"One of the first truly scientific books published in England"

MAGNETISM. NAVIGATION. Norman, Robert (1536-1599); Borough, William (bap. 1536-1598)

The New Attractive. Containing a short discourse of the Magnes or Loadstoneā€¦ Hereunto are annexed Certaine Necessary Rules for the Arte of Navigationā€¦ Newly Corrected and Amended by M.W. B. [With, as issued:] A discourse of the variation of the compasse, or magneticall needle... and is to be annexed to the New attractive. London: E. Allde for Heugh Astley, 1562 [1592]

London: E. Allde for Hew Astley, 1592


Quarto: 9.2 x 13.7 cm. Two parts in one volume. [96], [60] pp. Collation: A-M4, A-G4, H2

THIRD EDITION (1st ed. 1581).

An excellent copy in early 19thc. half calf and marbled boards, with light wear. A fresh, bright copy internally with only a few, very light blemishes and a clear dampstain in the final two signatures. Outer rule of table on K4 just shaved, tiny piece missing from blank upper corner of penultimate leaf, far from the text. Both titles are set within ornamental borders. There are woodcut illustrations and diagrams, as well as tables, in the text.

Provenance: John Scott (1830-1903) and Robert Lyons Scott (1871-1939), shipbuilders, the latter’s gift in 1921 to The Royal Institution of Naval Architects, Scott Library Collection, book label; Christie's, Scott Library sale, 4-5 December 1974, lot 354, Traylen; bought from Pickering & Chatto, London, 1989.

"This book has been called one of the first truly scientific books published in England. It is the first English work devoted to the use of the compass, and it contains Norman's proposal for a magnetic field of force acting independently of matter - one of the most important concepts in the history of science. William Gilbert credits Norman with the discovery of the phenomenon of dip of the magnetic needle" (Tomash & Williams).

"Robert Norman (fl. 1560–1584), maker of mathematical instruments, whose origins are unknown, spent, by his own account, eighteen or twenty years at sea before settling down as a compass maker and self-styled 'hydrographer' at Ratcliff, London. Most of what is known about him comes from his own publications, in particular The Newe Attractive, which appeared in London in 1581.

The title page announced Norman's discovery of magnetic inclination or dip; in his terminology this was called the 'declining' of the needle from the horizontal. He made variation compasses, as well as common steering compasses, and designed the first dip circle for measuring inclination. He judged that any theory of magnetic variation, a measurement he considered useful for position finding as well as necessary for the management of the steering compass, would have also to take account of inclination; from reports and observations of both these variables he drew general conclusions regarding the contested explanations of the earth's magnetism. Norman added astronomical and calendaric tables to his book, including daily values for solar declination over four years, calculated by himself and essential for finding latitude from the noonday altitude of the sun. He was encouraged in his magnetic work by William Borough, comptroller of the navy, to whom he dedicated The Newe AttractiveBorough's own Discourse of the Variation of the Cumpas was published with it as an appendix…

"Norman has attracted considerable interest on account of his self-conscious adoption of an experimental approach and his unusual application of instruments. He was deploying his dip circle at a time when instruments were associated not with natural philosophy but with applications of mathematics to practical arts. He was sensitive that, as an 'unlearned mechanician', he would scarcely have been expected to concern himself with an area of practical mathematics relevant to natural philosophy, but he vigorously asserted the worth of investigations by practical men, who had the relevant art 'at their fingers ends', while their more learned critics were 'in their studies amongest their bookes'. Norman saw himself and his fellow mechanics as heirs to the vernacular tradition of mathematical publication, exemplified by the works of Robert Recorde and Billingsley's English translation of Euclid."(J. A. Bennett, ODNB)

"A discourse of the variation of the compasse"

"My mind earnestly bent to the knowledge of Navigation and Hydrography from my youth."-William Borough

This volume also includes "A discourse of the variation of the compasse", written by the explorer William Borough (d. 1598). At the age of only 16 Borough participated in the first English voyage to Russia (1553). Hakluyt records that during a later voyage of exploration to Russia in 1574, Borough beat off six Danske (Danish) pirate ships near the Tuttee in the gulf, and captured their leader, Hans Snarke. In 1580 Borough was made Comptroller of the Royal Navy. Later, in 1587, participated in the British attack on Cádiz.

"In June 1583 he was at sea acting as a comptroller of the navy in taking 'outragious sea rovers' and ten pirate ships into custody, and ensuring that all ten masters were hanged at Wapping. In December 1585 he took charge of a squadron sailing from Harwich to Flushing to view the newly garrisoned port and its readiness to support the earl of Leicester's army. In August 1586 he sailed to the Azores with Sir John Hawkins in the Golden Lion. In 1587 he sailed with Sir Francis Drake but was indicted for mutiny and cowardice. His response to Lord Burghley shows he was put in irons by Drake well before the crew's mutiny. His defence rested mainly on a chart he drew of the battle before Cadiz on 29 April 1587 showing the dangers of the station assigned to the Golden Lion. Duly acquitted, Borough was given the galley Bonavolia to patrol the Thames in 1588 lest invaders 'may come in at half tide' as his chart of the estuary shows. On 26 February 1589 he penned a strategic 'Discorse of what course were best should be taken for the resistance of the Spanish navy' (BL, Lansdowne MSS 52/40, 52/42, 52/43). A letter written from Chatham on 28 August shows he was occupied by 'the great business for the dispatch of Sir Martin Frobisher's ships to the sea … in commission for the late Portugayle voyage' (BL, Harley MS 6994/104)."(R. C. D. Baldwin, ODNB)

In the early 1560s Borough learned from John Dee to draw and use 'paradoxall compasses' or circumpolar charts. In 1581, Borough, using a version of Eden's translation of Taisnier's study of terrestrial magnetism and another translation of Pellegrine de Maricourt's 'De magnete' of 1558, wrote 'A Discourse on the Variation of the Compasse', which was reprinted in expanded form in 1585 and 1596.

See:E. G. R. Taylor, The mathematical practitioners of Tudor and Stuart England (1954), and D. W. Waters, The art of navigation in England in Elizabethan and early Stuart times, 2nd edn (1978)

Tomash & Williams N44 (and B210); Adams & Waters 2703; ESTC S94496; STC 18649; Royal Institution of Naval Architects, Catalogue of the Scott Collection, compiled by Betty Cooper (London, 1954), nos. 36-37; Luborsky and Ingram, English Illustrated books, 18649