Robert Boyle's Loose Notes

Richard Yeo

in Notebooks, English Virtuosi, and Early Modern Science

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print March 2014 | ISBN: 9780226106564
Published online September 2014 | e-ISBN: 9780226106731 | DOI:
Robert Boyle's Loose Notes

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This chapter discusses Robert Boyle's mode of note-taking and his ideas about the relationships between notes, memory, and the communication of scientific information. Like other early modern virtuosi, Boyle made copious notes comprising both textual extracts and empirical information, but he did not maintain large commonplace books of the kind recommended by the humanists; nor did he publicize an account of his note-taking methods. Boyle relied on what he called ‘loose notes, but also kept such notes in ‘workdiaries’, sometimes conceived as ‘centuries’, or sets of 100 entries, as also used by Francis Bacon. In this way, his notes played the dual function of both prompting memory and relieving it. Boyle relied on both memory and notes as prompts to recollection, and as ways of securing the steps of a train of thought or argument. However, he also believed that some of his loose notes could be useful to others.

Keywords: memory; recollection; workdiaries; centuries; loose notes; train of thought; Robert Boyle; Francis Bacon

Chapter.  9603 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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