On the Magnet, by William Gilbert

Chap. v. Loadstone seems to attract Loadstone when in natural position: but repels it when in a contrary one, and brings it back to order.

F irst of all we must declare, in familiar language, what are the apparent and common virtues of the stone; afterward numerous subtilities, hitherto abstruse and unknown, hidden in obscurity, are to be laid open, and the causes of all these (by the unlocking of nature’s secrets) made evident, in their place, by fitting terms and devices. It is trite and commonplace that loadstone draws iron; in the same way too does loadstone attract loadstone. Place the stone which you have seen to have poles clearly distinguished, and marked austral and boreal, in its vessel so as to float; and let the poles be rightly arranged with respect to the plane of the horizon, or, at any rate not much raised or awry: hold in your hand another stone the poles of which are also known; in such a way that its austral pole may be toward the boreal pole of the one that is swimming, and near it, sideways: for the floating stone forthwith follows the other stone (provided it be within its force and dominion) and does not leave off nor forsake it until it adhæres; unless by withdrawing your hand, you cautiously avoid contact. In like manner if you set the boreal pole of the one you hold in your hand opposite the austral pole of the swimming stone, they rush together and follow each other in turn. For contrary poles allure contrary. If, however, you apply in the same way the northern to the northern, and the austral to the austral pole, the one stone puts the other to flight, and it turns aside as though a pilot were pulling at the helm and it makes sail in the opposite ward as one that ploughs the sea, and neither stands anywhere, nor halts, if the other is in pursuit. For stone disposeth stone; the one turns the other around, reduces it to range, and brings it back to harmony with itself. When, however, they come together and are conjoined according to the order of nature, they cohære firmly mutually. For instance, if you were to set the boreal pole of that stone which is in your hand before the tropic of Capricorn of a round floating loadstone (for it will be well to mark out on the round stone, that is the terrella, the mathematical circles as we do on a globe itself), or before any point between the æquator and the austral pole; at once the swimming stone revolves, and so arranges itself that its austral pole touches the other’s boreal pole, and forms a close union with it. In the same way, again, at the other side of the æquator, with the opposite poles, you may produce similar results; and thus by this art and subtilty we exhibit attraction, repulsion, and circular motion for attaining a position of agreement and for declining hostile encounters. Moreover ’tis in one and the same stone that we are thus able to demonstrate all these things and also how the same part of one stone may on division become either boreal or austral. Let A D be an oblong stone, in which A is the northern, D the southern pole; cut this into two equal parts, then set part A in its vessel on the water67, so as to float.


And you will then see68 that A the northern point will turn to the south, as before; in like manner also the point D will move to the north, in the divided stone, as in the whole one. Whereas, of the parts B and C, which were before continuous, and are now divided, the one is southern B, the other northern C. B draws C, desirous to be united, and to be brought back into its pristine continuity: for these which are now two stones were formed out of one: and for this cause C of the one turning itself to B of the other, they mutually attract each other, and when freed from obstacles and relieved of their own weight, as upon the surface of water, they run together and are conjoined. But if you direct the part or point A to C in the other stone, the one repels or turns away from the other: for so were nature perverted, and the form of the stone perturbed, a form that strictly keeps the laws which it imposed upon bodies: hence, when all is not rightly ordered according to nature, comes the flight of one from the other’s perverse position and from the discord, for nature does not allow of an unjust and inequitable peace, or compromise: but wages war and exerts force to make bodies acquiesce well and justly. Rightly arranged, therefore, these mutually attract each other; that is, both stones, the stronger as well as the weaker, run together, and with their whole forces tend to unity, a fact that is evident in all magnets, not in the Æthiopian only, as Pliny supposed. The Æthiopian magnets if they be powerful, like those brought from China, because all strong ones show the effect more quickly and more plainly, attract more strongly in the parts nearest the pole, and turn about until pole looks directly at pole. The pole of a stone more persistently attracts and more rapidly seizes the corresponding part (which they term the adverse part) of another stone; for instance, North pulls South; just so it also summons iron with more vehemence, and the iron cleaves to it more firmly whether it have been previously excited by the magnet, or is untouched. For thus, not without reason hath it been ordained by nature, that the parts nearer to the pole should more firmly attract: but that at the pole itself should be the seat, the throne, as it were, of a consummate and splendid virtue, to which magnetical bodies on being brought are more vehemently attracted, and from which they are with utmost difficulty dislodged. So the poles are the parts which more particularly spurn and thrust away things strange and alien perversely set beside them.

67 Page 16, line 28. Page 16, line 34. aquæ.— This curious use of the dative occurs also on p. 222, line 8.

68 Page 17, line 1. Page 17, line 1. videbis.— The reading vibebis of the 1633 edition is an error.


Last updated Sunday, February 15, 2015 at 19:26