CHAPTER X. THE COMMENCEMENT OF A NEW ERA.
Resuming the roll of progressive aeronauts in England whose labours were devoted to the practical conquest of the air, and whose methods and mechanical achievements mark the road of advance by which the successes of to-day have been obtained, there stand out prominently two individuals, of whom one has already received mention in these pages.
The period of a single life is seldom sufficient to allow within its span the full development of any new departure in art or science, and it cannot, therefore, be wondered at if Charles Green, though reviving and re-modelling the art of ballooning in our own country, even after an exceptionally long and successful career, left that pursuit to which he had given new birth virtually still in its infancy.
The year following that in which Green conducted the famous Nassau voyage we find him experimenting in the same balloon with his chosen friend and colleague, Edward Spencer, solicitor, of Barnsbury, who, only nine years later, compiles memoranda of thirty-four ascents, made under every variety of circumstance, many being of a highly enterprising nature. We find him writing enthusiastically of the raptures he experienced when sailing over London in night hours, of lofty ascents and extremely low temperatures, of speeding twenty-eight miles in twenty minutes, of grapnel ropes breaking, and of a cross-country race of four miles through woods and hedges. Such was Mr. Spencer the elder, and if further evidence were needed of his practical acquaintance with, as well as personal devotion to, his adopted profession of aeronautics, we have it in the store of working calculations and other minutiae of the craft, most carefully compiled in manuscript by his own hand; these memoranda being to this day constantly consulted by his grandsons, the present eminent aeronauts, Messrs. Spencer Brothers, as supplying a manual of reliable data for the execution of much of the most important parts of their work.
In the terrific ordeal and risk entailed by the daring and fatal parachute descent of Cocking, Green required an assistant of exceptional nerve and reliability, and, as has been recorded, his choice at once fell on Edward Spencer. In this choice it has already been shown that he was well justified, and in the trying circumstances that ensued Green frankly owns that it was his competent companion who was the first to recover himself. A few years later, when a distinguished company, among whom were Albert Smith and Shirley Brooks, made a memorable ascent from Cremorne, Edward Spencer is one of the select party.
Some account of this voyage should be given, and it need not be said that no more graphic account is to be found than that given by the facile pen of Albert Smith himself. His personal narrative also forms an instructive contrast to another which he had occasion to give to the world shortly afterwards, and which shall be duly noticed. The enthusiastic writer first describes, with apparent pride, the company that ascended with him. Besides Mr. Shirley Brooks, there were Messrs. Davidson, of the Garrick Club; Mr. John Lee, well known in theatrical circles; Mr. P. Thompson, of Guy's Hospital, and others - ten in all, including Charles Green as skipper, and Edward Spencer, who, sitting in the rigging, was entrusted with the all-important management of the valve rope.
"The first sensation experienced," Albert Smith continues, "was not that we were rising, but that the balloon remained fixed, whilst all the world below was rapidly falling away; while the cheers with which they greeted our departure grew fainter, and the cheerers themselves began to look like the inmates of many sixpenny Noah's Arks grouped upon a billiard table.... Our hats would have held millions.... And most strange is the roar of the city as it comes surging into the welkin as though the whole metropolis cheered you with one voice.... Yet none beyond the ordinary passengers are to be seen. The noise is as inexplicable as the murmur in the air at hot summer noontide."
The significance of this last remark will be insisted on when the writer has to tell his own experiences aloft over London, as also a note to the effect that there were seen "large enclosed fields and gardens and pleasure grounds where none were supposed to exist by ordinary passengers." Another interesting note, having reference to a once familiar feature on the river, now disappearing, related to the paddle boats of those days, the steamers making a very beautiful effect, "leaving two long wings of foam behind them similar to the train of a table rocket." Highly suggestive, too, of the experiences of railway travellers in the year 1847 is the account of the alighting, which, by the way, was obviously of no very rude nature. "Every time," says the writer, "the grapnel catches in the ground the balloon is pulled up suddenly with a shock that would soon send anybody from his seat, a jerk like that which occurs when fresh carriages are brought up to a railway train." But the concluding paragraph in this rosy narrative affords another and a very notable contrast to the story which that same writer had occasion to put on record before that same year had passed.
"We counsel everybody to go up in a balloon... In spite of the apparent frightful fragility of cane and network nothing can in reality be more secure... The stories of pressure on the ears, intense cold, and the danger of coming down are all fictions.... Indeed, we almost wanted a few perils to give a little excitement to the trip, and have some notion, if possible, of going up the next time at midnight with fireworks in a thunderstorm, throwing away all the ballast, fastening down the valve, and seeing where the wind will send us."