Robert Boyle’s ‘Accidents of an Ague’ and Its Precursors

  • Claire Preston
Part of the Palgrave Handbooks of Literature and Science book series (PAHALISC)


In 1623–4 John Donne suffered a life-threatening illness characterised by ‘pyrexia’ (fever), spots, rheum, and various sequelae such as insomnia and general weakness. Either typhus or relapsing fever, or possibly both in sequence, the acute phase of the illness continued for about a fortnight, followed by a period of convalescence. The entire episode lasted 23 days.1 In the meditation that commences each of the 23 chronological sections of Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (1624) he narrates the progress of this illness and recovery, collecting from his observed symptoms, from their diagnosis and treatment by physicians, and from his contingent reflections upon them a spiritual self-assessment that makes an analogy of the work of the physician and of the meditating intellect. Medical narrative, reflectional meditation, spiritual autobiography, and mundane life-writing meet in this devotional fusion.


Natural Theology Moral Reflection Relapse Fever Narrative Pattern Germanic Philology 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claire Preston
    • 1
  1. 1.Queen Mary University of LondonLondonUK

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