Robert Boyle

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Shannon portrait: Robert Boyle

Robert William Boyle FRS (25 January 162731 December 1691) was an Anglo-Irish natural philosopher, chemist, physicist and inventor. Boyle is largely regarded today as the first modern chemist, and therefore one of the founders of modern chemistry, and one of the pioneers of modern experimental scientific method. He is best known for Boyle's law, which describes the inversely proportional relationship between the absolute pressure and volume of a gas, if the temperature is kept constant within a closed system. Among his works, The Sceptical Chymist is seen as a cornerstone book in the field of chemistry.

Quotes[edit]

  • I shall take leave to think the worse, rather of the practice of the men than of the book of God.
    • "Some Considerations Touching the Style of the Holy Scriptures" (1661) "Seventh Objection", as quoted in Treatises on the High Veneration Man's Intellect Owes to God: on Things Above Reason; and on The Style of the Holy Scriptures (1835) p. 182
  • The phaenomena afforded by trades, are a part of the history of nature, and therefore may both challenge the naturalist's curiosity and add to his knowledge, Nor will it suffice to justify learned men in the neglect and contempt of this part of natural history, that the men, from whom it must be learned, are illiterate mechanicks... is indeed childish, and too unworthy of a philosopher, to be worthy of an honest answer.

A Proëmial Essay (1661)[edit]

, wherein, with some Considerations touching Experimental Essays in general, Is interwoven such an Introduction to all those written by the Author, as is necessary to be perused for the better understanding of them.
  • And that you may know... what kind of writings I mean, I shall name to you the learned Gassendus his little Syntagma of Epicurus's philosophy, and that most ingenious gentleman Monsieur Descartes his principles of philosophy. For though I purposely refrained, though not altogether from transiently consulting about a few particulars, yet from seriously and orderly reading over those excellent (though disagreeing) books, or so much as Sir Francis Bacon's Novum Organum, that I might not be prepossessed with any theory or principles, till I had spent some time in trying what things themselves would incline me to think; yet beginning now to allow myself to read those excellent books, I find by the little I have read in them already, that if I had read them before I began to write, I might have enriched the ensuing essays with divers truths, which they now want, and have explicated divers things much better than I fear I have done.
  • But of such writers the number is yet (and will I fear always be so) small, that I shall not need to make many exceptions, when I treat of the usefulness of writing books of essays, in comparison of that of writing systematically: or, at least... whilst I presume not to judge of other men's abilities, I hope it may be lawful for me to confess freely to you concerning myself, that I am very sensible of my being far from having such a stock of experiments and observations, as I judge requisite to write systematically; and I am apt to impute many of the deficiencies to be met with in the theories and reasonings of such great wits as Aristotle, Campanella, and some other celebrated philosophers, chiefly to this very thing, that they have too hastily, and either upon a few observations, or at least without a competent number of experiments, presumed to establish principles, and deliver axioms.
  • For it very rarely otherwise happens, than that theories, that are grounded but upon few and obvious experiments, are subject to be contradicted by some such instances, as more free and diligent inquiries into what of nature is more abstruse, or even into the less obvious qualities of things, are wont to bring to light.
  • I remember, that being once at Leyden, I was brought to the top of a tower, where, in a darkened room (such as is now used in many places to bring in the species of external object) a convex glass, applied to the only hole, by which light was permitted to enter, did project upon a large white sheet of paper, held at a just distance from it, a lively representation of divers of the chief buildings in the town; all which, upon the admission of more light into the room, by opening the window, did immediately disappear, And methinks... that in divers of the philosophical theories, that have been formerly applauded, something not unlike this may be easily observed. for though, whilst they are looked on with such a weak and determinate degree of light, they may appear very artificial and well-proportioned fabrics, yet they appear so but in that twilight, as it were, which is requisite to their conspicuousness. For if but a full light of new experiments and observations be freely let in upon them, the beauty of those (delightful, but fantastical) structures does immediately vanish.
  • And truly... if men could be persuaded to mind more the advancement of natural philosophy than that of their own reputations, it were not, methinks, very uneasy to make them sensible, that one of the considerablest services, that they could do mankind, were to set themselves diligently and industriously to make experiments and collect observations, without being over-forward to establish principles and axioms, believing it uneasy to erect such theories, as are capable to explicate all the phænomena of nature, before they have been able to take notice of the tenth part of those phænomena, that are to be explicated.
  • Not that I at all disallow the use of reasoning upon experiments, or the endeavouring to discern as early as we can the confederations, and differences, and tendencies of things: for such an absolute suspension of the exercise of reasoning were exceeding troublesome, if not impossible. And, as in that rule of arithmetic, which is commonly called regula falsi by proceeding upon a conjecturally-supposed number, as if it were that, which we inquire after, we are wont to come to the knowledge of the true number sought for; so in physiology it is sometimes conducive to the discovery of truth, to permit the understanding to make an hypothesis, in order to the explication of this or that difficulty, that by examining how far the phænomena are, or are not, capable of being solved by that hypothesis, the understanding may, even by its own errors, be instructed.
  • For it has been truly observed by a great philosopher, that truth does more easily emerge out of error than confusion.
  • That then, that I wish for, as to systems, is this, that men, in the first place, would forbear to establish any theory, till they have consulted with (though not a fully competent number of experiments, such as may afford them all the phænomena to be explicated by that theory, yet) a considerable number of experiments, in proportion to the comprehensiveness of the theory to be erected on them. And, in the next place, I would have such kind of supestructures looked upon only as temporary ones; which though they may be preferred before any others, as being the least imperfect, or, if you please, the best in their kind that we yet have, yet are they not entirely to be acquiesced in, as absolutely perfect, or uncapable of improving alterations.

The Sceptical Chymist (1661)[edit]

Preface Introductory[edit]

to the Following Treatise
  • I observe, that of late Chymistry begins, as indeed it deserves, to be cultivated by Learned Men who before despis’d it; and to be pretended to by many who never cultivated it, that they may be thought not to ignore it: Whence it is come to passe, that divers Chymical Notions about Matters Philosophical are taken for granted and employ’d, and so adopted by very eminent Writers both Naturalists and Physitians. Now this I fear may prove somewhat prejudicial to the Advancement of solid Philosophy: For though I am a great Lover of Chymical Experiments, and though I have no mean esteem of divers Chymical Remedies, yet I distinguish these from their Notions about the causes of things, and their manner of Generation.
  • A Person any Thing vers’d in the Writings of Chymists cannot but Discern by their obscure, Ambiguous, and almost Ænigmatical Way of expressing what they pretend to Teach, that they have no Mind, to be understood at all, but by the Sons of Art (as they call them) nor to be Understood even by these without Difficulty And Hazardous Tryalls.

Physiological Considerations[edit]

Part of the First Dialogue
  • And therefore I think you have done very wisely to make it your business to consider the Phœnomena relating to the present question, which have been afforded by experiments, especially since it might seem injurious to our senses, by whose mediation we acquire so much of the knowledge we have of things corporal, to have recourse to far-fetched and abstracted Ratiocination, to know what are the sensible ingredients of those sensible things that we daily see and handle, and are supposed to have the liberty to untwist (if I may so speak) into the primitive bodies they consist of.
  • Being Gentlemen and very far from the litigious humour of loving to wrangle about words or terms or notions as empty; they had before his coming in, readily agreed promiscuously to use when they pleased Elements and Principles as terms equivalent: and to understand both by the one and the other, those primitive and simple bodies of which the mixt ones are said to be composed, and into which they are ultimately resolved.

Part I[edit]

  • It seems not absurd to conceive, that at first production of mixt bodies, the universal matter, whereof they among other parts of the universe consisted, was actually divided, into little particles, of several sizes and shapes, variously moved.
    • Proposition I
  • Epicurus... supposes not only all mixt bodies, but all others to be produced by the various and casual occursions of atoms, moving themselves to and fro by an internal principle in the immense or rather infinite vacuum.
    • Carneades speaking
  • Those distinct substances, which concretes generally either afford, or are made up of, may, without very much inconvenience, be called the elements or principles of them.
    • Proposition IV
  • There are some mixt bodies, from which it has not been yet made appear, that any degree of fire can separate either salt, or sulphur, or mercury, much less all the three. The most obvious instance of this truth is gold, which is a body so fixed, and wherein the elementary ingredients (if it have any) are so firmly united to each other, that we find not in the operations, wherein gold is exposed to the fire, how violent soever, that it does discernably so much as lose of its fixedness or weight, so far is it from being dissipated into those principles, whereof one at least is acknowledged to be fugitive enough.
  • I need not tell you, what complaints the more candid and judicious of the Chymists themselves are wont to make of those boasters, that confidently pretend, that they have extracted the salt or sulphur of quicksilver, when they have disguised it by additaments, wherewith it resembles the concretes, whose names are given it; whereas by a skilful and rigid examen, it may be easily enough stripped of its disguises, and made to appear again in the pristine form of running mercury. The pretended salts and sulphurs being so far from being elementary parts extracted out of the body of mercury, that they are rather... de-compound bodies, made up of the whole metal and the menstruum, or other additaments employed to disguise it.
  • As for silver, I never could see any degree of fire make it part with any of its three principles. ...But admitting, that some parts of the silver were driven away by the violence of the fire, what proof is there, that it was either the salt, the sulphur, or the mercury of the metal, and not rather a part of it homogeneous to what remained? for besides that the silver, that was left, seemed not sensibly altered, which probably would have appeared, had so much of any one of its principles been separated from it.

Part IV[edit]

  • I find that even Eminent Writers (such as Raymund Lully, Paracelsus, and others) do so abuse the termes they employ, that as they will now and then give divers things one name, so they will oftentimes give one thing, many Names; and some of them (perhaps) such, as do much more properly signifie some Distinct Body of another kind; nay even in Technical Words or Termes of Art, they refrain not from this Confounding Liberty; but will, as I have Observ'd call the same Substance, sometimes the Sulphur, and Sometimes the Mercury, of a Body.
  • I must confess (sayes Eleutherius) I have, in the reading of Paracelsus and other Chymical Authors, been troubled to find, that such hard Words and Equivocal Expressions, as You justly complain of, do even when they treat of Principles, seem to be studiously affected by those Writers; whether to make themselves to be admir'd by their Readers, and their Art appear more Venerable and Mysterious, or, (as they would have us think) to conceal from them a Knowledge themselves judge inestimable.
  • As for the Mystical Writers scrupling to Communicate their Knowledge, they might less to their own Disparagement, and to the trouble of their Readers, have conceal'd it by writing no Books, then by Writing bad ones. If Themistius were here, he would not stick to say that Chymists write thus darkly, not because they think their Notions too precious to be explain'd, but because they fear that if they were explain'd, men would discern, that they are farr from being precious.
  • I fear that the chief Reason why Chymists have written so obscurely of their three Principles, may be, That not having Clear and Distinct Notions of them themselves, they cannot write otherwise then Confusedly of what they but Confusedly Apprehend. Not to say that divers of them, being Conscious to the Invalidity of their Doctrine, might well enough discerne that they could scarce keep themselves from being confuted, but by keeping themselves from being clearly understood.
  • But though much may be said to Excuse the Chymists when they write Darkly, and Ænigmatically, about the Preparation of their Elixir, and Some few other grand Arcana, the divulging of which they may upon Grounds Plausible enough esteem unfit; yet when they pretend to teach the General Principles of Natural Philosophers, this Equivocall Way of Writing is not to be endur'd. For in such Speculative Enquiries, where the naked Knowledge of the Truth is the thing Principally aim'd at, what does he teach me worth thanks that does not, if he can, make his Notion intelligible to me, but by Mystical Termes, and Ambiguous Phrases darkens what he should clear up; and makes me add the Trouble of guessing at the sence of what he Equivocally expresses, to that of examining the Truth of what he seems to deliver.
  • And if the matter of the Philosophers Stone, and the manner of preparing it, be such Mysteries as they would have the World believe them, they may Write Intelligibly and Clearly of the Principles of mixt Bodies in General, without Discovering what they call the Great Work.
  • But for my part (Continues Carneades) what my Indignation at this Un-philosophical way of teaching Principles has now extorted from me, is meant chiefly to excuse my self, if I shall hereafter oppose any Particular Opinion or assertion, that some Follower of Paracelsus or any Eminent Artist may pretend not to be his Masters. For, as I told you long since, I am not Oblig'd to examine private mens writings, (which were a Labour as endless as unprofitable) being only engag'd to examine those Opinions about the Tria Prima, which I find those Chymists I have met with to agree in most: And I Doubt not but my Arguments against their Doctrine will be in great part easily enough applicable ev'n to those private Opinions, which they do not so directly and expresly oppose.
  • [T]hat which I am now entering upon being the Consideration of the things themselves whereinto Spagyrists resolve mixt Bodies by the Fire, If I can shew that these are not of an Elementary Nature, it will be no great matter what names these or those Chymists have been pleased to give them. And I question not that to a Wise man, and consequently to Eleutherius, it will be lesse considerable to know, what Men Have thought of Things, then what they Should have thought.
  • I consider, that as generally as Chymists are wont to appeal to Experience, and as confidently as they use to instance the several substances separated by the Fire from a Mixt Body, as a sufficient proof of their being its component Elements: Yet those differing Substances are many of them farr enough from Elementary simplicity, and may be yet look'd upon as mixt Bodies, most of them also retaining, somewhat... of the Nature of those Concretes whence they were forc'd.
  • I am glad (sayes Eleutherius) to see the Vanity or Envy of the canting Chymists thus discover'd and chastis'd; and I could wish, that Learned Men would conspire together to make these deluding Writers sensible, that they must no longe[r] hope with Impunity to abuse the World. For whilst such Men are quietly permitted to publish Books with promising Titles, and therein to Assert what they please, and contradict others, and ev'n themselves as they please, with as little danger of being confuted as of being understood, they are encourag'd to get themselves a name, at the cost of the Readers, by finding that intelligent Men are wont for the reason newly mention'd, to let their Books and Them alone: And the ignorant and credulous (of which the number is still much greater then that of the other) are forward to admire most what they least understand.
  • But if judicious men skilled in Chymical affairs shall once agree to write clearly and plainly of them, and thereby keep men from being stunn'd... or imposed upon by dark and empty Words; 'tis to be hop'd that these men finding that they can no longer write impertinently and absurdly, without being laugh'd at for doing so, will be reduc'd either to write nothing, or Books that may teach us something, and not rob men, as formerly, of invaluable Time; and so ceasing to trouble the world with Riddles or Impertinencies, we shall either by their Books receive an Advantage, or by their silence escape an Inconvenience.

Of the Imperfection of The Chymist's Doctrine of Qualities (1675)[edit]

A source.
  • Since a great part of those Learned Men, especially Physicians who have discerned the defects of the vulgar Philosophy, but are not yet come to understand and relish the Corpuscularian, have slid into the Doctrine of the Chymists; and since the Spagyrists are wont to pretend to make out all the Qualities of bodies from the Predominancy of some one of their three Hypostatical Principles, I suppose it may both keep my opinion from appearing too presumptuous, and (which is far more considerable) may make way for the fairer Reception of the Mechanical Hypothesis about Qualities, if I here intimate (though but briefly and in general) some of those defects, that I have observed in Chymists Explications of Qualities.
  • Now a man need not be very conversant in the writings of Chymists to observe, in how Laxe, Indefinite, and almost Arbitrary Senses they employ the Terms of Salt, Sulphur and Mercury; of which I could never find that they were agreed upon any certain Definitions or setled Notions; not onely differing Authors, but not unfrequently one and the same, and perhaps in the same Book, employing them in very differing senses.
  • And first the Doctrine that all their Theory is grounded on, seems to me Inevident and undemonstrated, not to say precarious.
  • It is somewhat strange to me, that neither the Spagyrists themselves, nor yet their Adversaries, should have taken notice that Chymists have rather supposed than evinced, that the Analysis of bodies by fire, or even that at least some Analysis is the onely instrument of investigating what Ingredients mixt bodies are made up of, since in divers cases That may be discovered by Composition as well as by Resolution; as it may appear, that Vitriol consists of metalline parts (whether Martial, or Venereal, or both) associated by Coagulation with acid ones, one may, I say, discover this as well by making true Vitriol with Spirit (improperly called Oil) of Sulphur, or that of Salt, as by distilling or Resolving Vitriol by the fire.
  • But I will not... trouble you with what I have largely discoursed in the Sceptical Chymist, to call in question the grounds on which Chymists assert, that all mixt bodies are compounded of Salt, Sulphur, and Mercury. For it may suffice me now to tell you that, whatsoever they may be able to obtain from other bodies, it does not appear by Experience, which is the grand, if not the onely, Argument they rely on, that all mixt bodies that have Qualities consist of their tria prima, since they have not been able, that we know, truly, and without new Compositions, to resolve into those three, either Gold, or Silver, or Crystal, or Venetian Talck, or some other bodies, that I elsewhere name; & yet these bodies are endowed with divers Qualities, as the two former with Fusibleness and Malleability, and all of them with Weight and Fixity; so that in these and the like bodies, whence Chymisats have not made it yet appear, that their Salt, Sulphur and Mercury, can be truly and adequately separated, 'twill scarce be other than precarious to derive the malleableness, colour, and other Qualities of such bodies from those Principles.

A Free Inquiry into the Vulgar Notion of Nature (1682)[edit]

in The Philosophical Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle (1725) Vol.2, pp. 106-149.
  • Doubtless, it shews the wisdom of God, to have so fram'd things at first, that there can seldom or never need any extraordinary interposition of his power; or the employing from, time to time, an intelligent overseer, to regulate, assist, and control the motions of matter.
    • Sect.1.
  • Among Latin writers, the acceptations of the word nature are so many, that I remember, one author reckons up no less than fourteen or fifteen. Hence we see how easy 'tis for the generality of men, without excepting those who write of natural things, to impose upon others and themselves, in the use of a word so apt to be mis-employ'd. ..the very great ambiguity of this term, and the promiscuous use made of it, without sufficiently attending to its different significations, render many of the expressions wherein 'tis employ'd either unintelligible, improper, or false.
    • Sect. 1
  • I cannot conceive, how a body, destitute of understanding and sense, truly so called, can moderate and determine its own motions; especially so as to make them conformable to laws that it has no knowledge of.
    • Sect.1.
  • And of universal nature, the notion I would offer, should be something like this. Nature is the aggregate of the bodies, that make up the world, in its present state, considered as a principle, by virtue whereof, they act and suffer, according to the laws of motion, prescribed by the author of things.
    • Sect. 2.

Quotes about Boyle[edit]

  • After the death of Bacon, one of the most distinguished Englishmen was certainly Boyle, who, if compared with his contemporaries, may be said to rank immediately below Newton, though of course very inferior to him as an original thinker.
  • His works on natural and experimental philosophy, particularly on hydrostatics and pneumatics, and his own improvements of the air pump, have placed his name in a rank second only to that of Newton: as a chemist, he takes the lead of all his contemporaries; and in his theological writings, he has so blended philosophy with religion as to exhibit to the world the true value of scientific pursuits.
  • In the opinion of one of the most eminent modem naturalists, it was Boyle who opened up those chemical inquiries, which went on accumulating until, a century later, they supplied the means by which Lavoisier and his contemporaries fixed the real basis of chemistry, and enabled it for the first time to take its proper stand among those sciences that deal with the external world.
    • James Henry Monk, The Life of Richard Bentley, D.D.: Master of Trinity College (1833) Vol.1
  • Boyle was among the first who recognized that the withdrawal of sympathy licenses conduct that would not be permissible within an animistic vision of nature. ...The vision that he and his scientific colleagues were creating was fast becoming a mathematical abstraction lacking color, odor, texture, and personality. ...The task of the natural philosopher, we are told, is to "probe," "penetrate," and "pierce" nature in all her "mysterious," secret," and "intimate recesses."
    • Theodore Roszak, The Gendered Atom: Reflections on the Sexual Psychology of Science (1999)
  • Who has won more fame in the field of chemistry than this author? Who can boast of more happy successes or more excellent results? He worked night and day, never letting go of his object, nature; through this science he improved our life and put others share in what he had discovered with superhuman assiduity, at his own peril, at his own expense -- the first, the only one to achieve such happy results. But how devout was this guileless soul at all times! How pure his heart in serving God! He gave us generous love to one and all, and pious veneration to the Divine tterances, distinguishing in the most prudent manner between the principles of religion and the whole field of natural and chemical science. I refer to the writings of this man, which he published for the great good of human race; treatises on the style that prevails in the Holy Scriptures, on the love of God, on the design of God, the Creator, on the duty of gratitude and reverence, to be rendered by man to the Almighty God, his Redeemer.
    • Herman Boerhaave, as quoted in Boerhaaveìs Orations, Naturwissenschaften Medizin, edited by Elze Kegel-Brinkgreve & ‎Antonie Maria Luyendijk-Elshout, Brill Archive; p. 198.

The Industry of Nations: As Exemplified in the Great Exhibition of 1851 (1852)[edit]

. The Materials Industry, Part 1, Published under the Direction of the Committee of General Literature and Education, Appointed by & Printed for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. A source.
  • A forgotten essay of the great Christian philosopher, Robert Boyle, still exists... in which the dignity, value, and scientific interest of industrial pursuits are in a singular manner represented. This essay is a description of the benefits likely to ensue from the "Naturalist's (in other words the philosopher's) insight into trades." It contains some striking instances of the mutual benefits which might arise from a wider diffusion of the knowledge gained by the mechanic, and from the infusion into his practice of the principles discovered by philosophy. He remarks with justice that much may be learned about the properties of matters in the workshop of the artizan, which is pased over in silence by the most famous books.
    • Introductory Remarks
  • He states... that he learned more about the structure and peculiarities of stones... by conversing with a few masons... than he could ever gather from the works of Aristotle and Pliny.
    • Introductory Remarks
  • [I]t appeared to him that to prepare a "History of Trades" in which the observations and practices of different trades might be united... would draw the attention of philosophers to the interests of industry, and of artizans to the benefits promised by philosophy. ...Such a work was not written; and until a more recent period the store of facts gained in the pursuit of industrial occupations was confined to the acquaintance of those who were occupied therein
    • Introductory Remarks
  • The Hon. Robert Boyle... in the third volume of the folio edition of his work, is a paper having the following title, "That the Goods of Mankind may be much Increased by the Naturalist's Insight into Trades." This paper contains... the first attempt at a philosophical recognition of the value and importance of the industrial arts of mankind. In it we recognise the early effort of a man of science seeking to call the attention of the learned and great of his time to what he aptly denominates the Natural History of Trades. ...He contends that the benefit accruing from such an inquiry would be mutual, both to the learned in natural knowledge, and to the skilled in industrial art.
    • Ch.2 History of Exhibitions
  • [H]e illustrates this position by stating the following general principles. The phenomena afforded by trade, are (most of them) a part of the history of Nature, and therefore may both challenge the naturalist's curiosity and add to his knowledge. Nor will it, he adds, justify learned men in the neglect and contempt of this part of natural history, that the men from whom it must be learned are illiterate mechanics, and the things which are exhibited are works of Art and not of Nature.
    • Ch.2 History of Exhibitions
  • He pleads further for the attention of the philosophers to the productions of their humbler countrymen, by reminding them that many of the phenomena of trades are not only parts of the history of Nature, but some of them may be reckoned among its more noble and useful parts, for they show us Nature in motion,—the most instructive condition in which we can behold her."
    • Ch.2 History of Exhibitions
  • The period in which Boyle lived was one in which private investigation was calculated to be more useful than public exhibition, as knowledge of every kind was at that time almost in its infancy.
    • Ch.2 History of Exhibitions

History of Chemistry (1909)[edit]

Vol. 1, by Sir Thomas Edward Thorpe

  • The supremacy of the old philosophy may be said to have been first distinctly challenged by Robert Boyle. The appearance in 1661 of his book, The Sceptical Chemist, marks a turning-point in the history of chemistry.
  • The "Chemico-physical Doubts and Paradoxes" raised by Boyle "touching the experiments whereby vulgar Spagyrists are wont to endeavour to evince their Salt, Sulphur, and Mercury to be the true Principles of Things," eventually sealed the fate of the doctrine of the tria prima, and of the tenets of the school of Paracelsus.
  • In this treatise Boyle sets out to prove that the number of the peripatetic elements or principles hitherto assumed by chemists is, to say the least, doubtful.
  • The words "element" and "principle" are used by him as equivalent terms, and signify those primitive and simple bodies of which compounds may be said to be composed, and into which these compounds are ultimately resolvable.
  • He concludes... that the Paracelsian elements—their "salt," "sulphur," and "mercury"—are not the first and most simple principles of bodies; but that these consist, at most, of concretions of corpuscles or particles more simple than they, and possessing the radical and universal properties of volume, shape, and motion.
  • He became a member of what was known as the Invisible College, a small association of men interested in the new philosophy, who met at each other's houses in London, and occasionally at Gresham College, "to discourse and consider of philosophical inquiries and such as related thereunto." The meetings were subsequently held in Oxford, and Boyle took up his residence there in 1654. Here—in association with Wilkins; John Wallis and Seth Ward, the two Savilian Professors of Geometry and Astronomy; Thomas Willis, the physician, then student of Christ Church; Christopher Wren, then Fellow of All Souls' College; Goddard, Warden of Merton; and Ralph Bathurst, Fellow of Trinity, and afterwards its President—they sought to cultivate the new philosophy, "being satisfied that there was no certain way of arriving at any competent knowledge unless they made a variety of experiments upon natural bodies. In order to discover what phenomena they would produce, they pursued that method by themselves with great industry, and then communicated their discoveries to each other." The Invisible College eventually grew into the Royal Society...
  • He introduced the air-pump into England, and his "pneumatical engine" enabled him to discover many of the fundamental properties of a gas, notably the relation of its volume to pressure.
  • In his History of Fluidity he seeks to show that a body seems to be fluid by consisting of corpuscles touching one another only in some parts of their surfaces; whence, by reason of the numerous spaces between them, they easily glide along each other till they meet with some resisting body to whose internal surface they exquisitely accommodate themselves. He considers the requisites of fluidity to be chiefly these: The smallness of the component particles, their determinate figure, the vacant spaces between them, and the fact of their being agitated variously and apart by their own innate motion or by some thinner substance which tosses them about in its passage through them.
  • His published works contain many well-authenticated chemical facts, which are commonly held to be the discovery of a later time.
  • He was one of the earliest to insist on the necessity of studying the forms of crystals. He saw in their formation proof that the internal motions, configuration, and position of the integral parts are all that is necessary to account for alterations and diversities in outward character.
  • Some of the stock illustrations of our lecture-rooms were of his contrivance. Thus he illustrated the expansive power of freezing water by bursting a plugged gun-barrel filled with water by solidifying the water by means of a mixture of snow and salt a freezing mixture which he first introduced.
  • He was... the first to define the relation of an element to a compound, and to draw the distinction we still make between compounds and mixtures.
  • He revived the atomic hypothesis, and explained chemical combination on the basis of affinity.
  • He contended that one of the main objects of the chemist was to ascertain the nature of compounds; and thereby he stimulated the application of analysis to chemistry. Boyle discovered a number of qualitative reactions, and applied them to the detection of substances, either free or in combination.
  • Boyle's greatest service to learning consisted in the new spirit he introduced into chemistry. Henceforward chemistry was no longer the mere helpmeet of medicine. She became an independent science, the principles of which were to be ascertained by experiment; a science to be studied with the object of discovering the laws regulating the phenomena with which it is concerned and hence elucidating truth for truth's sake.
  • The old philosophy of the Greeks had, as we have seen, become merged into the doctrine of the iatro-chemists; and this was now to be purified from the theosophical mysticism with which Paracelsus and his followers had enshrouded it. "The dialectical subtleties of the schoolmen much more," says Boyle, "declare the wit of him that uses them than increase the knowledge or remove the doubts of sober lovers of truth... For in such speculative inquiries where the naked knowledge of the truth is the thing principally aimed at, what does he teach me worth thanks, that does not, if he can, make his notion intelligible to me, but by mystical terms and ambiguous phrases darkens what he should clear up, and makes me add the trouble of guessing at the sense of what he equivocally expresses, to that of learning the truth of what he seems to deliver."
  • The influence of the new spirit... infused into the science by Boyle is seen in the general style of chemical literature at the end of the seventeenth century, when compared with that of the close of the sixteenth. The mysticism and obscurity of the alchemists were no longer tolerated.

A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England (1994)[edit]

by Steven Shapin, a source.
  • Robert Boyle was a younger son of Richard Boyle, first earl of Cork, the next to last of his father's sixteen children, and the youngest surviving son. Boyle's father was... a self-made man... it is probable that his parents were of yeomen stock. Arriving in Dublin from England at age twenty-one... he launched a career whose ambition and acquisitiveness were matched only by its spectacular success. ...All this was not achieved without manking many enemies. In their view, and that of most Irish historians, Boyle was a robber baron of heroic stature, using his position to defraud Irish landowners... of their existing titles and and to pass title to himself at absurdly deflated prices. He then expelled the Irish tenants and replaced them with more pliable and profitable English settlers. ...Boyle was twice imprisoned, and he was obliged to use his considerable connections to obtain a royal pardon for... charges of fraud.
  • In 1680, Robert Boyle published the Second Part of his Continuation of New Experiments Physico-mechanical, Touching the Spring and Weight of the Air. ...According to Boyle's preface, the experimental work... was mainly done by a remunerated technician... Denis Papin. The air-pump with which the experiments were performed was... of Papin's own design... At least some, and perhaps the greatest part, of the design of the experimental project was also owing to the technician. ...It seems also that the technician was partly, if not mainly, responsible for the composition of the experimental narratives.
  • I have... hinted at the probability that Boyle himself was involved only in a very limited way in 'his' experimental manipulations. The device which became known as the machina Boyleana [air pump] was almost certainly constructed for him by remunerated assistants Ralph Greatorex and Robert Hooke, and even the extent of Boyle's rule in its evolving design remains unclear. The glass J-shaped tube that yielded his law of pressures and volumes was again almost certainly made for him and had to be manipulated by him in collaboration with assistants, if not solely by them. The furnaces in his laboratory, and the alembics in which long-term distillations were performed, were probably tended by assistants.
  • Boyle's early endorsement of philosophical openness was soon compromised by, as he put it, the sordid requirements of trading with those who "need to make pecuniary advantage" of secret knowledge. By 1674 Boyle made no scruples about his distaste for necessary philosophical dealings with the artisan and trading classes.

External links[edit]

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