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

Editorial note
Boyle News, December 2009
Occasional Papers of the Robert Boyle Project
Obituary of Marie Boas Hall from The Times
Michael Hunter’s Boyle: Between God and Science
Publications on Boyle since On the Boyle , no. 8, December 2007

Editorial Note:

This section of the website has been jointly produced by Peter Anstey, University of Otago, and Michael Hunter, University of London. As with On the Boyle, nos. 6-8 (June 2004-December 2007), it is the successor of the printed newsletter, On the Boyle: a Newsletter of Work in Progress on Robert Boyle (1627-91), of which five issues were published between April 1997 and March 2002 (for copies of these and of nos. 6-8, see Archive).
As previously, On the Boyle comprises news of work in progress on Boyle, a list of recent publications on him, and more miscellaneous items. It also draws attention to a new Occasional Paper of the Robert Boyle Project, Boyle’s Books: the Evidence of his Citations, which can be downloaded in PDF form: for details, see below.
The editors would welcome news of any current research on Boyle, or other events connected with him: please send these to or

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Peter Anstey ( has completed a study of the chymistry of John Locke which reveals that it derived, in large part, from the chymistry of Robert Boyle. This research will appear as ‘John Locke and Helmontian medicine’ in Charles Wolfe and Ofer Gal (eds), The Body as Object and Instrument of Knowledge: Embodied Empiricism in Early Modern Science, Springer, 2009.

Iordan Avramov ( and Michael Hunter ( are completing a paper entitled ‘Reading by Proxy: the Case of Robert Boyle (1627-91)’. The research for this has been related to that for the newly published Occasional Paper that Avramov and Hunter have produced in collaboration with Hideyuki Yoshimoto, Boyle’s Books: the Evidence of his Citations, details of which appear below.

Victor Boantza ( is completing his research on Samuel Cottereau Duclo’s interpretation of Boyle. He gave a talk on the tensions between Boyle's experimentalism, rhetoric and mechanical philosophy at the 2009 History of Science Society meeting in Phoenix, Arizona.

Kleber Cecon ( has now returned to Brazil following his stay in London (see On the Boyle, no. 8). He is currently completing his PhD thesis at the University of Campinas on ‘The role of chymical experiments in Robert Boyle's mechanical philosophy’, and is also preparing papers on related topics.

Peter Elmer's study of Valentine Greatrakes (see On the Boyle, no. 7) is still in preparation, largely because the full account of Greatrakes which it comprises has been subsumed into a much more ambitious study of the politics of medicine, healing and witchcraft over the period from the late 16th to the early 18th centuries. Peter is currently in negotiation with publishers concerning his book: for details, contact him at

Giovanni Battista Guelfi’s bust of Boyle was featured as an annexe to On the Boyle, no. 5 (see ‘Newly Discovered Bust of Robert Boyle (May 2002)’ ; the bust is also reproduced as the last image in ‘Robert Boyle; A Life in Pictures’). Readers may like to know that it was sold by Hilary Chelminski to the Royal Society of Chemistry and is now on display at their premises at Burlington House, Piccadilly.

In addition to completing his biography of Boyle, Michael Hunter ( has given various papers on him, including one on ‘Robert Boyle and secrecy’ at a conference at Cambridge in February 2008 and another on ‘Robert Boyle and the uses of print’, which he gave at the Edward Worth Library in Dublin in April 2008 and again at a conference at the Royal Society in November that year. Both are due to be published in essay volumes stemming from the conferences in question.

Jack MacIntosh ( has published The Excellencies of Robert Boyle (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2008). In October 2009, he gave a talk at the University of Uppsala, ‘Some seventeenth-century modal theological arguments’, which dealt with Boyle's modal argument among others. He is currently writing a monograph on Boyle's philosophy.

Tina Malcolmson ( gave a talk on 'Race and the Experimental Method in the Early Royal Society', which dealt with Boyle among others, at the International Conference on Science in Society at the University of Cambridge in August 2009. She has also collaborated in the project on Boyle and slavery referred to below and is completing a book on race and gender in the early Royal Society for Ashgate.

Peter Murray, Director of the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, is currently writing a cultural history of Boyle's birthplace, Lismore. He is collecting information about the Great Earl of Cork's building work at Lismore Castle and about the 'material culture' of the house in Boyle's time, and would be glad to hear about any extant artefacts or relevant sources at

Ruth Paley of History of Parliament ( has collaborated with Michael Hunter and Tina Malcolmson in a study of the draft acts on slavery in the Boyle Papers. They have now completed an article entitled 'Parliament and Slavery, 1660-c.1710', which considers the documents in the context of pre-abolitionist thought and of similar draft bills of the time; this will appear in the journal Slavery and Abolition in 2010.

Salvatore Ricciardo ( is currently writing a PhD on Boyle at the Universit’ degli Studi di Bergamo. He is interested in Boyle’s views on the relationship between reason and experience, both in general terms and in relation to medicine. He recently spent several months in London studying the Boyle Papers at the Royal Society.

Hideyuki Yoshimoto ( is following up his collaboration in the preparation of Boyle's Books by conducting further studies of Boyle's method of writing and the relationship between this and his natural philosophy as a whole. As hitherto, he will continue predominantly to publish his findings in Japanese.

Luciana Zaterka ( is continuing her work on Boyle, represented most recently by studies of Boyle and Locke, by researching the possible similarities between the concept of Baconian form and Boylean substance; she intends to give a paper on this topic at a conference in southern Brazil next year.

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Occasional Papers of the Robert Boyle Project.

The fourth volume in this series has just been published. This is:

Iordan Avramov, Michael Hunter and Hideyuki Yoshimoto, Boyle’s Books: the Evidence of his Citations. ISBN 978-0-9551608-3-7

The latest volume differs from the previous titles in not being an edition of texts but a reference work which tabulates Boyle’s citations of books by page number as evidence of his book ownership. The introduction takes the opportunity to survey our knowledge of Boyle’s sadly lost library by way of background to the current, unprecedented exercise. For details of this, and of the first three volumes in the series, published in 2005 and 2008, see the Researchers’ Area of the website.

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Marie Boas Hall (1919-2009)

Marie Boas Hall, perhaps the most eminent Boyle scholar of the post-war years, died on 23 February 2009, less than three weeks after the death of her husband, A. Rupert Hall. The following obituary of her appeared in The Times on 20 March 2009:

Marie Boas Hall, who died on 23 February 2009 aged 89, was one of the pioneers in the post-war period of the study of the history of science in the 16th and 17th centuries, the so-called ‘Scientific Revolution’. With her husband, Professor A. Rupert Hall, she was responsible for a string of publications, notably the monumental edition of the correspondence of Henry Oldenburg, first secretary of the Royal Society, which came out in 13 volumes between 1965 and 1986.

Marie Boas was born in New England on 18 October 1919. Both of her parents were college professors in English who collaborated on various academic projects, and her early education at local schools was powerfully complemented by her literate family background. In 1936, she went to Radcliffe College where she studied chemistry, graduating AB in 1940.
In 1939, her studies were interrupted when her parents were granted sabbatical leave and travelled to Europe for six months, taking Marie with them, and it was on this trip that she first encountered the British Museum (where she helped her mother with her research on Shelley). The party arrived back at Boston on 3 September, having heard Chamberlain’s declaration of war that morning.

With the US entry into the war in 1941, Marie devoted herself to radio work, which took her to New Jersey, Indiana and Chicago before she returned to the Boston area in 1944. Here, she took a post in the Radiation Laboratory at MIT, where she assisted Henry Guerlac in writing the history of the laboratory and of the operational use of radar during the war.

Guerlac was already a pioneer of the study of history of science in the US, and Marie resolved to write a PhD at Cornell under his supervision, which she completed in 1949. Her thesis, on the mechanical philosophy, with special reference to Robert Boyle, was published in Osiris in 1952. By then she had already published various academic papers on related topics, and had gained a teaching post at the University of Massachusetts, subsequently moving to Brandeis University.
In 1951, she used her savings from wartime bonds to travel to England, where she investigated the voluminous Boyle Papers at the Royal Society, till then almost ignored. During this trip, she became fascinated by the potential of archival research to throw new light on the history of science in the period; she also met a fellow scholar, the young Cambridge historian, A. Rupert Hall, who had come to similar conclusions after studying Newton’s manuscripts.

In 1957, she moved to UCLA, where Rupert Hall followed her, and they married in 1959. Subsequently, they moved together to Indiana University in 1961 and then in 1963 to Imperial College, London, where they both remained until they retired in 1980. At Imperial, they made the Department of History of Science and Technology a welcoming home to a succession of graduate students in the history of science and medicine.

Both before and after her move to London, Marie published prolifically. She continued her work on Boyle, bringing out a monograph on Robert Boyle and 17th-century Chemistry in 1958, an anthology of his writings in 1965 and the entry on him in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography in 1970, works which retain their value despite the burgeoning of studies of Boyle which has occurred in the past three decades. She also contributed to the Collins history of science of which her husband was general editor by publishing The Scientific Renaissance 1450-1630 in 1962.

Even more important, however, was the collaborative work in which she and Rupert now engaged, much of it reflecting their shared conviction of the importance of seeing manuscript material in print. In 1962 they produced a highly regarded volume of Unpublished Scientific Papers of Isaac Newton, while by this time they were also at work on the edition of Oldenburg’s correspondence, of which the first volume appeared in 1965.

Since Oldenburg almost single-handedly managed the Royal Society’s epistolary activity from within a few years of its foundation, this edition effectively comprises the national and international correspondence of the society during the first decade and a half of its existence. Initially, the weighty volumes of the Halls’ immaculately prepared edition were published by the University of Wisconsin Press. That arrangement came to an end with volume 9, and volumes 10-11 were published by Mansell and the final two by Taylor & Francis. As a whole, this magisterial edition has proved immensely valuable to all students in the field, and this will undoubtedly continue to be the case for many years to come, providing a lasting memorial to its editors.

In retirement, Marie devoted herself particularly to the history of the Royal Society. In 1984 she published All Scientists Now, a history of the society in the 19th century, following this in 1991 with an account of its earliest years, Promoting Experimental Learning: Experiment and the Royal Society 1660-1727. Appropriately, her final work was a biography of Henry Oldenburg, published in 2002, which acted as a kind of commentary on the epic edition to which so much of her scholarly life had been devoted.

The Halls were jointly awarded the Sarton medal of the History of Science Society in 1981, while Marie was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1994. In their later years, the Halls moved to Tackley, near Oxford, where their active and productive life together was interrupted by periodic forays to London and further afield until ill health made this impossible.

© The Times, London, 20 March 2009 ( This article may not be copied or reproduced without the prior permission of the copyright holders.

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Michael Hunter, Boyle: Between God and Science

(New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), xiii + 366 pp, including 46 illustrations. ISBN 978 0 300 12381 4.

book cover of Boyle, between god and science, Michael Hunter Michael Hunter’s long-awaited biography of Boyle has at last appeared, and is available at a very reasonable price considering that it is a substantial and attractively-produced volume. Readers of On the Boyle will no doubt want to acquire a copy and form their own opinion of the book, but they may be interested to learn about the press coverage that it has so far received. Reviews have appeared by Sam Kean in New Scientist (5 September), David Wootton in the October issue of Literary Review, Peter Anstey in Nature (29 October) and Brian Morton in The Tablet (31 October). It has also been vouchsafed a review by Brian Clegg on his ‘Popular Science’ website (

In general, the reviewers are favourable to the book. Sam Kean concludes that it is ‘probably the fullest appreciation yet of an inimitable man’, while Brian Morton goes so far as to describe it as ‘richly detailed, brilliantly contextualised and always shrewd in its calibration of personal detail and wider intellectual issues’. Peter Anstey notes how ‘it is the inner Boyle whom Hunter is most concerned to explore: Boyle the doubter, the vacillator, the stuttering and conscience-ridden man revealed in private notes written near the end of his life’, observing: ‘Hunter displays fascination and impartiality, even wavering respect, but in the final analysis it is not clear that he really likes Boyle’.

Two of the reviews are less favourable. Brian Clegg would have preferred more of a scientific biography, combining the essentials of Boyle’s life – ‘enough to get a feeling that you know the person without getting bored’ -- with an emphasis on his experiments, their background and their modern significance. As for David Wootton, though acknowledging that ‘since Birch, the scholarly world has been waiting for a proper biography of Boyle’ and that this volume provides it, he is more critical of Boyle and hence sees the work as unduly deferential towards him. Surveying his alchemical and other interests, Wootton puts Boyle down as ‘a gullible fool’ (he also comments that his sponsorship of an Arabic translation of Grotius’ De veritate was ‘a futile undertaking if ever there was one’).

Yet one might question whether it would have been appropriate for the first full-scale biography of Boyle to be used as an opportunity for the kind of debunking that Wootton seems to advocate. Similarly, the emphasis on Boyle’s science that Clegg requires could only have come at the expense of the full narrative of Boyle’s life which has hitherto been so sorely lacking. Perhaps the answer is that we need more general books on Boyle, looking at him from these and other viewpoints. Whatever else it has done, the current biography may at least have broken the log-jam that has so long afflicted studies of this kind.

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Anselment, Ramond A., 'Robert Boyle, Izaak Walton, and the Art of Angling', Prose Studies, 30 (2008), 124-41

Anstey, Peter, ‘Le ressort de l’air selon Boyle et Mariotte’, in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle (Paris: Vrin, 2009), pp. 379-403

Anstey, Peter, and Hunter, Michael, 'Robert Boyle's "Designe About Natural History"', Early Science and Medicine, 13 (2008), 83-126

Brun, Cedric, 'Le corpuscularisme de Boyle et la distinction de qualités dans l'epistemologie de Locke' in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle ( Paris: Vrin, 2009), pp. 259-76

Brykman, Geneviève, 'L’aporie de la “matière catholique” de Boyle à Berkeley', in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle, (Paris: Vrin, 2009), pp. 239-57

Clericuzio, Antonio, 'The Many Facets of Boyle's Natural Philosophy, Essay Review’, Nuncius, 23 (2008), 115-26

Clericuzio, Antonio, 'Les débuts de la carrière de Boyle, iatrochimie helmontienne et le cercle de Hartlib', in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle (Paris: Vrin, 2009), pp. 47-70

Davis, John, ‘John Marke’s Double Horizontal Dial’, Bulletin of the British Sundial Society, 20 (2008), 117-18 [concerns Boyle Papers 35, fol. 219]

Dennehy, Myriam, ‘Leibniz et Sturm lecteurs de Boyle’, in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle ( Paris: Vrin, 2009), pp. 331-59

Dennehy, Myriam and Ramond, Charles (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle, Paris: Vrin, 2009

Dumsday, Travis, 'Robert Boyle on the Diversity of Religions', Religious Studies, 44 (2008), 315-32

Duchesneau, François, 'Finalité et explication mécanistique des phénomènes selon Boyle', in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle (Paris: Vrin, 2009), pp. 119-38

Franckowiak, Rémi, ‘Du Clos un chimiste post-Sceptical Chymist’, in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle (Paris: Vrin, 2009), pp. 361-77

Guillemeau, Évelyne, et Ramond, Charles, ‘Conception de l’expérience et méthodologie expérimentale selon Boyle et Spinoza’, in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle ( Paris: Vrin, 2009), pp. 295-310

Hamou, Philippe, ‘Robert Boyle et la valeur de la science’, in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle ( Paris: Vrin, 2009), pp. 175-93

Hirai, Hiro and Yoshimoto, Hideyuki, 'Anatomie du chymiste sceptique: Robert Boyle et le secret de ses premières sources sur la croissance des métaux', in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle (Paris: Vrin, 2009), pp. 91-116

Hunter, Michael, 'Boyle et le surnaturel', in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle (Paris: Vrin, 2009), pp. 213-36

Hunter, Michael, Boyle: Between God and Science (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009)

Hunter, Michael, ‘Boyle, Robert (1627-91)’, in James McGuire and James Quinn (eds.), Dictionary of Irish Biography (9 vols., Cambridge University Press, 2009), vol. 1, pp. 738-41

Irving, Sarah, Natural Science and the Origins of the British Empire (London, Pickering and Chatto, 2008), chapter 3, pp. 69-92 (‘Robert Boyle’s Protestant Colonial Project’)

Joly, Bernard, 'Le cartésianisme de Boyle le du point de vue de la chimie', in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle (Paris: Vrin, 2009), pp. 139-55

Knight, Harriet, ‘Robert Boyle et l’organisation du savoir’, in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle ( Paris: Vrin, 2009), pp. 157-73

Lowne, Michael, and Davis, John , ‘A Universal Altitude Dial by John Marke’, Bulletin of the British Sundial Society, 21 (2009), 2-8

MacIntosh, J.J. (ed.), The Excellencies of Robert Boyle: The Excellency of Theology and The Excellency and Grounds of the Mechanical Hypothesis (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Editions, 2008)

Mallinson, Helen, ‘The Gnat and the Vacuum: Robert Boyle and the History of Air’, University of London PhD thesis, 2009

Peterschmitt, Luc, ‘Boyle et les experiences contingentes’, in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle ( Paris: Vrin, 2009), pp. 195-211

Principe, Lawrence M., 'Liens et influences chimiques entre Robert Boyle et la France', in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle ( Paris: Vrin, 2009), pp. 71-89

Rizzo, Steven, 'The Paradox of Spiritual Matter and the Spiritual Matter of Paradox in Seamus Heaney and Robert Boyle', Literature & Theology, 22 (2008), 458-74

Severgnini, Hernán, Robert Boyle: Mecanicismo y experimento (Córdoba: Encuentro Grupo Editor/Editorial Brujas, 2007)

Terrel, Jean, ‘Hobbes et Boyle: enjeux d’une polémique’, in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle ( Paris: Vrin, 2009), pp. 277-93

Wilson, Catherine, Epicureanism at the Origins of Modernity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), chapter 9, pp. 224-52 (‘Robert Boyle and the Study of Nature’)

Wilson, Catherine, 'Boyle motivations et incitations à l'etude de la philosophie naturalle' in Myriam Dennehy and Charles Ramond (eds), La philosophie naturelle de Robert Boyle (Paris: Vrin, 2009), pp. 23-46

Yamada, Toshihiro, 'Hooke-Steno Relations Reconsidered: Reassessing the Roles of Ole Borch and Robert Boyle' in Gary D. Rosenberg (ed.), The Revolution in Geology from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment (Boulder: Geological Society of America, 2009), pp. 107-26

Yoshimoto, Hideyuki, ‘Robert Boyle and his Method of Writing’, Kagakushi Kenkyu: Journal of History of Science, Japan, 45 (2006), 258-61 [in Japanese]

Yoshimoto, Hideyuki, ‘A Job Site of Robert Boyle's Chemical Researches’,
Chemistry and Education, 55 no. 6 (2007), 266-9 [in Japanese]

Yoshimoto, Hideyuki, ‘Robert Boyle: the Life and Work’, Science Classroom,
September 2007, 100-3 [in Japanese]

Yoshimoto, Hideyuki, Origins and Background of Robert Boyle’s Scientific Ideas and his Research Style, Report of Grant-in-Aid for Exploratory Research granted by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Tokyo, 2007) [partly in Japanese and partly in English]

Zaterka, Luciana, ‘Fundamentos metafísico-teológicos na Filosofia experimental de R. Boyle e J. Locke: a questão da contingência’, in Luiz César Oliva (ed.), Necessidade e Contingência na Modernidade (São Paulo, Editora Barcarolla, 2009), pp. 157-86