The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 22nd January

Once more, dear friends, there is no one specific for whom to bake a cake. Therefore, I delve again into the seventeenth century in search of someone to celebrate:

Please give a warm welcome to Margaret Lucas Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle 1623 – 15 December 1673.

Portrait of Margaret CavendishMad Madge, as she was known to people emphatically not her friends, was the toast of the ‘blue stockings’ a group of intellectual ladies, much ridiculed, who nonetheless were well-educated for the time and kept each others’ spirits up. Margaret was a scientist, playwright and poet and wrote her autobiography because (amongst other things) she was concerned that as a woman and the wife of a Duke she would be forgotten when she died, as her husband if he still lived would undoubtedly marry again, so there would always be a “Duchess of Newcastle” and she thought she was worth more than that.

Virginia Woolf thought her plays were dire and her poetry dull, but like me, found Margaret’s irrepressible personality bubbles right through. (my words, not VW’s, obviously.)

Margaret confessed to being indifferent to her husband: It was not an amorous love, I never was infected therewith, it is a disease or a passion or both: I only knew by relation, not by experience.

Wrote of a lady ‘sanpareil’ who asked her father to allow her to remain celibate.

It is of no commendation to give them courage and confidence if I cannot give them wit.

Sociable letters

And if we be no citizens in the commonwealth, I know no reason we should be subjects to the commonwealth. (Ibid.)

I think a bad husband is far worse than no husband… and where one husband proves good, as loving and prudent, a thousand prove bad, as cross and spendthrifts…                               (Ibid.)

True it is, our sex make great complaints that men from their first creation usurped a supremacy to themselves, although we were made nature which tyrannical government they have kept ever. So that we could never come to be free, but rather more and more enslaved, using us either like children, fools or subjects, that is, to flatter and threaten us, to allure or force us to obey, and will not let us divide the world equally with them, as to govern and command, to direct and dispose as they do; which slavery has so dejected our spirits as we are become so stupid that beasts are but a degree below us and men use us a degree above beasts.

Preface to the reader, The Worlds Olio.

I have not read much history to inform me of the past ages; indeed I dare not examine the former times, for fear I should meet with such of my sex that have outdone all the glory I can aim at, or hope to attain; for I confess my ambition is restless and not ordinary; because it would have an extraordinary fame.

An epistle to my readers, natures pictures drawn by fancies pencil to the life 1656

A man walking did a lady spy;
to her he went, and when he came hard by,
fair lady, said he, why walk you alone?
Because, said she, my thoughts are then my own.

The effeminate description

I verily believe some censuring readers will scornfully say, why hath this lady writ her own life? Since none cares to know whose daughter she was or whose wife she is, or how she was bred, or what futures she had, or how she lived or what humour or disposition she was of.  I answer that it is true that ’tis to no purpose to the readers, but it is to the authoress, because I wrote it for my sake not theirs.

Women live like bats or owls, labour like beasts, and die like worms.

Nothing mad about Madge.  Seems like a sensible, together lass to me, and welcome to a posset and a pie. One of us? probably not, but fun to be around. I imagine these days she’d be a voluble and valuable blogger, and have her own popular science TV show!

There’s lots of information about M.L.C. on the web, she’s worth pursuing.

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