“What Good Is a New-born Baby?”


Excited by the lighter-than-air feats of the fall of 1783, Franklin had envisaged the possibility of a balloon crossing the English Channel and noted that two balloonists had already “made a trip …thro’ the Air to a place farther distant than Dover is from Calais.” The first cross-channel flight, carrying food, drink, and thirty-four books besides the letter to Temple Franklin reproduced on page 29, took off on January 7, 1785, from Dover Castle, an event recorded on the spot in this sketch by the popular artist Thomas Rowlandson. The two intrepid airmen, Jean Pierre Blanchard and Jeffries, did not get off to an auspicious start. Although Jeffries had financed the entire operation, Blanchard wanted the glory all to himself and even went so far as to put lead in his pants in an effort to overweigh the craft and discourage Jeffries from going. When this did not work, they started off and are seen in the print at left making a calm approach to the French shore. This, however, was not the reality of their situation. They were constantly endangered by the balloon descending and were forced to throw out everything on board, including their clothes. Final disaster was averted by Dr. Jeffries’ ingenious idea of emptying their bladders, and they eventually alighted unharmed in the forest of Guinnes. The heroes were made much of in Paris, and Jeffries dined several times with the Franklins. As for the baby, aviation, it has found an even better method than Jeffries’ for staying in the air and has proved as “good” as the old Doctor suggested.