On the Magnet, by William Gilbert

Chap. xvi.

Showing that Movements take place by the Magnetical Vigour though solid bodies lie between; and on the interposition of iron plates.

F loat a piece of iron wire on the surface of water by transfixing it through a suitable cork; or set a versatory piece of iron on a pin or in a seaman's compass (a magnet being brought near or moved about underneath), it is put into a state of motion; neither the water, nor the vessel, nor the compass-box offering resistance in any way. Thick boards do not obstruct168, nor earthen vessels nor marble vases, nor the metals themselves; nothing is so solid as to carry away or impede the forces excepting an iron plate. Everything which is interposed (even though it is very dense) does not carry away its influence or obstruct its path, or indeed in any way hinder, diminish, or retard it. But all the force is not suppressed by an iron plate, but it is in some measure diverted aside. For when the vigour passes into the middle of an iron plate within the orbe of the magnetick virtue or placed just opposite the pole of the stone, that virtue is scattered in very large measure towards its extremities; so that the edges of a small round * plate of suitable size allure iron wires on every side. This is also apparent in the case of a long iron wand, which, when it has been touched by a magnet in the middle, has a like verticity at either end. *

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B is a loadstone, C D a long rod magnetized in the middle A; E being the Boreal pole; C is an Austral end or pole; in like manner also the end D is another Austral pole. But observe here the exactness with which a versorium touched by a pole, when a round plate is interposed, turns towards the same pole in the same * way as before the interposition, only weaker; the plate not standing in the way, because the vigour is diverted through the edges of the small plate, and passes out of its straight course, but yet the plate retains in the middle the same verticity, when it is in the neighbourhood of that pole, and close to it; wherefore the versorium tends towards the plate, having been touched by the same pole. If a loadstone is rather weak, a versorium hardly turns when a plate is put in between; for the vigour of the rather weak loadstone, being diffused through the extremities, passes less through the * middle. But if the plate has been touched in this way by a pole in the middle and has been removed from the stone outside its orbe of virtue, then you will see the point of the same versorium tend in the contrary direction and desert the centre of the small plate, which formerly it desired; for outside the orbe of virtue it has an opposite verticity, in the vicinity the same; for in the vicinity it is, as it were, a part of the loadstone, and has the same pole.

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A is an iron plate near the pole, B a versorium which tends with its point towards the centre of the small plate, which has been touched by the pole of the loadstone C. But if the same small plate be placed outside the orbe of magnetick virtue, the point will not turn towards its centre, but the cross E of the same versorium does. But an iron globe interposed (if it is not too large) attracts the * point of the iron on the other side of the stone. For the verticity of that side is the same as that of the adjoining pole of the stone. And this turning of the cusp (that is, of the end touched by that pole) as well as of the cross-end, at a greater distance, takes place with an iron globe interposed, which would not happen at all if * the space were empty, because the magnetick virtue is passed on and continued through magnetick bodies.

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A is a terrella, B an iron globe; between the two bodies is F, a versorium whose point has been excited by the pole C. In the other figure A is a terrella, C its pole, B an iron globe; where the versorium tends towards C, the pole of the terrella, through the iron globe. So a versorium placed between a terrella and an iron globe vibrates more forcibly towards the pole of the terrella; because the loadstone sends an instantaneous verticity into the opposite globe. There is the same efficiency in the earth, produced from the same cause. For if a revolvable needle is shut up in a rather thick gold box (this metal indeed excels all others in density) or a glass or stone box, nevertheless that magnetick needle has its forces connected and united with the influences of the earth, and the iron will turn freely and readily (unhindered by its prison) to its desired points, North and South. * It even does this when shut up in iron caverns, if they are sufficiently spacious. Whatever bodies are produced among us, or are artificially forged from things which are produced, consist of matter of the terrestrial globe; nor do those bodies hinder the prime forces of nature which are derived from their primary form, nor can they resist them except by contrary forms. But no forms of mixed bodies are inimical to the primary implanted earth-nature, although some often do not agree169 with one another. But in the case of all those substances which have a material cause for their inclining (as amber, jet, sulphur), their action is impeded by the interposition of a body (as paper, leaves, glass, or the like) when that way is impeded and obstructed, so that that which exhales170 cannot reach the corpuscle to be allured. Terrestrial and magnetick coition and motion, when corporeal impediments are interposed, is demonstrated also by the efficiencies of other chief bodies due to their primary form. The moon (more than all the stars) agrees with internal parts of the earth on account of its nearness and similarity in form. The moon produces the movements of the waters and the tides of the sea; twice it fills up the shores and empties them whilst it moves from a certain definite point in the sky back to the same point in a daily revolution. This motion of the waters is incited and the seas rise and fall no less when the moon is below the horizon and in the lowest part of the heavens, than if it had been raised at a height above the horizon. So the whole mass of the earth interposed171 does not resist the action of the moon, when it is below the earth; but the seas bordering on our shores, in certain positions of the sky when it is below the horizon, are kept in motion, and likewise stirred by its power (though they are not struck by its rays nor illuminated by its light), rise, come up with great force, and recede. But about the reason of the tides anon172; here let it suffice to have merely touched the threshold of the question. In like manner nothing on the earth can be hidden from the magnetick disposition of the earth or of the stone, and all magnetical bodies are reduced to order by the dominant form of the earth, and loadstone and iron show sympathy with a loadstone though solid bodies be interposed.

168 Page 83, line 24. Page 83, line 28. Non obstant crassa tabulata.— Gilbert has several times referred (e.g., on p. 77) to the way in which magnetic forces penetrate solid bodies. The experimental investigation in this chapter is the more interesting because it shows that Gilbert clearly perceived the shielding action of iron to be due to iron conducting aside or diverting the magnetic forces.

169 Page 85, line 26. Page 85, line 31. non conveniant.— The editions of 1628 and 1633 both read et conveniant.

170 Page 86, line 3. Page 86, line 3. illud quod exhalat.— Literally, that which exhales, in the sense of that which escapes: but in modern English the verb exhale in the active voice is now not used of the substance that escapes, but is used of the thing which emits it. It must therefore be rendered that which is exhaled (i.e., breathed out).

171 Page 86, line 13. Page 86, line 15. Ita tota interposita moles terrestris.— Gilbert's notion that the gravitational force of the moon in producing the tides acts through the substance of the earth may seem curiously expressed. But the underlying contention is essentially true to-day. The force of gravity is not cut off or screened off by the interposition of other masses. A recent investigation by Professor Poynting, F.R.S., has shown that so far as all evidence goes all bodies, even the densest, are transparent with respect to gravitational forces.

172 Page 86, line 18. Page 86, line 20. Sed de æstus ratione aliàs.— There is no further discussion of the tides in De Magnete. But a short account is to be found in Gilbert's posthumous work De Mundo nostro Sublunari Philosophia nova (Amsterdam, Elzevir, 1651), in Lib. v., the part which in the manuscript was left in English, and was turned into Latin by his brother. It comprises about fifteen quarto pages, from Cap. X. to Cap. XIX. inclusive, beginning with a characteristic diatribe against Taisnier, Levinus Lemnius, and Scaliger. But in assigning causes he himself goes wide of the mark. Proceeding by a process of elimination he first shows that the moon's light cannot be the cause that impels the tides. "Luna," he says, "non radio, non lumine, maria impellit. quomodo igitur? Sane corporum conspiratione, acque (ut similitudine rem exponam) Magnetica attractione." This cryptic utterance he proceeds to explain by a diagram, and adds: "Quare Luna non tam attrahit mare, quàm humorem & spiritum subterraneum; nec plus resistit interposita terra, quàm mensa, aut quicquam aliud densum, aut crassum, magnetis viribus."

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