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  Home > Researchers' Area - Archive > On the Boyle (issue no.2: November 1998)


a newsletter of work in progress on
Robert Boyle (1627-91)

No. 2: November 1998

Vignette by Gravelot from Birch's edition of Boyle's Works (1744)

Welcome to the second issue of On the Boyle, with apologies for its delayed appearance. We hope that less time will elapse before the third. This issue provides news on the current state of Boyle research and a list of publications on Boyle that have appeared since Issue 1 (April 1997). It also contains two articles. One, by Peter Anstey, throws new light on John Locke's comments on a draft of Boyle's Christian Virtuoso, which Boyle may well have taken into account when composing his final version. The other, by Charles Littleton and Michael Hunter, outlines their plans for extending the availability of Boyle material on the Internet, partly by improving the existing Boyle Web page, and partly by putting his work-diaries on the Web.

Peter Anstey, University of Sydney
Michael Hunter, University of London



Note: As in the previous issue, this section is intended to draw attention to research on Boyle that is well-advanced but not yet published (though not articles in the press). We have included everything that has been drawn to our attention, but we have reason to believe that more work is going on than we have learned about: if you have work in progress that should be reported in future issues, please let us know so as to maximise the coverage of this section and to increase liaison between scholars with related interests.

Peter Anstey's paper at the conference held at Sydney in June 1997 (see On the Boyle 1) will be published, alongside papers by Andrew Pyle and Alan Chalmers, in a forthcoming issue of the journal Science and Education. He is continuing to work on Boyle's views on evidence, experiment and scientific knowledge.

Iordan Avramov is making a study of Henry Oldenburg and his role in the communication of early modern science; in the course of this, he is making a special study of Oldenburg's correspondence with Boyle.

Antonio Clericuzio, in addition to working on Boyle's Correspondence (see next entry), is writing a book on atomism and chemical philosophy in the 17th century, including a chapter on Boyle; he has given papers on related topics at Oxford, Regensburg and Rome.

The Correspondence of Robert Boyle is scheduled for publication in six volumes in September 2001. With generous support from the British Academy, work is well-advanced on the edition, which is being prepared by Michael Hunter and Antonio Clericuzio, with Lawrence Principe and David Money as editorial advisors. Ben Coates and Ros Davies are acting as research assistants.

Edward B. Davis gave a paper at the History of Science Society meeting at Kansas City, Missouri, in October 1998 entitled 'Boyling Mad? On Editing a New Edition of Robert Boyle's Works' He is currently mainly preoccupied by the index to The Works (see below).

Peter Elmer is preparing a new study on the Greatrakes affair, deploying a wide range of sources; he is linking it to the aftermath of the Restoration in England and Ireland and particularly to Greatrakes's relations with Richard Boyle, 2nd Earl of Cork, and Roger Boyle, 1st Earl of Orrery.

Michael Hunter gave a paper entitled 'Magic, Science and Reputation: Robert Boyle, the Royal Society and the Occult in the late 17th century' at the conference, 'Medicine, Science and Enlightment 1680-1789', at the University of Edinburgh in August 1998. This will be included in a forthcoming volume of Michael's published and unpublished essays on Boyle, provisionally entitled Robert Boyle: Scrupulosity and Science.

Patrick Little will shortly be completing his Ph.D. thesis on Roger Boyle, 1st Earl of Orrery. In the course of his work on this, he has made a more general study of the financial affairs and the political and religious role of the Boyle family in Ireland before 1660.

Jack MacIntosh gave a paper at the 1998 Australasian Philosophy Conference at Sydney on 'Robert Boyle on Laws of Nature and God's "Ordinary and General Concourse"'. He has been awarded a grant to complete his edition of Boyle's writings on atheism, from which a volume will result in due course.

Bill Newman and Lawrence Principe have continued to work on the collaboration between Boyle and George Starkey and have transcribed and translated all the relevant manuscripts. They will probably present the results of their research in a pair of volumes, one textual and the other interpretative.

Margaret Osler gave a paper at the History of Science Society meeting at Kansas City, Missouri, in October 1998 entitled 'Final Causes and Seminal Principles in Gassendi and Boyle'.

Malcolm Oster was awarded a Royal Society research grant in March 1996 to work on manuscript material relating to aspects of Boyle's chemistry and pneumatics, and more generally on his development of the mechanical philosophy; he is currently preparing articles based on this research.

Lawrence Principe's The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and his Alchemical Quest was published by Princeton University Press in April 1998. In August 1997 he was the recipient of a grant from the American Philosophical Society for research on Georges Pierre in archives in northern France, some of the results of which were used in his book, and some of which will be deployed in The Correspondence of Robert Boyle (see above).

'Psychoanalysing Robert Boyle', the conference held at Birkbeck College, University of London, on 12 July 1997, was highly successful, shedding new light both on Boyle and on the enterprise of historical psychoanalysis. The papers presented at the conference, together with a postscript by Geoffrey Cantor, will appear as a special issue of the British Journal for the History of Science in 1999.

Jan Wojcik gave a paper entitled 'Robert Boyle: the Conversion of the Jews and Millennial Expectations' at a conference at the William Andrews Clark Library, Los Angeles, in February 1998; the proceedings of the conference will be published in due course.

The Works of Robert Boyle, edited by Michael Hunter and Edward B. Davis, is now due to be published in two groups of seven volumes, vols. 1-7 in September 1999 and vols. 8-14 in September 2000. Vols. 1-7 will include the general introduction to the edition together with Boyle's publications up to 1673 (up to and includingTracts consisting of Observations about the Saltness of the Sea, which research associated with the edition has confirmed appeared in 1673 rather than 1674): these are now in proof. Work is also well advanced on the second half of the edition, covering the rest of Boyle's published writings, together with the selection of his hitherto unpublished works that will appear in vols. 13-14; vol. 14 will also contain a complete index to all 14 volumes.

Go to On the Boyle Contents | Robert Boyle Home Page


by Peter Anstey

In 1681 John Locke read and commented upon a manuscript by Robert Boyle. Locke's notes on this manuscript are found in MS Locke c. 27, fols. 67-8 and are endorsed 'Boyle Observations on his Treatise 81'. they were first commented upon by Mario Sina in 1972, who suggested that they might be comments on the published text of Some Advices About Judging of Things Said to Transcend Reason (1681).1 More recently, M.A. Stewart has published the notes, and, while conceding that 'we cannot immediately identify a relevant Boyle manuscript',2 he suggests that it might well have been a draft of Boyle's Christian Virtuoso which was eventually published in 1690-1. Further investigation reveals that this latter suggestion is almost certainly correct. for there is a near perfect match between both the content and sequence of some of Locke's comments and the published text of the Christian Virtuoso. The relevant comments and the matches in Boyle's work are reproduced below. The page numbers in the left column refer to Locke's copy of Boyle's manuscript and the references to Boyle's Christian Virtuoso in the right column are from volume 5 of the 1772 edition of his Works 3

Locke's comments on Boyle's MS Boyle's Christian Virtuoso
p. 25: That experience should confirme to men many
things which might seeme very irrationall is not
strange in natural & civil history . . .
p. 529, ll. 6f.: most rational men scruple not to believe,
upon competent testimony, many things, whose truth did no
way appear to them by the consideration of the nature of the
things themselves, nay, though what is thus believed upon
the testimony be so strange, and, setting aside that
testimony, would seem so irrational, that, antecedently to
that testimony, . . . (ll. 13f.) concerning things merely
natural or civil, whereof of human reason is held to be a
proper judge: . . .
p. 27: In theologicall experience noe body can
question the testimony of god . .
p. 529, ll. 23f.: we ought, of all the things that can be
recommended to us by testimony, to receive those of the
highest degree of assent, that are taught us by God, . . .
p. 33: Our reposeing of trust in the testimony of
inspired persons is not the trust of one ...
p. 530, l. 11: repose a great deal of trust in the testimony
of inspired persons, such as Christ and his apostles . . .
p. 35: Navigators to America seting aside reason
may by the experience of others be confirmed or
confuted in their seeming irrational relations,
but the assertions of pretenders to inspiration
can only be examind by reason.
p. 530, l. 19: as the consulting with navigators and
travellers to America . . .
There are two further matches of less certain status. The first is a verbal correction:
p. 27: Involve leg: contein p. 529, l. 18: involve

While the suggested correction seems to fit the pagination of the manuscript that Locke was working on, the word 'contein' is hardly a suitable substitue for 'involve'. Boyle is speaking of those things which 'involve or require such a knowledge of what is infinite, as much passes the reach of our limited intellects'. It may be that Boyle has reworked the sentence here or that Locke is referring to a sentence that was omitted from the published version. It is clear from other of Locke's comments that Boyle did indeed excise some material from the draft that he gave to Locke, for Locke refers to an illustaration about a physician and his patient and to 'the instance of diamonds as put in the former page', neither of which appear in the published version.

The second uncertain match is a suggested addition to a sentence:

p. 69: Unassisted. 1. nor could ever have place in
the setled constitution of the universe without
the extraordinary interposition of a divine power.
p. 532, ll. 12f.: the knowledge our virtuoso may be have of
what cannot be justly expected or pretended from the
mechanical powers of matter, will enable him to discern,
that divers things are not produceable by them, without the
intervention of an intelligent superior power.

If Locke's draft read 'that divers things are not produceable by them unassisted', it may well be that Boyle, while changing the wording, paid heed to Locke's suggestion. While this is only conjecture, it would establish a further connection between Boyle and Locke, viz. that not only did Boyle solicit comments from Locke, but that he took receipt of those comments and gave them due consideration.


1 Mario Sina, 'Testi teologico-filosofici Lockiani dal ms. Locke c. 27', Rivista di filosofia neoscolastica, 64 (1972), 54-75. (Return to main text)

2 M.A. Stewart, 'Locke's "Observations" on Boyle', The Locke Newsletter, 24 (1993), 21-34, on p. 25. (Return to main text)

3 The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle, ed. Thomas Birch, (2nd edn., 6 vols, London, 1772). (Return to main text)

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by Charles Littleton and Michael Hunter

This issue of On the Boyle provides the opportunity to draw its readers' attention to the steps that have been and are being taken to make current research on Robert Boyle more widely accessible through the World Wide Web. Boyle's new visibility on the Web is to take two forms, the most immediate of which is the upgrading of the official Web site of the Robert Boyle Project. The pages will henceforth be in HTML and readable by any standard Web browser. Users will no longer be required to gain access to the site through the Acrobat programme, an obstacle which deterred a number of those who have attempted to use the site since it was originally set up. (In addition, the home page address is no longer case-sensitive, and users may type in 'Boyle' as well as 'boyle'). Initially, what the user will find at this address is a set of back issues of On the Boyle, together with an electronic version of the bibliography used in Robert Boyle Reconsidered (Cambridge University Press, 1994), which is the basic resource updated by the supplementary bibliographies in On the Boyle. In addition, there will be up-to-date news on the progress of the Robert Boyle Project in publishing Boyle's complete Works and Correspondence, including queries that are currently puzzling us and on which advice would be valued.

A site offering authoritative information on Boyle is sorely needed, as any search for 'Robert Boyle' on the Web quickly reveals. There are few sites that have pages explicitly concerning the scientist, and most of these only give brief standard biographies before moving on to discuss Boyle's Law or his role as 'the father of modern chemistry'. In other words, they do not display a familiarity with the latest work in Boyle scholarship (much of which is questioning such receivd wisdom on Boyle) and are seemingly unaware of the existence and ambitions of the Boyle Project. A scholarly and up-to-date Web site on Boyle is overdue, and we intend to provide it.

In the longer term, a further manifestation of Boyle on the Web is much more ambitious--a critical electronic edition of his manuscript work-diaries, funded by the Wellcome Trust and projected to be up and running on the Web in 2000 or 2001. These diaries comprise paperbooks into which Boyle sequentially entered a wide range of data relating to his interests and activities. Having started in the 1640s devoted to literary topics, from the early 1650s they focus on records of scientific and medical observations and experiments made by Boyle himself, and information that he was vouchsafed by informants both at home and abroad. Largely because they are scattered through the Boyle archive, these diaries have not hitherto received the attention that they deserve. The individual entries that they contain run into the thousands, and each will be transcribed, arranged as far as possible in chronological order, and provided with an apparatus elucidating the background of people, places or processes mentioned in it. Using electronic technology, we intend to provide both a 'clean', easily readable, transcript of the text and a parallel transcript of the original manuscript revealing all the emendations the text was subjected to during the original writing, with hypertext links connecting readers of the clean version to the relevant area in the transcript of the original so that they may see the process of composition that each passage went through. There will also be hypertext links in both transcripts to the apparatus of notes and commentary. Other links, based on keywords and other indexing methods, will connect texts spread across the corpus which discuss similar topics. The result should be to enable users to achieve electronically the thematic sorting of this material to which Boyle aspired in the compilation, 'Paralipomena', which he planned in his later years but which he never brought to fruition.

After careful consideration as to how best to publish this material, we have decided to present these work-diaries in SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language), the overarching markup language of which HTML, the language most current Web browsers read and display, is but a subset. SGML differs from HTML in that its tags denote the structural elements in a text, and not merely their formatting. For instance, in SGML, the title of a book cited by Boyle would not be marked merely to be <underlined>, but would be tagged as a <citation>. The book title could then be manipulated in many more fruitful ways than if it were merely treated as an underlined set of characters. Different browsers could format the <citation> tag in various ways, while the <citation> tags throughout the corpus could be gathered together to form an index of books, or to perform searches. With its generalized and logical codes, SGML will not be outdated quickly. Indeed, the potential for manipulaing these tagged elements will only increase as Web browsers and software packages become more sophisticated.

To prepare this edition we have already been in consultation with a number of people involved in other electronic publication projects which make use of SGML. We have discussed the advantages and difficulties of the language with Dr. Jeremy Black and other members of the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature Project, based at Oxford University's Oriental Institute, which aims to use SGML to put transcriptions and translations of all surviving ancient Sumerian poetry on the Web. The John Foxe Project at the University of Sheffield, which is preparing parallel electronic versions of the first four editions of Foxe's Book of Martyrs, faces many of the same problems in dealing with early modern English texts as we do; on behalf of the Project, Michael Pidd has shared with us many of his views concerning rendering such texts in electronic form. Our project is still in its early phase, but we would appreciate any suggestions, and any help or guidance on SGML, or electronic publishing in general. If you wish to contact the developer of this web site with any comments, please address these to Any suggestions would greatly help in the development of what should prove to be an impportant source for all Boyle researchers and indeed for all scholars interested in early modern science and philosophy.

Go to On the Boyle Contents | Robert Boyle Home Page

Publications on Boyle

since On the Boyle issue 1, April 1997

Clericuzio, Antonio, 'L'atomisme de Gassendi et la philosophie corpusculaire de Boyle', in Sylvia Murr (ed.), Gassendi et l'Europe (1592-1792) (Paris: Vrin, 1997), 227-35

---, 'Notes on Corpuscular Philosophy and Pneumatical Experiments in Robert Boyle's New Experiments Physico mechanical, touching the Spring of the Air', in Wim Klever (ed.), Die Schwere der Luft in der Diskussion des 17 Jahrhunderts, Wolfenbütteler Arbeiten zur Barockforschung, Band 29 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1997), 109-16

---, 'The Mechanical Philosophy and the Spring of the Air. New Light on Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke', Nuncius, 13 (1998), 69-75

Fazzari, Michela 'Robert Boyle: elasticity of air and philosophical polemics', in Wim Klever (ed.), Die Schwere der Luft in der Diskussion des 17 Jahrhunderts, Wolfenbütteler Arbeiten zur Barockforschung Band 29 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1997), 117-34

Giglioni, Guido, 'Generosità e dedizione alla verità nella filosofia della natura del XVII secolo. Descartes, Boyle e Swammerdam', in Giuseppe Galli (ed.), Interpretazione e dedizione (Pisa/Rome: Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, 1998), 37-92

Hooykaas, Reijer, Robert Boyle: a Study of Science and Christian Belief, English translation by H. van Dyke, with a foreword by John Hedley Brooke and Michael Hunter (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1997)

Hunter, Michael, 'Boyle versus the Galenists: a Suppressed Critique of Seventeenth-century Medical Practice and its Significance', Medical History, 47 (1997), 322-61

---, 'Mapping the Mind of Robert Boyle: the Evidence of the Boyle Papers', in id. (ed.), Archives of the Scientific Revolution: the Formation and Exchange of Ideas in 17th-century Europe (Woodbridge: the Boydell Press, 1998), 121-36

---, 'Boyle' in Michel Blay and Robert Halleux (eds.), La Science Classique, 16e-18e siècle: Dictionnaire critique (Paris: Flammarion, 1998), 207-15

Iliffe, Rob, 'Boyle's Industry' (review essay of Michael Hunter (ed.), Robert Boyle Reconsidered; id., Robert Boyle by Himself and his Friends; and R.-M.Sargent, The Diffident Naturalist), History of Science, 35 (1997), 455-84

Principe, Lawrence M., The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and his Alchemical Quest (Princeton University Press, 1998)

Schaffer, Simon, 'Regeneration: the Body of Natural Philosophers in Restoration England', in Christopher Lawrence and Steven Shapin (eds.), Science Incarnate: Historical Embodiments of Natural Knowledge (Chicago University Press, 1998), 83-120

Serjeantson, R.W., 'Testimony, Authority and Proof in 17th-century England', University of Cambridge Ph.D. thesis, 1998

Webster, Charles, 'La reinvenzione di Robert Boyle', Rivista Storica Italiana, 109 (1997), 298-306

Wintroub, Michael, 'The Looking Glass of Facts: Collecting, Rhetoric, and Citing the Self in the Experimental Natural Philosophy of Robert Boyle', History of Science, 35 (1997), 189-217

Woodall, David L., 'The Relationship between Science and Scripture in the Thought of Robert Boyle', Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 48 (1997), 32-9

Zakin, S.A., 'Inside Books of the World: Issues of Textual Interpretation in mid-17th-century Discourse on Knowledge', University of Cambridge Ph.D. thesis, 1997, ch. 3

More bibliographies: 1940-94 | 1994-April 1997 | November 1998-December 1999 |December 1999-January 2001

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If you are working on Boyle and your project is not reported here, let us know, so that details can be included in the next issue. Items for inclusion in the next issue of On the Boyle should be sent either to Michael Hunter at Department of History, Birkbeck College, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX (e-mail:, or to Peter Anstey at Department of Traditional and Modern Philosophy, University of Sydney, New south Wales, 2006, Australia (