On the Magnet, by William Gilbert


Preface to the Candid Reader, Studious of The Magnetick Philosophy.

Clearer proofs, in the discovery of secrets, and in the investigation of the hidden causes of things, being afforded by trustworthy experiments and by demonstrated arguments, than by the probable guesses and opinions of the ordinary professors of philosophy: so, therefore, that the noble substance of that great magnet, our common mother (the earth), hitherto quite unknown, and the conspicuous and exalted powers of this our globe, may be the better understood, we have proposed to begin with the common magnetick, stony, and iron material, and with magnetical bodies, and with the nearer parts of the earth which we can reach with our hands and perceive with our senses; then to proceed with demonstrable magnetick experiments; and so penetrate, for the first time, into the innermost parts of the earth. For after we had, in order finally to learn the true substance of the globe, seen and thoroughly examined many of those things which have been obtained from mountain heights or ocean depths, or from the profoundest caverns and from hidden mines: we applied much prolonged labour on investigating the magnetical forces; so wonderful indeed are they, compared with the forces of all other minerals, surpassing even the virtues of all other bodies about us. Nor have we found this our labour idle or unfruitful; since daily during our experimenting, new and unexpected properties came to light; and our Philosophy hath grown so much from the things diligently observed, that we have attempted to expound the interior parts of the terrene globe, and its native substance, upon magnetick principles; and to reveal to men the earth (our common mother), and to point it out as if with the finger, by real demonstrations and by experiments manifestly apparent to the senses. And as geometry ascends from sundry very small and very easy principles to the greatest and most difficult; by which the wit of man climbs above the firmament: so our magnetical doctrine and science first sets forth in convenient order the things which are less obscure; from these there come to light others that are more remarkable; and at length in due order there are opened the concealed and most secret things of the globe of the earth, and the causes are made known of those things which, either through the ignorance of the ancients or the neglect of moderns, have remained unrecognized and overlooked. But why should I, in so vast an Ocean of Books by which the minds of studious men are troubled and fatigued, through which very foolish productions the world and unreasoning men are intoxicated, and puffed up, rave and create literary broils, and while professing to be philosophers, physicians, mathematicians and astrologers, neglect and despise men of learning: why should I, I say, add aught further to this so-perturbed republick of letters, and expose this noble philosophy, which seems new and incredible by reason of so many things hitherto unrevealed, to be damned and torn to pieces by the maledictions of those who are either already sworn to the opinions of other men, or are foolish corruptors of good arts, learned idiots, grammatists, sophists, wranglers, and perverse little folk? But to you alone, true philosophizers, honest men, who seek knowledge not from books only but from things themselves, have I addressed these magnetical principles in this new sort of Philosophizing. But if any see not fit to assent to these self-same opinions and paradoxes, let them nevertheless mark the great array of experiments and discoveries (by which notably every philosophy flourisheth), which have been wrought out and demonstrated by us with many pains and vigils and expenses. In these rejoice, and employ them to better uses, if ye shall be able. I know how arduous it is to give freshness to old things, lustre to the antiquated, light to the dark, grace to the despised, credibility to the doubtful; so much the more by far is it difficult to win and establish some authority for things new and unheard-of, in the face of all the opinions of all men. Nor for that do we care, since philosophizing, as we deemed, is for the few. To our own discoveries and experiments we have affixed asterisks, larger and smaller, according to the importance and subtlety of the matter. Whoso desireth to make trial of the same experiments, let him handle the substances, not negligently and carelessly, but prudently, deftly, and in the proper way; nor let him (when a thing doth not succeed) ignorantly denounce our discoveries: for nothing hath been set down in these books which hath not been explored and many times performed and repeated amongst us. Many things in our reasonings and hypotheses will, perchance, at first sight, seem rather hard, when they are foreign to the commonly received opinion; yet I doubt not but that hereafter they will yet obtain authority from the demonstrations themselves. Wherefore in magnetical science, they who have made most progress, trust most in and profit most by the hypotheses; nor will anything readily become certain to any one in a magnetical philosophy in which all or at least most points are not ascertained. This nature-knowledge is almost entirely new and unheard-of, save what few matters a very few writers have handed down concerning certain common magnetical powers. Wherefore we but seldom quote antient Greek authors in our support, because neither by using greek arguments nor greek words can the truth be demonstrated or elucidated either more precisely or more significantly. For our doctrine magnetical is at variance with most of their principles and dogmas. Nor have we brought to this work any pretence of eloquence or adornments of words; but this only have we done, that things difficult and unknown might be so handled by us, in such a form of speech, and in such words as are needed to be clearly understood: Sometimes therefore we use new and unusual words, not that by means of foolish veils of vocabularies we should cover over the facts with shades and mists (as Alchemists are wont to do) but that hidden things which have no name, never having been hitherto perceived, may be plainly and correctly enunciated. After describing our magnetical experiments and our information of the homogenick parts of the earth, we proceed to the general nature of the whole globe; wherein it is permitted us to philosophize freely and with the same liberty which the Egyptians, Greeks, and Latins formerly used in publishing their dogmas: whereof very many errors have been handed down in turn to later authors: and in which smatterers still persist, and wander as though in perpetual darkness. To those early forefathers of philosophy, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Ptolemy, Hippocrates, and Galen, let due honour be ever paid: for by them wisdom hath been diffused to posterity; but our age hath detected and brought to light very many facts which they, were they now alive, would gladly have accepted. Wherefore we also have not hesitated to expound in demonstrable hypotheses those things which we have discovered by long experience. Farewell.


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