Observations upon experimental philosophy to which is added The description of a new blazing world
Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of, 1624?-1674.
Page  59

20. Of Colours.

ALthough the sensitive perception doth pattern out the exterior figure of Colours, as easily as of any other object, yet all perceptions of Colours are not made by Patterning; for as there are many perceptions which take no patterns from outward objects, so there are also perceptions of Colours which never were pre∣sented to our sensitive organs: Neither is any percep∣tion made by exterior objects, but by interior corpo∣real figurative motions; for the object doth not print or act any way upon the eye, but it is the sensitive motions in the eye which pattern out the figure of the object: and it is to be observed, that as the parts of some bodies do consist of several different figures, which the learned call Heterogeneous, one figure being included within another; and some again, their parts are but of one kind of figure, which they call Homogeneous bodies, as for example, Water: so it may be with Colours; for some, their parts may be quite thorow of one co∣lour, and others again, may be of several colours; and indeed, most Creatures, as they have different parts, so those different parts have also different colours; and as those parts do alter, so do their colours: For exam∣ple, a Man that is in good health, looks of a sanguine complexion, but being troubled with the Yellow or black Jaundies, his complexion is of the colour of the hu∣mor; Page  60 either black, or yellow; yet it doth not proceed always from the over-flowing of the humor towards the exterior parts; for many times, when the humor is obstructed, it will cause the same effect; but then the corporeal motions in the extream parts alter by way of Imitation or Metamorphosing, as from a sanguine colour into the colour of the predominant humor: Wherefore it is no more wonder to see colours change in the tempering of Steel (as some are pleased to alledg this experiment) then to see Steel change and rechange its temper from being hard to soft, from tough to brittle, &c. which changes prove, that colours are material as well as steel, so that the alteration of the corporeal parts, is the alteration of the corporeal figures of colours. They also prove, that Light is not essential to colours; for although some colours are made by se∣veral Reflexions, Refractions and Positions of Light, yet Light is not the true and natural cause of all co∣lours; but those colours that are made by light, are most inconstant, momentany and alterable, by reason light and its effects are very changeable: Neither are colours made by a bare motion, for there is no such thing as a bare or immaterial Motion in Nature; but both Light and Colours are made by the corporeal fi∣gurative motions of Nature; and according to the va∣rious changes of those Motions, there are also various and different Lights and Colours; and the perception of light and Colours is made and dissolved by the sensitive Page  61 figurative motions in the optick sensorium, without the exchange of exterior objects; but as the slackest, loo∣sest or rarest parts are of least solid or composed corpo∣real figures, so are they most apt to change and re∣change upon the least disorder, as may well be ob∣served in colours raised by Passions, as fear, anger, or the like, which will change not onely the complexion and countenance, but the very features will have some alteration for a short time, and many times the whole body will be so altered, as not to be rightly com∣posed again for a good while; nay, often there fol∣lows a total dissolution of the whole figure, which we call death. And at all this we need not wonder, if we do but consider that Nature is full of sense and reason, that is, of sensitive and rational perception, which is the cause that oftentimes the disturbance of one part causes all other parts of a composed figure to take an alarum; for, as we may observe, it is so in all other composed bodies, even in those composed by Art; as for example, in the Politick body of a Common∣wealth, one Traytor is apt to cause all the Kingdom to take armes; and although every member knows not particularly of the Traytor, and of the circumstances of his crime, yet every member, if regular, knows its particular duty, which causes a general agreement to assist each other; and as it is with a Common-wealth, so it is also with an animal body; for if there be facti∣ons amongst the parts of an animal body, then straight Page  62 there arises a Civil War. Wherefore to return to Colours; a sudden change of Colours may cause no wonder, by reason there is oftentimes in Nature a sud∣den change of parts, that is, an alteration of figures in the same parts: Neither is it more to be admired, that one colour should be within another, then one figura∣tive part is within another; for colours are figurative parts; and as there are several Creatures, so there are also several Colours; for the Colour of a Creature is as well corporeal as the Creature it self; and (to ex∣press my self as clearly as I can) Colour is as much a body as Place and Magnitude, which are but one thing with body: wherefore when the body, or any corpo∣real part varies, whether solid or rare; Place, Magni∣tude, Colour, and the like, must of necessity change or vary also; which change is no annihilation or pe∣rishing, for as no particle of Matter can be lost in Na∣ture, nor no particular motion, so neither can Colour; and therefore the opinion of those, who say, That when Flax or Silk is divided into very small threads, or fine parts, those parts lose their colours, and being twisted, regain their colours, seems not conformable to Truth; for the division of their parts doth not destroy their colours, nor the composing of those parts regain them; but they being divided into such small and fine parts, it makes their colours, which are the finest of their exterior parts, not to be subject to our optick per∣ception; for what is very small or rare, is not subject Page  63 to the humane optick sense; wherefore there are these following conditions required to the optick perception of an exterior object: First, The object must not be too subtil, rare, or little, but of a certain degree of mag∣nitude; Next, It must not be too far distant, or without the reach of our sight; then the medium must not be obstructed, so as to hinder our perception; And lastly, our optick sensorium must be perfect, and the sensitive motions regular; of which conditions, if any be wanting, there is either no perception at all, or it is an imperfect perception; for the perception of seeing an exterior object, is nothing else but a patterning out of the figure of that same object by the sensitive figurative and perceptive motions; but there are infinite parts that are beyond our humane perception, and it would be but a folly for us to deny that which we cannot see or perceive; and if the perceptive motions be not regu∣lar in our optick sense, we may see different colours in one object; nay, the corporeal figurative motions in the eye may make several figurative colours, even with∣out the patterns of outward objects; and as there are several colours, so there are also several corporeal figu∣rative motions that make several colours in several parts; and the more solid the parts are, the more fixt are their inherent natural colours: But superficial co∣lours are more various, though not so various as they would be, if made by dusty Atomes, flying about as Flies in Sun-shine; for if this opinion were true, all co∣lours, Page  64 and other Creatures would be composed or made by chance, rather then by reason, and chance being so ignorantly inconstant, not any two parts would be of the like colour, nor any kind or species would be pre∣served; but Wise Nature, although she be full of va∣riety, yet she is also full of reason, which is knowledg; for there is no part of Nature that has not sense and rea∣son, which is life and knowledg; and if all the infinite parts have life and knowledg, Infinite Nature cannot be a fool or insensible: But mistake me not, for I do not mean, that her parts in particular are infinitely know∣ing, but I say Infinite Nature hath an Infinite know∣ledg; and by reason Nature is material, she is divide∣able as well as composeable, which is the cause that there is an obscurity in her Parts, in particular, but not in general, that is, in Nature her self; nay, if there were not an obscurity in the Particulars, men would not endeavour to prove inherent and natural figures by su∣perficial Phaenomena's. But as for Colour, some do mention the example of a blind man, who could dis∣cover colours by touch; and truly I cannot account it a wonder, because colours are corporeal figurative mo∣tions, and touch being a general sence, may well per∣ceive by experience (which is gained by practice) some Notions of other sensitive perceptions; as for example, a blind man may know by relation the several touches of Water, Milk, Broth, Jelly, Vinegar, Vitriol, &c. as well as what is hot, cold, rare, dense, hard, soft, Page  65 or the like; and if he have but his touch, hearing, speaking and smelling, perfectly, he may express the several knowledges of his several senses by one parti∣cular sense, or he may express one senses knowledg by another; but if the senses be imperfect, he cannot have a true knowledg of any object. The same may be said of Colours; for several Colours being made by several corporeal figurative motions, may well be perceived by a general sense, which is Touch: I will not say, that touch is the principle of all sensitive know∣ledg, for then I should be of the opinion of those Ex∣perimental Philosophers, which will have one principal motion or figure to be the cause of all Natural things; but I onely say, animal touch may have some Notion of the other animal senses by the help of rational per∣ception: all which proves, that every part is sensible, and every sense knowing, not onely in particular, but that one sense may have some general notion or know∣ledg of the rest; for there are particular and general perceptions in sensitive and rational matter, which is the cause both of the variety and order of Nature's Works; and therefore it is not necessary, that a black figure must be rough, and a white figure smooth: Neither are white and black the Ground-figures of Colours, as some do conceive, or as others do imagine, blew and yellow; for no particular fi∣gure can be a principle, but they are all but effects; and I think it is as great an error to believe Effects Page  66 for Principles, as to judg of the Interior Natures and Motions of Creatures by their Exterior Phaenome∣na or appearances, which I observe in most of our mo∣dern Authors, whereof some are for Incorporeal Mo∣tions, others for Prime and Principal Figures, others for First Matter, others for the figures of dusty and in∣sensible Atomes, that move by chance: when as nei∣ther Atomes, Corpuscles or Particles, nor Pores, Light, or the like, can be the cause of fixt and natural co∣lours; for if it were so, then there would be no stayed or solid colour, insomuch, as a Horse, or any other Creature, would be of more various colours then a Rain-bow; but that several colours are of several fi∣gures, was always, and is still my opinion, and that the change of colours proceeds from the alteration of their figures, as I have more at large declared in my other Philosophical Works: Indeed Art can no more force certain Atomes or Particles to meet and join to the making of such a figure as Art would have, then it can make by a bare command Insensible Atomes to join in∣to a Uniform World. I do not say this, as if there could not be Artificial Colours, or any Artificial Ef∣fects in Nature; but my meaning onely is, that al∣though Art can put several parts together, or divide and disjoyn them, yet it cannot make those parts move or work so as to alter their proper figures or interior na∣tures, or to be the cause of changing and altering their own or other parts, any otherwise then they are by their Page  67 Natures. Neither do I say, that no Colours are made by Light, but I say onely, that fixt colours are not made by Light; and as for the opinion, that white bodies reflect the Light outward, and black bodies in∣ward, as some Authors do imagine; I answer, 'Tis probable, some bodies may do so, but all white and black Colours are not made by such reflexions; the truth is, some conceive all Colours to be made by one sort of Motion, like as some do believe that all sensa∣tion is made by pressure and reaction, and all heat by parts tending outward, and all cold by parts tending inward; when as there are not onely several kinds of heat and cold, as Animal, Vegetable, Mineral and Elemental heat and cold, but several sorts in each kind, and different particulars in each sort; for there is a moist heat, a dry heat, a burning, a dissolving, a composing, a dilating, a contracting heat, and ma∣ny more: The like for colds; all which several kinds, sorts and particulars, are made by the several changes of the corporeal figurative Motions of Nature, and not by Pressure and Reaction, or by tending inward and outward. And as there is so great a variety and difference amongst natural Creatures, both in their Perceptions and interior natures, so there are also varieties of their colours, the natural colours of men being different from the natural colours of Beasts, Birds, Fish, Worms, Flies, &c. Concerning their interior Natures, I'le al∣ledg but few examples; although a Peacock, Parrot, Pye, Page  68 or the like, are gay Birds, yet there is difference in their Gayety: Again; although all men have flesh and blood, and are all of one particular kind, yet their in∣terior natures and dispositions are so different, as seldom any two men are of the same complexion; and as there is difference in their complexions, so in the exterior shapes and features of their exterior parts, in so much as it is a wonder to see two men just alike; nay, as there is difference in the corporeal parts of their bodies, so in the corporeal parts of their minds, according to the old Proverb, So many Men, so many Minds: For there are different Understandings, Fancies, Con∣ceptions, Imaginations, Judgments, Wits, Memo∣ries, Affections, Passions, and the like. Again: as in some Creatures there is difference both in their ex∣terior features and interior natures, so in others there is found a resemblance onely in their exterior, and a difference in their interior parts; and in others again, a resemblance in their interior, and a difference in their exterior parts; as for example, black Ebony, and black Marble, are both of different natures, one being Wood, and the other Stone, and yet they resemble each other in their exterior colour and parts; also, white, black, and gray Marble, are all of one interior Na∣ture, and yet to differ in their exterior colour and parts: The same may be said of Chalk and Milk, which are both white, and yet of several natures; as also of a Turquois, and the Skie, which both appear of one co∣lour, Page  69 and yet their natures are different: besides, there are so many stones of different colours, nay, stones of one sort, as for example, Diamonds, which appear of divers colours, and yet are all of the same Nature; also Man's flesh, and the flesh of some other animals, doth so much resemble, as it can hardly be distinguish∣ed, and yet there is great difference betwixt Man and Beasts: Nay, not onely particular Creatures, but parts of one and the same Creature are different; as for example, every part of mans body has a several touch, and every bit of meat we eat has a several taste, witness the several parts, as legs, wings, breast, head, &c. of some Fowl; as also the several parts of Fish, and other Creatures. All which proves the Infinite variety in Nature, and that Nature is a perpetually self-moving body, dividing, composing, changing, forming and transforming her parts by self-corporeal figurative mo∣tions; and as she has infinite corporeal figurative mo∣tions, which are her parts, so she has an infinite wis∣dom to order and govern her infinite parts; for she has Infinite sense and reason, which is the cause that no part of hers is ignorant, but has some knowledg or o∣ther, and this Infinite variety of knowledg makes a ge∣neral Infinite wisdom in Nature. And thus I have declared how Colours are made by the figurative cor∣poreal motions, and that they are as various and diffe∣rent as all other Creatures, and when they appear ei∣ther more or less, it is by the variation of their parts. Page  70 But as for the experiment of Snow, which some do alledg, that in a darkned room, it is not perceived to have any other light then what it receives, doth not prove that the whiteness of Snow is not an inherent and natural co∣lour, because it doth not reflect light, or because our eye doth not see it, no more then we can justly say, that blood is not blood, or flesh is not flesh in the dark, if our eye do not perceive it, or that the interior parts of Nature are colourless, because the exterior light makes no re∣flexion upon them. . Truly, in my judgment, those opinions, that no parts have colour, but those which the light reflects on, are neither probable to sense nor reason; for how can we conceive any corporeal part without a colour? In my opinion, it is as impossible to imagine a body without colour, as it is impossible for the mind to conceive a natural immaterial substance; and if so pure a body as the mind cannot be colour∣less, much less are grosser bodies. But put the case all bodies that are not subject to exterior light were black as night, yet they would be of a colour, for black is as much a colour as green, or blew, or yellow, or the like; but if all the interior parts of Nature be black, then, in my opinion, Nature is a very sad and melancholy Lady; and those which are of such an opinion, surely their minds are more dark then the interior parts of Nature; I will not hope that clouds of dusty Atomes have obscured them. But if not any Creature can have imagination without figure and colour, much less Page  71 can the optick sensitive parts; for the exterior sensitive parts are more gross then the rational, and therefore they cannot be without colour, no more then without figure: and although the exterior parts of Animals are subject to our touch, yet the countenances of those se∣veral exterior parts are no more perceptible by our touch, then several colours are: By Countenances, I mean the several exterior postures, motions, or ap∣pearances of each part; for as there is difference betwixt a face, and a countenance; (for a face remains constant∣ly the same, when as the countenance of a face may and doth change every moment; as for example, there are smiling, frowning, joyful, sad, angry countenances, &c.) so there is also a difference between the exterior figure or shape of a Creature, and the several and various mo∣tions, appearances or postures of the exterior parts of that Creatures exterior figure, whereof the former may be compared to a Face, and the later to a Coun∣tenance. But leaving this nice distinction; If any one should ask me, Whether a Barbary-horse, or a Gennet, or a Turkish, or an English-horse, can be known and distinguished in the dark? I answer: They may be distinguished as much as the blind man (whereof men∣tion hath been made before) may discern colours, nay, more; for the figure of a gross exterior shape of a body may sooner be perceived, then the more fine and pure countenance of Colours. To shut up this my dis∣course of Colours, I will briefly repeat what I have Page  72 said before, viz. that there are natural and inherent colours which are fixt and constant, and superficial colours, which are changeable and inconstant, as al∣so Artificial colours made by Painters and Dyers, and that it is impossible that any constant colour should be made by inconstant Atomes and various lights. 'Tis true, there are streams of dust or dusty Atomes, which seem to move variously, upon which the Sun or light makes several reflections and refractions; but yet I do not see, nor can I believe, that those dusty particles and light are the cause of fixt and inherent colours; and therefore if Experimental Philosophers have no fir∣mer grounds and principles then their Colours have, and if their opinions be as changeable as inconstant Atomes, and variable Lights, then their experiments will be of no great benefit and use to the world. Nei∣ther will Artificial Characters and Geometrical Fi∣gures be able to make their opinions and experiments more probable; for they appear to me like Dr. Dee's numbers, who was directed by I know not what spirits, which Kelley saw in his holy stone, which nei∣ther of them did understand; much less will Dioptri∣cal glasses give any true Information of them, but they rather delude the sight; for Art is not onely intricate and obscure, but a false informer, and rather blinds then informs any particular Creature of the Truth of Nature: but my reason perceives that Nature loves sometimes to act or work blind-fold in the actions of Page  73 Art; for although they be natural, yet they are but Natures blind, at least her winking or jugling acti∣ons, causing some parts or Creatures to deceive others, or else they are her politick actions by which she de∣ceives her Creatures expectations, and by that means keeps them from knowing and understanding her sub∣tile and wise Government.