On the Magnet, by William Gilbert

Chap. ix.

Whether the terrestrial longitude can be found from the variation.

G rateful would be this work to seamen, and would bring the greatest advance to Geography. But B. Porta in chap. 38 of book 7 is mocked by a vain hope and fruitless opinion. For when he supposes that the magnetick needle would follow order and proportion in moving along meridians, so that "the neerer it is to the east, the more it will decline from the Meridian line, toward the east; and the neerer it comes to the west, the point of the needle will decline the more to the west" (which is totally untrue), he thinks that he has discovered a true index of longitude. But he is mistaken. Nevertheless, admitting and assuming these things (as though they were perfectly true), he makes a large compass indicating degrees and minutes, by which these proportional changes of the versorium might be observed. But those very principles are false, and ill conceived, and very ill considered; for the versorium does not turn more to the east because a journey is made toward the east: and although the variation in the more westerly parts of Europe and the adjoining ocean is to the east and beyond the Azores is changed a little to the west, yet the variation is, in various ways, always uncertain, both on account of longitude and of latitude, and because of the approach toward extensive tracts of land, and also because of the form of the dominant terrestrial eminences; nor does it, as we have before demonstrated, follow the rule of any particular meridian. It is with the same vanity also that Livio Sanuto so greatly torments himself and his readers. As for the fact that the crowd of philosophizers and sailors suppose that the meridian passing through the Azores marks the limits of variation, so that on the other and opposite side of that meridian a magnetick body necessarily respects the poles exactly, which is also the opinion of Joannes Baptista Benedictus and of many other writers on navigation, it is by no means true. Stevinus (on the authority of Hugo Grotius) in his Havenfinding Art distinguishes the variation according to the meridians: "It may be seene in the Table of variations, that in Coruo the Magneticall needle pointeth due North: but after that, the more a man shal goe towards the East, so much the more also shall he see the needle varie towards the East [ἀνατολίζειν], till he come one mile to the Eastward from Plimouth, where the variation comming to the greatest is 13 degr. 24 min. From hence the Northeasting [Anatolismus] beginneth to decrease, til you come to Helmshude (which place is Westward from the North Cape of Finmark) where againe the needle pointeth due North. Now the longitude from Coruo to Helmshude is 60 degr. Which things being well weighed, it appeareth that the greatest variation [Chalyboclysis] 13 degr. 24 minutes at Plimmouth (the longitude whereof is 30 degr.) is in the midst betweene the places where the needle pointeth due North." But although this is in some part true in these places, yet it is by no means true that along the whole of the meridian of the island of Corvo the versorium looks truly to the north; nor on the meridian of Plymouth is the variation in other places 13 deg. 24 min. — nor again in other parts of the meridian of Helmshuda does it point to the true pole. For on the meridian passing through Plymouth in Latitude 60 degrees the North-easterly variation is greater: in Latitude 40 deg. much less; in Latitude 20 deg. very small indeed. On the meridian of Corvo, although there is no variation near the island, yet in Latitude 55 degrees the variation is about ½ a rumbe to the North-west; in Latitude 20 deg. the versorium inclines ¼ of a rumbe toward the East. Consequently the limits of variation are not conveniently determined by means of great circles and meridians, and much less are the ratios of the increment or decrement toward any part of the heavens properly investigated by them. Wherefore the rules of the abatement or augmentation of Northeasting or Northwesting, or of increasing or decreasing the magnetick deviation, can by no means be discovered by such an artifice. The rules which follow later for variation in southern parts of the earth investigated by the same method are altogether vain and absurd. They were put forth by certain Portuguese mariners, but they do not agree with the observations, and the observations themselves are admitted to be bad. But the method of haven-finding in long and distant voyages by carefully observed variation (such as was invented by Stevinus, and mentioned by Grotius) is of great moment, if only proper instruments are in readiness, by which the magnetick deviation can be ascertained with certainty at sea.

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