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Robert Boyle, The philosophical works (London, 1725), 3 vols, vol 2, plate III.
There are sixteen texts and one three-volume edition of the works of Robert Boyle in the library of Edward Worth. Of the individual titles, eleven bear the distinctive signature of Edward Worth’s father, John Worth (1648-1688). Worth senior was quite obviously an afficionado of the works of Boyle, and, given that he was Dean of St Patrick’s cathedral in Dublin, he collected some of Boyle’s texts dealing specifically with the interaction of science and theology: The excellency of theology, compar’d with natural philosophy (London, 1674); Possibility of the Resurrection (London, 1675) and the sixth edition of Seraphick love (London, 1678). But not all his choices were concerned with theological matters. It is clear that John Worth was as much if not more interested in Boyle’s scientific corpus, collecting the following works: Paradoxa hydrostatica novis experimentis (maximam partem physicis ac facilibus) evicta (Oxford, 1669); Experiments and considerations touching colours (London, 1670); Some considerations touching the usefulnesse of experimental natural philosophy. Part 1-3 (Oxford, 1671); An essay about the origine & virtues of gems (London, 1672); Essays of the strange subtilty determinate nature great efficacy of effluviums (London, 1673); Tracts about the hidden qualities of the air (London, 1674); Experiments, notes, &c. about the mechanical origine or production of divers particular qualities (London, 1676), and, more generally, A discourse of things above reason (London, 1681). When we look more closely we can see that John Worth was particularly assiduous in collecting Boyle’s output in the period 1674-1681, missing out on only one work published by Boyle during this period, the Degradation of Gold (London, 1678). It was shortly after this that John Worth became a member of the Dublin Philosophical Society and, though not a very active member, was evidently a keen reader of Boyle and the works emanating out of the Royal Society.
But if the majority of Boyle’s works in the Worth Library belonged to John Worth, it is likewise clear that Edward was himself a keen collector of Boyle’s texts. Other texts by Boyle in the collection quite definitely did not belong to John Worth but reflect a continuing interest by Edward. The most obvious examples of these are the texts printed after John Worth’s death in 1688: the 1692 London printing of General heads for the natural history of a country and the 1725 three-volume epitome by Peter Shaw. Apart from these there are earlier texts which reflect an early (and continuing) interest by Edward Worth. Here, unlike his father’s collection, which Edward inherited on his death, the focus was resolutely on Boyle as scientist for Edward Worth was atypically uninterested in mainstream theology (or, indeed, theology in any form). The collection of works belonging to Edward Worth contained the following individual texts, in chronological order: The sceptical chymist (London, 1661); Noctiluca aeria (London, 1682); Tentamen Porologicum (London, 1684); and, finally, Short memoirs for the natural experimental history of mineral waters (London, 1685).
The three themes of the Boylean programme elucidated by Michael Hunter in Boyle Between God and Science (2009) are readily visible in this collection. The first theme, which emphasised the importance of experimental method, had been investigated in The Usefulness of Natural Philosophy (1664, 1671). The second, with its emphasis on actual experiments was amply demonstrated by the Experimental History of Colours which had originally been published in 1663. The final theme of the Boylean programme, the linking of experimental method and a corpuscularian philosophy is present in The Sceptical Chymist. The variety and range of Boyle’s output was both enticing and daunting: Worth’s copy of the three-volume epitome by Peter Shaw, printed at London in 1725, was perhaps the most popular attempt at a categorization of Boyle’s thought during Worth’s lifetime. Its titlepage reminds us of the range of Boyle’s writings: The Philosophical Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle Esq; Abridged, methodized, and disposed under the General Heads of Physics, Statics, Pneumatics, Natural History, Chymistry, and Medicine (London, 1725).
Bensaude-Vincent, Bernadette and Stengers, Isabelle (1996), A History of Chemistry (Harvard).
Clericuzio, Antonio (2000), Elements, Principles and Corpuscles. A Study of Atomism and Chemistry in the Seventeenth Century (Kluwer).
Fulton, John F. (1961) A Bibliography of the Honourable Robert Boyle Fellow of the Royal Society (Oxford).
Hunter, Michael (ed.) (1994) Robert Boyle Reconsidered (Cambridge).
Hunter, Michael (2004), ‘Boyle, Robert (1627–1691)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press).
Hunter, Michael (2009), Boyle Between God and Science (Yale).
Hunter, Michael (2010), ‘Robert Boyle and the uses of print’, in Danielle Westerhof (ed.) The Alchemy of Medicine and Print (Dublin: Four Courts Press), pp 110-124.
Moran, Bruce T. (2005), Distilling Knowledge. Alchemy, Chemistry and the Scientific Revoluton (Harvard).by