Robert Boyle (1627-91): Work-diary XXIV ('Physiologicall Notes, begun the 25th of January')

Content: Accounts of phenomena, many of them on anatomical and medical topics from the late 1660s, related to Boyle from doctors, virtuosi and travellers; informants include the Earl of Southampton (the Lord Treasurer), Dr Thomas Hollier, Dr James Molines, Etienne Polier, Edward Halsall, et al.

General Information

Work-diary entries

/BP 22, p. 61/

[Authorial heading]:
Physiologicall Notes
Begun the 25th of January

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An Ingenious person, and very worthy of Credit, inform'd me the other day, <in> answer to some questions that I proposd to him, that Hee was imployd some years ago by a German physitian (whose Name hee told me) to distill a certain Minerall not unknown to me which hee performd in a naked fire with <so> good success that he had from about {pound} ; of the minerall neer {ounce} 3 of the liquor; this hee included in a glass with a bubble and a slender neck like one of my weather glasses: But tho. the liquor at first reacht not above the bubble but onely filld it to the botom of the pipe, yet as the Moon encreasd this liquor, as the doctor expected, by degrees, expanded it self in the glass, so that about the full {moon} it reacht about an inch into the pipe < and upon the decrease of the {moon} it subsided by degrees to the botom of the pipe.> And when I askt whether the vessell were [d] carefully stop'd, hee answerd That it was not only so but hermetically seald like one of my Thermometers with [d] {spirit of wine} which hee had seen. This the Relator averrd to me upon his own Observation [d] and being desired hee readily gave mee a description of the minerall, and a direction where to procure it (which I am now indeavouring to do) adding that the same Dr made the like tryall with another /BP 22, p. 62/ minerale <akin to this> with which my having heard that such an Experiment had bin done gave me occasion to propose <him> the question.

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To manifest how much the facultyes of loosening and binding are relative things and depend upon the disposition of the body to be wrought upon, and so, upon the congruity betwixt the Agent & the Patient, I know an Ingenious Gentlewoman, on whom Cynamon, which [d] generally is a considerable Astringent and Stomachick Medicine has a quite contrary operation and that in a strange degree, insomuch that having found by 2 or 3 accidentall Tryalls that <a very little> cynamon seemd to disorder her stomach and prove laxative, she resolv'd once to satisfy her self whether those discomposures came by chance or no, and having strew'd some pouder-cynamon upon a toste she was going to put into her ale, upon eating the toste she was <copiously> purg'd for 2 days together, and that with such violence that it put her into Convulsion fits <and a kind of Spasmus Cynicus> , which she could never bee perfectly free'd from being troubled with from time to time for 3 years, as was the other day averr'd to me, and divers others that know her, by her husband who is himself a learned man and a profest physitian.

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I met the other day with a very intelligent person well verst in Chymistry, not credulous <and> in a word very well worthy of Credit who assur'd me that he had himself seen <a few years ago> at Mentz in the hands of one Monsieur Paulier a gentleman of Lausanne and a Virtuoso a piece of glass about the bigness of a shilling or somewhat bigger which was red <& pretty transparent> like glass of Antim. made per se, and which this Monsieur Paulier affirm'd to the relator that he hammerd before the present Elector of <Heidelberg, (to whom I told him I had the honor to be known, &) by whom the> Relator was about that time employd, and this Mons. Paulier being [d] his <intimate> Acquaintance and perceiving /BP 22, p. 63/ [d] that he was, as he well might be, indisposd to beleive so strange a thing, after he had confest the glass to have bin given him by an Excellent: Chymist in (his country) Switzerland at the Relators earnest request gave him leave for his satisfaction to lay the piece of glass upon an Anvill and to strike 7 or 8. strokes with a hammer upon it, by which he found that tho. it was not malleable (at least in the state it then was) like neald silver, since it began to crack at the edges like silver that is over-hammerd, yet it did really stretch under the hammer growing more thin on the beaten part and having visible marks or impressions made on it by the edg of the hammer.

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This day being invited to my Lord Treasurers His Lordship desir'd me to conferre with an Experienc'd Chirurgeon & Lithotomist about a strange cure affirmed to have bin lately done of the stone in the Bladder by a Gentlewoman, whereupon [d] finding the Chirurgion to be my Old Acquaintance Mr. Hollyer a man of unsuspected skill & credit, my Curiosity was the more raisd, and Hee in answer to my Questions told me divers Circumstances which twere too long now here to mention wherof the principall were these, That Hee well knew and perfectly remembred the <youth> , on whom the cure was said to be done That Hee had formerly searcht him himself and found that hee had a stone in the Bladder, which hee then judg'd to be of the bigness of a walnut; the youth (about 16 or 17 years of age being likewise sadly afflicted with the [d] pains of that tormenting disease: That being told that his patient had bin cured by a Medicin given him by one Mrs. Lawrence, hee beleivd it not /BP 22, p. 64/ but supposd it to be either a fiction or a mistake [d] imagining that the stone might bee brought to bee lodgd or adhere to some part of the bladder, instead of being dissolved: But the youth affirming himself to be Cured and divers <other> persons giving out that the Stone came away from him for some days in the form of a substance much like the scrapings of an old Mud-wall, hee to satisfy my Lord Treasurer within these 2 days searcht him again, but found no stone at all in his Bladder. My Lord Treasurer also related to mee That Hee sent to Dr. Terne a fellow of the Colledg of Physicins and a skilfull Anatomist of myne acquaintance about a young man whom both the Dr and Mr. Molins the Chirurgion affirmed to have the stone without all doubt, and tho. hee had bin long in the Doctors hands was brought so low with pain & watching that Mr. Mol. <would> not venture to cut him, hereupon the Dr. sent my Lord Treasurer word that hee did acknowledg that this young man was to his great wonder cured, and <from> this patient as from the other was affirmed there came away for divers days store of matter like the scrapings or mouldrings of a mud-wall and at length a Kernell, as there came away also from the forementioned youth: after which his pain & difficulty of urine and other symptoms ceasd. A while after Mrs. Lawrence herself came in with whom I had some talk, and shee affirmd that shee had first try'd the remedy upon herself /BP 22, p. 65/ and afterward upon above 30 persons if I mistake not without fayling in any on whom shee tryd it, though some of them were very old except it were on one boy that was deaf and dumb, whom shee was not sure to have really had the stone. One late Cure she mention'd to us on a person not far off and easy to be enquird after, which shee says, shee performd in 12 days; but while wee were talking there came in so much Company that shee was not willing to discourse freely any longer, and I was obliged by urgent occasions to go away and leave her there. Shee makes no great difference whether the stone. bee in the Kidneys or Bladder, but is extreamly shy of her Medicine and will not suffer any that is a physician to smell or tast it, but from a person that has done both I learn that 'tis a drink which is not at all Corrosive, neither saline, sowre nor spicy. And it begins to give ease and bring away the Stone commonly in 3. or 4. days, if not sooner.

/BP 22, p. 65/

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Relating to a Judicious Virtuoso that [d] a physician of Bruxells a while since affirm'd to me that Hee himself had prepar'd 3. or 4. resuscitable plants, one of which hee had presented to the marg. of Castell Rodrigo now governor of the Spanish Netherlands where this Virtuoso had not long since bin. Relating this, I say, to this Gentleman, and enquiring of him whether hee had seen this resuscitable plant, hee answer'd me that hee had never seen, nor hear'd of it, but [d] told me on this occasion that coming to deale with an Apothecary of Namur much Esteem'd for his extraordinary skill in Chymistry about some choice preparations, wherewith this man's shop was furnish'd, the Apothecary told the Virtuoso that he <had> really prepar'd resuscitable plants /BP 22, p. 66/ a different way from that which others pretended to, and that he could prepare a great variety of them. And when having enquir'd of the virtuoso whether hee himself had seen any of these prepar'd plants, hee assur'd me that hee had seen not only some but many; I then upon farther enquirys how they appeard, learn'd that the Chymist had divers of them in distinct glass-bottles; That the apparitions that were exhibited show'd not the peculiar colours, but onely the Shape of the plant, but This so genuinely that hee could perfectly distinguish and easily know it to be such or such a plant instancing particularly in Carduus Benedictus, <Camomill> , [blank space in MS, half a line] and the difference betwixt this way of exhibiting plants, and that which is mention'd by Quercetan and pretended to by Others, I found by this Gentlemans Answers to consist chiefly in these two things: The 1st: that the Apothecary's plants did not [d] as the others <seem to grow up> into the air encluded in a <seald> viall, but <were seen> <as growing> in a clear liquor wherewith the bottle <that contain'd it> was almost filld; and the next That whereas to [d] make the apparition mention'd by Quercetan & others, the application of an [d] actuall heat (as that of a lamp, or the Sun-beams or the like) is <affirm'd> to be requisite; [d] upon the absence of which the phantasticall plant relapses into its ashes: In the formation of the Apothecary's Vegetables, hee doth not employ any actuall heat, but (which may /BP 22, p. 67/ seem more strange) only the shaking of the bottle, for upon that agitation the prepard ashes or powder being raisd from the botom and disperst quite through the liquor, when the glass is set by in a quiet place, the scatter'd particles by degrees so convene, as to <compose> a Modell of the plant they once belong'd to. And heat no[t] being requisite to their formation, these plants do not quickly, [d] as the Polonian physitian's recorded by Quercetan, fall back into a powder, but, if let alone, continued a great while untill the preparer think fit by a gentle agitation of the bottle to dissolve the loose contexture of it.

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Some hours <agoe,> being at Southampton House a Gentleman related to my Lord Treasurer enformed me that at [blank space in MS, 7-9 characters] in [blank space in MS, 12-14 characters] a farmer, whose garden was next to thatt of this Gentleman, had a daughter of about 12 years of age, who from her infancy (another gentleman there present and confirmed the story told mee it was from the time she was 3. or 4. year old) had bin grievously tormented with the Stone in the bladder which made her go very much stooping and kept her continually very weak and sickly: Hee farther told mee that the Patients mother by the advice of an [d] other Country woman gave her daughter a certain medicine, upon the use of which after some days shee began to void [d] not without exquisite pains store of fragments of stones very irregularly shap'd <as if they had bin broken off> and of a strange bigness considering the passage they came through: This odd Accident having continu'd for divers days and made a great noise in the neighbourhood, this gentleman the Relator was curious to know the truth of it, which being averr'd both by /BP 22, p. 68/ the Mother & the Patient her self, hee desir'd this latter to save the Stone she should voyd hereafter, which she did, and after some time ceas'd to void them and to be troubl'd with her former disease; upon which growing to be strong and healthy, she was early married & dy'd 2. or 3. years ago in Child-bed. This Relation was confirm'd to me by my Lord Treasurer who being himself troubled with the Stone in the Bladder, and happening to be upon the place <a> while after the girle was cur'd, he sent for the farmer, who is one of his Tenants, & for the Patient her self, who averr'd to him what has bin related; which appeard to be a very known thing in that place. His Lordship added That when he first spake with the girle she was yet very lean & pale and weakly, but coming there 2 years after, (it being a Manor of his own) hee found her much grown, and [d] that she appeard to be of an healthy & florid Habit of Body. After that His Lordship shewd mee the Stones that had bin preserv'd amounting, as I ghuess, to {ounce} 1 ;. or {ounce} 2 divers of them were about half an inch broad & proportionably big and thick, others were far lesser and above 40 as I ghess'd that were inferior to those of the first sort, were yet bigger then the largest I have hitherto known to come away from Calculous persons. Their shapes were very irregular and thatt which seem'd exceeding odd was That in divers fragments there appear'd on one part of the /BP 22, p. 69/ superficies as it were a kind of Coat like that which may be seen on the surface of many flints & pebles, and having put some of these fragments together, it seemed manifest enough to mee That two of them at least which were larg had before made up one Body and had split or broken asunder; but my Lord Treasurer affirm'd to me that having <once> at <his> leisure taken the pains to put very many of them together, it was manifest to him that either all or the greatest part of them had once made up an entire stone, and that which encreas'd my wonder, (supposing the wench & her friends to have us'd no imposture) was That some of the smaller of these fragments look'd just like parts of a white peble, and when I held them against a Candle were transparent, and others of them were so like pieces of a whitish flint, that if they had bin shown mee before I heard any thing of the relation, I should without scruple have pronounc'd them to be such, especially since [d] considering the lately mention'd lump which appeard evidently to mee to be made up of 2 <large fragments> that I joyn'd together I discover'd in the midst of each of these fragments a blackish part, by guess about the bigness of half a pea, which seem'd manifestly to be of black flint, and for my further satisfaction I not only <by hard rubbing> two great fragments together found as I expected that they smelt like a chafed flint and not like stale urine as <with> divers pieces of true <& ordinary> Calculous Humanus I had long before try'd, but desiring to have a steel brought found that these stones would strike fire <with it> like a flint which my Lord Treasurer affirm'd he had severall times observ'd before.

/BP 22, p. 70/

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Hearing of a very odd accident that had befallen an intelligent Gentleman, I learn'd the particulars of it from Himself, the chief whereof were these; This person who was a Major being accus'd at Madrid of a State crime, [d] had Irons put upon his feet, and was kept for 20 moneths in a room, which tho. otherways not unfurnish'd was by reason of its darkness reckon'd among the dungeons, for there was no window to it, nor [d] within divers rooms of it, so that for divers moneths he saw no light at all, save [d] when the Jaylors came from time to time with Candles to bring him <wine & other provisions> , and see that he made no attempt to escape; <In> this condition hee told mee that he continu'd <divers> moneths without seing any friend, nor would they, if he had had light allow him a pen and ink or any book. At length he began by the accustomance of his Eys to that dark place to have a dim perception of some objects, which encreasing [d] by degrees, at length he came <not only> to discern smaller objects, but to see no less plainly, then wee did in the room that wee then were, in which there was a good candle neer us; so that hee could <plainly> see the mice that us'd to feed upon his leavings plainly run up and down the room; and some moneths after a Spaniard upon suspicion of some State crime being brought into the same dungeon & left there for some days [d] bemoning himself exceedingly of his sad condition was askd by this Major whether he would have a cup of wine /BP 22, p. 71/ to refresh his Spirits, of [d] which expressing a desire rather then an expectation the major trayld his irons to [d] a corner of the room where he kept his wine, and filling him out a glass of it brought it to him to the great Astonishment of the Spanyard, who seing nothing at all himself in that dark dungeon, could not imagine that this gentleman was able to [d] perform, what he had done, and to encrease this wonder the major told him, That he could see well enough to make a mous-trap with his cup, which in effect he did, and a while after the Spanyard heard the noise of the fallen cup with which he so stun'd the mouse with roling him up & down in it, that hee was quickly able to take him up & bring him to his fellow prisoner. I ask'd the Major how <long> it was before he began to discern things in the dark; Hee answer'd that it was about the 7th. moneth of his imprisonment tho. he then saw things but very dimly. I ask'd him also whether at last hee could see so well as to judg himself able to read & write if he had bin permitted the use of pens & books? [d] to which hee answer'd he made no doubt he could. I farther enquir'd whether he were able to support the light that the Jaylors used to bring along with them; when they came to visit him? to which he replyd negatively: And when I farther enquir'd How <far> he was able to support the light upon his release? he told me That 2. months before [d] he was <quite> discharg'd he was remov'd out of the dungeon to a <better> prison, whose dimme light was yet at first very uneasy to his [d] disaccustom'd eys: And when having the liberty of the prison he sometimes walk'd into some less dim places his eys were presently dazled & offended & put him to much payn & <even> for 2 mon. <more> after he was quite discharg'd he was unable to turn his eys toward the sky /BP 22, p. 72/ without having his sight & brain much disturbd by that Action.

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A <Pious & Learned> Scholemaster, that venturd to stay in London in the great <1665> Plague, and was much employed <as some friends of mine that knew him & commended him assurd me,> to visit the sick and distribute alms & releif to them went indiscriminately to all sorts of Infected, and even dying persons to the number as he told me of 900 or 1000; and being askd by me about the Infection of other things besides walls, he told me that being once calld to administer some ghostly comfort to a <poor> woman that had buried some Children of the plague, he found the room so little that it scarce held any more than the bed whereon shee lay sick, and an open coffin wherein he saw her husband ly dead of the same disease, whom the wife soon after followd. In this litle close room they affirm'd to him that the Contagious steams had produc'd spots on the very wall, and when I askd whether he himself had seen them, he answered that he had not but yet was enclind to beleive the thing to be true not only upon the score of the Relators, but because he had observd the like in his own Study, which being divided only by a wall from some roomes of a house which the owner had turnd into a kind of a Pest house, and in which Numbers had dyd in a short time, he took notice that the white wall of his Study was <(since the Sickness rag'd)> without any other cause that he could imagine blemishd <[d]> in divers places with Spots like those of infected persons. When I enquird what Antidote he usd he replyd that next the protection of God which so many sad objects made him the more fervently implore, and a constant fearlessness, the only preservative he us'd beside good diet were Half a Spoonfull <or a Spoonfull of Brandy 5. or 6. times a day especially when he went into infected places, and the bigness of a small nut or less of the root of Spanish Angelica of which he held in his mouth the quantity of a peppercorn or somewhat less as often as he thought there was need.> [d]

/BP 22, p. 73/

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Dr. O. F. has assur'd me that one day going about to make Helmonts and Lullys Coagulum he pour'd together Sp. of Urine and {spirit of wine} and finding a Salt to coagulate in the botom of the vessell which seem'd not of the ordinary sort, he tasted it, and found it, to his wonder, to tast just like Salt of Tart. Wherefore trying it in a good heat he found that it would not fly away but only flow like an Alcali. This gave me the hint of one sort of Ens Vegetabile.