Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Robert Boyle's First Encomium: Two Latin Poems by Samuel Collins (1647)

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Robert Boyle's First Encomium: Two Latin Poems by Samuel Collins (1647)

Article excerpt

The influential natural philosopher, Robert Boyle (1627-91), was the recipient of many encomia during his life and after his death. Congratulatory poems addressed to him appeared in the Latin editions of such of his works as The Origin of Forms and Qualities (1666; Latin edn, 1669) and A Free Enquiry into the Vulgarly Received Notion of Nature (1686; Latin edn, 1687), the latter a Latin translation by Boyle's protégé, David Abercromby, of a poem by 'S. R, an English noblewoman', whose identity has not been established.1 Then, after his death, a series of printed elegies appeared, in both English and Latin, with such titles as Lachrymce Philosopbice or Natura Lugens.2 In addition, Boyle was the recipient of a number of verse encomia in Latin (and, in one case, in Greek) which have recently been published as part of his Correspondence: these include poems by the Latin translator, Robert Codrington, dating from 1660; another by the virtuoso, John Beale, dating from 1663; and a curious poem by the learned lady, Bathsua Makin, probably dating from 1681.3

All of these, not surprisingly, date from Boyle's mature years, after he embarked on the profuse publishing career that began with his Some Motives and Incentives to the Love of God (1659), better known as Seraphic Love, and New Experiments Physico-Mechanical, Touching the Spring of the Air, and its Effects (1660), reaching a climax in the early 166Os, when he published an average of nearly 150,000 words a year. This continued, albeit at a reduced rate, for the rest of his life, so that by the time of his death he had published over forty books. This flow of publications, combined with the promotion that Boyle received from such protagonists as Henry Oldenburg, first secretary of the Royal Society, in his Philosophical Transactions, or Joseph Glanvill in his promotional work on behalf of the Society, Plus Ultra (1668), meant that Boyle quickly became established as one of the best-known intellectuals of his age - 'the English Philosopher', as it was said that he was known on the continent in the 1680s.4

In this paper, by contrast, we offer an annotated text and translation of two Latin poems addressed to Boyle at a far earlier stage in his career, in January 1647 - in other words eight years before his very first publication in 1655, and over a decade before his main career as a published author began.5 At this point, Boyle was just twenty years old, and, aside from the fact that he was the youngest son of one of the most powerful men in early Stuart Britain, the 'Great' Earl of Cork, who had died in 1643, there was on the face of it little to distinguish him from other youthful aristocrats, and certainly no premonition of the area of interest - in natural philosophy - that was later to make him famous.

By this time, Boyle had spent three years at Eton College, from 1635 to 1638, resulting from his father's friendship with the Provost of Eton, Sir Henry Wotton. During the time that he was at the school, Boyle distinguished himself for his studiousness, while probably also making certain of the contacts which form the background to the poems studied here.6 In 1638, Cork removed Boyle and his brother, Francis, from Eton, and in 1639 they embarked on a tour of France, Switzerland and Italy under the tutelage of the French Protestant scholar, Isaac Marcombes. From 1639 to 1641, before they set out for Italy, and from 1642 to 1644, after their return, Boyle spent time in Geneva studying under Marcombes's supervision, and it was apparently at this point that he acquired the bulk of his education: though this period of his life, and particularly the second Genevan stay, is poorly documented, a notebook survives that Boyle kept at this point, which indicates the range of studies in which he engaged, including metaphysics, mathematics, geography and fortification. In addition, in later autobiographical remarks he offered some clues to episodes in this period of his life that he saw as formative ones, particularly the conversion experience that he had at Geneva during his first stay there, and his discovery of ancient Stoicism while in Italy. …

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