CHAPTER V. SOME FAMOUS EARLY VOYAGERS.
During certain years which now follow it will possibly be thought that our history, so far as incidents of special interest are concerned, somewhat languishes. Yet it may be wrong to regard this period as one of stagnation or retrogression.
Before passing on to later annals, however, we must duly chronicle certain exceptional achievements and endeavours as yet unmentioned, which stand out prominently in the period we have been regarding as also in the advancing years of the new century Among these must in justice be included those which come into the remarkable, if somewhat pathetic subsequent career of the brilliant, intrepid Lunardi.
Compelling everywhere unbounded admiration he readily secured the means necessary for carrying out further exploits wherever he desired while at the same time he met with a measure of good fortune in freedom from misadventure such as has generally been denied to less bold adventurers. Within a few months of the time when we left him, the popular hero and happy recipient of civic and royal favours, we find him in Scotland attempting feats which a knowledge of practical difficulties bids us regard as extraordinary.
To begin with, nothing appears more remarkable than the ease, expedition, and certainty with which in days when necessary facilities must have been far harder to come by than now, he could always fill his balloon by the usually tedious and troublesome mode attending hydrogen inflation. We see him at his first Scottish ascent, completing the operation in little more than two hours. It is the same later at Glasgow, where, commencing with only a portion of his apparatus, he finds the inflation actually to proceed too rapidly for his purpose, and has to hold the powers at his command strongly in check. Later, in December weather, having still further improved his apparatus, he makes his balloon support itself after the inflation of only ten minutes. Then, as if assured of impunity, he treats recognised risks with a species of contempt. At Kelso he hails almost with joy the fact that the wind must carry him rapidly towards the sea, which in the end he narrowly escapes. At Glasgow the chances of safe landing are still more against him, yet he has no hesitation in starting, and at last the catastrophe he seemed to court actually overtook him, and he plumped into the sea near Berwick, where no sail was even in sight, and a winter's night coming on. From this predicament he was rescued by a special providence which once before had not deserted him, when in a tumult of violent and contrary currents, and at a great height to boot, his gallery was almost completely carried away, and he had to cling on to the hoop desperately with both hands.
Then we lose sight of the dauntless, light-hearted Italian for one-and-twenty years, when in the Gentleman's Magazine of July 31, 1806, appears the brief line, "Died in the convent of Barbadinas, of a decline, Mr. Vincent Lunardi, the celebrated aeronaut."
Garnerin, of whom mention has already been made, accomplished in the summer of 1802 two aerial voyages marked by extreme velocity in the rate of travel. The first of these is also remarkable as having been the first to fairly cross the heart of London. Captain Snowdon, R.N., accompanied the aeronaut. The ascent took place from Chelsea Gardens, and proved so great an attraction that the crowd overflowed into the neighbouring parts of the town, choking up the thoroughfares with vehicles, and covering the river with boats. On being liberated, the balloon sped rapidly away, taking a course midway between the river and the main highway of the Strand, Fleet Street, and Cheapside, and so passed from view of the multitude. Such a departure could hardly fail to lead to subsequent adventures, and this is pithily told in a letter written by Garnerin himself: "I take the earliest opportunity of informing you that after a very pleasant journey, but after the most dangerous descent I ever made, on account of the boisterous weather and the vicinity of the sea, we alighted at the distance of four miles from this place and sixty from Ranelagh. We were only three-quarters of an hour on the way. To-night I intend to be in London with the balloon, which is torn to pieces. We ourselves are all over bruises."
Only a week after the same aeronaut ascended again from Marylebone, when he attained almost the same velocity, reaching Chingford, a distance of seventeen miles, in fifteen minutes.
The chief danger attending a balloon journey in a high wind, supposing no injury has been sustained in filling and launching, results not so much from impact with the ground on alighting as from the subsequent almost inevitable dragging along the ground. The grapnels, spurning the open, will often obtain no grip save in a hedge or tree, and even then large boughs will be broken through or dragged away, releasing the balloon on a fresh career which may, for a while, increase in mad impetuosity as the emptying silk offers a deeper hollow for the wind to catch.