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