The Boyle Papers

Notes on the Catalogue

The Boyle Archive

At his death, Boyle left a huge archive, which, after various vicissitudes, was presented to the Royal Society in 1769. It was sorted and arranged in its present form in the 19th century. Comprising his letters, notes, drafts, memoranda and records of experiments, it covers the entire range of his intellectual activities, including science, medicine, philosophy and theology; it also documents various aspects of his life. Among the records that it contains are his workdiaries, the notebooks in which he recorded his observations and experiments, and information he was given by others: for a revised version of this, see . Also included are translations of Boyle's writings into Latin; copies of treatises that interested him on alchemy, travel, medicine and related topics; and more miscellaneous items, at least some of which may have reached the archive through those responsible for it after his death.

A catalogue of the archive was first published in 1992 in conjunction with a microfilm edition of the bulk of its content, and the current catalogue represents a revised and updated version of that. The 1992 catalogue appeared in hard copy form, accompanied by a lengthy essay detailing the history of the archive and exploring the significance of handwriting evidence for dating material within it, to which reference may be made (Hunter, 'Introduction' to Letters and Papers , revised as 'The Boyle archive' in Hunter et al., The Boyle Papers; see Bibliography).

In total, the archive comprises 74 volumes, which may be divided into three categories: letters, papers and miscellaneous manuscripts. The Boyle Letters comprise 7 guardbooks of letters; the Boyle Papers comprise 46 volumes of papers of folio or quarto format; and the miscellaneous manuscripts comprise 21 notebooks and other smaller bound volumes which at an early date were absorbed into the sequence of general manuscripts at the Royal Society. For details of the Boyle letters and miscellaneous manuscripts, see the catalogue of the Boyle archive as a whole on the website of the Royal Society,

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The Boyle Papers

The Boyle Papers are very roughly sorted by subject, 'Theology' (vols. 1-7, 11-15), 'Philosophy' (vols. 8-10, 16), 'Physiology' (vols. 17-19), 'Science' (vols. 20-34) and 'Miscellaneous' (vols. 35-46). This arrangement dates from the Victorian period, when the Papers were bound in their current form, and each volume has a 19th -century contents page with a title which is noted in its general description. However, the content is far more miscellaneous than the lists on these pages imply. The Boyle Papers were rebound in 1990.

Much manuscript material from the archive has been published, sometimes in Boyle's own time and sometimes since. Other items bear a significant relationship to published texts (or to other manuscript texts elsewhere in the archive). All these linkages are dealt with under the heading 'Related Material' in the catalogue entries. The bulk of them refer to the complete new edition of his Works published in 1999-2000, complemented by an edition of his Correspondence in 2001. There, this material is often analysed in full: see further below.

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The Catalogue

Various aspects of the different categories of data in the catalogue require elucidation, as follows. Other categories are self-evident, e.g. Language.

  • Archive Reference:

    Here, the volume and folio reference for each item is given. Note that, whereas most volumes are foliated, some are paginated (BP 20-5, 27-8, and 30-4). This information is recorded in the general entry describing each volume.

  • Extent:
  • This gives the foliation (or pagination) of each item, and the number of leaves that it comprises.

  • Title:
  • Original titles are distinguished from editorial ones by the use of inverted commas for the former.

  • Date:
  • Where a document (for instance, a letter) is precisely dated, this date is given here. In other cases, dates are approximate, and are based on the evidence of handwriting, or are deduced from the content of the document. Dates are sometimes given in the form 'c.1660', or '1660s', the latter indicating the decade from which the document dates. A question mark is used to indicate uncertainty about the date given.

  • Description:
  • This provides ancillary information about the item to supplement the 'Title'; it also notes surviving original pagination, etc. Within this field is embedded what might have formed a separate one, namely a description of the handwriting in which the document is written. These handwritings are listed in alphabetical order below. Some have the names of the individual to whom they can be attributed; others are the work of anonymous amanuenses who have been denoted by such descriptions as '1650s hand' or 'hand A'. For further information on these, see Hunter, 'Introduction' in Letters and Papers (revised as 'The Boyle archive' in Hunter et al., The Boyle Papers) and Works, vol. 1, pp. c-cii.

  • Physical Description:
  • Here, anomalous features such as physical imperfections to manuscripts are noted. Blank pages are also noted here.

  • Related Material:
  • This section is used to record crucial information about analogues to the item, either other manuscripts to which it is related, or printed works in which it is published or to which it is related. Insofar as the latter are works by Boyle himself, they are referred to by short titles which are elucidated in the 'List of Abbreviations'. The terminology used is as follows:

    Workdiaries. A digitised edition of Boyle's workdiaries is available on the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters (CELL) website. To visit the CELL website see: . Each workdiary is made up of numbered entries, and references to these take the form 36-2, i.e., Workdiary 36, entry 2

    HP The Hartlib Papers at the University of Sheffield. These are available in electronic form on CD.

    MacIntosh. These references are to J.J.MacIntosh's anthology, Boyle on Atheism (Toronto, 2005), which publishes much material from the archive for the first time.

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    Table of handwritings and dates:

    Late 1650s or early 1660s
    c. 1680
    c. 1680
    c. 1740
    c. 1680
    Early Boyle
    Late 1640s or early 1650s
    c. 1680
    1670s - 1680s
    Mid 18th century
    1660s - 1670s
    1660s - 1670s
    1670s - 1680s
    1670s - 1680s
    Warr sen.
    Late 17th century
    c. 1700


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    Anstey, Peter R., The Philosophy of Robert Boyle (London, 2000).

    Frank, Robert G., Harvey and the Oxford Physiologists: a Study of Scientific Ideas and Social Interaction (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1980).

    Hartlib, Samuel, The Hartlib Papers , published on CDROM by HROnline, Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield (2 nd edition, Sheffield, 2002).

    Harwood, John T. (ed.), The Early Essays and Ethics of Robert Boyle (Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1991).

    Hunter, Michael, Letters and Papers of Robert Boyle: A Guide to the Manuscripts and Microfilm (Bethesda, Md., 1992).

    . The Royal Society and its Fellows, 1660-1700: The Morphology of an Early Scientific Institution (2nd edn, Oxford, 1994).

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

    . (ed.) Robert Boyle by Himself and his Friends (London, 1994).

    . (ed.) Archives of the Scientific Revolution: The Formation and Exchange of Ideas in Seventeenth-Century Europe (Woodbridge, 1998).

    Hunter, Michael, with contributions by Edward B. Davis, Harriet Knight, Charles Littleton and Lawrence M. Principe, The Boyle Papers: Understanding the Manuscripts of Robert Boyle (Aldershot, 2007).

    Hunter, Michael, Clericuzio, Antonio, and Principe, Lawrence M., The Correspondence of Robert Boyle (6 vols., London, 2001).

    Hunter, Michael, and Davis, Edward B. (eds.), The Works of Robert Boyle (14 vols, London, 1999-2000).

    Hunter, Michael, Knight, Harriet, and Littleton, Charles, 'Robert Boyle's "Paralipomena": an Analysis and Reconstruction', in 'Hunter, Michael, with contributions by Edward B. Davis, Harriet Knight, Charles Littleton and Lawrence M. Principe, The Boyle Papers: Understanding the Manuscripts of Robert Boyle (Aldershot, 2007).

    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.

    Hunter, Michael, and Principe, Lawrence M., 'The Lost Papers of Robert Boyle', Annals of Science, 60 (2003), 269-311

    Knight, Harriet, 'Organising Natural Knowledge in the Seventeenth Century: The Works of Robert Boyle', unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 2003.

    MacIntosh, J.J., Boyle on Atheism (Toronto, 2005)

    Maddison, R. E. W., The Life of the Hon. Robert Boyle (London, 1969).

    Newman, William R., Gehennical Fire: The Lives of George Starkey, an American Alchemist in the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge, MA, 1995).

    Newman, William R., and Principe, Lawrence M., Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry (Chicago, 2002)

    Principe, Lawrence M., 'Robert Boyle's Alchemical Secrecy: Codes, Ciphers and Concealments', Ambix , 39 (1992), 63-74.

    . 'Newly Discovered Boyle Documents in the Royal Society Archive: Alchemical Tracts and his Student Notebook', Notes and Records of the Royal Society , 49 (1995), 57-70.

    . 'Virtuous Romance and Romantic Virtuoso: the Shaping of Robert Boyle's Literary Style', Journal of the History of Ideas , 56 (1995), 377-97.

    . The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and his Alchemical Quest (Princeton, 1998).

    Sargent, Rose-Mary, The Diffident Naturalist: Robert Boyle and the Philosophy of Experiment (Chicago, 1995).

    Webster, Charles, The Great Instauration: Science, Medicine and Reform, 1626-60 (London, 1975; reissue with new introduction, Bern, 2002).

    Young, John T., Faith, Alchemy and Natural Philosophy: Johann Moriaen, Reformed Intelligencer, and the Hartlib Circle (Aldershot, 1998).

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