Margaret Cavendish.

Philosophical Letters: or, modest Reflections upon some Opinions in Natural Philosophy online

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Philosophical Letters:


Upon some Opinions in
By several Famous and Learned Authors of this Age,
Expressed by way of LETTERS:

By the Thrice Noble, Illustrious, and Excellent Princess,

_LONDON_, Printed in the Year, 1664.

The Lady Marchioness of NEWCASTLE
On her Book of Philosophical Letters.

_'Tis Supernatural, nay 'tis Divine,
To write whole Volumes ere I can a line.
I 'mplor'd the Lady Muses, those fine things,
But they have broken all their Fidle-strings
And cannot help me; Nay, then I did try
Their_ Helicon, _but that is grown all dry:_
_Then on_ Parnassus _I did make a sallie,
But that's laid level, like a Bowling-alley;
Invok'd my Muse, found it a Pond, a Dream,
To your eternal Spring, and running Stream;
So clear and fresh, with Wit and Phansie store,
As then despair did bid me write no more._

W. Newcastle.

The Lord Marquis of NEWCASTLE.

My Noble Lord,

Although you have, always encouraged me in my harmless pastime of
Writing, yet was I afraid that your Lordship would be angry with
me for Writing and Publishing this Book, by reason it is a Book
of Controversies, of which I have heard your Lordship say, That
Controversies and Disputations make Enemies of Friends, and that such
Disputations and Controversies as these, are a pedantical kind of
quarrelling, not becoming Noble Persons. But your Lordship will be
pleased to consider in my behalf, that it is impossible for one Person
to be of every one's Opinion, if their opinions be different, and that
my Opinions in Philosophy, being new, and never thought of, at least
not divulged by any, but my self, are quite different from others: For
the Ground of my Opinions is, that there is not onely a Sensitive, but
also a Rational Life and Knowledge, and so a double Perception in all
Creatures: And thus my opinions being new, are not so easily understood
as those, that take up several pieces of old opinions, of which
they patch up a new Philosophy, (if new may be made of old things,)
like a Suit made up of old Stuff bought at the Brokers: Wherefore to
find out a Truth, at least a Probability in Natural Philosophy by a
new and different way from other Writers, and to make this way more
known, easie and intelligible, I was in a manner forced to write this
Book; for I have not contradicted those Authors in any thing, but
what concerns and is opposite to my opinions; neither do I anything,
but what they have done themselves, as being common amongst them to
contradict each other: which may as well be allowable, as for Lawyers
to plead at the Barr in opposite Causes. For as Lawyers are not Enemies
to each other, but great Friends, all agreeing from the Barr, although
not at the Barr: so it is with Philosophers, who make their Opinions
as their Clients, not for Wealth, but for Fame, and therefore have no
reason to become Enemies to each other, by being Industrious in their
Profession. All which considered, was the cause of Publishing this
Book; wherein although I dissent from their opinions, yet doth not this
take off the least of the respect and esteem I have of their Merits
and Works. But if your Lordship do but pardon me, I care not if I be
condemned by others; for your Favour is more then the World to me, for
which all the actions of my Life shall be devoted and ready to serve
you, as becomes,

My Lord,

_Your Lordships_

_honest Wife, and humble Servant_,

M. N.


Most Noble, Ingenious, Learned, and Industrious Students.

_Be not offended, that I dedicate to you this weak and infirm work of
mine; for though it be not an offering worthy your acceptance, yet it
is as much as I can present for this time; and I wish from my Soul, I
might be so happy as to have some means or ways to express my Gratitude
for your Magnificent favours to me, having done me more honour then
ever I could expect, or give sufficient thanks for: But your Generosity
is above all Gratitude, and your Favours above all Merit, like as your
Learning is above Contradiction: And I pray God your University may
flourish to the end of the World, for the Service of the Church, the
Truth of Religion, the Salvation of Souls, the instruction of Youth,
the preservation of Health, and prolonging of Life, and for the
increase of profitable Arts and Sciences: so as your several studies
may be, like several Magistrates, united for the good and benefit of
the whole Common-wealth, nay, the whole World. May Heaven prosper you,
the World magnifie you, and Eternity record your same; Which are the
hearty wishes and prayers of,_

Your most obliged Servant



_Worthy Readers_,

I did not write this Book out of delight, love or humour to
contradiction; for I would rather praise, then contradict any Person
or Persons that are ingenious; but by reason Opinion is free, and may
pass without a pass-port, I took the liberty to declare my own opinions
as other Philosophers do, and to that purpose I have here set down
several famous and learned Authors opinions, and my answers to them in
the form of Letters, which was the easiest way for me to write; and by
so doing, I have done that, which I would have done unto me; for I am
as willing to have my opinions contradicted, as I do contradict others:
for I love Reason so well, that whosoever can bring most rational
and probable arguments, shall have my vote, although against my own
opinion. But you may say, If contradictions were frequent, there would
be no agreement amongst Mankind. I answer; it is very true: Wherefore
Contradictions are better in general Books, then in particular
Families, and in Schools better then in Publick States, and better in
Philosophy then in Divinity. All which considered, I shun, as much as I
can, not to discourse or write of either Church or State. But I desire
so much favour, or rather Justice of you, _Worthy Readers_, as not to
interpret my objections or answers any other ways then against several
opinions in Philosophy; for I am confident there is not any body, that
doth esteem, respect and honour learned and ingenious Persons more then
I do: Wherefore judg me neither to be of a contradicting humor, nor of
a vain-glorious mind for differing from other mens opinions, but rather
that it is done out of love to Truth, and to make my own opinions the
more intelligible, which cannot better be done then by arguing and
comparing other mens opinions with them. The Authors whose opinions I
mention, I have read, as I found them printed, in my native Language,
except _Des Cartes_, who being in Latine, I had some few places
translated to me out of his works; and I must confess, that since
I have read the works of these learned men, I understand the names
and terms of Art a little better then I did before; but it is not so
much as to make me a Scholar, nor yet so little, but that, had I read
more before I did begin to write my other Book called _Philosophical
Opinions_, they would have been more intelligible; for my error was,
I began to write so early, that I had not liv'd so long as to be
able to read many Authors; I cannot say, I divulged my opinions as
soon as I had conceiv'd them, but yet I divulged them too soon to
have them artificial and methodical. But since what is past, cannot
be recalled, I must desire you to excuse those faults, which were
committed for want of experience and learning. As for School-learning,
had I applied my self to it, yet I am confident I should never have
arrived to any; for I am so uncapable of Learning, that I could never
attain to the knowledge of any other Language but my native, especially
by the Rules of Art: wherefore I do not repent that I spent not my
time in Learning, for I consider, it is better to write wittily then
learnedly; nevertheless, I love and esteem Learning, although I am
not capable of it. But you may say, I have expressed neither Wit nor
Learning in my Writings: Truly, if not, I am the more sorry for it; but
self-conceit, which is natural to mankind, especially to our Sex, did
flatter and secretly perswade me that my Writings had Sense and Reason,
Wit and Variety; but Judgment being not called to Counsel, I yielded
to Self-conceits flattery, and so put out my Writings to be Printed as
fast as I could, without being reviewed or Corrected: Neither did I
fear any censure, for Self-conceit had perswaded me, I should be highly
applauded; wherefore I made such haste, that I had three or four Books
printed presently after each other.

But to return to this present Work, I must desire you, _worthy
Readers_, to read first my Book called _Philosophical and Physical
Opinions_, before you censure this, for this Book is but an explanation
of the former, wherein is contained the Ground of my Opinions, and
those that will judge well of a Building, must first consider
the Foundation; to which purpose I will repeat some few Heads and
Principles of my Opinions, which are these following: First, That
Nature is Infinite, and the Eternal Servant of God: Next, That she is
Corporeal, and partly self-moving, dividable and composable; that all
and every particular Creature, as also all perception and variety in
Nature, is made by corporeal self-motion, which I name sensitive and
rational matter, which is life and knowledg, sense and reason. Again,
That these sensitive and rational parts of matter are the purest
and subtilest parts of Nature, as the active parts, the knowing,
understanding and prudent parts, the designing, architectonical and
working parts, nay, the Life and Soul of Nature, and that there is
not any Creature or part of nature without this Life and Soul; and
that not onely Animals, but also Vegetables, Minerals and Elements,
and what more is in Nature, are endued with this Life and Soul, Sense
and Reason: and because this Life and Soul is a corporeal Substance,
it is both dividable and composable; for it divides and removes parts
from parts, as also composes and joyns parts to parts, and works in a
perpetual motion without rest; by which actions not any Creature can
challenge a particular Life and Soul to it self, but every Creature may
have by the dividing and composing nature of this self-moving matter
more or fewer natural souls and lives.

These and the like actions of corporeal Nature or natural Matter
you may find more at large described in my afore-mentioned Book of
_Philosophical Opinions_, and more clearly repeated and explained in
this present. 'Tis true, the way of arguing I use, is common, but the
Principles, Heads and Grounds of my Opinions are my own, not borrowed
or stolen in the least from any; and the first time I divulged them,
was in the year 1653: since which time I have reviewed, reformed and
reprinted them twice; for at first, as my Conceptions were new and my
own, so my Judgment was young, and my Experience little, so that I had
not so much knowledge as to declare them artificially and methodically;
for as I mentioned before, I was always unapt to learn by the Rules of
Art. But although they may be defective for want of Terms of Art, and
artificial expressions, yet I am sure they are not defective for want
of Sense and Reason: And if any one can bring more Sense and Reason to
disprove these my opinions, I shall not repine or grieve, but either
acknowledge my error, if I find my self in any, or defend them as
rationally as I can, if it be but done justly and honestly, without
deceit, spight, or malice; for I cannot chuse but acquaint you, _Noble
Readers_, I have been informed, that if I should be answered in my
Writings, it would be done rather under the name and cover of a Woman,
then of a Man, the reason is, because no man dare or will set his name
to the contradiction of a Lady; and to confirm you the better herein,
there has one Chapter of my Book called _The Worlds Olio_, treating of
a Monastical Life, been answer'd already in a little Pamphlet, under
the name of a woman, although she did little towards it; wherefore it
being a Hermaphroditical Book, I judged it not worthy taking notice of.
The like shall I do to any other that will answer this present work of
mine, or contradict my opinions indirectly with fraud and deceit. But
I cannot conceive why it should be a disgrace to any man to maintain
his own or others opinions against a woman, so it be done with respect
and civility; but to become a cheat by dissembling, and quit the
Breeches for a Petticoat, meerly out of spight and malice, is base, and
not fit for the honour of a man, or the masculine sex. Besides, it will
easily be known; for a Philosopher or Philosopheress is not produced on
a sudden. Wherefore, although I do not care, nor fear contradiction,
yet I desire it may be done without fraud or deceit, spight and malice;
and then I shall be ready to defend my opinions the best I can, whilest
I live, and after I am dead, I hope those that are just and honorable
will also defend me from all sophistry, malice, spight and envy, for
which Heaven will bless them. In the mean time, _Worthy Readers_, I
should rejoyce to see that my Works are acceptable to you, for if you
be not partial, you will easily pardon those faults you find, when you
do consider both my sex and breeding; for which favour and justice, I
shall always remain,

_Your most obliged Servant,_

M. N.

Philosophical Letters.

Sect. I.



You have been pleased to send me the Works of four Famous and Learned
Authors, to wit, of two most Famous Philosophers of our Age, _Des
Cartes_, and _Hobbs_, and of that Learned Philosopher and Divine Dr.
_More_, as also of that Famous Physician and Chymist _Van Helmont_.
Which Works you have sent me not onely to peruse, but also to give
my judgment of them, and to send you word by the usual way of our
Correspondence, which is by Letters, how far, and wherein I do dissent
from these Famous Authors, their Opinions in _Natural Philosophy_. To
tell you truly, _Madam_, your Commands did at first much affright me,
for it did appear, as if you had commanded me to get upon a high Rock,
and fling my self into the Sea, where neither a Ship, nor a Plank, nor
any kind of help was near to rescue me, and save my life; but that I
was forced to sink, by reason I cannot swim: So I having no Learning
nor Art to assist me in this dangerous undertaking, thought, I must
of necessity perish under the rough censures of my Readers, and be
not onely accounted a fool for my labour, but a vain and presumptuous
person, to undertake things surpassing the ability of my performance;
but on the other side I considered first, that those Worthy Authors,
were they my censurers, would not deny me the same liberty they take
themselves; which is, that I may dissent from their Opinions, as well
as they dissent from others, and from amongst themselves: And if I
should express more Vanity then Wit, more Ignorance then Knowledg, more
Folly then Discretion, it being according to the Nature of our Sex, I
hoped that my Masculine Readers would civilly excuse me, and my Female
Readers could not justly condemn me. Next I considered with my self,
that it would be a great advantage for my Book called _Philosophical
Opinions_, as to make it more perspicuous and intelligible by the
opposition of other Opinions, since two opposite things placed near
each other, are the better discerned; for I must confess, that when
I did put forth my Philosophical Work at first, I was not so well
skilled in the Terms or Expressions usual in _Natural Philosophy_; and
therefore for want of their knowledg, I could not declare my meaning so
plainly and clearly as I ought to have done, which may be a sufficient
argument to my Readers, that I have not read heretofore any _Natural
Philosophers_, and taken some Light from them; but that my Opinions
did meerly issue from the Fountain of my own Brain, without any other
help or assistance. Wherefore since for want of proper Expressions,
my named Book of _Philosophy_ was accused of obscurity and intricacy,
I thought your Commands would be a means to explain and clear it the
better, although not by an Artificial way, as by Logical Arguments or
Mathematical Demonstrations, yet by expressing my Sense and Meaning
more properly and clearly then I have done heretofore: But the chief
reason of all was, the Authority of your Command, which did work so
powerfully with me, that I could not resist, although it were to the
disgrace of my own judgment and wit; and therefore I am fully resolved
now to go on as far, and as well as the Natural strength of my Reason
will reach: But since neither the strength of my Body, nor of my
understanding, or wit, is able to mark every line, or every word of
their works, and to argue upon them, I shall onely pick out the ground
Opinions of the aforementioned Authors, and those which do directly
dissent from mine, upon which I intend to make some few Reflections,
according to the ability of my Reason; and I shall meerly go upon the
bare Ground of _Natural Philosophy_, and not mix Divinity with it,
as many Philosophers use to do, except it be in those places, where
I am forced by the Authors Arguments to reflect upon it, which yet
shall be rather with an expression of my ignorance, then a positive
declaration of my opinion or judgment thereof; for I think it not onely
an absurdity, but an injury to the holy Profession of Divinity to draw
her to the Proofs in _Natural Philosophy_; wherefore I shall strictly
follow the Guidance of _Natural Reason_, and keep to my own ground and
Principles as much as I can; which that I may perform the better, I
humbly desire the help and assistance of your Favour, that according to
that real and intire Affection you bear to me, you would be pleased to
tell me unfeignedly, if I should chance to err or contradict but the
least probability of truth in any thing; for I honor Truth so much, as
I bow down to its shadow with the greatest respect and reverence; and I
esteem those persons most, that love and honor Truth with the same zeal
and fervor, whether they be Ancient or Modern Writers.

Thus, _Madam_, although I am destitute of the help of Arts, yet being
supported by your Favour and wise Directions, I shall not fear any
smiles of scorn, or words of reproach; for I am confident you will
defend me against all the mischievous and poisonous Teeth of malicious
detractors. I shall besides, implore the assistance of the Sacred
Church, and the Learned Schools, to take me into their Protection, and
shelter my weak endeavours: For though I am but an ignorant and simple
Woman, yet I am their devoted and honest Servant, who shall never quit
the respect and honor due to them, but live and die theirs, as also,


_Your Ladiships_

_humble and faithful Servant._

M. N.



Before I begin my Reflections upon the Opinions of those Authors you
sent me, I will answer first your Objection concerning the Ground of my
Philosophy, which is Infinite Matter: For you were pleased to mention,
That you could not well apprehend, how it was possible, that many
Infinites could be contained in one Infinite, since one Infinite takes
up all Place Imaginary, leaving no room for any other; Also, if one
Infinite should be contained in an other Infinite, that which contains,
must of necessity be bigger then that which is contained, whereby the
Nater of Infinite would be lost; as having no bigger nor less, but
being of an Infinite quantity.

First of all, _Madam_, there is no such thing as All in Infinite, nor
any such thing as All the Place, for Infinite is not circumscribed
nor limited: Next, as for that one Infinite cannot be in an other
Infinite, I answer, as well as one Finite can be in another Finite;
for one Creature is not onely composed of Parts, but one Part lies
within another, and one Figure within another, and one Motion within
another. As for example, Animal Kind, have they not Internal and
External Parts, and so Internal and External Motions? And are not
Animals, Vegetables and Minerals inclosed in the Elements? But as for
Infinites, you must know, _Madam_, that there are several kindes of
Infinites. For there is first Infinite in quantity or bulk, that is
such a big and great Corporeal substance, which exceeds all bounds
and limits of measure, and may be called Infinite in Magnitude. Next
there is Infinite in Number, which exceeds all numeration and account,
and may be termed Infinite in Multitude; Again there is Infinite in
Quality; as for example, Infinite degrees of softness, hardness,
thickness, thinness, heat and cold, &c. also Infinite degrees of
Motion, and so Infinite Creations, Infinite Compositions, Dissolutions,
Contractions, Dilations, Digestions, Expulsions; also Infinite degrees
of Strength, Knowledg, Power, &c. Besides there is Infinite in Time,
which is properly named Eternal. Now, when I say, that there is but
one Infinite, and that Infinite is the Onely Matter, I mean infinite
in bulk and quantity. And this Onely matter, because it is Infinite
in bulk, must of necessity be divisible into infinite Parts, that is,
infinite in number, not in bulk or quantity; for though Infinite Parts
in number make up one infinite in quantity, yet they considered in
themselves, cannot be said Infinite, because every Part is of a certain
linked and circumscribed Figure, Quantity and Proportion, whereas
Infinite hath no limits nor bounds: besides it is against the nature
of a single Part to be Infinite, or else there would be no difference
between the Part and the whole, the nature of a Part requiring that it
must be less then its whole, but all what is less hath a determined
quantity, and so becomes finite. Therefore it is no absurdity to say,
that an Infinite may have both Finite and Infinite Parts, Finite in
Quantity, Infinite in Number. But those that say, if there were an
Infinite Body, that each of its Parts must of necessity be Infinite
too, are much mistaken; for it is a contradiction in the same Terms
to say One Infinite Part, for the very Name of a Part includes a
Finiteness, but take all parts of an Infinite Body together, then you
may rightly say they are infinite. Nay Reason will inform you plainly,
for example: Imagine an Infinite number of grains of Corn in one heap,
surely if the number of Grains be Infinite, you must grant of necessity
the bulk or body, which contains this infinite number of grains, to
be Infinite too; to wit, Infinite in quantity, and yet you will find
each Grain in it self to be Finite. But you will say, an Infinite
Body cannot have parts, for if it be Infinite, it must be Infinite in
Quantity, and therefore of one bulk, and one continued quantity, but
Infinite parts in number make a discrete quantity. I answer it is all
one; for a Body of a continued quantity may be divided and severed
into so many Parts either actually, or mentally in our Conceptions or
thoughts; besides nature is one continued Body, for there is no such
_Vacuum_ in Nature, as if her Parts did hang together like a linked
Chain; nor can any of her Parts subsist single and by it self, but all
the Parts of Infinite Nature, although they are in one continued Piece,
yet are they several and discerned from each other by their several
Figures. And by this, I hope, you will understand my meaning, when I
say, that several Infinites may be included or comprehended in one
Infinite; for by the one Infinite, I understand Infinite in Quantity,
which includes Infinite in Number, that is Infinite Parts; then
Infinite in Quality, as Infinite degrees of Rarity, Density, Swiftness,
Slowness, Hardness, Softness, &c. Infinite degrees of Motions, Infinite
Creations, Dissolutions, Contractions, Dilations, Alterations, &c.
Infinite degrees of Wisdom, Strength, Power, &c., and lastly Infinite
in Time or Duration, which is Eternity, for Infinite and Eternal are
inseparable; All which Infinites are contained in the Onely Matter
as many Letters are contained in one Word, many Words in one Line,
many Lines in one Book. But you will say perhaps, if I attribute an
Infinite Wisdom, Strength, Power, Knowledg, &c. to Nature; then Nature

Online LibraryMargaret CavendishPhilosophical Letters: or, modest Reflections upon some Opinions in Natural Philosophy → online text (page 1 of 35)