Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Charles Waterton - aviator

Those of you who read my recent re-cycled post on Charles Waterton may be interested in this, which is from The Lion And The Cardinal on July 27:


Richard Hobson:
Mr. Waterton had considerable inventive genius, especially in the actual formation of supposed extinct animals, and, generally, of the most horrid form and appearance, by a skillful union of separate portions of reptiles. By the way, his inventive powers, though more than forty years ago, had nearly carried his experimental ingenuity to a fatal issue. He had, for a considerable period, conceived some crude and ill digested idea, that the act of flying was within his grasp, and that, in a short time, he would become a second Pegasus in execution.

Under this surprisingly delusive impression, Mr. Waterton invented, and manufactured duplicates of a peculiar character of mechanism, as substitutes for natural wings, to be fixed on each arm, and to be united by their then surrounding the thoracic and dorsal portions of the trunk. How the Squire proposed to dispose of his lower extremities he did not explain to me, but I remember he stated that, a man's legs, however symmetrically formed, were inconveniently long and heavy for an atmospheric trip, except they could have something less yielding than air on which to rest, or to sustain the lever they represent, and, consequently, were too unwieldy and unmanageable to be of any service to the aeronaut in navigating the atmosphere; adding, that the only time, during his life, he had found his legs in the way, was, when he attempted to fly.

At all events, Mr. Waterton not only manufactured these fictitious wings which I have named, but he actually attached them, to his arms and trunk, and also formed and fixed the remaining mechanism which he conceived was necessary to be attached to the other parts of the body, so as to complete, and, as he imagined, perfect this really chimerical project; and in order to carry out his scheme into practical execution, he arranged to make his first essay from the eaves of a roof of a building in the farm yard, being an elevation of several yards, from whence his flight, it is true, would be of limited extent longitudinally, and where an abundance of litter would break the severity of a possibly uncontrollable and rapid descent.

Fortunately, however, when the Squire was clipped and heeled for his first attempt to become an aerologist, an intimate friend, Alicui toto pectore deditus, accidentally walked into the farm yard, and, happily, had sufficient influence over the would-be aeronaut to persuade him to take his first aerial flight from a much less elevated position.

Of course, it is needless to minutely detail the practical freaks which actually occurred in attempting to carry out this delusive conception, as the Squire afterwards unhesitatingly admitted to me that, unlike Pegasus, ho could neither fly to the top of Mount Helicon, nor further imitate him by then flying up to heaven. Also, that his affinity for the earth, to his great surprise, woefully outbalanced his attraction to the clouds, and that, on coming in contact with mother earth, he received, as he was wont to say, when jocosely using the Walton* dialect, such a "foul shak", as to be satisfactorily convinced that soaring in the atmosphere was not his forte, having, in his unwilling, unintentional, and disagreeably hasty descent, like Phaeton (who lost command of his horses) thoroughly lost all command of his wings, and thus narrowly escaped a broken neck, by pitching upon his head in spite of the faith he had entertained in his all-protecting wings.
*Walton was Waterton's estate near Wakefield

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