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    Robert Boyle (1627–91): a suitable case for treatment?

    Hunter, Michael (1999) Robert Boyle (1627–91): a suitable case for treatment? British Journal for the History of Science 32 (3), pp. 261-275. ISSN 0007-0874.

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    It is hard to think of a better subject for the exercise of retrospective analysis with which we are here concerned than Robert Boyle, the leading British scientist of his day, and arguably the most significant before Newton. A prolific and influential author, Boyle was lionized in his time both for his scientific achievement and for his piety and philanthropy. Of late, he has been the subject of attention from a variety of viewpoints which, as we shall see, raises the issue of how he is best understood. In particular, I want to argue that, for all his eminence, there are complications about Boyle's personality that cry out for scrutiny, and it is on the implications of these that I will dwell in the latter stages of my paper. Boyle was born into one of the most privileged aristocratic families in England. His father, Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork, was Lord High Treasurer of Ireland before the Civil War, and Robert, the youngest – and, as he himself claimed, favourite – son, was brought up in an opulent, privileged setting, surrounded by servants and with an entrée at the royal court. His elder brothers were suave and active figures, only too ready to be involved in the fighting of the Civil War – in which one, Viscount Kinalmeaky, was killed, though two others, Lords Dungarvan and Broghill, survived to go on to high state office under both Cromwell and Charles II. This background undoubtedly had a significant influence on Boyle, giving him an aristocratic demeanour to which his contemporaries almost automatically deferred. It also made him familiar with the mindless social milieu of landed society, in which it was all too easy (in Boyle's own words) to ‘squander away a whole afternoone in tatling of this Ladys Face & tother Lady's Clothes; of this Lords being Drunke & that Lord's Clap; in telling how this Gentleman's horse outrun that other's Mare’.


    Item Type: Article
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Historical Studies
    Depositing User: Sarah Hall
    Date Deposited: 22 May 2017 10:11
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 17:33


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