H U M A N I T I E S
A N D T H E A R T S
All That Glitters...
By Dale Keiger
Much of what interested me about the story of Robert Boyle is the
way in which scholars constructed the biography of him that they
preferred. Important parts of Larry Principe's new picture of
Boyle came from archival material that he brought to life. But
there were strong hints of Boyle's alchemical pursuits that
earlier scholars could have followed but chose not to. They had
an idea of the Robert Boyle that they wanted, and that Boyle was
a modern man, not an aspiring adept hoping to find the
Philosopher's Stone. Whatever inconveniently countered this image
simply didn't make it into the mainstream accounts of Boyle's
life. To some of his biographers, the constructed narrative was
more important than historical truth.
If you are a writer of nonfiction, it makes you stop and think:
Do I ever commit the same sin? As I proceed with a story, do I
form an idea of the narrative in my mind and blind myself to
details that might mess up that tidy story? It's worth bearing in
mind each time I get deep into a project. Journalists often feel
the deep need for a story to turn out a certain way contrary to
the facts. That's why they end up writing novels. The danger is
mixing up the two.
FEBRUARY 1999 TABLE OF CONTENTS.