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A RIDE AMONG THE CLOUDS.
BY ONE WHO IS OFTEN THERE.
E cannot tell how long ago man first conceived the idea of obtaining for himself the means of rising above this little planet, and of cleaving a pathway to the stars. Perhaps some dreamy shepherd-poet in antediluvian ages, watching the flight of the birds, first longed for wings, to rise from earth's surface, and behold the beautiful panorama which lay spread around him. "To ride upon the wings of the wind," is an expression enveloping much majesty of conception. So far out of man's power was its realization found to be, that the sublime imaginations of the Scripture poets assign the cloudy pathway to the Creator himself.
What was more natural than for a troubled spirit to share these desires of poetic fancy? "O that I had wings like a dove," cries the poet-king of Israel; "then would I fly away and be at rest!"
In almost every age we may find traces of man's longing for the dominion of the atmosphere; many and lamentable were the failures of the bold spirits who in early times adventured their lives and scientific reputations in trials of skill in this department: so many disappointments we may presume awoke their disgust, and the air was abandoned to witches, who were supposed to perform on broomsticks, wonders which all the savants in Christendom (many of them priests, too) could not achieve.
Not the less did the said savants study the subject in secret, and now and then burst forth with a Eureka cry, which invariably proved a false one. A rapid sketch of a few of the early attempts in aëronautics will perhaps furnish some amusement to the reader.
During the reign of the Scottish James IV., there arrived from Italy, at his court, a philosophical speculator, who appears to have believed in the possibility of success we may suppose that he did so at least, or he would not have chosen his spectators among a people so proverbially acute as the Scotch. This worthy, having by some means contrived to advertise his vast scientific powers, was presented by the king to the Abbey of Furyland, in order that he might have leisure for research and study. Whether gratitude prompted his offer we are not
told; but he shortly after announced that he would, in presence of the court, start on wings from the walls of Stirling Castle, and make a trip into France.
The offer was accepted, and the worthy Abbot set about manufacturing a pair of wings, on whose surface he crowded every kind of plumage, and with which he launched according to his engagement. Of the futility of his attempt he received a convincing proof in the circumstances of an ignominious fall and a broken thigh. His presence of mind, however, did not fail him like Goldsmith's schoolmaster, who "e'en when conquered" could " argue still," he apologized for his untoward descent, and accounted for it as follows: "My wings being composed partly of the feathers of dunghill-fowls, they, by a certain sympathy, were attracted to the dunghill: had they been composed of eagles' feathers alone, the same principle would have attracted and kept them upward." But we are not told that the Abbot made a second attempt.
In 1628, another trial was made at Tubingen, in Holland. The rector of the public school there was named Keyder, and stoutly maintained the possibility of flying. He does not appear to have gone beyond the theory of the matter himself; but the warmth of his eloquence in public lectures on the subject so fully convinced a monk of the neighborhood, that he made a pair of wings-probably under the instructions of the more prudent Keyderand started from a high tower in Tubingen. The monk was a martyr to science; for he, too, came down to mother earth sooner than he intended, broke both his legs in the descent, and died from the injuries he received.
The monks, especially, seemed to have envied the witches' supremacy; for in the fourteenth century Albert of Saxony, an Augustine brother, came forward with a theory on our subject. He suggests that, if any being could bring down a quantity of that light ethereal air which floats above our atmosphere, and inclose it in a ball or vessel, that vessel might be raised, or kept suspended in common air, at any hight. No one took any notice of Albert's theory until the beginning of the seventeenth century, when Francis Mendoza, a Portuguese Jesuit, maintained that the combustibility of fire was no objection to its being made to ascend in proper vehicles, as its ex
treme laxity and the exclusion of the air would preserve it from inflammation. Caspar Schott, also a Jesuit, published the same theory in Germany about the same time.
In 1670 a death-blow was given to the absurd speculations about the possibility of flying with artificial wings, by the learned Borelli, a Neapolitan mathematician, professor of philosophy and mathematics at Florence and Pisa. Nine years before his death, this great man published his work, "De Motu Animalium;" in which, from a comparison between the muscles which move man's arms and those by which a bird moves his wings, he proves that the former are utterly insufficient to strike the air with such force as to raise the owner from the ground.
In 1672, Bishop Wilkins, husband to a sister of Cromwell, and father-in-law to Tillotson, came forward with his whimsical treatise," The Discovery of a New World; or, a Discourse tending to prove that it is probable there may be another Habitable World in the Moon: with a Discourse concerning the Possibility of a Passage thither."
The learned Bishop of Chester contends thus, regarding a flight to the moon :1. "It is not impossible that a man may be able to fly, by the application of wings to his own body,* as angels are pictured, as Mercury and Dædalus are feigned; and as hath been attempted by divers, particularly by a Turk in Constantinople, as Busbequius relates." 2. "If there be" (ominous if)" such a great ruck in Madagascar as Marcus Polo the Venetian mentions, the feathers in whose wings are twelve feet long, which can swoop up a horse and his rider, or an elephant, as our kites do a mouse: why, then, it is but teaching one of these to carry a man, and he may ride up hither as Ganymede does upon an eagle. Or, if neither of these ways will serve, yet I do seriously, and upon good grounds, affirm it possible to make a flying chariot, in which a man may sit, and give such a motion unto it as shall convey it 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 hin
der its motion, if the motive faculty be answerable thereunto. We see a great ship swims as well as a small cork; and an eagle flies in the air as well as a little gnat."
The serious project of carrying to the moon "commodities for traffic" is irresistibly ludicrous; and one can hardly wonder that such speculations as those of Wilkins excited the satire and contempt of the wits of the age-of Butler among the rest, who, in an episode of great brilliancy, ridicules in his "Hudibras" the then newly-formed Royal Society, of which Wilkins was from the first a member.
Cotemporary with the English divine was a Jesuit named Francis Lana, who imagined that hollow balls of metal might be exhausted of their air, and that thus they would ascend. The experiment was tried, and it was made evident that a vessel sufficiently thin to float in the air would be unable to resist the external pressure of the atmosphere.
In 1709 a certain Friar Guzman constructed a flying-machine, whose appearance was something like that of a bird, with tubes through which the wind was to pass, to fill the wings intended to raise it. The priest applied to his sovereign for assistance, and, ridiculous as his design may appear to us, he was rewarded with a college professorship and a liberal pension.
In the year 1766 an Englishman, named Cavendish, made the important discovery that inflammable air (or hydrogen gas) is seven times lighter than common air. Mr. Cavendish suggested to Dr. Black, that perhaps a thin bag, filled with hydrogen, might be buoyed up by the common atmosphere.* As a medium to inclose the hydrogen, bladders were found too heavy; Chinese paper proved permeable to the vapor, and soap-bubbles inflated by the breath were the only balloons that met with success. Thus in 1782 the English philosophers could not go beyond the child's play :
"Sometimes through hollow hole Of pipe amused we blew, and sent aloft The floating bubbles, little dreaming then To see, Montgolfier, thy silken ball Ride buoyant throughout the clouds, so near approach
The sports of children and the toils of men."
An account of such experiments may be • Probably Wilkins had not seen Borelli's found in the "Philosophical Transactions for the year 1766."
Before the close of 1782, the true theory of aeronautics was propounded and illustrated by Stephen and John Montgolfier, brothers, natives of Annonay, in France, and proprietors of a paper manufactory there.
"The idea of the Montgolfiers was to form an artificial cloud, by inclosing smoke in a bag, and making it carry up the covering along with it." The experiment was tried at Avignon, in the year mentioned above, and the air being rarefied by the application of burning paper to the aperture of the balloon, the bag ascended to a height of seventy feet.
The first step being now achieved, public curiosity-an active thing in Francewas soon on the alert, and the brothers tried a second experiment. A linen bag, lined with paper, containing upwards of twenty-three thousand cubic feet, was filled with rarefied air. In ten minutes it rose six thousand feet, and when its force was exhausted, fell to the ground at a distance of seven thousand six hundred and sixty-eight feet from the point of ascension.
The Academy of Sciences now offered to bear the expenses of an experiment, if the Montgolfiers would undertake the construction of a balloon. One of the brothers, in answer to this offer, made a balloon of an elliptical form, and after some disappointments the machine rose, carrying a burden of nearly five hundred pounds weight. It is stated that, during a preliminary experiment, the balloon nearly carried off the eight persons who were holding it, and would have mounted with them, had not others come to their assist
On the 19th of September, 1783, M. Montgolfier performed his experiment before the royal family of France, at Versailles. To the balloon was attached a wicker-cage, containing a sheep, a dog, and a duck, the first animals ever sent on such a voyage.
The French public appeared so highly delighted with these experiments, and the machines seemed to ascend and descend so gradually, that M. Pilatre de Rosier, anxious for fame, voluntarily undertook to ascend in a balloon, and one was constructed for him in a garden in the Faubourg St. Antoine. "It was of an oval form, forty-eight feet in diameter, and seventy-four in height, elegantly painted
with the signs of the zodiac, ciphers of the king's name, and other ornaments. A proper gallery-grate, &c., enabled the aeronaut to supply the fire with fuel, and thus keep up the machine as long as he pleased.
The clumsy and unsafe method of inflating the balloon by means of a fire in the gallery was soon felt to be a nuisance; in fact, M. de Rosier and the Marquis d'Arlandes on one occasion narr arrowly escaped having their balloon entirely consumed; and to remedy the defect, it was proposed to fill the balloon before ascending, a plan which seemed much more advantageous than the other. Two brothers, named Robert, and the philosopher Charles, were the first who experimented in this way. A bag of lutestring was varnished over with caoutchouc, and inflated with hydrogen; it remained in the air three-quarters of an hour, and traveled fifteen miles.
A height of ten thousand five hundred feet was attained by M. Charles, in December, 1783, an altitude somewhat exceeding that of Mount Etna. The account of this voyage cannot but be interesting. He rose nine thousand feet in twenty minutes, and earth was soon, of course, quite out of sight. In ten minutes he felt a great variation in the atmosphere; his fingers were benumbed, and he experienced violent pains in the right jaw and ear, which he ascribed to the expansion of the air in those organs, as well as to the external cold. The beauty of the prospect he enjoyed, however, amply atoned for these inconveniences. Before his departure the sun had set on the valleys; but the hight to which he rose rendered that luminary again visible, though but for a short time. By the light of the moon he perceived that his machine turned round with him in the air, and he observed contrary currents which brought him back again. He observed with surprise the effect of the wind, and that the streamers of his banners pointed upward, which he says could not be the effect of ascent or descent, his movement at the time being horizontal.
The next improvement sought was the power to direct the course of the machine; but we believe we are correct in saying this desideratum remains yet unattained. Could this difficulty be fully mastered, the science of aëronautics might assume a position it has never yet taken.
Blanchard, and several others, constructed wings, oars, &c., with the view of guiding the balloon, but met with unequivocal failure. Blanchard, however, was an intrepid aëronaut; and on the 7th of January, 1785, in company with Dr. Jeffries, an American, he launched his balloon, with a boat attached to it, from Shakspeare's cliff at Dover, with the intention of crossing the Channel, which hazardous feat they performed in safety, alighting in the forest of Guiennes, not far from Calais. The magistrates of that town received the travelers very hospitably, and the king presented M. Blanchard with twelve thousand livres, and a pension of one thousand two hundred.
The first aërial ascent in England was made by Vincent Lunardi, an Italian, on the 21st of September, 1784. In October of the same year Blanchard ascended from Chelsea, carrying the first English adventurer in this line in the person of Mr. Sheldon, Professor of Anatomy to the Royal Academy. Mr. Sheldon alighted after a trip of fourteen miles, and Blanchard reascended to so great a hight, that he found great difficulty in breathing. At this altitude (he does not give it in figures) he let loose a bird, which had great difficulty in supporting itself, and after a few turns came and settled on the machine, afraid to venture into the boundless ocean around it.
A voyage of nearly twelve hours was made from Paris by M. Testu, in June, 1786, in a balloon furnished with wings and inflated with gas. He started at four o'clock, P. M., the barometer standing at 29.68 inches and the thermometer at 84 degrees. The machine had been only five-sixths filled, but gradually swelled as it rose into a warmer, drier atmosphere, becoming fully distended at a hight of two thousand eight hundred feet, when, to avoid the waste of gas and the danger of a rupture, M. Testu tried to lower the machine by means of his wings: he was unsuccessful in this design, and obliged to descend in the usual manner. He alighted in a corn-field in the plain of Montmorency. The proprietor of the field and a troop of peasants rushed about him, and insisted on compensation for the damage done to the wheat. The wily Testu told them his wings were broken, and he and his balloon quite at their mercy; they drew both along triumphantly by cords attached
to the car, until M. Testu, discovering that the loss of wings, &c., had considerably lightened his machine, suddenly cut the strings and mounted immediately, leaving the enraged peasants staring at him from below.
Mr. Lunardi, who had the honor of making the first ascent in England, claimed a similar distinction in Scotland, in the year 1785, when, during the months of November and. December, he ascended twice from Heriot's Hospital Gardens, Edinburgh. On the first occasion his balloon, for some time before it was lost to sight, presented a remarkable appearance, owing to the reflection of the sunbeams it appeared at first like the full moon, and subsequently like a star of the first magnitude. His second trip was almost fatal to him; for, a strong wind blowing from the west, he was carried easterly, and his gas being almost exhausted, he fell into the sea near the Isle of May; there was just gas enough left in the balloon to prevent it from sinking, and after some considerable time the unlucky aëronaut was aken up by some fishermen.
The method of ascending by throwing out ballast, and of descending by the escape of the gas, is of course attended with considerable expense; and in 1784 the Duke de Chartres, afterward Duke d'Orleans, endeavored to improve upon this plan. His balloon contained within it a smaller one, by inflating which with common air, he conceived the machine might be made sufficiently heavy to descend, especially as by the inflation of the internal or common air-balloon the gas in the outer bag would be considerably compressed, and thus rendered specifically heavier. The balloon, however, was so blown and torn about by a whirlwind, that no means of guiding it could be tried; and several mishaps occurring, the duke himself tore the balloon in two places to enable descent possible.
M. Pilatre de Rosier, who was, as our readers will recollect, the first person to ascend in a balloon, now came forward with his plan for navigating the machine; and his first experiment proved, unhappily, fatal to this distinguished man, as well as to a M. Romaine, who accompanied him on the trip. De Rosier's plan was to carry up with him a second balloon, to be filled with rarefied air, by means of an aërostatic machine placed at a suffi
cient distance from the gas-balloon to prevent any danger to the latter from the fire used in inflating the former; but at an altitude of three-quarters of a mile the machine took fire, and the balloon soon collapsed; the unfortunate travelers therefore descended with it so rapidly, that de Rosier died before reaching the earth, and Romaine immediately afterward.
The invention of the parachute, (guard for falling,) a separate machine to facilitate the safe descent of the traveler, is due to Blanchard, who first used one in 1785 at Lisle, in France; on this occasion he let down a dog, which reached the ground in perfect safety. The parachute has been, since then, much used, particularly by Garnerin, who in 1802 visited London, and used this novel assistant. He fell into a field at St. Pancras, and was considerably hurt, owing to the breaking of one of the stays of his slender conveyance.
When the first flush of success in aëronautics gathered large crowds of spectators at Paris, all the learned men in Europe shared the enthusiasm of the French, and looked to the Academy of Sciences for new and important discoveries by means of the balloon. We cannot but think, however, although science owes the discovery of some facts, and the establishment of others, to the use of the Montgolfier discovery, that the results have fallen very, very far below the expectations raised by its first appearance and success.
As a means of philosophical observation, the balloon was frequently used, about the year 1803, by Mr. Robertson and others. In the year mentioned, Mr. Robertson and another gentleman ascended from Hamburg, and attained such an altitude that "the elasticity of the air alarmingly distended the balloon." They allowed some gas to escape, and subsequently rose to a hight where the cold was scarcely endurable. The rarefaction of the air causing all fluids to expand, Mr. Robertson's veins became swollen, and blood streamed from his nose; while his companion's head swelled so much that he could not retain his hat. Numbness was also experienced, and a great desire to sleep.
In the following year Mr. Robertson went up from St. Petersburg, with M. Sacharof. They carried numerous philosophical instruments, with the view of making experiments. The aëronauts as
cended at a quarter-past seven, P. M. At about half-past nine, M. Sacharof directed his speaking-trumpet to the earth, and called as loudly as his voice permitted. His words returned in distinct echo after a lapse of ten seconds, so that, reckoning from the velocity of sound, M. Sacharof concluded that they were about five thousand seven hundred feet from the earth.
Some of the aeronautic observers having stated that the magnetic power altogether ceased at a certain height, and M. de Saussure having thought, in observations made on the Col du Géant, that there was at great altitudes a considerable decrease in the magnetic attraction, it was thought advisable to undertake a scientific aëronautic trip, to try this and other experiments. Accordingly MM. Biot and Gay Lussac, two young philosophers educated at the Polytechnic School in Paris, undertook the task. They were favored with the patronage of the French government -a government which, however fickle in purpose, or feeble or cruel in action, is generally alive to the claims of science and of literature, to an extent which our better organization might emulate with advantage. The greatest altitude they reached on this occasion was thirteen thousand feet; and from various experiments tried at different hights, they concluded that the magnetic force does not at all diminish; but at the same time they confessed that, owing to the rotary motion of the balloon, strict nicety of observation was impossible. Gay Lussac subsequently ascended to an altitude of twenty thousand one hundred and fifty feet, and declares that he found no sensible difference; he therefore concludes that magnetism is the same even at the greatest altitude. Some exhausted air-flasks which he carried with him proved useful in establishing the fact that the atmosphere, at a hight above the earth, is composed like the air on the surface. M. Gay Lussac, on descending, hastened to the Polytechnic School, and analyzed the air he had brought down. It was precisely like that at the surface of the earth, each one thousand parts being two hundred and fifteen of oxygen.
One of the few fatal ascents was that of M. Mosment, in 1806. He dropped a dog with a parachute, which came safely to the ground. Some hours after, M. Mosment's body, frightfully mangled, was found in one of the fosses of the city (Lisle). It