On the Magnet, by William Gilbert

Chap. xvii.

On the Use and Excellence of Versoria: and how iron versoria used as pointers in sun-dials, and the fine needles of the mariners' compass, are to be rubbed, that they may acquire stronger verticity.

V ersoria prepared by the loadstone subserve so many actions in human life that it will not be out of place to record a better method of touching them and exciting them magnetically, and a suitable manner of operating. Rich ores of iron and such as yield a greater proportion of metal are recognized by means of an iron needle suspended in æquilibrium and magnetically prepared; and magnetick stones, clays, and earths are distinguished, whether crude or prepared. An iron needle (the soul of the mariners' compass), the marvellous director in voyages and finger of God, one might almost say, indicates the course, and has pointed out the whole way around the earth (unknown for so many ages). The Spaniards (as also the English) have frequently circumnavigated (by an immense circuit) the whole globe by aid of the mariners' compass. Those who travel about through the world or who sit at home have sun-dials. A magnetick pointer follows and searches out the veins of ore in mines. By its aid mines are driven in taking cities; catapults and engines of war are aimed by night; it has been of service for the topography of places, for marking off the areas and position of buildings, and for excavating aqueducts for water under ground. On it depend instruments designed to investigate its own dip and variation.

When iron is to be quickened by the stone, let it be clean and bright, disfigured by no rust or dirt, and of the best steel216. Let the stone itself be wiped dry, and let it not be damp with any moisture, but let it be filed gently with some smooth piece of iron. But the hitting of the stone with a hammer is of no advantage. By these means let their bare surfaces be joined, and let them be rubbed, so that they may come together more firmly; not so that the material substance of the stone being joined to the iron may cleave to it, but they are rubbed gently together with friction, and (useless parts being rubbed off) they are intimately united; whence a more notable Good and bad ways of touching versoria. virtue arises in the iron that is excited. A is the best way of touching a versorium when the cusp touches the pole and faces it; B is a moderately good way, when, though facing it, it is a little way distant from the pole; also in like manner C is only moderately good on account of the cusp being turned away from the pole; D, which is farther distant, is hardly so good; F, which is prepared crosswise along a parallel, is bad; of no virtue and entirely irresponsive and feeble is the magnetick index L, which is rubbed along the æquator; oblique and not pointing towards the pole as G, and oblique, not pointing toward but turned away from the pole as H, are bad. These have been placed so that they might indicate the distinct forces of a round stone. But mechanicians very often have a stone tending more to a cone shape, and more powerful on account of that shape since the pole, on which they rub their wires, is at the apex of the projecting part. Sometimes the stone has on the top and above its own pole an artificial acorn or snout made of steel for the sake of its power. Iron needles are rubbed on the top of this; wherefore they turn toward the same pole as if they had been prepared on that part of the stone with the acorn removed. Let the stone be large enough and strong; the needle, even if it be rather long, should be sufficiently thick, not very slender; with a moderate cusp, not too sharp, although the virtue is not in the cusp itself only, but in the whole piece of iron. A strong large stone is not unfit for rubbing all needles on, excepting that sometimes by its strength it occasions some dip and disturbance in the iron in the case of longer needles; so that one which, having been touched before, rested in equilibrium in the plane of the horizon, now when touched and excited dips at one end, as far as the upright pin on which it turns permits it. Wherefore in the case of longer versoria, the end which is going to be the Boreal, before it is rubbed, should be a little lighter, so that it may remain exactly in æquilibrio after it is touched. But a needle in this way prepared does its * work worse the farther it is beyond the æquinoctial circle. Let the prepared needle be placed in its capsule, and let it not be touched by any other magneticks, nor remain in the near vicinity of them, lest by their opposing forces, whether powerful or sluggish, it should become uncertain and dull. If you also rub the other end of the needle on the other pole of the stone, the needle will perform its functions more steadily, especially if it be rather long. A piece of iron touched by a loadstone retains the magnetick virtue, excited in it even for ages217, firm and strong, if it is placed according to nature meridionally and not along a parallel, and is not injured by rust or any external injury from the surrounding medium. Porta wrongly seeks for a proportion between the loadstone and the iron: because, he says, a little piece of iron will not be capable of holding much virtue; for it is consumed by the great force of the loadstone. A piece of iron receives its own virtue fully, even if it be only of the weight of one scruple, whilst the mass of the loadstone is a thousand pounds. It is also useless to make the needle rather flat at the end that is touched, so that it may be better and more perfectly magnetick, and that it may best receive and hold certain magnetick particles; since hardly any part will stick on a sharp point; because he thought that it was by the adhesion of parts of the loadstone (as it were, hairs) that the influence is imparted and conserved, though those particles are merely rubbed off by the rubbing of the iron over the softer stone, and the iron none the less points toward the North and South, if after it is touched it be scoured with sand or emery powder, or with any other material, even if by long rubbing of this kind the external parts of it are lessened and worn away. When a needle is being rubbed, one should always leave off at the end; otherwise, if it is rubbed on the loadstone from the point toward the middle, less verticity is excited in the iron, sometimes none at all, or very little. For where the last contact is, there is the pole and goal of verticity. In order that a stronger verticity may be produced in the iron by rubbing on the loadstone, one * ought in northern lands to turn the true northern pole of the loadstone toward the highest part of the sky; on this pole that end of the needle is going to be rubbed, which shall afterwards turn toward the north of the earth; whilst it will be an advantage for the other end of the needle to be rubbed on the southern pole of the terrella turned toward the earth, and this being so excited will incline toward the south. In southern regions beyond the æquator the plan is just the contrary. The reason of this dissimilarity is demonstrated, Book II., chap, xxxiv., in which it is shown (by a manifest combination of a terrella and the earth) why the poles of a loadstone, for different reasons, are one stronger than the other. If a needle be touched between the mutually accordant * poles of two loadstones, equal in power, shape, and mass, no strength Virtue is acquired from the stronger of two loadstones. is acquired by the needle. A and B are two loadstones attracting one another, according to nature, at their dissimilar ends; C, the * point of a needle touched by both at once, is not excited (even if those loadstones be connected according to nature), if they are equal; but if they are not equal, virtue is acquired from the stronger. When a needle is being excited by a loadstone, begin in the middle, and draw the needle toward its end; at the end let the application be continued with a very gentle rubbing around the end for some time; that is to say, for one or two minutes; do not repeat the motion from the middle to the end (as is frequently done) for in this way the verticity is injured. Some delay is desirable, for although the power is imparted instantly, and the iron excited, yet from the vicinity of the loadstone and a suitable delay, a more steady verticity arises, and one that is more firmly durable in the iron. Although an armed stone raises a greater weight of iron than an unarmed one, yet a needle is not more strongly excited by an armed stone than by an unarmed one. Let there be two iron wires of the same length, wrought from the same wire; let one be excited by an armed end, the other by an unarmed end; it is manifest that the same needles have a beginning of motion or a sensible inclination at equal distances from the same armed and unarmed loadstone; this is ascertained by measuring with a longish reed. But objects which are more powerfully excited move more quickly; those which are less powerfully excited, more feebly, and not unless brought rather close; the experiment is made on water with equal corks.

216 Page 147, line 27. Page 147, line 29. ex optimo aciario.— Gilbert recommended that the compass-needle should be of the best steel. Though the distinction between iron and steel was not at this time well established, there is no reason to doubt that by aciarium was meant edge-steel as used for blades. Barlowe, in his Magneticall Advertisements (Lond., 1616), p. 66, gives minute instructions for the fashioning of the compass-needle. He gives the preference to a pointed oval form, and describes how the steel must be hardened by heating to whiteness and quenching in water, so that it is "brickle in a manner as glass it selfe," and then be tempered by reheating it over a bar of red hot iron until it is let down to a blue tint. Savery (Philos. Trans., 1729) appears to have been the first to make a systematic examination of the magnetic differences between hard steel and soft iron.

Instructions for touching the needle are given in the Arte de Nauegar of Pedro de Medina (Valladolid, 1545, lib. vi., cap. 1).

217 Page 149, line 8. Page 149, line 9. per multa sæcula.— Compare Porta's assertion (p. 208, English edition) "iron once rubbed will hold the vertue a hundred years." Clearly not a matter within the actual experience of either Porta or Gilbert.

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