Attempts at Flying. Borelli: Impossible for Man to Fly With Wings. Sailing in the Air. Albert of Saxony. Francis Mendoza. Caspar Schott.
Attempts at flying have , as a rule, been made by a somewhat low class of projectors, who have generally united some little share of ingenuity to a smattering of mechanics. At the beginning of the 16th century an Italian alchemist visited Scotland, and was collated by James IV. to the abbacy of tungland, in Galloway. Having constructed a set of wings, composed of various plumage, he undertook from the walls of Stirling Castle to fly through the air to France. This feat he actually attempted, but he soon came to the ground, and broke his thigh-bone by the violence of the fall-an accident he explained by asserting that the feathers of some fowls were employed in his wings, and that these had an affinity for the dunghill, whereas, if composed solely of eagles' feathers, they would have been attracted to the air. This anecdote has furnished to Dunbar, the Scottish poet, the subject of one if his rude satires. In 1617, Pleyder, rector of the grammar school at Tubingen, delivered a lecture on flying, which he published eleven years afterwards. A poor monk, however, ambitious to reduce the theory to practice, provided himself with wings; but his machinery broke down, and falling to the ground, he broke his legs and perished. Bishop Wilkins (Mathematical Magick, 1648) says it was related that "a certain English monk called Elmerus, about the Confessor's time" flew by means of wings from a tower a distance of more than a furlong; that another person flew from St Mark's steeple at Venice; and another, at Nuremberg. He also quote's Bubsequius to the effect that a Turk also attempted something of the kind at Constantinople. It would probably not be very difficult to make a long list of such narrations, in some of which the experimenter is related to have been successful, and in others to have failed; but the evidence is in no case very good, and we may feel certain that all the traditions of attempts with a successful issue are false.
In Borelli' posthumous work, De Motu Animalis, published at Rome in 1680-81, he calculated the enormous strength of the pectoral muscles in birds; and his proposition cciv. (vol. i. pp. 322-326) is entitled "Est impossibi;e, uthomines propriis viribus artificiose volare possint," in which he clearly points out the impossibility of man being able by his muscular strength to give motion to wings of sufficient extent to keep him suspended in the air. But Borelli did not, of course, as has sometimes been stated, demonstrate the impossibility of man's flying otherwise than merely by means of his own muscular power.
A very slight consideration of the matter shows that, although the muscles of man may not be of sufficient strength to enable him to use wngs, this objection does not apply against the possibility of making a flying clariot in which the motive power should be produced mechanically as in a watch, or a boat to float in the atmosphere. Both these projects have therefore always engaged the attention of abler men than has the art of flying, and it was only the ignorance of the nature and force of the atmosphere, as well as of the properties of all aeriform bodies, that caused so long a time to elapse before the invention of the balloon.
Albert of Saxony, a monk of the order of St Augustine, and a commentator on the physical works of Aristotle, seems first to have comprehended (though in a very vague and erroneous manner) the principles on which a body might be made to float I the atmosphere. Adopting of of Saxony, a monk of the order of St Augustine, and a commentator on the physical works of Aristotle, seems first to have comprehended (though in a very vague and erroneous manner) the principles on which a body might be made to float I the atmosphere. Adopting of course, Aristotelian views with regard to the nature of the elements, he considered that, as fire is more attenuated, and floats above our atmosphere, therefore a small portion of this ethereal substance, enclosed in a light hollow globe, would raise it to a certain height and keep it suspended in the air; and that, if more air were introduced, the globe would sink like a ship when water enters by a leak. Long afterwards Francis Mendosa, a Portuguese Jesuit, who died in 1626, at the age of forty-six, embraced this theory, and he held that the combustible nature of fire was no real obstacle, as its extreme levity and the extension of the air would prevent it from supporting inflammation. Casper Schott, also a Jesuit, adopted the same speculation, only that he replaced the fire by the thin ethereal substance which he believed floated above our atmosphere; but, of course, the difficulty of procuring any of this ether was a sufficient obstacle.
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