The Newe Attractive. Containing a Short Discourse of the Magnes or Loadstone: and amongst other his vertues, of a new discovered secret and subtil propertie, concerning the Declining of the Needle … Heereunto are annexed certaine necessary rules for the Arte of Navigation … Newly corrected and amended by M. W. B[orough]. London: E. Allde, for H. Astley, 1592. [Bound, as issued, with:] BOROUGH, William. A Discourse of the Variation of the Compasse, or Magneticall Needle …

London: E. Allde, for H. Astley, 1562 [i.e., 1592].

Third edition (first, 1581) of one of the greatest rarities in the entire literature of navigation and magnetism, and “one of the first truly scientific books published in England” (Waters, The Art of Navigation, p. 153). “It is usual to ascribe to Galileo the development of the scientific method in the seventeenth century. It will be seen that in England the principles underlying Galileo’s methods had been in practice for a quarter of a century before the great Italian rose to fame” (ibid., p. 156, note). We know of only one other 16th-century edition of The New Attractive having appeared on the market – Horblit’s copy of the fourth edition (1596) (in a modern binding), offered by H. P. Kraus in Cat. 168 (ca. 1975) for $15,000. The Newe Attractive “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” (Tomash & Williams). Norman’s work was issued with A Discourse of the Variation of the Compasse, the only published work of William Borough (bap. 1536-98), which was based on Richard Eden’s English translation of Jean Taisnier’s study of terrestrial magnetism in his Opusculum perpetua … De natura magnetis (1562). “In 1581 Robert Norman had published The Newe Attractive; it came out with William Borough’s The Variation of the Cumpas as one book. Norman’s contribution described his discovery of the phenomenon of magnetic dip [now called magnetic inclination] – the deflection in the vertical plane of a pivoted compass needle towards the earth. The importance of his discovery lay not so much in the attempts it inspired to use magnetic dip as a method of position-finding at sea as in its definition of the scientific method – Norman’s method of research. For Norman claimed that he had founded his arguments ‘only upon experience, reason, and demonstration by exact trial and perfect experiment.’ His researches were amongst those which inspired Dr. William Gilbert’s and resulted in the publication of De magnete in 1600 … In The Newe Attractive, besides describing magnetic dip, Norman discussed Borough’s subject, magnetic variation [the angle between the geographic meridian and the direction of the magnetic field as indicated by a compass needle, now called magnetic declination]. Norman’s researches upon this phenomenon had led him to conclude that the attempts to use variation as a means to determine longitude precisely were doomed to failure. In his opinion (which was correct), they were based upon a theory contrary to the observed and recorded facts relating to the distribution of variation over the surface of the globe. As this conclusion was contrary to that of many scholars and navigators, Norman showed unusual intellectual impartiality and courage in publishing it. Like Borough he believed in the necessity for more accurate instruments with which to measure variation and in the need to collect and study systematically the observations recorded, in order to provide a firmer basis for determining the truth about its distribution. In his pamphlet Borough described not only new instruments for finding variation but also, for the first time in any English book, the results of his scientific measurements and the various ways in which variation could be measured. In doing so, Borough introduced English seamen for the first time to spherical trigonometry in print. He also gave them a detailed criticism of the plane sea-chart and of the hydrographical expedients adopted in its construction” (Waters, English Navigation Books, p. 35). OCLC lists, in the US, 2 copies of the first edition (1581), 4 of the second (1585), 2 of the third (1592) (New York Public and Wisconsin-Madison), and 2 of the fourth (1596).

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, with book label; Christie’s London, Scott Library sale, 4-5 December 1974, lot 354 to Traylen, £1900 = $4560.

Robert Norman (fl. 1560-1585) served at sea for 18 or 20 years before settling in the seafaring district of Ratcliff, on the north bank of the Thames, London, as a maker of navigational instruments, and in particular marine compasses. Norman belonged to a class of men who were coming to play an increasingly important role in the wider rise of science: intelligent, ingenious craftsmen, sailors and travellers who, while not ‘learned’ in the sense of having received a Latinate classical education, were to approach the study of natural phenomena from an original viewpoint, based not on philosophical analysis of classical sources but on practical experience. They formed that cadre of men whose praises were soon to be sung by William Gilbert, Francis Bacon, and the early fellows of the Royal Society.

But there was a tension between ‘mathematical practitioners’ such as Norman, and the university men. This was laid bare in the preface to The Newe Attractive, in which Norman delivers a thinly-veiled rebuke to Thomas Digges who, in his Addition to the 1576 edition of his father Leonard’s A Prognostication everlastinge gave, as well as the first detailed and illustrated description in English of the Copernican system, a discourse on the variation of the compass and on the errors in English navigational practice. Digges denied the then prevalent theory that a compass always points to a single attractive point (the magnetic north pole), stating that this was inconsistent with observations, and instead proposed a purely geometrical model of variation. Digges also wished to reserve for mathematically-trained men like himself the right to form theories of effects such as variation: ‘it may be said by the learned in the mathematicalls … that this is no question or matter for a mechanician or mariner to meddle with, no more than is the finding of the longitude, for that it must be handled exquisitely by geometrical demonstration and arithmetical calculation, in which arts they would have all mechanicians and seamen to be ignorant.’ Norman did not dispute the validity of Digges’s listing of navigational errors or argue against his hypothesis of variation. Rather, he contended that mechanicians not only have the right but many also have the ability to make their own intellectual and empirical contributions. Learned authors such as Digges, ‘being in their studies amongst their books can imagine great matters and set down their conceipts in fair show and with plausible words’, but they should not expect to parasitically exploit their more humble compatriots.’ According to Norman, the learned wished ‘that all mechanicians were such as for want of utterance should be forced to deliver unto them their knowledge and conceipts, that they might flourish upon them and apply them at their pleasures’. Norman was rejecting Digges’s crude demarcation between expert mathematicians and gross mariners. The Newe Attractive was intended to demonstrate that the mechanician need not be an inarticulate drudge but could legitimately participate in both the pleasures of discovery and the publication of results.

“As Norman’s title-page proclaimed, The Newe Attractive contained a short discourse on the lodestone, its location, varieties, colour, attractive properties, and so on, and also a ‘newe discovered secret’, that of dip – the declining of a magnetized compass needle below the horizontal plane. After dealing with theories on the attractive point, Norman described in his third chapter how ‘… I found continually that … the North point … would bende under the Horizon’, that is, the compass needle, when suspended at its mid-point would dip or incline downwards, with its north end down … He therefore devised a series of experiments to find out the cause. By them he proved that the cause was … some attractive power on the earth. He then devised a dip-circle and measured the angle of dip for London, which he gave accurately as 71°50'. The discovery of dip excited for many years the hope that it would be able to be used for the determination of latitude, and thus avoid celestial observations and the accompanying calculations, or be useful in thick weather, just as it was hoped to use variation to determine longitude” (Waters, The Art of Navigation, pp. 153-4). A similar logic was to lie behind Edmond Halley’s magnetic surveys of the Atlantic, over a century later.

“Turning his critical powers to the problem of variation, Norman showed in his ninth chapter … that variation was not ‘by proportion’, the theory upon which rested the current hopes of longitude-finding by variation, By this theory variation was supposed to be due to the eccentricity [location] of the magnetic pole or ‘attractive point’. This Mercator located 16° and William Borough 16°22' distant from the geographical pole on the meridian of longitude of St. Michael’s in the Azores, along which meridian the variation was supposed to be nil. [Moving east or west of this meridian, the variation was supposed to increase steadily,] the amount varying, owing to the eccentricity of the attractive point, according to the latitude. Consequently, … if you could find your latitude, which was easy, and your variation, which was not difficult, you could straightaway find your longitude … But Robert Norman pointed out that the observed vagaries of variation near N. W. America and N. E. Russia showed that, in fact, there was no such proportional variation …

“Importance is added to The Newe Attractive by what appears to be the earliest diagram to show the effect of variation on compass direction … Norman was the originator of ‘the double fly’ method of explaining and indicating variation … Besides this practical aid to the navigator, Norman has in his tenth chapter what must have been equally valuable. This is a commentary upon ‘the common Compasses, and of the divers different sortes and makinges of them with the inconveniences that maie growe by them, and the plattes [charts] made by them’. In the ninth chapter he has already shown that the common compass very nearly indicated true north, because it ‘hath the Needle set in the Flie, half a pointe to the Eastwards of the North’ to allow for variation. He has also explained that others had it set off three-quarters or even a whole point, and others again had it set directly under the … North of the Compass’ … as Norman explained, these compasses had been long used and charts had been drawn ‘every one according to the Compasse of that Country’. Many seamen used English compasses with Levant charts and as a result ‘made but wide reckonyngs’” (ibid., pp. 154-5).

The New Attractive was dedicated to William Borough {1536-99), who was described as the prime stimulus to Norman’s discovery of magnetic dip. The extent of their cooperation is attested by the circumstances of publication: Norman’s book did not appear alone but, bound with it, was Borough’s only publication, A Discourse of the Variation of the Compass or Magnetical Needle. William Borough was brought up in a seafaring family. In 1553, aged sixteen, he was serving under his brother Stephen on the first English voyage in search of the north-east passage. Although no route was found to the fabled riches of the east, this voyage laid the foundations for the Muscovy Company’s trade with Russia, and William quickly became one of the Company’s principal navigating masters. After rising to prominence in these trading voyages. Borough transferred his services to the crown, occupying a sequence of administrative positions on the Navy Board from the beginning of the 1580s onwards. Respected for his navigational expertise, Borough also offered advice on various other technical matters such as the design of ships. Borough was also called on as a commander, and he often acted as an admiral or vice-admiral in royal warships. In 1598, Borough could look back on a career exemplary for its upward mobility. He was Controller of the Navy, was entitled to bear arms and had taken the Lady Jane Wentworth as his second wife. But Borough was more than just a successful navigator making his way into the Elizabethan high establishment. His publication of the 1581 Discourse made clear his intellectual commitment to the mathematical arts, and this text was only the most visible index of his long-term endeavours in navigation and hydrography.

“The Discourse opens with definitions and a discussion of the variation instrument commercially available at Robert Norman’s house at Ratcliffe. (Borough also added his own newly improved variation instrument at the end of the book). There then follows a series of chapters on different methods of determining variation. These chapters are arranged in order of mathematical sophistication, from the equal altitude observational method, through the use of the globe as a conceptual and computational aid, to techniques which demanded competence in the spherical trigonometry more typically associated with mathematical astronomy.

“Borough recommended that his readers follow whichever methods best suited their interests and abilities. For an ordinary mariner, the method of observing the sun at equal altitudes in both the morning and afternoon involved no more mathematical sufficiency than addition and subtraction [the geographical meridian was then the mid-point between those two observations]. Equally, the interests of the expert mathematician were accommodated, for Borough was very far from ignorant in the ‘geometrical demonstration and arithmetical sinical calculations’ that Digges had dictated as essential. Borough was comfortable with the Latin mathematics of Regiomontanus, Copernicus, Rheticus and Rheinhold. Indeed, the more advanced aspects of Borough’s presentation may have served not just as an exposition of mathematical procedures but also as a means of heading off the possibility of mathematical attack. Certainly, these chapters were later viewed rather as ingenious exercises than practical techniques, even in a learned text such as William Gilbert’s De Magnete.

“Borough thus endeavoured to draw in all the relevant constituencies to whom appeal could be made. But it is clear that his sympathies lay more with those who practised than studied. Just as Digges had enumerated errors in the contemporary practice of mariners, so Borough conversely took a certain pugnacious pleasure in highlighting difficulties with the texts and maps of noted continental authorities. Even though he otherwise admired their learning, Borough found faults with particular points in Petrus Nonius [Pedro Nunes] and Gerard Mercator, while more sweeping criticism was reserved for Guillaume Postel, Michiel Coignet, and Pedro de Medina, the latter of whom ‘reasoneth very clerkly’. Nevertheless, Borough studiously sought to avoid a charge of partisan behaviour, for he did not spare his seafaring colleagues; he identified the neglect of variation as a prime cause of confusion in contemporary chart making, a problem compounded by the different European traditions of compass manufacture (in which the compass needle was offset under the fly to adjust for different local variations).

“Borough was also able to demonstrate the rewards of mathematical skill. Norman’s and Borough’s texts are generally in agreement, as we would expect from their acknowledged cooperation. But there is one point on which they differ. In his seventh chapter, Norman says that, on the basis of his single determination of magnetic dip at London, it is not possible to establish to what point inside the earth the needle points. Borough showed not only that this point could be mathematically found but he carried out the calculation, assuming no more than the standard location for the magnetic meridian.

“The Discourse thus threaded its way through a minefield of potential controversy. One of the most testing obstacles to overcome was the global behaviour of variation, as opposed to just its local determination. Digges had offered his geometric model, divorced from the untrustworthy observation reports of vulgar mariners. But Borough was able to confront existing models with his own observations. Unfortunately, he did not discuss Digges’s hypothesis but reserved his attention for the polar model of variation. Digges had dismissed in just a few words the conception of a single magnetic pole to which all needles would point, stating simply that it was contrary to the evidence. Borough came to the same conclusion, but rested his case not on authoritative rejection but on a full exposition.

“In chapter 8, he detailed the spherical trigonometry required to determine the position of the supposed magnetic pole, using as data the acknowledged magnetic meridian passing by the Azores and his own determination of variation at London as 11°4' East. In chapter 12 he returned to the topic to spell out some of the principal features of variation behaviour according to the polar model. Then he compared the model’s theoretical prediction of variation with an observation of his own. He chose the remote island of Vaigatz (at the southern tip of Novaya Zemlaya in 70° latitude) where he had himself been and for which he thus had values of latitude, longitude and variation which he trusted. The model predicted a variation value of 49°22’ East; Borough had determined it observationally as 7° West. This enormous discrepancy was not presented as an isolated crucial experiment, for ‘the like effect I have found by diverse observations in sundry other places of the east parts.’ Moreover, using Mercator’s 1569 universal map. Borough was able to ‘reverse engineer’ the results of Mercator’s observation of variation at Ratisbon (Regensburg). He found this to be less than the theoretical prediction, ‘which confirmeth the retrograde quality in the variation from hence eastwards’.

“Though Borough rejected the polar model, he did not abandon all hope of finding a mathematical model which could accommodate the variation’s observed behaviour. He hoped ‘(if it be possible) to find some hypothesis for the salving of this apparent confused irregularity’. But to reduce the variation to order required a better representation of its geographical pattern, and this in turn required more observations. Borough accepted that he could not personally gather the wealth of requisite evidence and he had therefore already begun to commission reports from other travellers. He referred to the many observations that ‘I have caused to be made and daily procure to be done in diverse other countries’” (Johnston, pp. 181-5).

ESTC S94496; Luborsky & Ingram. English Illustrated Books 1536-1603, 18649; Scott 36 & 37; STC 18649 & 3391; Tomash & Williams N44 & B210. Waters, English Navigation Books 1528-1640, 1592.9. Johnston, Making Mathematical Practice. Gentlemen, practitioners and artisans in Elizabethan England. PhD thesis, University of Cambridge, May 1994 (https://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk/staff/saj/thesis/). Waters, The Art of Navigation in England in Elizabethan and Early Stuart Times, 1958.



Two parts in one vol., small 4to (192 x 140 mm), pp. [96]; [60] (collation A-M4; A-G4, H2), black letter, large woodcut vignette of a warship under full sail on first title, woodcut illustrations and tables in the text, titles within ornamental borders (pale damp-stain to final two signatures, outer rule of table on K4 just shaved). Late 18th-century half-calf & marbled boards. A fine, fresh copy of an extremely rare and important book.

Item #4986

Price: $75,000.00