On the Magnet, by William Gilbert

Chap. xiiii.

Concerning other powers of loadstone, and its medicinal properties.

D ioscorides prescribes loadstone to be given with sweetened water, three scruples' weight, to expel gross humours. Galen writes that a like quantity of bloodstone avails. Others relate that loadstone perturbs the mind and makes folk melancholick, and mostly kills. Gartias ab Horto87 thinks it not deleterious or injurious to health. The natives of East India tell us, he says, that loadstone taken in small doses preserves youth. On which account the aged king, Zeilam, is said to have ordered the pans in which his victuals were cooked to be made of loadstone. The person (says he) to whom this order was given told me so himself. There are many varieties of loadstone produced by differences in the mingling of earths, metals, and juices; hence they are altogether unlike in their virtues and effects, due to propinquities of places and of agnate bodies, and arising from the pits themselves as it were from the matrices being soul. One loadstone is therefore able to purge the stomach, and another to check purging, to cause by its fumes a serious shock to the mind, to produce a gnawing at the vitals, or to bring on a grave relapse; in case of which ills they exhibit gold and emerald, using an abominable imposture for lucre. Pure loadstone may, indeed, be not only harmless, but even able to correct an over-fluid and putrescent state of the bowels and bring them back to a better temperament; of this sort usually are the oriental magnets from China, and the denser ones from Bengal, which are neither misliking nor unpleasant to the actual senses. Plutarch and Claudius Ptolemy88, and all the copyists since their time, think that a loadstone smeared with garlick does not allure iron. Hence some suspect that garlick is of avail against any deleterious power of the magnet: thus in philosophy many false and idle conjectures arise from fables and falsehoods. Some physicians89 have that a loadstone has power to extract the iron of an arrow from the human body. But it is when whole that the loadstone draws, not when pulverized and formless, buried in plasters; for it does not attract by reason of its material, but is rather adapted for the healing of open wounds, by reason of exsiccation, closing up and drying the sore, an effect by which the arrow-heads would rather be retained in the wounds. Thus vainly and preposterously do the sciolists look for remedies while ignorant of the true causes of things. The application of a loadstone for all sorts of headaches no more cures them (as some make out) than would an iron helmet or a steel cap. To give it in a draught to dropsical persons is an error of the ancients, or an impudent tale of the copyists, though one kind of ore may be found which, like many more minerals, purges the stomach; but this is due to some defect of that ore and not to any magnetick property. Nicolaus puts a large quantity of loadstone into his divine plaster90, just as the Augsburgers do into a black plaster91 for fresh wounds and stabs; the virtue of which dries them up without smart, so that it proves an efficacious medicament. In like manner also Paracelsus to the same end mingles it in his plaster for stab wounds92.

87 Page 32, line 12. Page 32, line 9. Gartias ab horto.— The passage from Gartias ab Horto runs as follows in the Italian edition of 1616, Dell' Historia dei Semplici Aromati. . . . di Don Garzia dall' Horto, Medico Portughese, . . . Venezia mdcxvi., p. 208.

"Nè meno è questa pietra velenosa, si come molti hanno tenuto; imperoche le genti di queste bande dicono che la Calamita presa per bocca, però in poca quantità, conserva la gioventù. La onde si racconta, che il Re di Zeilan il vecchio' s'haveva fatto fare tutti i vasi, dove si cocevano le vivãde per lui, di Calamita. Et questo lo disse à me colui proprio, che fu à questo officio destinato."

88 Page 32, line 29. Page 32, line 29. Plutarchus & C. Ptolemæus.— The garlick myth has already been referred to in the note to p. 1. The originals are Plutarch, Quæstiones Platonicæ, lib. vii., cap. 7, § 1; C. Ptolemæus, Opus Quadripartitum, bk. i., cap. 3. The English translation of the latter, by Whalley (London, 1701), p. 10, runs: "For if the Loadstone be Rubbed with Garlick, the Iron will not be drawn by it."

89 Page 32, line 32. Page 32, line 33. Medici nonnulli.— This is apparently a reference to the followers of Rhazes and Paracelsus. The argument of Gilbert as to the inefficacy of powdered loadstones is reproduced more fully by William Barlowe in his Magneticall Aduertisements (1616, p. 7), as follows:

"It is the goodnesse of the Loadstone ioyned with a fit forme that will shew great force. For as a very good forme with base substance can doe but very litle, so the substance of the Loadstone bee it neuer so excellent, except it haue some conuenient forme, is not auaileable. For example, an excellent loadstone of a pound waight and of a good fashion, being vsed artificially, may take vp foure pounds of Iron; beate it into small pouder, and it shall bee of no force to take vp one ounce of Iron; yea I am very well assured that halfe an ounce of a Loadstone of good fashion, and of like vertue will take vp more then that pound will doe being beaten into powder. Whence (to adde this by the way) it appeareth manifestly, that it is a great error of those Physitions and Surgeons, which to remedy ruptures, doe prescribe vnto their Patients to take the pouder of a Loadstone inwardly, and the small filing of iron mingled in some plaister outwardly: supposing that herein the magneticall drawing should doe great wonders."

90 Page 33, line 11. Page 33, line 8. Nicolaus in emplastrum divinum. . . . — Nicolaus Myrepsus is also known as Præpositas. In his Liber de compositione medicamentorum (Ingoldstat, 1541, 4to) are numerous recipes containing loadstone: for example, Recipe No. 246, called "esdra magna," is a medicine given for inflammation of the stomach and for strangury, compounded of some forty materials including "litho demonis" and "lapis magnetis." The emplastrum divinum does not, however, appear to contain loadstone. In the English tractate, Præpositas his Practise, a worke . . . for the better preservation of the Health of Man. Wherein are . . . approved Medicines, Receiptes and Ointmentes. Translated out of Latin in to English by L. M. (London, 1588, 4to), we read on p. 35, "An Emplaister of D. N. [Doctor Nicolaus] which the Pothecaries call Divinum." This contains litharge, bdellium, and "green brasse," but no loadstone.

Luis de Oviedo in his treatise Methodo de la Coleccion y reposicion de las Medicinas simples, edited by Gregorio Gonçalez, Boticario (Madrid, 1622), gives (p. 502) the following: "Emplasto de la madre. Recibe: Nuezes moscadas, clauos, cinamono, artemisia, piedraimon. De cada uno dos onças. . . . Entre otras differencias que ay de piedraiman se hallan dos. Vna que por la parte que mira al Septentrion, atrae el hierro, por lo quel se llama magnes ferrugineus. Y otra que atrae la carne, a la qual llaman magnes creaginus."

An "Emplastrum sticticum" containing amber, mummy, loadstone, hæmatite, and twenty other ingredients, and declared to be "vulnerum ulcerumque telo inflictorum sticticum emplastrum præstantissimum," is described on p. 267 of the Basilica chimica of Oswaldus Crollius (Frankfurt, 1612).

91 Page 33, line 12. Page 33, line 9. Augustani . . . in emplastrum nigrum. . . . — Amongst the physicians of the Augsburg school the most celebrated were Adolphus Occo, Ambrosio Jung, and Gereone Seyler. This particular reference is to the Pharmacopœia Augustana . . . a Collegio Medico recognita, published at Augsburg, and which ran through many editions. The recipe for the "emplastrum nigrum vulgo Stichpflaster" will be found on p. 182 of the seventh edition (1621-2). The recipe begins with oil of roses, colophony, wax, and includes some twenty-two ingredients, amongst them mummy, dried earthworms, and two ounces lapidis magnetis præparati. The recipe concludes: "Fiat Emplastrum secundùm artem. Perquàm efficax ad recentia vulnera et puncturas, vndè denominationem habet." The volume is a handsome folio not unlike Gilbert's own book, and bears at the end of the prefatory address ad Lectorem identically the same cul de lampe as is found on p. 44 of De Magnete.

The contradictions as to the alleged medicinal virtues of loadstone are well illustrated by Galen, who in his De facultatibus says that loadstone is like hæmatite, which is astringent, while in his De simplici medicina he says it is purgative.

92 Page 33, line 14. Page 33, line 12. Paracelsus in fodicationum emplastrum. — Paracelsus's recipe for a plaster against stab-wounds is to be found in Wundt vund Leibartznei . . . D. Theoph. Paracelsus (Frankf., 1555, pp. 63-67).

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 22:17