New experiments physico-mechanical, touching the spring of the air, and its effects: (made, for the most part, in a new pneumatical engine)...

Oxford: H. Hall for T. Robinson [and London: J.G. for Thomas Robinson], 1662.

Second edition, with a fine provenance, containing the first announcement of Boyle’s law; this is contained in the Defence … against the objections of Franciscus Linus, one of the two appendices appearing for the first time in this second edition of New Experiments. Boyle’s eponymous law, that the volume of a gas is inversely proportional to its pressure, is his most important achievement in experimental physics. Not only does Boyle here enunciate a fundamental law of physics, he supports it with the evidence of verifiable experiments. It exemplifies perfectly the methodology of what is now known as the scientific method: hypothesis tested by experimental proof. “Although Boyle’s first scientific interest was chemistry, his first published scientific book, the one that established his fame, was on pneumatics: New Experiments Physico-Mechanicall, Touching the Spring of the Air and its Effects (1660)” (DSB).“In 1657, hearing of Otto von Guericke’s invention of the air pump in Germany, Boyle set his assistants to constructing one for his use. With this, and another constructed by Robert Hooke, who was then still learning the art of scientific research, he understood a complete, well thought out and conclusive series of experiments on the physical nature of air. He was the first to demonstrate experimentally the truth of the belief, help since the time of Aristotle, that sound is conveyed by air and is not transmitted in a vacuum. He proved that is the weight of the air which supports the column of mercury in a barometer … He demonstrated the weight of the air, its surprising elasticity, and its necessity for respiration and combustion. At the same time he showed that such properties as light and magnetism were not dependent upon the air for transmission.All these findings, carefully and simply described, Boyle published in 1660. A second edition of New Experiments [as here] was soon called for, and to it he added a defence of his views against attacks by Hobbes and others. This second edition is particularly important for what Boyle called an ‘hypothesis’ but what we know as ‘Boyle’s Law’: that the volume of air in a confined space varies inversely as the pressure. He demonstrated this by much experimental detail: with experiments on rarefaction performed by others, including Hooke, and on compression performed by himself” (PMM 143, citing the second edition as here). Many copies lack the folding plate or the blank m4 in the third part, both present in this copy.

Provenance: John Farquhar Fulton, author of the standard Boyle bibliography (bookplate to front paste-down), presented to; Herbert Catchpole (inscription in Fulton’s hand ‘Hubert Catchpole // May 13, 1940’). Catchpole wrote the Regnier de Graaf bibliography and thanks Fulton therein for the use of his library. There is a second, earlier label with the printed name ‘John Fyshe Palmer | A.D. 17 ‘, possibly Thomas Fyshe Palmer (1747–1802), a English Unitarian minister, political reformer and convict who became a Unitarian after reading Joseph Priestley's works.

“Boyle had long been interested in the air, partly in connection with the Oxford physiologists’ concern with the nature of respiration, and partly because of the extent to which air might account for phenomena like solidification, which he had observed in ‘The History of Fluidity and Firmness’ in Certain Physiological Essays (1661). Hence he was intrigued by Otto von Guericke’s use, in Germany, of a pump comprising a cylinder and a piston for the evacuation of copper spheres: these trials suggested how one might produce a larger vacuum chamber than seemed possible from the deployment of the space which was left when a mercury column fell due to atmospheric pressure, as demonstrated in a famous experiment by the Italian savant Evangelista Torricelli. Guericke’s own apparatus proved defective from Boyle’s point of view, since the receiver was opaque and hence nothing could be inserted in it and observed under experimental conditions; nevertheless this apparatus inspired him to commission the production of an improved design, first from the London instrument-maker Ralph Greatorex and then from his own assistant Robert Hooke. Greatorex failed but Hooke brilliantly succeeded, illustrating the extraordinary inventive talent he was to display for the rest of his career. Early in 1659, Hooke produced an apparatus comprising a brass cylinder with mulled valves mounted on a wooden frame. Above this was a glass globe with an opening at the top which could be sealed as required; thus it made it possible to insert objects into the receiver (as it was called) and to examine the effect on them of the withdrawal of air, which was carried out by cranking the valved cylinder. By using this instrument with Hooke’s help, Boyle carried out his epoch-making experiments on the nature of air, mainly at Oxford in the spring, summer and autumn of 1659.

“Boyle carried out some forty-three experiments, the narratives of which were included in his published book [New Experiments, 1660]. Some of them were fairly straightforward, others less so, but all were striking for their vivid demonstration of the physical properties of air. They also illustrate Boyle’s extraordinary ingenuity in devising trials which would reveal significant information about the phenomena under scrutiny. The most important of the experiments, to which a substantial part of the book was devoted, were those which demonstrated that air might have a ‘spring’ – an idea which had been canvassed earlier in the seventeenth century but had never been proved. Many of Boyle’s experiments showed the capacity of air to exert pressure and to expand: for instance, when a vial partially filled with water was placed in the receiver and the air around it pumped out, the vessel exploded, cracking the receiver itself. Other experiments showed the extent to which diverse phenomena were dependent on air. When a Torricellian barometer was sealed in the receiver, the level of the mercury fell, as Boyle illustrated to various of his Oxford colleagues. Sound failed to travel through the evacuated receiver, and combustion was extinguished in it.

“Each of these findings was painstakingly expounded in the book, and Boyle also devised ‘digressions’ on various issues, for instance, ‘whether or not Air may be generated anew’, while towards the end of the work there was a lengthy excursus on respiration and the role of air in relation to it, reflecting the interest in this topic of members of the Oxford group earlier in the 1650s. Boyle did not pretend that all of the phenomena that he observed were easily explicable, and much space was devoted to analysing them and to expounding the theories of previous authors who had considered such phenomena and their explanation … In addition, at every point Boyle considered Aristotelian theories, about the nature of the air, and particularly scholastic explanations based on the view that nature abhorred a vacuum and hence that many of the phenomena he observed were the result of nature’s attempts to prevent such an outcome. The result was one of the most seminal and innovative works of the scientific revolution …

“The most significant institution with which Boyle became associated at this point was the Royal Society, the first public institution devoted to the pursuit of scientific research, which was consciously ‘established’ in 1660 with aspirations to permanence and was to go on to become the premier institution of British science. An important role in founding the society was played by men with whom Boyle had been associated at Oxford in the 1650s, including John Wilkins (who had moved to Cambridge in 1659 and had become Dean of Ripon in 1660); also important were members of the royal court such as Viscount Brouncker and Sir Robert Moray. Boyle himself played an inspirational role through his writings, notably his recently published New Experiments Touching the Spring of the Air, which seemed to exemplify the experimental philosophy to which the new body was devoted.

“The Royal Society’s inaugural meeting took place on 28 November 1660 at Gresham College, an educational institution in the City of London founded in the Elizabethan period, following a lecture by Christopher Wren, by then Professor of Astronomy there. Boyle was in attendance on this occasion and he was at many of the Society’s early meetings … in view of the fact that New Experiments had appeared only a few months earlier, it is hardly surprising to find Boyle being asked to demonstrate pneumatic experiments at various meetings of the society in the early months of 1661, and on 15 May 1661 he presented the society with an air-pump. Indeed, the gadget became something of an emblem of the society and of the enterprise to which it was devoted, and its symbolic significance is illustrated by the fact that a modified version of it is depicted on the frontispiece of Thomas Sprat's promotional History of the Royal Society, begun in 1664 and published in 1667 — a work consciously intended to promote the new body and the ends for which it had been founded.

“The import of the association with the air-pump for the Royal Society – and for Boyle – became all the clearer during 1661, when various books were published commenting on New Experiments, hence adding to its notoriety. One such book was written by Boyle’s own assistant, Robert Hooke: An Attempt for the Explication of the Phenomena, Observable in an Experiment Published by the Honourable Robert Boyle, Esq. This was a kind of gloss on Boyle’s work which offered an explanation of capillary action as observed in experiment 35 there. More troubling were two books which made an outright assault on the claims Boyle had put forward: Thomas Hobbes’ Physical Dialogue, or a Conjecture about the Nature of the Air taken up from the Experiments recently made in London at Gresham College, published in August 1661, and Francis Linus’ Treatise on the Inseparable Nature of Bodies, published in the same year, in which, as its subtitle promised, ‘the vacuum experiments of Torricelli, von Guericke and Boyle are examined, their true explanations given, and consequently it is shown that a vacuum cannot be produced naturally, and so Aristotle’s teaching on rarefaction is upheld.’ Boyle seems quickly to have felt the need to respond to the challenge which these books presented – to him and, as Hobbes’ title showed, by extension, to the Royal Society. In October 1661, he therefore set to work on replies to them, which were published as a combined volume in 1662, in conjunction with a second edition of his original book in a new, matching format [4to, rather than the 8vo of the first edition of New Experiments] …

“Linus was an English Jesuit who had spent many years teaching at the English College of Liège, although by this time he had returned to England. He was a committed Aristotelian, and the thrust of his book was to defend the Aristotelian notion that nature abhors a vacuum. But, like many Jesuit scientists, he had a keen interest in experiment, commenting at length on Boyle’s and recounting his own attempt to replicate the famous trial made by Florin Périer at the behest of Blaise Pascal in 1648, when he took a barometer up a mountain and observed its changed behaviour at an increased altitude. On the other hand, the conclusions he drew from the phenomena observed were resolutely Aristotelian, the most novel being that there was a kind of invisible thread or ‘funiculus’ which occupied the space above the mercury column in a barometer and accounted for the observed effects. Boyle’s response, entitled A Defence of the Doctrine Touching the Spring and Weight of the Air … Against the Objections of Franciscus Linus; Wherewith the Objector’s Funicular Hypothesis is also Examin'd, was polite but firm; it praised Linus for his interest in experiments but suggested that defects in his actual experimental practice negated the conclusions he drew from them, particularly Linus’ funicular hypothesis as against Boyle’s mechanistic one. Boyle also adduced new findings which, he claimed, reinforced his original claims, particularly by using a J-shaped tube in conjunction with a long pipette to illustrate the correlation between the compression and rarefaction of air and its volume, demonstrating (in his own words) that ‘the pressure and expansions [are] as reciprocal proportion’ – in other words that the relationship between the volume of air and the pressure it is under is a constant. This relation has long been known as Boyle’s law” (Hunter, pp. 124-6 & 131-4).

“In his Defence against Linus he describes, in Chapter V, ‘Two new Experiments touching the measure of the force of the Spring of Air compress’d and dilated.’ With a U-shaped tube, sealed at one end and containing mercury at the bottom of the U so shaken as to be at equal pressure on the two sides, it required a column of 29 inches of mercury in the open limb of the tube to reduce to one-half the volume of air in the sealed end. Boyle records this observation in the following words (p. 58): ‘and continuing this pouring in of Quicksilver till the Air in the shorter leg was by condensation reduced to take up but half the space it possess’d (I say, possess’d, not fill’d) before; we cast our eyes upon the longer leg of the Glass, on which was likewise pasted a list of paper carefully divided into Inches and parts, and we observed, not without delight and satisfaction, that the Quicksilver in that longer part of the tube was 29 Inches higher than the other’. In other words, when the pressure on the gas was two atmospheres, the volume was reduced to one-half, and so on for three and four atmospheres, until, in the original experiment, the tube broke and Boyle lost most of his quicksilver” (Fulton, pp. 10-11).

Boyle’s Law, “adumbrated for the first time in Defence (on the basis of a table of findings presented to the Royal Society on 2 October 1661), has been the subject of much controversy. In formulating it, Boyle drew on experiments on related topics carried out by the natural philosophers Richard Towneley and Henry Power in the north of England, which he duly acknowledged although rightly taking the credit for the claim he made on their basis. In addition, his own findings undoubtedly owed much to his assistant Robert Hooke, who was in fact the author of a whole section of the book — the appended ‘Explication of Rarefaction’ — though through a printer’s error he failed to be given due credit for it; Boyle pointed out this fact to the Dutch natural philosopher Christiaan Huygens and to others interested in the matter. On balance, it seems right that the law should be attributed to Boyle. Since Towneley and Power had failed to draw out the implications of their initial findings, Boyle legitimately felt that the matter needed to be further investigated before a definitive conclusion could be reached. As for Hooke, he was of course working as Boyle’s assistant at the time, but there is no reason to doubt that the error over the attribution of ‘An Explication of Rarefaction’ really was the printer’s — had it not been for that, Hooke would effectively have been presented as Boyle’s co-author — and there seems little doubt that Boyle already regarded Hooke as intellectually his equal, if not his superior in some respects. Yet here, too, there seems no doubt that Boyle was the one who inspired and supervised the exercise as a whole …

“Returning to the controversy over New Experiments, the attack on Hobbes, entitled An Examen of Mr. T. Hobbs, his Dialogus Physicus de Naturâ Aëris …With an Appendix touching Mr. Hobbs’s Doctrine of Fluidity and Firmness, is a somewhat different work from the Defence against Linus. To understand it one needs to remember that Hobbes had long been locked in controversy of mathematical issues with Boyle’s Oxford Colleague John Wallis; in fact in 1662 Wallis was to publish a further attack on Hobbes, addressed to Boyle, which sought systematically to undermine Hobbes’ scientific and mathematical credentials. Clearly, Boyle’s association with the Oxford group had made him acutely aware of Hobbes’ centrality to the spread of irreligion which had long concerned him. It is thus revealing that, in the preface to the Examen, Boyle explicitly alludes to the baleful influence of Hobbes’ ideas on readers whom he described as ‘for the most part either of greater Quality, or of Greater Wit than Learning,’ expressing the hope that the debate might have broader corollaries than the matters in dispute if he could show that ‘in the Physicks themselves’ Hobbes’ views had ‘no such great advantage over those of some Orthodox Christian Naturalists’ – a telling self-characterization on Boyle’s part …

“In Hobbes’ case, the objections which Boyle faced stemmed not from Aristotelianism but from a variant of the mechanical philosophy which Boyle himself espoused. Hobbes argued that what Boyle achieved in the air pump was not a complete vacuum but a space full of subtler matter. Boyle therefore laid more emphasis on a methodological difference between their positions, formulating a distinction between ‘matters of fact’ and ‘hypotheses’ which he accused Hobbes of unhelpfully eliding: he argued that agreement could be reached on the former through collective validation, even though commentators might agree to differ on the latter. He criticised Hobbes for the extent to which his philosophy was purely hypothetical, and was incensed by Hobbes’ attack on him for wasting time in ‘making Elaborate Experiments’; in this respect using his response to his antagonist’s arguments to vindicate the espousal of experimental proof associated with ‘the Society that is wont to meet at Gresham College’ – in other words, the Royal Society” (Hunter, pp. 134-6).

Dibner, Heralds of Science 142; Evans, Epochal Achievements in the History of Science 28; Fulton, A Bibliography of the Honourable Robert Boyle 14; Horblit 15; NLM/Knivatsy 1660; Parkinson Breakthroughs p. 99; Printing and the Mind of Man 143; Wing B-3999; Norman 300.



Three parts in one vol., 4to (195 x 155mm), pp. [xvi], 207, [1, blank]; [xii], 122, [2, blank]; [viii], 86, [2, blank], 85-98, [2, blank], with two engraved plates, one folding (folding engraved plate tissue backed, marginal worming in part two). Contemporary calf (rebacked retaining the original spine label, boards worn).

Item #5165

Price: $28,000.00