10 June 1824
Miss Sophia Stocks groaned slightly as she tried to find a more comfortable position to lie on the sofa, she was pleased to be allowed out of bed, but wanted to be back on her feet. She knew she had things to do. Her aunt came bustling in, a letter and magazine in her hand.
“You see he was a foolish man, he didn’t understand the science.”
“Who didn’t understand the science?”
“Yes he did, it was a fault in the valve, not the science of it.”
“No, not those silly things people talk of as science, but the true science.”
She waved the magazine again, Sophia saw the title The British Astrologer it had a crude woodcut on the cover – of a collapsed balloon!
The illustration from The British Astrologer
“Your aunt Jemima sent it from Bath, it tells why that foolish man was killed and you..”
“He was not foolish!” Sophia grabbed at the magazine. He aunt pulled it away, “No, you shouldn’t get excited.”
“If you won’t let me see it, at least read it to me.”
Her aunt sat down.
“Very well, now lie still.”
She sat, put on her glasses and began.
‘While I sympathize with his dearest friends in lamenting the untimely death of Mr. Harris, who, when he ascended into the clouds in his balloon, bade them, and the thousands whose cheers accompanied him, farewell for ever, I feel it necessary to say, for the good of other intrepid and enterprising candidates for popular applause, that no gallant adventurer should have exposed himself to a danger that admitted of delay, under the fatal prognostics that were pending. The planet Jupiter came into the point of the Dragon’s tail in the ominous sign Cancer but a few hours preceding the ascent; the planet having been, at the precise moment of his baleful transit of the node, in a partial square with the moon.
This anyone, who understands the least of the science, will say is enough: for there are records of all ages to testify, that such an aspect could not be expected to pass by without leaving behind it many fresh examples of its fatality; and a forewarning which portends death, or indeed accidental mischance, should not be tempted, on any consideration, by those who embark in aerial expeditions.’
The reason I give of the life of his fair companion having been so wonderfully preserved, is, that Venus, Georgium Sidus, and Mars, being mutually in trine with one another, was a most lucky aspect for her, as a female, and foreshowed her recovery.’
Sophia listened in amazement then, when her aunt lowered the magazine with almost a triumphant air, burst out,
“But Sophia, Mr Harris was not at all dreadful, just misguided, to try and fly when….” She peered at the magazine again.
“Jupiter was sitting on the dragons tail. I heard, Mr Harris wasn’t at all dreadful, in fact he saved my life, the dreadful man was whoever wrote that rubbish.”
“Mr Raphael isn’t dreadful at all, he is just a very wise man who is trying to show how …”
“He can make money out of somebody else’s tragedy. Oh, Mary!”
“What’s that? Who?”
“Mary, Mrs Harris. If she were to see this rubbish.” She got up, and winced.
“I must go to her at once.”
“But Sophia, should you?”
“Isn’t visiting a bereaved widow one of the things a charitable young lady should do? I am sure you told me once or twice.”
She winced again as she left the room, but was careful not to show it. Neither did she show her discomfort an hour later as she was shown into the small parlour of Mary Harris’s house.