Title: Firmament Composer: FRANCES M LYNCH Words by: Margaret Cavendish Written: May 2020 For: Solo Soprano and Tenor Viol Performed by: Frances M Lynch (voice) and Annabel Malton (tenor viol) First Performed: Online during the Covid-19 Outbreak, 30th May 2020
The text is from her 1671 book Nature’s Pictures:
“Thoughts are like stars in the firmament; some are fixed, others like the wandering planets, others again are only like meteors. Understanding is like the Sun, which gives light to all the thoughts. Memory is like the Moon, it hath its new, its full and its wane.”
Title: A Man That’s Neither High Nor Low Composer: ELIZABETH TURNER Words by: “A Lady” (speech by Margaret Cavendish) Published: 1756 For: Voice, 2 flutes, 2 violins and bass Performed by: Margaret Cameron (mezzo) and Jenny Miller (soprano) with Frances M Lynch realising the instrumental parts on keyboard First Performed: Online during the Covid-19 Outbreak, 30th May 2020
This song was chosen as an interesting way of dramatizing Cavendish’s unusual (for the time) attitudes to men in our imaginary context of two women at a society ball in Essex discussing their view of the perfect man! The singers begin with a conversation made up of some of Cavendish’s own words.
As a girl, her education was only basic, although she chose to browse in libraries and read scholarly books thought more suitable for boys. As an adult, she recruited her brother and her brother-in-law to teach her scientific ideas.
Margaret Cavendish and her husband, William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Portrait attributed to Gonzales Coques (Image from wikimedia commons)
Lady in waiting To escape from her cloistered provincial life, she went to Oxford and then to Paris with the royal court, which was in exile during the republican regime before Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660
Wife to William Cavendish, the first Duke of Newcastle upon Tyne Astutely marrying a rich elderly aristocrat, she devoted her life to writing books that were privately published
Author She wrote prolifically on scientific topics, and is now much admired for her poetry. Perpetually frustrated by being constrained as a woman, she committed her intellectual energy to philosophical thought rather than physical experiments. Unusually, she was brave enough to publish under her own name rather than hiding behind anonymity.
Widely mocked at the time, her writings are now increasingly appreciated for their philosophical insights and her insistence on challenging accepted wisdom.
Constantly developing her ideas, she shocked many people by concluding that nature has a soul, and her profound questions about the nature of life still perplex modern scientists.
Did You Know?
She rejected male supremacy: “Why should we Desire to be Masculine, since our Own Sex and Condition is far the Better?”
But she also believed women had intrinsically inferior bodies, and accepted Aristotle’s pronouncement that they possess cold, wet brains.
High resolution microscopes had recently been invented, but she insisted that there was no point in magnifying a bee unless you could get more honey from it.
Portrait of Margaret Cavendish (Image from wikimedia commons)
An Inspiring Woman
Because she refused to conform, her critics said Cavendish was mad. But she is now often celebrated for thinking critically and having the courage to speak out for what she believed. Ambitious for fame and success, she planned her life strategically and took full advantage of every opportunity she gained. When her husband’s intellectual friends – famous figures such as René Descartes and Thomas Hobbes – refused to engage with her criticisms, she created an imaginary conversation through correspondence. In her novel The Blazing World, a savage satire on the Royal Society, she envisaged a powerful woman ruling over a large empire.