Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 28.djvu/14

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posed solely of eagle-feathers, they would have been attracted to the air. However, he docs not appear to have carried the experiment further.

Many other trials have there been of the same character. The results were generally discouraging, but men can always be found ready to risk life and limb in striving to attain something much less important than the art of flying; without a knowledge of the principles involved, ignorant of the nature of the atmosphere, without machinery or power, fettered by a superstition that looked upon all learning outside of the Church as coming from the prince of darkness, it was a struggle in the dark—brave but hopeless.

Still, those old fellows were quite as reasonable in their attempts as many of our inventors are now. In looking through Patent-Office reports, we shall find devices only slightly different in detail from those tried five hundred years ago.

One of our illustrations shows the plan proposed by Rétif de la Bretonne away back in the dark ages; and another an apparatus patented in this country in 1872. It is only one of numbers of the same sort. Rétif had an advantage, in that he carried a lunch-basket and umbrella, and did not need so many ropes and spars; but otherwise the later arrangement seems equally good.

In 1783 the Montgolfiers invented the balloon. Friar Bacon, as we have seen, had speculated upon the possibility of such a construction. In 1670 Francis Lana, a Jesuit, had described an apparatus which, although impracticable in so far that it could not be built, nevertheless was correct in principle. The same idea had occurred to others; and there are even shadowy accounts of actual ascents. But to the Montgolfiers certainly belongs the honor of first actually building and bringing the balloon before the public as an accomplished fact. They used hot air only, but the substitution of hydrogen gas by Professor Charles speedily followed, and in a few years the balloon was made as perfect, excepting in a few details, as it is now.

It would be difficult to describe the excitement which followed this invention. The most extravagant hopes and anticipations were entertained. The problem had been solved. The birds and insects would no longer have a monopoly. Every gentleman would have a balloon hitched to his gate-post, or, wafted along by summer breezes, would look down in luxurious pity upon the poor plodders. Sails and rudders were to be used as on ships to direct the course. Regular lines of aerial passenger and mail coaches were to be established. There seemed no limit to the possible speed. Rome, or St. Petersburg, or even America, might be reached in a few hours, and for the comfort of travelers the arrangements proposed went far ahead of our palace cars. Floating hospitals were to be built; methods of warfare would need to be entirely reorganized; and England's boasted supremacy on the sea would be of no avail, unless she also maintained supremacy in the air.