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|Home > Researchers' Area - Archive > On the Boyle (issue no. 5, March 2002)|
ON THE BOYLE:
a newsletter of work in progress on Robert Boyle (1627-91)
No. 5: March 2002
Welcome to the fifth issue of On the Boyle. This will be the last to be issued in printed form. From now onwards the function of the newsletter will be served by the Robert Boyle Website, which is to be found at http://www.bbk.ac.uk/Boyle/, and which is currently being redesigned to provide news and other information about Boyle in a more systematic format. The current issue of On the Boyle includes a review of the recently published edition of Boyle's Correspondence and a description of the Web edition of his work-diaries. It also includes the regular features, namely Boyle News and a list of recent publications on Boyle .
Peter Anstey, University of Sydney
Michael Hunter, University of London
Peter Anstey (firstname.lastname@example.org) has recently completed a lengthy study of Boyle's theory of seminal principles and a survey of materials related to Boyle amongst John Locke's manuscripts. He is currently working on critical responses to Boyle's natural philosophy in the early modern period.
Iordan Avramov (email@example.com), whose review of The Correspondence of Robert Boyle appears elsewhere in this issue, has been working in London on his study of Henry Oldenburg as scientific communicator since March 2001. Initially, he spent six months attached to Birkbeck College under the auspices of the Royal Society; since September, he has been at the School of Advanced Study of the University of London, supported by the Leverhulme Trust.
Christiana Christopoulou (firstname.lastname@example.org) gave a paper at the BSHS Postgraduate Conference at Oxford in December 2001 on 'Robert Boyle on Cold: an Examination of the Royal Society Archives and Boyle's Work-diaries'. This expounded some of the ideas that she will be putting forward in her PhD thesis.
The Correspondence of Robert Boyle, edited by Michael Hunter, Antonio Clericuzio and Lawrence M. Principe and published in six volumes by Pickering & Chatto, appeared slightly ahead of schedule in August 2001. For a review of it, see below, pp. 6-9. An electronic version of the edition is due to be published late in 2002 by InteLex as part of its '1000 Years of English Letters' series, following on from their publication of theWorks, which is imminent (see below, p. 4). For information on 'English Letters', see http://www.nlx.com/pstm/pstmel.htm. In preparation for its inclusion in the series, any additions or corrections to The Correspondence of Robert Boyle would be gratefully received; they should be sent to Michael Hunter (email@example.com).
Peter Elmer's study of the Greatrakes affair (see On the Boyle, 4) is virtually finished, but its completion has been unavoidably delayed by family circumstances. We wish Peter well, and look forward to its appearance in due course. Peter's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Roger Gaskell (email@example.com) whose updated version of J.F. Fulton's Bibliography of Boyle (2nd edn., Oxford 1961) will take the form of a reprint with annotations, expects to deliver the text to the publishers, Oak Knoll, this summer.
Michael Hunter (firstname.lastname@example.org) has now started work on a biography of Boyle, helped in 2001-2 by sabbatical leave funded by the Leverhulme Trust. He has given various conference papers expounding aspects of his work in progress, including one exploring Boyle's Irish links at the Tercentenary of Archbishop Marsh's Library at Dublin in October 2001.
Jan-Erik Jones (email@example.com), University of California, Irvine, is completing a doctoral dissertation on Locke and the Workmanship of the Understanding thesis which includes an account of Boyle's views on classification and natural kinds.
Harriet Knight (firstname.lastname@example.org) will complete her PhD thesis on Boyle's Organisation of Knowledge in Theory and Practice this year. She is working at Birkbeck College with Stephen Clucas (English) and Michael Hunter (History). She is also collaborating with Michael Hunter and Charles Littleton in a study of Boyle's 'Paralipomena'.
Lismore, co. Waterford, Boyle's birthplace, has for some years had a Heritage Centre introducing visitors to various facets of its history (email@example.com). Now, there is a plan to make more of Lismore's most famous son by devoting an entire room to an exhibit on him. The display is currently being designed, and its emphasis will be on Boyle's life; it will open in April 2003.
Jack MacIntosh (firstname.lastname@example.org) has all but completed his book-length study of Boyle's 'lost' attack on atheism. Jonathan Gorman kindly read Jack's paper, 'Robert Boyle's Modal Proof of God's Existence', at the Royal Irish Academy Conference on Metaphysics at Dublin in May 2001, as he was unable to attend due to ill health. Jack will read a paper at a conference on Eternal Truths in the Seventeenth Century (programme at http://www.cgu.edu/hum/phi/easton/conference/program.html) which is to be held at the University of Calgary this summer.
Bill Newman and Larry Principe expect their book, Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry , to appear from Chicago University Press later this year. Their accompanying reader, tentatively entitled The Papers and Letters of George Starkey, is currently under consideration. Their email addresses are email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill Newman has also completed a book called Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Art-Nature Debate, in which Boyle appears in the final chapter; he is currently writing a further book tentatively entitled Alchemy and the Scientific Revolution: the Case of Daniel Sennert and Robert Boyle.
The Shannon Portrait of Boyle (see On the Boyle, 4), which a year ago was on display at Historical Portraits, London, has since been acquired by the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, by the gift of John Haas and Eugene Garfield.
Electronic edition of The Works of Robert Boyle
An electronic version of The Works of Robert Boyle, edited by Michael Hunter and Edward B. Davis, is due to be brought out in a few months' time by InteLex as part of their Past Masters series. It will be available in both on-line and CD versions of the printed text. For details, see www.nlx.com.
Misprints and obvious errors which the editors have noticed since the publication of the printed edition will be silently corrected in the electronic text. Insofar as supplementary information has come to light, this will either be inserted at the appropriate point, or will be noted in a special supplement. Various readers have already drawn the editors' attention to errors in the printed edition. If you have noted any to which you have not yet drawn attention, please pass details of them on to the editors by mid-April so that they can be incorporated into the electronic edition. As noted above, an electronic version of the Correspondence will follow later in the year, so emendations for that are welcome, too. Please send both to email@example.com.
The Work-diaries of Robert Boyle
Readers of On the Boyle will have learned from previous issues of the newsletter of the progress that has been made over the past few years in producing an edition of Boyle's 'work-diaries' (see especially On the Boyle, 2). Basically this comprises an edition in chronological order of the notes that Boyle made throughout his career on his experiments, on data given him by travellers and others, and on books that he read. Hitherto, these documents have been so randomly scattered through the Boyle Papers at the Royal Society that they have been almost entirely overlooked. However, by transcribing and ordering them, a key new source for understanding Boyle's intellectual development has now been made available.
The characteristic form of these documents is a series of self-contained entries, varying in length from a line to over a page. This means that they are ideally suited to being edited in electronic rather than printed form, and it is thus that they are being presented to the public, in each case in parallel diplomatic and normalised versions between which the reader can switch at will. The work of transcribing, checking and encoding the entries in XML, using the Text Encoding Initiative's markup scheme, has been carried out almost entirely by Dr Charles Littleton, funded by a generous grant from the Wellcome Trust; subsidiary tasks, including the compilation of a biographical guide to those mentioned in the texts, were executed by Dr Ben Coates. The Wellcome grant came to an end on 30 September 2001, by which time the files were ready to be placed on the Internet. Currently they are available in two locations: one is the Boyle Website (http://www.bbk.ac.uk/Boyle/); the other is the Website of the Perseus Project at Tufts University (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu), who have generously given space for this resource. In the longer term, it is hoped that the Work-diaries will also be available on the server of the newly-inaugurated AHRB London Centre for Editing Lives and Letters. Further information about the Work-diaries and their publication is available both from the relevant web-pages and from an article by Michael Hunter and Charles Littleton, 'The Work-diaries of Robert Boyle: a newly discovered source and its Internet publication', published in Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 55 (2001), 373-90. Now that it is available, it is hoped that all concerned with Boyle will make use of this exciting new source.
Review: The Correspondence of Robert Boyle
eds. Michael Hunter, Antonio Clericuzio and Lawrence M. Principe
6 vols. (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2001)
by Iordan V. Avramov
The readers of On the Boyle, who have just started to appreciate the riches of the recently publishedThe Works of Robert Boyle, have now been presented with the worthy sequel to this most important event in the history of the Boyle industry: the eagerly-awaited new edition of Robert Boyle's letters has now come from the press.The Correspondence of Robert Boyle is published in six volumes, by the same publisher, in the same binding-cloth design, and, most importantly, up to the same high scholarly standard which gracesThe Works. There is also a continuity of editorship between the two editions, exemplified in the person of Michael Hunter; yet, for this project Antonio Clericuzio and Lawrence Principe have taken the torch from Edward Davis, to join Hunter in an effort to master the challenges of this other, quite different, editorial enterprise. Their aim has been achieved with remarkable success; by merit both of what is included and the way it is presented, the new edition is an exceptional book, which is bound to enrich in many ways our understanding of Boyle and the world he lived in.
To begin with the content, The Correspondence has the fulfilled ambition to be the first complete edition of Boyle's letters. It contains all extant letters to and from Boyle arranged in chronological order, starting with a letter of 18 February 1636, written by him from Eton and addressed to his father, and ending with a letter by the German Johannes Georg Steigerthal, sent to him sometime in late 1691. It also includes all the surviving enclosures to those letters and provides information on letters that are known to have been lost. To this the editors have added various auxiliary documents - for example, letters between third parties, which are relevant, one way or another, to Boyle's epistolary exchanges. All this has been compiled by diligent search of a broad range of archival sources - the principal one, the Boyle Letters and other holdings of the Royal Society, but also the Hartlib Papers at Sheffield University Library, the Winthrop Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Birch Papers in the British Library, to note just a few among many others - and by thorough examination of the previous publications of Boyle's letters. A considerable part of this edition consists of previously unpublished material.
The thematic landscape of these more than fifty years of letter-writing teaches us many things, some of them well beyond any knowledge that can be derived from what Boyle himself published. Naturally, prominently featured is his correspondence with many well-known figures of the new natural philosophy - Henry Oldenburg, Samuel Hartlib, John Beale, Robert Hooke, John Wallis, Isaac Newton, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, etc. - which is so important for understanding not only Boyle's own intellectual concerns, but also those of his correspondents. Here are also Boyle's exchanges with members of his family, ranging from his Eton juvenilia to letters on family affairs exchanged with his brothers in his mature years, or the fragmentary but intimate correspondence with his sister, Lady Ranelagh. Boyle's deep preoccupation with the 'Propagation of the Gospel in the New England', the purpose of the New England Company, whose Governor he was for a considerable period of time, is also well evidenced by many letters. Linked to this is his commitment to promote the publication and diffusion of a Gaelic translation of the Bible in Ireland and Scotland, which is well documented in letters of his later years. Overlapping with this, but also revealing of other of Boyle's spiritual concerns, is his correspondence with clerics like Thomas Barlow, Gilbert Burnet, or Narcissus Marsh. Almost all of these thematic fields benefit from newly published material, but it is Boyle's letters with alchemists which could claim the biggest share in such profit. Amongst these, the striking correspondence with Georges Pierre des Clozets of Caen in the years 1677-78 stands out by its sheer extraordinariness.
A many-faceted picture of Boyle and his milieu emerges out of this landscape. A landed aristocrat with worries about his interests in Ireland; the New England Company's highest officer regularly attending to its business and sometimes having troubles with its agents overseas; a victim of a charlatan's elaborate plot (though I admit other readings of the Pierre affair are also possible) - these are just a few of the less well-known roles he played, or was led to play, about which we know little (if anything) from other sources. True to their nature, letters also give away what others imagined and thought of Boyle, be they impoverished Huguenot refugees begging for patronage and/or money, alchemists trying to sell their secrets, or long-term friends like Oldenburg, who shared with him his private and public agenda. Furthermore, as might be expected, this edition supplies information beyond Boyle himself, reaching to other figures and topics. I, for one, have been able to learn from it a number of new things about Henry Oldenburg, some of them truly fascinating. For example, when in 1668 Michael Behm of Danzig - who was otherwise a correspondent of Oldenburg - sent Boyle a confidential letter on alchemical topics he put these words at the very end of it: 'I beg that you may see fit to reveal to no person the contents of this hurriedly written letter: to this end I addressed it to your honour's private house, not to the hands of the distinguished Mr Oldenburg, who reveals everything to the Society.' 1 Here, in a flash, is an explicit and important contemporary view of Oldenburg, evidence of which is not offered on the pages of his own voluminous correspondence nor, to my present knowledge, elsewhere. 2 Chancing upon things like this makes one feel grateful for the existence of the present edition, and, indeed, it is easy to predict that many similar excitements and serendipities lay in waiting for its future users.
The information contained in The Correspondence of Robert Boyle is massive, due not only to the material collected in it, but also to the way it is prepared and presented to the reader. Each and every published item is given scholarly annotations, and all letters in languages other than English are carefully translated. The editors have done their best to provide detail as to the physical properties of the manuscript sources by supplying notes on postmarks, peculiarities of paper and format, and, for the first time in such an edition, seals. The endorsements are also annotated, and the textual notes themselves are separated as endnotes to each volume. The first volume starts with a detailed Introduction treating various issues - the history of the publication of Boyle's letters, sources, editorial methods, etc. - and each volume boasts a glossary and a helpful biographical guide to the principal correspondents in it. The final volume has two indices - a general index and an index to all letters included in the edition - which perfectly suffice as navigational tools through the sea of letters in all six volumes. In search for balance between the rational boundaries of the edition and their desire for comprehensiveness, the editors have also included in this volume six appendices, covering ground that is important for understanding parts of the main body of the correspondence. The first contains documents connected to the circulation of the Bible in the Highlands; the second is committed to prefatory statements to Boyle in epistolary form; the third contains undated letters; the fourth reproduces William Wotton's inventory of Boyle letters (a curious document from the earliest phase of Boyle scholarship); the fifth consists of an inventory of all items in the Boyle Letters at the Royal Society excluded from this edition (this is an informative list and my favourite appendix!); and in the sixth, selected letters neither to nor from Boyle are printed. The upshot of all this editorial work is that every page of The Correspondence is packed with significant detail, and many parts of it could be consulted as independent pieces of research or even reference guides.
I have had a hard time trying to see what complaints one could possibly have about the present edition, and could think only of omissions which must have been imposed on it by external limitations. For instance, the edition does not contain many facsimiles of original documents; it would have been nice to have such visual material on more occasions. The wonderful analysis of seals, for example, would have gained from sometimes reproducing the seals themselves, and samples of the handwriting of the principal correspondents would not have been amiss either. As in The Works, the font size is a little on the small side, and although perfectly comfortable for common use, voracious readers, who would like to read a volume or so at a time (and this edition makes you feel this way!), might find it tiring for the eyes in the course of their reading.
However, these are the wishes of one who has been treated to a lavish feast and thereby greatly spoiled. There is no doubt either that this edition is far better than its well-known predecessor in the history of the publication of the Boyle correspondence - the selection of letters printed by Birch in the final volume of his edition of Boyle's Works 3 - or that it is a first-class achievement even against the background of the whole tradition of publishing such epistolary material . The editors and all those who helped them with this work may congratulate themselves on the marvelous job done, and we all can do this as well - on the occasion of another fine research tool entering our shelves. And now we hear that The Work-Diaries of Robert Boyle is also available...
1.. Michael Behm to Boyle, 2 October, 1668, Michael Hunter, Antonio Clericuzio, and Lawrence M. Principe (eds.), The Correspondence of Robert Boyle (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2001), iv, 114.
Publications on Boyle since On the Boyle Issue 4 (January 2001)
Alonso, Luis, 'Revolucion Cientifica: Robert Boyle' [review essay ofThe Works of Robert Boyle, etc.], Investigacion y Ciencia, September 2001, pp. 92-6 [in Spanish]
Anstey, Peter, 'Boyle against Thinking Matter', in Christoph Lüthy, John E. Murdoch and William R. Newman (eds.), Late Medieval and Early Modern Corpuscular Matter Theories (Leiden: Brill, 2001), pp. 483-514 'L'ouevre de Boyle est arrive!' [review essay of The Works of Robert Boyle, vols. 8-14], Metascience, 10 (2001), 392-400
Clericuzio, Antonio, Elements, Principles and Corpuscles: a Study of Atomism and Chemistry in the Seventeenth Century (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2000)'Gassendi, Charleton and Boyle on Matter and Motion', in Christoph Lüthy, John E. Murdoch and William R. Newman (eds.), Late Medieval and Early Modern Corpuscular Matter Theories (Leiden: Brill, 2001), pp. 467-482
Cook, Margaret G., 'Divine Artifice and Natural Mechanism: Robert Boyle's Mechanical Philosophy of Nature', Osiris, 16 (2001), 133-150Davis, Edward B., 'Robert Boyle as the Source of an Isaac Watts Text set for a William Billings Anthem', The Hymn: A Journal of Congregational Song, 53 (2002), 46-7Feingold, Mordechai, 'Opera omnia of an Omniscribe' [review essay of The Works of Robert Boyle ], American Scientist, 89 (2001), 176-7
Hunter, Michael, 'Boyle, Robert', in Arne Hessenbruch (ed.), Reader's Guide to the History of Science (London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000), pp. 101-3The Occult Laboratory: Magic, Science and Second Sight in Late Seventeenth-century Scotland (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2001)'The Correspondence of Robert Boyle', British Academy Review, January-July 2001, pp. 28-30
Hunter, Michael, Clericuzio, Antonio, and Principe, Lawrence M. (eds.), The Correspondence of Robert Boyle, 6 vols. (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2001)
Hunter, Michael, and Littleton, Charles, 'The Work-diaries of Robert Boyle: a newly discovered source and its Internet publication', Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 55 (2001), 373-90
MacIntosh, Jack. J, 'Boyle', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2002), http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/boyle/
Osler, Margaret, 'Robert Boyle Recovered' [review essay of The Works of Robert Boyle ], Isis, 92 (2001), 351-3'Whose ends? Teleology in Early Modern Natural Philosophy', Osiris, 16 (2001), 151-68'Robert Boyle on the Knowledge of Nature in the Afterlife', in James E. Force and Richard H. Popkin (eds.), Millenarianism and Messianism in Early Modern European Culture: The Millenarian Turn (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2001), pp. 43-54
Porter, Roy, 'To Justify the Ways of Boyle to Man' [review essay of The Works of Robert Boyle and of Michael Hunter, Robert Boyle: Scrupulosity and Science (2000)], History of Science, 39 (2001), 241-8
Potter, Elizabeth, Gender and Boyle's Law of Gases (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001)
Wojcik, Jan W., 'Robert Boyle, the Conversion of the Jews, and Millennial Expectations', in James E. Force and Richard H. Popkin (eds.), Millenarianism and Messianism in Early Modern European Culture: The Millenarian Turn (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2001), pp. 55-66
Yoshimoto, Hideyuki, Review essay of The Works of Robert Boyle, Kagakushi: the Journal of the Japanese Society for the History of Chemistry, 28 (2001), 91-100 [in Japanese]
The Robert Boyle Website
As noted on the first page of this Newsletter, the Robert Boyle Website at http://www.bbk.ac.uk/Boyle is currently being redesigned (though throughout this process it will continue to be available). It is hoped that the new version will replace the existing one at the same address in about a month's time.
The intention is to make the Website more reader-friendly by introducing more separate components, one of which (under the title,On the Boyle: What's new in Boyle studies? ) will continue the function of this newsletter. In addition, a single, composite Boyle bibliography will be included, so that readers will not have to collate a series of separate updates as at present. The Work-diaries will have a separate directory of their own within the Website, and there will also be a further section, 'Projects and Publications', which will be devoted to the publication of original documents and scholarly papers relating to Boyle. Any queries concerning the Website should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.