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"Sometimes I'd divide
And burn in many places: on the topmast,
The yards, and bowsprit would I flame distinctly,
Then meet and join."
There are but two passages, so far as I have been able to discover, in which the poet makes reference to the attraction of iron. The first is in "Midsummer Night's Dream" (act ii., scene 2):
"You draw me, you hard-hearted adamant,
But yet you draw not iron, for my heart
Is true as steel. Leave you your power to draw,
The second is in "Troilus and Cressida" (act iii., scene 2):
“truth tir'd with iteration
As true as steel, as plantage to the moon,
As sun to day, as turtle to her mate,
As iron to adamant."
These lines are commonly taken as referring to magnetism, the word "adamant" standing for "loadstone." The adamant, however, is not a magnet, but it heads Gilbert's new list of electrics which he says will draw all metals. If, therefore, the word be taken in its literal meaning, the passages quoted might be regarded as setting forth the electric properties of the diamond, from which some personal communication between Gilbert and Shakespeare might be inferred. The same idea is suggested by a curious design which heads one of the divisions of Gilbert's book. All of the embellishments exhibit the royal arms and the letters E. R., combined with cherubs, angels, flowers, and other fanciful patterns, not heraldic, and decidedly incongruous in a scientific treatise. This design shows the monogram of the queen, flanked on the left by a falcon, crowned and holding a scepter. The crowned and sceptered falcon was the "badge" of Anne Boleyn, and was afterward used by Elizabeth. On the right of the design is a phoenix rising from the flames. However much the roses, angels, and the use of her badge might be regarded as subtle flattery of the queen, it is difficult to construe a phoenix as conveying such meaning. There is a passage in the play of King Henry VIII. (which probably first appeared
three years after Gilbert's book), which seems to fit the design in a curious way. In the play the infant Elizabeth is presented to the king, and Cranmer pronounces his prophecy of her future happy reign. Therein occur these lines:
"Nor shall this peace sleep with her. But as when
The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phoenix,
Her ashes new create another heir
As great in admiration as herself;
So shall she leave her blessedness to one,
When Heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness,
Who, from the sacred ashes of her honor,
Shall star-like rise, as great in fame as she was,
And so stand fixed."
It is curious to note that the crown hovers over the head of the phoenix. Whether there is anything more than coincidence in the similarity of the rhetorical figure in the quotation and the showing of the actual design, I leave to Shakespearean students.
Other than the above somewhat hypothetical examples, I have found no suggestion in Shakespeare that he had obtained any knowledge of Gilbert's discoveries. Of course the theory may be advanced, on the evidence furnished by the "Novum Organon," that Bacon omitted from his (not Shakespeare's) plays all reference to the discoveries of Gilbert as likely somehow to impair his own glory; but there are difficulties about this which Mr. Ignatius Donnelly alone can solve, and he is welcome to both the theory and the task.
Bacon, further than giving, in his "Physiological Remains," a list of bodies attractive and non-attractive which do not differ materially from those cited by Gilbert, appears, as Humboldt asserts, to have made little practical study of the science. Nor did his plea for the logic of physical demonstration apparently lead others to follow actively in Gilbert's track. Thirty years elapsed before Nicolaus Cabæus, a Jesuit of Ferrara, repeated Gilbert's electrical experiments, and then added white wax, various gums, and gypsum to the list of electrics.
The virus of the "paper philosophy" was still potent, and the philosophers preferred to theorize about the nature of electricity rather than to heed Gilbert's precepts. Gilbert had supposed that electrics act through an effluvium excited by friction.
Bacon inferred an appetite "which does not well endure the air, but prefers some other tangible body if it be found at hand," a sort of material elective affinity. Cabæus suggested an effluvium which" attenuateth and impelleth the neighbor air, which, returning home in a gyration, carrieth with it the obvious bodies into the electric." Sir Kenelm Digby, writing in 1644, improved on this by evolving the idea of "steams of bituminous vapor" which, like the "little tender horns of snails," are projected from the electric because rarefied by heat, and then, meeting any "light and spungic body, they would pierce in it and settle in it," and then get cool and contract, and would so pull back the aforesaid body, provided it were "of a competent bignesse for them to wield." Sir Thomas Browne (1646) candidly admits that he does not know "how this attraction is made,' but considers "that it is performed by effluviums is plain." Gassendus assented to the same doctrine. Descartes imagined an intervention of certain particles "shaped almost like small pieces of ribbon," which he supposed to be formed of subtile matter "harbored in the pores or crevices of the glass."
These theories were not much better than those advanced to account for magnetism, and which had not possessed the vitality of the amber-soul idea. Epicurus, for example, had supposed that the particles of the magnet hooked themselves to the atoms of iron; Plutarch, that the magnet made a vacuum around itself; Cardan, that iron was attracted "because cold," and Costeo de Lodi, that iron was the magnet's natural food. All these theories of electricity were mere speculations, and because the philosophers confined themselves to inventing them, and neglected experimental work, the science stood still for fifty years. And then came Otto von Guericke and Robert Boyle, and the long twilight of the dawn brightened and the day began.
The limit of this paper, as its title indicates, has been reached, and with a brief pen portrait of Gilbert, whose picture, from the old painting in the Bodleian Library, in Oxford, is before me, it may be fitly closed. A man of broad shoulders and of somewhat massive proportions; a quaint, cheerful face, brimming over with keen intelligence; a high forehead, not the curious long, retreating brow typical of the inventor, but the box-shaped dome
of the thinker and philosopher; brown eyes; rather sparse, probably reddish, hair, and close-cut beard and mustache; the nose thick and short; a notably full under lip, and a chin and a lower jaw that imply a wonderful staying power and dogged, undaunted determination. And so he stands in his doctor's robes with his hand on the terrella, looking out in the face of the centuries, as one might believe, in calm confidence that his fame, however delayed, must ultimately be as deathless as the stars.
"Mahomet's tomb in Mecca," to quote quaint old Fuller once more, "is said strangely to hang up, attracted by some invisible loadstone; but the memory of this doctor will never fall to the ground, which his incomparable book 'De Magnete' will support to eternity. He lieth buried in Trinity Church of Colchester, under a plain monument." Some one has placed an inscription in Latin, not of the Augustan age, upon the stone. The contemporary lines of a greater master, perhaps of the friend of him who sleeps beneath, written who knows with what meaning, might well replace it:
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
CREED, CRAFT, AND CURE.
WHEN Montaigne wrote, "There is no greater worker of miracle than the wit of man," he must have had in mind some of the methods of physic, which to accept requires
"A faith, that reason without miracle
Could never plant."
In common life we see the eager and unlessoned crowd making a wild-goose chase after the latest medical "fad" bred of some maggoty brain, or putting blind trust in the impossible promises of the crafty quack, for "novelty only is in request.'
At the present day two novelties of the healing art possess popular favor. One is from over-sea, of decent parentage and with honorable sponsors; the other is native to our own quick soil, and of less reputable lineage. The credentials of the stranger and the gathering head of the home product suggest an inquiry into the grounds upon which they rest. Such an inquest should be free from bent or grace. Are they hatched of fact or fiction? Are they the golden secret, or a gilded sham? Do they come as ministers of health, or flitting and fleering sprites? Bacon tells us that innovations are the births of Time, but adds, "Novelty, though it be not rejected, yet is held for a Suspect."
These two "cures" may rightly be put on trial together, for they own a common seed, and in principle "there is not more twin than these." It was a saying of Tiberius that he who had lived twenty years ought to know how to order himself without physic. A misliking of "mutinous and tumultuary drugs" has become general, and the medical fashion of the day respects the popular instinct. The "new cures" humor this feeling, and throw away altogether the potion, "tinct, and multiplying medicine;" and this swimming with the tide has much helped them to win popular favor.