Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Early modern fireworks

A composite image from the illustrations in the 1658 edition of John White’s A rich cabinet, with variety of inventions: unlock'd and open'd, for the recreation of ingenious spirits at their vacant hours Being receipts and conceits of several natures, and fit for those who are lovers of natural and artificial conclusions. As also variety of recreative fire-works both for land, air, and water. And fire-works of service for sea and shore. Whereunto is added divers experiments in drawing, painting, arithmetick, geometry, astronomy, and other parts of the mathematicks. Likewise directions for ringing the most usual peals, that belong to that art. Collected by J. W. a lover of artificial conclusions (editions from 1651).

(Who wouldn't be 'a lover of artificial conclusions'?)

These are all from John White's section, ‘The Schoole of Artificial Fire-works’, and show a dragon running along a fixed rope, a burst of silver or golden ‘snakes’ descending from the sky (the explosive mixture for these was packed into the thick end or calamus of goose quills), St George confronting the fiery dragon, a Catherine Wheel that rotates one way, and then the final rocket, on burning out, ignites the rockets on the other side, so that the wheel reverses, a fixed wheel for a mass launch of ‘fisgigs or serpents’, and rocket construction, launcher and payload.

The fireworks sound pretty good: for stars of a blue colour with red descending from your rocket: ‘of Salt-peter four ounces, and of Sulphur vive twelve ounces: meal these very fine, and mix them together with two ounces of Aqua vitae and half an ounce of the Oyl of Spike, and let it be dry before you use it.’ Nut-sized balls of the composition, wrapped in paper, are placed in the top cone of the rocket. Or, ‘If you will have a beautiful white Fire, take four ounces of Powder, twelve ounces of Salt peter, six ounces of Sulphur vive, and half an ounce of Camphire.’

“To make the golden Rain, you must get store of Goose-quils and cut them off next the feathers, and fill these quils hard with the same composition ... If it were possible to put a thousand of these quils upon the head of a Rocket, it were a dainty sight to see how pleasantly they spread themselves in the ayr, and come down like streams of gold much like the falling down of Snow.’

‘Oooh!’ and ‘Aaww!’ and ‘My thatched roof!’

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