ISSN 1465-4970


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

No. 4: January 2001

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

Welcome to the fourth issue of On the Boyle, which contains, among other things, news of a hitherto unknown portrait of Boyle and a review of vols. 13-14 of the recently completed edition of his Works. This will in fact be the penultimate issue of this newsletter in hard-copy form. Reading the mood of the times, we perceive that electronic communication has almost completely superseded the envelope-stuffing culture of which this newsletter was a late emanation. We therefore feel that it is best to succumb to this by using the Boyle web page-hitherto running in parallel with this occasional print publication at http:/ the primary organ of dissemination of Boyle news. Hence issue 5, which will appear in about a year’s time, will be our swan song.

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

Contents of On the Boyle #4


Peter Anstey’s book, The Philosophy of Robert Boyle was published in August 2000. He also notes that his and Andrew Pyle’s responses to Alan Chalmers’s views on Boyle will be published in Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science (this corrects the information given in issue 2 of On the Boyle). He can be contacted at

Iordan Avramov of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences ( has nearly completed his study of Henry Oldenburg as a scientific communicator; in it, he pays particular attention to Oldenburg’s close epistolary relations with Boyle.

Christiana Christopoulou ( is writing a Ph.D. at the University of Athens under the supervision of Prof. Kostas Gavoglu on 17th-century experimental philosophy, and particularly Boyle’s work on cold.

Antonio Clericuzio ( has completed his book, Elements, Principles and Corpuscles: a Study of Atomism and Chemistry in the 17th century, which contains a chapter on Boyle's chemistry and theory of matter. It is due to be published in January 2001.

The Correspondence of Robert Boyle is now well advanced towards its September 2001 publication date. Volumes 1-3 are already in proof, and the remaining three volumes are not far behind. The final stages of the project are being supported by a generous grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Board. Two developments may be drawn to the attention of readers of On the Boyle. Firstly, Lawrence M. Principe, formerly described as an 'editorial advisor’, has now agreed to join Michael Hunter and Antonio Clericuzio as an editor of the work. Secondly, a list of queries-particularly concerning elusive correspondents of Boyle-will shortly be posted on the Boyle web page, http:/ Any assistance with them would be greatly appreciated.

Peter Elmer ( has now completed his book on the Greatrakes affair (see On the Boyle, issue 2). This dwells on Greatrakes’s relations with Robert Boyle, his brother Roger, Earl of Orrery, and his sister Katherine, Lady Ranelagh; it should appear sometime in 2001.

Brian Garrett of York University, Toronto ( has been working on Boyle’s Disquisition about the Final Causes of Things.

Roger Gaskell ( is about to complete his annotated reprint of J.F. Fulton’s Bibliography of Boyle and would like to hear from anyone who is aware of any errors or omissions in the second edition (Oxford, 1961).

Michael Hunter’s collected studies of Boyle came out in September as Robert Boyle (1627-91): Scrupulosity and Science. His study of the discovery of 'second sight’ in Scotland in the late 17th century (in which Boyle figures prominently) will be published early in 2001. He is now starting work on a definitive biography of Boyle.

Harriet Knight ( continues to work on a Ph.D. thesis on Boyle at Birkbeck College, University of London, under Stephen Clucas (English); her work gives particular reference to Boyle’s views on the organisation of natural knowledge.

Jack Macintosh (, whose review of volumes 13 and 14 of The Works of Robert Boyle appears later in this issue is well-advanced in his reconstruction of Boyle’s 'lost’ attack on atheism.

Bill Newman and Larry Principe ( and have completed their study of Boyle, Van Helmont and laboratory practice in chymistry, and the manuscript is currently under review.

Vol. 8-14 of The Works of Robert Boyle, edited by Michael Hunter and Edward B. Davis, were published in September 2000. A call for corrigenda appears below, while a review of the final two volumes, comprising hitherto unpublished writings by Boyle, can be found on pp. 7-10.

The Work-diaries of Robert Boyle, a 'new’ source constructed by bringing together material widely scattered in the Boyle Papers in a coherent, chronological order, will be published on the Web in HTML format in the autumn of 2001. The development of this resource has been made possible by a generous grant from the Wellcome Trust. The principal researcher on the project is Charles Littleton ( For a brief preliminary account see On the Boyle, issue 2.

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The Works of Robert Boyle: call for information on errata

With all fourteen volumes of the complete new edition of Boyle’s Works now published, we are only too aware that innumerable minor-and sometimes major-errors lurk within both the text and our annotations to it. In the expectation that either a reprint of the printed edition or an electronic version may at some point be called for, we would like to request any readers who have come across misprints or more serious errors in the edition to let us know about them. Please e-mail them to or

Edward B. Davis
Michael Hunter

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Portrait of Robert Boyle, by Johann Kerseboom

Portrait of Robert Boyle, by Johann Kerseboom, c.1689. On display at Historical Portraits in Dover Street, London


by James Mulraine

An important portrait of Robert Boyle by Johann Kerseboom has recently emerged on the art market from an Irish private collection. It is of the pattern familiar from the Kerseboom portrait in the collection of the Royal Society and, in the opinion of Tabitha Barber, 17th-century Curator at the Tate Gallery, is unquestionably an autograph work by Johann Kerseboom (fl.1683-1708). It is currently on display at Historical Portraits in Dover Street, London.

The painting measures fifty by forty inches and depicts Boyle in a wig and India gown seated at a damasked chair and table. A curtain separates this space from a background wall of relievo wreaths set between pilasters. There is no direct reference to natural philosophy, although a large book which the sitter has been interrupted in the act of reading alludes to the intellect. The pained and drawn characterisation and the bold, slightly stiff treatment of the draperies distinguish the autograph versions from copies by other hands, such as that in the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 3930) where the features have been made younger and the draperies have been softened.

The painting belongs to the group of portraits described by R.E.W. Maddison ('The Portraiture of the Honourable Robert Boyle’, Annals of Science, 15 (1959), 141-214, on pp. 159ff.) which derive from a sitting to Kerseboom in 1689. The current portrait is a version which was unknown to Maddison. Boyle notoriously disliked sitting for his portrait, which explains both the paucity of portrait types and, to satisfy the demand for images, the duplication by Kerseboom and others of this particular composition. The best of these versions - including the Royal Society portrait, the painting at Kensington Palace (Maddison, p. 169) and this example - display the same concern with an acute characterisation, and a skilful attention to the texture and detail of background and draperies. They also share a close association with the immediate family and friends who were Boyle’s executors in 1692. Since that date this example has been in the possession of the family of the Earls of Shannon - direct descendants of Robert Boyle’s nephew, the Hon. Henry Boyle - and until now has remained unknown to Boyle scholars.

For further information, contact

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Margaret Rowbottom (1908-99) was one of the pioneers of post-war study of Boyle. Her great coup was her discovery and (re)publication in Annals of Science in 1950 of Boyle’s first published writing, the anonymous 'Invitation to a free and generous Communication of Secrets and Receits in Physick’ published in Chymical, Medical and Chyrurgical Addresses, Made to Samuel Hartlib Esquire in 1655. She came across this in the course of research on Boyle that was to materialise in her 1955 University of London PhD thesis on 'The chemical studies of Robert Boyle and his place in the history of chemistry’; subsequently she published a valuable study of Boyle’s Huguenot friends and acquaintances in Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of London in 1959.

Margaret Rowbottom graduated with a BSc in physics from Bedford College, London, in 1930. Apart from the interruption of (distinguished) service with the WAAF during the war, her career was with the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum from 1933 to 1968; in the course of this, she was responsible for organising many major exhibitions there. She remained active in her retirement, and wrote in to support On the Boyle when it was launched in 1997. We are grateful to John Symons for the information in this notice.

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eds. Michael Hunter and Edward B. Davis (Pickering and Chatto, 2000)

by J.J. MacIntosh

Many readers of this review will have seen at least the first seven volumes of this new edition of Boyle’s Works. These two volumes continue the high standard already set. The preceding volumes have been a delight, but volumes 13 and 14 are especially welcome, giving us, as they do, an important selection of Boyle’s hitherto unpublished work. As a result of Michael Hunter’s earlier endeavours this manuscript material is available on microfilm, but it is very welcome indeed to have so much that is important now available in print. A number of items which no longer survive in English versions are here translated from their Latin versions. Transcription, translation and annotations are impeccable, as are the fuller references provided in footnotes in the various instances in which Boyle’s references are somewhat sketchy.

The editors have sorted the pieces they are printing into ten sections. Volume 13, containing work from c.1645 - c.1670, has the first five sections, comprising early moral and theological writings and material from Boyle’s early scientific phase as well as portions of later treatises, including material relating to Usefulness I and II. Included is a full transcription of 'Of the Atomicall Philosophy’, in which, as the editors point out, Boyle is interested not in atoms as such (as is clear from his inclusion of Descartes and Digby as atomists), but in minima naturalia, the corpuscles of the corpuscular philosophy.

Among the early papers in Volume 13 is a recently discovered draft of an early version of The Martyrdom of Theodora and Didymus. Boyle published the second part of Theodora in 1687, believing the first part to be lost, correctly as far as we currently know. What is here recovered is not the lost first part so much as a compressed version of the entire work. The published second half is a considerably expanded version of part of this first draft. Presumably Boyle’s unpublished first part was similarly expanded. This shorter version, however, is quite as 'artless’ as Boyle found the published version, and equally evidently aims to be a provider of 'patterns of virtue’ rather than a mere romance. What comes out clearly in both versions is the interesting combination of Boyle’s sexual naivety and youthful piety and not, as some critics would have it, his 'prurient self-righteousness’.1

Boyle’s interest in the afterlife (which the 'Boadings & Disquieting Terrors of a Guilty Conscience’ should lead all of us to take an interest in),2 is clearly seen in this early version of Theodora: 'She held it preposterous to lett that part of her usurpe the largest portion of her care, that was but the narrowest sharer in her esteeme, but spending her tyme as something she expected to account for, she thought it would not be well lik’t of that she should employ more houres (of that short space of life that God had lent her) in tempting prayses for her selfe, then in paying them to her maker; since not the multitude of her servants but that of her services was promised a reward in heaven, where none at the last day shall weare the Crowne for having had many servants but for being good ones’ (Works, 13:6).

Following Theodora, the group of short papers on Boyle’s early moral views usefully supplements other already published early pieces on morality such as Boyle’s early piece on the treatment of non-human animals (BP 37, fols. 186-93, transcribed by Malcolm Oster in 'The "Beame of Divinity": Animal suffering in the early thought of Robert Boyle’, British Journal for the History of Science, 22 (1989), 151-80) and the pieces transcribed by John Harwoood in The Early Essays and Ethics of Robert Boyle (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991).

In the shortest (but interesting) fragment 'Deare Jacke’-fragmentary not only because it is incomplete, but because the manuscript is torn-Boyle discusses the notion of aesthetic relativism without however asking himself, as his friend Locke was in effect to do (Essay 1.3.9) whether similar considerations might apply in other normative spheres. 'The Saints,’ says Locke severely, 'who are canonized amongst the Turks, lead Lives, which one cannot with Modesty relate’. Whether it might be acceptable to have such conflicting systems is considered by Boyle in volume 14 ('The Diversity of Religions’).

The 'Deare Jacke’ fragment also lets us see what Boyle thought, or at least what Boyle thought his contemporaries thought, constituted feminine beauty and acceptable behaviour: women must not have 'Bobber [that is, swollen] lips, that wud fright one of us from kissing them,’ nor 'Goggle-eyes,’ nor 'Flat/Camuz/ Noses [a camus or camoys nose is an upturned or pug nose], that to us wud prove a Antidote against Love’. They must not even have the classically praised 'Golden Tresses’ (Works, 13:93). Boyle (though not all of his contemporaries) thought that women should not paint their faces, and is even tempted by the view of 'that froward Writer’, Tertullian, who held that it was 'the fall’n spirits taught women first to Paint’ ('Against Painting’, (Works, 13:53). And of course their breasts should not be too visible: Boyle goes on at some length about this, suggesting inter alia that women are sinful in this regard because they thereby tempt men to sin ('Letter to Mrs John Dury’: Works, 13:57-9). They should not be 'confident’, but rather, should have 'a Modest Reservdnesse of Lookes & Gesture, that countenances not vice; & such as may quench all unwarrantable Flames in the very kindling’ ('Against Confidence’, Works, 13:87).

Volume 14 contains material from c.1670 to the end of Boyle’s life: material relating to The Mechanical Origin of Qualities, Notion of Nature and Final Causes, along with miscellaneous scientific papers, and writings on medicine and theology.

The theological group contains four substantial and important pieces, two of them here translated from Latin translations of now lost English originals ('How the Christian Religion conforms to Reason’ and 'The Weakness of the Human Understanding Revealed in its Native Light’), one, 'On the Diversity of Religions’, based on a Latin translation of the text and a large surviving portion of the original English, and finally a letter to Oldenburg in which Boyle looks at the way in which reason and revelation mutually assist one another. These are 'the two Lights that the Father of Lights has vouchsafd Christians to guide them into all Truth’ (Works, 14:267); since both emanate from God, Boyle held that there is no danger that the two might come into conflict. 'Right Reason and Divine Revelation being both of them Emanations from the Father of Lights, there is no likelihood that they should contradict one another’.3

Both volumes contain a glossary (as in previous volumes), and volume 14 contains in addition a concordance of the Hunter and Davis edition with the two Birch editions, and an index to the entire 14 volumes.

Space prohibits me from going into further detail. Suffice it to say that the sections I have not discussed are as interesting and as full of important material as the ones I have. Boyle scholars in particular, and workers in the 17th century in general, have been done an enormous service by the editors of these two volumes in rounding out their edition of Boyle’s Works with such a varied selection of philosophically and historically important pieces from Boyle’s manuscripts. Volumes 13 and 14 provide a worthy finale to the already massively impressive previous twelve.

1 Winton Dean, Handel's Dramatic Oratorios and Masques (London, 1959), p. 558. Return to text
2 BP 2, fol. 77. Return to text
3 BP 1, fol. 86; 7, fol. 252. Boyle makes similar points at BP 1, fols. 143 and 175. Return to text

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Since On the Boyle Issue 3, December 1999

Anstey, Peter, The Philosophy of Robert Boyle (London and New York, 2000)

-----, essay review of Michael Hunter and Edward B. Davis, The Works of Robert Boyle, Vols. 1-7 (London, 1999), Metascience, 9 (2000), 338-46

Baldwin, Martha, 'Assaying Robert Boyle’ [review essay of Lawrence M. Principe, The Aspiring Adept (Princeton, 1998)], Isis, 90 (1999), 772-4

Ben-Chaim, Michael, 'The Value of Facts in Boyle’s Experimental Philosophy’, History of Science, 38 (2000), 57-77

Edwards, J.G., 'Robert Boyle’s Unsociable Truths’ [review essay of Jan W. Wojcik, Robert Boyle and the Limits of Reason (Cambridge, 1997)], Research in Philosophy and Technology, 18 (1999), 289-93

Hunter, Michael, 'New Light on Robert Boyle’ [in Japanese, trans. Hideyuki Yoshimoto], Kagakushi: Journal of the Japanese Society for the History of Chemistry, 26 (1999), 125-41

-----, Robert Boyle (1627-91): Scrupulosity and Science (Woodbridge, 2000)

Hunter, Michael and Davis, Edward B. (eds.), The Works of Robert Boyle, vols. 8-14 (London, 2000):
Vol. 8: Publications of 1674-6
Vol. 9: Publications of 1678-83
Vol. 10: Notion of Nature and other publications of 1684-6
Vol. 11: The Christian Virtuoso and other publications of 1687-91
Vol. 12: Posthumous publications, 1692-1744
Vol. 13: Unpublished writings, 1645-c. 1670
Vol. 14: Unpublished writings, c.1670-91 [this volume also contains the following: lists of Boyle’s unpublished writings, 1650-1744; texts by Boyle published from manuscript sources since 1744; concordance with Birch’s edition; and index]

Jenkins, Jane E., 'Arguing about Nothing: Henry More and Robert Boyle on the Theological Implications of the Void’, in Margaret J. Osler (ed.), Rethinking the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 153-79

Little, Patrick, 'The Political career of Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill, 1636-60’, University of London PhD thesis, 2000

Principe, Lawrence M., 'The Alchemies of Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton: Alternate Strategies and Divergent Deployments’, in Osler, Rethinking the Scientific Revolution (above), pp. 201-20

Wojcik, Jan W., 'Pursuing Knowledge: Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton’, in Osler, Rethinking the Scientific Revolution, pp. 183-200

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

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As explained on page 1 of this issue of On the Boyle, issue 5 of this print publication will be the last. Instead, the primary organ of communication for those working on Boyle will be the Boyle web page, http:/ We would welcome suggestions as to what the Web page should include; please send your ideas to Michael Hunter (School of History, Birkbeck College, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX; e-mail:, or Peter Anstey (School of Philosophy, University of Sydney, New South Wales, 2006, Australia; e-mail:

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