Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sep 15, Vincent Lunardi

Vincent Lunardi1784 Vincent Lunardi made the first (acclaimed) aerial journey in England, flying in a balloon from the Artillery Ground, at Moorfields, in the presence of the Prince of Wales, Lord North, William Pitt the Younger, Charles Fox, Edmund Burke, the Duchess of Devonshire, various other distinguished personages, and about 150,000 common folk.
Lunardi reached a height of some four miles (so he said). He finally touched down safely in a field near Ware, in Hertfordshire, so frightening local labourers that no promises of reward would induce them to approach the craft.
For two years, the Italian aeronaut barnstormed England, until an accident in which a young man became entangled in a rope and fell to his death. One satirist wrote:
Behold an Hero comely, tall and fair,
His only food phlogisticated air, ...
Now drooping roams about from town to Town
Collecting pence t'inflate his poor balloon.
Robert Chambers wrote: "Mr. Lunardi's publications exhibit him as a vain excitable young man, utterly carried away by the singularity of his position. He tells us how a woman dropped down dead through fright, caused by beholding his wondrous apparition in the air; but, on the other hand, he saved a man's life, for a jury brought in a verdict of Not guilty on a notorious highwayman, that they might rush out of court to witness the balloon. When Lunardi arose, a cabinet council was engaged on most important state deliberations; but the king said: 'My lords, we shall have an opportunity of discussing this question at another time, but we may never again see poor Lunardi; so let us adjourn the council, and observe the balloon!'
"Ignorance, combined with vanity, led Lunardi into some strange assertions. He professed to be able to lower his balloon, at pleasure, by using a kind of oar. When he subsequently ascended at Edinburgh, he affirmed that, at the height of 1100 feet, he saw the city of Glasgow, and also the town of Paisley, which are, at least, forty miles distant, with a hilly country between. The following paragraph from the General Advertiser of September 24, 1784, has a sly reference to these and the like allegations. 

Lunardi's flight"'As several of our correspondents seem to disbelieve that part of Mr. Lunardi's tale, wherein be states that he saw the neck of a quart bottle four miles' distance, all we can inform them on the subject is, that Mr. Lunardi was above lying.'

"Lunardi's success was, in all probability, due to the suggestions of another, rather than to his own scientific acquirements. His original intention was to have used a Montgolfier or fire balloon, the inherent perils of which would almost imperatively forbid a successful result. But the celebrated chemist, Dr. George Fordyce, informed him of the buoyant nature of hydrogen gas, with the mode of its manufacture; and to this information Lunardi's successful ascents may be attributed. Three days before Lunardi ascended, Mr. Sadler made an ineffectual attempt at Shotover Hill, near Oxford, but was defeated, by using a balloon on the Montgolfier principle.

"It is generally supposed that Lunardi was the first person who ascended by means of a balloon in Great Britain, but he certainly was not. A very poor man, named James Tytler, who then lived in Edinburgh, supporting himself and family in the humblest style of garret or cottage life by the exercise of his pen, had this honour. He had effected an ascent at Edinburgh on the 27th of August 1784, just nineteen days previous to Lunardi. Tytler's ascent, however, was almost a failure, by his employing the dangerous and unmanageable Montgolfier principle. After several ineffectual attempts, Tytler, finding that he could not carry up his fire-stove with him, determined, in the maddening desperation of disappointment, to go without this his sole sustaining power. Jumping into his car, which was no other than a common crate used for packing earthenware, he and the balloon ascended from Comely Garden, and immediately afterwards fell in the Restalrig Road. For a wonder, Tytler was uninjured; and though he did not reach a greater altitude than three hundred feet, nor traverse a greater distance than half a mile, yet his name must ever be mentioned as that of the first Briton who ascended with a balloon, and the first man who ascended in Britain.

"Tytler was the son of a clergyman of the Church of Scotland, and had been educated as a surgeon; but being of an eccentric and erratic genius, he adopted literature as a profession, and was the principal editor of the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Becoming embroiled in politics, he published a handbill of a seditious tendency, and consequently was compelled to seek a refuge in America, where he died in 1805, after conducting a newspaper at Salem, in New England, for several years.

"A prophet acquires little honour in his own country. While poor Tytler was being overwhelmed by the coarse jeers of his compatriots, Lunardi came to Edinburgh in 1785, and was received with the utmost enthusiasm." 
Robert Chambers, (Ed.), The Book of Days: A miscellany of popular antiquities in connection with the calendar, etc, W & R Chambers, London, 1881 (1879 Edition is online and 1869 edition here with CD-ROM available; See also The English Year: A Personal Selection from Chambers' Book of Days)


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