On the Magnet, by William Gilbert

headpiece

Book Fifth.

Chap. i.

On Declination.

I n due course we have now come to that notable experiment, and remarkable motion of magnetick bodies dipping below the horizon by their own rotatory nature; by the knowledge of which is revealed a unity, a concordancy, and a mutual agreement between the terrestrial globe and the loadstone (or the magnetick iron), which is wonderful in itself, and is made manifest by our teaching. This motion we have made known in many striking experiments, and have established its rules; and in the following pages we shall demonstrate the causes of it, in such a way that no sound, logical mind can ever rightly set at nought or disprove our chief magnetick principles. Direction, as also variation, is demonstrated in a horizontal plane, when a balanced magnetick needle comes to rest at some definite point; but declination is seen to be the motion of a needle, starting from that point of the horizon, first balanced on its own axis, then excited by a loadstone, one end or pole of it tending toward the centre of the earth. And we have found that it takes place in proportion to the latitude of each region. But that motion arises in truth, not from any motion from the horizon toward the centre of the earth, but from the turning of the whole magnetick body toward the whole of the earth, as we shall show hereafter. Nor does the iron dip from the horizontal in some oblique sphere, according to the number of degrees of elevation of the pole in the given region, or by an equal arc in the quadrant, as will appear hereafter.

Instrument of the Declination.

Instrument of the Declination

Now how much it dips at every horizon may be ascertained in the first place by a contrivance, which, however, is not so easily made as is that in dials for measuring time, in which the needle turns to the points of the horizon, or in the mariners' compass. From a plank of wood let a smooth and circular instrument be prepared, at least six digits in diameter, and affix this to the side of a square pillar, which stands upright on a wooden base. Divide the periphery of this instrument into 4 quadrants: then each quadrant into 90 degrees. At the centre of the instrument let there be placed a brass peg, at the centre of the end of which let there be a small hollow, well polished. To this wooden instrument let a brass circle or ring be fixed, about two digits in width, with a thin plate or flat rod of the same metal, representing the horizon, fixed across it, through the middle of the circle. In the middle of the horizontal rod let there be another hollow, which shall be exactly opposite the centre of the instrument, where the former hollow was made. Afterward let a needle be fashioned out of steel, as versoria are accustomed to be made. Divide this at right angles by a thin iron axis (like a cross) through the very middle and centre of the wire and the cross-piece. Let this dipping-needle be hung (with the ends of the cross resting in the aforesaid holes) so that it can move freely and evenly on its axis in the most perfect æquilibrium, so accurately that it turns away from no one point or degree marked on the circumference more than from another, but that it can rest quite easily at any. Let it be fixed upright to the front part of the pillar, whilst at the edge of the base is a small versorium to show direction. Afterward touch the iron, suspended by this ingenious method, on both ends with the opposite ends of a loadstone, according to the scientifick method, but rather carefully, lest the needle be twisted in any way; for unless you prepare everything very skilfully and cleverly, you will secure no result. Then let another brass ring be prepared, a little larger, so as to contain the former one; and let a glass or a very thin plate of mica be fitted to one side of it. When this is put over the former ring, the whole space within remains inclosed, and the versorium is not interfered with by dust or winds. Dispose the instrument, thus completed, perpendicularly on its base, and with the small versorium horizontal, in such a way that, while standing perpendicularly, it may be directed toward the exact magnetical point respective. Then the end of the needle which looks toward the north dips below the horizon in northern regions, whilst in southern regions the end of the needle which looks toward the south tends toward the centre of the earth, in a certain proportion (to be explained afterward) to the latitude of the district in question, from the æquator on either side. The needle, however, must be rubbed on a powerful loadstone; otherwise it does not dip to the true point, or else it goes past it, and does not always rest in it. A larger instrument may also be used, whose diameter may be 10 or 12 digits; but in such an instrument more care is needed to balance the versorium truly. Care must be taken that the needle be of steel; also that it be straight; likewise that both ends of the cross-piece be sharp and fixed at right angles to the needle, and that the cross-piece pass through the centre of the needle. As in other magnetical motions there is an exact agreement between the earth and the stone, and a correspondence manifestly apparent to our senses by means of our experiments; so in this declination there is a clear and evident concordance of the terrestrial globe with the loadstone. Of this motion, so important and so long unknown to all men, the following is the sure and true cause. A magnet-stone is moved and turned round until one of its poles being impelled toward the north comes to rest toward a definite point of the horizon. 231This pole, which settles toward the north (as appears from the preceding rules and demonstrations), is the southern, not the boreal; though all before us deemed it to be the boreal, on account of its turning to that point of the horizon. A wire or versorium touched on this pole of the stone turns to the south, and is made into a boreal pole, because it was touched by the southern terminal of the stone. So if the cusp of a versorium be excited in a similar manner, it will be directed toward the southern pole of the earth, and will adjust itself also to it; but the cross (the other end) will be southern, and will turn to the north of the earth (the earth itself being the cause of its motion); for so direction is produced from the disposition of the stone or of the excited iron, and from the verticity of the earth. But declination takes place when a magnetick is turned round toward the body of the earth, with its southern end toward the north, at some latitude away from the æquator. For this is certain and constant, that exactly under the cœlestial æquator, or rather over the æquator of the terrestrial globe, there is no declination of a loadstone or of iron; but in whatever way the iron has been excited or rubbed, it settles in the declination instrument precisely along the plane of the horizon, if it were properly balanced before. Now this occurs thus because, when the magnetick body is at an equal distance from either pole, it dips toward neither by its own versatory nature, but remains evenly directed to the level of the horizon, as if it were resting on a pin or floating free and unhindered on water. But when the magnetick substance is at some latitude away from the æquator, or when either pole of the earth is raised (I do not say raised above the visible horizon, as the commonly imagined pole of the revolving universe in the sky, but above the horizon or its centre, or its proper diameter, æquidistant from the plane of the visible horizon, which is the true elevation of the terrestrial pole), Explanation of declination. then declination is apparent, and the iron inclines toward the body of the earth in its own meridian. Let A B, for example, be the visible horizon of a place; C D the horizontal through the earth, dividing it into equal parts; E F the axis of the earth; G the position of the place. It is manifest that the boreal pole E is elevated above the point C by as much as G is distant from the æquator. Wherefore, since at E the magnetick needle stands perpendicularly in its proper turning (as we have often shown before), so now at G there is a certain tendency to turn in proportion to the latitude (the magnetick dipping below the plane of the horizon), and the magnetick body intersects the horizon at unequal angles, and exhibits a declination below the horizon. For the same reason, if the declinatory needle be placed at G, its southern end, the one namely which is directed toward the North, dips below the plane of the visible horizon A B. And so there is the greatest difference between a right sphere232 and a polar or parallel sphere, in which the pole is at the very Zenith. For in a right sphere the needle is parallel to the plane of the horizon; but when the cœlestial pole is vertically overhead, or when the pole of the earth is itself the place of the region, then the needle is perpendicular to the horizon. This is shown by a round stone. Let a small dipping-needle, of two digits length (rubbed with a magnet), be hung in the air like a balance, and let the stone be carefully placed under it; and first let the terrella be at right angles, as in a right sphere, and as in the first figure; for so the magnetick needle will remain in equilibrium. But in an oblique position of the terrella, as in an oblique sphere, and in the second figure, the needle dips obliquely at one end toward the near pole, but does not rest on the pole, nor is its dip ruled by the pole, but by the body and mass of the whole; for the dip in higher latitudes passes beyond the pole. But in the third position of the terrella the needle is perpendicular; because the pole of the stone is placed at the top, and the needle tending straight toward the body reaches to the pole. The cross in the preceding figures always turns toward the boreal pole of the terrella, having been touched by the boreal pole of the terrella; the cusp of the needle, having been touched by the southern pole of the stone, turns to the south. Thus one may see on a terrella the level, oblique, and perpendicular positions of a magnetick needle. *

Examples of declination on terrella.

231 Page 187, line 14. Page 187, line 16. hic qui versus boream constitit . . . meridionalis est, non borealis, quem antè nos omnes existimabant esse borealem.— Earlier on, on pages 15 and 125, Gilbert had mentioned this point. His insistence caused Barlowe (Magneticall Aduertisements, 1616, p. 4) to speak of the south-pointing end of the needle as the "true North," and thereby drew on himself the animadversions of Marke Ridley.

232 Page 188, line 15. Page 188, line 16. in rectâ sphærâ.— See note to p. 134.

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