Brook Watson


Living in Boston or in Washington D.C., it is impossible for any museum aficionado to avoid being disquieted by the identical paintings of Watson and the Shark, by John Singleton Copley,

Watson and the Shark 

the first at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the second at the National Gallery, as often as one might see them. (There is a smaller third version in the Detroit Museum of Fine Arts, which I know was painted by Copley, but don’t know when or why, except that it might have been done as a study.) Each nearly life-size painting shows a Boston Whaler-type boat full of sailors having the dignity and solemnity of the Twelve Apostles, some sitting and some standing, all of their eyes focused on a young man in the water face up, naked, and soon to be have his head bitten off by a monstrously large shark that circles nearly one half of the boat. One of the men holds a boat hook in his hands to ward of the advancing shark showing his full set of teeth. Upon closer inspection, one can see that the boy in the water has had his left leg bitten off below his knee. Both paintings have plaques that give a full description of the event. One of the two versions which is now in Washington was commissioned by the man that the boy in the water became, and the second was painted by Copley for himself and then passed down to his descendants until one donated the painting to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Dr. Gordon Bendersky, a retired cardiologist, who wrote a medical analysis of ”Watson and the Shark Copley, marvels over the boy’s survival:

”Not only was the rescue an amazingly miraculous incident, but the mortality of a shark’s chewing off a foot in two attacks, the massive loss of blood expected from the anterior tibial artery, the near-drowning and the mortality rate of the subsequent amputation procedure itself and the expected post-traumatic and postoperative infections would approach 99 percent or greater.

What I love especially about history is where following a single element can lead to an awareness of people and events of whose existence I had no previous idea. My research on Brook Watson, of whom I knew nothing, except as a name on a painting, led me to explore not only Watson’s mesmerizing life, but also that of John Singleton Copley, whom I knew solely by his paintings and a statute of him in Boston’s Copley Square, and finally a remarkable and unfortunate group of people called the “Acadians,” who suffered a holocaustic deportation in eighteenth century Canada.

Inasmuch as the painting “Watson and the Shark” was the spark for this essay, I want to tell you first about Copley and the likely circumstances that led to his creation of those paintings.

John Singleton Copley by Copley 

Copley was born in Massachusetts in 1738, the son of an uneducated, Irish immigrant couple. He was never schooled in painting, but was self-taught. However, his widowed mother remarried a highly-skilled engraver in Boston named Peter Pelham. Pelham had a large stock of old master engravings that must have been a source of inspiration for the young Copley, who absorbed quickly not only their various approaches to portraiture, but also how to embellish the portraits of his colonial clients with the trappings of the English upper classes, such as columns, classical busts, rich European fabrics, hot-house flowers, fine china, and the like. The ruddy colonialists obviously enjoyed being painted with subtle and not so subtle allusions to their wealth.

Rebeccca Boylston by Copley in her negligee

Copley at thirty-five became the most sought after portraitist of the late colonial era, making trips to New York and elsewhere to satisfy his growing register of patrons. Although a number of New England families enjoyed distinguished lineage or substance in England prior to arriving in America (although clearly dukes don’t immigrate), Massachusetts had an upwardly mobile society, and the renowned and prosperous Copley was able to marry the daughter of a well-established and wealthy merchant named Richard Clarke. Clarke’s wife was a Mayflower descendant, which, until the mid-1950’s, was a pedigree that trumped any other in the America.  After his marriage, Copley purchased a 20-acre farm what is now Beacon Hill, adjoining the property of John Hancock, a Boston nob.

Clarke was one of the consignees of the East India Company tea that was destroyed in the Boston harbor, that in the 1830’s was duded the “Boston Tea Party.”

An image of the Destruction of the Tea or the Boston Tea Party

He was also a relative of William Hutchinson, the English Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, hated by the colonial Patriots, as those who became increasingly opposed to English rule were called.

As the anger against England increased, those colonials such as the Clarke family who favored England’s retention of the America colonies, known as Loyalists (who often were the “best and brightest” of colonial society,) also suffered the escalating fury of their fellow colonialists who began actively to advocate severance from England. Many of the Loyalists were attacked and beaten by the Patriots, their businesses and property desecrated, and even subjected to “tar and feathering,”

Tarring and Feathering

which was a brutal form of torture. Like many other colonials, the Loyalists arrived in America before 1650 and worked to build it prosperity. While Copley was sympathetic to and a close friend of many Patriots, such as Paul Revere, James Otis, and John Hancock, his in-laws and many of his clientele were Loyalists.

Paul Revere by Copley

Copley couldn’t abide the violence wrought by overzealous Patriots that was becoming increasingly common in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but never experienced by him. One night, Copley was woken by a raucous mob surrounding his house, which demanded to know if a certain Colonel George Watson, a colonial administrator for the English authority and a Loyalist, was staying with him. Watson was also a member of the extended Clarke family, an acquaintance if not a friend of Copley. Copley explained that indeed Watson had visited during that afternoon, but left in the afternoon as well. The mob threatened that Copley’s “blood” would be on his head if he had deceived them, or “if he entertained Watson again or any other villain.” In a letter to his brother-in-law, Issac Clarke, Copley wrote”

“What if Mr. Watson had stayed (as I pressed him to) to spend the night. I must either have given up a friend to the insult of a Mob or had my house pulled down and perhaps my family murthered.”

This encounter with its actual threat of bodily harm shook Copley to his core.

Copley had for many years been encouraged by his friend and fellow painter Benjamin West,

Benjamin West

an American who emigrated lo London to peruse his career, to join him in England. Notwithstanding Copley’s success in the America, he had a long-held grievance that painters, even himself, were deemed basically as workmen in the United States, similar to a skilled carpenter or weaver of textiles. This is a bit odd, as he had achieved so great a degree of success and a marriage into a major Boston family. Possibly, he had taken some cheap shots of snobbery from his “classy” portrait subjects on his way “up,” or perhaps he just wanted to be worshipped. West told him that this would not the case in London, where recognized artists held high status and repute as did nobles. For many years, Copley chose to remain in Boston,  because he thought that he could realize the incredibly high level of income in London that he enjoyed in Boston, as he would be an unknown.

However, fear of harm by barbarous Patriots and the possibility of achieving a higher station of life in London coincided, Copley decided to migrate to what still remained as the mother country. He took passage on a ship called Minerva, the last boat to leave America for England until the end of the War of Independence. The sea voyage began from Marblehead, Massachusetts and took roughly four weeks. Aside from rough seas, bad food and water, and cramped accommodations, the trip was, like all such voyages, at best deadly boring and at worst deadly. Travelers brooked the tedium by telling true and false stories that, at best, were wildly exaggerated over and over to fellow passengers. However, accordingly at least to one source, there was aboard the Minerva one traveler who didn’t have to falsify or embellish his amazing story of his near death as he was swimming in the harbor of Havana, Cuba when fourteen years old. This, of course, was Brook Watson,

Brook Watson

all grown up by then, with a wooden left leg. Copley was intrigued and made some sketches of the harrowing scene under the guidance of Watson, who suggested that Copley painting the gruesome scene when he arrived in London, which he, Watson, would commission. The shipboard meeting may be apocryphal (but I have not concocted it, and freely admit that I prefer that it were true). Copley and Watson did meet in London on August 17, 1794, shortly after Copley passed his first year abroad studying painting techniques in Italy, then considered the mother of art.

Copley was eager to break out of portraiture and paint a narrative history, which had always, if not exclusively, dealt with subjects of a religious, historical, or national nature, such as a major battle or a coronation. He had the temerity to paint dramatically and with a near religious overtone a recent event in the life of an ordinary mortal, and was rewarded immediately when the painting took the English art market by storm. Copley’s reputation soared to the top level of recognized artists, a status that continued for most of his life, as he remained in England. Based on this work and a portrait of his family,

The Copley Family by and with Copley

now also in the Washington National Gallery, Copley was elected to London’s prestigious Royal Academy in 1779.

Now, l will turn to Brook Watson, who in his middle years became Lord Major of London, a founder and chairman of the still extant international insurance company, Lloyd’s of London, as well as a rich and respected man whose life could have ended as food in the belly of a shark. All of these and other business aspects of Watson’s life are, of course, laudable. However, for me, what he did in his life before reaching those commercial heights are what makes him so remarkable for me.

A significant part of Watson’s history would have been lost had not a volume of papers covering the history of the Nova Scotia region of Canada from 1790 to 1815, some written and all compiled by Reverend Andrew Brown, including letters from Brook Watson, had not been saved from annihilation by an astute agent of the British Museum, named Grosart He was in cheese shop in Scotland and noticed that Brown’s papers were being used to wrap up cheese and butter. He purchased them from the shopkeeper, and they were deposited in the National Collection in London.

Watson was born in England as the son of a substantial merchant. When Watson was under 10 years old, probably six to eight years old, his parents died; and, he was sent to a distant relative, possibly named Levens, who was also a prosperous ship merchant in Massachusetts. Can you imagine a recently-orphaned boy of eight going on a small wooden sailing ship across the Atlantic Ocean, a voyage of nearly thirty days, without a relative or other acquaintance? And what did he find when he arrived there, probably not Mr. Levens who probably sent some lackey to pick up the boy form the dock.

At fourteen years of age, Watson was taken on one of Leven’s ships as a cabin boy, which wasn’t uncommon at the time, even for younger boys. When the ship was anchored in the Havana harbor by Moro Castle,

Moro Castle, Havanna

the lad dove off the boat for a swim. This is when the shark attack occurred that took off his lower left leg. Actually, the shark attacked twice and both times took Watson under the water. He was miraculously saved by his shipmates before the beast could finish the meal. Watson spent three months in Cuba, being treated by Spanish doctors, healing from his wound, and having a wooden leg made.

When Watson returned to Boston and entered his guardian’s house, he was accosted by a woman, who apparently then owned the building and ran it as an inn or worse. She told him that Leven was bankrupt, disappeared, and possibly that Levens owed her money above what the house was worth. A letter to the Rev. Andrew Brown describes the salty discourse, which is worth repeating here:

“La Brook,” exclaimed the oddity, ” is this you, with a wooden leg, too? Your friend Levens has been so unlucky, has done so-and-so and now he is gone the Lord knows where. But there is nothing for you here; I can see nothing for you but to have you bound out to be a saylor. I believe I shall send immediately for the select men and was all with them in the business.” She was suggesting that she could get additional money owing to her from Levens, as a bounty from consigning Watson on an outgoing ship; ship owners of the time used all sorts of devices to attract unwilling working hands, including kidnapping. “The Lord help me,” says poor Brook, “for I wish the shark had finished the business he began.”

The woman spoke so loudly that she was overheard by a ship captain named John Huston who was sitting in an adjacent room. He came into the room where Watson was being abused, and the woman was about to resume her tirade, when he Mr. Huston interrupted her and told her to say no more on that subject. He said that he would pay any balance owing her from Watson’s guardian, which he did and took the boy with him when he left Boston. Huston was obviously impressed by the young Watson, to pay for his freedom for his guardian’s debt as well as bring him into Huston’s family as one of his own children.

In one of the letters that would have served to preserve butter or cheese, there is the following statement about Watson that served as a confirmation on the value of my tracking his life;

“It is an observation made by Plutarch — that as the small features about the eyes are the most expressive and do most to distinguish the complexion of the individual, so the little incidents of life are of great account in making up a judgment of a person’s real character. In great actions persons may out-do themselves, but in little actions they act themselves. With this observation I shall introduce an instance or two of the manliness and capacity of young Watson:—“

During the French and Indian War in Canada, which was part if the Seven Years’ War between the English and French were carrying on in Europe, at one point the English forces controlled one side if a river and the French were on the other side. Several cattle belonging to the English one day crossed the river at low tide and were foraging on the French side. This wasn’t noticed until the high tide and one other than Watson said he would attempt to bring them back. He swam over the river-side and was driving the cattle towards the river when a French officer leading a small troop called Watson to halt, and said to him:

“Young man, what have you to do upon the King of France’s land?”  Watson replied that his “present concern was neither with the King of France, nor about his land, but he meant take care of the English cattle.” The French officer was amused by this snappy come back, and ordered his men to allow Watson taking away the cattle. This boldness on Watson’s part “gained him not a little credit” by the English when he returned with the cattle, both he and the cattle intact.

Huston was the captain of a ship that supplied provisions to the British army in Nova Scotia. Watson’s apparent abilities were recognized by the English command serviced by Huston, and he was made a commissary in 1755 to the British forces. I read that three years later he was sent to supervise the “expulsion of the Acadians” from Nova Scotia. Those words caught my eye. Who in blazes were the Acadians? I first I thought they must have been a feckless Native American tribe sent on another, earlier “trail of tears.” That was not the case. If you are familiar with Nova Scotia or the Bay of Fundy in Canada or come from New Orleans, Louisiana, you most likely know who the Acadians were. But I never have, and they were a new name to me.

A Portrait of the Acadians looking to burst into a “Sound of Music” number 

In a letter to the Rev, Andrew Brown, Watson supplies a very complimentary answer to the identity of the Acadians, in a letter he wrote to the Rev. Brown, one of the documents that avoided obliteration by cheese. He states that Acadie, or Acady, now Nova Scotia on the eastern shore of Canada, was first settled by people from Normandy. Indeed, they were French people, mostly from Normandy, but they arrived in Canada in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries rather than in the sixteenth. They were placed under the French government of Canada, but so remote from the capital of Quebec, that little communication could be held with them. They were, therefore, able to enjoy this extensive and fertile country with little or no control. Their chief settlements were made on the borders of navigable rivers emptying into the Bay of Fundy, where marsh, or interval, lands abounded, and which, when dyked to keep off the water occasioned by high tides, produced excellent pastures, and without manure abundance of fine grain and pulse. Hence the country soon became plentifully stocked with neat cattle, horses, sheep, hogs, and poultry of all sorts. The people were left to themselves, without burthens on their property, or restraints on their industry, increased rapidly, possessing the means essential to substantial happiness. Luxuries they did not covet, to ambition they were strangers.

All in all, Watson describes Acadie as a second Eden, even to the degree that he claims that adultery was unknown. His only slightly negative comment was that “bigoted Catholics they were, no doubt, governed by their priests, but these were few in number and moderate in their views.” However, a similar view of the Acadians is expressed in another of Rev. Andrew Brown’s papers:

“Their wants and other wishes were few, and their deficiencies and disputes were still fewer. They had no courts of law — because they had no need of them. If any difference arose it was soon allayed and settled by the interference and counsel of two or three of the most judicious and best respected in the neighborhood.”

Sadly, this remarkable, if slightly improbably good people got caught in the French and English wars, if not eternal, then in the conflicts of the French and English, which were eternal.

In 1713 Nova Scotia was ceded to the crown of Great Britain by France, together with its inhabitants, including the Acadians. Those who chose not to remain were free to leave, provided they left within 12 months. Those remaining, which was the majority of the Acadians,  became subjects of Great Britain. In 1720, a new Governor was appointed and the Acadians were required to take the oath of allegiance, but many declared they would not take arms against the French. The British reassured those that took the oath of allegiance and “behaved peaceably” would not be required to bear arms against the French. In the meantime, they enjoyed the free exercises of their religion; had priests in every district, and were permitted to govern themselves by their own usages and customs were suffered to govern themselves by their own usages and customs.

The French and Indian War brought more suspicion against the Acadians, some of which was justified by their siding with the Native Americans against the British; and the continuing settlement of English farmers in the region brought envy against the skilled husbandry of the Acadians by the new settlers. It wasn’t long before envy and fear of the Acadians as a fifth column in the English midst gave rise to a variation on a “final solution” to obliterate the imagined threat that these people posed to their British overlords.


To be continued in next week’s post of SoRandom: HistoricalSnapshots.


Vincenzo Lunardi the Balloonist:Part Two



 I realize that you are too clever to think that Vincenzo Lunardi failed to return from his first hydrogen balloon flight, where I left you at the end of last week’s blog. Clearly, there would have been no reason for a Part Two had this hero checked out in flight. In any event, I want to take a halt before jumping back into what happened to Lunardi, and let you know what I, my wife Cristin, and my son Pablo, got into by reason of our “Lunardi Connection.”

Lunardi at his first lift-off, losing an oar

A Twenty-first Century Visit to the Lunardi Society at the Hon. Artillery Company

I was intrigued by the idea of the Hon. Artillery Company. That it still exists, and has six undeveloped acres in the heart of the City of London is, for me, an extraordinary bit of English persistence, despite all odds. Being direct, I decided to make a telephone call to the HAC, and speak to whomever had a handle on its history and Lunardi in particular. And, of course, if Vincenzo Lunardi was indeed a recognized character in the HAC’s history. The telephone operator at the HAC suggested that I speak to the archivist, named Justine Taylor. I was transferred to her line and she picked up the call, saying Justine Taylor here, without the usual voice mail, choice of umpteen options, my leaving a detailed message, and never getting a call back, which is what one expects in dealing with an organization of any size and whatever nationality, whether a dental office to the U.S. Post Office. I was momentarily speechless, which is not generally my suit, but being so used to the frustrating game of answering systems; this was truly a lucky break through.

I introduced myself to Justine Tayler, and said that I was researching all possible leads to learn as much as I could regarding Vicenzo Lunardi, and was initially curious as to whether she had ever heard of him. With a friendly laugh, she said, “Yes, of course As a matter of fact, the HAC has a Lunardi Society amongst its members, and they hold a luncheon on the second Wednesday of every month.” All I could bring myself to say at that moment of instant gratification, was, “Really!”

Ms. Taylor asked why I was so interested in Lunardi; and, I told her about the portrait, and what I knew about him and was interested in anything I didn’t already know. I said also that I had arranged with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to make a museum quality photographic copy of the painting and could make another for the HAC, should it be interested in having one. She said it was likely that the HAC would be interested, and, as we were speaking, I sent her a digital photo of the portrait. She received it while I was still on the line, and said that she could assure me than the HAC would love to have a copy.

Miss Taylor suggested that when I should be in London, I should attend a monthly luncheon. This telephone conversation occurred in January of that year, and I said that was planning to come coming to London in March. She said that she would speak to the powers that be, and confirm an invitation. I added that my wife and my then fourteen-year old son would be accompanying me, and asked if they could join as well, as I could never leave then out, this being a Spring Break trip. She paused and said that women were never permitted to have a meal in the HAC dining room; it was strictly a men’s organization. Even she, as the archivist of the HAC, had never attended a Lunardi Society or other luncheon. I said that I didn’t want to disrupt HAC traditions, but I couldn’t come as it would be rude of me to leave them behind. Miss Taylor said that she would raise the issue with the head of the Lunardi Society and, to my surprise, she called me back several days later with the good news that all three of us were invited to the March luncheon; and, moreover, she was invited to attend as well of the wives of any members who wanted to come as well. The barrier was broken in a big way.

We arrived at noon at the Armoury House
of the HAC, a handsome eighteenth century honey-colored building sitting on the gorgeous six acre grass playing, in the center of the City of London. We met the charming Justine Taylor and were taken into a room for pre-luncheon cocktails. It was filled with men and several women, to whom we were introduced. It was all very jolly and a fortunate remnant of pre-Big Bang London,

The castellated Amory Building of the Hon. Artillery Company

when business lunches were preceded by many rounds of cocktails, a good claret at lunch, brandy after pudding, and everyone going at 4 pm, contrasting strongly with the present day lunch instead of sandwiches and iced tea at a desk or in a conference room at best.I know because my law firm had an office in London at that time. My son was offered a gin and tonic and, when I demurred for him saying that he was 14, the reply was that really didn’t matter. In any event, Pablo chimed in saying that he didn’t take alcohol.

We were the shown the hanging portrait of Lunardi that we had given to the HAC, and then went into the dining room for luncheon. The room was the epitome of an English men’s club, with mellow dark wood paneling, randomly placed tables covered with spanking white table clothes, and portraits of men, mostly in military uniforms, peppering the walls. The table for the Lunardi luncheon was long and set for about 25 people; all of the napkins were embroidered with the motto “Lunardi Society.”

Lunch was a hoot, merry, and merrier as empty glasses of claret were filled and refilled. I was asked to say some words and did. What said I brought laughs, but I can’t remember what those words were. all I know is that I asked for more cheers to Lunardi and the society honoring him. After lunch, the menus with the portrait on their cover were signed with kind words by all present, addressed to me and my wife and son. We were also given as souvenirs the Lunardi society napkins,

A Lunardi Society  napkin

used and unused place into a plastic bag for washing. It was good cheer galore. We all promised to keep in touch, and I hope to return this coming April. Lunardi certainly fell into the right berth when his lift-off was accepted by the HAC. I felt happy for him, as I can’t imagine that the HAC membership of his time to have been any different from the good fellow members I met.


Lunardi return  to London and Beyond

You should know that the best description of Lunardi’s first voyage is contained in a series of letter written by Lunardi that was published as a pamphlet after the returned from that flight, called “An Account of the first aerial voyage in England, in a series of letters, to his guardian, Chevalier Gherado Compagni, by Vincent Lunardi, Esq.”  The pamphlet was sold at the exhibition of his new, second balloon when t was exhibited at the Pantheon, another exhibition hall in London. The letters are very readable (other than having to read most “f’s as “s.s), written in excellent, grammatical English, and reveal Lunardi’s charm, intelligence, and humility. Lunardi certainly wrote the letters, but I have no idea of whether an editor was brought to correct grammar and style. But then again, he did study and teach English in Paris prior to going to Naples. Some of the letters are likely to have written in the balloon’s undercarriage during his first balloon voyage.

Lunardi had an easy trip after leaving the HAC field, partly sailing as he notes above large cloud banks as he notes, so common to all of us who have ever flown upon an airplane; but, his experience was beyond the wildest imaginations of all humankind before his time, expect for the very few Continentals who preceded him in their light-than-air craft or perhaps those who crossed the Alps. He mentions the soundlessness of it all, and not knowing how fast or slow his balloon was going, or whether it was ascending or descending, as the balloon traveled without resistance through the atmosphere. This aspect of air travel is not the case on commercial planes, propeller or jet, but was noted by passengers on transatlantic flights of the German Zeppelin,

An advertisement for the German Zeppelin

fortunate not to be on its last flight. Lunardi writes about the perfect round horizon he saw from his height, how well-kept and tidy the green landscapes of England seemed, and how little people and buildings appeared to be below him. He adds that this must have been how the ancients thought of the god Jupiter’s perspective of the earth from his abode in the sky.

Green England forever

Lunardi records that the temperature dropped from 66 degrees Fahrenheit rapidly to 61 degrees and then to 29 degrees, causing “little crystals” to form about the mouth of the balloon. After about an hour in flight, he noticed the ill effect that the cold had upon his cat, and let out some hydrogen gas to land near a small village in Hertfordshire, about x miles from London, to release the cat. Lunardi’s pamphlet of letters has several legal depositions of persons who encountered this landing, as a means of certifying the accuracy of his accounts. One is by a woman named Elizabeth Brett, described as “Spinster’ and “servant to a farmer” who was working in her “master’s brew house” when she heard a loud noise. She went outside and saw a “strange large body” in the air approaching and a man in it.

Once the balloon landed, Lunardi put the cat onto the field where it was picked up by a woman named Mary Butterfield, who was also deposed in London, to confirm her encounter with Lunardi. She had been in the field “raking oats,” and immediately afterward, sold the cat to a “gentleman” standing on the other side of a hedge row; he enlightened Mary Butterfield that the Machine was called an “Air Balloon.”

Lunardi took off again by dropping off more ballast. In a letter to his cousin, Gerardo Compagni, he relates that after a second lift-off, he ate cold chicken, drank some port, and, then, with total sang foid, took a nap. Ultimately, he descended at Standon Green End near the town of Ware, having made a nearly 24 miles voyage that lasted over 2 hours. Lunardi claimed that the balloon sailed upward to the unimaginable height of 4 miles. Although that is unlikely, it is clear that the height he reached was high enough to numb the cat.

When he came close to his second and ultimate landing, Lunardi called from his trumpet to men working in his chosen landing field below to grab the balloon’s ropes and pull him down. But they were too shaken by the sight of a man standing in a basket in mid-air. They shouted to him that would “have nothing to do with one who came from the Devil’s house.”  However, a fearless young woman named Elizabeth Brett, also later deposed, realized that the man in the sky was human, took hold of one of the balloon’s dangling ropes, and shouted to the men to join her; they denied her request as well. A man Lunardi identifies as a “gentleman,” named General Smith, and several other gentlemen who followed the balloon on horseback from London as well a “other people from the neighborhood” than the faint-hearted field workers helped to land and secure the balloon. The hydrogen gas was let out to deflate the balloon; and, Lunardi notes that the gas “produced a most offensive stench,

An 18th Century toile. Notice the fellow holding his nose to the left of the decompressing balloon


which is said to have affected the atmosphere of the neighborhood.” This, of course, was the downside of landing the safer hydrogen gas balloon, unlike the case of hot-air balloons which simply were filled by hot air that dispersed into the atmosphere.

Lunardi was welcomed back to London in triumph; he writes that:

“No voyager from the most interesting and extensive discoveries; no conqueror from the most important victories, was ever …welcomed with greater joy.”


Perhaps, the foregoing description of his triumph is bit of exuberant hyperbole, but the returning Lunardi truly enjoyed veritable twenty-first century style “pop” status, reaping both the financial and social rewards that such celebrity can bring. What surprised him greatly was that the plates, knives, and forks that he used for eating during his flight as well as an empty bottle of port that he dropped from the balloon as supplementary ballast to gain lift became collectors’ items. He wrote to his guardian Compagni:

“The interest which the spectators took in my voyage was so great, that the things I threw down were divided and preserved, as our people (the Italians) would relics of the most celebrated saint.”

England was enchanted by the idea of balloon flying, as well as with Lunardi. He was made an honorary member of the prestigious Honorable Artillery Company by the support of Prince of Wales, which allowed him to don the stylish red and white uniform of that group shown that he wears in the Portrait. The Prince introduced Lunardi personally to his father, King George the Third. In fact, the four figures that are shown in the mid-right level of the Portrait are the King and Queen Charlotte seated in front of the Prince of Wales and possibly his wife who stand behind them.It would seem possible that the jumping dog in the portrait might have been the same dog that Lunardi brought with him on the first balloon flight.

A ladies’ bonnet shaped like a balloon,

Post: Lunardi outfits for men and women sporting the unisex balloon look.Not too cute

2 feet high, was designed to mark the flight as well as Lunardi skirts decorated with balloon images as well as commemorative plates and other inexpensive pottery items. Georgianna, Duchess of Devonshire, who invited him to a dinner at Devonshire House, her London residence. Lunardi responded to the Duchess’ courtesy by wearing a suit in the color she developed called “Devonshire Brown.”

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

Colors introduced by important women of the late 18th century on clothing were immediately worn by the “fashionistas” of the age. Another example of this phenomenon is the color “Caca Dauphin” created by Queen Marie Antoinette, also a friend of the Duchess, after the birth of her first son to commemorate his stool.

A color sample of “Caca Dauphin”

Richard Gillow who inherited and further carried on the eponymous furniture company, still functioning, become acquainted

with Lunardi in order to encourage and assist him in making a hot air balloon flight in the country of Lancaster where Gillow lived and had his factory. In conjunction with Lunardi, Gillow developed a design for a “balloon-backed” chair which became and remains a very successful model.

Following his success in 1784, Lunardi ordered a new balloon in 1785 with the British Stars and Bars emblazoned upon in vivid red and blues. This was exhibited at the Pantheon, another public hall,


1784 An exact representation of Mr Lunardi's New Balloon as it ascended with himself 13 May 1785 Pub by Carrington Bowles, London
Lunardi’s splendid  Anglomania expressed on his second balloon

to create excitement for a second lift-off, also to occur at the HAC field. Lunardi planned to have three aeronauts in the carriage, including him, George Biggin who lost out on the first run, and also an actress friend of Lunardi called Letitia Sage, described as a Junoesque beauty, to gin up public interest.

A very reserved Mrs. Sage


At the awaited hour of lift off, all three entered the carriage, the balloon wouldn’t rise. Madame Sage confessed that she seriously underestimated her weight, which turned out to be over 200 pounds. Lunardi gentlemanly agreed to leave the carriage so Biggin should not miss out a second time; and; Mrs. Sage’s involvement was essential to maintain the gate-paying public’s continued excitement about a second lift-off. Once Lunardi left the carriage, the balloon easily into the air.  However, as the balloon was rising, the portal to the carriage opened, not a serious problem but the crowd below were worried. Mrs. Sage gamely got down her hands and knees to tighten the lacings. This titillated prurient-minded members of the spectator who chose to think that she and Biggin were in flagrante delicto,

images-4creating even more approval for the first female aeronaut; and, they roared their delight. The couple’s flight was otherwise uneventful and their balloon came to earth easily. Lunardi’s reputation was further buttressed after the second voyage for his gentlemanly willingness not to exclude Biggin for the second time and his choice of the fetching Mr.Sage as co-pilot. Mrs, Sage commented in the relacing event in her book on ballooning,speaking i n third person, for whatever its worth:

“Mrs, Sage didn’t lose her head, despite the swaying of the basket during the ascent.She simply knelt down and re-fastend the curtain securely.”

Lunardi made several more flights in England and then in Scotland, but the urban population became accustomed to the sight of men and women in the sky, and lost their initial passion for ballooning. Lunardi tried to devise more purposeful inventions to reignite excitement, but he became viewed simply a showman. His ultimate fall from grace in the United Kingdom occurred when a young helper got entangled in the balloon ropes, was hoisted in the air, and then fell 100 feet to his death at the hands of his horrified parents. Lunardi was heartbroken by this dreadful accident; and, after a period of self-imposed inactivity, he moved to the Continent and had a string of mixed successes and some misfortunes in France and then home to Lucca. There, in his native town, he organized a lift-off before a very large audience, but the balloon had multiple false starts, rising a few feet and then falling back to the ground. When it was finally ready to go, after nearly 10 hours of delay, Lunardi tripped on entering into the balloon carriage; and, it sailed unmanned into the sky.  He was humiliated and shortly after hiding from shame in Lucca, moved on to Rome, where he would encounter his greatest defeat.

Unlike Lucca, which was a tranquil boondock, Rome was a sophisticated city whose populace was well aware that Lunardi had conquered the hearts and mind of England, not a mean feat for an Italian given the English xenophobic reputation. Lunardi scheduled a lift off in an amphitheater that was brimming with Roman. All seemed very propitious for a successful lift-off and flight; the kind weather was and his equipment and crew were top quality. As fate would have it, a man, described in Leslie Gardiner’s book, “Man in the Clouds,” as a malicious little hunchback named Carlo Lucangeli, kept taunting Lunardi, and became even more strident as he realized the possibility of Lunardi’s successful lift-off. He kicked the undercarriage, which was Lunardi’s straw. He picked up his tormenter, turned him upside down, tossed him into the carriage, and cut the ropes. The balloon ascended gracefully into the sky and made a smooth fourteen-mile journey, the longest yet achieved in Italy. Moreover, Lucangeli landed the balloon safely; how he did that a mystery, but had the last laugh on poor Lunardi.  The following quip was pasted after the Lucangeli’s flight on Rome’s famous “talking statute,” Pasquino.


Lunardi remained on the ground like a clod,

While old Carlo went up for an audience with God.”


You probably know this if you have spent much time in Rome; however, for those who haven’t, Pasquino was not an individual, but the name given to an ancient fragmented torso dating from before the Common Era, which was and still exists nearby the Piazza Navona. By tradition, anonymous comments, usually satirical and directed at Rome’s high repressive papal government (and in the Papal States as well) or prominent individuals such as Lunardi, were stuck into the base of the statute. Satirical quips are still called “pasquinades.”

Pasquino’s wisecrack spread like wildfire throughout Rome. Poor Lunardi left Rome, as the expression goes, with his tail between his legs and returned to Naples. The Kingdom of the Two Siciles was still a backwater, albeit on the edge of revolt and/or conquest by Napoleon. Ferdinand IV and his Austrian Queen, always receptive to diversion for their sake and that of their restive population in the ancient Roman style of bread and games to quell discontent, were aware of Lunardi’s success in London via Prince Caramanico; and, when welcoming him back to Naples, even claimed that they remembered him from his earlier sojourn in Naples, which undoubtedly was a pleasing exaggeration. No one had to date made a balloon fight in southern Italy; and, the populace was therefore less blasé than the crowds in the north.

Lunardi was given a sinecure, a residence at the Palace of Capidimonte for himself, and funds for the building of a balloon, as well as a staff to tend to his needs, personal and balloon making. Lunardi finally reached a secure stage in his life where he was both respected and enjoying the trappings of his celebrity. Unfortunately, as Ferdinad had nothing else of note to say to his father in Madrid, he boasted of housing the famous balloonist at his court, to keep the Royal Family amused and his subjects diverted from nefarious conduct. This struck a chord to Charles, as he had a need for a Lunardi type at his court and in his nation, Spain being restive as most of Europe after the French Revolution.

Finally, Lunardi was persuaded to go to Madrid, which he did in 1793, as certainly it was a more significant world stage than eternally frivolous Naples.  He achieved some mixed success in the Iberian Peninsula, but nothing compared to his splash in London. Lunardi went to Portugal for ballooning, but got caught up in Portugal’s war with Spain, at least the extent of wearing a Portuguese military uniform and unlikely was involved in any military action. “Man in the Clouds” states that in or about 1804, Lunardi went back to London for the first time. Leslie Gardner quotes “an announcement” in the London “Morning Post” that “Lunardi the aeronaut is arrived in London, and mediates an aerial ascent in the course of the ensuing month,” This ascent never occurred. However, Lunardi’s “second coming” in London is important to the authorship of the Portrait, a discussion that follows.

After that trip to London, there is no record I have found that traces Lunardi’s steps after he left London. The next and final notice regarding Lunardi appeared in the English publication, “Gentlemen’s Magazine” on July 31, 1806, to the effect that “Mr. Vincent Lunardi, the celebrated aeronaut” died of a decline in the convent of Barbadinos at Lisbon. We know that guardian Gherdo Compagni died more or less before Lunardo returned to Italy; and, that one of his sisters married an elderly noblemen possibly from Sicily, and the other had disappeared from any record. Also, it appears that Lunardi left no wife or heirs. Truly, this was a sad instance of sic transit gloria. But then again no one can contest that Lunardi lived life to the fullest; if not uniformly successful, he always came back for another round.

The Passage of the Lunardi Portriat

The history of the Lunardi Portrait is clear from 1899 to date, with a few minor a few gaps. However, from the time that it was painted until it was purchased 1899 by Agnew’s, a major art dealer in London, then and now, it’s history is a “black hole.”

The painting was purchased from Agnew’s in 1903 by the 4th Baron Ribblesdale. This consummate English lord is the subject of a full-length, life size portrait by John Singer Sargeant,

The Ancestor

which is now in the National Portrait Gallery. Ribblesdale is shown wearing an elegant and high glamour hunting costume, topped off by a high and glossy black silk hat. Even King Edward the Seventh, Queen Victoria’s son, who was considered by many Englishmen of his day to be a “German” due to his Hanoverian and Saxe-Coburg antecedents, dubbed Ribblesdale the “Ancestor,”


as representing the quintessence of the grandest English lord descended from the Norman conquerors. Ribblesdale remarried in 1919 and built a large house on Green Street in London which was furnished, amongst other things, with the Lunardi portrait and one other Zoffany. His new wife was an American beauty named Ava Willing,

Ava Willing Astor Lister, lady Ribblesdale

but she was also Mrs. John Jacob Astor IV,

John Jacob Astor IV

the ex-wife of the Astor who abided by the “women and children first” rule and went down willingly with the Titanic. Mrs. Astor had been divorced from her Astor husband prior to his demise, but was mother to Astor’s son Vincent, who became the richest person in the world in 1912 upon his father’s death. The new Lady Ribblesdale was much admired in British society but never attained notoriety for maternal instincts. She found little Vincent irritating and a burden on her time, especially since he was inexplicably attached to her. Her means of coping with his maternal “addiction” was to lock the boy in her closet, leaving him there until someone else stumbled upon him, which was at least once 8 hours later. Is it any wonder that the little rich boy evolved in a manic depressive with a high predisposition to aIcohol. Vincent Astor married one woman after another, all of whom were quickly willing to leave the unhappy, albeit richest man in the world. As for his third wife, he found a woman willing and able to put up with him, a young widow with young children who upon being widowed again became a beacon of sanity, charity, and glamor as the surviving Mrs. Vincent Astor, who was sadly fleeced by her own son, now in prison, in her foggy dotage.

Vincent Astor

After Ribblesdale, the Lunardi Portrait was owned by Knoedler, a New York dealer in old and no-so-old masters, a firm now in disrepute from recent sales of allegedly fake Rothkos. I don’t how Knoedler got hold of the painting, but sold it to a very rich American family named Crane from Chicago. Mr. Crane owned a large company that made residential and commercial plumbing under

Mr. C's fixtures
Current Crane products

an eponymous name and still is functioning. In 1900, he bought a glorious property to serve as a summer residence consisting of 3,500 acres overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on three sides in Ipswich, Massachusetts. In 1911, he built a large and, from photographs, what seemed to be a seemingly charming Italianate villa/mansion of the Newport variety to crown the highest peak of the property overlooking a mile long rolling tree-lined allee leading to the ocean, similar to one at the Peterhof palace in Puskin, formerly TsarRussia. The landscape was designed by Frederick Law Olstead. Mrs. Crane, for reasons not clear, detested the house from the time it was built and made that evident to her feckless husband. As a means of mollifying her unhappiness and hoping that in time she would come to like the house, he promised that he would tear it down and built a new house of her choosing if in ten years time she had not come around to appreciating the house. In 10 years to the hour and day, Mrs. Crane reminded Mr. Crane of his promise and her unrelenting loathing of the existing house.

The existing Crane house is on the left side, the grand allee to the ocean is shown on the upper right side, and the demolished Italianate house is on the bottom right

Mr. Crane complied, and one can speculate that he viewed this submissive course of action to be less expensive than a divorce with what also from photographs and portraits looks to have been a very beautiful woman, but very “special”, as that adjective is used derogatorily in Spanish.

images copy 3
Mr. and Mrs. Crane with their children.


The villa was demolished and on its site the Cranes engaged David Adler an amateur architect, but extremely amateur, as well as a very accomplished interior designer from Chicago to design and built a large and very tasteful, albeit restrained, Jacobean-style brick house, differing widely from its exuberant Italianate predecessor. Presumably, Mrs. Crane was satisfied with her new house, and perhaps more so that “her will was done.”

The Crane family gave up Castle Hill as a personal residence in 1949, after Mrs. Crane, then a widow, died. The house and property was given to the Trustees of the Reservations, a private, not-for profit trust established in 1877, to hold and preserve historic houses, farms, and beautiful beaches and landscapes in Massachusetts, now over 100 in number. Curiously, this organization provided the structural framework for the English National Trust set up in the early 1940’s, to takeover great English houses after World War II whose owners could no longer maintain them, being taxed to absurd extremes during life and then again upon death by the Socialist Government of that era that was opposed to private wealth and diffident, even hostile to its vestiges that the country houses represented. This is a rare instance of the English looking across the Atlantic to find a suitable means of preserving their history. Most of the furnishings of the house, including the Lunardi portrait,

sitting _room 1
The Lunardi portrait at Castle Hill

were sold at Parke Bernet, the American auction house that was bought by Sotheby’s, at an on site auction. It is likely that Knoedler bought the painting at the Crane auction and sold it to Walter Chrysler, Jr.

From the time of Agnew’s ownership until 1989, the Lunardi portrait was considered to be an authentic Zoffany. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1919 as a Zoffany; and, there was an authoritative statement in Victoria Manner’s

Lady Victoria Manners

“definitive” book on Zoffany published in 1920 that it was painted by Zoffany, with the reasons for that judgement. However, my initial research after I bought the painting suggested it was unlikely that Zoffany could have painted the portrait, because Lunardi’s first balloon occurred in September 1784 and Zoffany had left England for India in 1783, returning to the UK only after Lunardi had left for the Continent in 1789. I obtained a copy of a Sotheby’s 1989 for the sale of Walter Chrysler’s old master collection. There, for the first time, the portrait is attributed to the painter John Francis Rigaud, with no “by your leave” as to its earlier but Zoffany attribution.

I spoke to the painting person at Sotheby’s who was familiar with the sale and said Sotheby’s also realized the likelihood that Zoffany didn’t paint the portrait as he, the painter, was not present in London while Lunardi was there. He added that the Rigaud attribution was based solely on its stylistic similarities without any hard information linking this particular painting it to Rigaud. Richard Crossway and Bartolozzi did do portraits of Lunardi, and Rigaud did do a painting on copper of Lunardi with George Biggin

Ricaud’s painting on copper of Lunardi, Biggin, and Sage

and Letitia Sage in a balloon. I personally never found the attribution to Rigaud very satisfactory on stylistic grounds. I also spoke to a curator of a recent Zoffany show, who virtually hung up on me when I asked if he had any relevant information about my “Zoffany/Lunardi. He said before finishing the conversation that “everyone knows that the two men weren’t in London at the same time, and added gratuitously that no one currently paid attention to Victoria Manners.  However, until yesterday, any realistic attribution of the portrait to Zoffany seemed at best unlikely as the two clearly weren’t in the United Kingdom at the same time. I say “until yesterday” because I finished yesterday reading Leslie Gardner’s biography of Lunardi, Man in the Clouds and saw the notice in the London Morning Post, announcing Lunardi’s arrival in London in 1804, a year in which Zoffany was without doubt in London. Perhaps, Lunardi commissioned the portrait himself for old times’ sake, that the portrait didn’t remain in the United Kingdom, but accompanied back to Portugal. Lacking heirs, who knows where it might have been after Lunardi died, until it was bought by whomever or whatever in turn sold it to Agnew’s. I had spoken to the archivist at Agnew’s who told me that some old documents inidicate that Agnew’s bought the painting from someone or some business called “DRYERES.” She said that she couldn’t find any thing which could identify Dryeres as an auction house or dealer or otherwise. I haven’t been able to find anything on Dryeres as well but I have to search outside of the United Kingdom. Perhaps, one or more or my readers can help in this quest.


Next week our fourth issue will begin to explore the incredible life of

images-14.jpegBrook Watson . The second of three dead white men whom you should know.

Three Dead White Men Whom You Should Know


This is the first of a six-part series that traces the lives of three eighteenth-century men who were well celebrated in their lifetimes, and now are virtual nobodies. Each biographic essay will be covered in two separate  issues of this blog. The names of the men are, in the order to appear in this blog: Vincenzo Lunardi; James Swan; and, Brook Watson. All three were orphaned prior to age fifteen, left in poverty by their dead parents, and forced to move to another country in order to make their way in life. At that time, communication was restricted to letters that took weeks or months to receive, if ever; travel by land other than on horseback was limited to unsprung coaches that traveled over roads that were at best muddy or rut ridden paths and took more than a week of days to cross a country such as France; the intrepid travelers that went by sea needed a strong dose of sang froid to deal with menacingly high seas, rotted food, foul water, and God knows what sort of bath and toilet accommodations. In spite of all odds, they achieved levels of successes that eludes so many other people in easier times. 

Portrait of Vicenzo Lunardi


I bought the painting shown above some eight years ago in Mexico City where I had been living with my family. My wife and I along with a friend went to the combined house and shop of an antique dealer. His handsome, Beaux Arts stone townhouse sat on a once haute bourgois circle of similar stone houses located in a now decayed neighborhood. By bewildering contrast, every floor inside the house, table, shelf, and wall resembled a third-dimensional Jackson Pollock, in its maniacal mélange of chairs lacking one or more arms or legs, chipped shell-encrust, sappy paintings on velvet of the Crucifictions and the Annunciations, busts of ladies with large bosoms and big hair, and stuffed, knockoff Steiff-type bears.. If it had a name-or even if it didn’t, it was there. After going through its four-stories, we returned to the ground floor, wondering where its inhabitants could possibly sleep and eat; and, how any vendor with a claim on sanity could be so optimistic as to believe in the eventual sale of the full clutter.

My wife disappeared on the ground floor behind the winding staircase and called me to look at “something”. The “something” was the painting of Vincenzo Lunardi. Aside from being an absolutely charming and well executed oil painting on canvas in obviously good condition and clearly a United Kingdom product of late eighteenth century origin, she pointed out to me a metal plate affixed to the bottom horizontal of the handsome, carved and gilt frame, which stated:

Johann Zoffany, R.A


“Lunardi, the Ballonist”.

I knew Zoffany to be one of King George the Third’s favorite painters and the name immediately brought to my mind the Zoffany portrait of Queen Charlotte seated at her skirted dressing table, every inch of which was ruched and laced as heavily as her gown, along with her two eldest sons standing beside her: the younger of the two dressed as a sultan and the Prince of Wales, as a helmeted five-year old Mars.


When we returned home, my wife called the dealer to confirm that the currency of his quotation was in Mexican pesos, which he did; and, further, he said that the cost of the painting could be reduced by 30% of the original price. She asked him to send the painting over to our house, and he arrived within less than one hour and left shortly thereafter, elatedly, with a check in hand. That both the alleged painter and its subject were non-Latin in origin was obviously viewed by him as causing a long, slow, maybe never, sale, and his good luck to have a pair of “gringos” who wanted it enough to buy.

Both my wife and I immediately sat down at our respective lap tops, she exploring Johann Zoffany and me, the subject of the painting. What we found and didn’t find inspired this biography on Lunardi and what the painting “saw” in its passage from wall to wall, where it hung, and what we two encountered in the process.

Who was Vicenzo Lunardi?

“Lunardi the Ballonist”  was not a name familiar to me– I never having been especially a fan of ballooning. A jumping brown dog next to Lunardi wears a wide, polished steel collar around its neck, inscribed


“V. LUNARDI.” Lunardi rests one arms on a cannon and his other arm is raised to the sky, pointing to a tiny figure of himself standing in the undercarriage of a hot-air balloon. One man and a woman are seated on a bench in the mid-left zone of the painting and another man and woman are standing behind them; above them is a structure that resembles the Round Tower at Windsor Castle. So many clues awaiting revelation.

Lunardi, whose first name I learned was Vincenzo, was born in 1759 in Lucca, still a gorgeous and relatively pristine hill town in Tuscany, to a family described as descended “from” minor Luccan nobility , but having no money at the time of Lunardi’s birth—and, most likely, none for many prior generations. I found no reference to the title they may have once held or any other vestige of nobility, such as a palace or castle, but only a possible coat of arms,  the “Stemma della famiglia Lunardi.”


The device  is shield-shaped with 5 horizontal alternating bands of three white and two red that each have a central double white crescent moon outlined in black, possibly suggesting service in a crusade. The term “minor nobility” suggests to me something equivalent to the Spanish term, hidalgo, which is a diminutive of “hijo d’algo,” translated literally as “son of something;” that is to say, the son of a man who had some memorable station in life as contrasted with a son of a total nonentity.

Vincenzo and his three sisters became orphaned well before reaching 20 years of age. More fortunate than most orphans under these circumstances in the laissez faire world of the mid-eighteenth century, the three were left to the care of a more financially substantial and older, caring cousin named Gherado Compani. Compani was a diplomatic factotum at the Court of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in Naples,


a Spanish Bourdon monarchy, carried the title of Cavaliere of Naples.

Compani believed that Lunardi was a capable and intelligent young man with a future that might exceed the low achievements of his forebears, polishing the dismal Lunardi family’s tarnished escutcheon. Contemporary accounts relate that Lunardi had an easy charm, was slight in build, and pleasant looking, the latter two are revealed in the “Zoffany” portrait. Compani helped Lunardi travel both inside and outside of the then broad composite of independent states we now call Italy, to enhance his education and sophistication. He is reported even to have spent some portion of his youth in the East Indies; but, I have not been able to findout when or why. In 1780, Compagni was able to obtain a clerical function for his young cousin at the Neapolitan court. Lunardi, who was then living in Paris, teaching as well as studying English and history, left for Naples to take the job upon receiving Compani’s summons.

The king of the Two Sicilies, consisting of the region of Naples and the island of Sicily, was a boorish soul  called Ferdinand IV, whose father  abdicated to become King Charles III  of Spain, and thereby left his Kingdom of the Two Sicilies to is twelve-year old son  His queen was Maria Carolina, one of Marie-Antoinette’s eleven sisters.


The Court was like a comic opera. Among other special pursuits, Ferdinand was reknowned for self-butchering the stags and wild boar he hunted, emerging staunchly from processing his kill into loins, hams, and ribs, covered in the blood, urine and feces. He also brought his fresh-caught fish to sell in the marketplace at his own stall, haggling over price as  did his non-royal vendors at their neighboring stalls. He prided himself on his frenetic approach to dancing the tarantella, the prime folkloric dance of Naples When his brother-in-law Emperor Joseph II of Austria came to visit, the King performed the dance before the Emperor, which was all very well and good, if not a bit looney, for a king to impress his wife’s kin. But, afterward, Ferdinand grabbed the Emperor’s hands and placed them inside his sweat-soaked shirt, presumably further to astound the then stupefied Joseph with his vigor.


The monarchy lived more in fear of its nobles than the proletariate. Even before the beheading of her sister in 1794, Maria Carolina lived in fear of being murdered by one of her fierce aristocratic subjects. Lunardi, being a graceful, intelligent, and ambitious young man in contrast to the coarse and peculiar royals and nobles, found Naples to be a “piece of cake” in his path for personal advancement.

Lunardi enlisted in the Engineer Corps of the Royal Army, and gained a sinecure that, in the main, brought him a smart and colorful uniform, which was in itself a “door opener” to the highest levels of Neapolitan society. Cleverly, he then joined the local chapter of the Freemasons,


a recherché group allegedly brought to the city by the Queen  who was more liberal than her “French” sister, and excoriated by the local clergy as being heretical. As an expected, direct result of clerical disapproval, the membership of the local Freemasons included the most prominent, rich, and powerful men in the Kingdom, including  Francesco d’Aquino, the Prince of Caramanico, a principal advisor to Ferdinand. The Prince, albeit massively fat, was allegedly the Queen’s lover, possibly because she viewed his girth as providing a broad shield against an assassin’s blade. Apropos of nothing,  one of the two current claimants to the throne of the Two Sicilies is associated with the current Prince of Caramanico , Don Alesaandro d’Aquino, in the very small and exclusive Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George, a Roman Catholic dynastic order of knighthood founded in 1520-1545.


The ambassadorship from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies to England became vacant in 1793; and, the Prince of Caramanico was appointed to that post. Having become acquainted with Lunardi, perhaps from their mutual Freemason membership, the Prince asked Vincenzo to be his attaché in London, officially with the title of Private Secretary to his Excellency, the Neapolitan Ambassador to the Court of Saint James’s. Although the opportunity came with very low salary, Lunardi accepted the job eagerly, as it seemed to provide a clearer path to prosperity. Naples, he had realized early on, was no more than a pleasurable, wacky backwater for a person of his talents and ambition.

Lunardi and the Prince arrived in London in 1793, where the Prince rented five rooms on New Bond Street, in Mayfair, to serve both as office and home for the Ambassador and his staff of one. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was a very small, insignificant, and then peaceful state, notwithstanding that its monarchs inhabited one of the largest palaces in Europe.


Naples’ irrelevance provided little to do for the Ambassador and his private secretary, once they had been introduced at the court of George the Third and made the required rounds as newcomers on other officials. Nevertheless, empty diplomatic boxes, all bound in the scarlet red leather with bright gold embossing the escutcheon of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, went back and forth weekly between London and Naples. Lunardi recognized quickly that the combination of his expansive free time and his diplomatic title provided him with broad entrée in London, to advance his pursuit to augment the petty stipend he received.

Late eighteenth-century London was a highly entrepreneurial, free-market capital city, open to scientific and mechanical innovations, discoveries, and cures; and, its moneyed class was willing to reward liberally those ambitious and clever people who came up with those advances. At the time, great interest was focused on experimentation with lighter–than-air crafts that was happening on the Continent. In 1783, the Montgolfier brothers sent a sheep, duck and rooster up 1500 feet into the air in a carriage slung below a gorgeously-decorated balloon on the grounds of Versailles


before an incredulous Louis XVI. This was followed quickly by a balloon ascent launched later that year by the brothers with a man in the balloon carriage, also witnessed by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. While the idea of hot air balloons is enjoyed by many in the twenty-first century, particularly as a touristic enhancement, we need to understand that, in the eighteenth century, it was comparably nothing less than going into orbit in space by Russian astronauts in 1957.

All of Europe talked about flying machines, and cheap engravings of balloon flights made the experiences visually available to broad populations. The Church railed against these excursions to the clouds as “knocking on heaven’s door.”  Country people saw the flying balloons as the work of demons; and, fallen balloonist were often chased with pitchforks aloft as fallen devils themselves. The English upper crust was aware of the ballooning mania in Europe, but tried to fain disinterest as it was a Continental phenomenon; a few unexciting  ballooning attempts in Scotland didn’t change that general attitude. In fact, ever competitive, England was embarrassed that France had achieved the lead in sending men and animals aloft. Indeed, a London newspaper in 1783 advised that “all men to laugh this new folly out of practice.” Another Italian, Court Francesco Zambeccari, launched a small, unmanned hydrogen balloon in London on November 21, 1783, and, several weeks later set off a larger version, also unmanned. Neither event was particularly successful and failed to gather any meaningful notoriety..

Lunardi was smitten, and chose ballooning as his key to prosperity. He took a leave of absence from his secretarial post to learn how to do it, which he clearly did in depth. First of all, he needed money to make a balloon, as he had none. Promising an Englishman of means named George Biggin


a seat beside him on the first flight, Biggin agreed to back Lunardi. Biggin lived on a sizeable estate called Cosgrove Hall and was on an amateur inventor who produced a new means of tanning leather and, perhaps, a coffee pot still in use called the “coffee biggin.”.


But Lunardi needed funds larger than Biggin was willing to commit to produce the balloon. Potential English backers initially resented the fact that the first likely manned balloon flight in their country would have an Italian at the helm and a seat onboard. However, Lunardi’s charm and enthusiasm overcame the local reluctance to open their pockets. In a letter to his cousin Compani during his fund raising stage, Lunardi writes very presciently the difference between raising venture capital in London as opposed to Italy:

“In Italy, I should have sought the patronage and generosity of my Sovereign, or of some liberal and opulent nobleman, to enable me to obtain the expense of my present undertaking, Here wealth is more diffused; and by any contrivance that can gratify the curiosity of the people, sums of money are immediately collected, without the anxiety and mortification of petitioning the great.” He adds: “Ingenious men are perhaps the better rewarded, and not rendered slaves to the purposes and caprices of patrons.”

Lunardi raised the money to produce the balloon. However, he also needed to locate a ] London site for the lift-off, which needed to be conveniently  situated, as the bulk of attendees would come on foot, as London lacked affordable transport; he also required  a site large enough to hold 100,000 or more persons that he hoped to attract. He was able to persuade the administrators of the Chelsea Hospital, a charitable organization located in what is now South Kennsington,


 to use their spacious grounds for the lift-off. The Hospital then as now provides  a hospice for military invalids and  had begun in the reign of  Charles II under the urging if Nell Gwyn, the Merry Monarch’s  long-term mistress. This site was located two miles from the City if London, but believed by Lunardi to be acceptable as a walk-to venue from the City where the bulk of the London population then lived. South Kennsington/Chelsea in the late eighteenth century was a bucolic region of country villas, small villages, and spacious gardens and fields.


There were two alternative means of filling the balloon, one, by placing a wood-burning stove in the undercarriage of the balloon that feed continuously heated air into the balloon chamber; and, the other was to fill the balloon with hydrogen attained by pouring sulfuric  acid onto zinc or iron filings, thereby producing  hydrogen gas, which is lighter than air; and, then seal the balloon when airborne, only to let the gas escape to lower altitude or land. Anyone who had been close to a sulfur spring is familiar with that noxious smell that occurs when hydrogen gas is so produced in open air. The first method, which Lunardi describes as a moving chimney heated a common fire, and represented the most dangerous method  of filling a balloon, as it can cause the balloon material to catch fire. However, the benefit of using hot air was its low cost as it could made by burning straw. It  had been used by the Mongolfier brothers. Lunardi chose the second method as being safer, except when the craft passed through thunder clouds when the hydrogen could explode. He believed could be avoided if on kept a close eye on the weather in choosing when to lift off. A hydrogen balloon was safer but more costly and required a gradual process to cool down the gas before it could safely channeled into the cavity of the balloon.

Another would-be balloonist, a Frenchman named Moret who had been somehow involved in hot air balloon trials in Paris, arranged for a lift off of his balloon at a field close to the Chelsea Hospital grounds. A crowd exceeding 50,000 paid to watch the lift-off. Attempts to fill Moret’s balloon,  used the fire-fed method, but for reasons unknown took hours linger than Moret anticipated, and the balloon ultimately collapsed into the furnace. Angry spectators destroyed not only was left of the balloon, but some of the crowd robbed other more affluent attendees, and then levelled all fences in the neighborhood. Lunardi described that this bunch of brutes “spread desolation and terror through the whole district.”He adds:

“Though the people of England are comparatively well-informed and  enlightened; yet is the multitude in all nations is nearly alike.”

After the close-by Moret disaster, Chelsea Hospital as politely as possible canceled its agreement with Lunardi. He was embarrased and concerned that his backers would jump his lighter-than-air ship and desperate that his scheme might fail.. He writes in one of his letters that that, although he really had no reputation in London to be destroyed, the loss of the Chelsea Hospital site was a set-back for him. Nevertheless, he continued to calm his backers; and, once  the balloon was completed, he arranged to exhibit it at the Lyceum Hall on the Strand,  


a private  hall pending the arrangement of a new lift-off site and date The balloon was made of oiled silk with decorative red and white stripes, had a diameter of 32 feet, and was exhibited inflated. One attendee, a young woman, wrote in a letter that she had seen “the curious Machine, ” was made sick by the “horrid smell it of it.” This was, of course, the sulfurous smell given off when  acid was poured on metal to produce hydrogen to keep the balloon inflated at the exhibition.  More than 20,000 people came to see the novelty, but the gate was paid only to the owner of the Lyceum. However, he turned out to be a greedy swine, as no previous event in his hall had ever attracted so large an audience. He told Lunardi that he wouldn’t release the balloon unless he were given a percentage of all the funds that Lunardi would garner from the lift-off gate as well.

Lunardi pulled off a major coup by persuading the Honorable  Artillery Company (the HAC”),


England’s oldest military regiment dating from Edward VI, the son of Henry VIII and headed by the then Prince of Wales, later to become George IV, to lease the HAC field of some 6 acres in the City of London for the launch, a prestigious institution and a field that still exists within the City of London. With this sort of backing, Lunardi had no problem convincing the police forcibly to rescue his balloon from the Lyceum owner’s clutches and deliver it safely to the HAC field. And with the publicized use of HAC field, Luardi had London at his beck and call.


The balloon arrived at the HAC field in the early morning hours of September 15, 1784. A massive paying audience estimated at 150,000 to 200,000 people came to see the historic event, including 

Lunardi ascent ticket

some honorary guests such as  Prince of Wales, Lord North, the principal foe of the North American colonials to their attainment of voting and economic rights, Charles Fox soon to be Prime Minister, and the politically active, great beauty, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Inflating the balloon with hydrogen gas took hours longer than Lunardi anticipated. The crowd was becoming restive and the thought of what had occurred at Chelsea Gardens plagued Lunardi; he tried to stay out of view as much as he could. The Prince of Wales calmed the crowd, standing on the launching field close to the balloon to show his personal interest in protecting the craft. When the balloon was only partially filled at 12 noon, Lunardi asked his investor Biggin, who had been promised a place on the first flight, to relinquish that seat for the sake of public peace and allow Lunardi go it alone with a partly-filled balloon. Biggin was a gentlemen and agreed to stay behind on terra firma, at least for the current voyage into space.

Just before Two P.M.,  Lunardi shook hands with Prince of Wales, who wished the brave fellow a safe flight. He then climbed into the carriage with a dog, a cat, and a pigeon. Someone attached a bottle of wine to his belt. All present, including the Prince of Wales, removed their hats in a show of respect to Lunardi. As the lines were released, the balloon began to rise silently into the air,


travellng to the north as the spectators watched in awe, but fearful and doubtful that the “airgonaut” would return, whether or not alive. Because the balloon was not fully filled before lift-off, it lost altitude and dipped close to the heads of the horrified crowd as it was making its way up to the sky. Lunardi gave up some ballast. He had installed several paddles which he erroneously believed would allow him to steer the craft as well as raise and lower its altitude. As the balloon was gradually gaining altitude, the pigeon Lunardi took aboard flew off and one paddle broke and dropped to the ground. A “gentlewoman” thought the paddle was Lunardi himself and suffered a stroke that proved fatal several days after. Unaware of the mayhem that the fallen paddle had caused, the intrepid Lunardi rowed on into the London sky with his one remaining oar. Laundry’s balloon passed Old Buckingham House


before it was converted into Buckingham Palace, where King George the Third was conferring with his cabinet. The King called called the meeting to a halt to watch Lunardi in his flight, saying grimly that they might never see Lunardi again. And all of them watched the balloon with their telescopes.   





To Be Continued in Next Week’s Third Issue of SoRandom: Historical Snapshots.



I am an amateur historian. My amateur status doesn’t arise from a deep shortfall of knowledge, research, or enthusiasm, but from the fact that I have been a “closet” historian. Other then teaching a dozen classes in Classical and Medieval history at the 3rd grade level at my son’s primary school in the Mexican countryside, I haven’t taught. Or have I, to date, written ponderous essays that have been published in arcane journals. I have given only one public lecture, at the highly prestigious Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Florida,[1] on the subject of the Grand Tour and its effect on art and architecture in eighteenth century England. My intention now is to ramp up my historian status. In this blog, I want to share what I know and think about random historical subjects that I find fascinating with a broader audience than my family and friends, and learn what others who read my blog know and think. My ultimate goal to increase the crosscurrent of facts and ideas available to me.    th-2

I remember in my childhood reading a story (I can’t remember what it was called), describing the marvelous discovery that the planet Earth from its origins to the then present date had been filmed by intelligent beings on another planet. The most exciting news was that the film would be made available to view by Earthlings. Most questions as to the history of the Earth could be answered by the film, i.e., by what process did the dinosaurs become extinct or did the Minotaur exist and all other subjects of particular interest to this inquisitive eleven-year old. How long it might take to gain any such information from a film covering untold millennia remained unanswered and unanswerable, but the basic idea gave me much to ponder. I still think about having access to the “film” when encountering serious lapses in the history of a subject I am researching. The thrill of being able to fill in those gaps by the simple expedient of viewing portions of that film on my laptop.

In the same vein, I have also wondered what an inanimate object, such as a painting or a mirror, “saw” over its existence; and, I have often fantasized means of extracting those visions from otherwise mute surfaces. Among other things, wouldn’t it be a marvel if a seeming Jackson Pollack lacking a provenance were able to speak the identity of its master instead of perplexing experts by offering up only telltale brush strokes, paint chemistry, or even a finger print; or, for those romantically inclined, would that a superb 18th century trumeau mirror once hanging at the Petit Trianon chose to trump supermarket tabloids by nattering on the nature of Count Fersen’s visits to Marie Antoinette.


Count Fersen


Absent access to such fantastical means of historical extractions, I am grateful for the Internet, which precludes the arduous process of haunting libraries and specialty bookstores to gain information now available simply by pressing a few letter and number buttons on a keyboard. The information one can gain from the Internet may not ultimately be definitive, but it is obtainable more quickly and more fulsomely than any other sources hitherto available during pre-Internet history. However, I must that the Internet seemed a “fantasy” not too many years ago.

What stirs me most about acquiring historical knowledge is the surprises that challenge one’s erroneous impressions of the past as well as gaining new insights as to how our ancestors functioned. I also find it exhilarating to discover individuals who were justifiably well known while alive and whose current repute is as dead as they are. I welcome the opportunity to gain information that my readers can offer, to fulfill or correct what I write, offer new challenges to impressions of the past, or introductions to personages who were remarkable when alive and are no largely forgotten.


To begin, I have recently finished writing an historical novel called “Magritte” that wanders over 400 years. The novel has as its central core an eponymous French perfume created in 1660, not for commercial reasons but to cover the nasty smell and taste of an aphrodisiac. In the course of writing “Magritte,” I of course researched the general subject of perfume and its history, of which I had known nothing other than the names of a perfumes, particularly those worn by my wife and my mother and the scents they emitted. The topic of this “first issue” is to set out some interesting and random facts I learned about perfume.

One of my chapters in “Magritte” has to do with the peddling of Magritte at the Palace of Versailles in the 1680’s. This perfume, by reason of its being strongly aromatic, quickly broke out of its founding role as an adjunct to an aphrodisiac. Versailles has always been a subject of interest to me; and, I have visited it frequently along with its ancillary buildings, such as the Grand and Petit Trianon, which are relatively small get-way residences for the Royals, and the Hameau, which was Marie Antoinette’s faux farming village where she and her pals pretended to be bucolic country girls.

The Hameau of Marie Antoinette

The Palace itself is vast (covering more than 720,000 square feet), and has grand and beautiful public rooms, and small and delicious private rooms located largely on back palace courtyards, some of the latter have become open to the public. However, it also has an unvisited rabbit warren of diminutive apartments (some 220 in number) and 450 very small single rooms that served to house hundreds of resident nobles of the highest French aristocracy. Many of them, who didn’t as well keep decent, supplementary lodgings in the town of Versailles, subsisted at the Palace in discomfort or even in abject squalor, contrasting strongly with the spacious chateaux many of them had sprinkled throughout France. The nobles were at Versailles to orbit about Louis XIV, not for nothing called the Sun King who radiated privileges and financial benefits on his aristocratic boarders. All in all, Versailles seems slightly a mad creation to me. Even the royals who lived there from its builder Louis XIV to its last queen,Marie Antoinette, had to escape frequently to smaller residences on the Palace grounds or elsewhere, presumably to keep their sanity and avoid the boredom of deliberate and utter grandiosity of Versailles.

Marie Antoinette in a bucolic costume, painted by  Louise Elizabeth Vigee le Brun suitable to days spent at the Hameau

Like our image that ancient Greece and Rome was populated by stark and pristine white marble temples and statutes is fallacious, so is our impression that the Palace of Versailles, even in the period of Louis XIV, was an immaculately maintained edifice. Indeed, Greek and Roman temples and statutes were vividly colored and would probably be considered as gaudy by current Western aesthetic standards. See below the Frieze of the Parthenon and the Augustus Prima Porta as they might have appeared in ancient times.


The Bust of Caligula in an original work of art by Annabel Briger


Similarly, the 10,000 or so occupants of Versailles, both aristocrats and servants, peed and defecated wherever they felt the need, in its marble stairways and halls. Its public indoor latrines scattered around the Palace were often clogged, and clean up and repair was sporadic. We know also that clothing (other than undergarments) worn by the King, nobles, and servants were never cleaned. Or were their bodies washed with any frequency outside of faces and elsewhere that skin was bare, i.e., hands, neck, and, in the case of women, arms and bosoms. The Palace had no central plumbing, and water was brought to the quarters of the nobles in small basins, how often, I don’t know. Needless to say, elimination of human waste product from the noble habitations was irregular. The stench of the Palace emanating from that waste and other garbage from feeding 10,000 people and the like diffused over at least two miles in diameter, serving as a milestone for seventeenth century visitors, signifying that they were heading in the right direction absent modern road signage and the GPS.

The Duke de Saint Simon, a resident at Versailles under the reign of Louis XIV, in his secret memoirs of daily events and court gossip, wrote about the Princesse d’Harcuort who was a glutton at the table and took laxatives  enabling her to eat beyond satiety. The laxatives too often worked before a meal was completed, and she would leave the table hurriedly, leaving a trail of odiferous stool behind her. This was met by laughter from her fellow diners;and, Saint Simon doesn’t suggest her lack of future dinner invitations. Louis XIV rewarded resident nobles with permission to attend his daily scheduled defecations. Also, the King was amused to realize that his daughter-in-law, the Duchesse de Bourgogne. whom he was visiting one evening at her apartment, was undergoing an enema under he voluminous skirts as he was speaking to her. What is remarkable is that this was a court having innumerable rules of etiquette; one rule required women to walk as though they were drifting over space, and another for all to scratch rather than knock at doors to gain admittance to a room so as not to offend delicate eardrums. Contradictions, at least for us, abounded at Versailles.

If Versailles and its noble denizens reeked, what would lesser abodes and people further down on the societal scale be like? The King himself in his late middle age had terrible halitosis due to rotten teeth, a problem that his substantial use of perfume couldn’t cover; his body was bathed every morning in perfume, and afterward his clothing and most likely the towering wigs that he wore were spritzed with scent.

Louis XIV  The Sun King (Big Wig)


Clearly, eighteenth century people of all classes had a much higher tolerance for nasty smells than we do in the fortunate Western world. However, the massive use of perfume at the Court of Louis XIV and by the King on particular indicates strongly that there were definite limits to that tolerance.

I can’t prove, but nevertheless believe, that perfumes in various forms must have existed before recorded history, to relieve the stink of decay, human and animal excrement, unwashed bodies, and accumulated rubbish. Even in the classical Greek and Roman civilizations as well in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, no garbage collection service was offered by the the state or municipal authorities Inhumation by fire, whether for disposal of the dead or the dispatch of heretics at the Autos de Fe under the Inquisition and similar events, has always required large doses of incense to make the process acceptable to mourners or the sadists who congregated to watch the hideous effects of fire on living humans. In fact, the brisk trade in frankincense and myrrh carried on by merchants from the Arabian Peninsula (where those varieties of full-bodied incense abounded) fell off sharply when Christianity took hold in Italy and the rest of Europe. Burial of the intact bodies of Christian dead, in the earth or in tombs, to promote physical resurrection as promised by Jesus Christ, replaced the pagan custom of burning their The continued use of incense in Roman Catholic church services, which really was adapted by the early Church to provide continuity with pagan practices to comfort new converts, required a fraction of the incense that was needed to mask the horrid stench of burning human bodies. The incense merchants never recovered or did the various oasis they stopped at en route to delivering their wares, which had inns for sleeping, meals, and refreshments.

Just as prehistoric man felt compelled to paint the walls of his caves, I suspect that they used aromatic flora, resins, and other pleasant smelling natural substances to make their brutish existence somewhat less disagreeable. I can imagine a Neanderthal lass rubbing scented leaves, such as the prehistoric equivalents of modern mint leaves, rose-scented geranium petals, or sweet basil, over her face to elicit the then current equivalent of a kiss from her would-be mate, which might have been a bop on the head as in the comics.
The city of Grasse in the south of France has been a leading center for the making of fine perfumes since the mid-sixteenth century. The mild climate, good soil, and dependable amounts of rain make the Grasse region a perfect environment for the growing of roses and other aromatic flora. Oddly, the perfumes were first developed as an adjunct to the Grasse’s leather trade, in order to impart a more agreeable smell to the goods produced by the city’s tanneries. Prior to the application of strong perfumes to leather gloves, boots, jerkins, pantaloons, and hats, those articles often reeked of the animal skins from which they had been cut or the human urine in which the skins had been processed to become supple, particularly after a heavy rain or in the heat of summer.

This industry was directly or indirectly a product of Catherine de Medici’s mariage to Henri II, King of France in 1553. She was the daughter of Lorenzo II de Medici, of the Florentine banking family and de facto rulers of Florence. This marriage was a merger brought about neither by love nor lust, but a massive Medici financial infusion to the French throne.

Catherine de Medici

In addition to wealth, Queen Catherine brought to France a cookbook, which established the origins of what we know as French cuisine, but also her personal alchemist to produce perfumes to scent her gloves. Her sweet-smelling gloves caused a similar fashion phenomenon in Renaissance France as did Christian Dior’s post- war New Look in 1947.

Catherine de Medici gloves

From gloves, the use of perfumed leather spread to all leather garments, and, of course, to untold generations of French perfume aficionados.

The first step in the production of traditional perfume has always involved the laying of thousands of rose petals on large beds of animal 81At58Q34eL._SY355_fat, generally lard. After several months, the fat is distilled to obtain the essential oil that seeped from the rose petals. The resulting rose oil is then mixed with a variety of others oils and alcohols distilled from other flowers, herbs, and leaves, to give the scent distinction and not smell simply like roses.

One of the peculiarities, at least to me, in making exquisite perfume has been the addition of ambergris (gray amber, which has nothing to do with red amber that is derived from tree sap). Ambergris is a waxy substance produced in the digestive system of sperm whales and passed in its fecal matter or regurgitated by the animal into the open sea. Its found hovering on the surface of the water or lying on beaches, and is generally semi-translucent and gray in color. It can harden on dry land and become more resembling of red amber in appearance. Batches of ambergris differ in quality, which is a function of the perfume expert to judge.

Ambergris was added to perfumes by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, and continues to be used today in the making of high-quality perfumes because of its fixative capacity that stabilizes volatile and delicate perfume components. The more ambergris used in a perfume, the longer its aroma will endure. This, of course, adds a high price to traditionally-produced perfumes, as ambergris has always been priced as gold.

I haven’t been able to ascertain how the use for ambergris in perfume was first discovered; and, I hope that anyone of my readers who does know that enigma will enlighten me. Like the discovers of tapioca as an edible food, the first users of ambergris had to be intrepid people, although ambergris unlike raw tapioca has never been found to be lethal.

Modern, less expensive perfumes are purely the product of chemistry which bypass the rose oil extraction process; and, ambergris has been replaced by a synthetic version called ambrozyn. These perfumes can simulate the aromas of traditional rose oil based perfumes; however, they generally don’t linger as long or have so intensive an aroma. But then again, they are a fraction of the cost of traditional perfumes and can be reapplied to perpetuate the aroma with being accused of throwing frugality to the winds.

One of the oddest applications of perfume was employed by ancient Egyptian women who wore what seem to be four or five inch cones of perfumed wax on top of their hair (generally they shaved their heads and wore wigs). The cones melted in the heat, to spread sweet-smelling liquid over their heads and below, which had a cooling effect as well aromatizing, or so we are told. Also, interesting to me is the charming use of the term “nose” to refer to persons in the perfume industry whose olfactory sense is superior to that of other human beings and are able to recognize immediately a change in a new batch of perfumes or create new scents from arcane combinations of ingredients. The person who started the eponymous line of varied aromatics, “Jo Malone,” is considered by her peers to be one of the great “noses” of our time. She claims that she “lives” by her nose, and said in an interview with Bryony Gordon in the UK “Telegraph” that she realized her husband was entering a hotel lobby by his scent before she saw him appear. That’s a “nose.”

Cone Heads 







Next week’s SoRandom: Historical Snapshots will begin a series of issues, having the self-explanatory title: “Three Dead White Men, Whom You should Know.” I think that you will enjoy reading and reacting to them.