Della Porta’s hugely popular book covered twenty aspects of natural magic, including distillation. Copper stills such as this one were used to extract the oils of herbs and flowers. For his own ‘waters’, Smith distilled aqua vitae (concentrated ethanol) with celandine, roses and eyebright from his own garden. He was eager to share his concoctions with his friends. When William Cecil’s daughter was in danger of miscarrying, Smith sent her a course of treatment, along with a reassuring letter for her mother.
‘Madame I sent yesterday of my waters to my Lord for my Lady of Oxford… There is nothing in it but such as is daily eaten and drunken, no purgation, no spice, but it hath such virtue that next to God I owe my health to it and so many hath given me thanks and do repeat it a singular thing.’ (Smith in a letter to Lady Burghley, 7th March 1574 [B.M. Lansdowne S.19/50])
Author: Giambattista della Porta
Title: Magiae naturalis [Natural magic] (Frankfurt, 1597)
Shelfmark: H.20.32 (catalogue record)