom he was being arraigned, when tidings reached the court that Lunardi's balloon was in the air. On this so much confusion arose that the jury were unable to give due deliberation to the case, and, fearing to miss the great sight, actually agreed to acquit the prisoner, that they themselves might be free to leave the court!
But he was flattered by a compliment of a yet higher order. He was told that while he hovered over London the King was in conference with his principal Ministers, and his Majesty, learning that he was in the sky, is reported to have said to his councillors, "We may resume our own deliberations at pleasure, but we may never see poor Lunardi again!" On this, it is further stated that the conference broke up, and the King, attended by Mr. Pitt and other chief officers of State, continued to view Lunardi through telescopes as long as he remained in the horizon.
The public Press, notably the Morning Post of September 16, paid a worthy tribute to the hero of the hour, and one last act of an exceptional character was carried out in his honour, and remains in evidence to this hour. In a meadow in the parish of Standon, near Ware, there stands a rough hewn stone, now protected by an iron rail. It marks the spot where Lunardi landed, and on it is cut a legend which runs thus:
Let Posterity know And knowing be astonished that On the 15th day of September 1784 Vincent Lunardi of Lusca in Tuscany The first aerial traveller in Britain Mounting from the Artillery Ground In London And Traversing the Regions of the Air For Two Hours and Fifteen Minutes In this Spot Revisited the Earth. On this rude monument For ages be recorded That Wondrous Enterprise Successfully atchieved By the Powers of Chemistry And the Fortitude of Man That Improvement in Science Which The Great Author of all Knowledge Patronyzing by His Providence The Invention of Mankind Hath graciously permitted To Their Benefit And His own Eternal Glory.
CHAPTER IV. THE DEVELOPMENT OF BALLOON PHILOSOPHY.
In less than two years not only had the science of ballooning reached almost its highest development, but the balloon itself, as an aerostatic machine, had been brought to a state of perfection which has been but little improved upon up to the present hour. Better or cheaper methods of inflation were yet to be discovered, lighter and more suitable material remained to be manufactured; but the navigation of the air, which hitherto through all time had been beyond man's grasp, had been attained, as it were, at a bound, and at the hands of many different and independent experimentalists was being pursued with almost the same degree of success and safety as to-day.
Nor was this all. There was yet another triumph of the aeronautical art which, within the same brief period, had been to all intents and purposes achieved, even if it had not been brought to the same state of perfection as at the present hour. This was the Parachute. This fact is one which for a sufficient reason is not generally known. It is very commonly supposed that the parachute, in anything like its present form, is a very modern device, and that the art of successfully using it had not been introduced to the world even so lately as thirty years ago. Thus, we find it stated in works of that date dealing with the subject that disastrous consequences almost necessarily attended the use of the parachute, "the defects of which had been attempted to be remedied in various ways, but up to this time without success." A more correct statement, however, would have been that the art of constructing and using a practicable parachute had through many years been lost or forgotten. In actual fact, it had been adopted with every assurance of complete success by the year 1785, when Blanchard by its means lowered dogs and other animals with safety from a balloon. A few years later he descended himself in a like apparatus from Basle, meeting, however, with the misadventure of a broken leg.
But we must go much further back for the actual conception of the parachute, which, we might suppose, may originally have been suggested by the easy floating motion with which certain seeds or leaves will descend from lofty trees, or by the mode adopted by birds of dropping softly to earth with out-stretched wings. M. de la Loubere, in his historical account of Siam, which he visited in 1687-88, speaks of an ingenious athlete who exceedingly diverted the King and his court by leaping from a height and supporting himself in the air by two umbrellas, the handles of which were affixed to his girdle. In 1783, that is, the same year as that in which the balloon was invented, M. le Normand experimented with a like umbrella-shaped contrivance, with a view to its adoption as a fire escape, and he demonstrated the soundness of the principle by descending himself from the windows of a lofty house at Lyons.
It was, however, reserved for M. Jacques Garnerin in 1797 to make the first parachute descent that attracted general attention. Garnerin had previously been detained as a State prisoner in the fortress of Bade, in Hungary, after the battle of Marchiennes in 1793, and during his confinement had pondered on the possibility of effecting his escape by a parachute. His solitary cogitations and calculations resulted, after his release, in the invention and construction of an apparatus which he put to a practical test at Paris before the court of France on October 22nd, 1797. Ascending in a hydrogen balloon to the height of about 2,000 feet, he unhesitatingly cut himself adrift, when for some distance he dropped like a stone. The folds of his apparatus, however, opening suddenly, his fall became instantly checked. The remainder of his descent, though leisurely, occupying, in fact, some twelve minutes, appeared to the spectators to be attended with uncertainty, owing to a swinging motion set up in the car to which he was clinging. But the fact remains that he reached the earth with only slight impact, and entirely without injury.
It appears that Garnerin subsequently made many equally successful parachute descents in France, and during the short peace of 1802 visited London, where he gave an exhibition of his art. From the most reliable accounts of his exploit it would seem that his drop was from a very great height, and that a strong ground wind was blowing at the time, the result of which was that wild, wide oscillations were set up in the car, which narrowly escaped bringing him in contact with the house tops in St. Pancreas, and eventually swung him down into a field, not without some unpleasant scratches.
Nor was Garnerin the only successful parachutist at this period. A Polish aeronaut, Jordaki Kuparento, ascended from Warsaw on the 24th of July, 1804 in a hot air balloon, taking up, as was the custom, an attached furnace, which caused the balloon to take fire when at a great height. Kuparento, however, who was alone, had as a precaution provided himself with a parachute, and with this he seems to have found no difficulty in effecting a safe descent to earth.
It was many years after this that fresh experimentalists, introducing parachutes on new lines and faulty in construction, met with death or disaster. Enough, however, has already been said to show that in the early years we are now traversing in this history a perfectly practicable parachute had become an accomplished fact. The early form is well described by Mr. Monck Mason in a letter to the Morning Herald in 1837, written on the eve of an unrehearsed and fatal experiment made by Mr. Cocking, which must receive notice in due course. "The principle," writes Mr. Monck Mason, "upon which all these parachutes were constructed is the same, and consists simply of a flattened dome of silk or linen from 24 feet to 28 feet in diameter. From the outer margin all around at stated intervals proceed a large number of cords, in length about the diameter of the dome itself, which, being collected together in one point and made fast to another of superior dimensions attached to the apex of the machine, serve to maintain it in its form when expanded in the progress of the descent. To this centre cord likewise, at a distance below the point of junction, varying according to the fancy of the aeronaut, is fixed the car or basket in which he is seated, and the whole suspended from the network of the balloon in such a manner as to be capable of being detached in an instant at the will of the individual by cutting the rope by which it is made fast above."
It followed almost as a matter of course that so soon as the balloon had been made subject to something like due control, and thus had become recognised as a new machine fairly reduced to the service of man, it began to be regarded as an instrument which should be made capable of being devoted to scientific research. Indeed, it may be claimed that, among the very earliest aeronauts, those who had sailed away into the skies and brought back intelligent observations or impressions of the realm of cloud-land, or who had only described their own sensations at lofty altitudes, had already contributed facts of value to science. It is time then, taking events in their due sequence, that mention should be made of the endeavours of various savants, who began about the commencement of the nineteenth century to gather fresh knowledge from the exploration of the air by balloon ascents organised with fitting equipment. The time had now come for promoting the balloon to higher purposes than those of mere exhibition or amusement. In point of fact, it had already in one way been turned to serious practical account. It had been used by the French during military operations in the revolutionary war as a mode of reconnoitring, and not without success, so that when after due trial the war balloon was judged of value a number of similar balloons were constructed for the use of the various divisions of the French army, and, as will be told in its proper place, one, at least, of these was put to a positive test before the battle of Fleurus.
But, returning to more strictly scientific ascents, which began to be mooted at this period, we are at once impressed with the widespread influence which the balloon was exercising on thinking minds. We note this from the fact that what must be claimed to be the first genuine ascent for scientific observation was made in altogether fresh ground, and at so distant a spot as St. Petersburg.
It was now the year 1804, and the Russian Academy had determined on attempting an examination of the physical condition of the higher atmosphere by means of the balloon. The idea had probably been suggested by scientific observations which had already been made on mountain heights by such explorers as De Luc, Saussure, Humboldt, and others. And now it was determined that their results should be tested alongside such observations as could be gathered in the free heaven far removed from any disturbing effects that might be caused by contiguity to earth. The lines of enquiry to which special attention was required were such as would be naturally suggested by the scientific knowledge of the hour, though they may read somewhat quaintly to-day. Would there be any change in the intensity of the magnetic force? Any change in the inclination of the magnetised needle? Would evaporation find a new law? Would solar rays increase in power? What amount of electric matter would be found? What change in the colours produced by the prism? What would be the constitution of the higher and more attenuated air? What physical effect would it have on human and bird life?
The ascent was made at 7.15 on a summer evening by M. Robertson and the Academician, M. Sacharof, to whom we are indebted for the following resume of notes, which have a special value as being the first of their class. Rising slowly, a difference of atmosphere over the Neva gave the balloon a downward motion, necessitating the discharge of ballast. As late as 8.45 p.m. a fine view was obtained of the Newski Islands, and the whole course of the neighbouring river. At 9.20 p.m., when the barometer had fallen from 30 inches to 23 inches, a canary and a dove were dismissed, the former falling precipitately, while the latter sailed down to a village below. All available ballast was now thrown out, including a spare great coat and the remains of supper, with the result that at 9.30 the barometer had fallen to 22 inches, and at this height they caught sight of the upper rim of the sun. The action of heart and lungs remained normal. No stars were seen, though the sky was mainly clear, such clouds as were visible appearing white and at a great height. The echo of a speaking trumpet was heard after an interval of ten seconds. This was substantially the outcome of the experiments. The practical difficulties of carrying out prearranged observations amid the inconvenience of balloon travel were much felt. Their instruments were seriously damaged, and their results, despite most painstaking and praiseworthy efforts, must be regarded as somewhat disappointing.
But ere the autumn of the same year two other scientific ascents, admirably schemed and financed at the public expense, had been successfully carried out at Paris in a war balloon which, as will be told, had at this time been returned from military operations in Egypt. In the first of these, Gay Lussac ascended in company with M. Biot, with very complete equipment. Choosing ten o'clock in the morning for their hour of departure, they quickly entered a region of thin, but wet fog, after which they shot up into denser cloud, which they completely surmounted at a height of 6,500 feet, when they described the upper surface as bearing the resemblance, familiar enough to aeronauts and mountaineers, as of a white sea broken up into gently swelling billows, or of an extended plain covered with snow.
A series of simple experiments now embarked upon showed the behaviour of magnetised iron, as also of a galvanic pile or battery, to remain unaltered. As their altitude increased their pulses quickened, though beyond feeling keenly the contrast of a colder air and of scorching rays of the sun they experienced no physical discomfort. At 11,000 feet a linnet which they liberated fell to the earth almost helplessly, while a pigeon with difficulty maintained an irregular and precipitate flight. A carefully compiled record was made of variations of temperature and humidity, and they succeeded in determining that the upper air was charged with negative electricity. In all this these two accomplished physicists may be said to have carried out a brilliant achievement, even though their actual results may seem somewhat meagre. They not only were their own aeronauts, but succeeded in arranging and carrying out continuous and systematic observations throughout the period of their remaining in the sky.
This voyage was regarded as such a pronounced success that three weeks later, in mid-September, Gay Lussac was induced to ascend again, this time alone, and under circumstances that should enable him to reach an exceptionally high altitude. Experience had taught the advisability of certain modifications in his equipment. A magnet was ingeniously slung with a view of testing its oscillation even in spite of accidental gyrations in the balloon. Thermometers and hygrometers were carefully sheltered from the direct action of the sun, and exhausted flasks were supplied with the object of bringing down samples of upper air for subsequent analysis.
Again it was an early morning ascent, with a barometer on the ground standing at 30.6 inches, and a slightly misty air. Lussac appears to have accomplished the exceedingly difficult task of counting the oscillations of his magnet with satisfaction to himself. At 10,000 feet twenty vibrations occupied 83 seconds, as compared with 84.33 seconds at the earth's surface. The variation of the compass remained unaltered, as also the behaviour of magnetised iron at all altitudes. Keeping his balloon under perfect control, and maintaining a uniform and steady ascent, he at the same time succeeded in compiling an accurate table of readings recording atmospheric pressure, temperature and humidity, and it is interesting to find that he was confronted with an apparent anomaly which will commonly present itself to the aeronaut observer. Up to 12,000 feet the temperature had decreased consistently from 82 degrees to 47 degrees, after which it increased 6 degrees in the next 2,000 feet. This by no means uncommon experience shall be presently discussed. The balloon was now steadily manoeuvred up to 18,636 feet, at which height freezing point was practically reached. Then with a further climb 20,000 feet is recorded, at which altitude the ardent philosopher could still attend to his magnetic observations, nor is his arduous and unassisted task abandoned here, but with marvellous pertinacity he yet struggled upwards till a height of no less than 23,000 feet is recorded, and the thermometer had sunk to 14 degrees F. Four miles and a quarter above the level of the sea, reached by a solitary aerial explorer, whose legitimate training lay apart from aeronautics, and whose main care was the observation of the philosophical instruments he carried! The achievement of this French savant makes a brilliant record in the early pages of our history.
It is not surprising that Lussac should own to having felt no inconsiderable personal discomfort before his venture was over. In spite of warm clothing he suffered greatly from cold and benumbed fingers, not less also from laboured breathing and a quickened pulse; headache supervened, and his throat became parched and unable to swallow food. In spite of all, he conducted the descent with the utmost skill, climbing down quietly and gradually till he alighted with gentle ease at St. Gourgen, near Rouen. It may be mentioned here that the analysis of the samples of air which he had brought down proved them to contain the normal proportion of oxygen, and to be essentially identical, as tested in the laboratory, with the free air secured at the surface of the earth.
The sudden and apparently unaccountable variation in temperature recorded by Lussac is a striking revelation to an aerial observer, and becomes yet more marked when more sensitive instruments are used than those which were taken up on the occasion just related. It will be recorded in a future chapter how more suitable instruments came in course of time to be devised. It is only necessary to point out at this stage that instruments which lack due sensibility will unavoidably read too high in ascents, and too low in descents where, according to the general law, the air is found to grow constantly colder with elevation above the earth's surface. It is strong evidence of considerable efficiency in the instruments, and of careful attention on the part of the observer, that Lussac was able to record the temporary inversion of the law of change of temperature above-mentioned. Had he possessed modern instrumental equipment he would have brought down a yet more remarkable account of the upper regions which he visited, and learned that the variations of heat and cold were considerably more striking than he supposed.
With a specially devised instrument used with special precautions, the writer, as will be shown hereafter, has been able to prove that the temperature of the air, as traversed in the wayward course of a balloon, is probably far more variable and complex than has been recorded by most observers.
The exceptional height claimed to have been reached by Gay Lassac need not for a moment be questioned, and the fact that he did not experience the same personal inconvenience as has been complained of by mountain climbers at far less altitudes admits of ready explanation. The physical exertion demanded of the mountaineer is entirely absent in the case of an aeronaut who is sailing at perfect ease in a free balloon. Moreover, it must be remembered that—a most important consideration—the aerial voyager, necessarily travelling with the wind, is unconscious, save at exceptional moments, of any breeze whatever, and it is a well-established fact that a degree of cold which might be insupportable when a breeze is stirring may be but little felt in dead calm. It should also be remembered, in duly regarding Gay Lussac's remarkable record, that this was not his first experience of high altitudes, and it is an acknowledged truth that an aeronaut, especially if he be an enthusiast, quickly becomes acclimatised to his new element, and sufficiently inured to its occasional rigours.
CHAPTER V. SOME FAMOUS EARLY VOYAGERS.
During certain years which now follow it will possibly be thought that our history, so far as incidents of special interest are concerned, somewhat languishes. Yet it may be wrong to regard this period as one of stagnation or retrogression.
Before passing on to later annals, however, we must duly chronicle certain exceptional achievements and endeavours as yet unmentioned, which stand out prominently in the period we have been regarding as also in the advancing years of the new century Among these must in justice be included those which come into the remarkable, if somewhat pathetic subsequent career of the brilliant, intrepid Lunardi.
Compelling everywhere unbounded admiration he readily secured the means necessary for carrying out further exploits wherever he desired while at the same time he met with a measure of good fortune in freedom from misadventure such as has generally been denied to less bold adventurers. Within a few months of the time when we left him, the popular hero and happy recipient of civic and royal favours, we find him in Scotland attempting feats which a knowledge of practical difficulties bids us regard as extraordinary.
To begin with, nothing appears more remarkable than the ease, expedition, and certainty with which in days when necessary facilities must have been far harder to come by than now, he could always fill his balloon by the usually tedious and troublesome mode attending hydrogen inflation. We see him at his first Scottish ascent, completing the operation in little more than two hours. It is the same later at Glasgow, where, commencing with only a portion of his apparatus, he finds the inflation actually to proceed too rapidly for his purpose, and has to hold the powers at his command strongly in check. Later, in December weather, having still further improved his apparatus, he makes his balloon support itself after the inflation of only ten minutes. Then, as if assured of impunity, he treats recognised risks with a species of contempt. At Kelso he hails almost with joy the fact that the wind must carry him rapidly towards the sea, which in the end he narrowly escapes. At Glasgow the chances of safe landing are still more against him, yet he has no hesitation in starting, and at last the catastrophe he seemed to court actually overtook him, and he plumped into the sea near Berwick, where no sail was even in sight, and a winter's night coming on. From this predicament he was rescued by a special providence which once before had not deserted him, when in a tumult of violent and contrary currents, and at a great height to boot, his gallery was almost completely carried away, and he had to cling on to the hoop desperately with both hands.
Then we lose sight of the dauntless, light-hearted Italian for one-and-twenty years, when in the Gentleman's Magazine of July 31, 1806, appears the brief line, "Died in the convent of Barbadinas, of a decline, Mr. Vincent Lunardi, the celebrated aeronaut."
Garnerin, of whom mention has already been made, accomplished in the summer of 1802 two aerial voyages marked by extreme velocity in the rate of travel. The first of these is also remarkable as having been the first to fairly cross the heart of London. Captain Snowdon, R.N., accompanied the aeronaut. The ascent took place from Chelsea Gardens, and proved so great an attraction that the crowd overflowed into the neighbouring parts of the town, choking up the thoroughfares with vehicles, and covering the river with boats. On being liberated, the balloon sped rapidly away, taking a course midway between the river and the main highway of the Strand, Fleet Street, and Cheapside, and so passed from view of the multitude. Such a departure could hardly fail to lead to subsequent adventures, and this is pithily told in a letter written by Garnerin himself: "I take the earliest opportunity of informing you that after a very pleasant journey, but after the most dangerous descent I ever made, on account of the boisterous weather and the vicinity of the sea, we alighted at the distance of four miles from this place and sixty from Ranelagh. We were only three-quarters of an hour on the way. To-night I intend to be in London with the balloon, which is torn to pieces. We ourselves are all over bruises."
Only a week after the same aeronaut ascended again from Marylebone, when he attained almost the same velocity, reaching Chingford, a distance of seventeen miles, in fifteen minutes.
The chief danger attending a balloon journey in a high wind, supposing no injury has been sustained in filling and launching, results not so much from impact with the ground on alighting as from the subsequent almost inevitable dragging along the ground. The grapnels, spurning the open, will often obtain no grip save in a hedge or tree, and even then large boughs will be broken through or dragged away, releasing the balloon on a fresh career which may, for a while, increase in mad impetuosity as the emptying silk offers a deeper hollow for the wind to catch.
The element of risk is of another nature in the case of a night ascent, when the actual alighting ground cannot be duly chosen or foreseen. Among many record night ascents may here, somewhat by anticipation of events, be mentioned two embarked upon by the hero of our last adventure. M. Garnerin was engaged to make a spectacular ascent from Tivoli at Paris, leaving the grounds at night with attached lamps illuminating his balloon. His first essay was on a night of early August, when he ascended at 11 p.m., reaching a height of nearly three miles. Remaining aloft through the hours of darkness, he witnessed the sun rise at half-past two in the morning, and eventually came to earth after a journey of some seven hours, during which time he had covered considerably more than a hundred miles. A like bold adventure carried out from the same grounds the following month was attended with graver peril. A heavy thunderstorm appearing imminent, Garnerin elected to ascend with great rapidity, with the result that his balloon, under the diminished pressure, quickly became distended to an alarming degree, and he was reduced to the necessity of piercing a hole in the silk, while for safety's sake he endeavoured to extinguish all lamps within reach. He now lost all control over his balloon, which became unmanageable in the conflict of the storm. Having exhausted his ballast, he presently was rudely brought to earth and then borne against a mountain side, finally losing consciousness until the balloon had found anchorage three hundred miles away from Paris.
A night ascent, which reads as yet more sensational and extraordinary, is reported to have been made a year or two previously, and when it is considered that the balloon used was of the Montgolfier type the account as it is handed down will be allowed to be without parallel. It runs thus: Count Zambeccari, Dr. Grassati of Rome, and M. Pascal Andreoli of Antona ascended on a November night from Bologna, allowing their balloon to rise with excessive velocity. In consequence of this rapid transition to an extreme altitude the Count and the Doctor became insensible, leaving Andreoli alone in possession of his faculties. At two o'clock in the morning they found themselves descending over the Adriatic, at which time a lantern which they carried expired and was with difficulty re-lighted. Continuing to descend, they presently pitched in to the sea and became drenched with salt water. It may seem surprising that the balloon, which could not be prevented falling in the water, is yet enabled to ascend from the grip of the waves by the mere discharge of ballast. (It would be interesting to inquire what meanwhile happened to the fire which they presumably carried with them.) They now rose into regions of cloud, where they became covered with hoar frost and also stone deaf. At 3 a.m. they were off the coast of Istria, once more battling with the waves till picked up by a shore boat. The balloon, relieved of their weight, then flew away into Turkey.
However overdrawn this narrative may appear, it must be read in the light of another account, the bare, hard facts of which can admit of no question. It is five years later, and once again Count Zambeccari is ascending from Bologna, this time in company with Signor Bonagna. Again it is a Montgolfier or fire balloon, and on nearing earth it becomes entangled in a tree and catches fire. The aeronauts jump for their lives, and the Count is killed on the spot. Certainly, when every allowance is made for pardonable or unintentional exaggeration, it must be conceded that there were giants in those days. Giants in the conception and accomplishment of deeds of lofty daring. Men who came scathless through supreme danger by virtue of the calmness and courage with which they withstood it.
Among other appalling disasters we have an example of a terrific descent from a vast height in which the adventurers yet escape with their lives. It was the summer of 1808, and the aeronauts, MM. Andreoli and Brioschi, ascending from Padua, reach a height at which a barometer sinks to eight inches, indicating upwards of 30,000 feet. At this point the balloon bursts, and falls precipitately near Petrarch's tomb. Commenting on this, Mr. Glaisher, the value of whose opinion is second to none, is not disposed to question the general truth of the narrative. In regard to Zambeccari's escape from the sea related above, it should be stated that in the case of a gas-inflated balloon which has no more than dipped its car or gallery in the waves, it is generally perfectly possible to raise it again from the water, provided there is on board a store of ballast, the discharge of which will sufficiently lighten the balloon. A case in point occurred in a most romantic and perilous voyage accomplished by Mr. Sadler on the 1st of October, 1812.
His adventure is one of extraordinary interest, and of no little value to the practical aeronaut. The following account is condensed from Mr. Sadler's own narrative. He started from the grounds of Belvedere House, Dublin, with the expressed intention of endeavouring to cross over the Irish Channel to Liverpool. There appear to have been two principal air drifts, an upper and a lower, by means of which he entertained fair hopes of steering his desired course. But from the outset he was menaced with dangers and difficulties. Ere he had left the land he discovered a rent in his silk which, occasioned by some accident before leaving, showed signs of extending. To reach this, it was necessary to extemporise by means of a rope a species of ratlins by which he could climb the rigging. He then contrived to close the rent with his neckcloth. He was, by this time, over the sea, and, manoeuvring his craft by aid of the two currents at his disposal, he was carried to the south shore of the Isle of Man, whence he was confident of being able, had he desired it, of landing in Cumberland. This, however, being contrary to his intention, he entrusted himself to the higher current, and by it was carried to the north-west of Holyhead. Here he dropped once again to the lower current, drifting south of the Skerry Lighthouse across the Isle of Anglesea, and at 4.30 p.m. found himself abreast of the Great Orme's Head. Evening now approaching, he had determined to seek a landing, but at this critical juncture the wind shifted to the southward, and he became blown out to sea. Then, for an hour, he appears to have tried high and low for a more favourable current, but without success; and, feeling the danger of his situation, and, moreover, sighting no less than five vessels beating down the Channel, he boldly descended in the sea about a mile astern of them. He must for certain have been observed by these vessels; but each and all held on their course, and, thus deserted, the aeronaut had no choice but to discharge ballast, and, quitting the waves, to regain his legitimate element. His experiences at this period of his extraordinary voyage are best told in his own words. "At the time I descended the sun was near setting Already the shadows of evening had cast a dusky hue over the face of the ocean, and a crimson glow purpled the tops of the waves as, heaving in the evening breeze, they died away in distance, or broke in foam against the sides of the vessels, and before I rose from the sea the orb had sunk below the horizon, leaving only the twilight glimmer to light the vast expanse around me. How great, therefore, was my astonishment, and how incapable is expression to convey an adequate idea of my feelings when, rising to the upper region of the air, the sun, whose parting beams I had already witnessed, again burst on my view, and encompassed me with the full blaze of day. Beneath me hung the shadows of even, whilst the clear beams of the sun glittered on the floating vehicle which bore me along rapidly before the wind."