Gustáv Reuss



Translated by David Short


Everything seemed set for the trip to the Moon when the prudent Krutohlav, still lost in contemplation of the whole enterprise, imagined yet more problems that stood in his way. “If,” he said to himself, “I do manage to take off with my balloon and head for the Moon through lethal, unknown space, the gravitational pull of selfish Earth will still spoil everything because I lack the power to withstand it.” But the keener he was to break free from Mother Earth, the more obstacles cropped up to stand in the way of his expedition. But in order shrewdly to get the better of them, too, he ordered yet more devices to be constructed, primed with gunpowder and capable of thrusting his balloon up and away into the heights and towards the Moon until it broke free of the gravitational pull of Earth and went into orbit round the Moon, which struck him as an ever more salubrious place to be. For a clearer idea of the gigantic contraptions that were to thrust the balloon to the Moon, let us look at Krutohlav’s calculations, where he had written in the plainest terms:

“If the balloon is to break free from the gravitational pull of Earth, the force needed must be enough to hurl it 41,000 feet from Earth in the direction of the Moon within the first second. This awesome speed is 30 times faster than that of a cannon ball. Without it, it will be impossible to escape Earth’s gravitational pull and go into orbit round the Moon.”

Krutohlav almost literally ricked his neck, shaking his head as he puzzled away, and that despite believing unquestioningly all the true forces of physics. He meant to overcome the difficulty, which he often himself thought insoluble, by making monumental preparations and so reinforcing his balloon that it would withstand even the sixtyfold speed of a cannon ball.


He had now overcome all the difficulties that he might encounter in the course of his expedition, though there was still one that left him seriously depressed, and that resided in the fact that though he, Krutohlav, was tough, robust, of a fighting spirit and to the manner born where such voyages were concerned, he did enjoy living a life of ease. From this it follows naturally enough that he weighed just short of 40 stones. He wined and dined well, always kept his nose blown and insisted on a salutary nap after lunch, if not of the full six hours’ duration, at least almost that long. He would rise at nine, take a good hour over his coffee and at two in the afternoon would consume several pounds of pork with sausages and black puddings. A pint of wine, invariably Tokay, was the necessary accompaniment. In a word, he lived like a knight aloof to the vanities of the world and, in his very eminence, delighting in his own capabilities. As an excellent mathematician he had computed his trip to the Moon, where he could live a life of yet greater ease! So how could our Krutohlav not be distressed at the discrepancy that, having set about this long journey to the Moon, he would see not a single tree, no other human soul, nor hills nor dales, not even a tavern wherein he would find his subsistence and sleep everything off in the quiet of his little room. How was he to part company with his table of delights? This distressed him no end and he might almost have abandoned his trip to the Moon, except that he had invested so much in the preparations, which had cost him millions: he had packed his balloon with binoculars, telescopes, microscopes, barometers, aero-colori-thermo-(etc.)-meters so that the world at large might be assured that he was a cut above all others, more majestic and given over not to earthly riches, but to God and mankind. Such amazing willpower on the part of Krutohlav, who, for all his maximum persuasion as to the rightness of the most minimal of his ideas, never stopped shaking his head in his perplexity.


Anyone who doesn’t know what travelling to the Moon means — such a long journey undertaken in such an arduous manner — can line up beside Krutohlav and fly up there, into the heavenly heights.

The only thing left for him to do was to haul his balloon, finally ready thanks to the endeavours of so many thousands of people, to the top of Kohút and take off thence for the Moon.

“Perfect job!” Krutohlav let slip. “Off to Kohút with it!”

Thousands of hands laid hold of the balloon. People even streamed in from Lower Hungary to watch and help haul the monster balloon up Parajka. There’s none can relate all the countless procedures by which the prodigious balloon was conveyed onward and upward. No mortal living had ever seen such huge herds of oxen, mules, horses, even rhinoceroses and elephants as Krutohlav had drafted in from sundry corners of selfish Earth to assist in the task. So thousands of beasts were hitched to the giant balloon by means of every kind of rope, chains from trip hammer forges, straps and whatever else might help on the ascent of Parajka.

It isn’t hard to imagine that dragging the balloon from Skalka, on the outskirts of Revúca, to the top of Kohút took ten months, three weeks and five and a half hours. Or the shouting and screaming, the mooing and booing, the clinking and clanking, the banging and crashing that went with it. Or how many people departed this life here merely − as is brought home to us − as Mother Earth’s bootless reward to them, meaning the carpenters, joiners, bootmakers, tanners, belt-makers and endless other-ers, even linen-weavers and quacksalvers! But no such reward has ever been enjoyed by anyone in Revúca since the beginning of time, as the dead among them now recalled all too well. From that time, the balloon having proved impossible to convey up the steep ascent in a straightforward manner, they hacked a way through to the top of Kohút that still remains visible below the summit.

With the application of the might and main of so many, the balloon was finally set up on the mountain’s very peak and made ever more ready for take-off, and everything having been duly inflated, they waited with bated breath for it to sail up into the atmosphere. And at the very moment when the Moon was full, so that the balloon wouldn’t lose its way.

And rise it did, then flew off into the heavenly heights.

GUSTÁV MAURICÍUS REUSS (1818-1861) was a physician by training and a polymath by inclination, he lost no opportunity to popularize the science of his day. His vast writings cover botany, ethnography, history, archeology and astronomy. 

The Science of the Stars will be published by Jantar Press in December 2023

About the translator:

DAVID SHORT taught Czech and Slovak at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (now part of University College London) from 1973 to 2011.