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


Curteous Reader,

I Do ingeniously confess, that both for want of learning and reading Philo∣sophical Authors, I have not ex∣pressed my self in my Philosophical Works, especially in my Philosophi∣cal and Physical Opinions, so clearly and plainly as I might have done, had I had the assistance of Art, and the practice of reading other Authors: But though my Conceptions seem not so perspicuous in the mentioned Book of Philosophical Opinions; yet my Philosophical Let∣ters, and these present Observations, will, I hope, ren∣der it more intelligible, which I have writ, not out of an am∣bitious humour, to fill the World with useless Books, but to explain and illustrate my own Opinions; For what bene∣fit would it be to me, if I should put forth a work, which by Page  [unnumbered] reason of its obscure and hard notious, could not be understood? especially, it is knowil, that Natural Philosophy is the hard∣est of all humane learning, by reason it consists onely in Contemplation, and to make the Philosophical Conceptions of ones mind known to others, is more difffcult then to make them believe, that if A. B. be equal to C. D. then E. F. is equal to A. B. because it is equal to C. D. But as for Learning, that I am not versed in it, no body, I hope, will blame me for it, since it is sufficiently known, that our Sex is not bread up to it, as being not suffer'd to be instructed in Schools and Vniversities; I will not say, but many of our Sex may have as much wit, and be capable of Learning as well as Men; but since they want Instructions, it is not possible they should attain to it; for Learning is Artificial, but Wit is Natural. Wherefore, when I began to read the Philosophical Works of other Authors, I was so trou∣bled with their hard words and expressions at first, that had they not been explained to me, and had I not found out some of them by the context and connexion of the sense, I should have been far enough to seek; for their hard words did more ob∣struct, then instruct me. The truth is, if any one intends to write Philosophy, either in English, or any other lan∣guage; be ought to consider the propriety of the language, as much as the Subject be writes of; or else to what pur∣pose would it be to write? If you do write Philosophy in En∣glish, and use all the hardest words and expressions which none but Scholars are able to understand, you had better to write it in Latine; but if you will write for those that do not Page  [unnumbered] understand Latin, Your reason will tell you, that you must explain those hard words, and English them in the easiest manner you can; What are words but marks of things? and what are Philosophical Terms, but to express the Conceptions of ones mind in that Science? And truly I do not think that there is any Language so poor, which cannot do that; wherefore those that fill their writings with hard words, put the horses behind the Coach, and in∣stead of making hard things easie, make easie things hard, which especially in our English writers is a great fault; neither do I see any reason for it, but that they think to make themselves more famous by those that admire all what they do not understand, though it be Non-sense; but I am not of their mind, and therefore although I do under∣stand some of their hard expressions now, yet I shun them as much in my writings as is possible for me to do, and all this, that they may be the better understood by all, learned as well as unlearned; by those that are professed Philoso∣phers as well as by those that are none: And though I could employ some time in studying all the hardest phrases and words in other Authors, and write as learnedly perhaps as they; yet will I not deceive the World, nor trouble my Conscience by being a Mountebanck in learning, but rather prove naturally wise then artificially foolish; for at best I should but obscure my opinions, and render them more intricate instead of clearing and explaining them; but if my Readers should spie any errors slipt into my writings for want of art and learning, I hope they'l be so just as not to censure Page  [unnumbered] me too severely for them, but express their wisdom in pre∣ferring the kernel before the shells.

It is not possible that a young Student, when first he comes to the Vniversity, should hope to be Master of Art in one Month, or one Year; and so do I likewise not per∣swade my self, that my Philosophy being new, and but late∣ly brought forth, will at first fight prove Master of Vn∣derstanding, nay, it may be not in this age; but if God favour her, she may attain to it in after-times and if she be slighted now and buried in silence, she may perhaps rise more gloriously hereafter; for her Ground being Sense and Reason, She may meet with an age where she will be more regarded, then she is in this.

But Courteous Reader, all what I request of you at present, is, That if you have a mind to understand my Philosophical Conceptions truly, You would be pleased to read them not by parcels, here a little, and there a lit∣tle, (for I have found it by my self, that when I read not a book throughly from beginning to end, I cannot well understand the Authors design, but may easily mistake his meaning; I mean such Books as treat of Philosophy, History, &c. where all parts depend upon each other,) But if you'l give an impartial judgment of my Philoso∣phy, read it all, or else spare your Censures; especially do I recommend to you my Philosophical Opinions, which con∣tain the Grounds and Principles of my Philosophy, but since they were published before I was versed in the read∣ing of other Authors, I desire you to join my Philoso∣phical Page  [unnumbered] Leters, and these observations to them, which will serve as Commentaries to explain what may seem obscure in the mentioned Opinions; but before all, read this follow∣ing Argumental Discourse wherein are contained the Prin∣ciples and grounds of Natural Philosophy, especially con∣cerning the constitutive parts of Nature and their pro∣perties and actions; as also be pleas'd to peruse the later discourse of the first part of this Book, which treats of Perception; for Perception being the chief and general action of Nature, has occasioned me to be more prolix in ex∣plaining it, then any other subject; You'l find that I go much by the way of argumentation, and framing objecti∣ons and answers; for I would fain hinder and obstruct as many objections as could be made against the grounds of my Opinions; but since it is impossible to resolve all, for as Nature and her parts and actions are infinite, so there may also endless objections be raised; I have endeavoured onely to set down such as I thought might be most mate∣rial; but this I find, that there is no objection but one may find an answer to it; and as soon as I have made an answer to one objection, another offers it self again, which shews not onely that Natures actions are infinite, but that they are poised and ballanced so that they cannot run into extreams.

However I do not appland my self so much, as to think that my works can be without errors, for Nature is not a Deity, but her parts are often irregular, and how is it possible that one particular Creature can know all the ob∣scure Page  [unnumbered] and hidden infinite varieties of Nature? if the Truth of Nature were so easily known, we had no need to take so much pains in searching after it; but Nature being Material, and consequently dividable, her parts have but divided knowledges, and none can claim a Vniver∣sal infinite knowledg. Nevertheless, although I may erre in my arguments, or for want of artificial Terms; yet I believe the Ground of my Opinions is True, because it is sense and reason.

I found after the perusal of this present book, that se∣veral places therein might have been more perspicuously delivered, and better cleared; but since it is impossible that all things can be so exact, that they should not be subject to faults and imperfections; for as the greatest beauties are not without moles, so the best Books are seldom without Errors; I intreat the ingenuous Reader to interpret them to the best sense; for they are not so material, but that either by the context or connexion of the whole discourse, or by a comparing with other places, the true meaning thereof may easily be understood; and to this end I have set down this following explanation of such places, as in the perusal I have observed, whereby the rest may al∣so easily be mended.

When I say, that Discourse shall sooner find out Na∣tures* Corporeal figurative Motions, then Art shall inform the Senses. By Discourse, I do not mean speech, but an Arguing of the mind, or a Rational inquiry into the Causes of Natural effects; for Discourse is as much as Page  [unnumbered] Reasoning with our selves, which may very well be done without Speech or Language, as being onely an effect or action of Reason.

When I say, That Art may make Pewter, Brass, &c.* I do not mean as if these Figures were Artificial, and not Natural; but my meaning is, That if Art imitates Nature in producing of Artificial Figures, they are most commonly such as are of mixt Natures, which I call Hermaphroditical.

When I say, That Respiration is a Reception and* Emission of parts through the pores or passages pro∣per to each particular figure, so that when some parts issue, others enter; I do not mean at one and the same time, or always through the same passages; for, as there is variety of Natural Creatures and Figures, and of their perceptions; so of the manner of their perceptions, and of their passages and pores; all which no particular Crea∣ture is able exactly to know or determine: And there∣fore when I add in the following Chapter, That Nature has more ways of composing and dividing of parts, then by the way of drawing in, and sending forth by pores; I mean, that not all parts of Nature have the like Respirations: The truth is, it is enough to know in general, That there is Respiration in all parts of Na∣ture, as a general or universal action; and that this Re∣spiration is nothing else but a composition and division of Parts; but how particular Respirations are performed, none but Infinite Nature is capable to know.

Page  [unnumbered] When I say, That there is a difference between Re∣spiration* and Perception; and that Perception is an action of figuring or patterning; but Respiration an a∣ction of Reception and Emission of Parts: First, I do not mean, that all Percaption is made by patterning or imitation; but I speak onely of the Perception of the exterior senses in Animals, at least in man, which I observe to be made by patterning or imitation; for as no Creature can know the infinite perceptions in Nature, so he cannot describe what they are, or how they are made Next, I do not mean, that Respiration is not a Percep∣tive action; for if Perception be a general and universal action in Nature, as well as Respiration, both depend∣ing upon the composition and division of parts, it is im∣possible but that all actions of Nature must be perceptive, by reason perception is an exterior knowledg of forreign parts and actions; and there can be no commerce or in∣tercourse, nor no variety of figures and actions; no pro∣ductions, dissolutions, changes and the like, without Perception; for how shall Parts work and act, with∣out having some knowledg or perception of each other? Besides, wheresoever is self-motion, there must of neces∣sity be also Perception; for self-motion is the cause of all exterior Perception. But my meaning is, That the Ani∣mal, at least Humane respiration, which is a receiveing of forreign parts, and discharging or venting of its own in an animal or humane Figure or Creature, is not the action of Animal Perception, properly so call'd; that is, Page  [unnumbered] the perception of its exterior senses, as Seeing, Hearing, Tasting, Touching, Smelling; which action of Percep∣tion is properly made by way of patterning and imitation, by the innate, figurative motions of those Animal Crea∣tures, and not by receiving either the figures of the ex∣terior objects into the sensitive Organs, or by sending forth some invisible rayes from the Organ to the Object; nor by pressure and reaction. Nevertheless, as I said, every action of Nature is a Knowing and Perceptive action; and so is Respiration, which of necessity presupposes a knowledg of exterior parts, especially those that are con∣cern'd in the same action, and can no ways be perform'd without perception of each other.

When I say, That if all mens Opinions and Fan∣cies* were Rational, there would not be such variety in Nature as we perceive there is; by Rational I mean Regular, according to the vulgar way of expres∣sion, by which a Rational Opinion is call'd, That which is grounded upon regular sense and reason; and thus Rational is opposed to Irregular: Nevertheless, Irregular Fancies and Opinions are made by the rational parts of matter, as well as those that are regular; and therefore in a Philosophi∣cal and strict sense, one may call Irregular Opinions as well Rational, as those that are Regular; but according to the vulgar way of expression, as I said, it is sooner understood of Regular, then of Irregular Opinions, Fan∣cies or Conceptions.

Page  [unnumbered] When I say, that None of Natures parts can be* call'd Inanimate, or Soul-less; I do not mean the con∣stitutive parts of Nature, which are, as it were, the Ingredients whereof Nature consists, and is made up; whereof there is an inanimate part or degree of matter, as well as animate; but I mean the parts or effects of this composed body of Nature, of which I say, that none can be call'd inanimate; for though some Philosophers think that nothing is animate, or has life in Nature, but Ani∣mals and Vegetables; yet it is probable, that since Na∣ture consists of a commixture of animate and inanimate mat∣ter, and is self-moving, there can be no part or particle of this composed body of Nature, were it an Atome, that may be call'd Inaminate, by reason there is none that has not its share of animate, as well as inanimate matter, and the commixture of these degrees being so close, it is impossible one should be without the other.

When enumerating the requisites of the Perception of* Sight in Animals, I say, that if one of them be want∣ing, there is either no perception at all, or it is an imperfect perception; I mean, there is no Animal per∣ception of seeing, or else an irregular perception.

When I say, that as the sensitive perception knows* some of the other parts of Nature by their effects; so the rational perceives some effects of the Omnipotent Power of God; My meaning is not, as if the sensitive part of matter hath no knowledg at all of God; for since all parts of Nature, even the inanimate, have an innate Page  [unnumbered] and fixt self-knowledg, it is probable that they may al∣so have an interior self-knowledg of the existency of the Eternal and Omnipotent God, as the Author of Nature: But because the rational part is the subtilest, purest, fi∣nest and highest degree of matter; it is most conformable to truth, that it has also the highest and greatest know∣ledg of God, as far as a natural part can have; for God being Immaterial, it cannot properly be said, that sense can have a perception of him, by reason he is not subject to the sensitive perception of any Creature, or part of Nature; and therefore all the knowledg which natural Creatures can have of God, must be inherent in every part of Nature; and the perceptions which we have of the Effects of Nature, may lead us to some conceptions of that Supernatural, Infinite, and Incomprehensible Dei∣ty, not what it is in its Essence or Nature, but that it is existent, and that Nature has a dependance upon it, as an Eternal Servant has upon an Eternal Master.

But some might say, How is it possible that a Cor∣poreal finite part, can have a conception of an Incorpo∣real, infinite Being; by reason that which comprehends, must needs be bigger then that which is comprehended? Besides, no part of Nature can conceive beyond it self, that is, beyond what is Natural or Material; and this proves, that at least the rational part, or the mind, must be immaterial to conceive a Deity? To which I answer, That no part of Nature can or does conceive the Essence of God, or what God is in himself; but it conceives Page  [unnumbered] onely, that there is such a Divine Being which is Su∣pernatural: And therefore it cannot be said, that a na∣tural Figure can comprehend God; for it is not the comprehending of the Substance of God, or its pattern∣ing out, (since God having no Body, is without all Fi∣gure) that makes the knowledg of God; but I do believe, that the knowledg of the existency of God, as I menti∣oned before, is innate, and inherent in Nature, and all her parts, as much as self-knowledg is.

Speaking of the difference between Oil and other li∣quors;* for the better understanding of that place, I thought fit to insert this Note: Flame is fluid, but not liquid, nor wet: Oil is fluid and liquid, but not wet; but Wa∣ter is both fluid, liquid and wet. Oil will turn into flame, and encrease it; but Water is so quite opposite to flame, that if a sufficient quantity be poured upon it, it will totally extinguish it.

When I say, that Sense and Reason shall be the* Ground of my Philosophy, and not particular natu∣ral effects; My meaning is, that I do not intend to make particular Creatures or Figures, the Principles of all the infinite effects of Nature, as some other Philosophers do; for there is no such thing as a Prime or principal Figure of Nature, all being but effects of one Cause. But my Ground is Sense and Reason, that is, I make self-mo∣ving matter, which is sensitive and rational, the onely cause and principle of all natural effects.

Page  [unnumbered] When 'tis said, That Ice, Snow, Hail, &c. return* into their former Figure of Water, whensoever they dissolve; I mean, when they dissolve their exterior Fi∣gures, that is, change their actions.

When I say, That the Exterior Object is the A∣gent,* and the Sentient Body the Patient; I do not mean that the Object does chiefly work upon the Senti∣ent, or is the immediate cause of the Perception in the Sentient body, and that the Sentient suffers the Agent to act upon it; but I retain onely those words, because they are used in Schools; But as for their actions, I am quite of a contrary Opinion, to wit, That the sentient body is the principal Agent, and the external body the Patient; for the motions of the sentient in the act of per∣ception, do figure out or imitate the motions of the ob∣ject, so that the object is but as a Copy that is figured out, or imitated by the sentient, which is the chiefly A∣gent in all transforming and perceptive actions that are made by way of patterning or imitation.

When I say, That one finite part can undergo in∣finite* changes and alterations; I do not mean one sin∣gle part, whereof there is no such thing in nature; but I mean, one part may be infinitely divided and composed with other parts; for as there are infinite changes, compositions and divisions in Nature, so they must be of parts; there being no variety but of parts; and though parts be finite, yet the changes may be infinite; for the finiteness of parts is but concerning the bulk or quantity Page  [unnumbered] of their figures; and they are call'd finite, by reason they have limited and circumscribed figures; nevertheless, as for duration, their parts being the same with the bo∣dy of Nature, are as eternal, and infinite as Nature her self, and thus are subject to infinite and eternal changes.

VVhen I say, A World of Gold is as active in∣teriously,* as a world of Air is exteriously; I mean, it is as much subject to changes and alterations as Air; for Gold though its motions are not perceptible by our exte∣rior senses, yet it has no less motion then the activest bo∣dy of Nature; onely its motions are of another kind then the motions of Air, or of some other bodies; for Reten∣tive motions are as much motions, as dispersing or some other sorts of motions, although not so visible to our per∣ception as these; and therefore we cannot say that Gold is more at rest than other Creatures of Nature; for there is no such thing as Rest in Nature; although there be degrees of Motion.

VVhen I say, That the parts of Nature do not* drive or press upon each other, but that all natural actions are free and easie, and not constrained; My meaning is not, as if there was no pressing or driving of parts at all in Nature, but onely that they are not the universal or principal actions of Natures body, as it is the opinion of some Philosophers, who think there is no other motion in nature, but by pressure of parts upon parts: Nevertheless, there is pressure and reaction in Nature, because there are infinite sorts of motions.

Page  [unnumbered] Also when I say in the same place, That Natures a∣ctions are voluntary; I do not mean, that all actions are made by rote, and none by imitation; but by volun∣tary actions I understand self-actions; that is, such actions whose principle of motion is within themselves, and doth not proceed from such an exterior Agent, as doth the moti∣on of the inanimate part of matter, which having no mo∣tion of it self, is moved by the animate parts, yet so, that it receives no motion from them, but moves by the motion of the animate parts, and not by an infused mo∣tion into them; for the animate parts in carrying the inani∣mate along with them, lose nothing of their own motion, nor impart no motion to the inanimate; no more than a man who carries a stick in his hand, imparts motion to the stick, and loses so much as he imparts; but they bear the inanimate parts along with them, by vertue of their own self-motion, and remain self-moving parts, as well as the inanimate remain without motion.

Again, when I make a distinguishment between vo∣luntary* actions, and exterior perceptions; my meaning is not, as if voluntary actions were not made by perceptive parts; for whatsoever is self-moving and active, is per∣ceptive; and therefore since the voluntary actions of Sense and Reason are made by self-moving parts, they must of necessity be perceptive actions; but I speak of Perceptions properly so call'd, which are occasioned by Forreign parts; and to those I oppose voluntary actions, which are not occasioned, but made by rote; as for Page  [unnumbered] example, the perception of sight in Animals, when out∣ward Objects present themselves to the Optick sense to be perceived, the perception of the Sentient is an occasion∣ed perception; but whensoever, either in dreams, or in distempers, the sensitive motions of the same Organ, make such or such figures, without any presentation of exterior objects, then that action cannot properly be call'd an ex∣terior perception; but it is a voluntary action of the sensi∣tive motions in the organ of sight, not made after an out∣ward pattern, but by rote, and of their own accord.

When I say, That Ignorance is caused by divisi∣on,* and knowledg by composition of parts; I do not mean an interior, innate self-knowledg, which is, and remains in every part and particle of Nature, both in composition and division; for wheresoever is matter, there is life and self-knowledg; nor can a part lose self∣knowledg, any more then it can lose life, although it may change from having such or such a particular life and know∣ledg; for to change and lose, are different things; but I mean an exterior, perceptive knowledg of forreign parts, caused by self-motion, of which I say, that as a union or combination of parts, makes knowledg, so a division or separation of parts, makes Ignorance.

When I say, There's difference of Sense and Reason* in the parts of one composed Figure; I mean not, as if there were different degrees of sense, and different de∣grees of Reason in their own substance or matter; for sense is but sense, and reason is but reason; but my meaning is, Page  [unnumbered] That there are different, sensitive and rational motions, which move differently in the different parts of one compo∣sed Creature.

These are (Courteous Reader) the scruples which I thought might puzle your understanding in this present Work, which I have cleared in the best manner I could; and if you should meet with any other of the like nature, my request is, You would be pleased to consider well the Grounds of my Philosophy; and as I desired of you before, read all before you pass your Judgments and Censures; for then, I hope, you'l find but few obstructions, since one place will give you an explanation of the other. In doing thus, you'l neither wrong your self, nor injure the Authoress, who should be much satisfied, if she could be∣nesit your knowledg in the least; if not, she has done her endeavour, and takes as much pleasure and delight in writing and divulging the Conceptions of her mind, as perhaps some malicious persons will do in censuring them to the worst.