The Sceptical Chymist

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The Sceptical Chymist
The Sceptical Chymist.jpg
Title page
Author Robert Boyle
Country England
Language English
Subject Chemistry
Publisher J. Cadwell
Publication date

The Sceptical Chymist: or Chymico-Physical Doubts & Paradoxes is the title of a book by Robert Boyle, published in London in 1661. In the form of a dialogue, the Sceptical Chymist presented Boyle's hypothesis that matter consisted of atoms and clusters of atoms in motion and that every phenomenon was the result of collisions of particles in motion. For these reasons Robert Boyle has been called the founder of modern chemistry by J. R. Partington.[1]


The first part begins with 5 friends (Carneades the host and the Skeptic, Philoponus the Chymist, Themistius the Aristotelian, Eleutherius the impartial Judge, and an unnamed narrator) meeting in Carneades's garden and chatting about the constituents of the mixed bodies.

Major themes[edit]

Boyle first argued that fire is not a universal and sufficient analyzer of dividing all bodies into their elements, contrary to Jean Beguin and Joseph Duchesne. To prove this he turned for support to Jan Baptist van Helmont whose Alkahest was reputed to be a universal analyzer.

Boyle rejected the Aristotelian theory of the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and also the three principles (salt, sulfur, and mercury) proposed by Paracelsus. After discussing the classical elements and chemical principles in the first five parts of the book, in the sixth part Boyle defines chemical element in a manner that approaches more closely to the modern concept:

I now mean by Elements, as those Chymists that speak plainest do by their Principles, certain Primitive and Simple, or perfectly unmingled bodies; which not being made of any other bodies, or of one another, are the Ingredients of all those call'd perfectly mixt Bodies are immediately compounded, and into which they are ultimately resolved.[2]

However, Boyle denied that any known material substances correspond to such "perfectly unmingled bodies." In his view, all known materials were compounds, even such substances as gold, silver, lead, sulfur, and carbon.


Its influence can be discerned in Nicholas Brady's reference to "jarring seeds" in his Ode to St. Cecilia (set by Henry Purcell in 1691, well before Daniel Bernoulli's kinetic theory):

Soul of the World! Inspir'd by thee,
The jarring Seeds of Matter did agree,
Thou didst the scatter'd Atoms bind,
Which, by thy Laws of true proportion join'd,
Made up of various Parts one perfect Harmony.

Cultural References[edit]

The Sceptical Chymist is referenced in the novel Quicksilver.


  1. ^ Partington, J. R. (1951). A Short History of Chemistry. Macmillan. p. 67.  (2nd edition)
  2. ^ R. Boyle (1661) The Sceptical Chymist, page 350

External links[edit]