The Boyle Papers

Pathways for the study of the digitised Boyle manuscripts

The Boyle Workdiaries

Perhaps the most accessible part of the archive comprises Boyle's workdiaries. Although many of these texts appear within the volumes of the Boyle Papers which are presented here, readers may prefer to consult an online edition which combines facsimiles of the original manuscripts with transcripts, editorial apparatus identifying Boyle's informants and the like, and a full search mechanism. For this, see www.livesandletters.ac.uk/wd/index.html.

The user will also there find guidance as to which workdiaries are likely to prove most immediately appealing, e.g. those illustrating Boyle's experimental activity (most in evidence from Workdiary 19 onwards, including 19-21, 29 and 37-8), and Boyle's wider curiosity about exotic phenomena reported by travellers, seen particularly in Workdiaries 21 and 36. By comparison, readers with more specialist interests may be attracted by the workdiaries which take the form of commonplace books (1-4, 22, 28) or recipe books (6-18, 23, 27, 31, 33-5).

The Boyle Papers

With the larger selection of images of manuscripts available here on the Boyle website, users will find that each document is accompanied by a brief description which identifies the item and refers to the place(s) where it has been published or discussed. Most commonly, this is in The Works of Robert Boyle, though it is sometimes in books or articles by such scholars as Michael Hunter, J.J. MacIntosh or Lawrence M. Principe. In many such cases, a complete, annotated transcript will be found at the point referred to.

In other cases, no transcript is currently available. This is exciting in meaning that you may be one of the first to study the document in question. On the other hand, it means that you will have to read it in 17 th -century handwriting. Luckily, a number of the amanuenses whom Boyle employed to write down his ideas had very legible hands, particularly the employee on whom he relied most in his later years, Robin Bacon.

The following notes indicate some of the main categories of significant material within the archive:

There are extensive inventories of Boyle's unpublished writings and papers in BP 36, especially the first half of the volume. Most of these are transcribed in Works, vol. 14. For background see Michael Hunter, 'Mapping the Mind of Robert Boyle: the Evidence of the Boyle Papers', in Robert Boyle: Scrupulosity and Science (Woodbridge, 2000), pp. 119-34. BP 36 also contains such documents as the text of the notice that Boyle put up on his door in his later years posting visiting times (fols. 1-2), and his strange printed Advertisement complaining about the loss of many of his writings (fol. 51).

Much of the latter part of BP 36 relates to the work that Henry Miles did on the Boyle Papers in connection with Thomas Birch's edition of Boyle, published in 1744. On this, see The Correspondence of Robert Boyle, and Michael Hunter and Lawrence M. Principe, 'The Lost Papers of Robert Boyle', Annals of Science , 60 (2003), 269-311, reprinted in The Boyle Papers, pp. 73-135.

Also interesting are the many memoranda and lists that Boyle made. A number of these also survive in BP 36, while BP 10 is another volume made up of self-contained items, often of only a single leaf, including various lists, notes and other intriguing items. Much the same is also true of BP 38.

More personal items include a prescription from Dr Davies, evidently linked to Boyle's attack of the ague in 1649 (BP 18, fols. 101-2), or a paper that has been used for writing practice by a child, including the words 'Honored Uncle' - suggesting that the hand is that of one of the daughters of Boyle's sister, Lady Ranelagh, in whose house in Pall Mall, London, he lived in his later years (BP 38, fol. 153).

Scattered through the Boyle Papers is a huge amount of manuscript material relating to Boyle's published books. This is fully tabulated in the Works, but there is much potential to observe the process of composition by examining the manuscript of a particular passage and seeing how it was adapted and extended in the printed version. A full study of the material relating to one particular work, which also draws broader conclusions about Boyle's method of composition, will be found in Michael Hunter and Edward B.Davis, 'The Making of Robert Boyle's Free Inquiry into the Vulgarly Received Notion of Nature (1686)', Early Science and Medicine , 1 (1996), 204-71, reprinted in The Boyle Papers, pp. 219-76..

Related items include the following. BP 10 contains Robert Hooke's comments on a draft of Boyle's Disquisition about the Final Causes of Things (1688), a crucial item which throws light on the relationship between these two great natural philosophers as well as on the making of Boyle's book (fol. 116), and Boyle's 'Notes' on his 'Essay on Nitre', partly included in Certain Physiological Essays (1661) but partly not (fols. 82-5). Also interesting is the first document in BP 38, the manuscript version of Boyle's 'Articles of Inquiry touching Mines', published in Philosophical Transactions in 1666.

The archive contains various accounts of experiments, over and above the extensive series to be found in the Workdiaries (see above). Many of these are versions of accounts that were subsequently published: for instance those in BP 18, fols. 127-8, or the extensive series, mainly in BP 26 and 28, relating to the 1st Continuation to New Experiments touching the Spring of the Air (1669) (though a number of these are in a difficult hand, that of scribe 'J'): for details, see the 'Table' for 1st Continuation in the introductory matter to Works , vol. 6. There are also many 'loose' experimental accounts in BP 10 and 38.

A good deal of this has now been published, particularly writings from his early career and texts relating to alchemy and atheism: for these see Works, vols. 13; L.M. Principe, The Aspiring Adept (Princeton, 1998); and J.J. MacIntosh, Boyle on Atheism (Toronto, 2005). Now, for the first time, those with access to the Web can see the original manuscripts of these seminal documents for themselves.

In addition, there is much still to be exploited. Some of this relates to putative revisions of books. For instance, there is material relating to a putative sequel to Medicina Hydrostatica in BP 18, fols. 1, 6 and 7, and BP 38, fol. 12.

There are large quantities of miscellaneous unpublished papers on important themes. For instance BP 9 has extensive material relating to a putative treatise on the use of sense, reason and experience in natural philosophy and related topics, much of it written out as brief nuggets of texts by Robin Bacon. Such items have great potential for transcription and analysis. BP 8 has similar material, for instance part of an 'Essay of the Various Degrees and Kinds of Knowledge' (fols. 165-70), or a section of 'The Aspireing Naturalist. A Philosophical Romance' (fols. 206-7; see also BP 9, fols. 43-4)

Also interesting are various synopses of works that Boyle planned, for instance ‘About Pores and Figures’ (BP 8, fol. 46v), or ‘A Scheme of the Notes about Sensation in generall’ (BP 10, fol. 48v), or ‘Heads of the Discourse about the Pores of Bodys & figures of Corpuscles’ (BP 10, fols. 87-8), or ‘Of Fermentation' (BP 28, pp. 403-4).

Some of this takes the form of manuscript texts in the hand of the person who compiled it, for instance, 'Experiments proposed to be made in Mr Boyles Pneumatick Engine' in the hand of Boyle's Oxford colleague, John Wallis (BP 26, fol. 217). There are also recipes supplied by John Evelyn (BP 25, pp. 329-32, BP 26, fols. 293-4). In BP 25 are some curious diagrams of experimental apparatus in the form of a 'Mercuriall Furnace' (pp. 437-42).

There are also reports that Boyle received from visitors, which he had written down for him by an amanuensis. Examples of these are the accounts of the transmutation of base metals into gold in BP 25, pp. 273-82 and 419-21.

This by no means exhausts all the topics to be found in the archive, and the best way to explore further for yourself is simply to scroll through the lists of titles which appear on the index page of the Boyle Papers facsimiles. Happy hunting!

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