GILBERT, William.

De magnete, magneticisque corporibus, et de magno magnete tellure;

Physiologia nova, plurimus & argumentis, & experimentis demonstrata.

London: Peter Short, 1600 Stock Code: 41553

The foundation of electrical science

Reserve Ask us a question


First edition of "the first major English scientific treatise based on experimental methods of research. Gilbert was chiefly concerned with magnetism; but as a digression he discusses in his second book the attractive effect of amber (electrum), and thus may be regarded as the founder of electrical science. He coined the terms 'electricity,' 'electric force' and 'electric attraction'" (PMM). In Book One Gilbert "introduced his new basic idea that the earth is a gigantic lodestone and thus has magnetic properties" while in Book Two, his observations on the amber effect "introduced the vocabulary of electrics, and is the basis for Gilbert's place in the history of electricity" (DSB).

Gilbert's book "quickly became the standard work throughout Europe on electrical and magnetic phenomena. Europeans were making long voyages across oceans, and the magnetic compass was one of the few instruments that could save them from being hopelessly (and usually fatally) lost. But little was known about the lodestone (magnetic iron ore) or magnetized iron. Gilbert tested many folk tales. Does garlic destroy the magnetic effect of the compass needle? More importantly, he made the first clear distinction between magnetic and the amber effect (static electricity, as we call it). De Magnete is a comprehensive review of what was known about the nature of magnetism, and Gilbert added much knowledge through his own experiments. He likened the polarity of the magnet to the polarity of the Earth and built an entire magnetic philosophy on this analogy. In Gilbert's animistic explanation, magnetism was the soul of the Earth and a perfectly spherical lodestone, when aligned with the Earth's poles, would spin on its axis, just as the Earth spins on its axis in 24 hours. (In traditional cosmology the Earth was fixed and it was the sphere of the fixed stars, carrying the other heavens with it, that rotated in 24 hours.) Gilbert did not, however, express an opinion as to whether this rotating Earth was at the center of the universe or in orbit around the Sun. Since the Copernican cosmology needed a new physics to undergird it, Copernicans such as Johannes Kepler and Galileo were very interested in Gilbert's magnetic researches. Galileo's efforts to make a truly powerful armed lodestone for his patrons probably date from his reading of Gilbert's book" (Galileo Project).

Confused? Read our glossary


Folio (290 x 188 mm). Contemporary calf over wooden boards, metal furniture and clasps; rebacked, one catch missing, covers rubbed. Housed in a black cloth solander box by the Chelsea Bindery.


Woodcut device (McKerrow 119) on title, large woodcut arms on verso, numerous text woodcuts, some full-page, large folding woodcut diagram (lightly browned), historiated woodcut capitals, head- and tailpieces. Provenance: Leiden, Royal Academy ("Acad. Lug


Lightly browned at beginning and end, a good copy.


With the exception of framed items*, Peter Harrington offers free delivery on all UK orders of rare books, maps and prints placed through this website. Delivery to USA and the rest of the world is similarly free for orders over £200.

View Full Delivery Details



Established in 1969, Peter Harrington is one of the leading rare book firms in the world. It is a proud member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association – along with ILAB, the PBFA and Lapada – and from shops in Mayfair and Chelsea, London, sells rare books, prints and ephemera to customers across the world.


Tel: +44 (0)20 7591 0220

ABA Antiquarian Bookseller Association ILAB International League of Antiquarian Booksellers LAPADA The Association of Art and Anatique Dealers PBFA Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association

Our Guarantee Page

Ask us a question


Contact us with details of the book you are interested in or selling and we will contact you

Sell Old Books Help me find a book