Text: Carroll Dee Laverty, “Chapter 07,” Science and Pseudo-Science in the Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (1951), pp. 190-210 (This material may be protected by copyright)


[page 190:]

Chapter VII


Aeronautical data are important in three of Poe’s stories — “Hans Pfaal,” “The Balloon-Hoax,” “Mellonta Tauta.” These tales exemplify his practice of writing about the startling, new features of science. Man’s first free balloon flight had been made by Pilatre de Rosier on November 21, 1783(1) — almost exactly fifty years before Poe told J. H. B. Latrobe of his plan to write an account of a balloon trip to the moon. During the intervening half century, according to one balloonist, four hundred different persons had taken to the air in the wonderful new machines,(2) and in America a balloon flight was still news.(3) In the five decades before Poe’s first [page 191:] balloon story or the first time in history man was competing with the wrist flying free of all ties to the earth. Poe rightly judged that such flights were of intense interest to the people, as they are today.

“The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaal,”(4) an account of a journey to the moon, is Poets first story to treat of balloons. It was published in 1835 but conceived as early as 1833 and therefore shows his early interest in the subject. To describe the satellite of the earth as Poe wanted, a person would have to be on it. To get there, what better than a balloon?

“Hans Pfaal” begins with a rigmarole the gist of which is that Hans decides to go to the moon, and after reading up on “Mechanics and Practical Astronomy”(5) (as Poe probably did to write the story),(6) he decides to build a balloon. Accordingly, he assembles materials. One of them — a secret [page 192:] metallic substance(7) — is the only unusual ingredient, and Poe needed to assume it to give the balloon enough ascensive power to get to its destination.(8)

To retain the gas, Hans Pfaal first considers the membrane of a certain animal just as early chemists did,(9) it gives it up as too expensive and uses conventional materials again — “cambric muslin with a coating of gum caoutchouc.”(10) The balloon, when completed, was to hold more than 40,000 cubic feet of gas the same size as the aerostatic machine used in “The Balloon-Hoax.” In 1835 this size was moderate; balloons holding two or three times as much gas had been built;(11) those holding twice as much had flown successfully. Probably Poe made the one in his story of average size so that the reader would not consider the narrative a fairy tale: he aimed at verisimilitude.

In addition to the regular paraphernalia, Hans takes into his balloon tone of If. Grimm’s improvements upon the apparatus for condensation of atmospheric air.”(12) In the 1840 version the author added a number of other [page 193:] scientific supplied to be carried in the balloon by Hans: “a telescope a barometer, with some important modifications; a thermometer; an electrometer; a compass; a magnetic needle; a seconds watch; a bell; a speaking trumpet. . . also a globe of glass exhausted of air, and carefully closed with stopper —. . . a stick of sealing wax . . . .”(13) This list throws some light on Poe’s scientific knowledge. The telescope, barometer, and speaking trumpet are mentioned in Monck Mason’s Aeronautica,(14) an account of his flight to Weilburg, Germany, and a book Poe probably used in writing “The Balloon-Hoax.”(15) The glass globe exhausted of air of no practical use to Hans Pfaal, but the French chemist Gay — Lussac had taken such a sphere with him on one of his scientific excursions into the sky. The other items were such as any aeronaut would take with him.(17)

Hans’s equipment is much like a research worker’s. For he also took along a pair of pigeons and a cat. Balloonists before him had carried birds aloft and observed their actions when thrown from the airship,(18) as Hans was to do later, and experimenters had sent animals aloft in balloons [page 194:] before they themselves dared the upper atmosphere.(19) So Hans Pfaal, prepared by Poe, sets out in good scientific fashion.

His actual take-off is marred by an explosion. As a result, Hans finds himself “dangling, at a terrific height, with (as he relates) my head downward, and my face outward, by a piece of slender cord about three feet in length, which hung accidentally through a crevice near the bottom of the wicker-work, and in which, as I fell, my left foot became most providentially entangled.”(20) Hans Pfaal, as Poe probably knew, is in much the sane predicament as that of the noted aeronaut W. W. Sadler just before his death.(21) Hans Pfaal finally extricates himself, not, however, until the young author has described his situation and analyzed his feelings for three pages. By examining his barometer, as all scientific aeronauts di gucm Pfaal estimates his altitude at three and three quarter miles.(22)

He then announces that his purpose is to reach the moon.(23) In order to [page 195:] explain Hans Pfaal’s continued ascent after his balloon reaches the regions where the atmosphere is very thin, Poe reminds the reader that the balloon contains a gas twenty-seven times lighter than hydrogen and states that an ether exists. To make respiration possible, Hans Pfaal uses a superior a condenser.(24) The author here goes to some length trying to prove that extreme altitude will not injure a man, but the experience of flyers airplanes that will fly forty thousand feet high proves him wrong. Hans Pfaal’s use of Grimm’s condenser in an air-tight compartment,(25) on the other hand, is a clear anticipation of modern pressurized cab for air-planes.

In the first version of “Hans Pfaal,” Poe depicts the earth as looking [page 196:] convex when seen from a great height,(26) but the later editions contain a graph stating that, contrary to normal expectations, the earth appears concave.(27) And he explains the concavity as being due to an optical illusion.(28) Poe probably obtained the idea of concavity from Aeronautica(29) or an article in the Polytechnic Journal,(30) and worked it into a revision of “Hans Pfaal” and into “The Balloon-Hoax.” The explanation in these sources is that the concave appearance is due to the refraction of light by the denser air below. Poe rejectsthis explanation and advances his own.(31) He asserts that the apparent concavity due to the illusion that the aeronaut is on a level with the far-distant horizon, whereas he can clearly see the earth thousands of feet below him and apparently below the horizon.

His balloon trip almost completed, Hans Pfaal finds a he atmosphere of the moon too thin to keep his airship from crashing. He throws overboard all ballast and as a last resort “cuts loose from the balloon the car itself(32) — the very thing that Blanchard and Jeffries were contemplating on [page 197:] January 7, 1785, when their balloon threatened to plunge into the English Channel after a flight from Dozer Castle, which Poe must have known about. They, too, jettisoned food and provision, “began to strip and cast away their clothes. They even intended to fasten themselves to the cords, and cut the boat away, as their last resource. . . .”(33) Hans Pfaal, clinging to the net of his balloon, lands on the moon. Thus ends the first important balloon trip described by Poe.

The author of “Hans Pfaal” shows considerable knowledge of balloons and aeronautics of his day. Into the story he works some details from several different actual flights, and his information about balloons is generally accurate. Poe uses it to give this fantastic voyage the appearance of reality.

A later story demonstrates his continued interest, On April 13, 1844, his famous “The Balloon-Hoax” appeared in the New York Sun. Written in what Poe called his “verisimilar style,” this narrative purported to chronicle in detail the incidents of a three-day balloon flight from England to the United states. It claimed to describe the actual experiences of the men vho were said. to have made the first aerial crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

In the ten years or so between the writing of “Hans Pfaal” and the publication of “The Balloon-Hoax,” Poe and his contemporaries had shown an [page 198:] active interest in balloons. On November 7 and 8, 1836, Monck Mason, Charles Green, and Robert Hollond had crossed the English Channel by Air. This trip spurred men like Green to contemplate crossing the ocean by balloon and probably provided the spark that set Poe’s genius afire until it created , Balloon-Hoax. As early as December 7, 1839, Green had planned to balloon across the Atlantic from North America to Europe,(34) and reports of his plans had “already crept into the public papers. . . .”(35) The February, 1840, number of the Polytechnic Journal suggests the dramatic quality of such a follows:

. . . so singular, and, indeed, we may fearlessly say, so stupendous an undertaking. For what situation can be imagined more qualified to engage in in-tensest feelings of nature than that in which we contemplate a little knot or band of fellow-creatures rising from a state of comparative security, and dauntlessly committing themselves to the relentless mercy of the fickle winds, to traverse an almost illimitable expanse of ocean. . .undefined and varying hemisphere of air.(36)

Poe could not resist the opportunity to mould such perfect material into a story. [page 199:]

Most convincing evidence of Poe’s interest in a trans-oceanic balloon flight is a note of two paragraphs in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine for March, 1840, in the section “A Chapter on Science and Art,”(37) and a longer note “Aerostation” in the May number(38) probably by Poe,(39) These notes, which discuss such a flight and suggest its practicability, show a detailed knowledge of ballooning problems and current developments. Poe was keeping au courant with aeronautical developments, and would seize the psychological moment(40) to use his knowledge in “The Balloon-Hoax.”(41) [page 200:]

The moment came when Poe returned to New York in 1844, and he celebrated the event by publication of the hoax on April 13. It was a means of drawing attention to himself, and no doubt he hoped it would help find employment for his pen.

The narrative itself is a compound of aeronautical knowledge and of an imaginative extension of Monck Mason’s famous channel-crossing balloon voyage from Dover to Weilburg. It makes use of current experiments in aeronautics, information about which Poe found in daily papers, magazines, yearbooks of scientific progress, and such books as Aeronautica. Much of the detail comes directly from Mason’s account of the Weilburg journey in the Vauxhall balloon.(42)

Poe’s hoax begins with an exclamation that the great problem of navigating the air has been solved and that the air “will become a common and convenient highway for mankind.”(43) Such prediction of the future of air travel were fairly common in Poe’s time.(44) [page 201:]

In his discussion of the problems of ballooning, Poe mentions Sir George wiey. Cayley has been called the father of aeronautics in Great Britain and for twenty-eight years before “The Balloon-Hoax” had been experimenting ilith and writing about lighter-than-air machines.(45) One could hardly discuss balloons without discussing him.(46)

The “Victoria,” the balloon of Poets story, crosses the Atlantic Ocean in seventy-five hours with eight men aboard. The time is about what Charles keen thought the crossing would require.(47) Of the eight men,(48) three are noted in aeronautics, two are patrons, one is a journalist, and two are sailors. Monck Mason and Robert Hollond (spelled by Poe Holland) had actually made the famous flight from Vauxhall Gardens to Nassau. The third specialist in aeronautics is William Samuel Henson, whose “late unsuccessful [page 202:] flying machine”(49) had received considerable publicity, as Poe must have known.(50)

He has good reason also for including Monck Mason. His “Voyage from Dover to Weilburg in the balloon, “Nassau,” occasioned so much excitement [page 203:] in 1837. . . .”(51) Mason also had constructed a flying model that received considerable publicity. “It was the success of this model which gave Edgar gaan Poe his idea for ‘The Great Balloon Hoax,’” according to one history of aeronautics.(52)

Harrison Ainsworth makes the trip so that a literary man will be present to do justice to the unprecedented views to be described. To complete the party, Poe includes Sir Everard Bringhurst and. Mr. Osborne, a nephew of Lord Bentinck, as sponsors, and two sailors one supposes for comic relief and as navigators at sea in case the party should come down over water. John Wise planned to take such a navigator on his proposed flight. In including eight men in the party, Poe is not unconservative, for on October 6, [page 204:] 1836, the Vauxhall balloon had ascended with nine persons aboard and on September 21, 1836, with nineteen.

The “Victoria” is described as of vast dimensions; it contained only somewhat more than 40,000 cubic feet of gas — half as much as the balloon that crossed the Channel. The “Victoria” was inflated with coal gas. Poe’s note in the March, 1840 Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine discusses the advantages of coal gas and gives Charles Green credit for introducing the us of it into aeronautics.(53) Poe was up-to-date in this information.

From this point in “The Balloon-Hoax” (the bottom of page 229 in Works, onward, much of the material is taken from Mason’s Aeronautica(54) or from magazine accounts partly based on it.(55)

A few parallels will demonstrate Poe’s indebtedness:


In a balloon sufficiently impervious to retain its contents of coal gas, unaltered in quality or amount for the space of six months, an equal quantity of hydrogen could not be [page 205:] maintained in equal purity for more an equal number of weeks.(56)

. . .we likewise took the precaution to furnish ourselves with passports directed to all parts of the continent, specifying the peculiar nature of our voyage, and entitling us to exemption from the usual formalities of office.(58)


Poe’s “The Balloon-Hoax”

In a balloon sufficiently perfect to retain its contents of coal-gas unaltered, in quality or amount, for six months, an equal quantity of hydrogen could not be maintained in [page 205:] equal purity for six weeks.(57)

. . . the voyagers had taken the precaution to prepare themselves with passports directed to all parts of the Continent, specifying the nature of the expedition, as in the case of the Nassau voyage, and entitling the adventurers to exemption from the usual formalities of office. . . . (59)

Poe ‘s story contains many paraphrases of pages from Aeronautica and many details. The coffee-warmer,(60) for example, which generates heat when lime is slaked;(61) the discussion of the difficulties of a balloon leaving the earth;(62) and a consideration of the guide-rope invented by Green.(63) Poe’s “Victoria” and Mason’s Nassau balloon are both described as “rising gently” after they are freed from the earth. For one flight, “the weather was remarkably fine.(65) For the other, “the weather was uncommonly fine. . . .”(66) The men on the “Victoria” are impressed by “the supreme silence, which [page 206:] reigns in the sea beneath. . . .”(67) Those on Mason’s flight say of the sea: “. . . an awful stillness seems to reign over its motions.”(68) On the “Victoria” the passengers experienced “neither very intense cold, nor headache, nor difficulty of breathing” except Mr. Osborne, who “complained of constriction of the chest. . . “(69) Aeronautica states that men suffer no physical discomfort from the rarity of the atmosphere at high altitudes,(70) but also asserts that Gay-Lussac reported that his breathing was affected at around 21,500 feet.(71) Men on both balloons notice the blackness of the sky and the visibility of stars in the daytime, and toward the end of the flight crackling noises and sudden descent of the balloon.(72) Thus it is abundantly clear that in composing his hoax Poe borrows facts and ideas from Monck Mason.

Early in Poe’s story, the balloonists, who had started for Paris, are blown to sea and therefore decide to attempt a trans-Atlantic flight. In the aeronautical literature before 1844, there are many accounts of aeronauts whom the wind carried off their courses and above the sea. Charles Green,(73) Major Money,(74) and Mr. Crosbie(75) are among the ones Poe could easily have known about. Again in “The Balloon-Hoax” the author takes a fact from the history of ballooning. [page 207:]

The original elements in this story seem to be chiefly descriptive ma-riga, the analysis of the emotions of the men, the landing on Sullivan’s Island, which Poe knew by experience, and the decision to combine all the constituents into a hoax.

That the deception was effectively conceived and executed with verisimilitude is indicated by its reception: Poe reports:

The “Balloon-Hoax” made a far more intense sensation than anything of t character since the “Noon-Story” of Locke. On the morning (Saturday) of its announcement, the whole square surrounding the “Sun” building was literally besieged, blocked up — ingress and egress being alike impossible, ‘rasa period soon after sunrise until about two o’clock P.M. In Saturday’s regular issue, it was stated that the news had been just received, and that “Extra” was then in preparation, which would be ready at ten. It was not delivered, however, until nearly noon. In the meantime I never witnessed more intense excitement to get possession of a newspaper. As soon as the few first copies made their way into the streets, they were bought up, at almost any price, from the news-boys, who made a profitable speculation beyond doubt. I saw a half-dollar given, in one instance, for a single paper, and a shilling was a frequent price. I tried, in vain, during the whole day, to get possession of a copy. It was excessively amusing, however, to hear the comments of those who read the “Extra.”(76)

His third work to give a rather detailed description of the new aeronautical machines is “Mellonta Tauta ‘ published in the February, 1849, issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book. The story, as the title suggests, is about things of the future among them the balloon “Skylark.” It carries one or two hundred passengers and is capable of cruising for months. In fact it is the balloon of the year 2848 as the imagination of Poe pictures it. The Skylark” contains a new gas,(77) travels not more than one hundred miles an hour,(78) carries the kind of drag-rope invented by Green,(79) is made of a [page 208:] material superior to the silk used a few hundred years earlier,(80) and is equipped with a rope ladder so that a tourist may ascend and sit atop the great gas bag and see the sights, as balloonists of Poe’s day could not do.

In this piece of fiction the author refers to a fact that he learned from aeronautics that the upper air currents at one altitude often go in a different direction from that of currents at another height. Charles Growl, whom Poe with intentional inaccuracy calls “Yellow or. . . Violet had proved to the world of the 1830s and 1840s that a flyer could vary his course by ascending or descending to another altitude and thereby finding a wind going his way.

The “Skylark” is only one of many airships in the sky. A larger one flies overhead going about one hundred fifty miles an hour. It carries three or four hundred passengers and is “safe, commodious, manageable, and in every respect convenient. . . .”(82) Early in the history of modern aeronautics, Poe saw the possibility of reaching high speeds and carrying hundreds of passengers in balloons.

The aeronautical elements in “Mellonta Tauta” are similar in some details to those of the proposed balloon “Minerva” described by Etienne Gaspard Robertson (1763-1837) in a pamphlet reprinted in Paris in 1820.(83) [page 209:] The “Minerva” was to carry at least sixty people, be able to sail for six months without a stop cross the ocean in one flight, and have ladders so placed that passengers could climb to all parts of the balloon and thus be able to see directly above.(84) Poe’s “Skylark” has all these features or a very slight modification of them. Robertson believed that a tour of the world could be made in his projected “Minerva.”(85) In “Mellonta Tauta” the narrator expects to be aloft at least a month and is travelling fast enough to circumnavigate the world easily in that much time.(86)

A few other references to balloons further indicate that Poe kept abreast of aeronautical activities in the United States and Europe. He speaks of “going up aeronauting in a leaden balloon(87) as something unreasonable, and suggests the possibility of inter-continental flights: “. . . .the Nassau balloon packet is about to run regular trips (fare either way only twenty pounds sterling) between London and Timbuctoo.”(88) He likens a balloon to a “terrible fowl. . .fashioned entirely out of belly,”(89) and devotes a long paragraph to describing this monster — a fact indicating that he considered balloons among the scientific wonders of his day. In 1845 he notes in his “Items — Literary or Scientific”: “Mr. Charles Green, the aeronaut, made his three hundredth ascent in a huge balloon from the ground of the Albert saloon, at Hoxton.”(90) [page 210:]

To Poe, balloons were new, marvelous aeronautical machines that could made interesting to the reading public; they afforded a means of depict- nen undergoing experiences never endured before; and they presented other setting for the tale of verisimilitude. For his materials, he gleaned books and journals, and depended on imagination and introspection to create the psychological analysis of the feelings of men undergoing the novel experience of flying across the ocean in a balloon — or even to the moon. Some of his fictional predictions of the future of air travel have come true. Although not Poe ‘s best, these balloon stories are characteristic of one side of his genius ability carefully, patiently, and understandingly to combine various kinds of material.



[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 190:]

1.  The Scots Magazine, XLV (Dec., 1783), 651-652.

2.  Monck Mason, Aeronautica; or, Sketches Illustrative of the Theory and Practice of Aerostation; comprising an Enlarged Account of the Late Aerial Expedition to Germany (London, 1838), p. 445.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 190, running to the bottom of page 191:]

3.  A typical list of articles indicating an interest in balloons in Poole day is the following: a note mentioning a “Passage to Paris by Gas” or “Voyage a Pair” to Paris, Blackwood’s Magazine, XV (Feb., 1824), 197; “Hints for Holidays No. II,” Blackwood’s Magazine, XX (Sept., 1826), 398 (this note asks: “Why does not Davy or Leslie invent a rudder for the sky-ship?”); “The German Prince’s Account of His Voyage in a Balloon,” Leigh Hunt’s London Journal, I (August 6, 1834), 149-150; “Aerial Voyage to the Continent,” The [page 191:] London Examiner, No. 1502 (Nov. 13, 1836), pp, 731-732 (an account of Monck Mason’s flight across the English Channel); “Aerial Traveling — A new Idea,” Portfolio and Companion to the Select Circulating Library, Part I (Philadelphia, Jan.-June, 1836), p. 5; “Recollections of Six Days’ Journey in the Moon,” by An Aerio-Nautical Man, Southern Literary Messenger, X (July, 1844), 434-437 and X (Aug., 1844), 492-495; “The Archimedean Balloon,” Scientific American, II (Aug., 14, 1847), 376; and “Balloon Ascension,” Washington Literary Gazette, N.S., II (Nov. 15, 1834), 415.

4.  Poe himself spelled the name in various ways: “Hans Phaal,” “Hans Pfaall,” “Hans Phaall,” and “Hans Pfaal.” Hereinafter this story is referred to as “Hans Pfaal.”

5.  Works, II, 50. According to Killis Campbell, Poe relied on David Brewster’s Letters on Natural Magic for information used in “Hans Pfaal.” — Poe’s Reading,” University of Texas Studies in English, No. 5 (Oct. 8, 1925 ) 187.

6.  In a letter to T. W. White dated July 20, 1835, Poe declared: “Hans Phaal cost me mearly a fortnight’s hard labor. “ — Works, XVII, 12.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 192:]

7.  For what is perhaps an unnecessarily complex explanation of this metal, see J. O. Bailey, “Sources for Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym, ‘Hans Pfaal,’ and Other Pieces,” PMLA, LVII (June, 1942), 525.

8.  For a more complete discussion of the lifting agent, see the chapter “Physics and Chemistry,” pp. 181-182.

9.  G. Gregory, A New and Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, etc. (Philadelphia, 1816), article “Air Balloon,” Vol. I, pages not numbered.

10.  Works, II, 52.

11.  Mason, op. cit., p. 218.

S 12. Works, II, 52.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 193:]

13.  Ibid., II, 55 and 334.

14.  P. 33.

15.  Walter B. Norris first pointed out Poe’s indebtedness to Mason in Poe’s Balloon — Hoax,” Nation, XCI (Oct. 27, 1910), 389-390.

16.  The globe was to be opened, air from the high altitude would rush in, and then the scientist could test it to see whether it differed from air at the surface of the earth. Poe knew of Gay-Lussac’s flights. — Works, II, 63.

17.  On his flight of August 231 1804, for example, Gay-Lussac carried with hima barometer, thermometer, hydrometer, electrometer, compasses, magnetized needles, an electrophorus, and flasks empty of air — a list much like Hans Pfaal’s, See F. Alexander Magoun and Eric Hodgins, A History of Aircraft (New York, 1931), p. 65.

18.  Mason, op. cit., pp. 257, 285, 348-349.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 194:]

19.  Gregory, op. cit.; The Scots Magazine, XLV (Dec., 1783), 651-652.

20.  Works, II, 56-57. For a different discussion of Hans Pfaal’s takeoff, see Marjorie Nicolson, Voyages to the Moon (New York, 1948), pp. 238-241.

21.  The Scots Magazine, XCIV (Nov., 1824), 631. Sadler was thrown from the car by a sudden jerk of his balloon and for a short time “was suspended to the car by one leg.”

22.  Works, II, 60.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 194, running to the bottom of pag 195:]

23.  Poe knew of several accounts of voyages to the moon, as several Scholars have pointed out. He mentions some in a long note added to the 1840 version of “Hans Pfaal.” — Works, II, 103. J. O. Bailey has discussed some of the earlier such flights, from which Poe may have taken suggestions. See Bailey’s Pilgrims through Space and Time (New York, 1947), pp. 16-24, W45. One account that seems significant, however, has not been cited by other scholars. Blackwood’s Magazine in 1820 published a story entitled “A Visit to the Lunar Sphere.” — VII (Nov., 1820), 125-129. This visit was made by Professor Heidelberg in a balloon too full of hydrogen. Professor Heidelberg’s quick ascent continues until he reaches the point where the [page 195:] attractions of the earth and the moon are in equilibrium. Poe focuses attention on this point in his account. The Professor encounters a shower of meteoric stones from the moon. Hans Pfaal runs into similar shower of volcanic stones. Professor Heidelberg lands, goes sight-seeing, and learns among other things that the side of the moon which does not receive the light of the earth is “considered. . . as a kind of purgatory.” — Page 127. In his unpublished notes for “Hans Pfaal,” Poe wrote: “Make the invisible half of the moon our hell.” — Works, XVI, 349-350. After observing the flora end fauna, the scientific accomplishments, and the way of life of the Lunarians, Professor Heidelberg returns to the earth. His story then concludes With mention of some valuable scientific discoveries, “all of which will. . . be laid in due time before the Royal Society in Edinburgh.” — Blackwood’s Magazine, VIII (Nov., 1820), 129. Hans Pfaal, toward the end of his discursive letter, intimates that he may communicate similar information to the States’ College of Astronomers. — Works, II, 99-103. Whether Poe used this narrative or not, he certainly was aware of some of the many magazine and book accounts, fanciful and real, of balloon voyages published in his lifetime and previously. In 1833 Timothy Flint wrote on the desirability and difficulty of reaching the moon by balloon. — Lectures upon Natural History, p. 244.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 195:]

24.  Almost every physics book of Poe’s day had an illustration of an air-pump, and Priestley’s experiments with such an instrument were recent enough still to excite the curiosity of the populace.

25.  Works, II, 75-78.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 196:]

26.  Ibid., II, 337. This seems near the truth. Albert 1.4. Stevens wrote that from 13.71 miles above sea level the earth “was a vast expanse of brown, apparently flat. . . .” — “Man’s Farthest Aloft,” The National Geographic Society — U.S. Army Corps Stratosphere Flight of 1935 in the Balloon “Explorer II” (Washington, 1936), p. 194.

27.  Works, II, 73.

28.  Ibid., 73-74.

29.  Monck Mason, op. cit., p. 200.

30.  “Areostation,” II (April, 1840), 263. It is almost certain that Poe read the series of three articles on “Aerostation” in the Polytechnic Journal for January, February, and April, 1840. He mentions an article “by Mr. Charles Green himself, in the March number of the Polytechnic Journal.” — Burton’s Gentlemen’s Magazine, VI (May, 1840), 247.

31.  A diagram in Aeronautica may have suggested Poe explanation to him. See pages 201-202 and 138-143.

32.  Works, II, 98.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 197:]

33.  Gregory, op. cit. and The Scots Magazine, XLVII (Jan., 1785), 32-33. Charles Green, the, most noted aeronaut of Poe’s day, had a somewhat similar experience. — Mason, op. cit., pp. 8-9. See also Jean Pierre Baptiste Blanchard, The Principles, History, & Use of Air Balloons. (New York, 1796), p. 22. From photostatic copy of the original in the Boston Public Library (June, 1939).

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 198:]

34.  T. O. Mabbott, “Poe’s Balloon-Hoax,” New York Sun (Jan. 23, 1943), p. 6.

35.  “Aerostation,” Polytechnic Journal, II (Jan., 1840), 73. In this issue is a statement that Green has spoken of his “readiness to undertake the excursion” across the ocean if he could find a wealthy patron. — II, 77. The American Eclectic, II (July, 1841), 188-189, published an article, “Experimental Aerostation,” that mentions Green’s proposal to traverse the Atlantic in an aerostatic machine. This citation illustrates the difficulty of assigning with certainty a single specific source to Poe. This entry is attributed to “Year-Book, 1841.” The account in The Year-Book of Facts in Science and Art states that it is “Abridged from the Times.” Poe might have seen it in any one of these or in another source derived from one of them.

36.  II, 135.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 199:]

37.  VI, 149.

38.  “A Chapter on Science and Art,” VI (May, 1840), 247.

39.  Professor T. O. Mabbott attributes the first of these to Poe in nis note in the New York Sun previously cited. Probably most of each of the three columns entitled “A Chapter on Science and Art” is by Poe.

40.  John Wise, a leading American balloonist of Poets day, made a spectacular flight from Philadelphia in a storm on August 11, 1838, just after Poe had returned to that city. — Magoun and Hodgins, op. cit., p. 96. Poe may have seen the flight or read of it. And on December 20, 1843, less than four months before Poe’s story, Wise petitioned the Congress of the United States for permission to cross the Atlantic by balloon. Wise also caused to be published in the Lancaster Intelligence a notice saying that bathe summer of 1844 he would attempt an aerial trip across the Atlantic and asking seamen and others of all nations to give him help if he should descend near them. — Magoun and Hodgins, op. cit., pp. 78-79. Philip Freneau had published his “Progress of Balloons” in 1784. See Lewis Leary, “Phaeton in Philadelphia,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, LXVII (Jan., 1943), 50, 52, 56, and 59. This article is a good discussion of the early interest in ballooning in America.

41.  One circumstance that lade early 1844 timely for Poets hoax was the fact that the New York American for February 12, 1844, had carried an account stating that “The Charleston papers of last Monday (i.e., February 5) acknowledged the receipt of papers from this city three days in advance of the mail. They were carried by the brig Moon, Captain Hayes, who made a very short run.” — Mabbott, “Poe’s Balloon Hoax,” op. cit., p. 6. Know ledge that news could get to New York from Charleston faster than the mail may have been just the information Poe needed to make his hoax complete. Two months later it was published.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 200:]

42.  At least two of Poe’s biographers have pointed out that Poe depended partly on Monck Mason’s crossing of the English Channel in the Great Vauxhall Balloon on Nov. 7 and 8, 1836. See Mary E. Phillips, Edgar Allan Poe the Man (Philadelphia, 1926), II, 871-874 and Una Pope-Hennessy, Edgar Allan Poe 1809-1849 A Critical Biography (London, 1934), p. 232.

43.  Works, V, 224.

44.  “Who can tell,” wrote one man earlier, “but another century may give rise to such improvements, that navigating the air may be as safe, as easy, and rendered subservient to as many practical purposes, as navigating the ocean.” — Samuel M. Miller, A Brief Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century (New York, 1802)0 I, 47. An account in Blackwood’s Magazine, XXIII (June, 1828), 826-834, ends with a suggestion that balloons be employed to map enemy fortifications. Jefferson had made the same suggestion. See Leary, 94. 211., pp. 49-50. Shelley also had suggested the possibility of the general use of balloons. — Carl Grabo, A Newton Among Poets (Chapel Hill, 1930), p. 8. Probably the most famous passage in literature envisioning 419 future of aeronautics is found in Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall,” published in 1842.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 201:]

45.  Magoun and Hodgins, op. cit., pp. 114-117,

46.  In 1840 Poe had written of “a miniature balloon of about three feet in diameter. . . filled with common coal gas” which was made to rise, descend, and sail horizontally by means of a spring-driven propeller. — Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, VI (May, 1840), 247. The use of the Archimedean screw, the clockwork mechanism, the exhibition of models in the Adelaide Galleries, smich Poe mentions, were also much in the news in 1842 and 1843. See Works, V, 225, 228.

47.  One contemporary article asserted: “Mr. Green is convinced that . . . a voyage across the Atlantic may be performed as easily as one from Vauxhall ardens to Nassau: only three or four days being sufficient for the passage.” — “experimental Aerostation,” The American Eclectic, II (July, 1841 188-189.

48.  Although Poe praised Green as an aeronaut, he did not include him as one of the crew of the “Victoria” probably because he knew that Green planned and advocated a flight across the Atlantic in the other direction — from west to east. “Aerostation,” Polytechnic Journal, II (Jan., 1840), 77.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 202:]

49.  Works, V, 225. Henson’s name was linked with two other balloon hoaxes, published in 1843, before Poe’s. Magoun and Hodgins describe one: spathe fashion of the day, the Glasgow Constitutional published an elabo-ratekvax concerning the flight of one ‘Professor Geolls’ in Henson’s ‘Ariel’ which was actually constructed. The account described the preparation, take-off, and flight over the River Clyde which Professor Geolls had made in the machine. It was reported that while over the river three imam pipes burst at once and that the Professor fell into the river and was rescued by a passing steamer. This account in the Constitutional was copied as fact by the London Times. Thus it was made as much a part of the eternal verities as if it had actually happened.” — Op. cit., p. 291. Henson’s “Ariel” also figured in an “Aerial Voyage to India”. The story is a detailed account of the intended first voyage of the “Aerial” from London to Calcutta in three days — the time it took Poe’s flyers to span the Atlantic. Besides the journey, the report describes the astonishment of the people at Calcutta somewhat as Poe eleven months later depicted the amazement of the populace on Sullivan’s Island. — Asiatic Journal, N.S.,I (May, 1843). 40-43. The fact that Poe quotes from the February, 1845 issue of this magazine suggests that he may have seen earlier numbers.

50.  The Yearbook of Facts in Science and Art, etc. (London, 1844), pp. 5-6, opens with an article “Henson’s Aerial Transit Machine” and includes a detailed diagram of it. Since these yearbooks were published early in the year of their date, Poe could have seen this one before April, or he could have read of Henson’s machine in magazines. In 1842 Henson received Patent Specification Number 9,478 for his “Ariel,” a proposed airplane. — Magoun and Hodgins, op. cit., p. 288. He also received a great deal of publicity, as the following statement shows: “The publication of the patent attracted a great amount of public attention and the illustrations in contemporary journals representing the flying machine over the pyramids and the Channel, anticipated fact by sixty years and more. . . .” — Charles E. Vivian, A History of Aeronautics (London, 1921), p. 59. Henson tried to organize an Aerial Transit Company, and in 1843 a bill was introduced into Parliament to provide him funds to build a full-scale model. — Magoun and Hodgins, op. cit., pp. 290-291. Yes, Henson should be one of the company to cross the Atlantic in Poe’s “The Balloon-Hoax.”

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 203:]

51.  Works, V, 226. Although the flight was made on November 7 and 8, 1836, it could hardly have created excitement in the United States before 1837. The average ship in 1836 or 1837 required about six weeks to cross the Atlantic. The news of the flight took some days in getting back to England from the Continent. The London Examiner, for example, had the first report of it on November 13, but it was not until a week later that it published anything like a full account. The weather was against a fast trip across the Atlantic with the news. On December 24, 1836, the New Yorker reported: “We have had no arrivals from France or England for weeks, and our latest dates come down to the 25th and 26th of October. The prevalence of westerly and northwesterly winds is doubtless the cause of this detention. . . . The urchants, the dailies, and all those awaiting letters from Europe, grow impatient.” The next week the New Yorker reported that ships had arrived and that the dailies had been able to publish the news carried by them in the papers of December 30, probably the day of the first announcement in America of the Weilburg flight. The New Yorker of December 31 squeezed a fily-line item about the flight into its columns. But not until April 29, 1837, did the New Yorker carry a detailed account. Therefore it seems certain that any excitement created by the balloon flight would have developed in the United States in 1837. By April 1837 Poe was in New York and probably saw the New Yorker report, which is a reprint from the March issue of Blackwood’s Magazine.

52.  Magoun and Hodgins, op. cit., p. 120. This model, an oviform dirigible forty-four feet long, crossed the gallery at six miles per hour, and has been described as the “first power-driven airship in history.” — Magoun and Hodgins, op. cit., p. 120.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 204:]

53.  VI, 149. Poe adds: “. . . and we observe (what Mr. G. has not) that in Vienna, according to a simple method invented by M. F. Derionet, the gas is conveyed in hermetically sealed bags, on carriages constructed for the purpose, from the factory to all parts of the town daily.” Mason’s Aeronautica states the same fact on page 7.

54.  Walter B. Norris, op. cit., and H. H. Scudder, “Poe’s ‘Balloon Hoax,’” American Literature, XXI (May, 1949), 179-190, have suggested that Poe used Mason’s original pamphlet about the Weilburg flight. Aeronautica contains an expanded version of the pamphlet and other material on ballooning. Poe may well have used either or both.

55.  For example, “Aerostation,” Polytechnic Journal, II (Jan., Feb., and April, 1840), 73, 135, and 277.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 205:]

56.  P. 7.

57.  Works, V, 230.

58.  Pp. 33-34.

59.  Works, V, 232.

60.  Ibid., V, 230.

61.  P. 33.

62.  Works, V, 230-231; Aeronautica, p. 13.

63.  P. 19; Works, V, 231-232.

64.  Works, V, 232; Aeronautica, 35.

65.  Works, V, 233.

66.  Aeronautica, p. 35.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 206:]

67.  Works, V, 236. 43-44.

68.  Pp. 43-44.

69.  Works, V, 237.

70.  Pp. 210-211. See also “Aerostation,” Polytechnic Journal, II (April, 1840), 279.

71.  P. 259.

72.  Works, 237-238; Aeronautica, pp. 172, 193-194; and 66-68.

73.  “Aerostation,” Polytechnic Journal, II (April, 1840), 277.

74.  Scots Magazine, XLVII (July, 1785), 356.

75.  Ibid., XLVII (July, 1785), 356-357.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 207:]

76.  “Letter II” (New York, May 21, 1844), Doings of Gotham, p. 33.

77.  Works, VI, 206.

78.  Ibid., VI, 198.

79.  Ibid., VI, 198, 199.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 208:]

80.  Ibid., VI, 198-199.

81.  Ibid., VI, 201. Compare this discussion of following the air currents with “Travelling in the Air,” Scientific American, II (May 22, 1847), 277.

82.  Works, VI, 206.

83.  “La Minerve,” vaisseau aerien destiné aux découvertes, etc., cited in Magoun and Hodgins, op. cit., p. 63.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 209:]

84.  Ibid., pp. 63-64.

85.  Ibid., 63.

86.  Works, VI, 197-198.

87.  Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, V (Aug., 1839), 117.

88.  Works, III, 263.

89.  Ibid., VI, 95-96.

90.  Broadway Journal, II (July 26, 1845), 46. See also I (March 15, 1845), 169-170.



[S:0 - CDL51, 1951] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Science and Pseudo-Science in the Writings of EAP (C. D. Laverty) (Chapter 07)