WWP The Project Newsletter Archive Volume 4,Number 1 From the Textbase

From the Textbase

From "An Epistle" prefatory to A True Relation of my Birth, Breeding, and Life (1656), by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle

I have heard, that some should say my Wit seemed as if it would over-power my Brain, especially when it works upon Philosophical Opinions. I am obliged to them for judging my Wit stronger than my Brain: but I should be sorry they should think my Wit stronger than my Reason! but I must tell them, that my Brain is stronger than my Wit, and that my Reason is as strong as the Effeminate Sex requires.

Again, I have heard some should say, that my Writings are none of my own, because when some have visited me, though seldom I receive visits, they have not heard me speak of them, or repeat some of the Chapters or Verses: but I believe, if they should desire the best Orator to repeat his Orations or Sermons that he hath spoke ex tempore, he shall not do it, although but an hours discourse: for I believe, Tully, who I have heard was an eloquent Orator, yet could not repeat them over to his Auditory. The same is in Writers; for I do believe, Homer, as great and excellent Poet, as it is said he was, could not repeat his Poems by heart; nor Virgil, nor Ovid, or any other…

But say I were so witless I could repeat some of my Works, I do think it would seem self-conceitedness to mention them: but since that report, I have spoken more of them than otherwise I should have done, though truly I condemn my self; for it is an indiscretion, although I was forced to that indiscretion, and I repent it, both for the disfiguring of my Works, by pulling out a piece here, and a piece there, according as my memory could catch hold: Also, for troubling, or rather vexing the hearers with such discourses they delight not in.

Besides, it hath been a long and a true observation, that every one had rather speak than listen to what another sayes; insomuch as for the most part all Mankinde run from company to company, not to learn, but to talk, and like Bells, their Tongues as the Clappers keep a jangling noyse all at once, without method or distinction.

But I hope my indiscretion in speaking of my Works to my hearers is not beyond a pardon, for I have not spoke of them, nor parts in them, much, nor often, nor to many, but to some particularly, as those I thought did understand Poetry, or Natural Philosophy, or Moral Philosophy, though I fear not alwayes according as their capacities lay; for I have observed, some understand Commonwealths, Customes, Lawes, or the like; others, the distinguishments of Passions, and understand nothing of Law; others, Divinity, that understand nothing of Temporal Government; and so the like of many several studies; and some may have a rational capacity to most Sciences, yet conceive nothing of Natural Philosophy, as if the first Matter, or innated Matter, or Motions, or Figures, or Forms, or Infinites, or Spirits, or Essences, or the like; nay, for the most part they conceive little further than an Almanack to know the time by, of which I am ignorant, for I understand it not. And for Poetry, most laugh at it as a ridiculous thing, especially grave Statists, severe Moralists, zealous Priesthood, wrangling Lawyers, covetous Hourders, or Purloiners, or those that have mechanick natures, and many more, which for the most part account Poetry a toy, and condemn it for a vanity, an idle imployment; nor have they so much phancy of their own, as to conceive the Poetical phancies of others; for if they did, they must needs love Poetry; for Poetry is so powerfull, and hath such an attractive beauty, that those that can but view her perfectly, could not but be enamoured, her charms do so force affection. But surely those that delight not in Poetry or Music, have no divine souls, nor harmonious thoughts.…

But to return to the ground of this Epistle, I desire all my Readers and Acquaintance to believe, though my words run stumbling out of my mouth, and my pen draws roughly on my paper, yet my thoughts move regular in my Brain, for the several tracks or paths that Contemplation hath made on my Brain; which paths or tracks are the several wayes my thoughts move in, are much smoother than the tongue in my mouth, from whence words flow, or the paper on which my pen writes; for I have not spoke so much as I have write, nor writ so much as I have thought; for I must tell my Readers, that Nature, which is the best and curiosest Worker, hath paved my Brain smoother than Custome hath oiled my Tongue, or Variety hath polished my Senses, or Art hath beaten the paper whereon I write; for my phancy is quicker than the pen with which I write, insomuch as it is many times lost through the slowness of my hand, and yet I write so fast, as I stay not so long as to make perfect letters.

But if they will not believe my Books are my own, let them search the Author or Authoress: but I am very confident that they will do like Drake, who went so far about, untill he came to the place he first set out at. But for the sake of after-Ages, which I hope will be more just to me than the present, I will write the true Relation of my Birth, Breeding, and to this part of my Life, not regarding carping Tongues, or malicious Censurers, for I despise them.

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