Search the World of Chemistry

×

Honorable Robert Boyle (1627–1691)

25th Feb 2020 @ 8 min read

Biography

Robert Boyle

Robert Boyle was an Anglo-Irish chemist and a pioneer of the modern chemistry. He was conferred the title of the first modern chemist. He is widely known for his work on the behavior of gases, which is often seen in chemistry textbooks as Boyle's law.

Besides being a scientific investigator, Boyle was a devout Christian; he strongly believed in the Bible. His religious beliefs are well noticeable from his theological writings.

Early life

Robert Boyle was born to Richard Boyle and Catherine Fenton Boyle on 25 January 1627 at Lismore Castle, Ireland.

Lismore Castle, Ireland
Lismore Castle, Ireland, the birthplace of Robert Boyle
[ChemistryGod (adapted), Wikipedia (original)/CC by]

Richard Boyle (1566–1643) was the first Earl of Cork, also known as the Great Earl of Cork. He was a wealthy politician and a prominent figure in the history of Ireland. He also served a Lord Treasurer of the Kingdom of Ireland. From Catherine Fenton Boyle, his second wife and the daughter of Sir Geoffrey Fenton, he had fourteen to fifteen children; Robert Boyle was one of them.

Richard Boyle, the Great Earl of Cork Catherine Fenton Boyle
Richard Boyle (left) and his wife Catherine Fenton Boyle (right)

Richard Boyle fostered out his sons to local Irish country families for almost the first five years of their lives. Consequently, Boyle was fluent in Irish. In early age, Boyle was tutored in Latin, Greek, and French. His mother passed away in his childhood. After deceased of his mother, he along with his brothers was admitted to Eton College in England, where he studied French and Latin. He was nine at then. Later, his father decided to send Boyle to the Grand tour for further studies as a part of his aristocratic education. At the age of fourteen, he and his brother Francis traveled to Europe with their tutor Isaac Marcombes. In Geneva, Boyle had encountered several religious thoughts and experiences.

The two brothers and Marcombes moved to Florence, Italy, leaving Switzerland in September 1941. In Florence, Boyle spent the winter of the same year studying the works of Galileo Galilei. Francis had to return home because of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 while Robert continued his studies. The Battle of Liscarroll was fought in July 1642 after the Irish Rebellion, in which Lewis Boyle, a brother of Robert Boyle, was killed.

Return to home

Robert Boyle returned to England in mid-1644; he was seventeen years old at that time. He got reunited with his elder sister Katherine Jones. She played the role of motherly character in his future life. Both brother and sister had often exchanged the scientific ideas and assisted in each other.

Boyle took the residence in the manor of Stalbridge in Dorset in the same year. The manor was inherited from his father, who had died at Youghal in September 1643. The Stalbridge house was built by the second Earl of Castlehaven in 1618 and was the fifth-largest house in Dorset. He also was inherited several estates in County Limerick in Ireland.

Stalbridge house
Stalbridge house, a residence of Robert Boyle

He continued his career as a writer. His work of interest was ethical and theological oriented. He would spend a great deal of time in moral philosophy. In 1946, he wrote to his beloved sister, “My Ethics go very slowly on.”

Over a period of time, his interest in scientific research grew intensely, particularly from 1649. He started conducting several scientific experiments and soon set up a laboratory at his home. From 1649 to 1654, he made a number of contacts with other natural philosophers of his time. This group came to known as Invisible College. The community consisted of like-minded thinkers. They often exchanged ideas and discussed them face-to-face. The topics of discussion were usually limited to alchemy, chemistry, and mineralogy. Apart from Boyle's group, there were other active communities developed based on their fields of interest. The aim of the group was to acquired knowledge through experiments.

Scientific career

Boyle made lengthy visits to his hereditary properties in the early 1950s. In 1954, he moved to Oxford leaving Ireland to seek the latest development. Katherine, his sister, was also at Oxford, and she was finding a suitable residence for his brother to live. At Oxford, he got associated with notable natural philosophers, physicians, mathematicians and theologists like John Wilkins, Jonathan Goddard, Thomas Millington, Laurence Rooke, and Christopher Wren. The group became known as the Oxford Philosophical Club.

Boyle's air pump

In 1657, Boyle with his assistant Robert Hooke, who was also a natural philosopher and polymath, set forward to improve the Otto von Guericke's air pump. He completed this assignment in 1659. They carried out a series of experiments on the behavior of air pressure and vacuum. And the results were published in 1660 in the publication: New Experiments Physico-Mechanicall, Touching the Spring of the Air and Its Effects.

Boyle's air pump
Boyle's air pump

Boyle's law

Boyle and Hooke studied the physical properties of air and its importance in respiration and combustion. In his 1662 publication, A Defence of the Doctrine Touching the Spring and Weight of the Air, he stated the pressure of air is inversely proportional to its volume. This pressure-volume relationship is called Boyle's law. He experimented with an air column and different weights of mercury and observed the volume of the air decreases with weights. A similar relation was proposed by Henry Power in 1661.

Foundation of Royal Society

In 1663, the Royal Society of The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge was founded by Boyle and other natural philosophers. On 28 November 1660, King Charles II granted a royal charter to it.

He made a wish list of 24 inventions to achieve:

  1. the prolongation of life
  2. the recovery of youth
  3. the art of flying
  4. the art of continuing long under water and exercising functions freely there
  5. the cure of diseases at a distance or at least by Transplantation
  6. the cure of wounds at a distance
  7. the emulating of fish without engines by custom and education only
  8. the acceleration of the production of things out of seed
  9. the transmutation of metal
  10. the making of glass malleable
  11. the attaining gigantic dimensions
  12. the attaining gigantic dimensions
  13. the transmutation of species in minerals, animals, and vegetables
  14. the liquid alkaest and other dissolving menstruums
  15. the making Armor light and extremely hard.
  16. the practicable and certain way of finding longitudes
  17. the use of pendulums at sea and in journeys, and the application of it to watches
  18. potent drugs to alter or exalt imagination, waking, memory, and other functions, and appease pain, procure innocent sleep, and harmless dream
  19. ship to sail with all winds, and a ship not to be sunk
  20. freedom from necessity of much sleeping exemplify by the operations of tea and what happens in mad men
  21. pleasing dreams and physical exercises exemplify by the Egyptian electuary and by the fungus mentioned by the French author
  22. great strength and agility of body exemplify by that of Frantick Epileptick and hysterical persons
  23. a perpetual light
  24. varnishes perfumable by rubbing.

Corpuscularism

Boyle was a leading supporter of corpuscularism, a physical theory that says all matter to be composed of minute particles. In his work The Sceptical Chymist (1661), firmly rejected the Aristotelian ideas that the matter is made up of earth, water, air, and fire. He extended his support for corpuscularism further in his work The Origin of Forms and Qualities (1666). The believers of the corpuscularistic nature of matter were usually alchemists, and they believed in the transmutation of one element to another, especially gold. Boyle was an alchemist, and the other notable alchemist of his time was Sir Isaac Newton.

Religious views

Besides the chemistry and alchemy, he had spent a significant amount of time in theology. As a pious Anglican, he supported spread and championed the religious activities. From a young age, he wrote religious content. He also tried to explain the existence of god with the help of natural philosophy. One of his work Some Physico-Theological Considerations about the Possibility of the Resurrection (1675) in which he delineated the resurrection of the body through scientific experiments. Boyle is considered as a monogenist, the belief that all humans had a common antecedent. He defended the Christian religion against atheists, pagans, Jews, Muslims, and others whom he considered infidels. His work The Christian Virtuoso (1690) describes his views and the understanding of Christianity as a scientist.

Later life and final years

He left Oxford in 1668 and visited London to his elder sister Katherine. Both brother and sister spent plenty of their lives together. They looked after each other. Over a period of time, he became less active due to his deteriorating health. He died on 31st December 1691 by paralysis and was buried in the cemetery of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London.

Robert Boyle c.1689
Robert Boyle c.1689
Robert Boyle c.1689
Robert Boyle c.1689
Robert Boyle c.1689
Robert Boyle c.1689
Robert Boyle (right) and Denis Papin (left) inspecting Papin's steam digester
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
[ChemistryGod (adapted), National library of Denmark via europeana (original)/CC by]
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
[ChemistryGod (adapted), Wellcome collection (original)/CC by]
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
[ChemistryGod (adapted), Wellcome collection (original)/CC by]
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
[ChemistryGod (adapted), Wellcome collection (original)/CC by]
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
[ChemistryGod (adapted), Wellcome collection (original)/CC by]
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
[ChemistryGod (adapted), Wellcome collection (original)/CC by]
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
[ChemistryGod (adapted), Wellcome collection (original)/CC by]
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
[ChemistryGod (adapted), Wellcome collection (original)/CC by]
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
[ChemistryGod (adapted), Wellcome collection (original)/CC by]
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
[ChemistryGod (adapted), Wellcome collection (original)/CC by]
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
[ChemistryGod (adapted), Wellcome collection (original)/CC by]
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
[ChemistryGod (adapted), Flickr (original)/CC by]
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
[ChemistryGod (adapted), Wikipedia (original)/CC by]

Associated articles

If you appreciate our work, consider supporting us on ❤️ patreon.
Robert Boyle Boyle Law Chemist Physicist Scientist

Copy Article Cite

Thanks for your response!
Write a response


Join the Newsletter

Subscribe to get latest content in your inbox.

newsletter

We won’t send you spam.