Princeton and Balloons. There is a connection …

Charles, like many men and women in Victorian England, was a great fan of ballooning and aerostatics. He orders several books on the subject from John Russell Smith over the course of the 1830s and 1840s, and maintains a keen interest in experimenting with his own inventions. In a letter dated 1 August 1838 he writes excitedly of his mini-gas balloons:

… I am very fond of experimenting with small Balloons made of paper & filled with hydrogen gas […] Several of mine have been picked up at a distance of 50 or 60 miles – the very last at Saxmundham in Suffolk, another at Farningham in Kent … another at Holy Wells, Ipswich.

Clark would frequently set off balloons with his own printed address labels attached so that the finders would contact him and he could discern how far the balloons had travelled. This note to John Russell Smith also records a descent made by the Great Nassau Balloon of Charles Green in late July of 1838. Clark saw the balloon several times at later dates, but the record of missing this particular incident captures something of his excitement and the impact such a moment must have had on a local community. Charles Green himself was on board:

To turn from books to balloons!!! – The Great Nassau balloon descended a short distance from us on Tuesday evening last, with Mr Green & a party of eight – I unluckily did not see it but it was seen in the air by a great many persons at Totham and in the neighbourhood – the Maldon coach passengers, I hear, had a nine miles view of it. Quentin Dick Esq., the MP for Maldon & a son of Mr Round, the other MP, were witnesses of the descent with upwards of 400 other persons from Chelmsford, &c &c. It descended in a meadow of Landon, an adjoining parish to Danbury.

Charles Green's Nassau balloon

Charles Green’s Nassau balloon

Clark links here his passion for books and ballooning, and we have long suspected that there must have been books on balloons that Clark retained in his library and that were not swapped or sold for other volumes. Our suspicions were recently confirmed by an email from Mr Stephen Ferguson, the Rare Books librarian at Princeton University Library. Stephen confirmed that among the holdings at Princeton is a scrapbook on aerostation that was certainly owned and very probably compiled by Charles Clark. A version of his bookplate, dated 1866, is pasted on the inside coverboard:


The volume is a compilation of about 46 pages of engravings, newspaper clippings, broadsides, songs and handbills on ballooning, dating from 1769 to the late 1820s, and including material on the activities of Green as well as the Montgolfiers, James Sadler and John Wilkes. Some of the songs and poems that celebrate ballooning appear to have been composed by Clark himself. The volume is testament to a lifelong interest in this very 19th century phenomenon, and we will be surprised if this is the very last word from Clark on ballooning …

Outside cover of Clark's ballooning scrapbook

Outside cover of Clark’s ballooning scrapbook

We foresee a trip to Princeton University Library sometime in the future. We won’t, however, be travelling by balloon.

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