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COMPASS

and Red Sea in the 9th century. Sir G. L. Staunton, in vol. i. of his Embassy to China (London, 1797), after referring to the early acquaintance of the Chinese with the property of the magnet to point southwards, remarks (p. 445), “The nature and the cause of the qualities of the magnet have at all times been subjects of contemplation among the Chinese. The Chinese name for the compass is ting-nan-ching, or needle pointing to the south; and a distinguishing mark is fixed on the magnet’s southern pole, as in European compasses upon the northern one.” “The sphere of Chinese navigation,” he tells us (p. 447), “is too limited to have afforded experience and observation for forming any system of laws supposed to govern the variation of the needle.... The Chinese had soon occasion to perceive how much more essential the perfection of the compass was to the superior navigators of Europe than to themselves, as the commanders of the ‘Lion’ and ‘Hindostan,’ trusting to that instrument, stood out directly from the land into the sea.” The number of points of the compass, according to the Chinese, is twenty-four, which are reckoned from the south pole; the form also of the instrument they employ is different from that familiar to Europeans. The needle is peculiarly poised, with its point of suspension a little below its centre of gravity, and is exceedingly sensitive; it is seldom more than an inch in length, and is less than a line in thickness. “It may be urged,” writes Mr T. S. Davies, “that the different manner of constructing the needle amongst the Chinese and European navigators shows the independence of the Chinese of us, as theirs is the worse method, and had they copied from us, they would have used the better one” (Thomson’s British Annual, 1837, p. 291). On the other hand, it has been contended that a knowledge of the mariner’s compass was communicated by them directly or indirectly to the early Arabs, and through the latter was introduced into Europe. Sismondi has remarked (Literature of Europe, vol. i.) that it is peculiarly characteristic of all the pretended discoveries of the middle ages that when the historians mention them for the first time they treat them as things in general use. Gunpowder, the compass, the Arabic numerals and paper, are nowhere spoken of as discoveries, and yet they must have wrought a total change in war, in navigation, in science, and in education. G. Tiraboschi (Storia della letteratura italiana, tom. iv. lib. ii. p. 204, et seq., ed. 2., 1788), in support of the conjecture that the compass was introduced into Europe by the Arabs, adduces their superiority in scientific learning and their early skill in navigation. He quotes a passage on the polarity of the lodestone from a treatise translated by Albertus Magnus, attributed by the latter to Aristotle, but apparently only an Arabic compilation from the works of various philosophers. As the terms Zoron and Aphron, used there to signify the south and north poles, are neither Latin nor Greek, Tiraboschi suggests that they may be of Arabian origin, and that the whole passage concerning the lodestone may have been added to the original treatise by the Arabian translators.

Dr W. Robertson asserts (Historical Disquisition concerning Ancient India, p. 227) that the Arabs, Turks and Persians have no original name for the compass, it being called by them Bossola, the Italian name, which shows that the thing signified is foreign to them as well as the word. The Rev. G. P. Badger has, however, pointed out (Travels of Ludovico di Varthema, trans. J. W. Jones, ed. G. P. Badger, Hakluyt Soc, 1863, note, pp. 31 and 32) that the name of Bushla or Busba, from the Italian Bussola, though common among Arab sailors in the Mediterranean, is very seldom used in the Eastern seas,—Daïrah and Beit el-Ibrah (the Circle, or House of the Needle) being the ordinary appellatives in the Red Sea, whilst in the Persian Gulf Kiblah-nāmeh is in more general use. Robertson quotes Sir J. Chardin as boldly asserting “that the Asiatics are beholden to us for this wonderful instrument, which they had from Europe a long time before the Portuguese conquests. For, first, their compasses are exactly like ours, and they buy them of Europeans as much as they can, scarce daring to meddle with their needles themselves. Secondly, it is certain that the old navigators only coasted it along, which I impute to their want of this instrument to guide and instruct them in the middle of the ocean.... I have nothing but argument to offer touching this matter, having never met with any person in Persia or the Indies to inform me when the compass was first known among them, though I made inquiry of the most learned men in both countries. I have sailed from the Indies to Persia in Indian ships, when no European has been aboard but myself. The pilots were all Indians, and they used the forestaff and quadrant for their observations. These instruments they have from us, and made by our artists, and they do not in the least vary from ours, except that the characters are Arabic. The Arabs are the most skilful navigators of all the Asiatics or Africans; but neither they nor the Indians make use of charts, and they do not much want them; some they have, but they are copied from ours, for they are altogether ignorant of perspective.” The observations of Chardin, who flourished between 1643 and 1713, cannot be said to receive support from the testimony of some earlier authorities. That the Arabs must have been acquainted with the compass, and with the construction and use of charts, at a period nearly two centuries previous to Chardin’s first voyage to the East, may be gathered from the description given by Barros of a map of all the coast of India, shown to Vasco da Gama by a Moor of Guzerat (about the 15th of July 1498), in which the bearings were laid down “after the manner of the Moors,” or “with meridians and parallels very small (or close together), without other bearings of the compass; because, as the squares of these meridians and parallels were very small, the coast was laid down by these two bearings of N. and S., and E. and W., with great certainty, without that multiplication of bearings of the points of the compass usual in our maps, which serves as the root of the others.” Further, we learn from Osorio that the Arabs at the time of Gama “were instructed in so many of the arts of navigation, that they did not yield much to the Portuguese mariners in the science and practice of maritime matters.” (See The Three Voyages of Vasco da Gama, Hakluyt Soc, 1869; note to chap. xv. by the Hon. H. E. J. Stanley, p. 138.) Also the Arabs that navigated the Red Sea at the same period are shown by Varthema to have used the mariner’s chart and compass (Travels, p. 31).

Again, it appears that compasses of a primitive description, which can hardly be supposed to have been brought from Europe, were employed in the East Indies certainly as early as several years previous to the close of the 16th century. In William Barlowe’s Navigator’s Supply, published in 1597, we read:—“Some fewe yeeres since, it so fell out that I had severall conferences with two East Indians which were brought into England by master Candish [Thomas Cavendish], and had learned our language: The one of them was of Mamillia [Manila] in the Isle of Luzon, the other of Miaco in Japan. I questioned with them concerning their shipping and manner of sayling. They described all things farre different from ours, and shewed, that in steade of our Compas, they use a magneticall needle of sixe ynches long, and longer, upon a pinne in a dish of white China earth filled with water; In the bottome whereof they have two crosse lines, for the foure principall windes; the rest of the divisions being reserved to the skill of their Pilots.” Bailak Kibdjaki, also, an Arabian writer, shows in his Merchant’s Treasure, a work given to the world in 1282, that the magnetized needle, floated on water by means of a splinter of wood or a reed, was employed on the Syrian seas at the time of his voyage from Tripoli to Alexandria (1242), and adds:—“They say that the captains who navigate the Indian seas use, instead of the needle and splinter, a sort of fish made out of hollow iron, which, when thrown into the water, swims upon the surface, and points out the north and south with its head and tail” (Klaproth, Lettre, p. 57). E. Wiedemann, in Erlangen Sitzungsberichte (1904, p. 330), translates the phrase given above as splinter of wood, by the term wooden cross. Furthermore, although the sailors in the Indian vessels in which Niccola de’ Conti traversed the Indian seas in 1420 are stated to have had no compass, still, on board the ship in which Varthema, less than a century later, sailed from Borneo to Java, both the mariner’s chart and compass were used; it has been questioned, however, whether in this case the compass was of