Thursday, June 5, 2014

the flame is pale, like the Sun, and hath a violent motion in it

On her grave her husband called her “a wise, wittie, and Learned Lady, which her many Bookes do well testifie.” Her philosophy was as good as anybody else's, was his opinion, and it would have been hypocritical of him not to have said so when he also had the “native wit” that would not accept help from others. “ I have lived in the great world a great while, and have thought of what has been brought to me by the senses, more than was put into me by learned discourse; for I do not love to be led by the nose, by authority, and old authors; ipse dixit will not serve my turn," he writes in his memoirs.

She suited him, he suited her, they were both curious and science-minded; he had scientists visit his house and he consulted them.

The sun, no doubt, is a great fire, and must have something to maintain it; but before I deliver my opinion to you, I desire leave to make you a little relation, and it is this: Dr. Payn, a divine, and my chaplain, who hath a very witty searching brain of his own, being at my house at Bolsover, locked up with me in a chamber to make Lapis Prunellae, which is saltpetre and brimstone inflamed, looking at it a while, I said, Mark it, Mr. Payn, the flame is pale, like the Sun, and hath a violent motion in it, like the Sun; saith he, It hath so, and the more to confirm you, says he, look what abundance of little suns, round like a globe, appear to us everywhere, just the same motion as the Sun makes in every one's eyes. So we concluded the Sun could be nothing else but a very solid body of salt and sulphur, inflamed by his own violent motion upon his own axis.

Everything must be made of something, the maggots made of cheese in The Blazing World, the sun made of salt, and the responsibility of the scientist is to discover that origin or that substance. Once there, then what? There is a parody of this in those stories that trace a character's badness to parental neglect at the age of two or Ruskin pretending to blame his absent career on his aunt's cold mutton. Where is that source? What is the behaviour of that source? The scientists in those days asked themselves if a fire atom had the same shape as a water atom, so says Katie Whitaker in her biography of Margaret Cavendish. They argued about light and never spoke again. Light was that heated. Why should cheese “by its own figurative motions” turn into maggots? Whitaker's book is called Mad Madge because the Victorians had that name for her. Weeks ago I read an article which suggested that everything seeks a quantum equilibrium and so hot tea goes cool as it submits to the peer pressure of the air but you would have to “outlive the universe,” the article said, before you were lucky enough to see it defy the world and turn hotter.

Imagine the quantum battle between a warm body and the South Pole, the skin forced to be a battleground in both directions since the landscape does not want to heat up any more than the body wants to cool down, though if there is a chance that the tea could get hotter then there might be a chance (which you would have to more than outlive the universe to see) that the person's body temperature will win the war against the freezing landscape and then it will be hot enough in that place to grow geraniums, the air will be all thirty-two degrees Celsius, though dirt will be a problem then or maybe not, why not dirt spontaneously arriving, the ice transformed to earth, why not; or cheese, and then maggots, the ground bubbling with maggots (which are the gateways to heaven, wrote Yusef Komunyakaa in his Ode to the Maggot, "you | Go to the root of all things. | You are sound & mathematical"), and the person dead by now though still mysteriously warm, unless they have lived forever by mistake.

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