Boyle and Swift

Published in Issue 1 (January/February 2017), Letters, Volume 25

Sir,—Eoin Gill’s ‘Platform’ piece on science and Irish history (HI 24.5, Sept./Oct. 2016) raises very interesting questions. I agree with him that writers such as Swift, Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett are better known than scientists such as Boyle, Tyndall, Hamilton, Boole and so on. In the case of George Boole, however, the many commemorations, seminars, articles and publications during 2015, the 200th anniversary of his birth, have certainly brought his work and legacy to a wider audience.

With regard to Robert Boyle, it is possible that his work influenced Jonathan Swift. Swift could well have owed the idea for Gulliver’s Travels to Boyle’s Occasional Reflections on Several Subjects, Whereto is Premis’d a Discourse About Such Kind of Thoughts, published in London in 1665. In this work Boyle says that he had

‘… thoughts of making a short romantic story, where the scene should be laid in some island, of the southern ocean, govern’d by such rational Laws and Customs as those of Utopia, or the New Atlantis; and in this Country he would introduce an observing Native, that upon his return home from his Travels in Europe should give an account of our countries and manners under feign’d names’.

It could be argued that the aspects of Irish literary history with themes of satire, futurism, science-fiction, travel narrative and prophecy were influenced by the writings of our scientists and offer avenues for much research and thought.—Yours etc.,



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