December 30

Published in On this Day listing

  • 2006 Saddam Hussein was hanged in Baghdad, having been found guilty of crimes against humanity after a twelve-month trial.
  • 1916 Grigori Rasputin (47), Russian peasant, faith healer and favourite of Czar Nicholas II and his family, was poisoned with wine and tea cakes, shot and drowned in the River Neva.
  • 1691

    Above: Robert Boyle, chemist and religious philosopher.

    Robert Boyle (64), chemist and religious philosopher, died. Born in Lismore Castle, Co. Waterford, the seventh son of Richard Boyle, first earl of Cork (1566–1643), Boyle was packed off to Eton at the tender age of seven and thereafter travelled extensively on the Continent. In Florence he visited Galileo Galilei and was present when that great man passed away, an experience that may well have triggered his lifetime preoccupation with all matters scientific. Reared at a time when people still believed in magic and on an educational diet of an earth-centred universe, he was in every sense a pioneer, writing extensively in lucid prose on physics, medicine, philosophy and theology. Best remembered for Boyle’s Law, a gas law linking pressure and volume and a cornerstone of physics, he also predicted many of our modern ideas and inventions. His ‘prophetic wish list’ included ‘potent druggs [sic] to alter or Exalt Imagination, Waking, Memory and other functions and appease pain, procure innocent sleep, harmless dreams etc.’—in other words, those sleeping tablets, artificial stimulants and antidepressants in your medicine cupboard. He might himself have benefited from some of the same. A committed celibate—his closest emotional support was his older sister, Katherine, with whom he lived in London over the last two decades of his life—he was a pious Anglican who would pause every time he mentioned the name of God. Contemporaries described him as a delicate, almost effeminate individual, ‘tall, slender and emaciated, brilliant in conversation, benevolent and tolerant but excessively abstemious and often oppressed with low spirits’. He died less than a week after his sister’s passing.
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