Notes to pages 155-171

p.155 Tytler’s poem, with its extended footnote can be read online HERE. Most commentators have tended to disregard the poem itself in favour of the footnote, which does give a fulsome description of tytler’s view of his experience. The poem, however, seems to me to give, beneath its bathos, an insight into just how important an idea that of taking to the air was for him, and perhaps how deeply his failure hurt.

We can get some idea of the actual experience he may have had, if ever so briefly from this comment by Jaques Charles, who had ascended in the first hydrogen balloon very soon after the Montgolfiers’ hot air balloon had carried Rozier and Arlandes.
“Nothing will ever quite equal that moment of totla hilarity that filled my whole body at the moment of take off – it was a sort of physical ecstasy – such utter calm, such immensity”

On the other hand, we might note that at Lunardi’s ascent in his hydrogen balloon in Newcastle in 1786 Ralph Heron was caught up in the ropes, lifted some 100 feet into the air and fell to his death, his internal organs spilling on impact.

P. 156; Comely gardens. On Saturday May 8th, ‘Mr Williamson respectfully informs his friends and the public that he intends to open the House of Comely gardens on Tue next the 11th with a Public Ball and to continue every Friday and saturday during the season.’

p. 157ff The notices are taken chiefly from the Edinburgh Advertiser and the Courant. Tytler’s report on p. 157 of Scott’s balloon is taken from the same sources.

In fact, Scott had publicized a lecture and balloon display in February of 1784; his advertised balloon launch for March 6th could not take place, but several subsequent attempts were successful.


p.158 The history of the early days of balloon flight are well documented online, both its successes and its disasters. The wiki page is a useful place to start.

Tytler’s interest in balloons must have begun as soon as he heard of the Montgolfier brothers’, and of Rozier’s ‘flights’ which occurred in October, 1783. He added an entry for Air Balloon to the supplement to the 10th and final volume of EBII. His initial advert for his balloon was published on April 28th the next year. By May 3rd  he was advertising a lecture and announcing his intention to make his own flight four days later.

p. 163 William Brodie’s name, which appears in the list of those taking subscriptions for the proposed flight, has been struck out on the ‘ticket’ that has survived, and Tytler’s name added, apparently in his own hand. What role Brodie played in the scheme, and why he was removed from it, remains a mystery. the ticket itself, now in the collection of the NLS, has been reproduced in many places on the web, as well as in Fergusson’s book. (A tiny image of the balloon as shown on the ticket is on p. 169. from this image it is possible to conclude that tytler’s balloon was designed on a rather different model to that of the Montgolfier’s. Whether this had anything to do with its achievements or lack of them I cannot say.

The history of the Grand Edinburgh Fire Balloon after its successful flight has been as well documented as it can be, and very little more light has been cast on it by our investigations, apart from the final comment in the Caledonian Mercury describing its final destruction.  Exactly what kind of structure supported the balloon remains a mystery; it is referred to as a ‘mast’ in most sources, and a’pole’ in this final description. It was however, substantial enough to carry apparently two men, if we are to judge from the fate of those two who fell when it broke, as well as what must have been the substantial weight of the balloon itself. Was this the work of William Brodie?

p. 166 The description of Blanchard’s Salem flight is taken from Dr Wm Bentley’s diary.

p. 166 The highly unlikely story of Bentham’s proposal that Tytler should travel to the Crimea to be Prince Kropotkin’s printer is in fact well-documented in The Bentham Newsletter, No. 10, June 1986.
In fact, an advert was placed in the Edinburgh press in February of 1784 as follows: “Her Majesty the Empress of all the Russias, two clerks master masons, bricklayers, smiths, plasterers, etc.,  – a good vessel ready to carry them out by the 1st April next, provided the Baltic is by that time open”