Page images


Nearer to Heaven than when I saw you last.
By the altitude of a Chopine.

SHAKSPEARE. In our last paper we discussed the various attempts made by man to soar into the clouds, and which ultimately led to the discovery of the aërostatic machine. We have seen that four men, in their ardent thirst for knowledge, intrepidly traversed the air with two different ascending forces, fire and hydrogen gas. We may now leave the first entirely out of sight in consequence of its recognised danger either to the balloon itself, or the place where it descended. The aërial voyager, ever occupied with his fire, seemed to suffer the punishment of the Vestal Virgin, the management of his stove occupied all his time, and it was almost impossible for him to devote himself to any observations or careful experiments. And more grievous still, the further we advance from the date of the discovery, and that incapable men were substituted for the first operators who were so full of zeal and science, we find dreadful accidents and misfortunes of every variety resulting from the use of fire in aërostation. The time, however, is rapidly approaching when the question of fireballoons will be solved. Mr. Hampton, an old and experienced aëronaut, has been at great expense in completing an immense Montgolfier, called the Arctic, which he purposes inflating with all the precautions science and prudence recommend to him. His original design was that this balloon should be employed in the search for Sir John Franklin, and the modus operandi appears both simple and satisfactory. The balloon is first filled by means of a large stove, and, when perfectly inflated, is attached to a gallery, on which a smaller stove is fixed. This stove will be surrounded with water to prevent the funnel becoming red-hot, and thus endangering the balloon, and provided with a damper to regulate the heat ascending into the machine. Mr. Hampton is very sanguine of success, and our readers will probably have an opportunity of judging for themselves in the course of the coming winter. · This digression has led us to anticipate the proper order of our history of aërostation. From the commencement of the year 1784, the sky of Europe was literally crowded with balloons. At Lyons, Joseph Montgolfier, Pilastre de Rozier, the Prince de Ligne, the Counts de la Porte dAnglefort, De Laurencin, and Dampierre de Fontaine, ascended in a magnificen tfire-balloon, “Le Flesselle," which was 120 feet in diameter. Soon after, the Chevalier Dom Paul Andriani rose at Milan in a Montgolfier, with Charles and Augustine Gerli; then came Blanchard with his brilliant success at the Champ de Mars.

We next find recorded, in the same year, the celebrated experiments made by Guyton Morveau at Dijon; the ascents of Bremond and Maret at Marseilles; of Madame Thible, accompanied by M. Flemand, at Lyons, the first woman who had the energy, the courage, we had almost said the audacity, to brave the air. The balloon was a Montgolfier. We regret that the narrow limits of our sketch prevent us detailing this ascent, and citing some of the ovations, the numerous and legitimate honours paid to this woman, whose name is not again quoted in the annals of aërostation.

In the same year an immense gas-balloon, christened “Le Suffren," ascended at Nantes, piloted by Constard de Massy and the Reverend Father Mouchet, an Oratorian; Pilastre de Rozier, and a chemist named Proust, ascended from Versailles, in the Marie Antoinette, and reached the earth at Chantilly, thirteen leagues from the starting point. They gained an altitude of 4000 metres, the highest ever attained by a Montgolfier.

At St. Cloud the brothers Robert and the Duc de Chartres, father of the late Louis Philippe, ascended in a hydrogen gas balloon of an oblong form, with an interior receptacle to regulate the ascent or descent, and which was to be filled with common air by means of bellows attached to it by tubes, wherever they wished to descend, it being reasonably supposed that an addition of common air would increase the weight, as its diminution, on the other hand, lightens the balloon. This expedient, however, was not successful. The cords by which the interior machine was suspended gave way, and it fell down in such a position as completely to close the aperture communicating between the large balloon and the car. The hydrogen expanded, and the machine eventually burst in two places, but the aëronauts fortunately landed without injury, in spite of the rapidity of the descent caused by this accident.

Vincent Lunardi, an attaché of the Italian Embassy, first illustrated Montgolfier's discovery in England by a brilliant ascent in a gas-balloon. Sadler, the first English aëronaut, ascended at Oxford ; and Blanchard, accompanied by Professor Sheldon of the Royal Academy, made experiments in steering balloons by means of the Archimedean screw, which he repeated with Dr. Jefferies, an American.

We have now arrived at 1785, a year of mourning and glory for aërostation. Blanchard and Dr. Jefferies traversed the sea from Dover to Calais, though not without some danger. When about half way across, they found themselves descending, and though they threw out the whole of their ballast, and some books they had with them, they could not overcome the gravitating power of the balloon. They next threw overboard their apparatus, cords, grapnel, and bottles. An empty bottle seemed to emit smoke as it descended, and when it struck the water the shock was sensibly felt by the aëror.auts. Still their machine continued to descend, and they began parting with their clothing, but having now nearly reached the French coast, the balloon again rose, and reached a considerable height. They passed over the high lands between Cape Blanc and Calais, and landed near the edge of the forest of Guiennes. Louis Seize made M. Blanchard a present of 12,000 livres as a token of appreciation of the aëronaut's perseverance and skill in the lately discovered science.

Dr. Potain next crossed the St. George's Channel from Dublin to England. He had made some improvements on Blanchard's screw, and used it on this occasion with some success. Several hundred ascents had now been made, and not a single fatal accident had occurred; but we are now compelled to record one which proved most disastrous to its proprietors, and when we fairly regard it could hardly have terminated otherwise. Pilastre de Rozier and M. Romain were anxious to reach England by crossing the Channel, and thus return Blanchard and Jefferies' visit. For the purpose of avoiding the difficulty in keeping the balloon up, they constructed a compound machine. This was arranged by suspending a

fire balloon beneath the hydrogen one, and was intended to regulate the rising and falling of the whole machine. The hydrogen balloon was of a globular shape, forty feet in diameter; the other about ten feet. After various delays, caused by adverse winds, they set out from Boulogne on the 15th of June, 1785. Scarce a quarter of an hour had elapsed, when, at the height of about 3000 feet, the whole apparatus was seen to be on fire. Its scattered fragments, with the unfortunate bodies of the aëronauts, fell to the ground near the sea-shore, about four miles from Boulogne. They were killed on the spot. A monument was afterwards raised to their memory on the place where they fell, at a small distance from the column erected on the same shore in attestation of Blanchard's success.

Not daunted by this catastrophe, MM. Alban and Vallette constructed in their sulphuric acid manufactory at Javelles, their magnificent balloon “ le Comte d'Artois ;” and Monsieur le Comte d'Artois himself, the future Charles Dix, rose in this machine several times, in company with numerous persons belonging to the court.

On the outbreak of the French Revolution, military aërostation, of which we shall shortly speak, was discovered by Guyton Morveau, Prior de la Côte d'Or. About the same date, Testu Brissy made his curious experiment of an ascent on horseback. Beneath his large and magnificent balloon he mounted a steed, which was not fastened in any way to the platform. During this ascent, Testu Brissy was enabled to prove the certainty of a fact he had previously announced, that the blood of larger animals extravasated in their veins, and escaped through the nose and ears, at an elevation where he felt no personal inconvenience. This appears to us a very sufficient answer to M. Poitevin's assertion, that his ponies were rather pleased than otherwise at being carried into the clouds. We have never entertained but one opinion as to the brutality of the practice, and find ourselves confirmed in our idea by a statement made to us by Mr. Hampton.

This gentleman, whose name is so honourably connected with the improvements made in practical aërostation, informed us, that he was in the habit of experimentalising with a monkey, which he used to let down from the balloon in a parachute. Whenever the poor animal saw the machine in the process of inflation, it would evince the utmost terror, refusing to eat, and making the most violent exertions to escape. On rising in the air, it gave way to pitiable cries, and when it reached the earth in the parachute, was perfectly helpless, and would actually cry on the shoulder of the boy who was entrusted with the charge of taking the animal home. We need, however, be under no apprehension that the metropolitan sky will again be made the arena for mythological displays, and M. Poitevin will be compelled to re-seek his native shores, if he wish to show the docility and affection of his unfortunate animals.

In the years 1803-4, two aërostatic experiments were made, so far remarkable, that they date the epoch when science began to apply the beautiful and powerful machine Montgolfier had endowed it with, Robertson and Hoest made an ascent at Hamburgh, on the 18th of July, intended for scientific researches, and of which a statement was forwarded to the Royal Academy at St. Petersburg. The aëronauts remained five hours and a half in the air, and descended twenty-five leagues from the starting point. M. Robertson was professor of the central college of the department of the Qurthe, a distinguished member of many learned bodies, and one of the founders of the Galvanic Society at Paris. A friend, and in some measure regarding himself as a pupil, of Alexander Volta, the experiments he made in this ascent were principally confined to electricity and galvanism. M. Robertson was enabled, by means of a dipping needle and several other instruments, to determine a very marked diminution of intensity in the phenomena of terrestrial magnetism, at an elevation of 4200 metres. In the following year at Paris, MM. Biot and Gay Lussac undertook to repeat the Hamburgh experiments. M. Gay Lussac soon after made a second balloon ascent alone. He reached the enormous altitude of 22,912 feet above Paris, or 23,040 feet above the level of the sea, and obtained the most successful results, especially as regards the analysis of the atmosphere in the higher regions.

Soon afterwards festive aërostation was established, of which several aëronauts have made a regular profession, and which has led to the concomitant evils of night and firework ascents, and paved the way for the desecration of a noble science, by the perpetration of such atrocities as the trapéze. On this subject we may be permitted to quote a page from poor Poole's most amusing “ Crotchets in the Air.”

“ I was one of the thousands who saw (and I heard it too) the destruction of Madame Blanchard. On the evening of the 6th July, 1819, she ascended in a balloon from the Tivoli Gardens at Paris. At a certain elevation she was to discharge some fireworks, which were attached to her car. From my own windows I saw the ascent. For a few minutes the balloon was concealed by clouds. Presently it re-appeared, and then was seen a momentary sheet of flame. There was a dreadful pause. In a few seconds, the poor creature, enveloped and entangled in the netting of her machine, fell with a frightful crash upon the slanting roof of a house in the Rue de Provence (not one hundred yards from where I was standing), and thence into the street-and Madame Blanchard was taken up a shattered corpse. It was supposed that the rockets, which ought to have been made to point downwards, were improperly managed, and thus the catastrophe was accounted for. So much for firework ascents."

As a more innocent amusement, we will here mention the very curious ascent of a ballon perdu," as the French so epigrammatically call them, sent up by Garnerin on the occasion of the coronation of the Emperor Napoleon. The balloon was launched into the air at eleven in the evening, and furnished the spectators with the magnificent spectacle of a crown illuminated with 3000 variegated lamps. No one, however, could have anticipated the course taken by the balloon, and the sensation the experiment would cause.

At the dawn of the next day the inhabitants of Rome saw a radiant globe on the horizon, advancing toward them, and apparently about to descend in the city. It floated over the domes of St. Peter and the Vatican, which were then mourning for the descendant of St. Peter, then sunk, and rose again, after leaving a portion of its trappings on its course through the Campagna, and finally fell a victim to the waters of Lake Bracciano.

They then discovered what this celestial messenger purported. It was drawn from the lake, and the following inscription traced in letters of gold on its huge circumference was read, and soon diffused through all Italy :

Paris, 25 Frimaire, an XII., couronnement de l'Enipereur Napoleon

par S.S. Pie VII. Although the fact of the wind blowing in that direction was mere accident, still there seemed something providential in this balloon being wafted in a single night from Paris to Rome, when the Pope was an unwilling visitor at the former city, and Napoleon had already determined on planting the crown of Italy on his own head. An immaterial circumstance, however, served to give the incident a high importance and a political meaning in Napoleon's eyes.

The balloon, in passing through the suburbs of Rome, had been entangled in the tomb of Nero, but at length liberated itself, leaving a portion of the crown on a corner of the venerable monument. The Italian papers related the affair quite innocently ; others, however, added some malicious reflections very disagreeable to the emperor. At length the matter reached Napoleon's ears, and was spoken of at one of his levees. The Emperor was highly displeased, and insisted that there should be no further mention of Garnerin's balloon.

Napoleon had formerly applauded the courage of Coutelle, captain of the military aëronauts ; he had appreciated the importance which might be derived from the service in the cause of engineering ; he had permitted balloons to be sent up in Egypt, not disdaining this method of proving to the Arab the superiority of European arts over the clumsy appliances of his antiquated and degenerate country; but the man of destiny perceived an omen in the festive crown which shattered against Nero's tomb on the day after his own imperial coronation. From this hour dated his repulsion, his antipathy to aërostation. The military Aërostatic School at Meudon was abandoned, and the expenses and establishments for this purpose entirely wasted. Who knows whether we may not trace from this fortuitous circumstance the motive for the bad reception the Emperor some time after gave Fulton at the camp of Boulogne, when he offered him the first fruits of the application of steam to navigation—such great events from trifling causes spring! Be this as it may, Garnerin was no longer employed by the French government ; his place was occupied by Madame Blanchard, who was entrusted with all the ascents which afterwards took place at public fêtes. The Coronation-Balloon was suspended in the Vatican till 1814, accompanied by an inscription relating its voyage and miraculous descent, though with no mention of the tomb.

The foregoing episode has led us from the subject we intended next to treat of, namely, military aërostation; this we will now proceed to examine from the very interesting report drawn up by Colonel Coutelle, chef d'aërostiers to the armies of the Sambre and Meuse.

The committee of public safety, at the commencement of the revolutionary wars, convened an assembly of scientific men, including Mongé, Bertholet, Guyton de Morveau, Fourcroy, and Carnot. Guyton proposed the use of balloons, as a fertile means of reconnoissance. This proposition was accepted by the government on the condition of sulphuric acid not being employed, as sulphur was required for making gunpowder; the commission, therefore, decided on making use of aqueous decomposition. The celebrated chemist, Lavoisier, made the first experiments. For this purpose six iron cylinders were fixed in a simple kind of furnace, the ends projecting, and covered with a lid. Two sets of metal tubes were also inserted into these lids, one serving for conveying the water in, and the

« PreviousContinue »