William Gilbert (1540-1603) was primarily a physician, a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians from 1573 and also appointed physician to Queen Elizabeth I. He was a scientist, or natural philosopher, to use the historical term, in his spare time. His greatest work, De Magnete, came out in 1600. It begins with a summary of all that was known about magnetism at that time, then gives an account of his own investigations into magnetism complete with experiments and diagrams.
It is in this book, written in Latin, that he relates the attraction between individual magnets, to the attraction between magnets and the Earth's poles and from this concludes that the Earth can be viewed as a giant magnet. Gilbert first coined the name terrella, meaning 'little Earth' to describe a small sphere of magnetite or lodestone, used by scholars to study magnetism.
- Image reference: E9098
- National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
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