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Fire, And The Origin Of Fireworks
by [?]

In the Memoirs of the French Academy, a little essay on this subject is sufficiently curious; the following contains the facts:–

FIREWORKS were not known to antiquity.–It is certainly a modern invention. If ever the ancients employed fires at their festivals, it was only for religious purposes.

Fire, in primaeval ages, was a symbol of respect, or an instrument of terror. In both these ways God manifested himself to man. In the holy writings he compares himself sometimes to an ardent fire, to display his holiness and his purity; sometimes he renders himself visible under the form of a burning bush, to express himself to be as formidable as a devouring fire: again, he rains sulphur; and often, before he speaks, he attracts the attention of the multitude by flashes of lightning.

Fire was worshipped as a divinity by several idolaters: the Platonists confounded it with the heavens, and considered it as the divine intelligence. Sometimes it is a symbol of majesty.–God walked (if we may so express ourselves) with his people, preceded by a pillar of fire; and the monarchs of Asia, according to Herodotus, commanded that such ensigns of their majesty should be carried before them. These fires, according to Quintus Curtius, were considered as holy and eternal, and were carried at the head of their armies on little altars of silver, in the midst of the magi who accompanied them and sang their hymns.

Fire was also a symbol of majesty amongst the Romans; and if it was used by them in their festivals, it was rather employed for the ceremonies of religion than for a peculiar mark of their rejoicings. Fare was always held to be most proper and holy for sacrifices; in this the Pagans imitated the Hebrews. The fire so carefully preserved by the Vestals was probably an imitation of that which fell from heaven on the victim offered by Aaron, and long afterwards religiously kept up by the priests. Servius, one of the seven kings of Rome, commanded a great fire of straw to be kindled in the public place of every town in Italy to consecrate for repose a certain day in seed-time, or sowing.

The Greeks lighted lamps at a certain feast held in honour of Minerva, who gave them oil; of Vulcan, who was the inventor of lamps; and of Prometheus, who had rendered them service by the fire which he had stolen from heaven. Another feast to Bacchus was celebrated by a grand nocturnal illumination, in which wine was poured forth profusely to all passengers. A feast in memory of Ceres, who sought so long in the darkness of hell for her daughter, was kept by burning a number of torches.

Great illuminations were made in various other meetings; particularly in the Secular Games, which lasted three whole nights; and so carefully were they kept up, that these nights had no darkness.

In all their rejoicings the ancients indeed used fires; but they were intended merely to burn their sacrifices, and, as the generality of them were performed at night, the illuminations served to give light to the ceremonies.

Artificial fires were indeed frequently used by them, but not in public rejoicings; like us, they employed them for military purposes; but we use them likewise successfully for our decorations and amusement.

From the latest times of paganism to the early ages of Christianity, we can but rarely quote instances of fire lighted up for other purposes, in a public form, than for the ceremonies of religion; illuminations were made at the baptism of princes, as a symbol of that life of light in which they were going to enter by faith; or at the tombs of martyrs, to light them during the watchings of the night. All these were abolished, from the various abuses they introduced.

We only trace the rise of feux-de-joie, or fireworks, given merely for amusing spectacles to delight the eye, to the epocha of the invention of powder and cannon, at the close of the thirteenth century. It was these two inventions, doubtless, whose effects furnished the ideas of all those machines and artifices which form the charms of these fires.