This celebrated aeronaut visited
Scotland in the month of September, 1785. His first ascent took place at
Edinburgh, on the 5th of October following, from Heriot's Hospital
Green. The Print, which is allowed to be an excellent likeness of
Lunardi, represents him as he appeared ready to ascend. His dress was of
scarlet, with blue facings.
Several aerial attempts had been made at
Edinburgh, with partial success, in 1784, by Mr. Tytler, but the
previous fame of Lunardi created an unparalleled excitement in Scotland,
so that an immense concourse of people of all classes were assembled to
witness what had hitherto been deemed almost an impossibility. "In the
Green of Heriot's Hospital," it is said, "the company was numerous and
genteel, and the concourse of people od the different eminences were
immense. It is calculated that above 80,000 spectators assembled on this
occasion, which put a stop to almost all business for a great part of
the day, and most of the shops were shut. At twelve o'clock a flag was
displayed from the Castle, and a gun (which had been brought from Leith
Fort), was fired from the Green when the process of filling the balloon
began. At half-past two it was completely inflated." All the
arrangements being completed, Mr. Lunardi gave the signal at ten minutes
to three, when the balloon ascended in a S.S.E. direction, "in the most
grand and magnificent manner," amid the acclamations of the people. He
passed over the city at a great height, waving his flag as he proceeded.
According to Lunardi's own account, "the balloon, after rising, took a
north-east direction, and, near to the Island of Inchkeith, came down
almost to the sea; he then threw out some ballast, and the balloon rose
higher than before. A current of wind carried him east to North Berwick;
a different current then changed his course, and brought him over
between Leven and Largo. After this, a S.S.W. breeze brought him to the
place where he descended," which was on the estate of the Hon. John
Hope, a mile east from Ceres. "When the balloon was at its highest
elevation (about three miles), the barometer stood at eighteen inches
five-tenths. Mr. Lunardi at this time felt no difficulty in respiration.
He passed through several clouds of snow, and lost sight at times both
of sea and land. His excursion took about an hour and a half; and it
would appear he passed over upwards of forty miles of sea, and about ten
of land." On his descending, Mr. Lunardi was first welcomed by Mr.
Robert Christie, and next by the Rev. Robert Arnot, who came running,
with a crowd of people after him. He was accompanied to Ceres by a body
of gentlemen who soon collected, where he was " received by the
acclamations of a prodigious multitude, his flag being carried in
procession before him, and the church-bell ringing in honour of such a
visitant." At the manse of Ceres he drank a few glasses of wine, and
both there and at the house of Mr. Melville he received the compliments
of a great many ladies and gentlemen. The same evening he started for
Cupar, having been invited by the authorities, where the most
enthusiastic reception awaited him. After having been next day
entertained at dinner, and presented with the freedom of the burgh, he
proceeded to St. Andrews, to which place he had been invited by the Club
of Gentlemen Golfers, where he was made a citizen, and had, by diploma,
the honour of "Knight of the Beggar's Benison" conferred upon him.
Such is a brief account of Lunardi's first aerial
trip in Scotland. Brilliant it certainly was, and it is as
unquestionable, that although half a century has since elapsed, it has
not been surpassed. Many anecdotes are told of the surprise and terror
of the peasantry on first beholding the balloon. Some reapers in a field
near to Ceres were dreadfully alarmed—judging from so uncommon an
appearance, and the sound of Lunardi's trumpet—that the end of all
things was at hand. Certain it is, however, that the Rev. Mr. Arnot, who
was previously aware of Lunardi's ascent, required considerable
persuasion to convince the people that they might approach the object of
their terror without fear of supernatural injury.
Mr. Lunardi's next adventure took place at Kelso,
on the 22d of October. In this flight he did not ascend above a mile,
keeping constantly iu view of the earth. After the lapse of nearly an
hour and a half, he anchored in Doddington Moor, when some people
getting hold of the ropes, he was carried to Barmoor in Northumberland,
where he descended. The aeronaut had been invited to Kelso by the
gentlemen of the Caledonian Hunt. "While here, he was much delighted
with the races, and in one of his letters alludes to a match between the
Duke of Hamilton and Robert Baird, Esq., who rode their own horses; he
likens the contest to the ancient Olympic Games." He dined on Saturday
with Sir James Douglas, of Springwood Park, and supped with the
gentlemen of the Caledonian Hunt. On Sunday he was entertained by Sir
James Pringle at Stitchel; on Monday, by Lord Home at Hirsel; and same
evening by the ancient Lodge of Freemasons."He is stated also to have
taken" much notice of the two Miss Halls of Thornton, Miss "Wilkie of
Doddington, and Miss Car of Newcastle," who, no doubt, were highly
gratified by his condescension!
Glasgow was nest visited by the aeronaut, where he
ascended from St. Andrew's Square on the 23rd of November. A crowd of
nearly 100,000 persons had assembled to witness his flight. The balloon
took a north-east direction for about 25 miles; the wind then changing,
he was carried south-east until he descended near Alemoor, in
Selkirkshire, having passed over a distance of 125 miles in two hours.
Lunardi thus describes his descent:—"When I came in sight of the heathy
hills, I heard a voice call, ' Lunardi, come down! ' quite plain, and I
knew not who it was. I saw at a distance sheep feeding, but could not
see a human being. I called aloud several times through the hill, and
after a minute, or seventy seconds, I could hear the echo of my words
returned as loud as they were pronounced, but I never had repeated '
Lunardi, come down,' though I heard these words several times repeated,
on which I answered through the trumpet, 'Hallo, hallo,' with a great
voice. I heard the words, ' Lunardi, hallo,' repeated, and being now
quite free from interruption of clouds, I could see distinctly some
people on horseback. At last I hastened my descent between two hills,
where I came down as light as a feather. Two trembling shepherds came to
me, an old man and a boy, whom I encouraged by calling to them, 'My dear
friends, come hither.' They crossed the water and'came up to me." At
this time Mr. and Mrs. Chisholm, of Stirches, happened to be returning
on horseback from a visit, who very kindly received Mr. Lunardi, at
whose suggestion Mrs. Chisholm boldly took possession of the car,
resigning her horse to the aeronaut, and while some shepherds held on by
the ropes, the party thus proceeded a distance of nearly three miles.
Lunardi spent the night at Stirches, and dined next day with the
magistrates of Hawick, who presented him with the freedom of the town.
Mr. Lunardi made a second ascent from Glasgow on
the 5th of December, and, as on the former occasion, he was witnessed by
a vast concourse of people. His ascent was very majestic; but he did not
proceed to a great distance, having alighted at Campsie, about twelve
miles distant, where he was received by the Rev. Mr. Lapslie, minister
of that place, who transmitted an account of his descent to one of the
fifth ascent of Lunardi in Scotland, and the second at Edinburgh, again
occurred at Heriot's Hospital Green. He made offer of the profits of
this second exhibition for the benefit of the Charity Workhouse, but the
directors politely declined accepting his offer, on the ground that,
however desirous they might be to promote the interests of the
institution, they were unwilling that any one should risk his life for
its benefit. On Tuesday, the 20th December, Lunardi took his flight a
few minutes before one o'clock. On this occasion he was dressed in the
uniform of the Scots Archers, having been previously admitted an
honorary member of that body, as well as having had the freedom of
Edinburgh conferred upon him. He was also provided with a cork jacket,
as on the former occasion, furnished by Dr. Eae, together with other
precautionary means of safety, in case of an immersion in the German
Ocean. These, as it happened, were not without their use. On this
occasion, says our informant, Lunardi was positively assured, from the
direction of the wind, that he would be driven into the German Ocean. "
Me don't mind that—somebody will pick me up." Fortunately for him,
somebody did pick him up. The balloon ascended with great rapidity,
taking a more easterly direction than formerly, and was seen by means of
a telescope, about two o'clock, in rather a perilous situation, about
two miles north-east of Gullan-ness. Not far from this place, it appears
the balloon had descended so low as to immerse the car in the water,
when some fishermen observing the occurrence, immediately proceeded to
his rescue. Owing, however, to the rapidity with which the car was
dragged, nearly three quarters of an hour elapsed before they were able
to render any assistance; and when they came up, Lunardi was breast deep
in the water, and benumbed with cold. They were then five or six miles
from land. He would have cut away the balloon, but seeing the fishermen
approaching, he was unwilling to lose it by doing so. On leaving the car
for the boat, however, the balloon, being thus lightened, rose with
great force, carrying every appendage with it in its flight. Mr. Lunardi
was then taken to Mr. Nisbet's, of Dirleton, where he spent the evening.
In a letter dated that night to the magistrates of Edinburgh, he speaks
lightly of his danger, expresses regret at losing the balloon, but was
hopeful that the people would be satisfied with his conduct.
Fortunately, the balloon was picked up next day by the May cutter, about
12 miles off Anstruther.
Lunardi then returned to England, exhibiting his aerial ingenuity in the
provincial towns (having been in London some time previous to his
arrival in Scotland). A very unfortunate occurrence took place on his
ascending at Newcastle:—A Mr. Heron having hold of one of the ropes,
incautiously twisted it round his arm, and not being able to disentangle
himself in time, he was lifted up to a considerable height, when the
rope giving way, he fell, aud was killed on the spot. Mr. Heron was on
the eve of marriage, and at the time the accident occurred the lady of
his affections was by his side.
Mr. Lunardi again visited Edinburgh the year
following (1786), and ascended the third time from Heriot's Hospital
Green, on the 31st of July. On this occasion a lady (Mrs. Lamash, an
actress) was to have accompanied him, and had actually taken her seat in
the car; but the balloon being unable to ascend with both, Lunardi
ascended alone. In consequence of little wind, he came down about two
miles distant. Ou his return to the city in the evening, he was carried
through' the streets in his car by the populace, and received other
demonstrations of admiration.
Very little is known of Mr. Luuardi's personal
history, save that he was a native of Italy, and some time Secretary to
the then late Neapolitan ambassador. In 1786, he published an account of
his aerial voyages iu Scotland, which he dedicated to the Duke and
Duchess of Buccleuch. This small volume, although proving him to be a
man of education, and some talent as a writer, throws very little light
upon his history. It consists of a series of letters addressed to his "
guardian, Chevalier Gerardo Compagni." These letters were evidently
written under the impulse of the moment, and afford a connected detail
of his progress in Scotland. They are chiefly interesting at this
distance of time, as showing the feelings and motives of one, who,
whether his "labours were misdirected" or not, obtained an extraordinary
degree of notoriety. In short, the volume is amusing in this particular,
and adds another proof to the many, that few, very few, seek the
advancement of society, or of the sciences, for humanity's sake alone.
Fame is the grand stimulus. A portrait of the author is prefixed, which
corresponds extremely well with Mr. Kay's sketches of him. Lunardi must
have been at that time a very young man.
The young adventurer, on his arrival in the
Scottish capital, is much pleased with its ancient and romantic
appearance. He expresses himself with great animation on all he sees
around him, and apparently with great sincerity. As a specimen of the
man and his opinions, we are induced to make one or two extracts. In the
first letter, after describing his arrival, he says :—
"I have apartments in Walker's Hotel, Prince's
Street, from whence I behold innumerable elegant buildings, and my ears
are saluted with the sounds of industry from many others similarly
arising. Hail to the voice of labour! It vibrates more forcibly on the
chords of my heart than the most harmonious notes of music, and gives
birth to sensations that I would not exchange for all the boasted
pleasures of luxury and dissipation."
These sentiments would have done credit to one
less gay and youthful than Lunardi. In another letter he says, "I am now
happy in the acquaintance of the Hon. Henry Erskine, Sir William Forbes,
and Major Fraser." True to his clime, however, the letters of Lunardi
betray in him all the volatility and passion ascribed to his countrymen.
At one moment he is in ecstacy, the other in despair. He had chosen
George's Square for his first display, and had contracted with Isaac
Braidwood of the Luckenbooths, who had actually begun to enclose the
area, when an order from the Magistrates stopped farther proceedings.
The vexation and despair of the aeronaut at this manifestation of
hostility is indescribable. He writes:—"I understand a lady has been the
underhand prompter! Hold, I beg pardon of the fair sex; they are my best
friends, and I prize their approbation beyond the highest honour fame
can give ! And shall a female Machiavel of fifty be ranked with them ?
Forbid it, politeness—forbid it, humanity—forbid it, truth!"
He subsequently obtained the use of Heriot's
Hospital Green, advertised his ascent, but another disappointment
occurred, and another paroxysm ensued. The waggoner from Liverpool had
deceived him as to the time of his arrival—his apparatus for filling the
balloon would not be forwarded till after the day advertised. "What
shall I do?" he writes to his guardian; "Numbers of people will come
from Aberdeen and Glasgow, and they must be disappointed ! Maledictus
homo quis confidit in homine! Oh ! what a frame of mind I am in!" And
then follows the confession—" Fame and glory, ye objects of my pursuits,
ye destroy my peace of mind, yet are ye still dear to me."
To help him out of this dilemma, one Mr. Chalmers,
a plumber, engaged to make him two vats or cisterns, in sufficient time
for his purposes, but when the day appointed arrived, Chalmers had not
fulfilled his promise, coolly saying he could not get them done. Such
repeated disappointments were enough to make the most "phlegmatic
mortal" mad. "My patience forsook me," says Lunardi; "I loaded him with
invectives, but they were thrown away upon the phlegmatic mortal; he
quietly maintained his sang froid."
Mr. Erskine having directed the aeronaut to a Mr.
Selby, another plumber, who quickly set to work upon the vats, our hero
is again transported from the depths of despair to happiness. "I am now
in a happy frame of mind," he writes, "for conversing with the ladies,
two hundred of whom have called this morning "—(at the Parliament House,
where the balloon was exhibiting).
For the honour of the "Land of Cakes," we cannot
refrain from quoting the following eulogium on our countrywomen, at the
close of last century:—
"Happy mortal! you exclaim; and well you might, could you form any idea
of the Scottish Beauties! Their height, in general, approaches to what I
would call the majestic, adorned with easy elegance ; their figures are
such as Grecian artists might have been proud to copy. But to describe
their faces. The pencil of Titian, or Michael Angelo, could scarce have
done them justice ! No perfume shop supplies the beautiful colour that
glows on their cheeks and lips: it is the pure painting of health, and
pictures forth minds as pure. Nature has made them lovely, and they have
not suffered art to spoil her works. I have endeavoured to give you some
idea of their personal charms, but their mental ones are far more
striking. Grace without affectation—frankness without levity—good humour
without folly—and dignity without pride—are the distinguishing
no doubt the language of poetic feeling; but however enthusiastic an
admirer of the fair sex the young Italian may have been, he shows
himself not incapable of appreciating the duties of social sober life.
In another letter he says :—
"The people of distinction in Scotland are blest
with elegance and happiness, and know not that insatiable ambition,
which, while it swallows up every other comfort and endearment of life,
never fails to prove the bane of human bliss; their enjoyments are
chiefly those of the domestic kind—a virtuous and lovely wife—the
education and company of their children." Truly may we add, in the
language of Burns—
scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur springs."
Judging of Lunardi from his letters while in
Scotland, he seems to have been a youth of a warm temperament—amiable in
his feelings— of a poetical vein ; but extremely vain and ambitious ;
and, like many of his countrymen, volatile and irritable. Young and
handsome, he was not only an admirer of the ladies, but was in turn
himself admired. The marked attention on the part of the fair sex seemed
too powerful for the youthful aeronaut's good sense—his conceit became
Once when in
company, being called on for toast, he gave—"Lunardi, whom the ladies
love." This instance of bad taste and audacious conceit might have been
the burst of an unguarded moment, but it had the effect of disgusting
all who heard him.
compliment to the aerial stranger, the Scottish ladies wore what they
called "Lunardi bonnets," of a peculiar construction, and which for some
time were universally fashionable. They were made of gauze or thin
muslin, extended on wire, the upper part representing the balloon.
Burns, in his "Address to a Louse," alludes to this headdress in the
wadna been surprised to spy
You on an auld wife's fianin toy;
aiblins some bit duddy boy—
But Miss's fine
How daur ye do't?"
Lunardi died of a decline, in the convent of
Barbadinus, at Lisbon, on the 31st of January, 1806.