Home | Works and E-Texts | About William Gilbert | Further Information |
From Gibberti to Hurricane Gilbert 1988 - the Magic of Names
There is certainly a Nation of GIBBERTI,
who inhabit East and South of ABYSSINIA
William Gilbert, The Hurricane
And signs, for aught we know, may be but the sympathies of Nature with man
Charlotte Brontė, Jane Eyre
The picture used for the home page of this website is based on a satellite image of Hurricane Gilbert swirling over the Caribbean in 1988 (1) . It was not named after William Gilbert, but given his belief in the meaningful correspondence of names, he would have seen this naming as a portent of his re-emergence after 200 years of obscurity. Just two years after Hurricane Gilbert, Woodstock Press published in 1990 the first reprint since 1796 of his poem The Hurricane. The storm referred to in Gilbert's Antigua-centred poem is based on a hurricane that devastated the Caribbean, hitting Antigua on 31 August 1772; Gilbert interpreted this as a harbinger of the 1775 American Revolution and the 1789 French Revolution. He believed that a cosmic agency originating in Africa was behind these revolutions, and that once tyranny and injustice were at an end, a new divine outpouring (or 'afflatus') would bring liberty, justice and the 'good of enjoyment' to all.
Gilbert located the source for this divine outpouring in Abyssinia, which in his time had a reputation as an enclosed and hidden part of Africa (e.g. 'the secret bounds / Of jealous Abyssinia' - Thomson Summer ll 751-2). It maintained contact with the world by sea through a neighbouring country Gibberti. Richard Garnett, who wrote an article on Gilbert for the 1901 Dictionary of National Biography, chortled that Gibberti is 'an African nation unknown to geographers' without apparently bothering to consult a map. The country does exist. Spelled Gibberti by the 1790s explorer, James Bruce, it is now written as Djibouti. This is how Gilbert tells it in his notes to The Hurricane:
There is certainly a Nation of GIBBERTI, who inhabit East and South of ABYSSINIA, and have had a Dynasty on its Throne. As the ABYSSINIANS never leave their country (and I strenuously maintain, that a total aversion from travelling can only consist with being at the ultimate of Enjoyment and the Primary of Being) the GIBBERTI have been ever their Merchants and their Embassadors to Europe. The inference designed may seem almost an infantine speculation to the European, who knows of no relations but what are guaranteed by a parson and clerk, and archived in a register, according to statute; and therefore I have published enough, but with the aid of two or three other Correspondences, I can infallibly PROVE my Relation from Spirit, because in Spirit, although naturally, it may be thought, improbable.
His own name Gilbert is spelled Gibberti in it inflected Latin form (this use can quickly be confirmed by a Google search), and he is claiming that his spiritual intuition of being an emissary of this new divine influence is validated by the name correspondence. He claims a spiritual kinship and, odd as this belief may be, it is not the same as claiming to have imaginary relatives in a country that doesn't exist. Let those who have never made a decision (such as choosing to stay in one hotel rather than another) merely because a name has some personal resonance, cast the first stone. Gilbert's apparently mad assertions almost always make sense as metaphors. He causes misunderstandings by setting his metaphors in concrete and appearing to take them literally.
(1). The 1988 Hurricane Gilbert image is is taken from http://rsd.gsfc.nasa.gov/rsd/images/Gilbert.html and reproduced by kind permission of Hal Pierce at NASA, who also enhanced the composite image I had created. The superimposed astrological diagram has no connection with anyone at NASA, who are all to the best of my knowledge fully committed to a heliocentric world view.