Noble and1 Worthy Ladies,
Condemn me not as if I should dishonor2 your sex in3 setting forth this work, for it is4 harmless and free from all dishonesty—I will not say from vanity, for that is so natural to our sex that5 it were unnatural not to be so. Besides, poetry, which is built upon fancy, women may claim as a work belonging most properly to themselves, for I have observed that their brains work usually in a fantastical motion, as in their several and various dresses, in their many and singular choices of clothes and ribbons and the like, in their curious shadowing and mixing of colors, in their wrought works and divers sorts of stitches they employ their needle in,6 and many other7 curious things they make, as flowers, boxes, baskets with beads, shells, silk, straw, or anything else—besides8 all manner of meats to eat. And thus their thoughts are employed perpetually with fancies. For fancy goeth not so much by rule and method, as by choice. And if I have chosen my silk with fresh colors, and matched them in good shadows, although the stitches be not very true, yet it will please the eye; so9 if my writing please the readers, though not the learned, it will satisfy me, for I had rather be praised in this by the most, although not the best. For all I desire is fame, and fame is nothing but a great noise, and noise lives most in a multitude, wherefore I wish my book may set a-work every tongue. But I imagine I shall be censured by my own sex, and men will cast a smile of scorn upon my book, because they think thereby women encroach too much upon men’s10 prerogatives. For they hold books as their crown and the sword as their scepter by which they rule and govern. And very like they will say to me, as to the lady that wrote the romance:11
Work lady, work, let writing books alone,
For surely wiser women ne’er wrote one.
But those that say so shall give me leave to wish that those of nearest relation, as wives, sisters, and daughters, may employ their time no worse than in honest, innocent, and harmless fancies, which if they do, men shall have no cause to fear that when they go abroad in their absence, they shall12 receive an injury by their loose carriages. Neither will women be desirous to gossip abroad when their thoughts are well employed at home. But if they do throw scorn, I shall entreat you to do as13 the woman did in the play, called The Woman’s Prize; or, the Tamer Tam’d,14 which caused many of the female15 sex to help her to keep their right and privileges, making it their own case.16 Therefore pray strengthen my side in defending my book,17 for I know women’s tongues are as sharp as two-edged swords, and wound as much when they are angered. And in this battle may your wit be quick and your speech ready, and your arguments so strong as to beat them out of the field of dispute. So shall I get honor and reputation by your favors, otherwise I may chance to be cast into the fire. But if I burn, I desire to die your martyr. If I live, to be
Your humble servant,
- Noble and] Noble, 1653
- as if I should dishonor] as a dishonour of 1653; as a Dishonour of 1664
- in] for 1653, 1664
- for it is] which is 1668
- that] as 1653, 1664
- needle in,] Needle, 1653
- many other] many 1653
- besides] as also, in 1668
- so] that is, 1664, 1668
- men’s] their 1653, 1664
- romance:] Romancy, 1653, 1664
The “lady who wrote the romance” is Lady Mary Wroth, who wrote the long romance Urania. Lord Denny wrote the couplet quoted here, though Cavendish’s phrasing matches none of the surviving copies; as Whitaker notes, Cavendish is likely paraphrasing from memory. See Whitaker, Mad Madge, 152.
- in their absence, they shall] they shall, in their absence, 1668
- to do as] (as 1653
- play, called The Woman’s Prize; or, the Tamer Tam’d, which] Play of the Wife, for a Month, which 1653
- female] Effeminate 1653
- The reference is to John Fletcher’s play The Woman’s Prize: or, The Tamer Tamed, first printed in Comedies and tragedies written by Francis Beaumont and Iohn Fletcher (London, 1647). The play is a sequel to Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew; where Shakespeare’s play shows a wild woman being subdued by her husband, Tamer Tamed depicts the lead female Maria subduing her husband, largely by withholding sex (perhaps the technique Cavendish is advocating here).
- book,] Books 1668