In 1864, whilst walking to work in the rain, the mathematician George Boole contracted pneumonia.

His wife Mary, also a mathematician, used a homeopathic method to treat her husband. Over several days, Boole laid in bed whilst Mary regularly soaked the sheets with cold water. He expired on December 8, 1864.

After his death, Mary Boole continued their work in mathematics writing children‘s books on the philosophy and spirituality of algebra.

On the 150th anniversary of Boole's death, Finetuned delivered a series of guided walks to mark this occasion. During the research, new material was discovered that exonerates Mary Everest Boole from the cold sheets myth. 

In 2016, on the centenary of her death, Finetuned will publish a paper that lays out the results of this research in full.

Certain Irregularities – 05:17

Certain Irregularities contains an excerpt from a forthcoming multi-channel work “Between the Sheets” which traces the final weeks of the logician George Boole.

The piece is dominated by an extract, narrated by Marney Walker, from Home Side of a Scientific Mind, written soon after George’s death by his wife Mary Everest Boole , which provides a thin account of those final days. Subsequent recollections of this period by other family members offer anecdotal evidence pointing to omissions in Mary’s account.

Certain Irregularities focusses on the flimsy tenure with which we retrieve the past, given that we are only ever afforded a partial record of events. This tenuousness is reflected in the accompanying sound via temporal and resonant inconsistencies and sonic artifacts which contrive to discompose the narrative flow.

Released on Playing with Words: an audio compilation – Gruenrekorder 065

Background Notes

“Of course, the local doctor was called in when it became obvious that homeopathy was not improving his condition and when this became critical, …Professor Bullen was called in. It is probable, however, that orthodox medical treatment was not tried until it was much too late and it is doubtful, given Boole’s state of health, if any nineteenth-century physician could have saved his life. George Boole died on the evening of Thursday, the 8th of December, 1864, at his residence in Ballintemple, and newspaper obituaries gave the cause of death as either inflammation of the lungs or fever. However, his death certificate gives the certified cause of death as pleuro-pneumonia and gives the duration of the illness as from 17 to 19 days.”

‘George Boole, his Life and Work’, p243, Desmond MacHale, Boole Press, Dublin, 1985

“I soon noticed that his mind fixed itself in a curious restless way on questions of time. I had brought him his food or medicine at the wrong hour ; it was three days, not two, since so and so had happened, etc. ; the mere mention of the subject always brought on a strange look of suffering ; so I warned him to try to keep his mind off the passing of time altogether. With his usual docility he asked me what he should think of instead. I told him to repeat after me, “The same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” And whenever the symptoms of restlessness came on I used to hear him repeating the words, as if clinging to them for steadiness. After a time he changed them of his own accord for the verse, “For ever O Lord, Thy word is settled in Heaven,” which had always been associated in his mind with his mathematical discoveries. One day he told me that the whole universe seemed spread before him like a great black ocean, where there was nothing to see and nothing to hear, except that at intervals a silver trumpet seemed to sound across the waters, “For ever O Lord, Thy word is settled in Heaven.” He said that all the sounds in the house and the movements in the room seemed to set themselves to a rhythmical chant which was singing the same words.”

“Home Side of a Scientific Mind” 1878, published in ‘Mary Everest Boole - Collected Works’, p46, C.W.Daniel Company, 1931.

“…My sister Mary Hinton, who had a friendship with her, and who collected various anecdotes about the family, told me that, in Aunt Mary Ann’s (Boole’s sister) view at least, the cause of father’s early death was believed to have been the Missus’ (Mary Everest Boole) belief in a certain crank doctor who advocated cold water cures for everything. Someone – I can’t remember who – is reported to have come in and found Father “ shivering between wet sheets”. Now for myself, I am inclined to believe that this may have happened. The Everests do seem to have been a family of cranks and followers of cranks. The Missus’ father apparently adored Mesmer and Hahnemann and the Missus herself ran theories to death.”

From a letter by Ethel Voynich (Boole’s youngest daughter) in the papers of Sir G.I.Taylor.