On the Magnet, by William Gilbert

Chap. vi.

On the cause of the definite time, of an entire rotation of the Earth.

D iurnal motion is due to causes which have now to be sought, arising from magnetick vigour and from the confederated bodies; that is to say, why the diurnal rotation of the Earth is completed in the space of twenty-four hours. For no curious art, whether of Clepsydras or of sand-clocks, or those contrivances of little toothed wheels which are set in motion by weights, or by the force of a bent steel band, can discover any degree of difference in the time. But as soon as the diurnal rotation has been gone through, it at once begins over again. But we would take as the day the absolute turning of a meridian of the Earth, from sun to sun. This is somewhat greater than one whole revolution of it; in this way the yearly course is completed in 365 and nearly ¼ turnings with respect to the sun. From this sure and regular motion of the Earth, the number and time of 365 days, 5 hours, 55 minutes, in solar tropical years is always certain and definite, except that there are some slight differences due to other causes. The Earth therefore revolves not fortuitously, or by chance, or precipitately; but with a rather high intelligence, equably, and with a wondrous regularity, in no other way than all the rest of the movable stars, which have definite periods belonging to their motions. For the Sun himself being the agent and incitor of the universe in motion, other wandering globes set within the range of his forces, when acted on and stirred, also regulate each its own proper courses by its own forces; and they are turned about in periods corresponding to the extent of their greater rotation, and the differences of their effused forces, and their intelligence for higher good. And for that cause Saturn, having a wider orbit, is borne round it in a longer time, Jupiter a shorter, and Mars still less; while Venus takes nine months, Mercury 80 days, on the hypotheses of Copernicus; the Moon going round the Earth with respect to the Sun in 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes. We have asserted that the Earth moves circularly about its centre, completing a day by an entire revolution with respect to the Sun. The Moon revolves in a monthly course around the Earth, and, repeating a conjunction with the Sun after a former synodic conjunction, constitutes the month or Lunar day. The Moon's mean concentrick orbit, according to numerous observations of Copernicus and later astronomers, is found to be distant 29 and about 5/6 diameters of the Earth from the Earth's centre. The Moon's revolution with respect to the Sun takes place in 29½ days and 44 minutes of time. We reckon the motion with respect to the sun, not the periodic motion, just as a day is one entire revolution of the Earth with respect to the Sun, not one periodick revolution; because the Sun is the cause of lunar as of terrestrial motion: also, because (on the hypotheses of later observers) the synodical month is truly periodic, on account of the Earth's motion in a great orbit. The proportion of diameters to circumferences is the same. And the concentrick orbit of the Moon contains twice over 29 and ½ great circles of the Earth & a little more. The Moon & the Earth, then, agree together in a double proportion of motion; & the Earth moves in the space of twenty-four hours, in its diurnal motion; because the Moon has a motion proportional to the Earth, but the Earth a motion agreeing with the lunar motion in a nearly double proportion. There is some difference in details, because the distances of the stars in details have not been examined sufficiently exactly, nor are mathematicians as yet agreed about them. The Earth therefore revolves in a space of 24 hours, as the Moon in her monthly course, by a magnetick confederation of both stars, the globes being forwarded in their movement by the Sun, according to the proportion of their orbits, as Aristotle allows, de Cœlo, bk. ii., chap. 10. "It happens" (he says) "that the motions are performed through a proportion existing between them severally, namely, at the same intervals in which some are swifter, others slower," But it is more agreeable to the relation between the Moon and the Earth, that that harmony of motion should be due to the fact that they are bodies rather near together, and very like each other in nature and substance, and that the Moon has more evident effects upon the Earth than the rest of the stars, the Sun excepted; also because the Moon alone of all the planets conducts her revolutions, directly (however diverse even), with reference to the Earth's centre, and is especially akin to the Earth, and bound to it as with chains. This, then, is the true symmetry and harmony between the motions of the Earth and the Moon; not that old oft-besung harmony of cœlestial motions, which assumes that the nearer any sphære is to the Primum Mobile and that fictitious and pretended rapidest Prime Motion, the less does it offer resistance thereto, and the slower it is borne by its own motion from west to east: but that the more remote it is, the greater is its velocity, and the more freely does it complete its own movement; and therefore that the Moon (being at the greatest distance from the Primum Mobile) revolves the most swiftly. Those vain tales have been conceded in order that the Primum Mobile may be accepted, and be thought to have certain effects in retarding the motions of the lower heavens; as though the motion of the stars arose from retardation, and were not inherent and natural; and as though a furious force were perpetually driving the rest of the heaven (except only the Primum Mobile) with frenzied incitations. Much more likely is it that the stars are borne around symmetrically by their own forces, with a certain mutual concert and harmony.


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