Margaret Lucas Cavendish (1623-74)

"...Men are so Unconscionable and Cruel against us, as they Indeavor to Barr us of all Sorts or Kinds of Liberty, as not to Suffer us Freely to Associate amongst our Sex, but would fain Bury us in their Houses or Beds, as in a Grave; the truth is, we Live like Bats or Owls, Labour like Beasts, and Dye like Worms." (Schiebinger, 12)

"Neither can I apprehend, that the mind's or soul's seat should be in the glandula or kernel of the brain, and there sit like a spider in a cobweb, to whom the least motion of the cobweb gives intelligence of a fly...and that the sensitive organs should have no knowledge in themselves, but serve only like peeping-holes for the mind, or barn doors to receive bundles of pressures like sheaves of corn; for there being a thorough mixture of animate, rational and sensitive, and inanimate matter, we cannot assign a certain seat or place to the rational, another to the sensitive, and another to the inanimate, but they are disffused and intermixed throughout all the body..."(Atherton 34)

Cavendish Timeline

1623 Margaret Lucas, the youngest and eighth child of Sir Thomas Lucas is born near Colchester, England. In her autobiography, Margaret notes that her "breeding," or nature of upbringing, "... was according to my birth and the nature of my sex..." She was educated at home in the "feminine arts", delighted in creating her own fashions; was contemplative rather than boisterous; and enjoyed reading, but not necessarily studying. Her father dies when she is an infant.
1643 Margaret convinces her mother to allow her to become a Maid of Honour to Queen Henrietta Maria, but finds herself too bashful without her family's support. She writes that her fear of bringing dishonour and disgrace to her family prevented her from attempting to learn court manners and so she was viewed a "natural fool". Her mother requires her to remain at court because it would be a disgrace if she left. Queen Henrietta flees to France and Margaret attends her.
1645 The exiled William Cavendish, Marquis of Newcastle, meets Margaret in Paris and asks her to marry him. In her autobiography, Margaret writes that she dreaded marriage and only married Cavendish because he was a worthy man, full of wit, and respectful towards her. The Marquis and Margaret are married in Sir Richard Browne's Chapel at Paris. The Marquis is fiftythree; Margaret is twenty.
1653 Philosophical Fancies and Poetical Fancies are published.
1656 Cavendish publishes Natures Pictures Drawn by Fancies Pencil to The Life. This book contained, as its last chapter, "The True Relation of My Birth, Breeding and Life." This is one of the the earliest preserved autobiographies of women that we have. She also pubishes Philosophical and Physical Opinions. This and other early works shows "a kind of atomism" that holds "that the ultimate constituents of the world were indivisible bits of uniform stuff." (Atherton 23)
1660 Margaret returns to England with the Duke. They retire to the Duke's ruined estates.
1662 Playes and Orations of Divers Persons are published. In latter, Cavendish argues for freedom and equality for women, but concludes that women's power lies in their ability to romantically dominate men.
1663 In this year's release, Philosophical and Physical Opinions, Cavendish argues that all of nature has innate self-knowledge,and possibly an innate knowledge of the "Author of Nature" or God.
1664 Cavendish publishes Philosophical Letters: or, Modest Relfections upon some Opinions in Natural Philosophy, Maintained by Several Famous and Learned Authors of this Age. In this collection of letters, she discusses Hobbes's Leviathan, Descartes' views concerning the relationship between mind and body, motion, and the lack of rationality in animals. She also addresses Henry More's proof of God. Cavendish continues to argue for the dignity and rationality of animals and man's lack of superiority in nature's hierarchy. She claims that man is partial in this consideration and therefore does not have the ability to come to a fair judgement of the issue.
1666 Observations upon Experimental Philosophy is published. Cavendish criticizes the experimentalists and argues that reason must guide the senses. She indicates a strong distrust of telescopes and microscopes. One is led to wonder if she often observed the sky through the seven telescopes the Marquis collected between the 1644-1660.
1667 Margaret asks to attend a session of the Royal Society of London, the English conterpart of the French Royal Academy of Sciences. The request opens a floodgate of discussion and disagreement, but in the end, she is allowed to attend a session with her ladies in which Robert Boyle presents several experiments. The Life of the Thrice noble, high and puissant Prince, William Cavendish... is published. It is released in three editions, including a Latin translation, during the Duke's life-time.
1668 Cavendish, a prolific writer, publishes two works: a utopian science fiction, The Description of a new World, called The Blazing World and Grounds of Natural Philosophy.
1673 Marget Cavendish dies and is buried in Westminster Abby.


Captain's Choice of Secondary Materials