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  • Flight in Seventeenth-Century Warsaw? August 13, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    This is an interesting and largely overlooked reference (Frank) to flight from an English newspaper, c. 1650. The newspaper in question, The Moderate, was typically made up of a good many letters from amateur foreign correspondents and one of these came from Warsaw. It would be fascinating to see if there were any other accounts of this Eastern flier in Poland or elsewhere in Europe: or do we simply have an English fraud? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    There is at this present in this [Polish] Court a certain man lately come from Arabia, who is come hither to the King of Poland, to whom he proffereth his head for security of that which he propoundeth, which is that he hath brought from that Countrey the invention of a Machine, being Airie and of a construction so light, nevertheless so sound and firm, that the same is able to bear two men, and hold them up in the Air, and one of them shall be able to sleep, the whiles the other maketh the Machine to move, which thing is much after the same manner as you see represented in the old Tapistry hangings [of] the Dragons flying.. There are few in this Court but have got a pattern of this Machiner [sic], and [I] do hope to send you one likewise, in case that the project takes some good effect and proves to be as true as [it is] rare in its invention; the forms of it which he hath made, and afterwards presented here, with the many strong reasons he gives for to maintain his Proposition, seeme to be so strong and so likely to be true that there is great hopes conceived thereof; and although he undertakes that the Celerity or swiftnesse of this Airie post shall go far beyond that of our ordinary Posts, seeing he promises to go with the same in 24 hours 40 Leagues of this his Country, which will make of English miles neer 240, which thing seemeth so strange to many that therefore they fal off from him and so give little credit to it, although he hath brought with him good Certificates, how it hath been approved by many in other places where he hath made experiment thereof to his great Honour and credit and [to] the Admiration and great amazement of the beholders; besides, it may well be thought that a man of Honour, as he seems to be, would not set so little by his life as to lay it at stake about a businesse of that nature, except he had some good grounds for it, and had some experimentall knowledge of the same, seeing he must hazzard his life two severall wayes: the one in case he did not make a triall of what he had promised, and so proved to have come hither as an Imposter, to have cheated this Court, who upon discoveries of like businesses will not make it a jest or a thing of small moment; and the other time of danger is when he begins to take his flight, which he is to do above the highest Towers or Steeples that are, and without his dexterity and certain knowledge therein [he] would run into an utter ruin and destruction. Whither it be true or no, there are Commissioners appointed who are to examine the businesse and so, accordingly as they finde it, to make their report; and [he] is appointed to make an essay and shew a piece of his skill in their presence before he is suffered to act it publickly, that if in case his businesse doth not prove according to expectation, they that have given credit to it and him may not be exposed to open shame and derision…

    The letter continues with some reflections on the possibility of flight – a theme that was becoming fashionable (even if only as an idea) in the seventeenth century. It goes without saying that no subsequent number brings any news from Warsaw on the subject. The presumption has to be that this was a joke: certainly if the oriental gentleman attempted flight he did not succeed…


    15 August 2011: Invisible writes ‘I KNEW that recently I had read something similar to your Warsaw and gliding monk stories – the suit of feathered tissue stuck in my mind. This is where I read it, but there may be other accounts.’ Thanks Invisible!

    2 September 2011: SY writes: ‘You called into question the extraordinary work of Tito Livio Burattini: Hart, The Prehistory of Flight, 135 ‘Largely as a result of frequent written reports by Pierre des Noyes, secretary, to the Queen of Poland, mid-seventeenth-century scientists took a great deal of interest in the aeronautical work of an Itaian engineer, Tito Livio Burattini. Born on 8 March 1617 in Agordo, north of Venice, Burratini early became a travelling scholar. By 1637 he had reached Egypt, where he helped John Greaves with his famous work on the pyramids…. In 1641 Burattini returned to Europe, spending a little time in Germany and travelling on to Poland, where he lived until 1645. In 1647, after a visit to his native Italy and a second period in Egypt he settled permanently in Poland… Correspondence among Des Noyes, Roberval, Mersenne, Thévenot, and Huygens contains many references to a flying machine on which Burattini was working in 1647 and 1648. haing apparently induced [king] Wladyslaw, a patron of science, to take an interest in the project, Burattini asked for sufficient support to cover the cost of materials, but he offered to carry out the work for nothing, putting his invention at the disposal of his royal employers and hoping for a just reward should it prove to be a success.’ Burattini is sometimes said, for reasons that are unclear, to be ‘from Arabia’: the visit to Egypt, Polish problems with geography?’ Thanks SY!