On the Magnet, by William Gilbert

Chap. xii.

Magnetick force is animate, or imitates life; and in many things surpasses human life, while this is bound up in the organick body.

A loadstone is a wonderful thing in very many experiments, and like a living creature. And one of its remarkable virtues is that which the ancients considered to be a living soul in the sky, in the globes and in the stars, in the sun and in the moon. For they suspected that such various motions could not arise without a divine and animate nature, immense bodies turned about in fixed times, and wonderful powers infused into other bodies; whereby the whole universe flourishes in most beautiful variety, through this primary form of the globes themselves. The ancients, as Thales, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, Archelaus, Pythagoras, Empedocles, Parmenides, Plato, and all the Platonists, and not only the older Greeks, but the Egyptians and Chaldæans, seek for some universal life in the universe, and affirm that the whole universe is endowed with life. Aristotle affirms that not the whole universe is animate, but only the sky; but he maintains that its elements are inanimate; whilst the stars themselves are animate. We, however, find this life in globes only and in their homogenic parts; and though it is not the same in all globes (for it is much more eminent in the sun and in certain stars than in others of less nobility) yet in very many the lives of the globes agree in their powers. For each several homogenic part draws to its own globe in a similar manner, and has an inclination to the common direction of the whole in the universe; and the effused forms extend outward in all, and are carried out into an orbe, and have bounds of their own; hence the order and regularity of the motions and rotations of all the planets, and their courses, not wandering away, but fixed and determined. Wherefore Aristotle concedes life to the sphæres themselves and to the orbes of the heavens (which he feigns), because they are suitable and fitted for a circular motion and actions, and are carried along in fixed and definite courses. It is surely wonderful, why the globe of the earth alone with its emanations is condemned by him and his followers and cast into exile (as senseless and lifeless), and driven out of all the perfection of the excellent universe. It is treated as a small corpuscle in comparison with the whole, and in the numerous concourse of many thousands it is obscure, disregarded, and unhonoured. With it also they connect the kindred elements, in a like unhappiness, wretched and neglected. Let this therefore be looked upon as a monstrosity in the Aristotelian universe, in which everything is perfect, vigorous, animated; whilst the earth alone, an unhappy portion, is paltry, imperfect, dead, inanimate, and decadent. But on the other hand Hermes, Zoroaster, Orpheus, recognize a universal life. We, however, consider that the whole universe is animated, and that all the globes, all the stars, and also the noble earth have been governed since the beginning by their own appointed souls and have the motives of self-conservation. Nor are there wanting, either implanted in their homogenic nature or scattered through their homogenic substance, organs suitable for organic activity, although these are not fashioned of flesh and blood as animals, or composed of regular limbs, which are also hardly perceptible in certain plants and vegetables; since regular limbs are not necessary for all life. Nor can any organs be discerned or imagined by us in any of the stars, the sun, or the planets, which are specially operative in the universe; yet they live and imbue with life the small particles in the prominences on the earth. If there be anything of which men can boast, it is in fact life, intelligence; for the other animals are ennobled by life; God also (by whose nod all things are ruled) is a living soul. Who therefore will demand organs for the divine intelligences, which rise superior to every combination of organs and are not restrained by materialized organs? But in the several bodies of the stars the implanted force acts otherwise than in those divine existences which are supernaturally ordained; and in the stars, the sources of things, otherwise than in animals; in animals again otherwise than in plants. Miserable were the condition of the stars, abject the lot of the earth, if that wonderful dignity of life be denied to them, which is conceded to worms, ants, moths, plants, and toadstools; for thus worms, moths, grubs would be bodies more honoured and perfect in nature; for without life no body is excellent, valuable, or distinguished. But since living bodies arise and receive life from the earth and the sun, and grass grows on the earth apart from any seeds thrown down (as when soil is dug up from deep down in the earth, and put on some very high place or on a very high tower, in a sunny spot, not so long after various grasses spring up unbidden) it is not likely that they can produce what is not in them; but they awaken life, and therefore they are living. Therefore the bodies of the globes, as important parts of the universe, in order that they might be independent and that they might continue in that condition, had a need for souls to be united with them, without which there can be neither life, nor primary activity, nor motion, nor coalition, nor controlling power, nor harmony, nor endeavour, nor sympathy; and without which there would be no generation of anything, no alternations of the seasons, no propagation; but all things would be carried this way and that, and the whole universe would fall into wretchedest Chaos, the earth in short would be vacant, dead, and useless. But it is only on the superficies of the globes that the concourse of living and animated beings is clearly perceived, in the great and pleasing variety of which the great master-workman is well pleased. But those souls which are restrained within a kind of barrier and in prison cells, as it were, do not emit immaterial effused forms outside the limits of their bodies; and bodies are not moved by them without labour and waste. They are brought and carried away by a breath; and when this has calmed down or been suppressed by some untoward influence, their bodies lie like the dregs of the universe and as the refuse of the globes. But the globes themselves remain and continue from year to year, move, and advance, and complete their courses, without waste or weariness. The human soul uses reason, sees many things, inquires about many more; but even the best instructed receives by his external senses (as through a lattice) light and the beginnings of knowledge. Hence come so many errors and follies, by which our judgments and the actions of our lives are perverted; so that few or none order their actions rightly and justly. But the magnetick force of the earth and the formate life or living form of the globes, without perception, without error, without injury from ills and diseases, so present with us, has an implanted activity, vigorous through the whole material mass, fixed, constant, directive, executive, governing, consentient; by which the generation and death of all things are carried on upon the surface. For, without that motion, by which the daily revolution is performed, all earthly things around us would ever remain savage and neglected, and more than deserted and absolutely idle. But those motions in the sources of nature are not caused by thinking, by petty syllogisms, and theories, as human actions, which are wavering, imperfect, and undecided; but along with them reason, instruction, knowledge, discrimination have their origin, from which definite and determined actions arise, from the very foundations that have been laid and the very beginnings of the universe; which we, on account of the infirmity of our minds, cannot comprehend. Wherefore Thales, not without cause (as Aristotle relates in his book De Anima), held that the loadstone was animate, being a part and a choice offspring of its animate mother the earth.

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