Cavendish 1666

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"if I am condemned, I shall be annihilated to nothing: but my ambition is such, as I would either be a world, or nothing" -- in Poems, "To Naturall Philosophers", qtd on pg. xxxvi

men consider the exterior when using microscopes and instruments; they should, however, be inquiring into the causes (the interior) of things (99-100; 128; 226)

feminizing of nature merges with her argument in interesting ways; see e.g. 105: "for, Nature being a wise and provident lady, governs her parts very wisely, methodically, and orderly: Also, she is very industrious, and hates to be idle, which makes her employ her time as a good housewife does, in brewing, baking, churning, spinning, sowing, etc." (105) -- natural philosophy should be useful the way housewife's are; see also 109

residue of Renaissance resemblance arguments, pg. 123 -- discussing whether the figures of herbs appear in their frozen decoctions

no vacuum in nature (127, 128)

against atomism (129)

every bit of matter has some form of perception; animal/mineral perceptions just aren't accesibly to us: "so that a mineral or vegetable that perceives the figure of an animal, has no more the perception of an animal, than an animal which perceives or patterns out the figure of a mineral or veetable, has the perceptions of those creatures" (142); see also 197, 207

X Of a Butterfly

  • describes a creature that "appeared partly a vegetable, animal and mineral" (61)

XIV Of Natural Productions

  • "I cannot wonder with those, who admire that a creature which inhabits the air, doth yet produce a creature, that for some time lives in the water as a fish, and afterward becomes an inhabitant of the air for this is but a production of one animal from another: but, what is more, I observe that there are productions of and from creatures of quite different kinds; as for example, that vegetables can and do breed animals, and animals, minerals and vegetables, and so forth" (66)

XXII Of Wood Petrified

  • clay, dirt, etc., often turn to stone -- they are of a uniform nature, and therefore can transform uniformly
  • animals cannot, "for as animals have different parts, so these parts are of different figures, not only exteriorly, but interiorly" (90) -- several sorts of flesh; "all which would puzzle and withstand the power of Ovid's metamorphosing of gods and goddesses" (91)
  • "For, if all creatures could or should be metamorphosed into one sort of figure, then this whole world would perhaps come to be one stone, which would be a hard world." (91)

notes from meeting

John Rogers, book on Milton -- interested in Milton's science; overreads/misreads vitalism in Milton's poetry

Samuel Butler's response to Royal Society

Neils Bohr: poetry and science; quantam mechanics

Cavendish's scientific poetry: what about her epistemology lets her write poetry?

Cavendish, Observations

  • motion: runs throughout her work; just two decades later, Newton would describe his theories of motion
  • what's at stake: whether there can be a vacuum or not? Cavendish denies it; her husband is the patron of Hobbes (also believes there's no vacuum) (pg. 78)
  • vacuum is bound up in cosmology
  • vacuum as emptiness vs. nothingness
  • if there isn't motion, there isn't time


exterior vs. interior

  • instruments force us to look only at exteriors, which distract us from knowing causes and interior motions

Lorraine Daston, Objectivity

  • early modern episteme: truth is in nature (form of plants is most perfect)
  • switches to turth in machine (machine motion is perfect)

Hobbes: uses sense perception of man to lead into discussion of body politic

Locke: wants to break the connection -- writes first an Essay Concerning Human Understanding; then writes his Treatise on Government

  • beginning with the mind as a blank slate, and his work itself as a blank slate; he sets the terms of the debate

virtuality to actualization

1660s: counter-Enlightenment argument begins that provides alternative to British empiricists; father is Spinoza; concerned with virtualization and actualization (forms being represented that can become actual), as opposed to illusion and reality (i.e. artifice is always understood in relation to what reality is)

  • Cavendish plays into the idea of illusion vs. reality in her argument against instruments;
  • at the same time, Cavendish is interested in an alternative method not based on realism; might


  • debate about whether it's produced by light/prism, or is it inherent and natural
  • Goethe, color -- closing eyes really tight, we can see color; turns color into romantic possibilities -- generated from the inside to the outside

where does information come from? the inside or the outside?

whose doing the observing at this moment in time?

Blazing World

  • description: no matter how much Cavendish doesn't like it, she has to use description: it's a description of a new world, called the blazing world, not "a discovery", as with Wilkins

sumptuary laws: Elizabeth I prohibited wearing of particcular clothes; e.g. can't wear ermine-tipped robes unless you're a monarch or immediate heir to throne;

  • make rank visible
  • 1590s; Cavendish still discussing in 1660s