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    Re: "A history of marine navigation" by Per Collinder, and Neckam
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2009 Jul 17, 10:35 +0100

    I said I would report back when my copy of "History of Marine Navigation",
    by Per Collinder arrived.
    So here's a first-impression, just based on an initial quick read.
    It's a competent history, well translated into English, but not a deep one.
    It's lacking in any maths and without detailed diagrams. Instead, it's
    easy-reading, with plenty of stories (some fictional), traditions, and
    broad-brush accounts of early voyages. All very well, if that's what you're
    after, but wasn't really my cup-of-tea. I prefer something more penetrating.
    There was a strong Scandinavian influence, which is fair enough.
    Some of what Collinder writes should be taken with a pinch of salt. For
    example, in the extract Frank quoted in [9078], Collinder referred to the
    requirement for a timekeeper for the longititude prize as "an average error
    of less than three seconds (of time) a day., adding - "There was no pendulum
    clock on land capable of that.". That last bit's nonsense. There had been
    many regulators, in observatories, with much better performance than that,
    such as Tompions's great clocks at Greenwich, built 70 years earlier (which
    still survive). The difficulty was to make a timepiece which would keep good
    time at sea, with the motion of a ship.
    However, I learned something quite new to me; the description (the first in
    the West) of the marine compass by an English theologian Alexander Neckam in
    1187. I hadn't even heard of Neckam before. That reference led me, via
    Google, to the "Dictionary of Science Quotations", from which I gleaned the
    following-from which I gleaned the following-
          Alexander Neckam
          (8 Sep 1157 - 1217)
          English educator and scientist , who learned of the mariner's compass
    while in Paris, which the Chinese had been using for at least two centuries,
    and described in a book, De utensilibus ("On Instruments").
          [more biography...]
    Science Quotes by Alexander Neckam (2)
    Nautae etiam mare legentes, cum beneficium claritatis solis in tempore
    nubilo non sentiunt, aut etiam cum caligne nocturnarum tenebrarum mundus
    obvolvitur, et ignorant in quem mundi cardinem prora tendat, acum super
    mangentem ponunt, quae circulariter circumvolvitur usque dum, ejus motu
    Mariners at sea, when, through cloudy weather in the day which hides the
    sun, or through the darkness of night, they lose knowlege of the quarter of
    the world to which they are sailing, touch a needle with a magnet, which
    will turn round till, on its motion ceasing, its point will be directed
    towards the north.
    - Alexander Neckam
    De naturis rerum. Original Latin text quoted in Thomas Wright, A Volume of
    Vocabularies... (1873), 114. Translation from Lloyd A Brown, The Story of
    Maps (1980), 127.
    See also:  |  Compass (4)  |  Magnetism (12)
    Qui ergo munitam vult habere navem habet etiam acum jaculo suppositam.
    Rotabitur enim et circumvolvetur acus, donec cuspis acus respiciat orientem
    sicque comprehendunt quo tendere debeant nautaw cum Cynosura latet in aeris
    turbatione; quamvis ad occasum numquam tendat, propter circuli brevitatem.
    If then one wishes a ship well provided with all things, then one must have
    also a needle mounted on a dart. The needle will be oscillated and turn
    until the point of the needle directs itself to the East* [North], thus
    making known to sailors the route which they should hold while the Little
    Bear is concealed from them by the vicissitudes of the atmosphere; for it
    never disappears under the horizon because of the smallness of the circle it
    - Alexander Neckam
    Latin text from Thomas Wright, 'De Utensilibus', A Volume of Vocabularies,
    (1857) as cited with translation in Park Benjamin, The Intellectual Rise in
    Electricity: A History (1895), 129.
    Apparently, Neckam had spent some time teaching in the University of Paris.
    I suspect, however, that his knowlege of the compass was obtained directly
    from the mariners with whom he crossed the English Channel, and far more
    reliably than if it had come from the divines at the University of Paris.
    contact George Huxtable, at  george@hux.me.uk
    or at +44 1865 820222 (from UK, 01865 820222)
    or at 1 Sandy Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.
    NavList message boards: www.fer3.com/arc
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