On the Magnet, by William Gilbert

Chap. ii.

The Magnetick axis of the Earth persists invariable.

A s in the very first beginnings of the moving world, the earth's magnetick axis passed through the midst of the earth: so now it tends through the centre to the same points of the superficies; the circle and plane of the æquinoctial line also persisting. For not without the vastest overthrow of the terrene mass can these natural boundaries be changed, as it is easy to gather from magnetick demonstrations. Wherfore the opinion of Dominicus Maria of Ferrara, a most talented man, who was the teacher of Nicolas Copernicus, must be cancelled; a view which, according to certain observations of his own, is as follows.241 "I," he says, "in former years while studying Ptolemy's Geographia discovered that the elevations of the North pole placed by him in the several regions, fall short of what they are in our time by one degree and ten minutes: which divergence can by no means be ascribed to an error of the tables: For it is not credible that the whole series in the book is equally wrong in the figures of the tables: Hence it is necessary to allow that the North pole has been tilted toward the vertical point. Accordingly a lengthy observation has already begun to disclose to us things hidden from our forefathers; not indeed through any sloth of theirs, but because they lacked the prolonged observation of their predecessors: For before Ptolemy very few places were observed with regard to the elevations of the pole, as he himself also bears witness at the beginning of his Cosmographia: (For, says he) Hipparchus alone hath handed down to us the latitudes of a few places, but a good many have noted those of distances; especially those which lie toward sunrise or sunset were received by some general tradition, not owing to any sloth on the part of authors themselves, but to the fact that there was as yet no practice of more exact mathematicks. 'Tis accordingly no wonder, if our predecessors did not mark this very slow motion: For in one thousand and seventy years it shows itself to be displaced scarce one degree toward the apex of dwellers upon the earth. The strait of Gibraltar shows this, where in Ptolemy's time the North pole appears elevated 36 degrees and a quarter from the Horizon: whereas now it is 37 and two-fifths. The like divergence is also shown at Leucopetra in Calabria, and at particular spots in Italy, namely those which have not changed from Ptolemy's time to our own. And so by reason of this movement, places now inhabited will some day become deserted, while those regions which are now parched at the torrid zone will, though long hence, be reduced to our temper of climate. Thus, as in a course of three hundred and ninety five thousands of years, is that very slow movement completed." Thus, according to these observations of Dominicus Maria, the North pole is at a higher elevation, and the latitudes of places are greater than formerly; whence he argues a change of latitudes. Now, however, Stadius, taking just the contrary view, proves by observations that the latitudes have decreased. For he says: "The latitude of Rome in Ptolemy's Geographia is 41 degrees ⅔: and that you may not suppose any error of reckoning to have crept in on the part of Ptolemy, on the day of the Æquinox in the city of Rome, the ninth part of the gnomon of the sun-dial is lacking in shadow, as Pliny relates and Vitruvius witnesseth in his ninth book." But the observation of moderns (according to Erasmus Rheinholdus) gives the same in our time as 41 degrees with a sixth: so that you are in doubt as to half of one degree in the centre of the world, whether you show it to have decreased by the earth's obliquity of motion. One may see then how from inexact observations men rashly conceive new and contradictory opinions and imagine absurd motions of the mechanism of the earth. For since Ptolemy only received certain latitudes from Hipparchus, and did not in very many places make the observations himself; it is likely that he himself, knowing the position of the places, formed his estimate of the latitude of cities from probable conjecture only, and then placed it in the maps. Thus one may see, in the case of our own Britain, that the latitudes of cities are wrong by two or three degrees, as experience teaches. Wherefore all the less should we from those mistakes infer a new motion, or let the noble magnetick nature of the earth be debased for an opinion so lightly conceived. Moreover, those mistakes crept the more readily into geography, from the fact that the magnetick virtue was utterly unknown to those geographers. Besides, observations of latitudes cannot be made sufficiently exactly, except by experts, using also finer instruments, and taking into account the refraction of the lights.

241 Page 213, line 1. Page 213, line 2. The passage here quoted from Dominicus Maria Ferrariensis, otherwise known as the astronomer Novara, does not occur in any known writing of that famous man. It is, however, quoted as being by Novara in at least three other writings of the same epoch. See the Tabulæ secvndorum mobilium coelestium of Maginus (Venet., 1585, p. 29, line 19 to p. 30, line 11); the Eratosthenes Batavvs of Willebrord Snell (Lugd. Batav., 1617, pp. 40-42); and the Almagesti novi (Pars Posterior) of Riccioli (Bonon., 1651, p. 348). The original document appears to have perisht. See a notice by M. Curtze in Boncompagni's Bullettino di Bibliografia, T. iv., April, 1871.

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