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Prevention of Disease. If you would escape contagion, infection, miasm - be able to travel in the most unhealthy climates and localities without danger of sickness - Burn a thimbleful of gunpowder in your bedroom or tent, and a very small quantity in your trunk and wardrobe, daily; thus keeping your clothing in an atmosphere full charged with the gas. This has been thoroughly tested and found to be true.
Bite of a Snake or Mad Dog. - "Pour some gunpowder on the bite, and touch it with a lighted match. This is an almost painless cautery, and reliable safeguard. "
Tape - Worm. Take a tablespoonful of Gunpowder in a cupful of sweet milk, followed in ten hours with an ounce of Castor oil. Success in twenty - five cases in succession.
( Jones' Medical Genius-RW)
The English philosopher Roger Bacon (1217-1292) is thought to be the first westerner to describe gunpowder (and its use in a firecracker) and the first mention of gunpowder being used to fire a canon in warfare in Europe was in a manuscript written by an English soldier, Walter de Milamete, in 1327, but to find the real origins of gunpowder we must travel a few hundred years back in time and a few thousand miles eastwards.
By the time Bacon first mentioned gunpowder the Chinese had already developed the barrel gun and canon and had known of gunpowder for about 300 years, but the story starts much earlier. In the second century BCE, during the Han Dynasty, Daoist (Taoist) alchemists were searching for an elixir of immortality and they tested saltpetre (potassium nitrate, nitre) to see if it could be used to dissolve cinnabar (mercury sulfide, HgS) which was supposed to be one indicator of the elixir of immortality. Saltpetre is one of the three main ingredients of gunpowder the other two being sulfur (sulphur) and carbon, the sulfur reduces the ignition temperature to about 250°C which then raises the temperature to the fusion point of saltpetre (335°C), releasing oxygen (this means that there is a built in source of oxygen to feed the combustion that doesn't come from the air) and increases the speed of combustion which leads to explosion. Saltpetre is found naturally in hot climes and was purified from salty soils.
The basic explosive reaction for gunpowder is:
2KNO3(s) + 3C(s) + S(s) -----> N2(g) + 3CO2(g) + K2S(s)
By the third century ACE alchemists had discovered a flame test to allow them to identify saltpetre - it burns with a purple or violet flame.
The other main ingredient, sulfur, was mentioned in the "Pharmacopoeia of the Heavenly Husbandman" in its pure form in the second century ACE. It was produced by roasting iron pyrites ("fools' gold", iron sulfide), collecting the vapour and recrystallisation. Saltpetre and sulfur were first mixed to try to produce artificial gold. There is a passage in the text "Classified Essentials of the Mysterious Dao of the True Origin of things" which was written in 850 ACE by Cheng Yin which lists thirty-five elixir formulae to be avoided:
"Some have heated together sulfur, realgar (arsenic dislufide), and saltpetre with honey; smoke and flames result, so that their hands and faces have been burnt, and even the whole house where they were working burned down. Evidently this only brings Daoism into discredit, and Daoist alchemists are thus warned clearly not to do it."
This faulty and dangerous elixir was basically gunpowder (the honey being the source of carbon) but gunpowder being produced deliberately for use in weaponry isn't mentioned until 1046 ACE when Tsing Kung-Liang published three formulae for gunpowder for use in three different weapons - a grenade that was launched by trebuchet (a form of catapult), an incendiary bomb with hooks to burn buildings and a poison smoke bomb. Gunpowder also replaced the use of oil in flaming arrows and it was used on the wick for the world's first flame thrower which was invented in the 10th century ACE.
The importance of sulfur and saltpetre was so great that the Song Dynasty Emperor Yingzong banned their sale to foreigners in 1067 (just one year after William the Conqueror lead the Norman invasion of Britain) and virtually nationalised the industry. It is ironic to think that one of the most destructive elements of military technology was first developed as an elixir to extend life and even achieve immortality!