Royal Society publishing free to read, 1665 – today

By Grant Jacobs 23/06/2010

Until July 30th 2010, all of the content published by the Royal Society is open access to all. Dig into it while you can!

(Source: Royal Society website.)
(Source: Royal Society website.)

Some of you will know I am a fan of older and ‘ancient’ science. I’ve previously written that some older works from the Philosophical Transactions are available to everyone via their Trailblazing website. In similar fashion, older science articles are available on-line elsewhere.

The Royal Society provide lists that highlight a small selection of the older works from the Philosophical Transactions and the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.

These are a treasure trove of correspondence and articles to explore, as looking at the first issue of the Philosophical Transactions shows.

If you are reading these, it pays to read on down past the article that caught your attention. They are presented as a collection of correspondence; further remarks are often to be found later on.

Robert Boyle provides An Account of a Very Odd Monstrous Calf. It is – to my reading – a fÅ“tus-in-fÅ“tu or a teratoma, ’masses’ in the uterus that may contain some differentiated portions such as legs, arms, hands, etc. This is taken futher by David Thomas’ note An Observation Imparted to the Noble Mr. Boyle, by Mr. David Thomas, Touching Some Particulars Further Considerable in the Monster Mentioned in the First Papers of These Philosophical Transactions. (You can see one reason why brief titles are favoured today.)

Some titles – to modern eyes and minds – are comical, such as:

  • The Motion of the Second Comet Predicted, by the Same Gentleman, Who Predicted That of the Former.
  • A Relation of Persons Killed with Subterraneous Damps.
  • Observables upon a Monstrous Head* is immediately followed by Observables in the Body of the Earl of Balcarres,** surely a truly awkward juxtaposition of titles even in the day.
  • Monsieur Auzout’s Speculations of the Changes, Likely to be Discovered in the Earth and Moon, by Their Respective Inhabitants. (Erm…, inhabitants on the Moon?)

The front and back matter (see below) for each issue are  available from the table of contents pages.


Aside from the now whimsical are accounts that offer historical background such as Of the Way, Used in the Mogol’s Dominions, to Make Saltpetre. (Saltpetre is potassium nitrate, used in gunpowder and fertilisers; it’s why fertiliser can be used to make crude bombs such as in the recent New York Times car bomb.)

Another is Observations Continued upon the Barometer, or Rather Ballance of the Air. (Mr Boyle replies later and also introduces static as opposed to mercurial barometers.)

A Way of Preserving Birds Taken Out of the Egge, and Other Small Faetus’s; Communicated by Mr. Boyleto a rushed reading – appears to be describing the preservation of soft tissue in alcohol (referred to as ’Spirit of Wine’).

A Relation of an Accident by Thunder and Lightning, at Oxford provides account of a thunder storm and the fate of two students of Wadham College, Oxford, to lightening strike. It’s a detailed narrative and well worth reading.

It is interesting how anecdotal many of these accounts are, informal correspondence compared to today’s science.

Having whet your appetite, I’ll let you explore for yourself. (I really have to get back to work, as appealing as the distraction is…)

There is so much there that if you can’t find something that intrigues you, I won’t know what to think.

Share what you find in the comments.***


HTs: GrrlScientistmatthewll.

* More correspondence on the fœtus-in-fœtu or teratoma.

** A brief report on the dissection of one Earl of Balcarres.

*** Also, a Royal Society representative has asked for suggests as to what to highlight.

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Explore ancient science books on-line

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