You have hitherto, Mr Editor, appeared interested in the fortunes of Electromagus, and I shall therefore continue to transmit to you a brief account of the events at Positive House, though some of them may even make me appear a little ridiculous.
Lord Aircastle is gone, and our business has now returned to the regular routine; but I cannot refrain from relating to you an adventure which was intended to honour, but rather disgraced, the last day of his visit.
I have already mentioned the singular mélange of his Lordship’s character. His are not the follies of a vain pretender to Science, but of one, who seeing Science perform wonders, expects it to effect impossibilities. Accustomed to the constant contemplation of complicated machinery, he his better pleased to perform by strange and difficult means what another would do more easily by the common method. He would prefer a chariot moved by steam, that went at the rate of two miles an hour, and required his constant exertion to work it, to the ease and celerity of the best common carriage drawn by the fleetest horses. He has of late devoted much of his attention to the construction of Balloons, and a few days since he came to me — “Mr Electromagus,” said he, “this morning I expect the arrival of a Balloon in which I propose to ascend from the lawn behind the house. It is on a new construction, and entirely my own invention. I have long thought it a great loss to the world that no means had yet been discovered of regulating the course of balloons. Were we once acquainted with a method of guiding their progress thro’ the trackless regions of the atmosphere, with what speed and security might we explore those realms where unceasing fogs and masses of increasing ice, seem forever to debar our vessels from the frozen deserts of the pole, or where the boundless sands and barbarous tribes of Africa alike deny access to the Mountains of the Moon. Then indeed ours would be the triumphs of Daedalian art, and borne upon the air we might sail like Gods over the subject earth, and glory in the boundless energies of Science. Such, Electromagus, are my thoughts, and I flatter myself that I have at length obtained this grand desideration. The Balloon will soon be here, the hydrogen is provided for its repletion, and I intend you the honor of making with me the first ascent in this unrivalled machine. Future ages shall join the name of Aircastle with that of Newton, and yours shall be linked with mine by the grateful voice of posterity.”
To all this, Mr Editor, I had nothing to oppose — the plan was grand, the object greatly desirable; all I feared was its success. But his Lordship continued — “When I have sufficiently experienced the effects of my plan, I intend to communicate it to the Government. Balloons have formerly been used for the distribution of newspapers; an accurate method of guiding them once known, they may be subservient to a more important purpose, the conveyance of troops. Our fleets will be no longer forced to struggle with the winds and tides, and to waste their time in circuitous courses; our armies will no more contend with fatigue and famine in their lengthened marches, but our astonished enemies will behold our aerial navy riding above them, and pouring down a deluge of armed men. Sieges will be at an end; when the skies are open the loftiest walls are useless, and the safest scene of combat is the open field. I have now,” said he, “in my mind a plan for transporting 20,000 troops to America, where instead of arriving, after a long voyage sea-sick and dispirited, a few hours will enable them to hurl their thunders on their wondering foes.”
“No doubt,” said I, “you have considered the scheme, and know it to be practicable, but will it not be attended with immense expense?”
“Expense!” said he, “to England, the emporium of commerce, whose gold pours in an inexhausted stream again to fertilize the realms of desolated Europe, to England will expense be an object? No! Electromagus, the government that would spend half a million in rockets for its amusement will not pause at the expense of my plan. But stop, for I see the waggon which conveys my balloon.”
I will not trouble you with the particulars of landing, fixing, and filling the balloon. This was done. Lord Aircastle and myself were prepared to enter the car, and my pupils were assembled to witness the ascension. I mentioned to his Lordship that his machinery appeared heavy, and that I feared we should not rise high. He said that was not his object; his present wish was to show the power of guiding it. We entered, the cords were cut, and the machine after trailing some time began to rise. In so doing, the car was entangled in the branches of an apple-tree, and when with some difficulty we disengaged it, Lord Aircastle’s hat and wig of spun glass, were left dangling as monuments of our flight. But this was only the beginning of our disasters. It was Lord Aircastle’s intention, steering north-east, to pass over London to Hampstead, and afterwards to return and alight where we ascended, but in vain did he so direct the balloon; it was as intractable as the brazen steed of Cambuscan; the wind was imperious, and, as often as he adjusted the sails, turned the whole machine round with a rapidity that made me giddy, and bore us towards Greenwich. His Lordship sate sulky and discontented, and the rapid exhaustion of the hydrogen, which had not been well secured, threatened a speedy termination to our voyage: in short we were unable even to influence our descent, and after sticking some time between two chimneys, till the escape of the gas favored ours, we were precipitated into the Thames, in the view of a crowd of spectators. Had these been strangers we might have been less mortified at the plight in which we were extricated from the water. But alas! Lord Aircastle and his plan were well known, and he had not sufficient presence of mind to excuse his failure. To crown all, my favorite pupil Atticus had stolen out in my absence to see his mother who resides at Greenwich; and I could perceive in his countenance something of mirth at our ludicrous situation, which galled me more than I should like him to see. Lord Aircastle ordered a chaise immediately, and we lost no time in leaving the scene of our misfortune. His Lordship went straight to Town, leaving me in his road, to bear alone the feigned condolences and ill-concealed smiles of my pupils. The only consolation I have, is that we are not the first who have fallen by attempting to soar too high.
I am, dear Sir,
your most obedient,
P.S. I have been so much pleased with a late production of Mr Beauclerc’s, that I cannot help inclosing it for your amusement, tho’ somewhat against the wish of its author, who, having been prevented by his situation in Positive House, from hearing any of Dr Spurzheim’s lectures, is not certain how far the present system of craniology may accord with that of Dr Gall, or how far it may have since been improved and modified.