Saturday, March 22, 2008

from Meteorological Essays, 1855

(page 35, related by Mr. Butti, marine painter to the Empress of Austria)

In the year 1841, and if my memory does not deceive me in the month of June, I was staying at Milan at the Hotel de Agnello, in a room on the second floor looking over the Corsia dei Servi. It was near six in the afternoon, rain was falling in torrents, and the flashes of lightning lighted up the darkest recesses of the room better than gas does with us. The peals of thunder were exceedingly loud. The windows of most of the houses were closed and the streets were deserted, for, as I have said, the rain fell so heavily that the road was changed into the bed of a torrent.

I was sitting quiety smoking my cigar and looking at a distance through the open window at the rain, which being from time to time lighted up by a sunbeam formed threads of gold, when I heard in the street the sound of running feet, and several voices of men and boys calling out Guarda! Guarda! (Look! Look!) After half an hour's cessation of human voices or sounds, my attention was roused by this noise; I ran to the window, and turning my head to the right, from whence it proceeded, the first thing which met my view was a globe of fire at the level of my window moving in the middle of the street, not horizontally, but sensibly slanting upwards. Eight or ten persons, still calling out Guarda! Guarda! with their eyes fixed upon the meteor, kept up with it by following at the pace which soldiers call accelerated.

The ball of fire passed quietly in front of my window, so that I was obliged to turn my head to the left to look after it. The next moment, fearing that I should lose sight of it behind some houses which were not in the same line with the one in which I was, I hastened down stairs and into the street, which I reached in time still to see the meteor, and to join with the rest of the curious spectators who were following it. It moved still with the same slowness, but in its oblique upward march had risen considerably, and in three minutes more it struck the cross of the steeple of the church Dei Servi and disappeared. Its disappearance was accompanied by a sound like that of the discharge of a 36-pounder gun, heard at a distance of thirteen or fourteen miles with a favourable wind.

I can only give an idea of the dimensions and colour of this fiery ball by comparing it to the moon as one sees it rise over the Alps in clear winter nights, as I remember having sometimes seen it at Insprück in the Tyrol, of a reddish yellow, with some parts more red than the rest. The difference was, that I could not see the precise outline of the meteor as one does that of the moon; it seemed enveloped in an atmosphere of light of which one could not define the limits.

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