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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Vincent Lunardi, the Celebrated Aeronaut


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 Glasgow journals.

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 characteristics."

This is 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—

" From 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 intolerable.

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.

In 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 following words:—

"I wadna been surprised to spy
You on an auld wife's fianin toy;
Or aiblins some bit duddy boy—
On's wyliecoat;
But Miss's fine Lunardi! fie,
How daur ye do't?"

Lunardi died of a decline, in the convent of Barbadinus, at Lisbon, on the 31st of January, 1806.


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