Communicating Medical Recipes: Robert Boyle’s Genre and Rhetorical Strategies for Print

  • Michelle DiMeo
Part of the Palgrave Handbooks of Literature and Science book series (PAHALISC)


Toward the end of his life, in the 1680s, the experimental philosopher Robert Boyle (1627–1691) returned to a batch of medical materials which he had been writing and collecting for decades and prepared some pieces for publication.1 Among these papers was his vast collection of recipes, which numbered over 1000 and indiscriminately intermingled complicated chemical and metallic processes with Galenic simples.2 During the last decade-and-a-half of his life Boyle selectively revised a subset of this collection for the public, beginning with 50 recipes in the limited print run of Some Receipts of Medicines (1688), which he intended for private circulation. The final public edition of 100 recipes, Medicinal Experiments, was not published until 1692, the year after his death.3 This pocket-sized duodecimo was advertised as selling for the affordable price of one shilling, and the title page of the second edition was expanded to target more explicitly his intended audience, noting that it was ‘Useful in Families, and very Serviceable to Country People’. Two more volumes with several hundred more recipes appeared in 1693 and 1694, and a supplement was published in 1703, but these were amalgamations of his manuscripts selected by others after his death and lacked Boyle’s thoughtful evaluation methods. When judged by the multiple number of editions, volumes, and supplements, Boyle’s Medicinal Experiments was one of his most popular works, second only to his most popular, Seraphic Love, an early text characteristic of his moralist period.4 Boyle was the most prolific writer among the early Fellows of the Royal Society: more than 80 English editions of his works and more than 100 Latin translations were published between 1659 and 1700.5 Though best remembered today as the author of the Sceptical Chymist and related works on experiment and natural philosophy, Boyle maintained a literary career that extended into diverse non-fiction genres, and his medical recipe books made a significant contribution towards sustaining his legacy among a larger audience immediately after his death.


Seventeenth Century Medical Text Title Page Early Modern Period Rhetorical Strategy 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michelle DiMeo
    • 1
  1. 1.Chemical Heritage FoundationPhiladelphiaUSA

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