Scientific Poems of MARGARET CAVENDISH
Margaret Cavendish, the First Scientific Lady
Most critics agree that Margaret Cavendish was a better poet
than a natural philosopher. Poetry was more popular than science in England
during the 17th century when Margaret lived. She believed that poetry "is the
finest work that Nature hath made...playing so well upon the Brain as it
strikes the strings of the heart with delight."
Margaret turned to scientific topics partly because she did not want to
publish love poems. Love poems were too ordinary, and they were the sort
of thing women were expected to write. Love poems would not generate the attention
Margaret wanted and needed. She wrote her husband, "I would rather
die in the adventure of noble achievements than live in obscure and sluggish
Margaret's first book published in 1650.
However, love and romance do find their way into the following poem.
Of Shadow and Eccho
Pale Shadow once in Love fell with bright Light.
Which makes Her still walk always in His sight,
And when He's absent, then, poor Soul, she Dies,
But when He shows himself, Her Life revives.
She Sister is to Eccho loud and clear,
Whose voice is heard, no Body doth appear;
She hates to see or show Her self to men,
Unless Narcissus could rivive again:
But there two Souls (for they no Bodies have)
Do wander in theAir to see a Grave;
Silence would bury one, the other Night,
But was denied by Repercussion's spight;
And both are subject to the Eye and Ear;
For one we see, and the other we do hear.
Margaret was educated by women tutors, but she learned very little about
science or mathematics from them. She studied the new modern science of
Rene Descartes and Isaac Newton with her husband and brother-in-law.
William Cavendish was one of the richest men before the English Civil War.
As a lady-in-waiting to Queen Henrietta, Margaret was not that eager to give
up her single life at first. During her courtship to William, she confided to him
"I must tell you I am not easily
drawn to be in love, for I did never see any man but yourself
that I could have married." After war broke out, he and
Margaret lived in exile on credit in Antwerp for 10 years.
The Arithmetic of Passions
With Numeration Moralists begin
Upon the Passions, putting Quotients in;
Numbers divide with Figures, and Subtract,
And in their Definitions are exact;
As for Subtracting, take but one from three,
Add it to four, and it makes five to be:
Thus the odd Numbers to the even joyned,
Will make the Passions rise within the mind.
The Circle of the Brain cannot be Squared
A Circle round divided in four parts
Hath been great Study 'mongst the men of Arts;
Since Archimed's or Euclid's time, each Brain
Hath on a Line been stretched, yet all in Vain;
And every Thought hath been a Figure set,
Doubts Cyphers were, Hopes as Triangles met;
There was Division and Subtraction made,
And Lines drawn out, and Points exactly laid,
But none hath yet by Demonstration found
The way, by which to Square a Circle round:
For while the Brain is round, no Square will be,
While Thoughts divide, no Figures will agree.
And others did upon the same account,
Doubling the Cube to a great number mount;
But some the Triangles did cut so small,
Till into equal Atoms they did fall:
For such is Man's curiosity and mind,
To seek for that, which is hardest to find.
As a young girl, Margaret never learned the traditional, feminine arts of
cooking and sewing. Even when she became the mistress of a great estate
as the Duchess of Newcastle, she rearely concerned herself with household
matters. Nevertheless, Margaret uses the poetic conceit of needlepoint to
describe her theory of solar attraction.
Of the Attraction of the Sun
When all those Atomes which in Rays do spread,
Are ranged long like to a slender thread,
They do not scatter'd fly but joyn in length,
And being joyn'd, though small, add to their strength;
The further forth they stream, the more they waste
Their strength, though to the Sun they're tied fast:
For all those Rays, which Motion down doth send,
Sharp Atomes are, which from the Sun descend;
And as they flow in several Streams and Rays,
They stick their Points in all that stop their ways:
Like Needle points, whereon doth something Stick,
No way they make, having no force to prick,
And being stopt, they straight ways back do run,
Drawing those Bodies with them to the Sun.
Mad Madge by Katie Whitaker
The Matter of Revolution by John Rogers, coming out in paperback
Margaret the First by Douglas Grant
A Glorious Fame by Kathleen Jones
The Mental World of Stuart Women by Sara Heller Mendelson
The Scientific Lady in England by Gerald Dennis Meyer
English Women's Poetry, 1649-1714 by Carol Barash