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A Table Containing the General Heads of Natural Magick

"Preface To The Reader"


The Twelfth Book of Natural Magick

John Baptista Porta

(Giambattista della Porta)


"Artificial Fires"

"The Proeme"

Chapter I - "How diverse ways to procure Fire may be prepared."

Chapter II - "Of the Compositions for Fire, that our Ancestors used."

Chapter III - "Of the diverse Compositions of Gunpowder."

Chapter IV - "How Pipes may be made to cast out Fire."

Chapter V - "How Fireballs are made that are shot off in Brass Guns."

Chapter VI - "Of Compositions with burning Waters."

Chapter VII - "How Balls are made of Metals that will cast forth fire and Iron wedges."

Chapter VIII - "How in plain ground, and under waters, mines may be presently dug."

Chapter IX - "What things are good to extinguish the fire."

Chapter X - "Of diverse compositions for fire."

Chapter XI - "Fire-compositions for Festival days."

Chapter XII - "Of Some Experiments of Fires."

Chapter XIII - "How it may be, that a candle shall burn continually."

The Proeme

Before I leave off to write of fire, I shall treat of that dangerous fire that works wonderful things, which the vulgar call Artificial Fire, which the commanders of armies and generals, use lamentably in diverse artifices and monstrous designs, to break open walls and cities, and totally subvert them.  And in sea fights, to the infinite ruin of mortal men, and whereby they often frustrate the malicious enterprises of their enemies. The matter is very useful and wonderful, and there is nothing in the world that more frightens and terrifies the minds of men.  God is coming to judge the world by fire.  I shall describe the mighty hot fires of our ancestors, which they used to besiege places with, and I shall add those that are of later invention, that far exceed them.  And lastly, I shall speak of those of our days.  You have here the compositions of terrible Gunpowder that makes a noise, and then of that which makes no noise.  Of pipes that vomit forth deadly fires, and of fires that cannot be quenched, and that will rage under water at the very bottom of it, whereby the seas rend asunder, as if they were undermined by the great violence of the flames striving against them, and are lifted up into the air, that ships are drawn by the monstrous gulfs.  Of fire balls that fly with glittering fire, and terrify troops of horsemen, and overthrow them.  So that we are come almost to eternal fires.

Chapter I

"How diverse ways to procure fire may be prepared."

itruvius says, that it fell out by accident, that sundry trees, frequently moved with winds and tempests, the bows of them rubbing one against another, and the parts smiting each other, and so being rarefied, caused heat, and took fire, and flamed exceedingly.  Wild people that saw this, ran away.  When the fire was out, and they wouldn't come nearer, and found it to be a great commodity for the body of man, they preserved the fire, and so they perceived that it afforded causes of civility, of conversing and talking together.  Pliny says, it was found out by soldiers and Shepherds .  In the camp, those that keep watch found this out for necessity, and so did Shepherds , because there is not always a Flint ready.  Theophrastus teaches what kinds of wood are best for this purpose.  And though the Auger and the handle are sometimes both made of one sort of wood, yet it is so that one part acts and the other suffers.  So that he thinks the one part should be of hard wood, and the other soft.  Example,

"Wood that by rubbing together will take fire."

They are such as are very hot, as the Bay tree, the Buckthorn, the Holm, the Piel tree.  But Mnestor adds the Mulberry tree, and men conjecture so, because they will presently blunt the ax.  Of all these they make the Auger, that by rubbing they may resist the more, and do the business more firmly.  But the handle to receive them, is to be made of soft wood, as the Ivy, the wild Vine, and the like, being dried, and all moisture taken from them.  The Olive is not fit, because it is full of fat matter, and too much moisture.  But those are worst of all to make fires, that grow in shady places.  Pliny from him, One wood is rubbed against another, and by rubbing takes fire, some dry fuel, as Mushrooms or leaves, easily receiving the fire from them.  But there is nothing better then the Ivy, that my be rubbed with the Bay tree, or this with that.  Also the wild Vine is good, which is another kind of wild Vine, and runs upon trees as Ivy does.  But I do it more conveniently thus.  Rub one Bay tree against another, and rub lustily, for it will presently smoke, adding a little Brimstone.  Put your fuel nearer, or dry matter made of dry Toadstools, or leaves that are very fine, found about the roots of Coltsfoot, for they will soon take fire, and retain it.  The West Indian's bind two dry sticks together, and they put a stick between them, which they turn about with their hands moved from them, and so they kindle fire.  But since the mind of man seldom rests in the thing once invented, but seeks for new inventions, by man's industry there is found out,

"A stone that will raise fire with any moisture."

The way to make it is thus, Take quick Brimstone, Saltpeter refined, of each a like weight.  Camphire the double weight to Quicklime.  And beat them all in a Mortar, till they be so fine that they will fly into the air.  Bind them all fast together, wrapt in a Linen Clout, and put them into an earthen pot.  Let it be well stopped.  Lute it well with Clay and Straw, and let it dry in the Sun.  Then put them into a Potter's oven, and when the earthen vessel is perfectly baked, they will grow together, and be hard as stone.  Take them out, and lay them up in a dry place for use.  I went to try this in a haste, and my experience failed me.  I know certainly, that some of my friends have done it.  But the pot must not have any vent, for it will all burn away.  Yet I have seen water cast upon Quicklime, and by putting Brimstone to it, it took fire, and fired Gunpowder.  This I can maintain.

Chapter II

"Of the Compositions for Fire, that our Ancestors used."

Before I come to our compositions for fireworks, I shall set down those that our forefathers used in sea fights, and in taking or defending of cities.  Thucidides says, that those that besieged Plataenenses, when the engines would do no good, they fell to fireworks.   For casting about the walls bundles of stuff, and throwing in fire, Brimstone and Pitch, they burnt the wall.  Whence arose such a flame, that until that time, no man ever say the like.  Heron teaches, that in burning of walls, after you have made a hole through, you must put wood of the Pine tree under and anoint it with dry Pitch, and powdered Brimstone together, with Tar or Oil, and set this on fire.  And elsewhere he teaches to burn with a pot.  Take an earthen pitcher, and bind it about with plates of Iron on the outside, and let it be full of small Coal.  Let there be a hole about the bottom to put in the Bellows.  For when the coals take fire, by sprinkling on of Vinegar, Piss, or other sharp matter, the walls are broken.  Vegetius teaches, what combustible matter must be used.  And he uses burning Oil, Hards, Brimstone, Bitumen.  Burning Arrows are shot in crossbows into the enemy ships, and these, being smeared with Wax, Pitch and Rosin, they quickly fire the decks, and so many things that afford fuel to the fire.  I shall add,

"The Firedarts the Ancients used."

Ammianus Marcellinus described Firedarts, a kind of weapon made after such a fashion.  It is an Arrow of Cane, joined with many Irons between the shaft and the head, and they are make hollow after the fashion of a womans Distaff, wherewith Linen thread is spun, in the midst of it, it has many small holes, and in the very hollow of it, is put fire with some combustible matter, and so is it easily shot forth of a weak Bow.  For a bow that is strong, puts out the fire, and there is no means to put it out, but by casting on dust or Lees of Oil.  Livy;  Some came with burning torches, others carrying Tar, Pitch, and Firedarts, and the whole army shined as it were all in flames.  But in the concave part of this Dart there was glue and fuel, for fire not to be extinguished, of Colophonia, Brimstone, and Saltpeter, all mingled with Oil of Bays.  Others say, with Oil of Peter, Duck's grease, and Pith of the Reed of Ferula, Brimstone, and as others think, with Oil, Tallow, Colophonia, Camphire, Rosin, Tow.  The old warriors called this an incendiary composition.  Lucan speaks of burning ships:

This plague to water is not consonant,

For burning Torches, Oil and brimstone joined,

Are cast abroad, and fuel was not scant.

The Ships do burn with Pitch or Wax combined.

And elsewhere,

He bids them shoot their Shafts into the Sails,

Besmeared with Pitch, and so he soon prevails.

The Fire straight does burn what's made of Flax,

And so their decks were fired by melting Wax,

And tops of Masts were burnt, and Seamen's packs.

But in compositions for Arrows and Darts that they might burn the more vehemently,they put melted Vernish, Printer's Oil, Petroleum, Turpentine, made up with the sharpest Vinegar, pressed close, and dried at the Sun, and wrapped over with Tow, and with sharp Irons to defend it, wrought together like to a bottom of Yarn.  All which at last, only passing over one hole, are smeared over with Colophonia and Brimstone, after the manner that follows.  But the subtilty of the Greeks, there was invented,

"A fire, called the Greek Fire."

To overcome the ship presently, they boiled Willow coals, Salt, spirit of wine, Brimstone, pitch, with the yarn of the soft wool of Ethiopia, and Camphire, which, it is wonderful to speak, will burn alone in the water, consuming all matter.  Callimachus, the Architect, flying from Heliopolis, taught the Romans that thing first, and many of their emperors did use that against their enemies afterwards.  Leo the Emperor, burnt with this kind of fire those of the East, that sailed against Constantinople with 1800 Carvels.  The same emperor, shortly after, burnt with the same fire 4000 ships of the enemy, and 350 in like manner.  Prometheus found out, that fire would keep a year in the cane Ferula.  Wherefore Martial speaks of them thus;

Canes that the Masters love, but Boys do hate,

Are by Prometheus gift held at great rate.

Chapter III

"Of the diverse compositions of Gunpowder."

We should be ill spoken of, if, that treating of fiery compositions, we should not first say something of that wonderful Gunpowder, that is the author of so many wonderful things.  For it is an ingredient in all mixtures, and all depends upon it.  Not that I have any mind to speak of it, because it is so common, but of such things that have some new or hidden secret in them.  It is made of four parts of Saltpeter, Brimstone and Willow coals, each of one part.