Speculative World-Building with the Duchess Margaret Cavendish

by Bruce Sterling

Duchess Margaret Cavendish (1623–1673), from her high social position, dabbled in fiction, poetry, drama and philosophical writing. Learned societies and science groups existed and caught her vivid imagination, but the rigor of the scientific method was not well understood in her lifetime, least of all by herself.

So I just read an extensive work of nonfiction by the Duchess titled “Grounds of Natural Philosophy,” published in 1668. I was under the impression that this was a learned work to popularize the work of scientists, but no; it’s much more ambitious than that. In this tome, the Duchess is simply inventing her own private body of scientific knowledge entirely from first principles.

This book is a visionary, not to say ludicrously arrogant work in which the Duchess holds a private debate with herself on various cogent issues of “natural philosophy,” such as why things fall down, and why species are different, and what the human mind is made of, and what diseases are, and if minerals can think, and if there are other worlds than our own.

I’ve never read anything quite like this by any other author. One might be tempted to think that the Duchess was simply crazy, because her work is so bizarre and baroquely ill-organized, even by the standards of 17th-century early science. Also, she was sometimes ridiculed as “Mad Madge” by her contemporaries.

However, I don’t think she was mad at all, and her book is comprehensible, with some earnest effort. “Grounds of Natural Philosophy” is the creation of an intelligent, imaginative woman who has heard about science, has sometimes frequented scientific societies and has therefore decided to add to the public debate by just doing all the work of science, fresh, all by herself.

Giving her genius free rein, she’s just gonna sit down at the composition table and figure the universe out, not through experiment or measurement or anything tradesman-like or tedious, but just by talking and thinking about it, with herself, as an audience of one.

The Duchess dismisses scientific instrumentation. She’s heard of microscopes and telescopes and probably seen or even handled them, but she considers them toylike. She sees no need to gather any data or make charts and records about the universe, or derive mathematical laws about it, when you can understand Nature lots better and faster by just pondering it with “wise consideration.”

The Duchess considers scientific instruments to be artificial, and therefore a mere art-form. They merely replicate Nature with models, instead of getting directly to grips with Nature, the way she does with her powerful imagination.

In this section she explains why scientific instruments are a waste of time for her even to consider.

“Also, they trouble themselves with poring and peeping through Telescopes, Microscopes, and the like Toyish Arts, which neither get Profit, nor improve their Understanding: for, all such Arts prove rather ignorant Follies, than wise Considerations; Art being so weak and defective, that it cannot so much assist, as it doth hinder Nature: but, there is as much difference between Art and Nature, as between a Statue and a Man; and yet Artists believe they can perfect what by Nature is defective; so that they can rectifie Nature’s Irregularities; and do excuse some of their Artificial actions, saying, they only endeavour to hasten the actions of Nature: as if Nature were slower than Art, because a Carver can cut a Figure or Statue of a Man, having all his Materials ready at hand, before a Child can be finished in the Breeding-Bed. But, Art being the sporting and toyish actions of Nature, we will not consider them at this time.”

Clearly this comes across as an act of megalomania by modern standards, or maybe delusions of grandeur, but that is misreading it. I think that the Duchess herself would see her labors as an act of charity, of noblesse oblige, to scientists whom she considers basically tradesmen, craftsmen and her social inferiors. That’s why she’s willing to start over from the ground-up, directly from the speculative bedrock of the universe, so as to set everybody straight about how things work, without the graceless and tedious activity of experimentation, or testing anything in a lab.

It follows that “Grounds of Natural Philosophy” is an act of science fictional world-building. The author is building the world with a pen in her hand, just by staring out the window and riffing about it.

“Grounds” features a unique pseudo-physics, which is very original indeed, if not very coherent, and her world-building assumptions allow the Duchess to springboard into some truly bizarre assertions about reality.

Furthermore, it’s clear that this is what the Duchess enjoys about her work. She’s a born science fiction writer, bored by the tedium of scholarship but visibly gleeful about the sense-of-wonder weirdo-stuff. The cool part consists in showing off her own cleverness, and her willingness to think out-of-the-box. She wants to lay down some marvels-of-science that nobody else has ever thought about before, and to be admired for that, but it doesn’t occur to her that she could call her invention “science fiction” and amuse people with it as an entertaining lark. There’s simply no audience for that yet, there’s no way to frame it or publish such an effort. She just has to pioneer it.

Stanislaw Lem used to say that dead forms of metaphysics automatically become science fiction. This is a work in that vein.

Scientists of the period must have mocked this book (though probably not to her face, considering her wealth and position). However, science fiction writer that I am, I can’t help but deeply sympathize. There’s something noble and rather Rene Descartes about her effort (Descartes being a guy that the Duchess met personally). It’s as if Descartes had gone alone into his famous meditation in the stove, and instead of emerging with the bedrock metaphysical assertion “Cogito, Ergo Sum,” he had said, “Everybody harken unto me because I am Duchess Margaret Cavendish.”

I wouldn’t say that this book is much fun for a contemporary reader — I doubt that anybody had as much fun with it as the Duchess Margaret Cavendish herself did — but I plowed through it, and I’m going to excerpt a few chunks here, more for my own edification than yours. Bear with me.

Here is the theory-of-mind of the Duchess, which is handy. It appears early in the narrative, because she’s particularly interested in her own mind, as opposed to objective reality.

The Duchess has created a mental theory of her own, vaguely similar to Marvin Minsky’s “Society of Mind,” in that she thinks that the human mind is made of many different components that interoperate and adjust one another, thereby creating different cognitive functions.

The Duchess is pretty much in top form with this episode; this is about as good as her science gets. She excels at comprehensive lists that go from the a-to-z of one extreme to another, because she loves the flow of fine, technical-sounding words.

I also suspect that she may have been using a chart or table in this section, because she seems to be cross-checking the intersections of her ideas, and then naming the human emotions after the patterns in her chart.

CHAP. II. Of the Motions of some Parts of the Mind.

When the Rational Figurative Corporeal Motions of an Human Creature, take no notice of Forrein Objects, Man nameth that, _Musing_, or _Contemplating_. And, when the Rational Parts repeat some former Actions, Man names that, _Remembrances_. But, when those Parts alter those Repetitions, Man names that, _Forgetfulness_. And, when those Rational Parts move, according to a present Object, Man names it, _Memory_. And when those Parts divide in divers sorts of Actions, Man names it, _Arguing_, or _Disputing in the Mind_. And when those divers sorts of Actions are at some strife, Man names it, _A contradicting of himself_. And if there be a weak strife, Man names it, _Consideration_.

But, when those different Figurative Motions move of one accord, and sympathetically, this Man names, _Discretion_. But, when those different sorts of Actions move sympathetically, and continue in that manner of action, without any alteration, Man names it, _Belief, Faith_, or _Obstinacy_. And when those Parts make often changes, as altering their Motions, Man names it _Inconstancy_.

When their Rational Parts move slowly, orderly, equally, and sympathetically, Man names it _Sobriety_. When all the Parts of the Mind move regularly, and sympathetically, Man names it, _Wisdom_. When some Parts move partly regularly, and partly irregularly, Man names that, _Foolishness_, and _Simplicity_. When they move generally irregularly, Man names it _Madness_.

CHAP. III. Of the Motions of Human Passions, and Appetites; as also,of the Motions of the Rational and Sensitive Parts, towards Forrein Objects.

When some of the Rational Parts move sympathetically, to some of the Sensitive Perceptions; and those Sensitive Parts sympathize to the Object, it is _Love_. If they move antipathetically to the Object, it is _Hate_. When those Rational and Sensitive Motions, make many and quick repetitions of those sympathetical actions, it is _Desire_ and _Appetite_. When those Parts move variously, (as concerning the Object) but yet sympathetically (concerning their own Parts) it is _Inconstancy_. When those Motions move cross towards the Object, and are perturbed, it is _Anger_. But when those perturbed Motions are in confusion, it is _Fear_.

When the Rational Motions are partly sympathetical, and partly antipathetical, it is _Hope_, and _Doubt_. And if there be more sympathetical Motions than antipathetical, there is more _Hope_ than _Doubt_. If more antipathetical than sympathetical, then more _Doubt_ than _Hope_.

If those Rational Motions move after a dilating manner, it is _Joy_. If after a contracting manner, it is _Grief_. When those Parts move partly after a contracting, and partly after an attracting manner, as attracting from the Object, it is _Covetousness_. But, if those Motions are sympathetical to the Object, and move after a dilating manner towards the Object, it is _Generosity_.

If those Motions are sympathetical to the Object, and move after the manner of a Contraction, it is _Pity_ or _Compassion_.

If those Motions move antipathetically towards the Object, yet after a dilating manner, it is _Pride_. When those Motions move sympathetically towards the Object, after a dilating manner, it is _Admiration_. If the dilating Action is not extream, it is only _Approving_. If those Motions are antipathetical towards the Object, and are after the manner of an extream contraction, it is _Horror_. But, if those Actions are not so extraordinary as to be extream, it is only _Disapproving, Despising, Rejecting_, or _Scorning_. If the Rational Parts move carelesly towards Forrein Objects, as also partly antipathetically, Man nameth it, _Ill-nature_. But, if sympathetically and industriously, Man nameth it, _Good-nature_.

But this is to be noted, That there are many sorts of Motions of one and the same kind; and many several particular Motions, of one sort of Motion; which causes some difference in the Effects: but, they are so nearly related, that it requires a more subtile Observation than I have, to distinguish them.

In the following section, the Duchess tries to figure out if dreams are inherently different from reality. And she establishes, to her satisfaction, that they’re not all that different where it really counts, which is inside her own mind. Her sudden burst of imaginative eloquence at the end must have been based in her own dream-life, which, really, must have been pretty good.

CHAP. IV. Of the Actions of DREAMS.

When the Figures of those Friends and Acquaintants that have been dead a long time, are made in our Sleep, we never, or seldom question the truth of their being alive, though we often question them how they came to be alive: And the reason that we make no doubt of their being alive, is, That those Corporeal Motions of Sleep, make the same pattern of that Object in Sleep, as when that Object was present, and patterned awake; so as the Picture in Sleep seems to be the Original awake: and until such times that the Corporeal Motions alter their Sleeping-Actions to Waking-Actions, the truth is not known.

Though Sleeping and Dreaming, is somewhat after the manner of Forgetfulness and Remembrance; yet, perfect Dreams are as perceptive as Waking-patterns of present Objects; which proves, That both the Sensitive and Rational Motions, have Sleeping Actions; but both the Sensitive and Rational Corporeal Actions in Sleep, moving partly by rote, and partly voluntarily, or by invention, make Walking-Woods, or Woodden Men; or make Warrs and Battels, where some Figures of Men are kill’d, or wounded, others have victory: They also make Thieves, Murderers, falling Houses, great Fires, Floods, Tempests, high Mountains, great Precipices; and sometimes pleasant Dreams of Lovers, Marriage, Dancing, Banquetting, and the like: And the Passions in Dreams are as real, as in waking actions.

Naturally the Duchess is keenly interested in craziness. Not that she’s crazy herself, she’s just much intrigued by unusual thought-modes for their own sake.

She would prefer the extremes of madness to be a tamed subset of her own comprehensive, rational world-building, which is very un-romantic, but very science-fiction-writer like.


There are several sorts of that Distemper named _Madness_; but they all proceed through the Irregularities, either of the Rational, or the Sensitive Parts; and sometimes from the Irregularities both of Sense and Reason: but these Irregularities are not such as are quite different from the Nature or Property of a Human Creature, but are only such Irregularities as make false Perceptions of Forrein Objects, or else make strange Conceptions; or move after the manner of Dreams in waking-actions; which is not according to the Perception of present Objects: As for example, The Sensitive Motions of the Exterior Parts, make several Pictures on the outside of the Organs; when as no such Object is present; and that is the reason Mad-men see strange and unusual Sights, hear strange and unusual Sounds, have strange and unusual Tasts and Touch: but, when the Irregularities are only amongst the Rational Parts, then those that are so diseased, have violent Passions, strange Conceptions, wild Fancies, various Opinions, dangerous Designs, strong Resolutions, broken Memories, imperfect Remembrances, and the like.

But, when both the Sensitive and Rational are sympathetically disorderly; then the Mad-men will talk extravagantly, or laugh, sing, sigh, weep, tremble, complain, &c. without cause.

A woman of such high imagination is hard-put not to be interested in narcotics. How do drugs do something to the mind or body, and what is the mind or body that drugs can do anything to them? This requires the Duchess to involve herself with the medical “theory of humors,” which she doesn’t like very much because she didn’t invent it herself.

In another section she complains that the Four Humors, which have been around since the time of Galen, probably aren’t enough humors and they must also be badly classified:

“…there are many sorts of Humours belonging to a Human Creature, although Man names but Four, according to the Four Elements, _viz. Flegm, Choler, Melancholy_, and _Blood_: but, in my opinion, there are not only several sorts of _Choler, Flegm, Melancholy_, and _Blood_; but other sorts that are none of these Four.”

Then she gets into the gory details, not because she wants to give people health advice, but because drugs are dangerous, weird and cool:


There are many sorts of _Druggs_, whereof some are beneficial, by assisting those particular Parts of the Body that are oppressed and offended, either by Superfluous Humours, or Malignant Humours: but, there are some sorts of Druggs that are as malicious to the Human Life, as the Assistant Druggs are friendly.

Several sorts of Druggs, have several sorts of Actions, which causes several Effects; as, some Druggs work by Siege; others, by Urine; some, by Vomit; others, by Spitting; others, by Sweating; some cause sleep; some are hot, others are cold; some dry, others moist. But this is to be noted, That ’tis not the Motions of the Druggs, but the Motion of the Humours, which the Druggs occasion to flow; and not only to flow, but to flow after such or such a manner and way.

The Actions of Druggs, are like the Actions of Hounds, or Hawks, that flye at a particular Bird, or run after a particular beast of their own kind, although of a different sort: The only difference is, That Druggs are not only of a different sort, but of a different Kind from Animal Kind; at least, from Human Sort.

CHAP. XXII. Of the Various Humours of Druggs.

The reason, one and the same Quantity or Dose of one and the same sort of Purging-Druggs or Medicine, will often work differently in several Human Bodies; as also, differently in one and the same Body, at several times of taking the same sorts of Medicines; is, That several Parts of one and the same sort, may be differently humoured: as, some to be duller and slower than others; and some to be more active than others.

Also, some Parts may be ill-natured, and cause Factions amongst the Parts of the Body; whereas others will endeavour to rectifie Disorders, or Factions. And sometimes both the Druggs, and the Body, falls out; and then there is a dangerous strife; the Body striving to expel the Physick, and the Physick endeavouring to stay in the Body, to do the Body some mischief. Also, some Parts of one and the same sort, may be so Irregular, as to hunt not only the superfluous Humours, or the Malignant Humors, but all sorts of flowing Parts; which may cause so great and general Disorder, as may endanger Human Life.

This is the theory of light by the Duchess, and look out, Isaac Newton. Because she can see Light, with her senses, Light must be heavier than air, which she can’t see.

Mostly, though, she’s saving it up for a bravura show of the world’s most weird lights, because those are the good ones, and the most fun to think about.


Water, Air, Fire, and Light; are all Rare and Fluid Creatures; but they are of different sorts of Rarities and Fluities: and, though Light seems to be extreamly Rare and Fluid; yet, Light is not so Rare and Fluid, as pure Air is, because it is subject to that sort of Human Perception we name _Sight_; but yet, it is not subject to any of the other Perceptions: and, pure Air is only subject to the Perception of Respiration, which seems to be a more subtil Perception than Sight; and that occasions me to believe, That Air is more Rare and Pure, than Light: but howsoever, I conceive the Figurative Motions of Light, to be extraordinary even, smooth, agil Lines of Corporeal Motions: but, as I said before, there are many sorts of Lights that are not Elemental Lights; as, Glow-worms Tails, Cats Eyes, Rotten Wood, Fish Bones, and that Human Light which is made in Dreams, and Infinite other Lights, not subject to our Perception: which proves, That Light may be without Heat.

But, whether the Light of the Sun, which we name _Natural Light_, is naturally hot, may be a dispute: for, many times, the Night is hotter than the Day.

Here the Duchess creeps up on important matters later tackled by Darwin’s theory of evolution. But she resolves it in a very neat way: “Confusion” is impossible. In other words, if the Duchess Margaret Cavendish is confused or baffled by some scientific problem, it just can’t be a genuine problem at all; if she’s not able to comprehend or explain it with her philosophizing, then it can’t even exist, for the universe wouldn’t allow that.

CHAP. X. The Reason of several kinds and sorts of Creatures.

Some may ask, _Why there are such sorts of Creatures, as we perceive there are, and not other sorts?_ I answer, That, ’tis probable, we do not perceive all the several kinds and sorts of Creatures in Nature: In truth, it is impossible (if Nature be Infinite) for a Finite to perceive the Infinite varieties of Nature._

Also they may ask, Why the Planets are of a Spherical Shape, and Human Creatures are of an Upright shape, and Beasts of a Bending and stooping shape? Also, Why Birds are made to flye, and not Beasts? And for what Cause, or Design, have Animals such and such sorts of shapes and properties? And Vegetables such and such sorts of shapes and properties? And so of Minerals and Elements?_

I answer; That several sorts, kinds, and differences of Particulars, causes Order, by reason it causes Distinctions: for, if all Creatures were alike, it would cause a Confusion.

After much earnest toil setting the scientific world aright, the Duchess finally allows herself to get to the part she really enjoys, which is just making up fantastic worlds.

It’s a pity that this anachronistic eccentricity of hers didn’t catch on in the world of speculative literature of the late 1600s, because she’s good at it. She doesn’t claim that her imaginary worlds actually exist, she’s not Swedenborg, and, since they are logical extremes of her postulations, she thinks maybe they are Heaven and Hell. But she wouldn’t state that, because she knows it’s theologically rash; that is, like, Giordano Bruno territory, and might get her in trouble.

Still, she’s a serious artist of imaginary world-building, so her inspiration grips her in these passages and she really bears down. She’s not saying that there are fairy-worlds someplace far away, she’s saying something much more intense and genuinely science-fictional: that our existence has the capacity to be radically otherwise, that the most basic building blocks of this world are contingent and could be knocked away, and that those worlds, to their inhabitants, would be just as authentic as our own.

CHAP. XIV. Of Different WORLDS.

Tis probable if Nature be Infinite, there are several kinds and sorts of those Species, Societies, or Creatures, we name _Worlds_; which may be so different from the Frame, Form, Species, and Properties of this World, and the Creatures of this World, as not to be any ways like this World, or the Creatures in this World.

But mistake me not, (((this is a favorite phrase of the Duchess, a nervous tic of sorts, and I wonder why))) I do not mean, not like this World, as it is Material and Self-moving; but, not of the same Species, or Properties: as for example, That they have not such kind of Creatures, or their Properties, as Light, Darkness, Heat, Cold, Dry, Wet, Soft, Hard, Leight, Heavy, and the like.

But some may say, _That is impossible: for, there can be no World, but must be either Light or Dark, Hot or Cold, Dry or Wet, Soft or Hard, Heavy or Leight; and the like_.

I answer, That though those Effects may be generally beneficial to most of the Creatures in this World; yet, not to all the Parts of the World: as for example, Though Light is beneficial to the Eyes of Animals; yet, to no other Part of an Animal Creature. And, though Darkness is obstructive to the Eyes of Animals; yet, to no other Parts of an Animal Creature.

Also, Air is no proper Object for any of the Human Parts, but Respiration. So Cold and Heat, are no proper Objects for any Part of a Human Creature, but only the Pores, which are the Organs of Touch.

The like may be said for Hard and Soft, Dry and Wet: and since they are not Fundamental actions of Nature, but Particular, I cannot believe, but that there may be such Worlds, or Creatures, as may have no use of Light, Darkness, and the like: for, if some Parts of this World need them not, nor are any ways beneficial to them, (as I formerly proved) surely a whole World may be, and subsist without them: for these Properties, though they may be proper for the Form or Species of this World; yet, they may be no ways proper for the Species of another kind or sort of World: as for example, The Properties of a Human Creature are quite different from other kinds of Creatures; the like may be of different Worlds: but, in all Material Worlds, there are Self-moving Parts, which is the cause there is self-joyning, uniting, and composing; self dividing, or dissolving; self-regularities, and self-irregularities: also, there is Perception amongst the Parts or Creatures of Nature; and what Worlds or Creatures soever are in Nature, they have Sense and Reason, Life and Knowledg: but, for Light and Darkness, Hot and Cold, Soft and Hard, Leight and Heavy, Dry and Wet, and the like; they are all but particular actions of particular Corporeal Species, or Creatures, which are finite, and not infinite: and certainly, there may be, in Nature, other Worlds as full of varieties, and as glorious and beautiful as this World; and are, and may be more glorious or beautiful, as also, more full of variety than this World, and yet be quite different in all kinds and sorts, from this World: for, this is to be noted, That the different kinds and sorts of Species, or Creatures, do not make Particulars more or less perfect, but according to their kind.

And one thing I desire, That my _Readers_ would not mistake my meaning, when I say, _The Parts dissolve_: for, I do not mean, that Matter dissolves; but, that their particular Societies dissolve.

And here comes speculative world number one, “the Regular World,” a Duchess Margaret Cavendish sci-fi utopia, where every aspect of existence is neatly regulated, and therefore as good as it is possible for existence to get.

CHAP. IX. Of the Excellency and Happiness of the Creatures of the Regular World.

The Parts of my Mind could not possibly, being Parts of a Purgatory World, conceive the happy condition of all Creatures in the Regular World; but only, conceiving there was no Irregularities, they did also conceive, that all Creatures there, must be in perfection; and that the Elemental Creatures were purer, without drossie mixtures; so that their Earth must needs be so fruitful, that it produces all sorts of excellent Vegetables, without the help of Art; and their Minerals as pure, as all sorts of Stone that are transparent, and as hard as Diamonds; the Gold and Silver, more pure than that which is refined in our World. The truth is, that, in their Opinions, the meanest sorts of Metal in the Regular World, were more pure than the richest sort in this World: so that then, their richest Metal must be as far beyond ours, as our Gold is beyond our Iron, or Lead.

As for the Elemental Waters in the Regular World, they must be extraordinary smooth, clear, flowing, fresh, and sweet; and the Elemental Air only, a most pure, clear, and glorious Light; so that there could be no need of a Sun: and, by reason all the Air was a Light, there could be no Darkness; and so, no need of a Moon, or Starrs.

The Elemental Fire, although it was Hot, yet it was not Burning. Also, there could neither be scorching Heats, nor freezing Colds, Storms, nor Tempest: for, all Excess is irregular. Neither could there be Clouds, because no Vapours.

But, not to be tedious; it was my Mind’s Opinion, That all the Parts of the Happy World, being Regular, they could not obstruct each other’s Designs or Actions; which might be a cause, that both the Sensitive and Rational Parts may not only make their Societies more curious, and their Perceptions more perfect; but their Perceptions more subtile: for, all the actions of that World being Regular, must needs be exact and perfect; in so much, that every Creature is a perfect Object to each other; and so every Creature must have, in some sort, a perfect Knowledg of each other.

CHAP. XI. Of Human Creatures in the Regular World.

The Opinion of my Mind, was, That the _Happy World_, having no Irregularities, all Creatures must needs be Excellent, and most Perfect, according to their Kind and Sort; amongst which, are Human Creatures, whose Kinds, or Sorts, being of the Best, must be more excellent than the rest, being Exactly formed, and Beautifully produced: there being, also, no Irregularities, Human Creatures cannot be subject to Pains, Sickness, Aversions, or the like; or, to Trepidations, or Troubles; neither can their Appetites, or Passions, be irregular: wherefore, their Understanding is more clear, their Judgments more poysed: and by reason their Food is Pure, it must be Delicious, as being most tastable: also, it must be wholsome, and nourishing; which occasions the Parts of Body and Mind, to be more Lively and Pleasant.

CHAP. XII. Of the Happiness of Human Creatures in the Material World.

The Happiness that Human Creatures have in the _Regular World_, is, That they are free from any kind or sort of Disturbance, by reason there are no Irregular Actions; and so, no Pride, Ambition, Faction, Malice, Envy, Suspition, Jealousie, Spight, Anger, Covetousness, Hatred, or the like; all which, are Irregular Actions among the Rational Parts: which occasions Treachery, Slander, false Accusations, Quarrels, Divisions, Warr, and Destruction; which proceeds from the Irregularities of the Sensitive Parts, occasioned by the Rational, by reason the Sense executes the Mind’s Designs: but, there are no Plots or Intrigues, neither in their State, nor upon their Stage; because, though they may act the parts of Harmless Pleasures; yet, not of Deceitful Designs: for, all Human Creatures, live in the Regular World, so united, that all the particular Human Societies, (which are particular Human Creatures) live as if they were but one Soul, and Body; that is, as if they were but one Part, or particular Creature.

As for their pleasures, and pleasant Pastimes; in my opinion, they are such, as not any Creature can express, unless they were of that World, or Heaven: for, all kinds and sorts of Creatures, and all their Properties or Associations, in this World we are of, are mixt; as, partly Irregular; and partly, Regular; and so it is but a _Purgatory-World_. But surely, all Human Creatures of that World, are so pleasant and delightful to each other, as to cause a general Happiness.

And, finally, the second, dystopian world of the Duchess, which is naturally a lot more interesting, since it has conflict and drama.

CHAP. I. Of the Irregular World.

After the Arguments and Opinions amongst the Parts of my Mind, concerning a Regular World; their Discourse was, of an _Irregular World_: Upon which they all agreed, That if there was a World that was not in any kind or sort, Irregular; there must be a World that was not in any kind or sort, Regular. But, to conceive those Irregularities that are in the Irregular World, is impossible; much less, to express them: for, it is more difficult to express Irregularities, than Regularities: and what Human Creature of this World, can express a particular Confusion, much less a World of Confusions? (((This is an ancestor of the Vernor Vinge “Singularity” problem: no human creature has the mental capacity to describe the post-Singularity.)))

Which I will, however, endeavour to declare, according to the Philosophical Opinions of the Parts of my Mind. (((The Duchess, following her philosophy, insists throughout the book that her own mind is made of a society of distinct components, so that the book’s narrator is not one authoress but a scientific debating society.)))

CHAP. II. Of the Productions and Dissolutions of the Creatures of theIrregular World.

According to the Actions of Nature, all Creatures are produced by the Associations of Parts, into particular Societies, which we name, _Particular Creatures_: but, the Productions of the Parts of the Irregular World, are so Irregular, that all Creatures of that World are Monstrous: neither can there be any orderly or distinct kinds and sorts; by reason that Order and Distinction, are Regularities.

Wherefore, every particular Creature of that World, hath a monstrous and different Form; insomuch, that all the several Particulars are affrighted at the Perception of each other: yet, being Parts of Nature, they must associate; but, their Associations are after a confused and perturbed manner, much after the manner of Whirlwinds, or _Aetherial Globes_, wherein can neither be Order, nor Method: and, after the same manner as they are produced, so are they dissolved: so that, their _Births_ and _Deaths_ are _Storms_, and their _Lives_ are _Torments_. (((These radically fluid and scary Cavendish entities are something like the “Formless Spawn of Tsathoggua” in the Cthulhu Mythos, or Hans Moravec’s post-Singularity AI “bush-robots”.)))

CHAP. III. Of Animals, and of Humans, in the Irregular World.

It has been declared in the former Chapter, _That there was not any perfect Kind or Sort of Creatures in the Irregular World_: for, though there be such Creatures as we name Animals; and amongst Animals, Humans: yet, they are so Monstrous, that, being of confused Shapes, or Forms, none of those Animal Creatures can be said to be of such, or such a sort; because they are of different disordered Forms. Also, they cannot be said to be of a perfect Animal-kind, or any Kind; by reason of the variety of their Forms: for, those that are of the nature of Animals, especially of Humans, are the most miserable and unhappy of all the Creatures of that World; and the Misery is, That Death doth not help them: for, Nature being a perpetual Motion, there is no rest either alive or dead. In this World, it’s true, some Societies (_viz._ some Creatures) may, sometimes, after their Dissolutions, be united into more Happy Societies, or Forms; which, in the Irregular World, is impossible; because all Forms, Creatures, or Societies, are miserable: so that, after dissolution, those dispersed Parts cannot joyn to any other Society, but what is as bad as the former; and so those Creatures may dissolve out of one Misery, and unite into another; but cannot be released from Misery.

CHAP. IV. Of Objects, and Perceptions.

The Opinions amongst the Parts of my Mind, were, That in the Unhappy, or Miserable World, all the actions of that World, being irregular, it must needs be, that all sorts of Perceptions of that World, must also be irregular: not only because the Objects are all irregular; but, the perceptive actions are so too; in such manner, that, what with the irregularity of the Objects, and the irregularity of the Perceptions, it must, of necessity, cause a horrid confusion, both of the Sensitive and Rational Parts of all Creatures of that World, in so much, that not only several Creatures may appear as several Devils to each other; but, one and the same Creature may appear, both to the Sense and Reason, like several Devils, at several times.

CHAP. V. The Description of the Globe of the Irregular World.

The Opinion of my Mind was, That the Globe of the Irregular World was so irregular, that it was a Horrid World: for though, being a World, it might be somewhat like other Worlds, both Globous, and a Society of itself, by its own Parts; and therefore might have that which we name _Earth, Air, Water_, and _Fire_: but, for Sun-light, Moon-light, Starr-light, and the like, they are not parts of the World they appear to; and are Worlds of themselves.

But, there can be no such Appearances in the Irregular World: for, the Irregularities do obstruct all such Appearances; and the Elemental Parts (if I may name them so) are as irregular, and therefore as horrid as can be: so that it is probable, that the Elemental Fire is not a bright shining Fire, but a dull, dead Fire, which hath the Effects of a strong Corrosive Fire, which never actually Heats, but actually Burns; so that some Creatures may both freeze and burn at once.

As for the Earth of that World, it is probable that it is like corrupted Sores, by reason all Corruptions are produced by Irregular Motions; from which Corruptions, may proceed such stinking Foggs, as may be as far beyond the scent of Brimstone, or any the worst of Scents that are in this World, as _Spanish_ or _Roman_ Perfumes, or Essences, are beyond the scent of Carion, or _Assafoetida_; which causes all Creatures (of Airy Substances) that breathe, to be so infected, as to appear like Poysoned Bodies.

As for their Elemental Water, ’tis probable, that it is as black as Ink, as bitter as Gaul, as sharp as _Aquafortis_, and as Salt as Brine, mixt irregularly together, by reason the Waters there, must needs be very troubled Waters.

As for the Elemental Air, I shall declare the Opinion of my Rational Parts, in the following Chapter. (((She needs a chapter break. It must have taken at least a whole day to compose that, because that was some tough speculative work.)))

CHAP. VI. Of the Elemental Air, and Light of the Irregular WORLD.

’Tis probable, that the Elemental Air of the Irregular World, is neither perfectly Dark, nor perfectly Light; for, either would be, in some part or kind, a Perfection or Regularity: but, being irregular, it must be a perturbed Air; and, being perturbed, it is probable it produces several Colours.

But, mistake me not, (((I’m guessing that the Duchess, from her very girlhood, was an easy woman to be mistaken about))) I do not mean such Colours as are made by perturbed Light; but, such as are made by perturbed Air: and, through the Excess of Irregularities, may be Horrid Colours; and, by reason of the _Aetherial_ whirling Motions, which are Circular Motions, the Air may be of the colour of Blood, a very horrid Colour to some sorts of Creatures: but ’tis probable, this Bloody Colour is not of a pure Bloody Colour, but of a corrupted Bloody Colour: and so the Light of the Irregular World, may, probably, be of a corrupt Bloody Colour: but, by the several Irregular Motions, it may be, at several times, of several corrupted Bloody Colours: and by reason there are no intermissions of _Air_, there can be no intermissions of this _Light_, in the Irregular World.

CHAP. VII. Of Storms, and Tempests, in the Irregular World.

As for _Storms_, and _Tempests_, and such irregular Weather, ’tis probable (((it’s great that the Duchess estimates the statistical likelihood of her speculations, and doesn’t simply prophesy, ex cathedra))) there are continual Winds and Thunders, caused by the disturbance of the Air; and those Storms and Tempests, being irregular, must needs be violent, and therefore very horrid.

There may also be Lightnings, but they are not such as those that are of a fiery colour; but such as are like the colour of Fire and Blood mixt together. As for Rain, being occasioned by the Vapours from the Earth and Waters, it is according as those Vapours gather into Clouds: but, when there is Thunder, it must needs be violent.

CHAP. VIII. Of the several Seasons, or rather, of the several Tempers in the Irregular World.

As for _several Seasons_; there can be no constant Season, because there is no Regularity; but rather, a great Irregularity, and Violence, in all Tempers and Seasons; for there is no mean Degree: and surely, their Freezing is as sharp and corroding, as their Corrosive-Burnings; and it is probable, that the Ice and Snow in that world, are not as in this world, _viz._ the Ice to be clear, and the Snow white; because there the water is a troubled, and black water; so that the Snow is black, and the Ice also black; not clear, or like black polished Marble; but ’tis probable, that the Snow is like black Wool; and the Ice, like unpolished black Stone; not for Solidity, but for Colour and Roughness. (((Dystopian climate-crisis of the 1600s.)))

CHAP. IX. The Conclusion of the Irregular and Unhappy or Cursed World.

I have declared in my former Chapter, concerning the _Irregular World_, That there could not be any exact, or perfect kind or sort, because of the Irregularities; not that there is not Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, and Elemental Actions, and so not such Creatures; but, by reason of the Irregularities, they are strangely mixt and disordered, so that every Particular seems to be of a different Kind, or sort, being not any ways like each other; and yet, may have the nature of such Kinds, and Sorts, by reason they are Natural Creatures, although irregularly Natural: but, those irregular Natural Creatures, cannot chuse, by the former Descriptions, but be Unhappy, having, in no sort or kind, Pleasure, or Ease: and for such Creatures that have such Perceptions as are any way like ours, they are most Miserable: for, by the Sense of Touch, they freeze and burn: by the sense of Tast, they have Nauseousness, and Hunger, being not satisfied: by the sense of Scent, they are suffocated, by reason of irregular Respiration: by the sense of Hearing, and sense of Seeing, they have all the horrid Sounds and Sights, that can be in Nature: the Rational Parts are, as if they were all distracted or mad; and the Sensitive Parts tormented with Pains, Aversions, Sicknesses, and Deformities; all which is caused through the Irregular Actions of the Parts of the Irregular World; so that the Actions of all sorts of Creatures, are Violent, and Irregular.

But, to conclude ((( and a good thing, too, because that episode was heavy))): As all the Creatures of our World, were made for the Benefit of Human Creatures; so, ’tis probable, all the Creatures of the Irregular World, were produced for the Torment and Confusion of Human Creatures in that World.

So was Margaret Cavendish the world’s first science fiction writer? I won’t make a judgement here, but I’m intrigued by the look on the face of her husband, in their dual portrait, where he, as lord and master, is the center of the composition, but she outshines him by an order of magnitude. He’s got the look I see commonly on people who marry science fiction writers: the look of the carbon rod in the nuclear pile. She may not be the mother of us all, but the Duke of Newcastle may well have been the first science fiction writer spouse.


“Grounds of Natural Philosophy,” a work by Margaret Lucas Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1623–1673).



The Second Edition, much altered from the First, which went under the Name of PHILOSOPHICAL AND PHYSICAL OPINIONS

Written by the Thrice Noble, Illustrious, and Excellent Princess,



Printed by A. Maxwell, in the Year 1668.


The First Part.

I. Of Matter

II. Of Motion

III. Of the Degrees of Matter

IV. Of _Vacuum_

V. The difference of the two Self-moving Parts of Matter

VI. Of dividing and uniting of Parts

VII. Of Life and Knowledg

VIII. Of Nature’s Knowledg, and Perception

IX. Of Perception in general

X. Of double Perception

XI. Whether the Triumphant Parts can be perceived distinctly from each other

XII. Whether Nature can know her self, or have an absolute Power of herself, or have an exact Figure

XIII. Nature cannot judg herself

XIV. Nature poyses or balances her Actions

XV. Whether there be degrees of Corporal Strength

XVI. Of Effects and Cause

XVII. Of Influence

XVIII. Of Fortune and Chance

XIX. Of Time and Eternity

The Second Part.

I. Of Creatures

II. Of Knowledg and Perception of different kinds and sorts of Creatures

III. Of Perception of Parts, and united Perception

IV. Whether the Rational and Sensitive Parts, have a Perception of each other

V. Of Thoughts, and the whole Mind of a Creature

VI. Whether the Mind of one Creature, can perceive the Mind of another Creature

VII. Of Perception, and Conception

VIII. Of Human Supposition

IX. Of Information between several Creatures

X. The reason of several kinds and sorts of Creatures

XI. Of the several Properties of several kinds and sorts of Creatures

The Third Part.

Chap. 1. to 7. Of Productions in general

VIII. Productions must partake of some parts of their Producers

IX. Of Resemblances of several Off-springs, or Producers

X. Of the several appearances of the Exterior parts of one Creature

The Fourth Part.

I. Of Animal Productions, and of the difference between Productions and Transformations

II. Of different Figurative Motions in Man’s production

III. Of the Quickning of a Child, or any other sort of Animal Creatures

IV. Of the Birth of a Child

V. Of Mischances, or Miscarriages of Breeding-Creatures

VI. Of the encrease of Growth and Strength of Mankind, or such like


VII. Of the several properties of the several exterior shapes of several sorts of Animals

VIII. Of the Dividing and Uniting parts of a particular Creature

The Fifth Part.

I. Of Man

II. Of the variety of Man’s Natural Motions

III. Of Man’s Shape and Speech

IV. Of the several Figurative Parts of human Creatures

V. Of the several perceptions amongst the several parts of Man

VI. Of divided and composed Perceptions

VII. Of the ignorances of the several perceptive Organs

VIII. Of the particular and general perceptions of the exterior parts

of human Creatures

IX. Of the exterior Sensitive Organs of human Creatures

X. Of the Rational parts of the human Organs

XI. Of the difference between the human Conception, and Perception

XII. Of the several varieties of Actions of human Creatures

XIII. Of the manner of information between the Rational and Sensitive parts

XIV. Of irregularities and regularities of the Restoring-parts of human Creatures

XV. Of the agreeing and disagreeing of the Sensitive and Rational parts of human Creatures

XVI. Of the power of the Rational; or rather, of the indulgency of the Sensitive

XVII. Of human Appetites and Passions

XVIII. Of the Rational actions of the Head and Heart of human Creatures

XIX. Of Passions and Imaginations

XX. That Associations, Divisions, and Alterations, cause several Effects

XXI. Of the differences between Self-love, and Passionate love

The Sixth Part.

I. Of the Motions of some parts of the Mind, and of Forrein Objects

II. Of the Motions of some parts of the Mind

III. Of the Motions of human Passions and Appetites; as also, of the Motions of the Rational and Sensitive parts, towards Forrein Objects

IV. Of the Repetitions of the Sensitive and Rational actions

V. Of the passionate Love, and sympathetical Endeavours, amongst the

Associate parts of a human Creature

VI. Of Acquaintance

VII. Of the Effects of Forrein Objects of the Sensitive Body; and of the Rational Mind of a human Creature

VIII. Of the advantage and disadvantage of the Encounters of several Creatures

IX. That all human Creatures have the like kind and sorts of properties

X. Of the singularity of the Sensitive, and of the Rational Corporeal Motions

XI. Of the Knowledg between the Sensitive Organs of a human Creature

XII. Of human perception, or defects of a human Creature

XIII. Of Natural Fools

The Seventh Part.

I. Of the Sensitive actions of Sleeping and Waking

II. Of Sleeping

III. Of human Dreams

IV. Of the actions of Dreams

V. Whether the interior parts of a human Creature, do sleep

VI. Whether all the Creatures in Nature, have sleeping and waking-actions

VII. Of human Death

VIII. Of the Heat of human Life, and the Cold of human Death

IX. Of the last act of human Life, ibid.

X. Whether a human Creature hath knowledg in death, or not

XI. Whether a Creature may be new formed after a general dissolution

XII. Of Foreknowledg

The Eighth Part.

I. Of the irregularity of Nature’s parts

II. Of the human parts of a human Creature

III. Of human Humors

IV. Of Blood, ibid.

V. Of the Radical humors, or parts

VI. Of expelling malignant disorders in a human Creature

VII. Of human Digestions and Evacuations

VIII. Of Diseases in general

IX. Of the Fundamental Diseases

The Ninth Part.

I. Of Sickness

II. Of Pain

III. Of Dizziness

IV. Of the Brain seeming to turn round in the head

V. Of Weakness

VI. Of Swooning, ibid.

VII. Of Numb and Dead Palsies, or Gangrenes

VIII. Of Madness

IX. The Sensitive and Rational parts may be distinctly mad

X. The parts of the head are not only subject to madness; but also, the

other parts of the body

XI. The Rational and Sensitive parts of a human Creature, are apt to disturb each other

XII. Of Diseases produced by conceit

The Tenth Part.

I. Of Fevers

II. Of the Plague

III. Of the Small-Pox and Measles

IV. Of the intermission of Fevers, or Agues

V. Of Consumptions

VI. Of Dropsies, ibid.

VII. Of Sweating

VIII. Of Coughs

IX. Of Gangrenes

X. Of Cancers and Fistula’s

XI. Of the Gout, ib.

XII. Of the Stone

XII. Of Apoplexies and Lethargies

XIII. Of Epilepsies

XIV. Of Convulsions and Cramps

XV. Of Cholicks, ibid.

XVI. Of Shaking-Palsies

XVII. Of the Muther, Spleen, and Scurvy

XVIII. Of Food or Digestions, ibid.

XIX. Of Surfeits

XX. Of natural Evacuations and Purgings

XXI. Of Purging-Drugs

XXII. Of the various humors of Drugs

XXIII. Of Cordials

XXIV. Of the different actions of the several Sensitive Parts of a

human Creature.

XXV. Of the Antipathy of some human Creatures, to some Forrein


XXVI. Of the Effects of Forrein Objects, on the human Mind, ib.

XXVII. Of Contemplation

XXVIII. Of injecting the Blood of one Animal, into the Veins of another Animal

The Eleventh Part.

I. Of the different Knowledges in different kinds and sorts of Creatures

II. Of the variety of self-actions in particular Creatures

III. Of the variety of Corporeal Motions of one and the same sort and

kind of Motion

IV. Of the variety of particular Creatures, ibid.

V. Of dividing, and rejoyning, or altering exterior figurative Motions

VI. Of different figurative Motions in particular Creatures

VII. Of the alterations of exterior and innate figurative Motions of

several sorts of Creatures

VIII. Of Local Motion

IX. Of several manners or ways of Advantages or Disadvantages

X. Of the actions of some sorts of Creatures, over others

XI. Of Glassie-Bodies

XII. Of Metamorphoses, or Transformations of Animals and Vegetables,

XIII. Of the Life and Death of several Creatures

XIV. Of Circles

XV. Human Creatures cannot so probably treat of other sorts of Creatures, as of their own

The Twelfth Part.

I. Of the equality of Elements

II. Of several Tempers

III. Of the change and rechange; and of dividing of the parts of the Elements

IV. Of the innate figurative Motions of Earth

V. Of the figurative Motions of Air, ibid.

VI. Of the innate figurative Motions of Fire

VII. Of the productions of Elemental Fire

VIII. Of Flame

IX. Of the two sorts of Fire most different, ibid.

X. Of Dead or Dull Fires

XI. Of the occasional Actions of Fire

XII. Fire hath not the property to change and rechange

XIII. Of the innate figurative Motions of Water

XIV. The nature or property of Water

XV. Of the alteration of the exterior figurative motion of Water

XVI. Of Oyl of Vitriol, ibid.

XVII. Of Mineral and Sulphurous Waters

XVIII. The cause of the Ebbing and Flowing of the Sea

XIX. Of Overflows

XX. Of the Figure of Ice and Snow

XXI. Of the change and rechange of Water

XXII. Of Water quenching Fire, and Fire evaporating Water

XXIII. Of inflamable Liquors

XXIV. Of Thunder

XXV. Of Vapour, Smoak, Wind and Clouds

XXVI. Of Wind

XXVII. Of Light

XXVIII. Of Darkness

XXIX. Of Colours

XXX. Of the Exterior Motions of the Planets

XXXI. Of the Sun, and Planets, and Seasons

XXXII. Of Air corrupting dead Bodies.

The Thirteenth Part.

I. Of the innate figurative Motions of Metal

II. Of the melting of Metals

III. Of Burning, Melting, Boyling, and Evaporating

IV. Of Stone

V. Of the Loadstone

VI. Of Bodies apt to ascend, or descend

VII. Why heavy Bodies descend more forcibly than leight Bodies ascend,

VIII. Of several sorts of Densities and Rarities, Gravities, and Levities

IX. Of Vegetables

X. Of the production of Vegetables

XI. Of replanting Vegetables


The First Part.

I. Whether there can be a Substance that is not a Body

II. Of an Immaterial

III. Whether an Immaterial be perceivable

IV. Of the Difference between GOD and Nature

V. All the Parts of Nature, worship GOD, ibid.

VI. Whether GOD’s Decrees are limited

VII. Of GOD’s Decrees concerning the particular Parts of Nature

VIII. Of the Ten Commandments

IX. Of several Religions

X. Of Rules and Prescriptions

XI. Sins and Punishments are material

XII. Of human Conscience

The Second Part.

I. Whether it is possible there could be Worlds consisting only of the Rational parts, and others only of the Sensitive parts

II. Of Irregular and Regular Worlds

III. Whether there be Egress and Regress between the Parts of several Worlds

IV. Whether the Parts of one and the same Society, could (after their dissolution, meet and unite

V. Whether, if a Creature being dissolved, if it could unite again, would be the same

VI. Of the Resurrection of Human-kind

VII. Of the dissolution of a World

VIII. Of a new Heaven, and a new Earth

IX. Whether there shall be a Material Heaven and Hell, ibid.

X. Concerning the Joys or Torments of the Blessed and Cursed, after they are in Heaven or Hell

The Third Part.

The Preamble.

I. Of the Happy and Miserable Worlds

II. Whether there be such kinds and sorts of Creatures in the Happy and Blessed World, as in this World

III. Of the Births and Deaths of the Heavenly World, ibid.

IV. Whether those Creatures could be named Blessed, that are subject to dye

V. Of the Productions of the Creatures of the Regular World

VI. Whether the Creatures in the Blessed World, do feed and evacuate

VII. Of the Animals, and of the food of the Humans of the Happy World

VIII. Whether it is not irregular for one Creature to feed on another

IX. Of the continuance of life in the Regular World

X. Of the Excellency and Happiness of the Creatures of the Regular World

XI. Of Human Creatures in the Regular World

XII. Of the happiness of human Creatures in the Material World, ibid.

The Fourth Part.

I. Of the Irregular World

II. Of the Productions and Dissolutions of the Creatures of the irregular World

III. Of Animals, and of Humans in the irregular World

IV. Of Objects and Perceptions

V. The Description of the Globe of the irregular World, ibid.

VI. Of the Elemental Air, and Light of the irregular World

VII. Of Storms and Tempests in the irregular World

VIII. Of the several Seasons; or rather, of the several Tempers in the irregular World, ibid.

IX. The Conclusion of the irregular and unhappy, or cursed World

The Fifth Part.

Fifteen Sections concerning Restoring-Beds, or Wombs

The Conclusion

one of the better-known Bruce Sterlings

one of the better-known Bruce Sterlings