Robert Boyle 1627-1691

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Robert BOYLE 1627-1691

Biographical Note

Born at Lismore Castle in Ireland, youngest son of Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork. After leaving Eton College in 1638, his education was largely continued through travel in Europe in the 1640s; during that period, he began writing philosophical and theological works, before becoming increasingly interested in scientific experimentation. He moved to Oxford ca.1655 and became a key member of the scientific network there. He became a leading author in this field, publishing The sceptical chymist in 1661, only one of many monographs and pamphlets on experimentation and natural philosophy which he produced through the 1660s and later. He was a founder member of the Royal Society. In 1668 he moved to London and lived for the rest of his life with his sister Katharine, Viscountess Ranelagh, where his quarters included a laboratory. His activities were restricted after a stroke in 1670 but he continued to publish both scientific and theological works.


Boyle assembled an extensive library, whose extent and contents are not fully recorded. He left his manuscripts to his sister Lady Ranelagh (who died just before he did), and directed that his printed books be sold. After unsuccessful initiatives to sell the books from the Ranelagh house, many of them were taken to secondhand bookstalls in Moorfields, and sold from there. Part of the library was sold by auction, (5.4.1693, as part of a mixed sale with the books of Sylvanus Morgan). This sale catalogue includes 1087 lots, divided between Latin theology and miscellaneous (481 lots), English theology, history and miscellaneous (432 lots), and "libri omissi" (174 lots). The titlepage refers to the inclusion of "the Latin part of the library of an honourable gentleman, lately deceased", which refers to Boyle, but it is not clear whether Boyle's books were just the "libri omissi", or more extensively mixed in. Boyle's presentation of numerous copies of his publications to libraries in Oxford has been analysed by Will Poole (see below).

Characteristic Markings

Boyle seems only occasionally to have marked his books, and very few have been traced.