On the Magnet, by William Gilbert

Chap. xxix.

On Variety of Strength due to Quantity or Mass.

Q uite similar in potency are those stones which are of the same mine, and not corrupted by adjacent ores or veins. Nevertheless that which excels in size shows greater powers, since it seizes greater weights and has a wider orbe of virtue. For a loadstone weighing one ounce does not lift a large nail as does one weighing a pound, nor does it rule so widely, nor extend its forces; and if from a loadstone of a pound weight a portion is taken away, something of its power will be seen to go also; for when a portion is abstracted the virtue is lessened. But if that part is properly applied and united to it, though it is not fastened * to nor grown into it, yet by the application it obtains its pristine power and its vigour returns. Sometimes, however, when a part is taken away, the virtue turns out to be stronger on account of the * bad shape of the stone, namely, when the vigour is scattered through inconvenient angles. In various species the ratio is various, for one stone of a drachm weight draws more than another of twenty pounds. Since in very many the influence is so effete that it can hardly be perceived, those weak stones are surpassed by prepared pieces of clay. But, it may be asked179, if a stone of the same species and goodness weighing a drachm would seize upon a drachm of iron, would a stone of an ounce weight seize on an ounce, a pound on a pound, and so on? And this is indeed true; for it both strains and remits its strength proportionately, so that if a loadstone, one drachm of which would attract one drachm of iron, were in equal proportion applied either to a suitably large obelisk or to an immense pyramid of iron, it would lift it directly in such proportion and would draw it towards itself with no greater effort of its nature or trouble than a loadstone of a drachm weight embraces a drachm. But in all such experiments as this let the vigour of the magnets be equal; let there be also a just proportion in all of the shapes of the stones, and let the shape of the iron to be attracted be the same, and the goodness of the metal, and let the position of the poles of the loadstones be most exact. This is also no less true in the case of an armed loadstone than of an unarmed one. For the sake of experiment, let there be given a loadstone of eight ounces weight, which when armed lifts twelve ounces of iron; if you cut off from that loadstone a certain portion, which when it has been * reduced to the shape of the former whole one is then only of two ounces, such a loadstone armed lifts a piece of iron applied to it of three ounces, in proportion to the mass. In this experiment also the piece of iron of three ounces ought to have the same shape as the former one of twelve ounces; if that rose up into a cone, it is necessary that this also in the ratio of its mass should be given a pyramidal shape proportioned to the former.

179 Page 97, line 29. Page 97, line 33. Sed quæri potest . . . — The question here raised by Gilbert is whether the lifting-power of magnets of equal quality is proportional to their weight. If a stone weighing a drachm will lift a drachm, would a stone that weighs an ounce lift an ounce? Gilbert erroneously answers that this is so, and that the lifting-power of a loadstone, whether armed or unarmed, is proportional to its mass.

The true law of the tractive force or lifting-power of magnets was first given in 1729 by James Hamilton (afterwards Earl of Abercorn) in a work entitled Calculations and Tables Relating to the Attractive Virtue of Loadstones . . . Printed [at London?] in the Year 1729. (See also a paper in the Philos. Transactions, 1729-30, vol. xxxvi., p. 245). This work begins thus:

"The Principle upon which these Tables are formed, is this: That if Two Loadstones are perfectly Homogeneous, that is, if their Matter be of the same Specifick Gravity, and of the same Virtue in all Parts of one Stone, as in the other; and that Like Parts of their Surfaces are Cap'd or Arm'd with Iron; then the Weights they sustain will be as the Squares of the Cube Roots of the Weights of the Loadstones; that is, as their Surfaces."

Upon lifting-power see also D. Bernoulli, Acta Helvetica, iii., p. 223, 1758; P. W. Haecker, Zur Theorie des Magnetismus, Nürnberg, 1856; Van der Willigen, Arch. du Musée Teyler, vol. iv., Haarlem, 1878; S. P. Thompson, Philos. Magazine, July, 1888.

In the book of James Hamilton, p. 5, he mentions a small terrella weighing 139 English grains, which would sustain no less than 23,760 grains, and was valued at £21 13s. 10¾d.

In the Musæum Septalianum of Terzagus (Dertonæ, 1664, p. 42) is mentioned a loadstone weighing twelve ounces which would lift sixty pounds of iron.

Sir Isaac Newton had a loadstone weighing 3 grains, which he wore in a ring. It would lift 746 grains.

Thomson's British Annual, 1837, p. 354, gives the following reference: "In the Records of General Science, vol. iii., p. 272, there is an interesting description of a very powerful magnet which was sent from Virginia in 1776 by the celebrated Dr. Franklin to Professor Anderson, of Glasgow. It is now in the possession of Mr. Crichton. It weighs 2½ grains, and is capable of supporting a load of 783 grains, which is equivalent to 313 times its own weight."

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