Thursday, May 29, 2014

by reason knowledg is dividable, as well as composable

Cavendish praised John Evelyn's book Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest Trees (1664), “though it is large through number and variety, yet you have enclosed it with elegancy and eloquence,” which is also her praise of Shakespeare in the Sociable Letters, who could express multiplicity with intelligence. “Shakespear did not want Wit, to express to the Life all Sorts of Persons,” “for who could Describe Cleopatra better than he hath done, and many other Females of his own Creating, as Nan Page, Mrs Page, Mrs Ford, the Doctors Maid, Bettrice, Mrs Quickly, Doll Tearsheet, and others, too many to Relate?” though I would not say that she thought Evelyn was Shakespeare, only that she saw the enclosure of multiplicity as a virtue, and found it when she looked for virtues.

It is this belief in the value of variety that made her an insightful critic, says Fitzmaurice, “The point, again, seems to be variety,” and it seems, when I read her, that she is interested in the multifarious as an idea, and how insistently it appears everywhere in life; she sees it when she looks at herself; she sees the ways she might be and the way she is.

I am that the vulgar calls proud, not out of self-conceit, or to slight or condemn any, but scorning to do a base or mean act, and disdaining rude or unworthy persons; insomuch, that if I should find any that were rude, or too bold, I should be apt to be so passionate, as to affront them, if I can, unless discretion should get betwixt my passion and their boldness, which sometimes perchance it might, if discretion should crowd hard for place. For though I am naturally bashful, yet in such a cause my spirits would be all on fire.

(A True Relation of my Birth, Breeding, and Life)

She is “a coward” but also “valiant;” it depends on the circumstances, she says, and whether a gun has been fired, also, who is in danger, and whether her honour is involved; there are all these possibilities of change in her and why omit any; she is interested in everything that she could be, or else it erupts into her and she needs to make a record, or she allows it to erupt and follows a style that encourages eruption.

“The Empress confessed that she observed Nature was infinitely various in her works” in The Blazing World and her sentences often swell themselves with multitudes of words around one theme, “an Elephant seemed no bigger then a Flea; a Camel no bigger then a Lowse; and an Ostrich no bigger then a Mite,” “the Spider-men, which were her Mathematicians, the Lice-men which were her Geometricians, and the Magpie- Parrot- and Jackdaw-men, which were her Orators and Logicians,” “the Earth is a warm, fruitful, quiet, safe, and happy habitation,” “the Women, which generally had quick wits, subtile conceptions, clear understandings, and solid judgments;” the whole Blazing World being that way also, a series of discussions around the strange country the Lady-Empress has come into, which is an example of “female rhetoric” a blogger named Celeste argues, not meaning rhetoric performed by females but a style that mounts to a point by conglomeration instead of announcing its thesis directly. “Instead of building a world for the purpose of holding a particular narrative plot, she builds a world with the purpose of simply understanding the full range of its complexity and complications.”

Truly, said the Empress, I do believe that it is with Natural Philosophy, as it is with all other effects of Nature; for no particular knowledg can be perfect, by reason knowledg is dividable, as well as composable; nay, to speak properly, Nature her self cannot boast of any perfection, but God himself; because there are so many irregular motions in Nature, and 'tis but a folly to think that Art should be able to regulate them, since Art it self is, for the most part, irregular.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

to the beautiful obliquities

Woolf and Firth: Charles Lamb would have had to forgive both of them. “I can pardon her [his sister, disguised as “Bridget”] blindness to the beautiful obliquities of the Religio Medici; but she must apologise to me for certain disrespectful insinuations, which she has been pleased to throw out latterly, touching the intellectuals of a dear favourite of mine, of the last century but one—the thrice noble, chaste, and virtuous,—but again somewhat fantastical, and original-brain'd, generous Margaret Newcastle” (Mackery End, in Hertfordshire). Firth acknowledges Lamb's intelligence; Firth praises him.

Certainly his larger sympathy, and keener insight, enabled him to perceive in the style and in the writer those finer qualities which the more conventional judgment of Pepys had refused to recognise.

Lamb is loving, Lamb loves; he inserts her into a discussion of bookbinding where she did not have to be but he will mention her, “thrice noble” again in the Two Races of Men: “the Letters of that princely woman, the thrice noble Margaret Newcastle.” Horace Walpole had an opinion of her: “pedant.” Pepys, as already mentioned, had his opinion, “I do not like her at all.” Walpole had read her works but Pepys had seen her and listened to her speak. Her clothes annoyed him. He thought he had watched one of her plays but it was her husband's play instead. On Wednesday the 18th of March in the year 1668 he looked through one of her books and disliked it, “the ridiculous History of My Lord Newcastle.” Lamb venerated that same book in the early 1800s: “no casket is rich enough, no casing sufficiently durable, to honour and keep safe such a jewel.” “[I]t may be taken for granted that his [Pepys'] recollections of the authoress influenced his judgment of her book,” writes Firth, pointing out, also, that the diarist had been suffering from bad eyes that night. “So to bed, my eyes being very bad.”

Fitzmaurice opens his Introduction to the Garland Sociable Letters with these words: “Over the last three hundred and fifty years, Margaret Cavendish and her writing have elicited a variety of reactions.” There are so many reactions that Firth won't decide between them. He says, “To decide between these conflicting sentences [Pepys', Lamb's, those of “learned bodies” at the University of Cambridge], and expound the precise amount of truth contained in each, would be a tedious and ungrateful task.”

Fitzmaurice lists some of the people I've mentioned as well as a couple of others, Frederic Rowton, for example, who wrote The Female Poets of Great Britain (1853), and Mary Evelyn, Pepys' contemporary, whose word for Cavendish is “rambling,” although it's curious of Fitzmaurice to refer to Evelyn's husband John as “the famous diarist” without quoting him on Cavendish as well. He described her as he saw her on the day when she visited a meeting at the Royal Society, “a mighty pretender to learning.”

John Evelyn is writing on May 30th, 1667, and Pepys, writing on the same day, describes the same event. “I find much company, indeed very much company, in expectation of the Duchesse of Newcastle who had desired to be invited to the Society.” Evelyn says that they showed her experiments and Pepys says so too. Pepys chooses to describe the experiments and Evelyn does not. “Several fine experiments were shown her of colours, loadstones, microscopes, and of liquors among others, of one that did, while she was there, turn a piece of roasted mutton into pure blood, which was very rare.” The Society's minutes for that meeting have the experiments like this: “Dutchess of newcastle intertaynd wth. 1 weighing the air in a glasse Recr. of 9 gallons & 3 pints. which exhausted weighed & opend to let in air weighed 1 ounce & 71 caratts more than when exhausted. Expt. of mixing colours. 3 cold liquors by mixture made hott. 4 water boyle in Rarifying engine . and making a bladder swell 5 bodys floating in medio aquae. 2 marbles separated by 47ll.“

Thursday, May 22, 2014

proceed to general propositions and discourses

What was Woolf thinking of when she wrote “wildest fancies,” I ask myself; what had she read that I haven't, which passage was going through her mind? “[M]any scholars and critics today would agree with Woolf's view that Cavendish lacked discipline,” wrote James Fitzmaurice. C.H. Firth referred to her “facile pen.” When he wanted to criticise her plays he complained that “her characters are mere abstractions, qualities, and humours, uttering the fantastic speeches and quaint conceits which she loved to write.”

Firth's opinions might have affected Woolf's, seeing that he edited at least one of the books that she is reviewing in her essay (The Life of William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, Etc). In fact, stopping and considering, I think his introduction has the answer to my question. Woolf might not have been thinking about a piece of Cavendish. She might have been thinking of this, written by Firth.

… the ponderous tomes on science and philosophy which the Duchess published are entirely valueless. This was not only due to the ignorance of the writings of others, which the Duchess admits, but to the method which she adopted in reasoning on physical science. One of her correspondents, Glanville, points this out to her. "There are two sorts of reasoning," he says, "those that the mind advanceth from its inbred store, such are all metaphysical contemplations; and those natural researches which are raised from experiment and the objects of sense. Now, what I have said about these matters is to tie down the mind in physical things to consider nature as it is, to lay a foundation in sensible collections, and from thence to proceed to general propositions and discourses. So that my aim is that we may arise according to the order of nature, from the exercise of our senses to that of our reason; which indeed is most noble and most perfect when it concludes aright, but not so when it is mistaken; and that it may so conclude and arrive to that perfection it must begin in sense; and the more experiments our reasons have to work on, by so much they are the more likely to be certain in their conclusions, and consequently more perfect in their actings." Whilst the Royal Society and all those to whom the progress of physical science in England during the latter half of the seventeenth century was due were eagerly pursuing the experimental method, the Duchess continued to spin her "metaphysical cogitations" like a spider, as she says, from her own brain.

Which is another way of saying that she was making “wildest fancies” – the wildness especially noticeable by Firth and Woolf because they knew that she was going against the advice of people who were already established in the areas where she wanted to speculate. She rejected them in favour of her personal metaphysics. "I desire all those that are friends to my book to believe that whatsoever is new is my own, which I hope all is; for I never had any guide to direct me, nor intelligence from any authors to advertise me, but writ according to my own natural cogitations." (Preface to Philosophical Opinions (1655), quoted by Firth.) “Her love of singularity amounted to a passion.” (Firth.) Powys again.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

the Chief Figure in my Thoughts, which Expresses Thousands

Cavendish has a lot of logic but it is not argumentative logic; it is wit-logic, and wit-logic was a sign of goodness. When she wrote about wit in the Sociable Letters (1664), it was as if she wrote about intelligence itself. “Wit and Fools can never agree, they understand not one another; Wit flies beyond a Fools conceit or understanding, for Wit is like an Eagle, it hath a strong wing, and flies high and far, and when it doth descend, it knocks a Fool on the head, as an Eagle doth a Dotril, or a Woodcock, or such like Birds; and surely the world was never so fill'd with Fools, as it is in this age […] It is not an age like Augustus Caesar's when Wisdom reign'd and Wit flourished, which was the cause of Plenty & Peace throughout the whole world” (Letter 7).

Wit is a powerful property, wit is enviable, “Wealth, Merit, Power, or Wit,” (Letter 31), “Learning, or Judgment, or Wit, or Conceptions, or Understanding” (Letter 161), “Prudent, Just, Valiant, Generous, Understanding, Judicious, Witty, and Wise” (Letter 135), “Wit and Wisdom” (Letter 79), “for that which is Best and Good, is not General, especially Wit, for the Right True and Best Wit keeps to Particulars, as being Understood by Particulars” (Letter 63). She is never rude about wit.

She is not likely to put Wit next to war, although in other places she will admire a man who is willing to fight; most of the other nouns she sees next to Wit are intangible social assets, mainly Wisdom.

Her wit is Shakespeare-wit, it is word-logical and idea-logical, and with this logic she draws distinctions and she writes like a dance; you restrict yourself with steps and inside those steps you demonstrate your ideas. You are blurred between restriction and expansion. You are dictating the steps, the steps are dictating you, and both things are happening. When the letter-writer wants her recipient to forgive her for not writing when she has no news, she does it with wit: “my Letter will be like a Bladder fill'd with Wind, and not like a Bag fill'd with Gold or Silver; or they will be like Paper that is only fill'd with Cifres, without any Figures; But although my Letters may be as Cifres, yet you, to whom I write, are the Chief Figure in my Thoughts, which Expresses Thousands; indeed, you are as Infinite it self, for your Merits are Numberless, and there is no End of your Goodness, for which Eternal Happiness will be your Reward in Heaven.” (I've lost the letter number.)

She is often witty when she is apologising or depreciating herself (Letter 131).

At other times she will stay with an idea and pile up lists of inventions. In Letter 193 she is going through a freezing winter: "every Hair stands out like a Squadron of Pikes, to Resist Cold's Assault; and Ammunition of Coals serves for Bullets, and Ashes for Power, with great Loggs for Cannons, Billets for Muskets and Carbines, Brush Faggots for Pistols, where the Bellows as Firelocks, makes them fly up in a Flame; also great Pieces of Beef for Ships for Men of War, with Cabbages for Sails, Sausages for Tacklings, Carrots for Guns, and Marrow-Bones for Masts, Ballasted with Pepper, and Pitch'd or Tarr'd with Mustard ...” (Letter 190).

“Some Moders have oftener Wit in their Mouths than in their Brains, that is, they Speak the Wit of Others but have none of their Own” (Letter 63). Wit, for her, is a sign of active imagination. She refutes people who criticise Shakespeare because he writes undignified characters, “Clowns, Fools, Watchmen, and the like” (Letter 123), for

it Expresses and Declares a Greater Wit, to Express and Deliver to Posterity, the Extravagances of Madness, the Subtilty of Knaves, the Ignorance of Clowns, and the Simplicity of Naturals, or the Craft of Feigned Fools, than to express Regularities, Plain Honesty, Courtly Garbs, or Sensible Discourses, for 'tis harder to Express Nonsense than Sense, and Ordinary Conversations than that which is Unusual …

“What Cavendish has to say about Shakespeare is strikingly modern and quite out of keeping with the time in which Sociable Letters was published,” wrote the Cavendish scholar James Fitzmaurice. “Cavendish is not merely the first woman to launch a serious and sustained critique of Shakespeare, she is the first person to do so.” This is from the introduction to the Garland edition of Sociable Letters, 1997. It could be that her love of Wit and the qualities that she sees associated with Wit, have led her to both the Shakespeare critique and the “wildest fancies” observed by Virginia Woolf.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

she canters away on their backs

As I'm reading the Woolf essay about Margaret Cavendish I remember George Eliot's Silly Novels by Lady Novelists, though there is not complete similarity between those two pieces of writing but primarily the idea of a writer, a woman, indicating that some other writers, who are also women, could be sharper than they are -- Eliot saying it like this, circa 1856: “In the majority of woman's books you see that kind of facility which springs from the absence of any high standard; that fertility in imbecile combination or feeble imitation which a little self-criticism would check and reduce to barrenness; just as with a total want of musical ear people will sing out of tune, while a degree more melodic sensibility would suffice to render them silent” – and Woolf like this about Cavendish: “her native wit, so abundant that outside succour pained it, so honest that it would not accept help from others.”

Order, continuity, the logical development of her argument are all unknown to her. No fears impede her. She has the irresponsibility of a child and the arrogance of a Duchess. The wildest fancies come to her, and she canters away on their backs.

You could substitute John Cowper Powys' name for hers in all of this, I reckon. My mind is still partly on Powys. “Order, continuity, the logical development of his argument are all unknown to him. No fears impede him. He has the irresponsibility of a child and the arrogance of a Duchess. The wildest fancies come to him, and he canters away on their backs.”

Is Woolf right? I haven't read all of Cavendish but none of it, not the parts that I have read, look like the work of someone to whom “order, continuity, the logical development of her argument” are all unknown. Maybe The Blazing World, which hops between ideas, but the ideas are not unexpanded so much as they are short lessons. The Lady Empress asks a question, it is answered, she asks another one, the Worm-men answer her again. The author is aware of the “fantastical” nature of the book, and warns you about it in the introduction, which is not what you do when you arrogantly and irresponsibly expect people to swallow your wildest fancies: “The First Part is Romancical; the Second, Philosophical; and the Third is meerly Fancy; or (as I may call it) Fantastical.”

Her skinned eye in the Queen of Fairies is the result of too much logical development, not too little. If omelettes made “of ant eggs new” and “Glow-worms for candles,” are adorable then a sheet made out of a dove's eye should be adorable too: QED. If it is not adorable then that is not logic's fault. Queen is a sane poem with no imagination and there's the problem with it: too many fairy poems (I say, from my small readings of fairy poems) are reworkings of other fairy poems, and made to avoid the fantastic, not to wrestle with it, Barron Field's Botany Bay Flowers a prime example. The poet, meeting a genuinely unfamiliar set of flowers and trees, ignores the invitation to fruitful ignorance by going down, around, into a familiar formula. “Here” – in Australia --

Queen Mab would have no cause to fear
For her respectable approach,
Lest she could not set up her coach.
Here's a fine grub for a coach-maker,
Good as in Fairy-land Long-Acre;
And very-long-indeed-legg'd spinners,
To make her waggon-spokes, the sinners!

It is the exploitation of little creatures all over again, and why should this insect-slavery, lizard-slavery, flora-slavery be imported to Australia, I ask you, Barron Field (1786 - 1846), who brought it here in your Shakespeare-soaked brain, ah, Queen Mab, ah, how sweet, "Her wagon-spokes made of long spinners' legs," says Mercutio, "Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut | Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub," but can we not leave this shameful habit at home, and let the redbacks and mallee worms run free without pulling coaches and spinning tablecloths and otherwise upholding your savage utilitarian agenda? Fascist. (I think I have argued this one with you on this blog before, dead man.)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

native wit, so abundant that outside succour pained it

Margaret Cavendish is not the first person in literature who has stared at small natural phenomenon, “infinitely various“ -- King Solomon, ages before, staring at a woman's navel but Cavendish treating tiny nature as the subject of her “thy.” “ How beautiful are thy feet with shoes,” Solomon says, and then he describes a monster, “thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus” “thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes,” (Song of Solomon, King James version), piling up these freakish points of interest until it is the dove all over again.

“From the moment an author perceives his ultimate audience as international rather than national, the nature of his writing is bound to change,” writes Tim Parks as he worries about the rise of the global novel and the decrease of the local: “In particular one notes a tendency to remove obstacles to international comprehension. […] Scandinavian writers I know tell me they avoid character names that would be difficult for an English reader.” Then there will be no equivalents of the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus in these Scandinavian authors, and no Las Vegas author will ever write “thine eyes are like the entrance to the Circus Circus,” meaning by implication that they sparkle. For it would be nothing in every other location.

Though in conversation, not prose, you could say, "like North Las Vegas," and the other person would understand that you meant rough and dangerous, geographical exactitude possible when the conversation is so restricted but at the same time so free; where there is no lasting value placed, no paper bought, no rights purchased from the author, and no publisher riding on it.

Say that restriction is needed for this cuddling, all closed, hermetic, beloved, surrounded, cut off; and restriction leading to metaphor, and the tightening circle of accumulated descriptions bringing Cavendish and Solomon to their extravagances, until I wonder if the best place for metaphor and simile would also be the smallest place, maybe a dog kennel, or, as Christina Stead intuited, a family, where in-jokes can be developed, refined and performed over multiple decades for an audience so tiny that no publisher would recognise it.

Alan Marshall took from Solomon when he wanted to give a name to his book about life in a Melbourne shoe factory during the Depression, How Beautiful Are Thy Feet (1949), leaving off the word that the rest of the book would supply – shoes -- he relies on the reader's attention to detail to complete the line which will run into the book, or the book runs on from the line. Pinter, in his Nobel speech, said that one of his plays came out of the word "Dark," and another one came out of "Scissors," so there is evidence of attention to detail being rewarded. I was interested enough in “fondling the details” (Tom at Wuthering Expectations, quoting Nabokov, though myself not doing it the way he means it) to look up the place where Marshall genuinely worked: the Trueform Boot Factory at 43 Groom Street in Collingwood. Now flats. There must have been jokes about him working there, a one-legged man. Woolf disparages Cavendish's curiosity, or not the curiosity per se but the unrigorous pursuit of her conclusions.

She has only seen Des Cartes and Hobbes, not questioned them; she did indeed ask Mr. Hobbes to dinner, but he could not come; she often does not listen to a word that is said to her; she does not know any French, though she lived abroad for five years; she has only read the old philosophers in Mr. Stanley’s account of them; of Des Cartes she has read but half of his work on Passion; and of Hobbes only “the little book called De Cive”, all of which is infinitely to the credit of her native wit, so abundant that outside succour pained it, so honest that it would not accept help from others.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

sharp, much like a blade

Two weeks or so ago a footy player got whacked in the face during a game and my thoughts about Margaret Cavendish's dove have met up with the image of his streaming head, blood down the left cheek in the form (I thought, when I saw it) of an ankh, though it might just have been the tail of the stream running over the cheekbone, yet I thought of an ankh, and then, when I read about the dove, I considered the round-eyed dove and the footy player's blood-ankh together in the same impression, not superimposed, just existing, the way that books themselves can coexist in the space that is not a space, either before or after they have been read, so that Clarissa, which I am finishing at the moment, existed before I had read it, in the form of a large square brick with a specific painting on the front, which means that I must have seen a copy of it at some point with that picture.

And while it has been read it has been existing in an increasing number of forms, and finally it will exist in many forms which it did not have before.

Things mate themselves with other things promiscuously and what a horror it is that this is achieved; what strange biological functions we undergo, and why not, then, Margaret Cavendish, conceiving the skinned eye of a dove in tandem with the representative qualities of the dove, daintiness, prettiness, naturalness -- also with a history of poetic metaphor that, by the agreement of all readers, excludes certain qualities of objects being invoked (lips like roses without the thrips, bosoms like snow but still warm) -- and not with the actual mutilation of vulnerable eyeballs. Though vulnerable eyeballs was the way it presented itself to me, even though I could see what she was getting at (daintiness, etc); and still I was not swayed and there is the ankh.

Aptness from her point of view and grotesquerie from mine, even unreasonable concern, as though real heads had been violated somewhere; I developed a strange desire for vegetarian poems that do not put words like “pleasure” and “delight” next to the no doubt brutal deaths of adders, doves, and butterflies, the enslavement of glow-worms and crickets, and the torment of innocent lizards when Queen Mab shoots them in the haunch.

Her bow is of a willow branch,
To shoot the lizard on the haunch:
Her arrow sharp, much like a blade,
Of a rosemary leaf is made.

(you can find the whole poem here, though this version is not the same as the one Woolf read before she wrote her essay. Somebody has been doing some editing somewhere, or else Cavendish wrote two of them.)

But the mutability of little living objects is a scientific idea for her as well as a fantastic one. What is the animal's composition? What is its source?

… Insects whose production proceeds from such causes as have no conformity or likeness with their produced Effects; as for example, Maggots bred out of Cheese, and several others generated out of Earth, Water, and the like. But said the Empress, there is some likeness between Maggots and Cheese; for Cheese has no blood, nor Maggots neither; besides, they have almost the same taste which Cheese has. This proves nothing, answered they; for Maggots have a visible, local, progressive motion, which Cheese hath not. The Empress replied, That when all the Cheese was turned into Maggots, it might be said to have local, progressive motion. They answered, That when the Cheese by its own figurative motions was changed into Maggots, it was no more Cheese. The Empress confessed that she observed Nature was infinitely various in her works.

(The Blazing World)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

on a violet bud her pillow’s laid

I followed the readwomen hashtag earlier this year but they did not discuss Dorothy Wordsworth, nor did they discuss Margaret Cavendish the Duchess of Newcastle, so I gave them up: no ancients for them, no writers who were really dedicated to the idea of being dead, none of those post-even-rotting ones who were most severely (in Chesterton's words) subjected to the tyranny of those who just happen to be walking around.

Too many pulses! Cruel!

The pulse is the drumbeat of tyranny!

Then I'll write something, I thought tyrannously (like Lovelace in Clarissa insisting that he only wants to see Clarissa because he loves her -- poor lady, sighs everybody else while he commits variations on, But I love her, I'm helping): I have read Cavendish's book The Blazing World (1666), and that is enough to make me feel like a thrusting expert, going by the maxim that people who don't know very much are usually the most confident; knowledgeable people recognise the qualifiers and the modifiers.

(Fiction deserves to be full of qualifiers and modifiers, no one knowing the fictional territory better than the person who is creating it, and therefore Henry James is the most correct writer who has ever lived).

The Blazing World begins with a kidnapped Lady, caught in a Tempest, who sails to a land beyond the North Pole, “not onely driven to the very end or point of the Pole of that World, but even to another Pole of another World, which joined close to it,” where she meets Worm-men who talk to her about philosophy and science. “[S]he was made Empress.” Cavendish was thinking of other Ladies. “But, by reason most Ladies take no delight in Philosophical Arguments, I separated some from the mentioned Observations, and caused them to go out by themselves, that I might express my Respects, in presenting to Them such Fancies as my Contemplations did afford.“ She grew up at home with her sisters and her mother – brothers usually off elsewhere, father dead -- shy and loved and loving everyone around her, this family her bedrock as anybody can read in her True Relations of my Birth, Breeding, and Life.

I was so bashful when I was out of my mother's, brothers', and sisters' sight, whose presence used to give me confidence — thinking I could not do amiss whilst any one of them were by, for I knew they would gently reform me if I did; besides, I was ambitious they should approve of my actions and behaviour — that when I was gone from them, I was like one that had no foundation to stand, or guide to direct me, which made me afraid, lest I should wander with ignorance out of the ways of honour, so that I knew not how to behave myself.

She was dreamy. Virginia Woolf, reading the Life, pictured her staring at the ground as she walked and wondering “whether snails have teeth.” “Pictured” is a strange word. The author of The Blazing World is interested in snails, worms, nits, lice, moths and maggots.

The Empress wondring that there could be living Animals without Blood, to be better satisfied, desired the Worm-men to inform her, whether they had observed Blood in all sorts of Worms? They answered, That, as much as they could perceive, some had Blood, and some not; a Moth, said they, had no Blood at all, and a Lowse had, but like a Lobster, a little Vein along her back: Also Nits, Snails, and Maggots, as well as those that are generated out of Cheese and Fruits, as those that are produced out of Flesh, had no blood.

Cavendish was curious, said Woolf, but she was not disciplined, she imagined, she did not reason, she found a thought that interested her and she wandered around with it fancifully; she was interested in fairies, she wrote poems about Queen Mab.

Her bed a cherry stone, is carved throughout,
And with a butterfly’s wing hung about;
Her sheets are of the skin of Dove’s eyes made
Where on a violet bud her pillow’s laid.

How do I not picture the mutilated dove?

Here's another way of putting it: how did the poet not picture the mutilated dove?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

waves broke calmly and indifferently

No more Powys, Powys ended, none after this, even though there are still books by him that I haven't brought up, no mention of Ducdame, because I can't find it, no Homer and the Aether for the same reason (the enervating knowledge that the thing would not be on the shelf if I looked there for it; the stubborn resistance to the idea of buying it on Ebay – no --), no mention of Wood and Stone, or, wait, I'm wrong, I must have mentioned that it was dedicated to Hardy, in one of the posts in which I was saying that Powys indebted himself to Hardy. “All of Powys' fiction began with the description of a hill in Wood and Stone,” is probably what I said, and everything afterwards takes place in the shadow this embarkation, hills recurring in his work, hills in Porius, hills in Owen Glendower, countryside often looming, hills and then the sea, the hint of infinity in the vertical direction and the hint of infinity in the horizontal, Adrian, about to die in Rodmoor, shouting across the sea that separates him from his son.

The long dark line of waves broke calmly and indifferently at his feet, and away — away into the eternal night — stretched the vast expanse of the sea, dim, vague, full of inexpressible, infinite reassurance.

Troubled things happening on beaches, Weymouth Sands opening with trouble on a beach; Powys himself in his Autobiography sneaking often away to a beach to visit the women's legs. I might have posted his description of the hill.

Were it not for the neighbourhood of the more massive promontory this conical protuberance would itself have stood out as an emphatic landmark; but Leo's Hill detracts from its emphasis, as it detracts from the emphasis of all other deviations from the sea-level, between Yeoborough and the foot of the Quantocks.

Probably I compared it to the opening of Titus Groan, seeing that Peake has come up several times in this long series of posts. “John Cowper Powys is difficult to categorize,” reads the blurb for a book named Thomas Hardy and John Cowper Powys: Wessex, by Jeremy Mark Robinson. “We place him (usually) in amongst D.H. Lawrence, Mervyn Peake, Robert Graves, William Blake and Thomas Hardy.” How much do I have in common with “we”? Wessex opens with a quote from Hardy as remembered by the critic William Archer (1856 - 1924): “What are my books but one long plea against “man's inhumanity to man” – to woman – and to the lower animals?” Powys empathises even with the worms, empathising with things that can't use his empathy, like fictional characters and mythological demons, which might be the smallest and lowest kind of animal for if they wriggle away from the grasp of a human then they die, and even a worm can wriggle away from a human and live.