It would transcend the limits of our space to give in chronological sequence a complete description of the successive steps by which pyrotechny has attained its modern development. It will answer our purpose of investigation if we make a summary by which may be shown the status of the art at that period when it was most flourishing, prior to its present-day achievement. The best opportunity in that direction is afforded by France in the middle of the eighteenth century. And this for the following reasons:
No. 1. The Artificers (from an old French wood-cut).
At the time, the French were the best artificers in pyrotechny. A high degree of skill in the art was developed under the monarchy, and this was carefully fostered by the Government, which, through the ordnance department of the army, conducted a long series of experiments and tests for the determining and perfecting of all the processes involved. Careful records were kept by the investigators, and some of these remain available for our use to-day, so that, in the statements to follow, we have dependable information throughout.
In addition to the fact that the French had already attained a high degree of proficiency in pyrotechny at thus period, their interest was still further stimulated by those contributions to the art derived from Father d' Incarville. He was a Jesuit priest, who, while serving as a missionary in China, interested himself in the study of fireworks, and finally brought back to Europe a detailed knowledge which he placed at the service of his fellow countrymen in France.
The descriptions here given concerning the manufacture of fireworks may be taken as of general application throughout Europe, during the latter years of the eighteenth century, although they are specifically directed to French methods. If we note especially the scientific limitations of the artificers of that age, we must recognize as well the efficiency displayed by them, which in its fundamentals is identical with modern processes.
It must be borne in mind that the following chapters, constituting Part II of the History of Pyrotechny, deal with descriptions of operations, formulas and recommendations based on the understanding and conception of chemical reactions at a time when chemistry was in its infancy. The worker in chemicals of this period knew nothing of certain laws that are the very foundation of our present understanding. The groping toward reasons for chemical reactions led often only to misconception, even to mysticism. Furthermore, the translation of some of the old records of the French ordnance department has of necessity compelled the use of terms hardly understood by the chemist of to-day. It is enlightening and pertinent to the text, however, to set forth the surprising statements made by artificers, who recorded their activities in this line, despite the fact that some assertions are not in accord with the scientific knowledge of the present day.