Life And Letters Of Maria Edgeworth/Volume 1/Letter 85

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To MRS. EDGEWORTH.

BLACK CASTLE, Oct. 1812.

After a most delightful journey with Mr. and Mrs. Henry Hamilton, laughing, singing, and talking, we dined with them.[1] Dear old Mr. Sackville Hamilton dined with us, fresh from London: intellectual and corporeal dainties in abundance. The first morning was spent in cursing Mr. Sadler for not going up, and in seeing the Dublin Society House. A charming picture of Mr. Foster, by Beachey, with plans in his hand, looking full of thought and starting into life and action. Spent an hour looking over the books of prints in the library—Fanny particularly pleased with a Houbracken: Harriet with Daniel's Indian Antiquities: my father with Sir Christopher Wren's and Inigo Jones's designs. After dinner Richard Ruxton came in, and said my aunt and uncle had thoughts of coming up to see the balloon. In the evening at Astley's. The second day to see the elephant: how I pitied this noble animal, cooped up under the command of a scarcely human creature, who had not half as much reason as himself. Went on to see the Panorama of Edinburgh: I never saw a sight that pleased me more; Edinburgh was before me—Princes Street and George Street—the Castle—the bridge over dry land where the woman met us and said, "Poor little things they be." At first a mistiness, like what there is in nature over a city before the sun breaks out; then the sun shining on the buildings, trees, and mountains.

Thursday morning, to our inexpressible joy, was fine, and the flag, the signal that Sadler would ascend, was, to the joy of thousands, flying from the top of Nelson's Pillar. Dressed quickly—breakfasted I don't know how—job coach punctual: crowds in motion even at nine o'clock in the streets: tide flowing all one way to Belvidere Gardens, lent by the proprietor for the occasion: called at Sneyd's lodgings in Anne Street: he and William gone: drove on; when we came near Belvidere such strings of carriages, such crowds of people on the road and on the raised footpath, there was no stirring: troops lined the road at each side: guard with officers at each entrance to prevent mischief; but unfortunately there were only two entrances, not nearly enough for such a confluence of people. Most imprudently we and several others got out of our carriages upon the raised footpath, in hopes of getting immediately at the garden door, which was within two yards of us, but nothing I ever felt was equal to the pressure of the crowd: they closed over our little heads, I thought we must have been flattened, and the breath squeezed out of our bodies. My father held Harriet fast, I behind him held Fanny with such a grasp! and dragged her on with a force I did not know I possessed. I really thought your children would never see you again with all their bones whole, and I cannot tell you what I suffered for ten minutes. My father, quite pale, calling with a stentor voice to the sentinels. A fat woman nearly separated me from Fanny. My father fairly kicked off the terrace a man who was intent upon nothing but an odious bag of cakes which he held close to his breast, swearing and pushing. Before us were Mrs. Smyley and Mr. Smyley, with a lady he was protecting. Unable to protect anybody, he looked more frightened than if he had lost a hundred causes: the lady continually saying, "Let me back! let me back! if I could once get to my carriage!"

The tide carried us on to the door. An admirable Scotch officer, who was mounting guard with a drawn sword, his face dropping perspiration, exclaimed at the sight of Harriet, "Oh the child! take care of that child! she will be crushed to death!" He made a soldier put his musket across the doorway, so as to force a place for her to creep under: quick as lightning in she darted, and Fanny and I and my father after her. All was serene, uncrowded, and fresh within the park.

We instantly met Sneyd and William, and the two Mr. Foxes. Music and the most festive scene in the gardens: the balloon, the beautiful many-coloured balloon, chiefly maroon colour, with painted eagles, and garlands, and arms of Ireland, hung under the trees, and was filling fast from pipes and an apparatus which I leave for William's scientific description: terrace before Belvidere House—well-dressed groups parading on it: groups all over the gardens, mantles, scarves, and feathers floating: all the commonalty outside in fields at half-price. We soon espied Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton, and joined company, and were extremely happy, and wished for you and dear Honora. Sun shining, no wind. Presently we met the Solicitor-General: he started back, and made me such a bow as made me feel my own littleness; then shook my hands most cordially, and in a few moments told me more than most men could tell in an hour: just returned from Edinburgh—Mrs. Bushe and daughters too much fatigued to come and see the balloon.

The Duke and Duchess of Richmond, and Sir Charles Vernon, and Sir Charles Saxton. The Miss Gunns seated themselves in a happily conspicuous place, with some gentlemen, on the roof of Belvidere House, where, with veils flying and telescopes and opera-glasses continually veering about, they attracted sufficient attention.

Walking on, Sneyd exclaimed, "My Uncle Ruxton!" I darted to him: "Is my aunt here?"—"Yes, and Sophy, and Margaret, but I have lost them; I'm looking for them."—"Oh, come with me and we'll find them." Soon we made our way behind the heels of the troopers' horses, who guarded a sacred circle round the balloon: found my aunt, and Sophy, and Mag—surprise and joy on both sides: got seats on the pedestal of some old statue, and talked and enjoyed ourselves: the balloon filling gradually. Now it was that my uncle proposed our returning by Black Castle.

The drum beats! the flag flies! balloon full! It is moved from under the trees over the heads of the crowd: the car very light and slight—Mr. Sadler's son, a young lad, in the car. How the horses stood the motion of this vast body close to them I can't imagine, but they did. The boy got out. Mr. Sadler, quite composed, this being his twenty-sixth aërial ascent, got into his car: a lady, the Duchess of Richmond, I believe, presented to him a pretty flag: the balloon gave two majestic nods from side to side as the cords were cut. Whether the music continued at this moment to play or not, nobody can tell. No one spoke while the balloon successfully rose, rapidly cleared the trees, and floated above our heads: loud shouts and huzzas, one man close to us exclaiming, as he clasped his hands, "Ah, musha, musha, GOD bless you! GOD be wid you!" Mr. Sadler, waving his flag and his hat, and bowing to the world below, soon pierced a white cloud, and disappeared; then emerging, the balloon looked like a moon, black on one side, silver on the other; then like a dark bubble; then less and less, and now only a speck is seen; and now the fleeting rack obscures it. Never did I feel the full merit of Darwin's description till then.

Next day, at eight in the morning, my father and William (who proceed to the Bishop of Derry's) and Fanny went to Collon. Sneyd, Harriet, and I came here.


Footnotes[edit]

  1. Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton were paying a visit at Edgeworthstown, when the papers announced Mr. Sadler's intention of crossing the Channel in a balloon from Dublin. Mr. Edgeworth proposed to Mr. Hamilton that they should go to Dublin together to see the ascent, and he and Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton, Maria, Sneyd, William, and two little sisters formed the party.