Boyle, Robert

Robert Boyle (1627–1691) was an Irish physicist, chemist, and alchemist. Robert Boyle was of noble birth, the 14th child of the earl of Cork who owned Lismore Castle in Ireland. Boyle enjoyed a privileged upbringing and education that included Eton College in England and extensive travel on the Continent.

Unlike most alchemists who carefully guarded their experiments and knowledge, Boyle believed in the free sharing of information. He associated with a group of intellectuals known as the Invisible College, which eventually became the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge.

Boyle especially disliked the deliberately obscured language of alchemy and considered it an obstacle to scientific progress. He sarcastically said that the most open statement ever made by an alchemist was “ubi palam locuti sumus, ibi nihil diximus” (“where we have spoken secretly, there we have said nothing”).

Boyle accepted the conclusion of Jean Baptisa van Helmont that water was the Prima Materia for plants, but he rejected Helmont’s extension to minerals and inorganic materials.

Boyle’s most famous work is The Sceptical Chymist (1661), in which he offered a new definition of the elements to replace the Aristolean Concept of four and the Paracelcianconcept of Three.(SeeTria Prima). Rather, he described elements as “certain primitive and simple, or perfectly unmingled bodies; which are not being made of any other bodies, or of one another,” and which were of varying sizes and shapes. These independent bodies mixed together to form the “One Catholic Matter” or thePrima materia.

Boyle believed in the transmutation of base metals into gold and spent years in experimentation of that. In 1676, he presented a paper to the royal society about his work with a special form of refined mercury that he believed had great powers of transmutation. He also said that he transmuted pure rainwater into white earth through a process of distillation. He reasoned that the agitation of the water caused a sticking together of particles that form ed knots and sank to the bottom in a “powder,” or white earth. Boyle further reasons that the same principle applied to the transmutation of base metals into gold. His theories were an inspiration to IsaacNewton.

Boyle’s interests in transmutation led him to persuade parliament to repeala ban on “multiplying gold” that had been in force since the days of Henry IV.



  • Couldert, Allison.Alchemy: the philosopher’s stone. London: Wildwood House Ltd., 1980.


The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley Copyright © 2006 by Visionary Living, Inc.