The Work-diaries of Robert Boyle:
Editorial Policy of the Internet edition

by Charles Littleton and Michael Hunter

1. The Manuscript Sources

1.1. The Work-diaries and the Boyle archives

The work-diaries make up only a small component (some 3%) of the entire collection of Boyle Papers, held at the Royal Society, which comprise forty-six volumes of papers and some twenty notebooks and other discrete manuscripts, containing overall some 15,000 folios. A significant part of their content represents Boyle's personal manuscript remains, his notebooks, drafts and memoranda. But mixed in with this is a great deal of more miscellaneous material: translations of Boyle's writings into Latin; copies of treatises that interested him on alchemy, medicine, travel and related subjects; and copies of political and religious tracts relating to the issues of the day, at least some of which may have come into the archive in the generation after his death. A complete microfilm of the archive is available from University Publications of America, and a folio by folio/frame by frame guide to this is presented in Hunter, Letters and Papers. This also has a lengthy introduction explaining about the history of the archive and its organisation. Those seeking fuller information about the context of the work-diaries should seek it there.

1.2. Handwriting and media

The surviving work-diaries are generally in good condition and reasonably legible. Most passages are written in a dark ink; pencil passages are, not surprisingly, more difficult to decipher (see below). From the early 1650s Boyle recorded his notes on foolscap sheets folded in half to form a group of four pages. The vast majority of the work-diaries are recorded on such folded foolscap sheets, although some have been cut in half and their two leaves dispersed. Boyle did not form booklets from these folded sheets by placing them inside one another. Instead he (or his amanuenses) would use up all four sides of one sheet first before moving on to the next. Grouped together, these sheets would form a stack of sheets rather than a book. Additionally, Boyle would frequently fold these four-page sheets yet again, usually once vertically and twice horizontally. The amount of folding has sometimes led to creases and tears at the folds, which render some entries hard to decipher. A statement of the format used, and further information on any further folding (and damage caused thereby) is provided in the editorial notes to each entry.

For information on the handwritings to be found in the Boyle Papers, see Letters and Papers, pp. xxxff. (updated in Works, i, p. ci). The evidence of handwriting is important not least because it provides important clues to dating. From the mid-1650s onwards, Boyle rarely wrote sustained sections of text himself, instead delegating this task to amanuenses, many of whom have distinctive hands. Some of these can be identified by name, particularly in the last two decdes of Boyle's life; those who worked for him included Frederick Slare, who was to become an eminent chemist and natural philosopher in his own right, and such humbler figures as Robin Bacon, Hugh Greg, Thomas Smith and John Warr. For the earlier period it has proved more difficult to identify amanuenses by name, and distinctive handwritings are therefore identified by letters of the alphabet or by general categories such as '1650s hand': details of these are given in Letters and Papers. In addition, we have identified three further hands that were not identified in the earlier phase of work on the archive. These are as follows. Hand P is a further distinctive hand dateable to the 1650s, used in work-diaries XIII, XIV, XV (parts) and XVI. Hand Q is a distinctive, rather square, angular hand, found in work-diary XXII. Hand R, a hand bearing some resemblance to hand G but showing less discipline, is found both in that work-diary and in XXI, i.e., again of the early 1660s.

What is significant is that the turnover of those working for Boyle was sufficient to make it possible in many cases to date texts written in them to a specific decade of Boyle's life; this often provides important evidence for dating work-diaries, in conjunction with other clues such as internal dates. Not all the handwritings that appear among the work-diaries are identifiable, presumably because an assistant was taken on temporarily; in such cases, we have described the handwriting as 'unidentified'.

The above comments apply almost exclusively to material written in ink. On the other hand, significant portions of the text, not least titles and marginalia, are written in pencil, a medium in which which we have found it much more difficult to identify individual handwritings. Hence our default position with material in pencil has been not to attempt to identify the hand in which it is written. Our surmise is that these items were disproportionately in Boyle's own hand - the kind of notations of a fewwords to which he normally limited himself - but we have only hazarded an identification where we are certain of it.

1.3. Titles

We have treated titles, usually appearing at the head of a page, as such regardless of whether they appear to have been written before or after the text to which they relate. The titles heading the work-diaries and many of their subsections are often consciously written in a formal hand, and for this reason we have in general not tried to identify the hand in which they are written.

1.4. Marginalia

In the case of the marginalia written beside most entries, we have attempted to make a clear demarcation between items that were clearly written at the same time as the entry they accompany (e.g., a date, or the source of a quotation) from ones which are clearly retrospective - numbers, summaries of the content of the entry, etc. It seemed helpful to the reader to try thus to reconstruct the process by which the entry as we have it took shape.

There are various types of marginalia, which are further discussed below in the section on the 'Structure of the Web presentaiton of the transcriptions.

2. The Web presentation

2.1. Normalized and Diplomatic versions

Readers are offered a 'clean', normalized, and easily readable transcript of an entry which exists parallel to a 'diplomatic' version which includes all the emendations to which the entry was subject. In the normalized version of the work-diary, deletions and alterations to words in the original text have been omitted, unfamiliar abbreviations expanded and Roman numerals expressed as Arabic numbers. Places where there are deletions in the original are marked in the normalized text by a small red 'd' in brackets, and places where there are missing letters are marked by an red ellipsis in brackets; other words for which there is expanded textual commentary are also in red typeface. Similarly, abbreviations and Roman numerals which have been expanded or modernized are marked in green. These colours indicate that such words or sigla are hypertext links, clicking which will take the reader to the parallel 'diplomatic' version of the text, in which all the textual emendements made to the text are noted. The editorial commentary provided in the diplomatic version is written in italics, within square brackets and in a smaller font than the surrounding authorial text. Square brackets around words of the size of the surrounding text, in both the normalized and diplomatic versions, indicate that that word is an uncertain reading or is a place where there are missing letters in the original supplied by the editors by context - unless there is a note in the entry's editorial notes indicating that the square brackets are the author's own. Unlcear or supplied text in red in the noramlized text indicates that the corresponding word in the diplomatic version will give further information on the causes for its illegibility and will state whether the word is merely unlear or is supplied. The diplomatic and normalized texts are linked both ways and merely clicking on the bracketed and italicised editorial note in the diplomatic text will take the reader back to the same place in the normalized text. Readers should note, though, that links in the diplomatic version are not indicated by different colours, but are in the same black typeface as the surrounding text.

2.2. Other links and searching aids

We have also included other hypertext links for relevant words within the text - particularly names, places, and books referenced - which are linked to a separate biographical and topographical register (which can also be accessed independently). Boyle was frequently indirect when naming his sources, often just referring to 'An eminent physician whom I know'. Where we have been unable to trace the identities of such mysterious figures, the description in the transcription will not be highlighted. Ocassionally we have been able to ascertain who these people are from knowledge of Boyle's life and contacts or from other clues in the text. In these cases, the description is highlighted and the corresponding note will explain how we have determined the actual named identity for Boyle's circumlocution.

We intend that each entry should also be linked with certain 'keywords' which describe its nature and content although not necessarily appearing in the entry itself (and therefore failing to produce the entry in a regular word search). We have attached keywords to a few sample entries, but have decided that devloping keywords for these entries is a long-term project, due to the variety of topics covered in these notes and the complexity of Boyle's chemical thought (or opacity of his language). We believe that this could be the sort of joint scholarly endeavour which electronic technology is now faclitating; we would like the site to become a place of scholarly and scientific exchange as readers discuss the significance of these entries and the concepts which are most central to them. We hope, then, that readers will assist us in devloping the keywords for these entries by contacting us with their ideas for pertinent categories and concepts to incorporate; please email Prof. Michael Hunter at with your views and ideas.

2.3. Structure of the Web version of the transcription

The work-diary transcription has both an Editorial Introduction and the transcriptions of the entries themselves. The Editorial Introduction provides general information on the work-diary as a whole: a brief description of its content; notes on the page format on which its entries are recorded; its date of composition (as accurately as that can be ascertained); the hands which contributed to its composition (with a detailed list of which of the numbered entries are ascribed to them); the manuscript reference, with Boyle Papers volume and page and folio numbers; the languages used, with details of how many entries are in a particular language; its length, expressed as the number of entries contained in the work-diary; and general editorial notes and commentary on the work-diary, often detailing problems with its interpretation or transcription.

The basic unit of each work-diary is the entry, usually a short paragraph (sometimes only a sentence) detailing an experimental account or an anecdote illustrating a natural phenomenon. In this edition, all entries consist of at least two parts: editorial notes and the text of the entry itself. In addition there may be two other sections, if their content is present in the original: a list of marginal notes written at the time of the composition of the entry itself, and thus 'integral' to it; and a list of retrospective endorsements and notes (see above in the section on Titles and Marginalia). The editorial notes introduce the entry and include: the number of the entry, if assigned to it by the editors (as opposed to authorial numbers, about which see below), general notes on features of the entry; the hand in which the entry is written; an estimate of the date at which the entry was composed, based on evidence of handwriting and dating evidence found elsewhere in the manuscript; and the full reference to the entry (including Boyle Papers volume and page or folio number). The editorial notes are followed by a list of the marginal notes integral to the entry, if there are any. These are listed under the categories 'date' (where the scribe provided the date of composition or performance of the experiment); 'number' (where he provided a number for the entry); 'title' (where he provided a brief description of the content of the entry); 'reference' (where the bibliographic details of a work referenced are provided); and 'note' (for any miscellaneous or stray marginal memoranda that appear to be in the hand and writing medium of the original scribe). This section is followed by a list of the retrospective marginal endorsements. Like the integral notes, these include such categories as 'number', 'title', 'date', 'reference' and 'note' and also include the additional categories 'endorsement' (for those marginal notes which indicate with which of Boyle's more formal writings the entry is to be associated) and 'mark' (for the many ticks, crosses, circles, etc. which appear in the margins). Detials on the writing media and location of these marginal endorsements are included next to the text of the endorsements in slightly smaller square brackets (but not italicised).

These three sections are followed by the entry text itself. The editorial policies followed in the transcription of these texts follow those set out by Michael Hunter in his article 'How to Edit a Seventeenth-Century Manuscript: Principles and Practice', The Seventeenth Century 10:2 (1995), 277-310. Readers should consult this article, as well as the 'General Introduction' in Works, i, for a more detailed discussion of the editorial policies pursued in this electronic edition and their rationale.

Despite these more detailed expositions of our editorial polcies, it is important to set out briefly here the principles that have guided us in our transcriptions of the entry texts. This section will not include a discussion of the rationale behind these policies, which can be found in the sources listed above.

2.4. Editorial and transcription policies

2.4.1. Spelling and Punctuation

Spelling and puncutation have been rendered as it appears in the manuscript and have not been normalized. Where this may lead to confusion an editorial annotation has been supplied to provide a 'modernized' form. We have however kept this to an absolute minimum and note where such incidences occur. Certain letters in the original have been transcribed following modern standards. Thus 'ff' is 'F' and long 's' is the modern 's'. For the interchangeable letters 'u' and 'v', the former letter is rendered when a vowel is used in the modern, printed, form of the word and the latter where a consonant would be used. The same rule applies to the equally interchangeable letters 'i' and 'j'. In the manuscripts, quantities are often expressed by Roman numerals, in which the last in a series of 'i's (i.e. '1') is written as a 'j'. In the transcriptions this final 'j' is also transcribed as 'i'. Ampersands, &, are retained throughout and not modernized, as this is still a commonly recognized symbol.

2.4.2. Textual emendments

We consider here four principal type of textual emendment: insertions; deletions; replacements (where an inserted word is apparently replacing a corresponding deleted word); and alterations (where a letter of letters of a word are changed in composition). All insertions to the text are retained in the transcription and are surrounded by angled brackets, < and >. If an insertion is in the margin or placed in the line, this is indicated by an italicised editorial note in square brackets immediately following the insertion (in the diplomatic version). If there is no editorial note following the insertion (and it is not in red in the normalized version), it should be assumed that the insertion is supralinear, the default status for insertions. Where an insertion replaces a deleted text the insertion is provided within angled brackets and the content of the deleted text given within following italicised editorial brackets. Deleted and altered words and passages are recorded and their content or process of alteration explained within following italicised editorial brackets. All the explanatory editorial notes are found in the diplomatic version, with links to and from the normalized version.

2.4.3. Abbreviations

Boyle and his various amanuenses used a host of different abbreviations in their writing. Abbreviations can be categorized under three types: suspension, where the first letters only of a word are provided; superscription, where the first letters are provided and the terminal letter or letters are written in superscript; or brevigraph, where missing letters are indicated by a sign or a mark.

Suspensions are transcribed as they appear in the original text. Occasionally, for more obscure suspensions, the normalized text will contain the expanded form of the word, appearing in green to indiate that there is a link to the original suspension in the diplomatic version. However, there are so many of these suspensions, and most of their expansions are so obvious or commonplace, that we have not systematically expanded every single instance, and trust readers will be able to determine most of the expansions themselves. We have not expanded initials used to designate people; instead, where the identity of the person is known, a hypertext link at the initial will take the reader to the corresponding entry in the biographical register. In one other particular case, we have purposefully abstained from expanding suspensions. The recipes in Latin often contain many suspensions, with no indications as to what the proper inflected endings of these words should be. We have not supplied the endings, both because we would have to guess as to what the proper Latin ending would be, with very little evidence, and because contemporaries themselves habitually thought of these ingredients and processes in terms of their common abbreviations. The abbreviated form was thought of as the word itself, and Boyle and his colleagues did not necessarily consider these abbreviated forms merely as shorthand alternatives to longer words. Thus we have not attempted to expand the majority of abbreviations in Latin recipes (except for a few terms; we have expanded only those abbreviations which are included in the basic lexicons of medical terminology, e.g. 'satis quantum' for s.q.).

Most superscriptions and brevigraphs have been silently expanded, with no notice being taken in the markup of their original form. Please see the article by Michael Hunter quoted above for a fuller discussion of this policy. The most common types of abbreviations that appear in the work-diaries, and our methods of expanding them are as follows:

Where it cannot be determined what the expanded form of the abbreviation should be it has been transcribed as it appears in the original, complete with superscript.

Where Boyle or the amanuensis combines Arabic numbers and Latin or English superscripts -- e.g. 5th, 2ly, 7ber, 9es, 4er, etc. - the characters are transcribed as they appear in the manuscript, with the superscript maintained. If the meaning is not immediately apparent, an expanded form will be supplied in the normalized version, linked to its corresponding place in the diplomatic version (i.e. the third, fourth and fifth examples above would be given in the noramlized versions as 'September', 'nones' and 'quater'; however 5th and 2ly and similar constructions are deemed so common and obvious as not to require expansion).

2.4.4. Symbols

The many chymical symbols Boyle and his amanuenses use in their work present other problems. As the meaning of the symbols beyond the most common (iron, copper, mercury and silver) may not be known to most readers the symbols have been transliterated into English text and their literal definition placed between curly brackets. Throughout, the contemporary terms for substances and processes are used, those similar to the terms Boyle uses in his literal descriptions of these substances. Thus the symbol C.C. is transliterated as {hartshorn}, the term Boyle commonly uses in other cases, and not 'ammonia'; AF is {aqua fortis} and not 'nitric acid', and so on.

Where these symbols appear with terminal superscripts, the curly bracketed transliteration has been maintained, to signify that there is a symbol at this place, followed by the terminal superscript. This may not make immediate sense to the reader, as, for instance, when Boyle's intended meaning of ♂ial' (i.e. 'martial') would be thus rendered as '{iron}ial'. Even more troublesome are the instances where the symbols are used in Latin texts with terminal superscripts providing the proper Latin inflected ending. Thus ♂is (i.e. 'martis') would be rendered as '{iron}is'. In such cases we supply an expanded from of the symbol-superscript construction in the normalized text, which is of course linked to the original form in the diplomatic version. We do consider it important, though, to use the transliterations as place-holders to signify the location of symbols in the diplomatic texts, even if that renders reading them more difficult. Eventually we hope to have access to a complete character set of these symbols whereby we can actually represent them electronically, as well as provide a literal rendering.

Symbols are also used to signify the common measures in recipes - pounds, ounces, drachms and scruples. In the original text these symbols are usually written before the quantity itself, which is usually written as small Roman numerals joined in a cursive style to the unit symbol. The pound, ounce, drachm and scruple symbols are similarly transliterated and the quantity maintained in its position after the measure and written in Roman numerals. Thus the transcription {ounce} iii signifies what would be in modern writing '3 ounces'. In the normalized version the roman numeral in the original is replaced by its Arabic equivalent, but the transliterated unit of measurement still appears before the quantity. Furthermore, there is also an old sign for ½ that often appears with these measurements - ß, or two long 's's, presumably standing for 'semi'. This will be rendered as ; in the transcriptions.

The marks - slashes, crosses, lines, stars/asterisks, etc. - that often stand next to entries are also considered 'symbols' that are expressed by transliterations within curly brackets. We have taken this approach rather than try to express them typographically from the existing character sets. Finally, the symbol for recipe, ℞, is here represented as {Rx}. Even though the symbol does exist in the chracter sets, its typeface did not seem to mesh very well with the remainder of the text, so we have opted for another straightforward transliteration.

The project for publishing the work-diaries has been funded by the Wellcome Trust, to which we are most grateful. We are also indebted to the library staff of the Royal Society for their help and encourgement. On technical matters, much help has been supplied by Lou Burnard of the TEI Consortium and the Humanities Computing Unit, Oxford University and by Brian fuchs of the Max-Planck Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin. We are also grateful to the Perseus Project for their assistance in preparing this edition for presentation on the Internet.

Address. Contact details:

The Robert Boyle Project, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, Birkbeck College, University of London, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HX
Web page:
e-mail addresses:;