Wonderful Balloon Ascents/Part 1/Chapter 9
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Part 1, Chapter 9: The First Aerial Voyage.
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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 fall, 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 Arlandes 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
BALLOON OF THE MARQUIS D'ARLANDES
"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, Sèvres!'
"'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 École 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.
THE BALLOON OF D'ARLANDES CROSSING PARIS.
"'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 the left. We were now close to the ground, between two mills. As soon 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."To-day (21st of October, 1783), at the Château 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,
THE FIRST AERIAL VOYAGE.
"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?"