A VOYAGE IN A BALLOON
Translated from the French by Anne T. Wilbur
My Ascension at Frankfort—The Balloon, the Gas,
the Apparatus, the Ballast—An Unexpected Travelling
Companion—Conversation in the Air—Anecdotes—At 800 Metres
[A] —The Portfolio of the Pale Young
Man—Pictures and Caricatures—Des Rosiers and
Metres—Atmospheric Phenomena—The Philosopher
1500 Metres—The Storm—Great Personages in Balloons—The Valve—The
Curious Animals—The Aerial Ship—Game of Balloons.
In the month of September, 1850, I arrived at
Frankfort-on-the-Maine. My passage through the principal cities of
Germany, had been brilliantly marked by aerostatic ascensions; but,
up to this day, no inhabitant of the Confederation had accompanied
me, and the successful experiments at Paris of Messrs. Green,
Godard, and Poitevin, had failed to induce the grave Germans to
attempt aerial voyages.
Meanwhile, hardly had the news of my approaching ascension
circulated throughout Frankfort, than three persons of note asked
the favour of accompanying me. Two days after, we were to ascend
from the Place de la Comédie. I immediately occupied myself with
the preparations. My balloon, of gigantic proportions, was of silk,
coated with gutta
percha, a substance not liable to injury from
acids or gas, and of absolute impermeability. Some trifling rents
were mended: the inevitable results of perilous descents.
The day of our ascension was that of the great fair of
September, which attracts all the world to Frankfort. The apparatus
for filling was composed of six hogsheads arranged around a large
vat, hermetically sealed. The hydrogen gas, evolved by the contact
of water with iron and sulphuric acid, passed from the first
reservoirs to the second, and thence into the immense globe, which
was thus gradually inflated. These preparations occupied all the
morning, and about 11 o’clock, the balloon was three-quarters full;
sufficiently so;—for as we rise, the atmospheric layers diminish in
density, and the gas, confined within the aerostat, acquiring more
elasticity, might otherwise burst its envelope. My calculations had
furnished me with the exact measurement of gas required to carry my
companions and myself to a considerable height.
We were to ascend at noon. It was truly a magnificent spectacle,
that of the impatient crowd who thronged around the reserved
enclosure, inundated the entire square and adjoining streets, and
covered the neighbouring houses from the basements to the slated
roofs. The high winds of past days had lulled, and an overpowering
heat was radiating from an unclouded sky; not a breath animated the
atmosphere. In such weather, one might descend in the very spot he
I carried three hundred pounds of ballast, in bags; the car,
perfectly round, four feet in diameter, and three feet in height,
was conveniently attached; the cord which sustained it was
symmetrically extended from the upper hemisphere of the aerostat;
the compass was in its place, the barometer suspended to the iron
hoop which surrounded the supporting cord, at a distance of eight
feet above the car; the anchor carefully prepared;—all was in
readiness for our departure.
Among the persons who crowded around the enclosure, I remarked a
young man with pale face and agitated features. I was struck with
his appearance. He had been an assiduous spectator of my ascensions
in several cities of Germany. His uneasy air and his extraordinary
pre-occupation never left him; he eagerly contemplated the curious
machine, which rested motionless at a few feet from the ground, and
The clock struck twelve! This was the hour. My
voyage had not appeared. I sent to the dwelling of each, and
learned that one had started for Hamburg, another for Vienna and
the third, still more fearful, for London. Their hearts had failed
them at the moment of undertaking one of those excursions, which,
since the ingenious experiments of aeronauts, are deprived of all
danger. As they made, as it were a part of the programme of the
fête, they had feared being compelled to fulfil their agreements,
and had fled at the moment of ascension. Their courage had been in
inverse ratio to the square of their swiftness in retreat.
The crowd, thus partly disappointed, were shouting with anger
and impatience. I did not hesitate to ascend alone. To re-establish
the equilibrium between the specific gravity of the balloon and the
weight to be raised, I substituted other bags of sand for my
expected companions and entered the car. The twelve men who were
holding the aerostat by twelve cords fastened to the equatorial
circle, let them slip between their fingers; the car rose a few
feet above the ground. There was not a breath of wind, and the
atmosphere, heavy as lead, seemed insurmountable.
“All is ready!” exclaimed I; “attention!”
The men arranged themselves; a last glance informed me that
everything was right.
There was some movement in the crowd which seemed to be invading
the reserved enclosure.
The balloon slowly ascended; but I experienced a shock which
threw me to the bottom of the car. When I rose, I found myself face
to face with an unexpected voyager,—the pale young man.
“Monsieur, I salute you!” said he to me.
“By what right?”—
“Am I here? By the right of your inability to turn me out.”
I was confounded. His assurance disconcerted me; and I had
nothing to say in reply. I looked at him, but he paid no regard to
my astonishment. He continued:
“My weight will disturb your equilibrium, Monsieur: will you
And without waiting for my assent, he lightened the balloon by
two bags of sand which he emptied into the air.
“Monsieur,” said I, taking the only possible course, “you are
here,—well! you choose to remain,—well! but to me alone belongs the
management of the aerostat.”
“Monsieur,” replied he, “your urbanity is entirely French; it is
of the same country with myself! I press in imagination the hand
which you refuse me. Take your measures,—act as it may seem good to
you; I will wait till you have ended—”
“To converse with you.”
The barometer had fallen to twenty-six inches; we had attained a
height of about six hundred metres, and were over the city; which
satisfied me of our complete quiescence, for I could not judge by
our motionless flags. Nothing betrays the horizontal voyage of a
balloon; it is the mass of air surrounding it which moves. A kind
of wavering heat bathed the objects extended at our feet, and gave
their outlines an indistinctness to be regretted. The needle of the
compass indicated a slight tendency to float towards the south.
I looked again at my companion. He was a man of thirty, simply
clad; the bold outlines of his features betokened indomitable
energy; he appeared very muscular. Absorbed in the emotion of this
silent suspension, he remained immovable, seeking to distinguish
the objects which passed beneath his view.
“Vexatious mist!” said he, at the expiration of a few
I made no reply.
“What would you? I could not pay for my voyage; I was obliged to
take you by surprise.”
“No one has asked you to descend!”
“A similar occurrence,” he resumed, “happened to the Counts of
Laurencin and Dampierre, when they ascended at Lyons, on the 15th
of January, 1784. A young merchant, named Fontaine, scaled the
railing, at the risk of upsetting the equipage. He accomplished the
voyage, and nobody was killed!”
“Once on the earth, we will converse!” said I, piqued at the
tone of lightness with which he spoke.
“Bah! do not talk of returning!”
“Do you think then that I shall delay my descent?”
“Descent!” said he, with surprise. “Let us ascend!”
And before I could prevent him, two bags of sand were thrown
out, without even being emptied.
“Monsieur!” said I, angrily.
“I know your skill,” replied he, composedly; “your brilliant
ascensions have made some noise in the world. Experience is the
sister of practice, but it is also first cousin to theory, and I
have long and deeply studied the aerostatic art. It has affected my
brain,” added he, sadly, falling into a mute torpor.
The balloon, after having risen, remained stationary; the
unknown consulted the barometer, and said:
“Here we are at 800 metres! Men resemble insects! See, I think
it is from this height that we should always look at them, to judge
correctly of their moral proportions! The Place de la Comédie is
transformed to an immense ant-hill. Look at the crowd piled up on
the quays. The Zeil diminishes. We are above the church of Dom. The
Mein is now only a white line dividing the city, and this bridge,
the Mein-Brucke, looks like a white thread thrown between the two
banks of the river.”
The atmosphere grew cooler.
“There is nothing I will not do for you, my host,” said my
companion. “If you are cold, I will take off my clothes and lend
them to you.”
“Necessity makes laws. Give me your hand, I am your countryman.
You shall be instructed by my company, and my conversation shall
compensate you for the annoyance I have caused you.”
I seated myself, without replying, at the opposite extremity of
the car. The young man had drawn from his great coat a voluminous
portfolio; it was a work on aerostation.
“I possess,” said he, “a most curious collection of engraving,
and caricatures appertaining to our aerial mania. This precious
discovery has been at once admired and ridiculed. Fortunately we
have passed the period when the Mongolfiers sought to make
factitious clouds with the vapour of water; and of the gas
affecting electric properties, which they produced by the
combustion of clamp straw with chopped wool.”
“Would you detract from the merit of these inventions?” replied
I. “Was it not well done to have proved by experiment the
possibility of rising in the air?”
“Who denies the glory of the first aerial navigators? Immense
courage was necessary to ascend by means of those fragile envelopes
which contained only warm air. Besides, has not aerostatic science
made great progress since the ascensions of Blanchard? Look,
He took from his collection an engraving.
“Here is the first aerial voyage undertaken by Pilatre des
Rosiers and the Marquis d’Arlandes, four months after the discovery
of balloons. Louis XVI. refused his consent to this voyage; two
condemned criminals were to have first attempted aerial travelling.
Pilatre des Rosiers was indignant at this injustice and, by means
of artifice, succeeded in setting out. This car, which renders the
management of the balloon easy, had not then been invented; a
circular gallery surrounded the lower part of the aerostat. The two
aeronauts stationed themselves at the extremities of this gallery.
The damp straw with which it was filled encumbered their movements.
A chafing-dish was suspended beneath the orifice of the balloon;
when the voyagers wished to ascend, they threw, with a long fork,
straw upon this brazier, at the risk of burning the machine, and
the air, growing warmer, gave to the balloon a new ascensional
force. The two bold navigators ascended, on the 21st of November,
1783, from the gardens of La Muette, which the Dauphin had placed
at their disposal. The aerostat rose majestically, passed the Isle
des Cygnes, crossed the Seine at the Barrière de la Conference,
and, directing its way between the dome of the Invalides and
L’Ecole Militaire, approached St. Sulpice; then the aeronauts
increased the fire, ascended, cleared the Boulevard, and descended
beyond the Barrière d’Enfer. As it touched the ground, the
collapsed, and buried Pilatre des Rosiers beneath its folds.”
“Unfortunate presage!” said I, interested in these details,
which so nearly concerned me.
“Presage of his catastrophe,” replied the unknown, with sadness.
“You have experienced nothing similar?”
“Bah! misfortunes often arrive without presage.” And he remained
We were advancing towards the south; the magnetic needle pointed
in the direction of Frankfort, which was flying beneath our
“Perhaps we shall have a storm,” said the young man.
“We will descend first.”
“Indeed! it will be better to ascend; we shall escape more
surely;” and two bags of sand were thrown overboard.
The balloon rose rapidly, and stopped at twelve hundred metres.
The cold was now intense, and there was a slight buzzing in my
ears. Nevertheless, the rays of the sun fell hotly on the globe,
and, dilating the gas it contained, gave it a greater ascensional
force. I was stupified.
“Fear nothing,” said the young man to me.
“We have three thousand five hundred toises of respirable air.
You need not trouble yourself about my proceedings.”
I would have risen, but a vigorous hand detained me on my
“Your name?” asked I.
“My name! how does it concern you?”
“I have the honour to ask your name.”
“I am called Erostratus or Empedocles,—as you please. Are you
interested in the progress of aerostatic science?”
He spoke with icy coldness, and I asked myself with whom I had
“Monsieur,” continued he, “nothing new has been invented since
the days of the philosopher Charles. Four months after the
discovery of aerostats, he had invented the valve, which permits
the gas to escape when the balloon is too full, or when one wishes
to descend; the car, which allows the machine to be easily managed;
the network, which encloses the fabric of the balloon, and prevents
its being too heavily pressed; the ballast, which is used in
ascending and choosing the spot of descent; the coat of caoutchouc,
which renders the silk impermeable; the barometer, which determines
the height attained; and, finally, the hydrogen, which, fourteen
times lighter than air, allows of ascension to the most distant
atmospheric layers, and prevents exposure to aerial combustion. On
the 1st of December, 1783, three hundred thousand spectators
thronged the Tuileries. Charles ascended, and the soldiers
presented arms. He travelled nine leagues in the air: managing his
machine with a skill never since surpassed in aeronautic
experiments. The King conferred on him a pension of two thousand
livres, for in those days inventions were encouraged. In a few
days, the subscription list was filled; for every one was
interested in the progress of science.”
The unknown was seized with a violent agitation.
“I, Monsieur, have studied; I am satisfied that the first
aeronauts guided their balloons. Not to speak of Blanchard, whose
assertions might be doubted, at Dijon, Guyton-Morveaux, by the aid
of oars and a helm, imparted to his machines perceptible motions, a
decided direction. More recently, at Paris, a watchmaker, M.
Julien, has made at the Hippodrome convincing experiments; for,
with the aid of a particular mechanism, an aerial apparatus of
oblong form was manifestly propelled against the wind. M. Petin
placed four balloons, filled with hydrogen, in juxtaposition, and,
by means of sails disposed horizontally and partially furled, hoped
to obtain a disturbance of the equilibrium, which, inclining the
apparatus, should compel it to an oblique path. But the motive
power destined to surmount the resistance of currents,—the helice,
moving in a movable medium, was unsuccessful. I have discovered the
only method of guiding balloons, and not an Academy has come to my
assistance, not a city has filled my subscription lists, not a
government has deigned to listen to me! It is infamous!”
His gesticulations were so furious that the car experienced
violent oscillations; I had much difficulty in restraining him.
Meanwhile, the balloon had encountered a more rapid current. We
were advancing in a southerly direction, at 1200 metres in height,
almost accustomed to this new temperature.
“There is Darmstadt,” said my companion. “Do you perceive its
magnificent chateau? The storm-cloud below makes the outlines of
objects waver; and it requires a practised eye to recognise
“You are certain that it is Darmstadt?”
“Undoubtedly; we are six leagues from Frankfort.”
“Then we must descend.”
“Descend! you would not alight upon the steeples!” said the
“No; but in the environs of the city.”
“Well, it is too warm; let us remount a little.”
As he spoke thus, he seized some bags of ballast. I precipitated
myself upon him; but, with one hand, he overthrew me, and the
lightened balloon rose to a height of 1500 metres.
“Sit down,” said he, “and do not forget that Brioschi, Biot, and
Gay-Lussac, ascended to a height of seven thousand metres, in order
to establish some new scientific laws.”
“We must descend;” resumed I, with an attempt at gentleness.
“The storm is gathering beneath our feet and around us; it would
not be prudent.”
“We will ascend above it, and shall have nothing to fear from
it. What more beautiful than to reign in heaven, and look down upon
the clouds which hover upon the earth! Is it not an honour to
navigate these aerial waves? The greatest personages have travelled
like ourselves. The Marquise and Comtesse de Montalembert, the
Comtesse de Potteries, Mlle. La Garde, the Marquis of Montalembert,
set out from the Faubourg St. Antoine for these unknown regions.
The Duc de Chartres displayed much address and presence of mind in
his ascension of the 15th of July, 1784; at Lyons, the Comtes de
Laurencin and de Dampierre; at Nantes, M. de Luynes; at Bordeaux,
D’Arbelet des Granges; in Italy, the Chevalier Andreani; in our
days, the Duke of Brunswick; have left in the air the track of
their glory. In order to equal these great personages, we must
ascend into the celestial regions higher than they. To approach the
infinite is to comprehend it.”
The rarefaction of the air considerably dilated the hydrogen,
and I saw the lower part of the aerostat, designedly left empty,
become by degrees inflated, rendering the opening of the valve
indispensable; but my fearful companion seemed determined not to
allow me to direct our movements. I resolved to pull secretly the
cord attached to the valve, while he was talking with animation. I
feared to guess with whom I had to do; it would have been too
horrible! It was about three-quarters of an hour since we had left
Frankfort, and from the south thick clouds were arising and
threatening to engulf us.
“Have you lost all hope of making your plans succeed?” said I,
with great apparent interest.
“All hope!” replied the unknown, despairingly. “Wounded by
refusals, caricatures, those blows with the foot of an ass, have
finished me. It is the eternal punishment reserved for innovators.
See these caricatures of every age with which my portfolio is
I had secured the cord of the valve, and stooping over his
works, concealed my movements from him. It was to be feared,
nevertheless, that he would notice that rushing sound, like a
waterfall, which the gas produces in escaping.
“How many jests at the expense of the Abbé Miolan! He was about
to ascend with Janninet and Bredin. During the operation, their
balloon took fire, and an ignorant populace tore it to pieces. Then
the caricature of The Curious Animals called them
Maulant, Jean Mind, and Gredin.”
The barometer had began to rise; it was time! A distant
muttering of thunder was heard towards the south.
“See this other engraving,” continued he, without seeming to
suspect my manoeuvres. “It is an immense balloon, containing a
ship, large castles, houses, &c. The caricaturists little
thought that their absurdities would one day become verities. It is
a large vessel; at the left is the helm with the pilot’s box; at
the prow, maisons de plaisance, a gigantic organ, and cannon
to call the attention of the inhabitants of earth or of the moon;
above the stern the observatory and pilot-balloon; at the
equatorial circle, the barracks of the army; on the left the
lantern; then upper galleries for promenades, the sails, the wings;
beneath, the cafés and general store-houses of provisions. Admire
this magnificent announcement. ‘Invented for the good of the human
race, this globe will depart immediately for the seaports in the
Levant, and on its return will announce its voyages for the two
poles and the extremities of the Occident. Every provision is made;
there will be an exact rate of fare for each place of destination;
but the prices for distant voyages will be the same, 1000 louis.
And it must be confessed that this is a moderate sum, considering
the celerity, convenience, and pleasure of this mode of travelling
above all others. While in this balloon, every one can divert
himself as he pleases, dancing, playing, or conversing with people
of talent. Pleasure will be the soul of the aerial society.’ All
these inventions excited laughter. But before long, if my days were
not numbered, these projects should become realities.”
We were visibly descending; he did not perceive it!
“See this game of balloons; it contains the whole history of the
aerostatic art. This game, for the use of educated minds, is played
like that of the Jew; with dice and counters of any value agreed
upon, which are to be paid or received, according to the condition
in which one arrives.”
“But,” I resumed, “you seem to have valuable documents on
“I am less learned than the Almighty! That is all! I possess all
the knowledge possible in this world. From Phaeton, Icarus, and
Architas. I have searched all, comprehended all! Through me, the
aerostatic art would render immense services to the world, if God
should spare my life! But that cannot be.”
“Because my name is Empedocles or Erostratus!”
The Company of Aerostiers—The Battle of
Fleurus—The Balloon over the Sea—Blanchard and Jefferies—A Drama
such as is rarely seen—3000 Metres—The Thunder beneath our
Feet—Gavnerin at Rome—The Compass gone—The Victims of
Aerostation—Pilatre—At 4000 Metres—The Barometer gone—Descents of
Olivari, Mosment, Bittorf, Harris, Sadler, and Madame Blanchard—The
Valve rendered useless—7000 Metres—Zambecarri—The Ballon (sic)
Wrecked—Incalculable Heights—The Car Overset—Despair—Vertigo—The
I shuddered! Fortunately the balloon was approaching the earth.
But the danger is the same at 50 feet as at 5000 metres! The clouds
“Remember the battle of Fleurus, and you will comprehend the
utility of aerostats! Coulee, by order of the government, organized
a company of aerostiers. At the siege of Maubeuge, General Jourdan
found this new method of observation so serviceable, that twice a
day, accompanied by the General himself, Coutelle ascended into the
air; the correspondence between the aeronaut and the aerostiers who
held the balloon, was carried on by means of little white, red, and
yellow flags. Cannons and carbines were often aimed at the balloon
at the moment of its ascension, but without effect. When Jourdan
was preparing to invest Charleroi, Coutelle repaired to the
neighbourhood of that place, rose from the plain of Jumet, and
remained taking observations seven or eight hours, with General
Morelot. The Austrians came to deliver the city, and a battle was
fought on the heights of Fleurus. General Jourdan publicly
proclaimed the assistance he had received from aeronautic
observations. Well! notwithstanding the services rendered on this
occasion, and during the campaign with Belgium, the year which
witnessed the commencement of the military career of balloons, also
saw it terminate. And the school of Meuon, founded by government,
was closed by Bonaparte, on his return from Egypt. ‘What are we to
expect from the child which has just been born?’ Franklin had said.
But the child was born alive! It need not have been
The unknown hid his forehead in his hands, reflected for a few
moments, then, without raising his head, said to me:
“Notwithstanding my orders, you have opened the upper
I let go the cord.
“Fortunately” continued he, “we have still two hundred pounds
“What are your plans?” said I, with effort.
“You have never crossed the sea?”
I grew frightfully pale, terror froze my veins.
“It is a pity,” said he, “that we are being wafted towards the
Adriatic! That is only a streamlet. Higher! we shall find other
And without looking at me, he lightened the balloon by several
bags of sand.
“I allowed you to open the valve, because the dilatation of the
gas threatened to burst the balloon. But do not do it again.”
I was stupified.
“You know the voyage from Dover to Calais made by Blanchard and
Jefferies. It was rich in incident. On the 7th of January, 1785, in
a northeast wind, their balloon was filled with gas on the Dover
side; scarcely had they risen, when an error in equilibrium
compelled them to threw out their ballast, retaining only thirty
pounds. The wind drifted them slowly along towards the shores of
France. The permeability of the tissue gradually suffered the gas
to escape, and at the expiration of an hour and a half, the
voyagers perceived that they were descending. ‘What is to be
done?’ said Jefferies.—‘We have passed over only three-fourths of
the distance,’ replied Blanchard ‘and at a slight elevation. By
ascending we shall expose ourselves to contrary winds. Throw out
the remainder of the ballast.’ The balloon regained its ascensional
force, but soon re-descended. About midway of the voyage, the
aeronauts threw out their books and tools. A quarter of an hour
afterwards, Blanchard said to Jefferies: ‘The barometer?’—‘It is
rising! We are lost; and yet there are the shores of France!’ A
great noise was heard. ‘Is the balloon rent?’ asked
Jefferies.—‘No! the escape of the gas has collapsed the lower part
of the balloon’—‘But we are still descending. We are lost!
Everything not indispensable must be thrown overboard!’ Their
provisions, oars and helm were thrown out into the sea. They were
now only 100 metres in height. ‘We are remounting,’ said the
Doctor.—‘ No, it is the jerk caused by the diminution of weight.
There is not a ship in sight! Not a bark on the horizon! To the sea
with our garments!’ And the unfortunate men stripped, but the
balloon continued to descend. ‘Blanchard,’ said Jefferies, ‘you
were to have made this voyage alone; you consented to take me; I
will sacrifice myself to you! I will throw myself into the water,
and the balloon, relieved, will re-ascend!’—‘ No, no, it is
frightful.’ The balloon collapsed more and more, and its concavity
forming a parachute, forced the gas against its sides and
accelerated its motion. ‘Adieu, my friend,’ said the Doctor. ‘May
God preserve you!’ He was about to have taken the leap, when
Blanchard detained him. ‘One resource remains to us! We can cut the
cords by which the car is attached, and cling to the network?
perhaps the balloon will rise. Ready! But the barometer falls! We
remount! The wind freshens! We are saved!’ The voyagers perceived
Calais! Their joy became delirium; a few moments later, they
descended in the forest of Guines. I doubt not,” continued the
unknown, “that in similar circumstances you would follow the
example of Doctor Jefferies.”
The clouds were unrolling beneath our feet in glittering
cascades; the balloon cast a deep shadow on this pile of clouds,
and was surrounded by them as with an aureola! The thunder growled
beneath our feet! All this was frightful!
“Let us descend!” exclaimed I.
“Descend, when the sun is awaiting us yonder! Down with the
bags!” And he lightened the balloon of more than fifty pounds. At
3000 metres we remained stationary. The unknown talked incessantly,
but I scarcely heard him; I was completely prostrated, while he
seemed in his element.
“With a good wind, we shall go far, but we must especially go
“We are lost!”
“In the Antilles there are currents of air which travel a hundred
leagues an hour! On the occasion of Napoleon’s coronation, Gavnerin
let off a balloon illuminated with coloured lamps, at eleven
o’clock in the evening! The wind blew from the N.N.E.; the next
morning at daybreak the inhabitants of Rome saluted its passage
above the dome of St. Peter’s. We will go farther.”
I scarcely heard him; everything was buzzing around me! There
was an opening in the clouds!
“See that city, my host;” said the unknown. “It is Spire.
I dared not lean over the railing of the car. Nevertheless I
perceived a little black spot. This was Spire. The broad Rhine
looked like a riband, the great roads like threads. Above our heads
the sky was of a deep azure; I was benumbed with the cold. The
birds had long since forsaken us; in this rarefied sir their flight
would have been impossible. We were alone in space, and I in the
presence of a strange man!
“It is useless for you to know whither I am taking you,” said
he, and he threw the compass into the clouds. “A fall is a fine
thing. You know that there have been a few victims from Pilatre des
Rosiers down to Lieutenant Gale, and these misfortunes have always
been caused by imprudence. Pilatre des Rosiers ascended in company
with Remain, at Boulogne, on the 13th of June, 1785. To his
balloon, inflated with gas, he had suspended a
filled with warm air, undoubtedly to save the trouble of letting
off gas, or throwing out ballast. It was like putting a
chafing-dish beneath a powder-cask. The imprudent men rose to a
height of four hundred metres, and encountered opposing winds,
which drove them over the ocean. In order to descend, Pilatre
attempted to open the valve of the aerostat; but the cord of this
valve caught in the balloon, and tore it so that it was emptied in
an instant. It fell on the mongolfier, overturned it, and the
imprudent men were dashed to pieces in a few seconds. It is
frightful, is it not?” said the unknown, shaking me from my
I could reply only by these words:
“In pity, let us descend! The clouds are gathering around us in
every direction, and frightful detonations reverberating from the
cavity of the aerostat are multiplying around us.”
“You make me impatient!” said he. “You shall no longer know
whether we are ascending or descending.”
And the barometer went after the compass, along with some bags
of sand. We must have been at a height of four thousand metres.
Some icicles were attached to the sides of the car, and a sort of
fine snow penetrated to my bones. Meanwhile a terrific storm was
bursting beneath our feet. We were above it.
“Do not fear,” said my strange companion; “it is only imprudence
that makes victims. Olivari, who perished at Orleans, ascended in a
mongolfier made of paper; his car, suspended below the
chafing-dish, and ballasted with combustible materials, became a
prey to the flames! Olivari fell, and was killed. Mosment ascended
at Lille, on a light platform; an oscillation made him lose his
equilibrium. Mosment fell, and was killed. Bittorf, at Manheim, saw
his paper balloon take fire in the air! Bittorf fell, and was
killed. Harris ascended in a balloon badly constructed, the valve
of which was too large to be closed again. Harris fell, and was
killed. Sadler, deprived of ballast by his long stay in the air,
was dragged over the city of Boston, and thrown against the
chimneys. Sadler fell, and was killed. Cocking descended with a
convex parachute which he pretended to have perfected. Cocking
fell, and was killed. Well, I love them, those noble victims of
their courage! and I will die like them! Higher! higher!”
All the phantoms of this necrology were passing before my eyes!
The rarefaction of the air and the rays of tile sun increased the
dilatation of the gas; the balloon continued to ascend! I
mechanically attempted to open the valve; but the unknown cut the
cord a few feet above my head. I was lost!
“Did you see Madame Blanchard fall?” said he to me. “I saw her,
I—yes, I was at Tivoli on the 6th of July, 1819. Madame Blanchard
ascended in a balloon of small size, to save the expense of
filling; she was therefore obliged to inflate it entirely, and the
gas escaped by the lower orifice, leaving on its route a train of
hydrogen. She carried, suspended above her car, by an iron wire, a
kind of firework, forming an aureola, which she was to kindle. She
had often repeated this experiment. On this occasion she carried,
besides, a little parachute, ballasted by a firework terminating in
a ball with silver rain. Site was to launch this apparatus, after
having lighted it with a lance à feu, prepared for the
purpose. She ascended. The night was dark. At the moment of
lighting the firework, she was so imprudent as to let the lance
pass beneath the column of hydrogen, which was escaping from the
balloon. My eyes were fixed on her. Suddenly an unexpected flash
illuminated the darkness. I thought it a surprise of the skilful
aeronaut. The flame increased, suddenly disappeared, and
re-appeared at the top of the aerostat under the form of an immense
jet of burning gas. This sinister light projected over the
Boulevard, and over the quarter Montmartre. Then I saw the
unfortunate woman rise, twice attempt to compress the orifice of
the balloon, to extinguish the fire, then seat herself in the car
and seek to direct its descent; for she did not fall. The
combustion of the gas lasted several minutes. The balloon,
diminishing by degrees, continued to descend, but this was not a
fall! The wind blew from the northeast, and drove her over Paris.
There were, at that time, in the neighbourhood of the house No. 16
Rue de Provence, immense gardens. The aeronaut might have fallen
there without danger. But unhappily the balloon and the car
alighted on the roof of the house. The shock was slight. ‘Help!’
cried the unfortunate woman. I arrived in the street at that
moment. The car slid along the roof, and encountered an iron hook.
At this shock, Madame Blanchard was thrown out of the car, and
precipitated on the pavement! She was killed!”
These histories of fatal augury froze me with horror. The
unknown was standing upright, with bare head, bristling hair,
Illusion was no longer possible. I saw at last the horrible
truth. I had to deal with a madman!
He threw out half the ballast, and we must have been borne to a
height of 7000 metres! Blood spouted from my nose and mouth.
“What a fine thing it is to be martyrs to science! They are
canonized by posterity!”
I heard no more. The unknown looked around him with horror, and
knelt at my ear.
“On the 7th of October, 1804, the weather had began to clear up
a little; for several days preceding, the wind and rain had been
incessant. But the ascension announced by Zambecarri could not be
postponed! His idiot enemies already scoffed at him. To save
himself and science from public ridicule, it became necessary for
him to ascend. It was at Bologna! No one aided him in filling his
balloon; he rose at midnight, accompanied by Andreoli and
Grossetti. The balloon ascended slowly; it had been rent by the
wind, and the gas escaped. The three intrepid voyagers could
observe the state of the barometer only by the aid of a dark
lantern. Zambecarri had not eaten during twenty-four hours;
Grossetti was also fasting.
“‘My friends,’ said Zambecarri, ‘I am benumbed with the cold; I
am exhausted; I must die;’ and he fell senseless in the
“It was the same with Grossetti. Andreoli alone remained awake.
After long efforts he succeeded in arousing Zambecarri from his
“‘What is there new? Where are we going? In which direction is
the wind? What time is it?’
“‘ It is two o’clock!’
“‘ Where is the compass?’
“‘It has fallen out.’
“‘ Great God! the lamp is extinguished!’
“‘ It could not burn longer in this rarefied air!’ said
“The moon had not risen; the atmosphere was plunged in horrible
“‘ I am cold, I am cold, Andreoli! What shall we do?’
“The unfortunate men slowly descended through a layer of white
“‘Hush!’ said Andreoli; ‘do you hear—‘
“‘ What?’ replied Zambecarri.
“‘A singular noise!’
“‘You are mistaken!’
“‘No!—Do you see those midnight travellers, listening to that
incomprehensible sound? Have they struck against a rower? Are they
about to be precipitated on the roofs? Do you hear it? It is like
the sound of the ocean!’
“‘ It is the roaring of the waves!’
“‘ That is true!—Light! light!’
“After five fruitless attempts, Andreoli obtained it. It was
three o’clock. The sound of the waves was heard with violence; they
almost touched the surface of the sea.
“‘ We are lost!’ exclaimed Zambecarri, seizing a bag of
“‘ Help!’ cried Andreoli.
“The car touched the water, and the waves covered them breast
high. To the sea with instruments, garments, money! The aeronauts
stripped entirely. The lightened balloon rose with frightful
rapidity. Zambecarri was seized with violent vomiting. Grossetti
bled freely. The unhappy men could not speak; their respiration was
short. They were seized with cold, and in a moment covered with a
coat of ice. The moon appeared to them red as blood. After having
traversed these high regions during half an hour, the machine again
fell into the sea. It was four o’clock in the morning: the bodies
of the wretched aeronauts were half in the water, and the balloon,
acting as a sail, dragged them about during several hours. At
daybreak, they found themselves opposite Pesaro, five miles from
the shore; they were about to land, when a sudden flaw of wind
drove them back to the open sea. They were lost! The affrighted
barks fled at their approach. Fortunately, a more intelligent
navigator hailed them, took them on board; and they landed at
Ferrara. That was frightful! Zambecarri was a brave man. Scarcely
recovered from his sufferings, he recommenced his ascensions. In
one of them, he struck against a tree; his lamp, filled with
spirits of wine, was spilled over his clothes, and they caught
fire; he was covered with flame his machine was beginning to
kindle, when he descended, half burned. The 21st September, 1812,
he made another ascension at Bologna; his balloon caught in a tree;
his lamp set fire to it. Zambecarri fell, and was killed! And in
presence of these high facts, shall we still hesitate? No! The
higher we go the more glorious will be our death”
The balloon, entirely unballasted, we were borne to incredible
heights. The aerostat vibrated in the atmosphere; the slightest
sound re-echoed through the celestial vaults; the globe, the only
object which struck my sight in immensity, seemed about to be
annihilated, and above us the heights of heaven lost themselves in
the profound darkness!
I saw the unknown rise before me.
“This is the hour!” said he to me. “We must die! We are
rejected by men! They despise its! let us crush them!”
“Mercy!” exclaimed I.
“Let us cut the cords! let this car be abandoned in space! The
attractive force will change its direction, and we shall land in
Despair gave me strength! I precipitated myself upon the madman,
and a frightful struggle took place! But I was thrown down! and
while he held me beneath his knee, he cut the cords of the car!
“One!” said he.
“Mercy! O, God!”
One cord more, and the car was sustained only on one side. I
made a superhuman effort, rose, and violently repulsed this
“Four!” said he.
The car was overset. I instinctively clung to the cords which
held it, and climbed up the outside.
The unknown had disappeared in space!
In a twinkling the balloon ascended to an immeasurable height! A
horrible crash was heard. The dilated gas had burst its envelope! I
closed my eyes. A few moments afterwards, a moist warmth reanimated
me; I was in the midst of fiery clouds! The balloon was whirling
with fearful rapidity! I felt myself swooning! Driven by the wind,
I travelled a hundred leagues an hour in my horizontal course; the
lightnings flashed around me!
Meanwhile my fall was not rapid. When I opened my eyes, I
perceived the country. I was two miles from the sea, the hurricane
urging me on with great force. I was lost, when a sudden shock made
me let go; my hands opened, a cord slipped rapidly between my
fingers, and I found myself on the ground. It was the cord of the
anchor, which, sweeping the surface of the ground, had caught in a
crevice! I fainted, and my lightened balloon, resuming its flight,
was lost beyond the sea.
When I recovered my senses, I was in the house of a peasant, at
Harderwick, a little town of
Gueldre, fifteen leagues from
Amsterdam, on the banks of the Zuyderzée.
A miracle had saved me. But my voyage had been but a series of
imprudences against which I had been unable to defend myself.
May this terrific recital, while it instructs those who read it,
not discourage the explorers of the routes of air.