London, South Kensington
24 April 2013
WILBUR WRIGHT (1867-1912)
Autograph manuscript signed (at foot, 'Wilbur Wright') of his speech given at the Aéro-Club de France on 5 November 1908, in pen and pencil, 6 pages, 8vo (164 x 109mm), on pages extracted from a notebook, some pencil annotations to the text, and pen annotations on verso of p.6, in another hand (puncture at foot of p.1, minor cockling to last page).
'THIS INDESCRIBABLE DESIRE TO FLY THROUGH SPACE'. Wilbur Wright's historic statement of confidence in the future of aviation. Wright begins by thanking his audience for the reception he and his brother have been accorded in France: 'It is a tribute to an idea which has excited the passionate interest of mankind for thousands of years. I sometimes think that this indescribable desire to fly through space after the manner of birds is an inherited longing, transmitted to us by ancestors who in their toilsome journey through the trackless wildernesses of primeval times looked up and saw the birds shooting at almost lightning speed whenever they willed in the unobstructed pathways of the heavens ... I must confess that as late as 1901 I myself said to my brother that men would not be flying within fifty years. In two years we were flying ourselves ... It is not necessary to look too far into the future. We can see far enough already to be certain that the future will be glorious'.
Wilbur Wright's speech to the Aero Club de France was the culmination of a triumphant series of demonstrations, beginning at Hunaudières on 8 August, whose technical daring and degree of control had overwhelmed the previously sceptical French public: in the process he won a number of prizes, including that of the Aéro-Club de France for his endurance record of 1 hour 32 minutes on 28 September -- a feat which was somewhat overshadowed by the serious injuries suffered on 17 September by Orville Wright, who had stayed behind in America, in a crash which claimed aviation's first fatality, Thomas Selfridge. Against this mingled background of triumph and tragedy, Wilbur's speech at the Aéro-Club de France was a ringing statement of confidence in the future of manned flight, and his statement that 'We can see far enough already to see that the future will be glorious' has become famous. Autograph letters by Wilbur Wright are scarce, and, according to ABPC-online and Americana Exchange, THIS APPEARS TO BE THE FIRST AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT BY WILBUR WRIGHT TO HAVE BEEN OFFERED AT AUCTION IN THE PAST 40 YEARS.
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