‘An Ocean of Books’

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

In preparing our latest mini-biography of an interesting person from Essex’s past for Essex Life magazine, I came across this wonderful quote from William Gilberd (1544-1603), in the preface to his book De Magnete, published in 1600:

‘But why should I, in so vast an Ocean of Books by which the minds of studious men are troubled and fatigued, through which very foolish productions the world and unreasoning men are intoxicated, and puffed up, rave and create literary broils, and while professing to be philosophers, physicians, mathematicians and astrologers, neglect and despise men of learning: why should I, I say, add aught further to this so-perturbed republick of letters, and expose this noble philosophy, which seems new and incredible by reason of so many things hitherto unrevealed, to be damned and torn to pieces by the maledictions of those who are either already sworn to the opinions of other men, or are foolish corruptors of good arts, learned idiots, grammatists, sophists, wranglers, and perverse little folk? But to you alone, true philosophizers, honest men, who seek knowledge not from books only but from things themselves, have I addressed these magnetical principles in this new sort of Philosophizing.’

Portrait of William Gilbert (Wellcome Collection)

Gilberd was a physician and natural philosopher who founded the field of magnetic science. He was the first person to suggest (correctly) that the earth is a giant magnet, and the word ‘electricity’ has its origins in his work. The ‘new sort of Philosophizing’ to which he refers is his methodology of using experiments to find out about natural phenomena.

Gilberd was born in Colchester and is buried there in Holy Trinity church. You can find out more about him in our article that will be published in the October 2015 edition of Essex Life magazine.

 

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