An Historic-Scientifico-Didactic Sketch
Prize Poem by Artemisia Bustleton
O thou, the winged courser of the Nine,
Whirl me aloft, on tireless wings upborne!
And if I snatch from our thy rainbow pinion
One quill immortal, be it mine to write
On themes that soar above all vulgar strains —
That soar indeed! for flight itself I sing.
Or if the Muses’ winged steed disdain
To bear the bard that scarce requires their aid,
Illumin’d by th’ inspiring pow’r of Her
Who on the winged lightning flies sublime,
Weeps in the dew, and sighs in ev’ry gale;
Thee, purest spirit of aërial race,
Who, throned above our vulgar atmosphere
Play’st in the solar beam, thee I invoke,
Oh Hydrogen! thou surest, best ally,
To waft us through the pathless element!
When was the period that aspiring Man
Sought not to find some transport to the skies?
When gentle sleep in pleasing torpor lulls
Our grosser corporal frames, our soaring spirits,
In fancied flights delighting, love to bask
In the bright regions of etherial day:
And, mid Munchausen’s wondrous voyages,
Not tales of loaves, or ready-roasted beef,
Or skins of wine, that hang on every tree;
Or men whose heads, disjointed from their shoulders,
Serve them for balls; or stags with cherry-trees
Upspringing from their haunches, so delight
Th’ enraptured mind, as when he sings of men
And lovely virgins, that in liquid air
Weave the light dance with forms of sylphid grace
Thus prone to soar is buoyant fancy ever,
And oft have active hands essayed the means
To realize the hope of active minds.
The antient poets sing Daedalian art,
And elder Bacon turned his mighty mind
And fertile pen to treat of flying lore;
But ere a greater Bacon rose to scan
Fair science’ boundaries, and fix her laws,
No shame was formed that safely promised flight,
Twere long to tell, since wise Borelli taught
No human arm had muscles fit for wings,
What crotchets filled each philosophic brain.
Tho’ Wilkins inly deemed a globe of fire,
Or air etherial, self-sustained would rise,
Buoyed by its own inherent levity,
As floats an empty vessel on the wave;
On springs and mechanism his hopes of flight
The high-aspiring prelate vainly rests.
Of air exhausted, Lana’s metal sphere,
Collapsed by atmospheric pressure, falls.
Friar Gusman’s bird-like kite, with tubes and sails,
Magnetic spheres, amber, and bellows driven,
Excites but mirth in these enlightened days;
Tho Lusitania’s monarch placed the sage
In cloister’d ease beneath Santarem’s shade,
And when his wicker basket paper’d o’er
Soar’s up two hundred feet in ambient air,
The crowd by magic deemed the wonder wrought.
But when, O Cavendish! thy deep research,
And thine, O Black! of air inflammable
Had proved the levity, and Cavallo tried
To raise a bladder and a paper sphere,
Who but had thought the grand arcanum found,
Till ends his guest in blowing soapy bubbles?
’Tis thus with Man — his wit and wisdom spent
To gain th’ applause of a deceitful world,
He finds too late ’tis but a bubble all.
Yet could not soaring science thus be foiled,
Where from Lutetia’s thickly-clustring hearths
The wreathing smoke aspired, two Brethren sage
(Reckless how splashing mud assailed their hose,
Or cars life-threatening rolled their ceaseless din)
Mark’d its light curls, and deem’d th’ expansive pow’r
That thus propell’d it, might the means afford
To raise in middle air a swelling globe.
Hail, glorious thought! Montgolfier, honor’d name,
For this shall live in song while song shall live
The great inventor of the famed BALLOON!
First, as the eaglet tries his tender wing,
Small spheres, inflated by a pendent flame,
Rose quiv’ring in mid air to point the way.
Then at Versailles (ere dire rebellion’s pow’r
Despoiled fair France of nobles, King, and Queen)
The Court beheld with joy a wondrous sight.
First of aërial voyagers went forth,
Oh favor’d Three! a Sheep, a Cock, a Duck,
Who, when the bleat and quack and crow of triumph
Mingled with royal plaudits, noble “bravo!”s,
And joyous general shouts that rent the air,
Who but, with generous emulation smit,
Had wished himself that sheep, that cock, or duck?
E’en thus, when first immortal Priestley found
His retorts filled with empyrean air,
First of created things a favored mouse
He chose to breathe it, he beheld her quaff
The draught delighted, and delighted dance
Inspired with new-born life — Oh! who but envies
That happy mouse, the happiest of her kind!
Thus on immortal frogs Galvani proved
His new-found pow’r; and hecatombs of rabbits
By Spallanzani’s poisons glorious died!
Not long may sheep, frogs, mice, or poultry move
Philosophers to envy; Paris saw
Pilatre de Rosier, advent’rous sage!
Hover o’er all her domes, his gay balloon
Just held to earth by one slight trembling cord.
Bold was the man who first tried unknown seas
Beyond the sight of land; but bolder far
The man who, by a fragile sphere upborne,
The treacherous elements (like fabled fiends
That guide their motions) prove, as proverbs say,
Good servants but bad masters. Had they not
With rapid hand applied the moistened sponge
Fire had cut short their voyage, fame, and life.
Oh early warned, beware! de Rosier learn
To trust no more the dangerous ally!
In vain he’s warned! again he mounts the car,
A new machine with Romaine’s help he tries,
And science mourns her martyrs. Love too weeps
For not her lonely lamp Pilatre’s breast
Illumin’d wholly; other flames aspired To rule; and had not grosser, deadlier fires
Hurled him from present glory, future bliss,
Soon saffron light had beamed from Hymen’s torch.
Hark, as he mounts the car his Susan breathes
Her tender wishes forth to all the winds!
For, this his last emprize in safety passed,
Like Errant Knights of old, his toils should end
In nuptial feasts and matrimonial joys.
Alas, that old Olympus’ pow’rs no more
With ready metamorphose heal each woe!
Else, when his fiery car had whirled from heav’n
The modern Phaēton, fair Susan’s woe
Not slowly had consumed her ling’ring life,
But in a waving poplar had she sighed,
Or in a flowing fount of tears dissolved.
Still rose Philosophers of dauntless mind
And skilful hand, and rose more safely soon;
For soon had Charles and Robert found a pow’r
That swelled the light machine to buoyancy
Without the dan’grous doubtful aid of fire.
With air inflammable (which chemists now
More learned grown, call “Hydrogen” and “Gas”,)
They filled their ample sphere, exulting sailed
Above all human ken, and quickly found
Dense clouds surrounding close, obscure the earth
And blot the light of heaven, and whirlwind twirled
Three times their vast machine like spinning top,
Shatter’d its cords, and tore their silken helm.
And ocean now of shapeless cloud on clour
Beneath them rolled in dark chaotic mass,
And seemed to bar all passage for return;
While ev’ry moment shook with ruder bound
Their agitated bark half-wreck’d in air.
Yet dauntless still they kept their onward course,
Surely upheld by trusty hydrogen.
Driv’n by a friendly gust the clouds above,
At length they revel in the solar blaze,
And scenes too bright for pencil compensate
For hands benumbed, for aching ear and jaw;
Till heat’s expansive pow’r that swelled their globe
A yawning rent compells, and down they plunge
So rapidly upon the lake beneath
That scarce their car stays at the water’s edge.
Nor could the Muse pursue her much-lov’d theme
Thro’ untrod paths, and sing the union rare
Of lore pneumatic, chemic, and mechanic,
But time would fail — attention’s self would tire.
Therefore she lets to tell of ev’ry scheme
For sailing thro’ the trackless paths of air
With spread umbrellas, flutt’ring wings, or oars.
Yet must thy name, O Blanchard, grace the verse,
Readiest of all who sailed with oars or wings,
And first who dared to fly across the sea!
From the famed cliff which lives in Shakespeare’s Song,
Made more illustrious by this high emprize,
Thou and thy bold compeer pushed off for France.
Lovely beneath thee lay the southern coast
Of Merry England, and thy raptured eye
Full thirty-seven villages did count.
Beneath thee scudded o’er the dark-blue wave
The wond’ring Mariners, who well might deem
Great Jove had sent his eagle down to steal
A vessel freighted all with Ganymedes.
What deemed they then, when as thy glist’ning eye
Enchanted viewed th’ approaching Coast of France,
Thy downward course compelled thee to cast out
Ballast and Books, Provisions, yea e’en Wings?
No friendly bark was near to save thee then
From plunge Icarian in the fatal wave.
And scarce those Straits ’scaped an illustrious name,
Which France and England might have joined to give,
But ’twas not Fate’s decree — anchors and cords
Cast out, and vestments stripped, and travellers slung,
Ready to part e’en with their buoyant care,
They rose majestic over Calais’ heights,
And in Guienne’s tall wood alighted safe.
Sages all hail! all hail Aëronauts!
Ye countless Heroes of the famed Balloon!
Lunardi and Italia’s dauntless Chiefs!
Thou, Garnerin and thy advent’rous spouse,
With all that soar among the sons of France!
Last ye who boast your birth on British soil,
And chiefest ye, O Sadler, old and young!
Great are your deeds, and all too weak my voice
To give them duly to the song of fame.
How shall it then proclaim, in trembling sounds,
Great Aircastle, the last or rather first
Of all who write or think or sail or fly?
No huge Montgolfier e’er could match his globes,
Blanchard’s machinery is nought to his,
Nor Sadler e’en, tho’ chose to adorn
The Fête that charmed all London in the park,
Can equal him in wild advent’rous flight.
This now — but when his latest best design,
The wondrous Fish, which Knightsbridge in amaze
Shrouded beholds in a stupendous barn,
Shall swell with hydrogen, and dart thro’ air
Guided by pliant fins and flexible tail,
What wonder then shall fill th’ astonished crowd!
Soon London’s Aldermen from slanting planes
Shall launch the aërial bark, o’er subject clouds
Display their bloody dagger, and with dance
And mirthful song primeval silence charm,
While, steered by mighty sails, elate they go,
Swanhopping thro’ the air to catch a meteor.
Soon graceful maidens on the dolphin’s back
Shall rise like Ampitrite, spread their locks
Of waving amber to the wondering winds,
And, with fresh beauties drawn from purer gales,
Shall charm th’ enamoured Deities of air.
Arabian Coursers shall no more be prized,
Stanhopes and Tilburies in dust shall moulder,
And Poets, doomed no more to trudge on foot
By horse-tax, farriers and corn-chandler’s bills,
On many a Pegasus shall fan the air
With wings melodious, beating joyous time
To lyres that fill th’ empyreal vault with music.
Fair would my Muse defer th’ unfinished theme
And swell the general chorus with her song,
But time steals onward, and my anxious heart
Throbs to obtain from thy loved hand the prize.
Accept then, matchless Peer, th’ imperfect lay,
That strives to celebrate they loved pursuit;
And gently blame the errors of a path
Thus devious traced thro’ an untrodden field.