Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, February 15, 2022


 "The Great Steam-Duck" by "A Member of the L.L.B.B." (first published in an unnamed Louisville newspaper, 1841; reprinted in Magazine of History with Notes and Queries, Tarrytown, NY: 1919, and in 'The Man in the Moone,' edited by Faith K. Pizor and T. Allan Comp, London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1971)

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to read "The Great Steam-Duck" this week.  I had planned to post a review on the story today for my Short Story Wednesday post, but life (as is often the case) interfered.  But will that stop me?  Au contraire, mon frere!

For many ages, man has gazed upon the moon and wondered. "What the...?"  He made up many myths and legends about that orb and eventually decided that it was another world.  But what kind of world, and inhabited by whom?  And how can we get there to find out?  And so we had stories of men blown to that world by great winds, floating to it by a giant balloon, propelling to it by a large blast, and even journeying there attached to a flock of giant birds.

Pizor and Comp's 'The Man in the Moone' is subtitled "An Anthology of Antique Science Fiction and Fantasy" and contains the following stories and excepts:

  • From The Man in the Moone, or a Discourse of a Voyage Thither by Domingo Gonsales The Speedy Messenger by Francis Godwin (1638)
  • From The Discovery of a New World....with a Discourse Concerning the Possibility of a Passage Thither by John Wilkins (1640)
  • From The Comical History of the States and Empires of the World of the Moon by Cyrano de Bergerac (1656)
  • From A Voyage to Cacklogallinia by "Captain Samuel Brunt" (1727)
  • From The Life and Astonishing Transactions of John Daniel by Ralph Morris (1751)
  • "A journey lately performed through the Air, in an Aerostatic Globe...To the newly discovered Planet Georgium Sidus" by "Vivenair" (1784)
  • "Hans Phaall -- A Tale" by Edgar Allan Poe (1835)
  • From Great Astronomical Discoveries Lately Made by Sir John the Cape of Good Hope by Richard Adams Locke (1835)
  • "The Great Steam-Duck" by "A Member of the L. L. B. B." (1841)

It's the last that interests me (and, perhaps you), although all the tales sound interesting and many of you have read the Poe, and perhaps the Godwin, the Cyrano, or even the Locke.  The Great Steam-Duck is just that -- a giant ship built to resemble a duck and powered by steam.  How cool is that?

From the editors' introduction to the story:

"The Great Steam-Duck:  or a Concise Description of a most useful and extraordinary invention for Aerial Navigation is a parody on the various wild ideas proposed to enable men to fly.  Its author is an anonymous "Member of the L. L. B. B." (Louisville Literary Brass Band), an informal group of convivial gentlemen who met irregularly in the back room of  local saloon.  Written in the form of a lecture and published in a Louisville paper in 1841, The Great Steam-Duck takes particular aim at a plan to build a flying machine shaped like an American eagle, advanced by one Richard Oglesby Davidson in a pamphlet published in 1840 (Disclosure of the Discovery and Invention, and a Description of the Plan of Construction and Mode of Operation of the Aerostat...)...

"The author of The Great Steam-Duck was well aware of the achievements of leading balloonists in England, France, and the United States; in fact the 'lecture' opens with a survey of their accomplishments [...]  He was, however, skeptical about the usefulness of the balloon as air travel and regarded most of the proposals as laughable.  His description of a 'flying duck' heaps ridicule on at least two of these proposals -- a winged balloon suggested by H, Strait and Davidson's American eagle -- by carrying them to their logical extreme of foolishness.  No further information is available on either Strait or Davidson, but it is apparent that the suggestion of neither man was acted on, perhaps in part of this anonymous attack...

"The Great Steam-Duck, published in 1841, has been reprinted only once before now, in 1919 in the Magazine of History with Notes and Queries (Tarrytown, New York).  The text followed in this book is from the only copy of the original edition known to exist..."

Sounds like fun.  Check it out at:

You may even get to read this story before I do.


  1. I borrowed *some* library's copy of this one in the late '70s and read some of it, but didn't get as far as "Duck"...more the fool, I.

    We all can rectify this lacuna, those of with the Steam-Duck-sized hole in our literary experience...thanks for the link and the reminder!

  2. Like you, I'm perturbed when my plans go awry.

  3. I had been planning to read my first Rumpole of the Bailey story by John Mortimer ('Rumpole and the Younger Generation') this week, but other things kept getting in the way. I hope to read it for next Wednesday.