On the Magnet, by William Gilbert

Chap. xvi.

That loadstone & iron ore are the same, but iron an extract from both, as other metals are from their own ores; & that all magnetick virtues, though weaker, exist in the ore itself & in smelted iron.

H itherto we have declared the nature & powers of the loadstone, & also the properties & essence of iron; it now remains to show their mutual affinities, & kinship, so to speak, & how very closely conjoined these substances are. At the highest part of the terrestrial globe, or at its perishable surface & rind, as it were, these two bodies usually originate & are produced in one and the same matrix, as twins in one mine. Strong loadstones are dug up by themselves, weaker ones too have their own proper vein. Both are found in iron mines. Iron ore most often occurs alone, without strong loadstone (for the more perfect are rarely met with). Strong loadstone is a stone resembling iron; out of it is usually smelted the finest iron, which the Greeks call stomoma, the Latins acies, the Barbarians (not amiss) aciare, or aciarium. This same stone draws, repels, controls other loadstones, directs itself to the poles of the world, picks up smelted iron, and works many other wonders, some already set forth by us, but many more which we must demonstrate more fully. A weaker loadstone, however, will exhibit all these powers, but in a lesser degree; while iron ore, & also wrought iron (if they have been prepared) show their strength in all magnetick experiments not less than do feeble and weak * loadstones; & an inert piece of ore, & one possessed of no magnetick properties, & just thrown out98 of the pit, when roasted in the fire & prepared with due art (by the elimination of humours & foreign excretions) awakes, and becomes in power & potency a magnet, * occasionally a stone or iron ore is mined, which attracts forthwith without being prepared: for native iron of the right colour attracts and governs iron magnetically. One form then belongs to the one mineral, one species, one self-same essence. For to me there seems to be a greater difference, & unlikeness, between the strongest loadstone, & a weak one which scarce can attract a single chip of iron; between one that is stout, strong, metallick, & one that is soft, friable, clayey; amidst such variety of colour, substance, quality, & weight; than there is on the one hand between the best ore, rich in iron, or iron that is metallick from the beginning, and on the other the most excellent loadstone. Usually, too, there are no marks to distinguish them, and even metallurgists cannot decide between them, because they agree together in all respects. Moreover we see that the best loadstone and the ore of iron are both as it were distressed by the same maladies & diseases, both run to old age in the same way & exhibit the same marks of it, are preserved & keep their properties by the same remedies & safeguards; & yet again the one increases the potency of the other, & by artfully devised adjuncts marvellously intensifies, & exalts it. For both are impaired by the more acrid juices as by poisons, & the aqua fortis of the Chemists inflicts on both the same wounds, and when exposed too long to harm from the atmosphere, they both alike pine away, so to speak, & grow old; each is preserved by being kept in the dust & scrapings of the other; & when a fit piece of steel or iron is adjoined above its pole, the loadstone's vigour is augmented through the firm union. The loadstone is laid up in iron filings, not that iron is its food; as though loadstone were alive and needed feeding, as Cardan philosophizes99; nor yet that so it is delivered from the inclemency of the weather (for which cause it as well as iron is laid up in bran by Scaliger; mistakenly, however, for they are not preserved well in this way, and keep for years their own fixed forms): nor yet, since they remain perfect by the mutual action of their powders, do their extremities waste away, but are cherished & preserved, like by like. For just as in their own places, in the mines, bodies like to each other endure for many ages entire and uncorrupt, when surrounded by bodies of the same stuff, as the lesser interior parts in a great mass: so loadstone and ore of iron, when inclosed in a mound of the same material, do not exhale their native humour, do not waste away, but retain their soundness. A loadstone lasts longer in filings of smelted iron, & a piece of iron ore excellently also in dust of loadstone; as also smelted iron in filings of loadstone & even in those of iron. Then both these allied bodies have a true & just form of one & the same species; a form which until this day was considered by all, owing to their outward unlikeness & the inequality of the potency that is the same innate in both, to be different & unlike in kind; the smatterers not understanding that the same powers, though differing in strength, exist in both alike. And in fact they both are true & intimate parts of the earth, & as such retain the prime natural properties of mutually attracting, of moving, & of disposing themselves toward the position of the world, and of the terrestrial globe; which properties they also impart to each other, and increase, confirm, receive, and retain each other's forces. The stronger fortifies the weaker, not as though aught were taken away from its own substance, or its proper vigour, nor because any corporeal substance is imparted, but the dormant virtue of the one is aroused by the other, without loss. For if with a single small stone you touch a thousand bits of iron for the use of mariners100, that loadstone attracts iron no less strongly than before; with the same stone weighing one pound, any one will be able to suspend in the air a thousand pounds of iron. For if any one were to fix high up on the walls so many iron nails of so great a weight, & were to apply to them the same number of nails touched, according to the art, by a loadstone, they would all be seen to hang in the air through the force of one small stone. So this is not solely the action, labour, or outlay of the loadstone; but the iron, which is in a sense an extract from loadstone, and a fusion of loadstone into metal, & conceives vigour from it, & by proximity strengthens the magnetick faculties, doth itself, from whatever lode it may have come, raise its own inborn forces through the presence & contact of the stone, even when solid bodies intervene. Iron that has been touched, acts anew on another piece of iron by contact, & adapts it for magnetick movements, & this again a third. But if you rub with a loadstone any other metal, or wood, or bones, or glass, as they will not be moved toward any particular and determinate quarter of heaven, nor be attracted by any magnetick body, so they are able not to impart any magnetick property to other bodies or to iron itself by attrition, & by infection. Loadstone differs from iron ore, as also from some weaker magnets, in that when molten in the furnace into a ferric & metallick fused mass, it does not so readily flow & dissolve into metal; but is sometimes burnt to ashes in large furnaces; a result which it is reasonable to suppose arises from its having some kind of sulphureous matter mixed with it, or from its own excellence & simpler nature, or from the likeness & common form which it has with the common mother, the Great Magnet. For earths, and iron stones, magnets abounding in metal, are the more imbued & marred with excrementitious metallick humours, and earthy corruptions of substance, as numbers of loadstones are weaker from the mine; hence they are a little further remote from the common mother, & are degenerate, & when smelted in the furnace undergo fusion more easily, & give out a more certain metallick product, & a metal that is softer, not a tough steel. The majority of loadstones (if not unfairly burnt101) yield in the furnace a very excellent iron. But iron ore also agrees in all those primary qualities with loadstone; for both, being nearer and more closely akin to the earth above all bodies known to us, have in themselves a magnetick substance, & one that is more homogenic, true & cognate with the globe of the earth; less infested & spoiled by foreign blemish; less confused with the outgrowths of earth's surface, & less debased by corrupt products. And for this reason Aristotle in the fourth book of his Meteora seems not unfairly to separate iron from all the rest of the metals. Gold, he says, silver, copper, tin, lead, belong to water; but iron is of the earth. Galen, in the fourth chapter of De Facultatibus Simplicium Medicamentorum, says that iron is an earthy & dense body. Accordingly a strong loadstone is on our showing especially of the earth: the next place is occupied by iron ore or weaker loadstone; so the loadstone is by nature and origin102** of iron, and it and magnetick iron are both one in kind. Iron ore yields iron in furnaces; loadstone also pours forth iron in the furnaces, but of a much more excellent sort, that which is called steel or blade-edge; and the better sort of iron ore is a weak loadstone, the best loadstone being a most excellent ore of iron, in which, as is to be shown by us, the primary properties are grand and conspicuous. Weaker loadstone or iron ore is that in which these properties are more obscure, feeble, and are scarce perceptible to the senses.

98 Page 36, line 27. Page 36, line 29. eijcitur for ejicitur.

99 Page 37, line 18. Page 37, line 22. ut Cardanus philosophatur.— Cardan's nonsense about the magnet feeding on iron is to be found in De Subtilitate, lib. vii. (Basil., 1611, p. 381).

100 Page 38, line 4. Page 38, line 7. ferramenta . . . in usum navigantium.— Compare Marke Ridley's A Short Treatise of Magneticall Bodies and Motions (Lond., 1613), p. a2 in the Preface Magneticall, where he speaks of the "iron-workes" used in building ships. The phraseology of Marke Ridley throws much light on the Latin terms used by Gilbert.

101 Page 38, line 36. Page 38, line 42. vruntur; changed in ink to vrantur in the folio of 1600; but uruntur appears in the editions of 1628 and 1633.

102 Page 39, line 12. Page 39, line 12. virumque; altered in ink to virunque in all copies of the folio edition of 1600.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gilbert/william/on-the-magnet/book1.16.html

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