On the Magnet, by William Gilbert

Chap. v. Arguments of those denying the Earth’s motion, and their confutation.

N ow it will not be superfluous to weigh well the arguments of those who say the Earth does not move; that we may be better able to satisfy the crowd of philosophizers who assert that this constancy and stability of the Earth is confirmed by the most convincing arguments. Aristotle does not allow that the Earth moves circularly, on the ground that each several part of it would be affected by this particular motion; that whereas now all the separate parts of the Earth are borne toward the middle in straight lines, that circular motion would be violent, and strange to nature, and not enduring. But it has been before proved that all actual portions of the Earth move in a circle, and that all magnetick bodies (fitly disposed) are borne around in an orbe. They are borne, however, toward the centre of the Earth in a straight line (if the way be open) by a motion of aggregation as though to their own origin: they move by various motions agreeably to the conformation of the whole: a terrella is moved circularly by its innate forces. “Besides” (says he), “all things which are borne in an orbe, afterwards would seem to be abandoned by the first motion, and to be borne by several motions besides the first. The Earth must also be borne on by two sorts of motion, whether it be situate around a mid-point, or in the middle site of the universe: and if this were so, there must needs be at one time an advance, at another time a retrogression of the fixed stars: This, however, does not seem to be the case, but they rise and set always the same in the same places.” But it by no means follows that a double motion must be assigned to the Earth. But if there be but one diurnal motion of the Earth around its poles, who does not see that the stars must always in the same manner rise and set at the same points of the horizon, even although there be another motion about which we are not disputing: since the mutations in the smaller orbit cause no variation of aspect in the fixed stars owing to their great distance, unless the axis of the Earth have varied its position, concerning which we raise a question when speaking of the cause of the præcession of the æquinoxes. In this argument are many flaws. For if the Earth revolve, that we asserted must needs occur not by reason of the first sphære, but of its innate forces. But if it were set in motion by the first sphære, there would be no successions of days and nights, for it would continue its course along with the Primum Mobile. But that the Earth is affected by a double movement at the time when it rotates around its own centre, because the rest of the stars move with a double motion, does not follow. Besides, he does not well consider the argument, nor do his interpreters understand the same. τούτου δὲ συμβαίνοντος, ἀναγκαῖον γίγνεσθαι παρόδους καὶ τροπὰς τῶν ἐνδεδεμένων ἄστρων. (Arist. de Cœlo, ii. chap. 14.) That is, “If this be so, there must needs be changes, and retrogressions of the fixed stars.” What some interpret as retrogressions or regressions, and changes of the fixed stars, others explain as diversions: which terms can in no way be understood of axial motion, unless he meant that the Earth moved by the Primum Mobile is borne and turned over other poles diverse even from those which correspond to the first sphære, which is altogether absurd. Other later theorists suppose that the eastern ocean ought to be impelled so into western regions by that motion, that those parts of the Earth which are dry and free from water would be daily flooded by the eastern ocean. But the ocean is not acted upon by that movement, since nothing opposes it; and even the whole atmosphere is carried round: And for that reason in the Earth’s course all the things in the air are not left behind by us nor do they seem to move toward the West: Wherefore also the clouds are at rest in the air, unless the force of the winds drive them; and objects which are projected into the air fall again into their own place. But those foolish folk who think that towers, temples, and buildings must necessarily be shaken and overthrown by the Earth’s motion, may fear lest men at the Antipodes should slip off into an opposite orbe, or that ships when sailing round the entire 249globe should (as soon as they have dipped under the plane of our horizon) fall into the opposite region of the sky. But those follies are old wives’ gossip, and the rubbish of certain philosophizers, men who, when they essay to treat of the highest truths and the fabrick of the universe, and hazard anything, can scarce understand aught ultra crepidam. They would have the Earth to be the centre of a circle; and therefore to rest motionless amid the rotation. But neither the stars nor the wandering globes move about the Earth’s centre: the high heaven also does not move circularly round the Earth’s centre; nor if the Earth were in the centre, is it a centre itself, but a body around a centre. Nor is it confident with reason that the heavenly bodies of the Peripateticks should attend on a centre so decadent and perishable as that of the Earth. They think that Nature seeks rest for the generation of things, and for promoting their increase while growing; and that accordingly the whole Earth is at rest. And yet all generation takes place from motion, without which the universal nature of things would become torpid. The motion of the Sun, the motion of the Moon, cause changes; the motion of the Earth awakens the internal breath of the globe; animals themselves do not live without motion, and the ceaseless activity of the heart and arteries. For of no moment are the arguments for a simple straight motion toward the centre, that this is the only kind in the Earth, and that in a simple body there is one motion only and that a simple one. For that straight motion is only a tendency toward their own origin, not of the parts of the Earth only, but of those of the Sun also, of the Moon, and of the rest of the sphæres which also move in an orbit. Joannes Costæus, who raises doubts concerning the cause of the Earth’s motion, looking for it externally and internally, understands magnetick vigour to be internal, active, and disponent; also that the Sun is an external promotive cause, and that the Earth is not so vile and abject a body as it is generally considered. Accordingly there is a diurnal movement on the part of the Earth for its own sake and for its advantage. Those who make out that that terrestrial motion (if such there be) takes place not only in longitude, but also in latitude, talk nonsense. For Nature has set in the Earth determinate poles, and definite unconfused revolutions. Thus the Moon revolves with respect to the Sun in a monthly course; yet having her own definite poles, facing determinate parts of the heaven. To suppose that the air moves the Earth would be ridiculous. For air is only exhalation, and is an enveloping effluvium from the Earth itself; the winds also are only a rush of the exhalations in some part near the Earth’s surface; the height of its motion is slight, and in all regions there are various winds unlike and contrary. Some writers, not finding in the matter of the Earth the cause (for they say that they find nothing except solidity and consistency), deny it to be in its form; and they only admit as qualities of the Earth cold and dryness, which are unable to move the Earth. The Stoicks attribute a soul to the Earth, whence they pronounce (amid the laughter of the learned) the Earth to be an animal. This magnetick form, whether vigour or soul, is astral. Let the learned lament and bewail the fact that none of those old Peripateticks, nor even those common philosophizers heretofore, nor Joannes Costæus, who mocks at such things, were able to apprehend this grand and important natural fact. But as to the notion that surface inequality of mountains and valleys would prevent the Earth’s diurnal revolution, there is nothing in it: for they do not mar the Earth’s roundness, being but slight excrescences compared with the whole Earth; nor does the Earth revolve alone without its emanations. Beyond the emanations, there is no renitency. There is no more labour exerted in the Earth’s motion than in the march of the rest of the Stars: nor is it excelled in dignity by some stars. To say that it is frivolous to suppose that the Earth rather seeks a view of the Sun, than the Sun of the Earth, is a mark of great obstinacy and unwisdom. Of the theory of the rotation we have often spoken. If anyone seek the cause of the revolution, or of other tendency of the Earth, from the sea surrounding it, or from the motion of the air, or from the Earth’s gravity, he would be no less silly as a theorist than those who stubbornly ground their opinions on the sentiments of the ancients. Ptolemy’s reasonings are of no weight; for when our true principles are laid down, the truth comes to light, and it is superfluous to refute them. Let Costæus recognize and philosophers see how unfruitful and vain a thing it becomes then to take one’s stand on the principles and unproved opinions of certain ancients. Some raise a doubt how it can be that, if the Earth move round its own axis, a globe of iron or of lead dropped from the highest point of a tower falls exactly perpendicularly to a spot of the Earth below itself. Also how it is that cannon balls from a large culverin, fired with the same quantity and strength of powder, in the same direction and at a like elevation through the same air, would be cast at a like distance from a given spot both Eastward and Westward, supposing the Earth to move Eastward. But those who bring forward this kind of argument are being misled: not attending to the nature of primary globes, and the combination of parts with their globes, even though they be not adjoined by solid parts. Whereas the motion of the Earth in the diurnal revolution does not involve the separation of her more solid circumference from the surrounding bodies; but all her effluvia surround her, and in them heavy bodies projected in any way by force, move on uniformly along with the Earth in general coherence. And this also takes place in all primary bodies, the Sun, the Moon, the Earth, the parts betaking themselves to their first origins and sources, with which they connect themselves with the same appetence as terrene things, which we call heavy, with the Earth. So lunar things tend to the Moon, solar things to the Sun, within the orbes of their own effluvia. The emanations hold together by continuity of substance, and heavy bodies are also united with the Earth by their own gravity, and move on together in the general motion: especially when there is no renitency of bodies in the way. And for this cause, on account of the Earth’s diurnal revolution, bodies are neither set in motion, nor retarded; they do not overtake it, nor do they fall short behind it when violently projected toward East or West.

Body falls perpendicularly.

Let E F G be the Earth’s globe, A its centre, L E the ascending effluvia: Just as the orbe of the effluvia progresses with the Earth, so also does the unmoved part of the circle at the straight line L E progress along with the general revolution. At L and E, a heavy body, M, falls perpendicularly toward E, taking the shortest way to the centre, nor is that right movement of weight, or of aggregation compounded with a circular movement, but is a simple right motion, never leaving the line L E. But when thrown with an equal force from E toward F, and from E toward G, it completes an equal distance on either side, even though the daily rotation of the Earth is in process: just as twenty paces of a man mark an equal space whether toward East or West: so the Earth’s diurnal motion is by no means refuted by the illustrious Tycho Brahe, through arguments such as these.

The earth is balanced. The tendency toward its origin (which, in the case of the Earth, is called by Philosophers weight) causes no resistance to the diurnal revolution, nor does it direct the Earth, nor does it retain the parts of the Earth in place, for in regard to the Earth’s solidity they are imponderous, nor do they incline further, but are at rest in the mass. If there be a flaw in the mass, such as a deep cavity (say 1000 fathoms), a homogenic portion of the Earth, or compacted terrestrial matter, descends through that space (whether filled with water or air) toward an origin more assured than air or water, seeking a solid globe. But the centre of the Earth, as also the Earth as a whole, is imponderous; the separated parts tend toward their own origin, but that tendency we call weight; the parts united are at rest; and even if they were ponderable, they would introduce no hindrance to the diurnal revolution. For if around the axis A B, there be a weight at C, it is balanced from E; if at F, from G; if at H, from I. So internally at L, they are balanced from M: the whole globe, then, having a natural axis, is balanced in æquilibrio, and is easily set in motion by the slighted cause, but especially because the Earth in her own place is nowise heavy nor lacking in balance. Therefore weight neither hinders the diurnal revolution, nor influences either the direction or continuance in position. Wherefore it is manifest that no sufficiently strong reason has yet been found out by Philosophers against the motion of the Earth.

249 Page 227, line 6. Page 227, line 7. This line is left out in the 1628 edition. In the 1633 edition it was also left out by the printer, and subsequently printed in in the margin, being page 219 of that edition.


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