Gilbert, William (1540–1603)

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The most distinguished man of science in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Gilbert was born in Colchester of a long-established Suffolk family and studied medicine and mathematics at Cambridge. He set up practice in London and in 1601 was appointed personal physician to the Queen. He traveled extensively on the continent of Europe and brought home the Copernican idea of a heliocentric solar system. He may have met Kepler, who was born in 1571, and possibly also Galileo (born 1564). In fact, both Kepler and Galileo knew some of Gilbert's books and spoke with admiration of his scientific ideas concerning electric and magnetic phenomena.

Gilbert's best-known work was his De Magnete (1600), which was of immediate practical value to a seafaring nation. It was republished in several later editions in Germany, including Stettin (1628, 1633) and Frankfurt (1629, 1638). This work represented the culmination of many years' practical research which ...