On the Magnet, by William Gilbert

Chap. xvii.

That the globe of the earth is magnetick, & a magnet; & how in our hands the magnet stone has all the primary forces of the earth, while the earth by the same powers remains constant in a fixed direction in the universe.

P rior to bringing forward the causes of magnetical motions, & laying open the proofs of things hidden for so many ages, & our experiments (the true foundations of terrestrial philosophy), we have to establish & present to the view of the learned our New & unheard of doctrine about the earth; and this, when argued by us on the grounds of its probability, with subsequent experiments & proofs, will be as certainly assured as anything in philosophy ever has been considered & confirmed by clever arguments or mathematical proofs. The terrene mass, which together with the vasty ocean produces the sphærick figure & constitutes our globe, being of a firm & constant substance, is not easily changed, does not wander about, & fluctuate with uncertain motions, like the seas, & flowing waves: but holds all its volume of moisture in certain beds & bounds, & as it were in oft-met veins, that it may be the less diffused & dissipated at random. Yet the solid magnitude of the earth prevails & reigns supreme in the nature of our globe. Water, however, is attached to it, & as an appendage only, & a flux emanating from it; whose force from the beginning is conjoined with the earth through its smallest parts, and is innate in its substance. This moisture the earth as it grows hot throws off freely when it is of the greatest possible service in the generation of things. But the thews and dominant stuff of the globe is that terrene body which far exceeds in quantity all the volume of flowing streams and open waters (whatever vulgar philosophers may dream of the magnitudes and proportions of their elements), and which takes up most of the whole globe and almost fills it internally, and by itself almost suffices to endow it with sphærick shape. For the seas only fill certain not very deep or profound hollows, since they rarely go down to a depth of a mile and generally do not exceed a hundred or 50 fathoms. For so it is ascertained by the observations of seamen when by the plumb-line and sinker its abysms are explored with the nautical sounder; which depths relatively to the dimensions of the globe, do not much deform its globular shape. Small then appears to be that portion of the real earth that ever emerges to be seen by man, or is turned up; since we cannot penetrate deeper into its bowels, further than the wreckage of its outer efflorescence, either by reason of the waters which gush up in deep workings, as through veins, or for want of a wholesome air to support life in the miners, or on account of the vast cost that would be incurred in pumping out such huge workings103, and many other difficulties; so that to have gone down to a depth of four hundred, or (which is of rarest occurrence) of five hundred fathoms104 as in a few mines, appears to all a stupendous undertaking. But it is easy to understand how minute, how almost negligibly small a portion that 500 fathoms is of the earth's diameter, which is 6,872 miles. It is then parts only of the earth's circumference and of its prominences that are perceived by us with our senses; and these in all regions appear to us to be either loamy, or clayey, or sandy, or full of various soils, or marls: or lots of stones or gravel meet us, or beds of salt, or a metallick lode, and metals in abundance. In the sea and in deep waters, however, either reefs, and huge boulders, or smaller stones, or sands, or mud are found by mariners as they sound the depths. Nowhere does the Aristotelian element of earth come to light; and the Peripateticks are the sport of their own vain dreams about elements. Yet the lower bulk of the earth and the inward parts of the globe consist of such bodies; for they could not have existed, unless they had been related to and exposed to the air and water, and to the light and influences of the heavenly bodies, in like manner as they are generated, and pass into many dissimilar forms of things, and are changed by a perpetual law of succession. Yet the interior parts imitate them, and betake themselves to their own source, on the principle of terrene matter, albeit they have lost the first qualities and the natural terrene form, and are borne towards the earth's centre, and cohære with the globe of the earth, from which they cannot be wrenched asunder except by force. But the loadstone and all magneticks, not the stone only, but every magnetick homogenic substance, would seem to contain the virtue of the earth's core and of its inmost bowels, and to hold within itself and to have conceived that which is the secret and inward principle of its substance; and it possesses the actions peculiar to the globe of attracting, directing, disposing, rotating, stationing itself in the universe, according to the rule of the whole, and it contains and regulates the dominant powers of the globe; which are the chief tokens and proofs of a certain distinguishing combination, and of a nature most thoroughly conjoint. For if among actual bodies one sees something move and breathe, and experience sensations, and be inclined and impelled by reason, will one not, knowing and seeing this, conclude that it is a man or something rather like a man, than that it is a stone or a stick? The loadstone far excels all other bodies known to us in virtues and properties pertaining to the common mother: but those properties have been far too little understood or realized by philosophers: for to its body bodies magnetical rush in from all sides and cleave to it, as we see them do in the case of the earth. It has poles, not mathematical points, but natural termini of force excelling in primary efficiency by the co-operation of the whole: and there are poles in like manner in the earth which our forefathers sought ever in the sky: it has an æquator, a natural dividing line between the two poles, just as the earth has: for of all lines drawn by the mathematicians on the terrestrial globe, the æquator is the natural boundary, and is not, as will hereafter appear, merely a mathematical circle. It, like the earth, acquires Direction and stability toward North and South, as the earth does; also it has a circular motion toward the position of the earth, wherein it adjusts itself to its rule: it follows the ascensions and declinations of the earth's poles, and conforms exactly to the same, and by itself raises its own poles above the horizon naturally according to the law of the particular country and region, or sinks below it. The loadstone derives temporary properties, and acquires its verticity from the earth, and iron is affected by the verticity of the globe even as iron is by a loadstone: Magneticks are conformable to and are regulated by the earth, and are subject to the earth in all their motions. All its movements harmonize with, and strictly wait upon, the geometry and form of the earth, as we shall afterwards prove by most conclusive experiments and diagrams; and the chief part of the visible earth is also magnetical, and has magnetick motions, although it be disfigured by corruptions and mutations without end. Why then do we not recognize this the chief homogenic substance of the earth, likest of substances to its inner nature and closest allied to its very marrow? For none of the other mixed earths suitable for agriculture, no other metalliferous veins, nor stones, nor sand, nor other fragments of the earth which have come to our view possess such constant and peculiar powers. And yet we do not assume that the whole interior of this globe of ours is composed of stones or iron (although Franciscus Maurolycus, that learned man, deems the whole of the earth's interior to consist of solid stone). For not every loadstone that we have is a stone, it being sometimes like a clod, or like clay and iron either firmly compacted together out of various materials, or of a softer composition, or by heat reduced to the metallick state; and the magnetick substance by reason of its location and of its surroundings, and of the metallick matrix itself, is distinguished, at the surface of the terrene mass, by many qualities and adventitious natures, just as in clay it is marked by certain stones and iron lodes. But we maintain that the true earth is a solid substance, homogeneous with the globe, closely coherent, endowed with a primordial and (as in the other globes of the universe) with a prepotent form; in which position it persists with a fixed verticity, and revolves with a necessary motion and an inherent tendency to turn, and it is this constitution, when true and native, and not injured or disfigured by outward defects, that the loadstone possesses above all bodies apparent to us, as if it were a more truly homogenic part taken from the earth. Accordingly native iron which sui generis (as metallurgists term it), is formed when homogenic parts of the earth grow together into a metallick lode; Loadstone being formed when they are changed into metallick stone, or a lode of the finest iron, or steel: so in other iron lodes the homogenic matter that goes together is somewhat more imperfect; just as many parts of the earth, even the high ground, is homogenic but so much more deformate. Smelted iron is fused and smelted out of homogenic stuffs, and cleaves to the earth more tenaciously than the ores themselves. Such then is our earth in its inward parts, possessed of a magnetick homogeneal nature, and upon such more perfect foundations as these rests the whole nature of things terrestrial, manifesting itself to us, in our more diligent scrutiny, everywhere in all magnetick minerals, and iron ores, in all clay, and in numerous earths and stones; while Aristotle's simple element, that most empty terrestrial phantom of the Peripateticks, a rude, inert, cold, dry, simple matter, the universal substratum, is dead, devoid of vigour, and has never presented itself to any one, not even in sleep, and would be of no potency in nature. Our philosophers were only dreaming when they spoke of a kind of simple and inert matter. Cardan does not consider the loadstone to be any kind of stone, "but a sort of perfected portion of some kind of earth that is absolute; a token of which is its abundance, there being no place where it is not found. And there is" (he says) "a power of iron in the wedded Earth which is perfect in its own kind when it has received fertilizing force from the male, that is to say, the stone of Hercules" (in his book De Proportionibus). And later: "Because" (he says) "in the previous proposition I have taught that iron is true earth." A strong loadstone shows itself to be of the inward earth, and upon innumerable tests claims to rank with the earth in the possession of a primary form, that by which Earth herself abides in her own station and is directed in her courses. Thus a weaker loadstone and every ore of iron, and nearly all clay, or clayey earth, and numerous other sorts (yet more, or less, owing to the different labefaction of fluids and slimes), keep their magnetick and genuine earth-properties open to view, falling short of the characteristic form, and deformate. For it is not iron alone (the smelted metal) that points to the poles, nor is it the loadstone alone that is attracted by another and made to revolve magnetically; but all iron ores, and other stones, as Rhenish slates and the black ones from Avignon (the French call them Ardoises) which they use for tiles, and many more of other colours and substances, provided they have been prepared; as well as all clay, grit105, and some sorts of rocks, and, to speak more clearly, all the more solid earth that is everywhere apparent; given that that earth be not fouled with fatty and fluid corruptions; as mud, as mire, as accumulations of putrid matter; nor deformate by the imperfections of sundry admixtures; nor dripping with ooze, as marls; all are attracted by the loadstone, when simply prepared by fire, and freed from their refuse humour; and as by the loadstone so also by the earth herself they are drawn and controlled magnetically, in a way different from all other bodies; and by that inherent force settle themselves according to the orderly arrangement and fabric of the universe and of the Earth, as will appear later. Thus every part of the earth which is removed from it exhibits by sure experiments every impulse of the magnetick nature; by its various motions it observes the globe of the earth and the principle common to both.

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103 Page 40, line 32. Page 40, line 33. ad tantos labores exantlandos.— Pumping, as it was in mining before the invention of the steam engine, may best be realized by examining the woodcuts in the De re metallica of Georgius Agricola (Basil., Froben, 1556).

104 Page 40, line 34. Page 40, line 36. quingentas orgyas.— Gilbert probably had in his mind the works of the Rorerbühel, in the district of Kitzbühl, which in the sixteenth century had reached the depth of 3,107 feet. See Humboldt's Cosmos (Lond., 1860, vol. i., p. 149).

105 Page 43, line 34. Page 43, line 33. glis.— This word, here translated grit, does not appear to be classical Latin; it may mean ooze or slime.

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