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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

La Peyrouse and his shipmates never came back


princes of pure science, M. de Lagrange, M. de Laplace, M. Monge, did not disdain to wrench themselves from their learned calculations in order to second the useful labors of Lavoisier. Bold voyagers were scouring the world, pioneers of those enterprises of discovery which had appeared for a while abandoned during the seventeenth century. M. de Bougainville had just completed the round of the world, and the English captain, Cook, during the war which covered all seas with hostile ships, had been protected by generous sympathy. On the 19th of March, 1779, M. de Sartines, at that' time minister of marine, wrote by the king's order, at the suggestion of M. Turgot: "Captain Cook, who left Plymouth in the month of July, 1776, on board the frigate Discovery, to make explorations on the coasts, islands, and seas of Japan and California, must be on the point of returning to Europe. As such enterprises are for the general advantage of all nations, it is the king's will that Captain Cook be treated as the commander of a neutral and allied power, and that all navigators who meet this celebrated sailor do inform him of his Majesty's orders regarding him."

Captain Cook was dead, massacred by the savages, but the ardor which had animated him was not extinct; on the 10th of August, 1785, a French sailor, M. de La Peyrouse, left Brest with two frigates for the purpose of completing the discoveries of the English explorer. The king had been pleased to himself

draw up his instructions, bearing the impress of an affectionate and over-strained humanity. "His Majesty would regard it as one of the happiest successes of the expedition," said the instructions, "if it were terminated without having cost the life of a single man." La Peyrouse and his shipmates never came back. Louis XVI. was often saddened by it. "I see what it is quite well," the poor king would repeat, "I am not lucky."

M. de La Peyrouse had scarcely commenced the preparations for his fatal voyage, when, on the 5th of June, 1783, the States of the Vivarais, assembled in the little town of Annonay, were invited by MM. de Montgolfier, proprietors of a large paper-manufactory, to be witnesses of an experiment in physics. The crowd thronged the thoroughfare. An enormous bag, formed of a light canvas lined with paper, began to swell slowly before the curious eyes of the public; all at once the cords which held it were cut, and the first balloon rose majestically into the air. Successive improvements made in the Montgolfiers' original invention permitted bold physicists ere long to risk themselves in a vessel attached to the air-machine. There sailed across the Channel a balloon bearing a Frenchman, M. Blanchard, and an Englishman, Dr. Jefferies; the latter lost his flag. Blanchard had set the French flag floating over the shores of England; public enthusiasm welcomed him on his return. The queen was playing cards at Versailles. "What I win this game shall go to Blanchard," she said. The same feat, attempted a few days later by a professor of physics, M. Pilatre de Rozier, was destined to cost him his life.

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