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E-text prepared by Norm Wolcott



Jules Verne


From _Sartain's Union Magazine of Literature and Art_ (Philadelphia:
1849-1852): May 1852: VOL. X. No. 5: p. 389-395.

John Sartain (1808-1897) was an English artist and engraver skilled
in the art of mezzotint who emigrated to the United States; in 1848
he purchased a one-half interest in the "Union Magazine", a New York
periodical, which he transferred to Philadelphia. The name was changed
to "Sartain's Union Magazine", and during the four years of its
existence the journal became widely known, publishing works of Poe and
other literati. The article here is a translation of "La science en
famille / Un voyage en ballon. / (Réponse à l'énigme de juillet.)", In:
_Musée des Familles. Lectures du soir_, Paris, seconde série. vol. 8,
no. 11 (August 1851), pp. 329-336 (5 illustrations by A. de Bar, two
chapters). This is a different version from the one published by Hetzel;
"Un drame dans les airs", in: _Le Docteur Ox_, 19 October 1874, (ed. C &
D) (6 illustrations by Emile Bayard, only one chapter!).

In this early work we see the ingredients of Verne's later _Voyages
Extraordinaires_; characters brought or thrown together on a journey to
afar; introduction of new characters part way through the story; careful
scientific explanation of critical events (the ascension, filling
the balloon, rising and falling, ballast); use of dialogue to convey
scientific information (the history of ballooning); use of scientific
instruments (barometer, compass); chapter heads to presage the
story; escapes from perilous events caused by scientific or natural

One may also wonder why Hetzel removed the description of the inflation
of the balloon with hydrogen gas. In fact hydrogen is barely mentioned
in the revised story. Could it be that while Hetzel approved of Verne's
scientific descriptions of impossible undertakings, when it came to real
exploits such as ballooning he did not want his juvenile readers
experimenting with the "hogsheads of sulphuric acid and nails" to
produce explosive hydrogen? In fact in the Hetzel version the lifting
gas hydrogen is replaced with "illuminating gas", an inferior, though
lighter than air material, but one which his readers would find
difficult to use for deadly experimentation.

It may also be that Verne had little to do with this volume; Hetzel may
have edited the collection so that it would count as one of the required
volumes Verne was to produce annually. The correspondence archives may
shed some light.

Ms. Wilbur also translated other articles on ballooning from the French.
It is also interesting that she retained in her translation the original
units which Verne used (metre, feet, leagues), a practice forgotten
until recently. This may be the first appearance of a work by Jules
Verne in the English language.

Norman M. Wolcott
Rockville, Maryland




Translated from the French by Anne T. Wilbur



My Ascension at Frankfort - The Balloon, the Gas, the Apparatus, the
Ballast - An Unexpected Travelling Companion - Conversation in the
Air - Anecdotes - At 800 Metres[A] - The Portfolio of the Pale Young
Man - Pictures and Caricatures - Des Rosiers and d'Arlandes - At 1200
Metres - Atmospheric Phenomena - The Philosopher
Charles - Systems - Blanchard - Guyton-Morveaux - M. Julien - M. Petin - At
1500 Metres - The Storm - Great Personages in Balloons - The Valve - The
Curious Animals - The Aerial Ship - Game of Balloons.

[Footnote A: A metre is equal to 39.33 English inches.]

In the month of September, 1850, I arrived at Frankfort-on-the-Maine. My
passage through the principal cities of Germany, had been brilliantly
marked by aerostatic ascensions; but, up to this day, no inhabitant of
the Confederation had accompanied me, and the successful experiments at
Paris of Messrs. Green, Godard, and Poitevin, had failed to induce the
grave Germans to attempt aerial voyages.

Meanwhile, hardly had the news of my approaching ascension circulated
throughout Frankfort, than three persons of note asked the favour of
accompanying me. Two days after, we were to ascend from the Place de la
Comédie. I immediately occupied myself with the preparations. My
balloon, of gigantic proportions, was of silk, coated with gutta percha,
a substance not liable to injury from acids or gas, and of absolute
impermeability. Some trifling rents were mended: the inevitable results
of perilous descents.

The day of our ascension was that of the great fair of September, which
attracts all the world to Frankfort. The apparatus for filling was
composed of six hogsheads arranged around a large vat, hermetically
sealed. The hydrogen gas, evolved by the contact of water with iron and
sulphuric acid, passed from the first reservoirs to the second, and
thence into the immense globe, which was thus gradually inflated. These
preparations occupied all the morning, and about 11 o'clock, the balloon
was three-quarters full; sufficiently so; - for as we rise, the
atmospheric layers diminish in density, and the gas, confined within the
aerostat, acquiring more elasticity, might otherwise burst its envelope.
My calculations had furnished me with the exact measurement of gas
required to carry my companions and myself to a considerable height.

We were to ascend at noon. It was truly a magnificent spectacle, that of
the impatient crowd who thronged around the reserved enclosure,
inundated the entire square and adjoining streets, and covered the
neighbouring houses from the basements to the slated roofs. The high
winds of past days had lulled, and an overpowering heat was radiating
from an unclouded sky; not a breath animated the atmosphere. In such
weather, one might descend in the very spot he had left.

I carried three hundred pounds of ballast, in bags; the car, perfectly
round, four feet in diameter, and three feet in height, was conveniently
attached; the cord which sustained it was symmetrically extended from
the upper hemisphere of the aerostat; the compass was in its place, the
barometer suspended to the iron hoop which surrounded the supporting
cord, at a distance of eight feet above the car; the anchor carefully
prepared; - all was in readiness for our departure.

Among the persons who crowded around the enclosure, I remarked a young
man with pale face and agitated features. I was struck with his
appearance. He had been an assiduous spectator of my ascensions in
several cities of Germany. His uneasy air and his extraordinary
pre-occupation never left him; he eagerly contemplated the curious
machine, which rested motionless at a few feet from the ground, and
remained silent.

The clock struck twelve! This was the hour. My _compagnons du voyage_
had not appeared. I sent to the dwelling of each, and learned that one
had started for Hamburg, another for Vienna and the third, still more
fearful, for London. Their hearts had failed them at the moment of
undertaking one of those excursions, which, since the ingenious
experiments of aeronauts, are deprived of all danger. As they made, as
it were a part of the programme of the fête, they had feared being
compelled to fulfil their agreements, and had fled at the moment of
ascension. Their courage had been in inverse ratio to the square of
their swiftness in retreat.

The crowd, thus partly disappointed, were shouting with anger and
impatience. I did not hesitate to ascend alone. To re-establish the
equilibrium between the specific gravity of the balloon and the weight
to be raised, I substituted other bags of sand for my expected
companions and entered the car. The twelve men who were holding the
aerostat by twelve cords fastened to the equatorial circle, let them
slip between their fingers; the car rose a few feet above the ground.
There was not a breath of wind, and the atmosphere, heavy as lead,
seemed insurmountable.

"All is ready!" exclaimed I; "attention!"

The men arranged themselves; a last glance informed me that everything
was right.


There was some movement in the crowd which seemed to be invading the
reserved enclosure.

"Let go!"

The balloon slowly ascended; but I experienced a shock which threw me to
the bottom of the car. When I rose, I found myself face to face with an
unexpected voyager, - the pale young man.

"Monsieur, I salute you!" said he to me.

"By what right?" -

"Am I here? By the right of your inability to turn me out."

I was confounded. His assurance disconcerted me; and I had nothing to
say in reply. I looked at him, but he paid no regard to my astonishment.
He continued:

"My weight will disturb your equilibrium, Monsieur: will you permit
me - "

And without waiting for my assent, he lightened the balloon by two bags
of sand which he emptied into the air.

"Monsieur," said I, taking the only possible course, "you are
here, - well! you choose to remain, - well! but to me alone belongs the
management of the aerostat."

"Monsieur," replied he, "your urbanity is entirely French; it is of the
same country with myself! I press in imagination the hand which you
refuse me. Take your measures, - act as it may seem good to you; I will
wait till you have ended - "

"To - "

"To converse with you."

The barometer had fallen to twenty-six inches; we had attained a height
of about six hundred metres, and were over the city; which satisfied me
of our complete quiescence, for I could not judge by our motionless
flags. Nothing betrays the horizontal voyage of a balloon; it is the
mass of air surrounding it which moves. A kind of wavering heat bathed
the objects extended at our feet, and gave their outlines an
indistinctness to be regretted. The needle of the compass indicated a
slight tendency to float towards the south.

I looked again at my companion. He was a man of thirty, simply clad; the
bold outlines of his features betokened indomitable energy; he appeared
very muscular. Absorbed in the emotion of this silent suspension, he
remained immovable, seeking to distinguish the objects which passed
beneath his view.

"Vexatious mist!" said he, at the expiration of a few moments.

I made no reply.

"What would you? I could not pay for my voyage; I was obliged to take
you by surprise."

"No one has asked you to descend!"

"A similar occurrence," he resumed, "happened to the Counts of Laurencin
and Dampierre, when they ascended at Lyons, on the 15th of January,
1784. A young merchant, named Fontaine, scaled the railing, at the risk
of upsetting the equipage. He accomplished the voyage, and nobody was

"Once on the earth, we will converse!" said I, piqued at the tone of
lightness with which he spoke.

"Bah! do not talk of returning!"

"Do you think then that I shall delay my descent?"

"Descent!" said he, with surprise. "Let us ascend!"

And before I could prevent him, two bags of sand were thrown out,
without even being emptied.

"Monsieur!" said I, angrily.

"I know your skill," replied he, composedly; "your brilliant ascensions
have made some noise in the world. Experience is the sister of practice,
but it is also first cousin to theory, and I have long and deeply
studied the aerostatic art. It has affected my brain," added he, sadly,
falling into a mute torpor.

The balloon, after having risen, remained stationary; the unknown
consulted the barometer, and said:

"Here we are at 800 metres! Men resemble insects! See, I think it is
from this height that we should always look at them, to judge correctly
of their moral proportions! The Place de la Comédie is transformed to an
immense ant-hill. Look at the crowd piled up on the quays. The Zeil
diminishes. We are above the church of Dom. The Mein is now only a white
line dividing the city, and this bridge, the Mein-Brucke, looks like a
white thread thrown between the two banks of the river."

The atmosphere grew cooler.

"There is nothing I will not do for you, my host," said my companion.
"If you are cold, I will take off my clothes and lend them to you."


"Necessity makes laws. Give me your hand, I am your countryman. You
shall be instructed by my company, and my conversation shall compensate
you for the annoyance I have caused you."

I seated myself, without replying, at the opposite extremity of the car.
The young man had drawn from his great coat a voluminous portfolio; it
was a work on aerostation.

"I possess," said he, "a most curious collection of engraving, and
caricatures appertaining to our aerial mania. This precious discovery
has been at once admired and ridiculed. Fortunately we have passed the
period when the Mongolfiers sought to make factitious clouds with the
vapour of water; and of the gas affecting electric properties, which
they produced by the combustion of clamp straw with chopped wool."

"Would you detract from the merit of these inventions?" replied I. "Was
it not well done to have proved by experiment the possibility of rising
in the air?"

"Who denies the glory of the first aerial navigators? Immense courage
was necessary to ascend by means of those fragile envelopes which
contained only warm air. Besides, has not aerostatic science made great
progress since the ascensions of Blanchard? Look, Monsieur."

He took from his collection an engraving.

"Here is the first aerial voyage undertaken by Pilatre des Rosiers and
the Marquis d'Arlandes, four months after the discovery of balloons.
Louis XVI. refused his consent to this voyage; two condemned criminals
were to have first attempted aerial travelling. Pilatre des Rosiers was
indignant at this injustice and, by means of artifice, succeeded in
setting out. This car, which renders the management of the balloon easy,
had not then been invented; a circular gallery surrounded the lower part
of the aerostat. The two aeronauts stationed themselves at the
extremities of this gallery. The damp straw with which it was filled
encumbered their movements. A chafing-dish was suspended beneath the
orifice of the balloon; when the voyagers wished to ascend, they threw,
with a long fork, straw upon this brazier, at the risk of burning the
machine, and the air, growing warmer, gave to the balloon a new
ascensional force. The two bold navigators ascended, on the 21st of
November, 1783, from the gardens of La Muette, which the Dauphin had
placed at their disposal. The aerostat rose majestically, passed the
Isle des Cygnes, crossed the Seine at the Barrière de la Conference,
and, directing its way between the dome of the Invalides and L'Ecole
Militaire, approached St. Sulpice; then the aeronauts increased the
fire, ascended, cleared the Boulevard, and descended beyond the Barrière
d'Enfer. As it touched the ground, the collapsed, and buried Pilatre des
Rosiers beneath its folds."

"Unfortunate presage!" said I, interested in these details, which so
nearly concerned me.

"Presage of his catastrophe," replied the unknown, with sadness. "You
have experienced nothing similar?"


"Bah! misfortunes often arrive without presage." And he remained silent.

We were advancing towards the south; the magnetic needle pointed in the
direction of Frankfort, which was flying beneath our feet.

"Perhaps we shall have a storm," said the young man.

"We will descend first."

"Indeed! it will be better to ascend; we shall escape more surely;" and
two bags of sand were thrown overboard.

The balloon rose rapidly, and stopped at twelve hundred metres. The cold
was now intense, and there was a slight buzzing in my ears.
Nevertheless, the rays of the sun fell hotly on the globe, and, dilating
the gas it contained, gave it a greater ascensional force. I was

"Fear nothing," said the young man to me.

"We have three thousand five hundred toises of respirable air. You need
not trouble yourself about my proceedings."

I would have risen, but a vigorous hand detained me on my seat.

"Your name?" asked I.

"My name! how does it concern you?"

"I have the honour to ask your name."

"I am called Erostratus or Empedocles, - as you please. Are you
interested in the progress of aerostatic science?"

He spoke with icy coldness, and I asked myself with whom I had to do.

"Monsieur," continued he, "nothing new has been invented since the days
of the philosopher Charles. Four months after the discovery of
aerostats, he had invented the valve, which permits the gas to escape
when the balloon is too full, or when one wishes to descend; the car,
which allows the machine to be easily managed; the network, which
encloses the fabric of the balloon, and prevents its being too heavily
pressed; the ballast, which is used in ascending and choosing the spot
of descent; the coat of caoutchouc, which renders the silk impermeable;
the barometer, which determines the height attained; and, finally, the
hydrogen, which, fourteen times lighter than air, allows of ascension to
the most distant atmospheric layers, and prevents exposure to aerial
combustion. On the 1st of December, 1783, three hundred thousand
spectators thronged the Tuileries. Charles ascended, and the soldiers
presented arms. He travelled nine leagues in the air: managing his
machine with a skill never since surpassed in aeronautic experiments.
The King conferred on him a pension of two thousand livres, for in those
days inventions were encouraged. In a few days, the subscription list
was filled; for every one was interested in the progress of science."

The unknown was seized with a violent agitation.

"I, Monsieur, have studied; I am satisfied that the first aeronauts
guided their balloons. Not to speak of Blanchard, whose assertions might
be doubted, at Dijon, Guyton-Morveaux, by the aid of oars and a helm,
imparted to his machines perceptible motions, a decided direction. More
recently, at Paris, a watchmaker, M. Julien, has made at the Hippodrome
convincing experiments; for, with the aid of a particular mechanism, an
aerial apparatus of oblong form was manifestly propelled against the
wind. M. Petin placed four balloons, filled with hydrogen, in
juxtaposition, and, by means of sails disposed horizontally and
partially furled, hoped to obtain a disturbance of the equilibrium,
which, inclining the apparatus, should compel it to an oblique path. But
the motive power destined to surmount the resistance of currents, - the
helice, moving in a movable medium, was unsuccessful. I have discovered
the only method of guiding balloons, and not an Academy has come to my
assistance, not a city has filled my subscription lists, not a
government has deigned to listen to me! It is infamous!"

His gesticulations were so furious that the car experienced violent
oscillations; I had much difficulty in restraining him. Meanwhile, the
balloon had encountered a more rapid current. We were advancing in a
southerly direction, at 1200 metres in height, almost accustomed to this
new temperature.

"There is Darmstadt," said my companion. "Do you perceive its
magnificent chateau? The storm-cloud below makes the outlines of objects
waver; and it requires a practised eye to recognise localities."

"You are certain that it is Darmstadt?"

"Undoubtedly; we are six leagues from Frankfort."

"Then we must descend."

"Descend! you would not alight upon the steeples!" said the unknown,

"No; but in the environs of the city."

"Well, it is too warm; let us remount a little."

As he spoke thus, he seized some bags of ballast. I precipitated myself
upon him; but, with one hand, he overthrew me, and the lightened balloon
rose to a height of 1500 metres.

"Sit down," said he, "and do not forget that Brioschi, Biot, and
Gay-Lussac, ascended to a height of seven thousand metres, in order to
establish some new scientific laws."

"We must descend;" resumed I, with an attempt at gentleness. "The storm
is gathering beneath our feet and around us; it would not be prudent."

"We will ascend above it, and shall have nothing to fear from it. What
more beautiful than to reign in heaven, and look down upon the clouds
which hover upon the earth! Is it not an honour to navigate these aerial
waves? The greatest personages have travelled like ourselves. The
Marquise and Comtesse de Montalembert, the Comtesse de Potteries, Mlle.
La Garde, the Marquis of Montalembert, set out from the Faubourg St.
Antoine for these unknown regions. The Duc de Chartres displayed much
address and presence of mind in his ascension of the 15th of July, 1784;
at Lyons, the Comtes de Laurencin and de Dampierre; at Nantes, M. de
Luynes; at Bordeaux, D'Arbelet des Granges; in Italy, the Chevalier
Andreani; in our days, the Duke of Brunswick; have left in the air the
track of their glory. In order to equal these great personages, we must
ascend into the celestial regions higher than they. To approach the
infinite is to comprehend it."

The rarefaction of the air considerably dilated the hydrogen, and I saw
the lower part of the aerostat, designedly left empty, become by degrees
inflated, rendering the opening of the valve indispensable; but my
fearful companion seemed determined not to allow me to direct our
movements. I resolved to pull secretly the cord attached to the valve,
while he was talking with animation. I feared to guess with whom I had
to do; it would have been too horrible! It was about three-quarters of
an hour since we had left Frankfort, and from the south thick clouds
were arising and threatening to engulf us.

"Have you lost all hope of making your plans succeed?" said I, with
great apparent interest.

"All hope!" replied the unknown, despairingly. "Wounded by refusals,
caricatures, those blows with the foot of an ass, have finished me. It
is the eternal punishment reserved for innovators. See these caricatures
of every age with which my portfolio is filled."

I had secured the cord of the valve, and stooping over his works,
concealed my movements from him. It was to be feared, nevertheless, that
he would notice that rushing sound, like a waterfall, which the gas
produces in escaping.

"How many jests at the expense of the Abbé Miolan! He was about to
ascend with Janninet and Bredin. During the operation, their balloon
took fire, and an ignorant populace tore it to pieces. Then the
caricature of _The Curious Animals_ called them _Maulant, Jean Mind, and

The barometer had began to rise; it was time! A distant muttering of
thunder was heard towards the south.

"See this other engraving," continued he, without seeming to suspect my
manoeuvres. "It is an immense balloon, containing a ship, large castles,
houses, &c. The caricaturists little thought that their absurdities
would one day become verities. It is a large vessel; at the left is the
helm with the pilot's box; at the prow, _maisons de plaisance_, a
gigantic organ, and cannon to call the attention of the inhabitants of
earth or of the moon; above the stern the observatory and pilot-balloon;
at the equatorial circle, the barracks of the army; on the left the
lantern; then upper galleries for promenades, the sails, the wings;
beneath, the cafés and general store-houses of provisions. Admire this
magnificent announcement. 'Invented for the good of the human race,
this globe will depart immediately for the seaports in the Levant, and
on its return will announce its voyages for the two poles and the
extremities of the Occident. Every provision is made; there will be an
exact rate of fare for each place of destination; but the prices for
distant voyages will be the same, 1000 louis. And it must be confessed
that this is a moderate sum, considering the celerity, convenience, and
pleasure of this mode of travelling above all others. While in this
balloon, every one can divert himself as he pleases, dancing, playing,
or conversing with people of talent. Pleasure will be the soul of the
aerial society.' All these inventions excited laughter. But before long,
if my days were not numbered, these projects should become realities."

We were visibly descending; he did not perceive it!

"See this game of balloons; it contains the whole history of the
aerostatic art. This game, for the use of educated minds, is played like
that of the Jew; with dice and counters of any value agreed upon, which
are to be paid or received, according to the condition in which one

"But," I resumed, "you seem to have valuable documents on aerostation?"

"I am less learned than the Almighty! That is all! I possess all the
knowledge possible in this world. From Phaeton, Icarus, and Architas. I


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