My aunt bought me this book last year. It was published in Massachusetts in 1849. It is the most entertaining read you will ever find. Someday I will write a book about this book.
The most fascinating thing about old books like this is that they let you see what might have been. What if the internal combustion engine had never been conceived? What if gun powder never left China? What if the British Empire never fell? What if Van Buren never became president?
(I have no idea how that last one would have affected anything. I consulted Wikipedia, and I can only conclude that American relations with Canada and Britain would be less strained.)
My family and I spent some two hours reading sections of this book out loud to each other. Topics include (in no discernible order, I might add) such things as “The Sloth,” “Wednesday,” “Water,” “Pocahontas,” “Ship-Building,” and “Chivalry.” My brother’s favourite was the seven page rant on the importance of the balloon for future economies, empires, and travel.
There was just one problem. No one had yet figured out how to make a hot air balloon go in any direction other than the one that the wind dictated.
The rant continues:
“It is shameful for man to have found the hippogriff which transports him to the celestial regions, and not know how to guide it; and yet every day the birds go and come on airy wings, as if to instruct and defy us.”
Yeah, you tell those uppity birds! Flying around like they’re something special and looking down their… beaks… at us.
“The government should promise a recompense of twenty-five million francs to him who should discover the means of directing balloons, and appoint twenty wise men to make experiments upon this subject.”
25 million francs in 1849? I did a rough calculation, and in today’s figures it would work out to be 98 ultragabrillion dollars.
“There will be servant balloons and master balloons; and in speaking of the luxury or extravagance of a person, it will be said, ‘He is rich — he has a balloon of thirty-four thousand cubic feet of gas;’ which will be equivalent to saying that he has a coach and four.”
I long for the future that this Parley person had in mind. I think part of that nutty fellow is running around in Emily Rose, peeing himself with excitement at the sight of a steam-powered car.
He still felt a small thrill each time he came to this place. There was an excitement to knowledge, to being privy to things that no one else was. It was control. It was power. He had reports here on the most influential families in the District, reports of truly disturbing indulgences of theirs, the kinds of things that could quickly bring them down to the level of squatters. He had information on previous Mayors that would curl hair at the sight of it. And he had secrets from the past, old things that were waiting for the right time to be made new again. It was from that shelf that the Mayor withdrew rolled parchments, carrying them over to a large table under one of the glowing bulbs. He carefully spread them out, musing over the diagrams traced out in faded ink, understanding only the surface of the potential of these machines. He would have his engineers review them again, have them explain what would be needed to make the devices work as the original inventors had intended. And it would change the District forever. It would make him the greatest Mayor in written history.