Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Pleasured by Pyrotechnia

John Babington was employed by the Earl of Newport, Master of His Majesty's Ordnance for King Charles I. This obviously gave him perfect access to the technologies of the day with respect to all manner of explosive materials. Although there had been previous books addressing pyrotechnics, the treatise produced by Babington on the subject in 1635 went much further than previous works and holds the distinction of being the first english study of fireworks in a recreational setting. [The latter part of the book deals with geometry]

In his Pyrotechnia, or a discourse of Artificiall Fire-works: In which the true Grounds of that Art are plainly and perspiciously laid downe, Babington "provided directions for making rockets, stars, wheels, and ground-wheels that were more explicit than any offered by previous writers. He was, however, at his best when describing the complex devices and intricate displays in which his age delighted. Some of the chapter headings indicate the ambitious nature of his efforts: The manner of composing a wheele, which having finished his revolution, shall represent a Coat of Armes; How to compose a Castle of Fireworks: How to represent Saint George fighting with a Dragon on the line; and How to make a Water Ball, which, after a certain time of firing, shall cast forth divers rockets into the ayre."

[click on the images for slightly larger versions]
I couldn't find much around online regarding either the life of the author or the engravers of the many wonderful illustrations that are in this book, although the engraving of Babington himself in the frontpiece is by Droeshout, famed for his engraving of Shakespeare that we all know. Pyrotechnia itself takes up the first 90 pages of the 300+ page book and there are perhaps 30 full page engraving plates. That I had to 'reject' so many images I liked in making up this post is testament to the visual goodness in this book. But don't try this at home.

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