Margaret Cavendish

from A True Relation of My Birth, Breeding, and Life

After I had been in England a year and a half, in which time I gave some half a score visits and went with my Lord’s brother to hear music in one Mr. Lawes’s house, three or four times, as also some three or four times to Hyde Park with my sisters, to take the air, else I never stirred out of my lodgings unless to see my brothers and sisters, and seldom did dress myself, taking no delight to adorn myself, since he I only desired to please was absent, although report did dress me in a hundred several fashions.

In part of the time I wrote a book of Poems and a little book called my “Philosophical Fancies,” to which I have written a large addition since I returned out of England, besides this book and one other. As for my book entitled “The World’s Olio,” I wrote most part of it before I went into England.

But being not of a merry, although not of a froward or peevish disposition, I became very melancholy by reason I was from my Lord, which made my mind so restless that it did break my sleep and distemper my health; with which, growing impatient of a longer delay, I resolved to return, although I was grieved to leave Sir Charles, he being sick of an ague: of which sickness he died: for though his ague was cured his life was decayed, for the dregs of his ague did put out the lamp of his life.

Yet Heaven knows I did not think his life was so near an end, for his doctor had great hopes of his perfect recovery, and by reason he was to go into the country for change of air, where I should have been a trouble, rather than any serviceable, besides, more charge the longer I stayed, for which I made haste to return to my Lord, with whom I had rather be as a poor beggar than to be mistress of the world absented from him. Heaven hitherto hath kept us, and though Fortune hath been cross yet we do submit and are both content with what is and cannot be mended, and are so prepared, that the worst of fortunes shall not afflict our minds so as to make us unhappy, howsoever it doth pinch our lives with poverty. For, if tranquility lives in an honest mind the mind dwells in peace, although the body suffer. But patience hath armed us and misery hath tried us and finds us fortune-proof.

For the truth is, my Lord is a person whose humor is neither extravagantly merry nor unnecessarily sad; his mind is above his fortune, as his generosity is above his purse, his courage above danger, his justice above bribes, his friendship above self-interest, his truth too firm for falsehood, his temperance beyond temptation.

His conversation is pleasing and affable, his wit is quick and his judgment strong, distinguishing clearly without clouds of mistakes, dissecting truths so as they justly admit not of disputes: his discourse is always new upon the occasion without troubling the hearers with old historical relations, nor stuffed with useless sentences.

His behaviour is manly without formality and free without constraint: and his mind hath the same freedom. His nature is noble, and his disposition sweet. His loyalty is proved by his public service for his King and Country, by his often hazarding of his life, by the loss of his estate and the banishment of his person, by his necessitated condition and his constant and patient suffering.

But howsoever our fortunes are we are both content, spending our time harmlessly; for my Lord pleaseth himself with the management of some few horses and exercises himself with the use of the sword; which two arts he hath brought by his studious thoughts, rational experience and industrious practice to an absolute perfection. And though he hath taken as much pains in those arts both by the study and practice as chemists for the philosopher’s stone, yet he hath this advantage of them, that he hath found the right and truth thereof and therein; which chemists never found in that pursuit and never will.

He also recreates himself with his pen, writing what his wit dictates to him. But I pass my time rather with scribbling than writing, with words than wit. Not that I speak much because I am addicted to contemplation unless I am with my Lord, yet then I rather attentively listen to what he says than impertinently speak.

Yet when I am writing any sad feigned stories or serious humors or melancholy passions, I am forced many times to express them with the tongue before I can write them with the pen, by reason those thoughts that are sad, serious and melancholy are apt to contract and to draw too much back, which oppression doth as it were overpower or smother the conception in the brain. But when some of those thoughts are sent out in words they give the rest more liberty to place themselves in a more methodical order, marching more regularly with my pen on the ground of white paper.

But my letters seem rather as a ragged rout than a well-armed body, for the brain being quicker in creating than the hand in writing or the memory in retaining, many fancies are lost, by reason they oft-times outrun the pen, while I, to keep speed in the race, write so fast as I stay not so long as to write my letters plain, insomuch as some have taken my hand-writing for some strange character, and being accustomed to do so, I cannot now write very plain, when I strive to write my best; indeed, my ordinary handwriting is so bad as few can read it, so as to write it fair for the press; however, that little wit I have it delights me to scribble it out and disperse it about.

For I being addicted from my childhood to contemplation rather than conversation, to solitariness rather than society, to melancholy rather than mirth, to write with the pen rather than to work with a needle; passing my times with harmless fancies, their company being pleasing, their conversation innocent,—I take such pleasure therein as to neglect my health: for it is as great a grief to leave their society as a joy to be in their company.

My only trouble is lest my brain should grow barren, or that the root of my fancies should become insipid, withering into a dull stupidity for want of maturing subjects to write on; for I am of a lazy nature and not of an active disposition as some are that love to journey from town to town, from house to house, delighting in variety of company, making one where the greatest number is.

In playing cards or any other games I neither have practised nor have I any skill therein. As for dancing, although it be a graceful art and becometh unmarried persons well, yet for those that are married it is too light an action, disagreeing with the gravity of that estate. For revelling I am of too dull a nature to make one of the a merry society: as for feasting it would neither agree with my humor nor constitution, for my diet is for the most part sparing—as a little boiled chicken or the like and my drink most commonly water. For though I have a indifferent good appetite, yet I do often fast, out of an opinion that if I should eat much and exercise little (which I do, only walking a slow pace in my chamber whilst my thoughts run apace in my brain, so that the motions of my mind hinder the active exercises of the body) I would soon injure myself.

Should I dance or run or walk apace I should dance my thoughts out of measure, run my fancies out of breath and tread out the feet of my numbers. But because I would not bury myself quite from the sight of the world I go sometimes abroad, seldom to visit but only in my coach about the town [Antwerp], which we call here a tour, where all the chief of the town go to see and be seen, likewise all strangers of what quality soever, as all great princes or queens that make any stay: for this town being a passage or thoroughfare to most parts, causeth many times persons of great quality to be here, though not as inhabitants, yet to lodge for some short time, and all such as I said, take delight, or at least go, to see the custom thereof. Most cities of note in Europe for all I can hear, have such like recreations for the effeminate sex.

Although for my part I had rather sit at home and write: but I hold it necessary sometimes to appear abroad: besides I find that several objects bring new materials for my thoughts and fancies to build upon. Yet I must say this in behalf of my thoughts, that I never found them idle: for if the senses bring no work in, they will work of themselves, like silk worms that spin out of their own bowels. Neither can I say I think the time tedious when I am alone, so long as I be near my Lord and know he is well.

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MLA Citation

Cavendish, Margaret. “from A True Relation of My Birth, Breeding, and Life.” . Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 20 Nov 2006. 28 Mar 2017 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/cavendish/from_a_true_relation_of_my_birth/>.

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