Textual and Editorial Introduction

by Liza Blake

I. A Textual History of Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies
II. Changes between First and Second Editions
III. Editorial Practices (and Explanations)
IV. An Index of All Titles Changed Across Editions

I. A Textual History of Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies

This section gives a textual history of Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies—that is to say, it provides the information I have gleaned over several years of textual bibliographical research on the original printings of the first three editions of Cavendish’s poems. This information is vital as the basis for a proper scholarly critical edition of these poems: unless we know as much as possible about how these poems came to be printed, revised, and annotated, we will not be able to make fully informed editorial decisions. James Fitzmaurice argued in 1993 that Cavendish’s poetry presented a particular editorial challenge for the scholar wishing to undertake a critical edition (that is, an edition based on a textual bibliographical study): “The poetry, of course, will make for a difficult project”—and the difficulty he promises comes from the multiple editions, the copies with Cavendish’s own handwriting in them, and the existence of possible manuscript versions.1 But such bibliographical study is all the more crucial for an edition of these poems, because, as I have shown (and plan to additionally argue elsewhere), Cavendish was actively involved with the production of her texts as books, not only having her works printed, but also seeing her printed books bound, annotated, corrected, and deposited in public and private libraries.2

Though we have surviving handwritten letters by Cavendish and her husband, we have no manuscript versions of any of Cavendish’s printed works. This lack of earlier manuscript versions of texts that went into print is not unusual for the early modern period (printers frequently discarded manuscripts once they had set the type), but it is despite the tantalizing promise of manuscript copies of her poems that perhaps survived into the eighteenth century. The existence of manuscript copies is hinted at in two eighteenth-century manuscript catalogs that list copies of her poems in manuscript in folio. The earliest instance of this rumor that I have been able to trace is from a 1753 book by George Ballard, who writes, “In the library of the late Mr. Thomas Richardson was the Dutchess of Newcastle’s Poems, 2 Vol. Fol. MS. Vid. Richardson’s Cat. p. 50. And in the library of the Bp. Willis was another MS. of her poems in Fol. Vid. Cat. p. 55. Whether ever printed, I know not.”3 Of those two catalogs cited by Ballard, I was only able to track down one, and that only with the help of Folger Librarian Abbie Weinberg: the catalog of Bishop Richard Willis’s library, printed after his death in 1735, which lists as item #1860, “Dutchess of Newcastle’s Poems, MS.”4 What has since happened to this “MS” or manuscript copy of her poems, if indeed this is not a misunderstanding for one of her printed volumes of poetry—is unknown.

In addition to this supposed survival of manuscript copies of her poems, there are also rumors hinting at the survival of earlier manuscript versions of her works (which could be poems or otherwise). Eighteenth-century scholar John Nichols is the earliest source of another Cavendish manuscript rumor, which is that St. John’s College, Cambridge, once held her manuscripts: “The MSS. of the dutchess of Newcastle, I am informed, were given to St. John’s college, Cambridge, where her husband had been a member; and where they are still to be found in good order.”5 However, a search of the college library’s online catalogs and communications with librarians both at the St. John’s College Library and the Cambridge University Library confirms no known manuscripts at either library, nor any record that any such manuscripts existed. We also have no surviving record of the survival of her apparently copious childhood notebooks (or “Baby-Books”), written before she was twelve years of age.6 Letter 131 in the Sociable Letters says that there are (or were?) sixteen of these “Baby-Books,” and that the smallest one contains “two or the [sic, for three?] Quires of Paper” (which Ron Cooley estimates as 50–75 pages of paper each).7

What remains of her poems, then, is only the print versions, of which there are three separate editions: a 1653 first edition, a second, much-revised edition from 1664, and a final edition of 1668, largely a reprint of the 1664 edition but with a small number of additional changes. As part of my census of surviving copies of Cavendish’s printed books, published with the Digital Cavendish website, I have found an extant 42 copies of the 1653 Poems, 51 copies of the 1664 edition, and 15 copies of the 1668 edition.8 At the time of writing this introduction, I have consulted with and partially collated 60 different copies: 13 from 1653, 40 from 1664, and 7 from 1668.

The first edition of 1653 was printed in London, when Cavendish had returned to the continent from exile to petition on behalf of her husband. The publication date of the first edition of 1653 is generally agreed upon, though one manuscript source survives that suggests it could have been printed as early as 1652. Mildemay Fane, whose print copy of Cavendish’s 1653 Poems and Fancies still survives in the Huntington Library, wrote a commendatory poem both in his personal manuscript and on his copy of the book itself (this poem is transcribed in full at the bottom of this section). In his own manuscript, now held at Harvard, he writes at the top of this poem, “Upon the La: Margaret Marchioness of Newcastle her Rare Poems new come forth——1652.”9

Despite this one surviving record, however, it is most likely that the book came out in the early months of 1653, which would have been 1652 by the old-style dating system. Katie Whitaker in her biography of Cavendish dates the publication of the Poems and Fancies to “the beginning of 1653,” citing the Calendar of State Papers Domestic, which shows permission granted to Cavendish to leave England (and return to her husband in Antwerp) in February and March of 1653.10 Note that while this suggests that the book was not printed later than February 1653, it does not preclude a 1652 publication date—but with no strong reason to suspect the date given on the printed title page, the simplest thing seems to be to trust the title page to have gotten its own date correct. We also know that her Philosophical Fancies (London, 1653), which was printed after Poems and Fancies, was likely published no later than May of 1653; the bookseller and collector George Thomason writes “May 21” on the title page of his copy, and Cavendish’s correspondent and local Oxford agent Thomas Barlowe dates his copy to June 3, 1653.11

Though it is sometimes commonly assumed that Cavendish funded all of her own publications, Whitaker argues that the 1653 printing was paid for not by Cavendish herself but by the printer. She cites Cavendish’s prefatory poem “The Poetress’s Hasty Resolution” as evidence, and the fact that in that poem Cavendish’s Reason advises her to “the Printer spare / He’ll lose by your ill poetry, I fear” (ll. 11–12); in Whitaker’s reading, “This verse’s reference to the printer’s risk of financial loss confirms that it was the booksellers and not Margaret herself who paid for publishing the book.”12 We have no surviving evidence either way about who funded the publication, though the luxurious presentation of the poems (in a large folio volume, using a relatively large font and generous spacing between lines, and with ample amounts of white space on each page) suggests a volume whose ambitions were other than, or at least more than, the mere recuperation of costs.

It is far more common, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, to find collections of poems in quarto format (a smaller book, half the size of folios). To publish one’s first book, and a collection of poems, in folio is indirectly to declare oneself in the same realm or company as ancient poets like Ovid (George Sandys’s Ovid translation had appeared in folio in 1628), or highly regarded modern poets like William Shakespeare (whose folio appeared in 1623), Ben Jonson (whose poetic and dramatic Works appeared in folio in 1616 and again in 1640), and Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher (1647). As a point of comparison, John Milton’s famous Biblical epic Paradise Lost was published as a modest quarto in 1667, and an even more modest octavo (half the size of a quarto) in the second edition of 1674.13

The 1653 edition of her Poems and Fancies has the most complicated printing history of the three editions, and varies the most with itself. This variance begins from the very start of the volume: The copies I have accessed have three different variant title pages, perhaps indicating that the title page was reset at least once.14 The first version, which is present on the Huntington Library (the source of the copy available on the database Early English Books Online, or EEBO), refers to the author as “the Right HONOURABLE, the Lady MARGARET Countesse of NEWCASTLE”, and includes below this an engraving with a bell in the center.15 In the Huntington copy, the phrase “Countess of” is crossed out and replaced in ink with “MARCHIONES”. This version of the title page, with the bell engraving, is the most common among the copies I have seen. A second version of the title page, such as the copy in the British Library with the shelfmark C.39.h.27 (1), looks much like the first (and also calls her “the Right HONOURABLE, the Lady MARGARET Countesse of NEWCASTLE”, with “Countess” crossed out in ink after the fact on the BL copy), but does not have any bell engraving on it. (“Countess” is so regularly crossed out because she was never a Countess; she was Marchioness and then Duchess.) In other copies, such as the copy in the British Library with the shelfmark 79.h.10, the author is called “the RIGHT HONOURABLE, THE LADY NEWCASTLE,” and instead of the bell engraving there is a large elaborate block of printer’s flowers.16

Immediately behind the 1653 edition’s variant title pages is another variant across different copies of the first edition: in a very few copies, the title page is followed by a poem by her husband William Cavendish (beginning, “I Saw your Poems, and then wish’d them mine”), while in most copies (including the version uploaded to EEBO), that dedicatory poem is omitted from, or is not found in, the first edition.17 It appears regularly, however, in the second and third editions, and so we have collated it and included it among the prefatory materials for this digital edition.

Each of the three early editions also, like other early modern books, have stop-press changes: changes made in the middle of a print run by stopping the press, changing out type to correct errors, and resuming printing. Even if the printers found errors that required correction, the uncorrected sheets would be mixed in with corrected sheets before distribution, so that any given text may have a mixture of corrected and uncorrected pages.18 This means that what looks like an error in one copy of a text may be corrected in another copy of the “same” text—hence, the poem “The Bigness of Atoms,” on p. 8 in the 1653 edition, begins “Mhen” in some editions (including the one from the Huntington that serves as the basis of the EEBO text), and “When” in others. This means that the printer (or checker) spotted the mistake (the “turned” or upside-down piece of type), corrected it, and then resumed printing. Stop-press changes give us useful information about the printing process, and the prevalence of stop-press changes means that editors of a critical edition should not only compare multiple editions of a text, but should also, whenever possible, collate within editions as well (compare copies of the “same” book).

So far I (and my RAs) have done thorough and consistent stop-press checks—i.e., collations within editions, so comparing multiple versions of one edition to one another to look for variants—only for Part I, though I have also collated deeper into some copies. My findings are that the 1653 printing had the most stop-press changes; this may be because the printer of the 1664 edition chose, rather than correcting errors as he printed, to print an “Errata” or list of errors (that readers could correct themselves if they liked) at the very end of the volume.19 I have found only one exception to that rule, one stop-press change in the 1664 edition. In the Part I poem “Of Cold Winds,” there is a couplet that reads (in most copies of the 1664 edition) “But by dividing, they [atoms] so sharp do grow, / That through all porous bodies they do go” (ll. 13–14); in some copies (including the copy available on EEBO), line 14 reads, “Shat through all porous bodies they do go” (emphasis added). Someone working only with the EEBO copies, therefore, would have to pause and puzzle whether this was an error, or whether Cavendish had a naughty scatalogical revision; that so many more copies have the corrected “That” tells us that the change is the printer’s, and was likely accidental.

We have attempted to add notes about stop-press changes in the notes to the poems themselves, but a few notes, before proceeding, about the prevalence of stop-press changes within the 1653 printing. Most of the stop-press changes have to do with fixing obvious errors, including not only the “Mhen” that begins “The Bigness of Atoms,” but also the end of a word missed in some copies (on sig. K1r, the fragment “cov” appears in British Library, shelfmark 39.h.27 (1), while “cover.” appears in British Library, shelfmark 79.h.10). There are also many stop-press changes to page numbers, which are an unmitigated disaster in 1653 editions (some are missing, some are incorrect, and many are out of order).

There is one particularly interesting stop-press change in 1653 that has a significant effect on the meaning. The last two lines of “A World Made by Atoms” read in most editions (ten that I have personally verified), “And thus, by chance, may a New World create: / Or else predestinated to worke my Fate.”20 This ending couplet, lines 16–17 in the poem, balances two different options with radically different philosophical and theological consequences: either (as the Epicureans postulated) the world was created by random chance, or (as Christians maintained) by a higher predestinating power. But the couplet is also strange as an end to this poem, which before has been concerned with the mechanics of atoms, how they fit and work together, rather than with their origins—even as the careful balanced indecision between chance and fate in the final couplet builds off the hedging in the first line: “Small atoms of themselves a world may make” (emphasis added). While ten copies read “chance,” however, a single edition (a copy held at the Bodleian Library, P 1.22 Jur.Seld.), reads instead “change,” making, “And thus, by change, may a New World create.” The fact that I have found “change” in one copy while “chance” is in ten suggests that “chance” is the correction, though “change” is also utterly plausible, and actually makes more sense as a continuation of what the rest of the poem is doing.21

In some copies of 1653 (including the one uploaded to EEBO), in Clasp III–IV, the speech prefixes jump from “3 Masquer” to “5 Masquer”; in other copies (e.g., BL shelfmark C.39.h.27 (1)), someone has inserted “4 Masquer” by the second line of “The Chorus.” Speech prefixes also vary in Part II: where the EEBO copy of the 1653 edition gives speech prefixes for all of the Dialogue poems (except for the dialogues of poets and birds, which signal changing speakers in the body of the poems themselves), other versions don’t include speech prefixes for many Part II poems, or include them only in part; the affected poems are “A Dialogue between Man and Nature”; “A Dialogue betwixt the Body and the Mind”; “A Dialogue between an Oak and a Man Cutting Him Down”; “A Dialogue between Melancholy and Mirth”; “A Dialogue betwixt Joy and Discretion”; “A Dialogue betwixt Wit and Beauty”; “A Dialogue between Love and Hate”; “A Dialogue betwixt Learning and Ignorance”; “A Dialogue betwixt Riches and Poverty”; “A Dialogue betwixt Anger and Patience”; and “A Dialogue betwixt Peace and War.”

Despite these several stop-press corrections in the 1653 edition, several errors survived into the printed texts (i.e., still more errors exist that were not corrected in any version). We know that Cavendish was unhappy with how her first book (the Poems and Fancies) turned out, as well as with the print versions of other works from the early 1650s. In her 1655 World’s Olio, printed 2 years after her Poems and Fancies, she describes the failings of her first printers in great detail:22

I think it is against Nature for a Woman to spell right, for my part I confess I cannot; and as for the Rimes and Numbers, although it is like I have erred in many, yet not so much as by the negligence of those that were to oversee it; for by the false printing, they have not only done my Book wrong in that, but in many places the very Sense is altered; as for surfets, sercutts; wanting, wanton; like flaming fire to burn, they have printed a fire Gunn, and many other words they have left out besides, and there is above a hundred of those faults; so that my Book is lamed by an ill Midwife and Nurse, the Printer and Overseer …

Interestingly, some of these reported errors are fixed in the hand-corrected copies described below; we also include notes about these errors in the notes to the poems themselves. She repeats complaints about her books “being so cruelly disfigured by ill printing” in her 1656 Nature’s Pictures, though the complaint in that letter is more to do with misprints in her 1655 Philosophical and Physical Opinions than with her Poems.23

In many of Cavendish’s books, perhaps because she found so many of her printers to have included so many errors, she and/or a secretary went through the copy and made systematic hand-corrections after printing, before distributing the text to public and private libraries. While there are no such systematic changes across copies of the 1653 Poems and Fancies, there are three notable copies, at the British Library, Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library, and Bodleian Library respectively, that have hand-corrections and notes, some of which are in her own hand. I list below all such changes in each of the three copies, as they are located in libraries that may be difficult or impossible to access for users of this edition.

1653 Poems and Fancies, held at the British Library, shelfmark C.39.h.27 (1)24

  • “At the bottom of the page at the end of prefatory materials (sig. A8v), Margaret Cavendish wrote a paragraph that reads as follows (line breaks removed): “reader let me intreat you to consider only the fancyes in this my book of poems and not the Iniqueln numbers nor rimes nor fals printing for if you doe you will be my condeming iudg which will griue my muss [i.e. Muse?]”25
  • In the Part I poem “Nature Calls a Counsel …” line 115, the word “Serjeants” has been corrected to “Saruants+” (Servants). This correction is also made in later editions.
  • In the Part I poem “The Bigness of Atoms,” line 1, the word “Mhen” has been hand-corrected to “when”. This correction is also made as a stop-press change in some copies.
  • In the Part IV poem “Of a Wrought Carpet …” line 16, the phrase “like to a fir’d Gun” has been changed to “like a fire to burne”. This correction is in Cavendish’s hand.

1653 Poems and Fancies, held at the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library, Antwerp, shelfmark EHC C 1039:ex.126

  • In the Part IV poem “Of a Wrought Carpet …” line 16, the phrase “like to a fir’d Gun” has been changed to “like a firer which burnes”. This correction looks like Cavendish’s hand.

1653 Poems and Fancies, held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, shelfmark P 1.22 Jur.Seld

  • In the prefatory “Epistle to Mistress Toppe,” “Ef-feminacy” is replaced with “infamy”
  • In the Part I poem “Of Light and Sight,” the word “new” is inserted into line 13 (making it “But what is new doth please so well the sense, / That reasons old are thought to be nonsense”)
  • In the prefatory note to Part II, “To Moral Philosophers,” the word “uses” is replaced with “raises” (making “raises a rebellion”)
  • In the Part III poem “A Comparison between Gold and the Sun,” the first “about” is deleted from the last line (making “So I about from Man to Man about am hurled”)
  • In the following Part III Poem “Poets Have Most Pleasure in this Life,” two disordered lines have small “x”es by them, marking the couplet that has been disrupted, with a marginal mark beside them (perhaps a small “ts,” for “transpose”?)
  • In the poem “The Bridegroom” in Clasp III–IV, the word “Civility” in line 5 is replaced with “Loyallty” (making “A crown of loyalty upon his head”)
  • In the Part V poem “A Description of the Battle in Fight,” the spelling “roun” is corrected to “round”
  • In the Part V poem “A Battle between King Oberon and the Pygmies,” the word “fand” is replaced with “land” (making “Then here’s a land which needs not be manured”); in the same poem, the word “their” is replaced with “his” (making “For through his loyal breast did dig their grave”)

This Bodleian Library copy seems to show a conscientious reader correcting errors where (s)he finds them; the British Library and Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library copies—with corrections and notes in her hand that often correspond to specific errors cited in her 1655 World’s Olio—seem to demand correction, and we have adopted, or at least noted, her corrections (from the BL and HDHL) in this edition.

Other copy-specific finds—that is, notes about things to be found not in every copy, but in specific copies—include the poem about Cavendish written by Mildemay Fane, Earl of Westmoreland, inscribed on his personal copy of Poems and Fancies:27

Noe wonder t’were though schooles went doun
Now Learning shifts from Goune to Goune
Whilst Petty-coat & Kertle may
The Banners of the Nine display
And Attomise what e’re the Quill                              5
Recorded from the Twin-like Hill
Make witt & Fancy soe combine
In numbers true & feet to ioygn
As if all Dance & Musickes art
Were heer brought in to bear their part                  10
For the Contriuement I’d auerr
’Twould pussell a Philosopher
The Stile, the Method & the phrase
Doe heighten soe the Authress’ prayse
That I should too iniurious be                                     15
To cast into such Treasury
For all the Graces heer are mett
To make a Pearle of Margeret.

The poem’s handwriting is identical to that found in Mildemay Fane’s manuscript, now held at the Harvard Library.28 The Harvard manuscript’s version of the poem has only one substantive difference: in line 10, where the Huntington copy reads “bear their part,” the Harvard copy reads “bear a part.”

The Folger Library copy of the 1653 poems, call number 226042, also has some interesting markings by the contemporary reader Richard Berry (he writes his own name several times), who dates one of his marks to May 17, 1661. These marks include pen trials and copying lines into the margins, as well as one note that seems to misunderstand the relationship(s) of different poems in the Part III prefatory materials. Berry copies out 6 lines of a poem and writes above them, “The End of poets and their theft.”29 However, these lines are in fact the last six lines of the poem “Wherein Poetry Chiefly Consists” (title from the 1664 and 1668 editions); between “Of Poets and their Theft” is also an additional poem, given the title “Upon the Same Subject” in 1664 and 1668. Though these three separate poems are distinguished by line breaks and by a change of form in the 1653 edition, Berry apparently interprets the lack of separate titles to mean that what this online edition gives as three separate poems is in reality one poem, a long, baggy poem called “Of Poets and their Theft,” which changes form part of the way through (something not entirely impossible for seventeenth-century poetry).

The Library of Congress’s copy of the 1664 Poems and Fancies, call number PR3605.N2 A7 1664 Pre-1801 Coll, also has some unique features, the most notable of which is that its prefatory materials are rearranged, so that “To All Noble and Worthy Ladies” is at the very front of the volume. While the rearrangement of prefatory materials is unusual for her poems volumes, it is extraordinarily common for other Cavendish books, partly because she multiplies prefatory materials in her volumes, and bibliographic traces like signatures indicate that many of these prefatory materials were sent late to the printer, making it difficult for binders to know how they were meant to be arranged. This copy’s rearrangement, however, seems deliberate and fascinating, an indirect argument about how to best present her volume (not starting it with her husband’s endorsement, or with a letter to her brother-in-law, but with her own call to women to support her endeavor). Since the binding on this copy is modern, it is impossible to tell when in the life of this version “To All Noble and Worthy Ladies” was given this honor of opening the book. Another interesting feature of this copy is that it apparently went unbound for a while in its life, so that the first and last pages are dirty and damaged; one of the most damaged bits is the poem in the conclusion “The Common Fate of Books,” which, appropriately enough, laments the vulnerability of books to neglect and decay (ll. 1–4):

Books have the worst fate: when they once are read,
They’re laid aside, forgotten like the dead.
Under a heap of dust they buried lie
Within a vault of some small library.

On the other hand, other copies show that her poems did not just lie buried and neglected; having consulted many books, I have seen some that are opulently bound, both by Cavendish herself (see, e.g., the painted leather, gold tooling, and gilded page edges of the copies of her 1664 Poems and Fancies that she had bound and gave to the Cambridge University Library and Bodleian Library)30 and by later readers (see the slick modern bindings and elaborate marbled openings on the 1653 Poems now held at City University of New York and the Huntington Library, or the beautifully marbled page edges and spine thick with gold tooling of the 1668 Poems held at Harvard University Library).31 The Huntington Library copy of her 1668 Poems was obviously cherished, and has had several images tipped into it, including a painted version of an engraving of Cavendish in a royal blue and white dress.

More bibliographical study may turn up more information on the life of Cavendish’s poems post-print. But how do any of these bibliographical details help us read or understand her poetry? These details are worth knowing, I would argue, not just for slaking our curiosity about her reception, but also for producing responsible critical scholarly editions based on textual research. Because many of the post-print interventions in Cavendish’s work appear to have been done, or at least orchestrated, by Cavendish herself, Cavendish’s “authorship” of any given text extends beyond writing the text and sending it to the printer: she crafted her books as objects, modified them before distribution, and oversaw their distribution to ensure their survival across the ages. The numerous stop-press changes, hand-written interventions, and disordered prefatory materials in her poem volumes but also (and especially) in her other books makes critical editions of her many publications absolutely crucial, as the base requirement for serious scholarship on her work: for Cavendish in particular, one cannot simply look at one version of a text and assume that all other versions match in essentials.32 This makes the lack of critical scholarly editions of her works all the more lamentable. When will we finally edit the Complete Works of Cavendish?


II. Changes between First and Second Editions

One of the central purposes of this edition is to allow you, the reader of Cavendish’s poetry, to explore in detail the many changes that happened between the first edition of 1653 and the second edition of 1664. The changes are so numerous that it is impossible to generalize, but this section will nevertheless attempt a few such generalizations. Scholars have shown that close-reading the numerous textual changes can be just as fruitful as close-reading the poems themselves; see especially Elizabeth Scott-Baumann’s chapter “Margaret Cavendish as Editor and Revisor,” which argues for Cavendish as a “thoughtful reviser of her own works.”33 Scott-Baumann gives five pages of this chapter to Cavendish’s revisions of Poems and Fancies: she examines the paradoxical regularization of “Untitled [Give me a free and noble style]” (paradoxical because the poem argues for freedom from regular verse, among other things), the neutering of the book-as-baby in “An Excuse for Writing …” and the regendering of “Reason” in “The Poetress’s Hasty Resolution.” She argues that the revisions offer “a thoroughgoing reconception of her style.”34

However, while most analyses of Cavendish’s revisions to her poetry happen at the scale of the poem, let me start by mentioning one of the largest and (to my mind) most significant changes that happens between the first and second editions: the rearrangement of materials in the volume. Between the first and second edition, Part I (the atom and world-within-world poems) get radically shuffled: for instance, what is the 10th poem in 1653 is the 88th poem in 1664 and 1668, and poems 20–24 in 1653 are poems 5, 37, 90, 18, and 68 in 1664 and 1668. That the atom poems in particular should be rearranged is not a coincidence; arrangement was a central concept in ancient and early modern atomism (Lucretius’ “alphabetic paradigm,” which compares bits of matter to letters of the alphabet, puts arrangement at the center of both language and the physical world), and I plan to argue elsewhere that the shuffling of the Part I poems across editions is not a correction, but an experiment on Cavendish’s part, an attempt to think through concepts of arrangement, atomism, mutual interrelation, and the logic of collection. This has important implications for reading her poetry, and for understanding her critiques of the new scientific methodologies of her time.35 The two arrangements of the poems offer very different arguments; for this edition, we preferred the structure of the 1653 edition, and so the poems are arranged in that order.

But there are also smaller-scale rearrangements as well. In the 1653 edition, there are six items after the Animal Parliament, and before the note about her forthcoming Philosophical Fancies: a paragraph on style admitting that she “found it difficult to get so many rhythms as to join the sense of the subject”; a poem that takes up the same subject beginning “I language want to dress my fancies in”; two poems on books (and the neglect thereof); a poem on her brother-in-law asking her to say hello to the fairy queen on his behalf; and a poem in praise of her husband (beginning “A poet I am neither born nor bred”). The first edition, then, has a neat symmetry, beginning with her husband’s commendatory poem and her dedicatory epistle to Sir Charles, and ending with a poem about Sir Charles and then about her husband. In 1664, that first paragraph on style is eliminated; the poem on Sir Charles and the fairy queen is moved to the end of Clasp IV–V, with the other fairy poems, and the remaining four poems are moved around, to talk first about the fate of books, then about style, then about her husband. In other words: if the final items in the 1653 edition were numbered 1-2-3-4-5-6, then the 1664 edition has 3-4-2-6. The arrangement of 1664 and 1668, then, ruptures the symmetry of the 1653 edition, but also offers a different kind of satisfying ending: she ends not with the gloomy reflection on how all books are eventually discarded or neglected, but with a reflection on herself and they way her poetics derives from her husband—another kind of symmetry, if the effect of her prefatory materials is taken as a whole. In our edition, we retained the order of the 1653 edition, except that we followed her later thought and relocated the Charles poem (“A Compliment Sent to the Fairy Queen”) to the end of Clasp IV–V, since it speaks so well to the poems in that section.

From a textual bibliographical standpoint, the mechanics of how she might have shuffled the poems of Part I for the revised edition are a bit unclear. What did she give to the printer to print, for the 1664 edition? The standard practice for most authors issuing a revised work was to mark up the first printed edition with changes and give that marked up copy to the printer to reset with the changes incorporated. Although her edits are numerous and extensive, something like this might have been possible for Parts II and later, but Part I’s radical rearrangement is difficult to envision. Did she cut up multiple copies of her own work and paste them onto other pieces of paper to write revisions?36 Did she make textual changes and have a secretary rewrite Part I, in its new order? Did she craft her own early modern “choose-your-own-adventure” version of her book, instructing the printer after each poem where to find the next one to be printed? With no textual evidence it is difficult to say, but the extent and nature of this revision raises fascinating questions.

Other large-scale changes to the volume include changes to titles throughout; as is discussed in the general introduction to this edition, the most striking title changes happen in Part III, where the titles give the impression that the number of “Nature’s X” poems (those poems depicting Nature, allegorically, as a bustling housewife) massively increases, at the expense of the other kind of poems in Part III, the “Similizing” poems (static allegories). Why she wanted to give the impression of many more “Nature’s X” poems is unclear; in general, we stuck with the 1653 titles for Part III, and, when given a choice, reserved the titles phrased as “Nature’s X” for those poems that actually depicted Nature allegorically. But the effect of the second (and third) edition(s) is interesting as well, in that it functions to remind the readers that even when Nature does not appear as a character, we are always “in her house.” Pragmatically speaking, the numerous title changes can sometimes make it difficult to find a poem, so the final part of this introduction provides a table listing all title changes across the volumes, and giving hyperlink shortcuts allowing readers to skip quickly to the poem as it appears in our editions. This table also allows readers to quickly see the patterns in title changes across the volume.

As you may discern, structurally speaking we generally preferred the 1653 edition, but in addition to these larger-scale revisions, the poems (as you can see from the textual notes to each poem) also received countless smaller-scale revisions, with more than every other line having a substantive or meaning-changing variant. There are, as the scholars who have begun to study her revisions have noted, many changes, and many kinds of changes, but generally speaking one of the biggest trends is that rhymes and meter are consistently regularized.

In the prose paragraph on style that begins the conclusion in 1653, and that was cut in 1664 and 1668, she writes that she (the italics below are mine, to highlight important parts):

found it difficult to get so many rhythms as to join the sense of the subject, and by reason I could not attain to both, I rather chose to leave the elegance of words than to obstruct the sense of the matter. For my desire was to make my conceit easy to the understanding, though my words were not so fluent to the ear. Again, they will find fault with the numbers, for I was forced to fewer or more, to bring in the sense of my fancies. All I can say for myself is that poetry consists not so much in number, words, and phrase, as in fancy.

Here and elsewhere in her discussion of poetics (see the second section of “Reading Poems (and Fancies)” for more on this topic) she distinguishes between fancy, conceit, and sense, on the one hand, and rhythm, number, words, and phrase, on the other. This same distinction appears in the Part III prefatory poem “Wherein Poetry Chiefly Consists”: “Most of our modern writers nowadays / Consider not the fancy but the phrase” (ll. 1–2). At the heart of the poem is the fancy, or conceit, the structuring idea; that fancy has a sense, or intelligible, communicable content, which then must then put on (as if putting on clothing) numbers, rhythms, words, or phrase (“I language want to dress my fancies in,” begins the poem that follows the prose paragraph on style in 1653). The prose paragraph of 1653 tells us that when these two different parts of writing were incompatible—when she had to choose between clear fancy and regular rhythm—she uniformly chose fancy. That this paragraph was removed for the 1664 and 1668 editions makes sense: in the later editions there is a systematic program to regularize her meter and to rewrite lines to make more perfect rhymes, sometimes at the expense of sense (there were many moments, while editing, where we could not understand what the second and third editions were communicating without returning to the 1653 edition).

Who, exactly, was responsible for these changes has been a matter of debate in the interpretive and editorial traditions. Her biographer Douglas Grant notes that grammar, meter, and rhymes were revised across editions, but adds, “it is almost certain that the revision was not Margaret’s own but a secretary’s”; Sara Mendelson asserts that for the second edition of 1664 Cavendish hired an “anonymous drudge to ‘correct’ the stylistic errors of her earliest works for second editions.”37 It is unclear where Grant’s and Mendelson’s certainty—or almost certainty in the case of Grant—comes from; neither cites any source or gives interpretive evidence for their claim. But later editors have built on Mendelson’s assertion in particular as a basis for their editorial decisions, with Partington adding, tentatively, “considering her opinion of her own grammatical skills, I think she would have left it in the hands of an expert.”38 On the other hand, those who favor the later editions find it utterly plausible that Cavendish would have made her own revisions; see, e.g., Brandie Siegfried: “By 1664, her skills as a writer were more polished, an expertise readily visible in the changes she made in the final two editions of the book.”39

Whether one believes Cavendish did the corrections herself or hired a drudge is, perhaps unsurprisingly, directly related to one’s judgments on the different editions. Grant, who believes the revisions were hired out, writes, “The revisions [of 1664 and later] were technically an improvement but, as they were insufficient in themselves to raise her poetry higher, they hindered the sincerity and spontaneity of her expression by their superficial polish. Rough and ragged though they are, her poems are to be preferred in their earlier shape.”40 Cavendish anthologizer Michael Robbins, who repeats Mendelson’s assertion, likewise prefers the early edition as the base for his selections: “the revisions sometimes sacrifice what George Parfitt, who oversaw the Scholar Press facsimile of the first edition of 1972, calls Cavendish’s ‘energy … accompanied by a generous unpredictability.”41 On the other hand, Brandie Siegfried, who bases her text on the revised editions, is uniformly in favor of the later revisions: the rhymes are smoother, the similes more complex, the feminism sharper and less apologetic.42

Since assertions about the fact of revisions seem to be based on aesthetic and political preference rather than on any known source, I wanted, for this edition, to re-open the question. There are convincing arguments on either side; on the one hand, I find it surprising that a hired “drudge” would undertake such a systematic rearrangement of the first section of the book, while on the other, a close and detailed metrical analysis of the variants suggests that the reviser of 1664 pronounced some words differently than the author of 1653, which suggests perhaps a different poet, perhaps with a different accent. The most noticeable instance of this is the word “fire,” a frequent subject in Part I especially. See, for instance, the first line of the Part I poem “Of Fire in the Flint” (with textual note included): “The reason fire lies43 in flint unseen …”. Both versions are metrically regular, but the 1653 line works metrically only if “fire” is pronounced as 2 syllables, and the 1664 and 1668 versions work only if “fire” is pronounced as 1 syllable. Here is my rough approximation of the meter of the two lines 1653, “the REAson FI-er LIES in FLINT unSEEN”; 1664/1668, “the REAson FIRE doth LIE in FLINT unSEEN”. This consistent change in pronunciation of this word (and others, including “admire,” which discerning readers might spot with a metrical study of the textual notes) suggests that perhaps another person was involved in the regularizing of the meter, though it could equally suggest that someone bossily told her that “fire” was meant to be pronounced with one syllable, not two.44

I am, then, ultimately neutral on the issue of who made the revisions of 1664, and think that the best practice would be to keep the question open; we have no hard proof in either direction, and each edition seems to have its own claims to authority (in the textual sense).


III. Editorial Practices (and Explanations)

Given this complicated and rich textual history, which version of the poems should be the basis of an edition? My collaborating editors and I debated this question for a long time. Should we base our edition on first intentions, the full expression of her poetry in 1653, before she compromised her full poetic vision to make her work more palatable to the “Carping age” that mocked her rhymes and meter?45 Another vote for selecting the 1653 edition is that, as mentioned in the immediately preceding section of this introduction, we are not absolutely sure that she made all of the changes between the first and second editions; further, the 1653 edition was donated by her to many friends and libraries, including libraries across Europe.46 On the other hand, the number and quality of revisions made to the second edition of 1664 suggest an incredibly thorough and deliberate revision, and indeed Margaret Cavendish herself seemed to favor the 1664 edition, as it is this second version that she chose to enshrine in every single college in Oxford and Cambridge Universities (this is why more copies survive of the 1664 edition than any other edition; of the 51 that survive, 34 are held in Oxford and Cambridge).47 The 1668 edition largely follows the second edition in most ways, though it introduces a few additional changes; if one were honoring final intentions, this would seemingly be the best version to use (and one specific copy of this edition, from the Huntington Library, is the basis of Brandie Sigfried’s edition published in the Other Voices series).48

How to choose between first intentions (1653), the second revised edition that seemed to be the favorite of the author (1664) or final intentions (1668)? As my co-editors and I debated, we found that any choice among editions lost what we found to be the most interesting aspect of her poetry: the fact that it exists in (at least) two very different versions, each of which has its own apparent advantages and disadvantages. We decided, then, that no matter what editorial strategy we ultimately pursued, we wanted an edition that had full textual notes, so that readers could use our edition to understand the poems in their full and complicated textual history, and could themselves grapple with the numerous changes she made as she revised her poems over 15 years.

My undergraduate co-editors (see About this Website for a full list of collaborators) and I began by collating across the three editions, comparing and noting any differences among the three editions. Melanie Simoes Santos, Farheen Khan, Tess Rahaman, and I also collated within editions, looking for stop-press changes (particularly within the 1653 edition). We then edited according to best-text editorial practices, and added, for each substantive variant, a textual note giving the reader an insight into the other possible reading of a line.

“Best-text” editing, which dominated editorial tradition for decades if not centuries, is currently an unfashionable and unpopular form of editing. Also sometimes called conflated editing, or eclectic editing, best-text editing involves picking and choosing variants from multiple different editions, creating a new text that includes variants or readings from all versions.49 In Shakespeare studies, the editorial debate about best-text editing has been particularly fraught, most famously in the debate over the multiplication of versions of King Lears. This debate, memorialized in collection The Division of the Kingdoms,50 resulted in the controversial decision in the second and third edition of the Norton Shakespeare to print three versions of the play: the Quarto version, the Folio version, and a more traditionally conflated version.51 In the third and re-edited version of the Norton Shakespeare, the new editors steadfastly refuse conflation, and exclusively edit single-text editions: “editorial practice has changed since that time [the Oxford Shakespeare of 1986], and Norton has created a new text for the present moment”—with single-text editing being presented as the best way to “minimize editorial intervention,” and conflation, implicitly, being the most egregious form of intervention.52

Why is conflation such an extreme intervention into the text? The common objections are that conflated, eclectic, or best-text editions yield “Franken-texts,” composite bodies that attempt to bring disparate and separate entities into one monstrous and unnatural whole. While the multiplication of Lears in the Oxford and Norton editions may seem tedious to the average student of Shakespeare, one might argue that best-text editions potentially involve still more multiplication, in that any given best-text edition will be unique to a specific editor. This could lead to the creation of a seemingly endless multiplication of versions and, potentially, inconsistencies in citation—so that, for example, once several best-text versions of a poem exist, one cannot refer to a poem, but to only to one editor’s subjective opinion about the idealized version of that poem. (After all, Frankenstein is not the name of the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but of the scientist who cobbled him together.) Finally there is the historical objection: when we read a version of Titus Andronicus that takes the best from many versions, we are reading a version of the text that Shakespeare never wrote, and that no contemporary audience ever read or saw.

Why, then, against this seemingly overwhelming wave of editorial consensus against best-text or conflated editions, have we produced, for this online edition, a best-text edition of Margaret Cavendish’s work? We chose to relinquish the fantasy of producing an edition in which there was no (or minimal) intervention, and instead chose to intervene, but to be as clear and honest as possible about our interventions. Each group of editors with whom I worked discussed what kind of edition we wanted to build, and each group independently settled on best-text editing, for some or all of the following reasons (roughly ranked by importance):

  • Those opposed to conflated editions often point out that, by conflating multiple editions, editors provide to modern readers a version that no early reader would have read. However, there is not a great deal of evidence that Cavendish’s poems were read all that widely in her time, or shortly thereafter: she recognized even in her own prefatory materials that the seventeenth century was not her ideal audience, and hence she made sure to deposit copies of her books in every single Oxford and Cambridge library, hoping, perhaps, that they would find a more generous present: “But say that Book should not in this Age take, / Another Age of great esteem may make.”53 Our concern, therefore, is not to capture a single historical instance of the poems read and cited by generations of readers, but rather to build an edition for the future.
  • The textual notes provided allow a reader committed to reading one version over another to recreate the “original” version of the poem without too much trouble. Though we have conflated, that is, we have not done so silently: for each choice between (or among) substantive variants that we have made, we have embedded a textual note that shows the reader what the other option was, and in what editions that option appeared. We have also developed a suggested citation system for citing variants in textual notes—see the landing page, “About this Website, and How to Use It.”
  • As has been discussed above, each of the three editions has pros and cons for serving as a basis of a later edition. The 1653 edition had many errors that made Cavendish unhappy; the 1664 edition corrected some of those errors, and fixed rhyme and meter, though sometimes greatly at the expense of clarity. The 1668 edition seems to be both the most correct version, but also the least regarded by Cavendish herself (hence fewer surviving copies of this edition than of any others). Given that no one obvious contender stands out as the obvious choice, and that part of the interest of these poems is the massive number of changes she made, a conflated version with textual notes seemed the best and most responsible option to us.
  • Finally, we wanted to give Cavendish, as a woman writer, a chance to have the same kind of edition, namely a conflated edition, that her male contemporaries received in the centuries where her book sat largely ignored. Un-editing, like un-conflating, has been a powerful action and tool in editorial theory, but we asked ourselves: before we can un-edit this author, or any female author, do we first need to edit? We followed, ultimately, not the un-editors, but the conclusions we gleaned from Valerie Wayne’s “Sexual Politics of Textual Reproduction”: namely, the point is not to not edit, or to un-edit, but to be as honest as possible about the choices we were making, the other options, and the reasons behind those choices.54

We admit, then, that to call our edition a “best-text” version implies, from the beginning, a subjective edition, one in which we have presented our interpretation of the best possible version that the text can be. Our best defense is that we openly admit to the subjectivity of those decisions, and encourage our readers to explore their textual notes and see if they agree with any given decision. The “best” of our best text means for us, usually, most intelligible, but sometimes, most poetically ambiguous. If two choices seemed roughly comparable, we chose the more poetically regular one, or the better rhyme, as the changes of 1664 suggested to us that she wanted to be presented as a “real” poet and thought regularity was the best way to achieve that. We have attempted to strike a balance between sense and regular meter, and to present her poems in the best light possible.

Because we were producing such a “Franken-text,” we included in every instance where we made a decision between two substantive variants a textual note giving the other option. However, as has been noted elsewhere in editorial theory, the seemingly clear dividing line separating substantive variants (those variants that affect the substance or meaning, or have a meaningful effect on the text) from accidental variants (those variants such as spelling or punctuation which can seem “accidental” or incidental to the text itself) can often be blurred. Generally speaking, we treated as substantive, and so included a textual note for, any changes in words or lines (including deletions and insertions) and changes in lineation and paragraphing; we treated as accidental most changes in spelling, capitalization, and typography (including the italicizing of words, abundant in the 1653 edition), except where those changes altered the meter, or suggested puns.

There were, of course, exceptions to this general rule. In some instances, the placement of a comma seemed to us to radically alter the meaning of a line; in some of our editorial meetings, quite a lot seemed at stake (e.g., the emotional state of the speaker of a poem) in the choice between an exclamation mark and period, especially in an opening apostrophe. In addition, as was discussed in the textual history (above), Cavendish seemed sometimes concerned with punctuation, as she included punctuation fixes in her Errata list for at least two of her volumes (including the 1664 Poems). Spelling was also sometimes up for debate: with the co-editors of Part I, I had a long discussion about whether in modernizing the spelling “Atomes” (a common spelling in the 1653 edition, but universally changed to “Atoms” in the 1664 edition) we were removing a potential orthographical pun that linked atoms (the smallest units of nature) to tomes (books)—though ultimately we concluded that this was merely a happy coincidence, and modernized accordingly. When in doubt, we added a textual note if in our mind a reader could reasonably see a variant as being more than accidental, erring on the side of inclusion.

In addition, we also adopted the following conventions across the volume: each poem has been modernized (including typography, punctuation, and capitalization), and arranged in the order of the 1653 edition (with any exceptions to that rule noted in the poems themselves). Where marginal text functions as explanatory notes, we put them in the footnotes and marked them as Margaret Cavendish’s; where they function as speech prefixes (as in Part II), we put them in the main body of the text as bolded headings.

Each poem also includes detailed textual notes noting all substantive differences across the three editions (as described above), with the unchosen options in each case unmodernized. In general, textual notes refer to “1653,” “1664,” and “1668” as shorthand for the three editions, citing unless otherwise noted the EEBO copies of those poems. However, where we have located stop-press changes or (in rare cases) changes in Cavendish’s own hand, we also provide copy-specific notes, giving the library and shelfmark in which a copy-specific variant or note exists. We have kept explanatory notes light, partly because we wanted to avoid the risk of over- or pre-interpreting poems on the behalf of our readers, and partly because the edition of Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies published by Brandie Siegfried in 2018 contains abundant annotation.

A final note, too, on titles. First, it has been a convention in past editions and anthologies to name the first poem in each of the four Clasp sections as “The Clasp,” or “Clasp 1,” “Clasp 2,” and so on.55 I diverge from this editorial tradition, in that I read the all-caps “THE CLASPE” in the early printed volumes not as a poem title but as a structural marker, in the same way that all-caps structural markers differentiate between “DIALOGUES” and “MORAL DISCOURSES” within Part II, or other markers serve throughout to communicate the major sections of each volume. The distinction between “CLASP” as structural marker and a poem title is most apparent in Clasps III–IV and IV–V, where there is a clear differentiation between the all-caps “THE CLASP” and the first poem title, in regular type, underneath, in all three editions. In the 1668 edition this distinction is even clearer; every structural marker in that volume has a straight line separating it from the poems, while titles, even when in all caps, remain connected to their poems.56 For that reason, I have broken with tradition; I refer to the first poem in the first two clasps not as “The Claspe” or “Clasp 1” and “Clasp 2,” but as “Untitled [When I did write this book I took great pains]” and “Untitled [Give me a free and noble style],” respectively, providing the first line of each untitled poem (here and elsewhere) to help tell the different poems apart.

I also differ from Brandie Siegfried in her edition in that I consider Cavendish’s “Animal Parliament” to be a part of the whole of Poems and Fancies, coming as it does between Part V and the Conclusion. Her separation of the two even in the title of her edition comes, I believe, from a reading of the 1668 title page (as 1668 is the sole text from which she publishes her edition): the 1668 title reads, in full:57 Poems, or Several Fancies in Verse: with the Animal Parliament, in Prose, while the 1653 title reads only Poems, and Fancies and the 1664 title, Poems, and Phancies. Though she follows the 1668 title page in separating out the “Animal Parliament,” however, she retains the earlier Poems and Fancies rather than reproducing the 1668 variant title (which seems to treat Fancies as a synonym for Poems) in full; her edition is titled “Poems and Fancies with The Animal Parliament.”

In general, the editors and I addressed variant titles the way we addressed other textual variants: we discussed and debated each individual option, and came to a consensus in each group about which title we preferred. The systematic changes to titles in Part III is discussed in the first section of “Reading Poems (and Fancies),” the general introduction to this edition; the final section, below, attempts to allow readers to navigate the website more easily, and to search for poems by title, even if we selected a variant title.


IV. An Index of All Titles Changed Across Editions

The main purpose of this section is the allow people to locate poems whose titles have changed across editions. Without this section, if someone wanted to search for “Nature’s Garden” (the title of a Part III poem as it appears in the 1664 and 1668 editions), they would come up with no results, because we chose to keep the 1653 version of the title, “Similizing the Brain to a Garden” (and because the keyword search function doesn’t search footnotes and textual notes, where we record the alternate title). If you keyword-searched for a specific poem title and ended up here, you can use the table below to find the poem you’re looking for—simply look across the chart and click on the hyperlinked title corresponding to your original title. For ease of reference, all titles have been modernized.

The chart also allows readers to explore the systematic changes Cavendish makes across the volume at the level of title. Particularly interesting is the change of titles in Part III, which shrinks the number of “similizing” poems in order to expand Nature’s domain.

In the chart below, the first column lists the location of the poem, and the second columns give the title in 1653 and 1664/1668, respectively. In the first column, “Pref” means that it is in the prefatory materials; P stands for Part, and C stands for Clasp. The title we chose for our edition is hyperlinked and will take you directly to that poem.

Part 1653 Title 1664/68 Title
Pref An Epistle to Mistress Toppe An Epistle to Mistress Toppe (1664); An Epistle to the Lady Toppe (1668)
Pref [Untitled] To Her Excellence The Lady Marchioness of Newcastle (1664); To Her Grace the Duchess of Newcastle (1668)
P I Nature Calls a Counsel, which was Motion, Figure, Matter, and Life, to Advise about Making the World. Nature Calls a Counsel, which is Motion, Figure, Matter, and Life, to Advise about Making the World.
P I The Four Principle Figured Atoms Make the Four Elements, as Square, Round, Long, and Sharp. The Four Principle Figured Atomes Make the Four Elements.
P I Change Is Made by Several-Figured Atoms and Motion. Change Is Made by Several Figured Atoms and Motion.
P I What Atoms Make Flame Of Atoms that Make Flame
P I Of the Sympathy of Atoms Of the Four Principle Sorts of Atoms
P I Of the Sympathy of their Figures Of the Sympathy of These Four Principle Figured Atoms
P I What Atoms Make Fire to Burn, and What Flame. What Atoms Make Fire Burn, and What Flame
P I In All Other Diseases They Are Mixed, Taking Parts, and Factions. In All Other Diseases, Atoms Are Mixed, Taking Parts and Factions.
P I A War with Atoms A War betwixt Atoms
P I An Agreement of Some Kind of Motion, with Some Kind of Atoms The Agreement of Some Kind of Motion with Some Kind of Atoms
P I Motion and Figure Motion Is According to the Figure.
P I Ebbing and Flowing of the Sea Of the Ebbing and Flowing of the Sea
P I The Attraction of the Earth Of the Attraction of the Earth
P I The Attraction of the Sun Of the Attraction of the Sun
P I The Cause of the Breaking of the Sun’s Beams The Cause of the Breaking of the Sun-beams
P I The Sun Doth Set the Air on a Light, as Some Opinions Hold. Whether the Sun Doth Set the Air on a Light, as Some Opinions Hold
P I Of Dews and Mists from the Earth Of Dews and Mists Coming from the Earth
P I The Attraction of the Poles, and of Frost Of the Attraction of the Poles, and of Frost
P I Quenching Out of Fire Of Quenching Out Fire
P I Quenching, and Smothering out of Heat, and Light, Doth Not Change the Property nor Shape of Sharp Atoms. The Quenching out and Smothering of Heat and Light Doth Not Change the Property nor Shape of Sharp Atoms.
P I Of a Burning Coal Of a Burning Coal (1664); Of a Burning-Coal (1668)
P I Of Burning Of Burning, Why It Causes Pain
P I Of the Sound of Waters, Aire, Flame more then Earth, or Aire Without Flame Of the Sound of Water, Air and Flame
P I The Agilenesse of Water The Agility of Water
P I Of the Center. Of the Center of the World
P I All Sharp Atoms Do Run to the Center, and Those that Settle Not, by Reason of the Straightness of the Place, Fly out to the Circumference. Sharp Atoms to the Center Make a Sun. All Sharp Atoms Do Run to the Center, and Those that Settle Not, by Reason of the Straightness of the Place, Fly out to the Circumference. Sharp Atoms Running to the Center Make the Sun.
P I If Infinite Worlds, Infinite Centers. If Infinite Worlds, There Must Be Infinite Centers.
P I The Infinites of Matter Of Infinite Matter
P I A World Made by Four Atoms. A World Made by Four Kinds of Atoms
P I Of Elements Of the Elements
P I Comparing Flame to the Tide of the Sea Flame Compared to the Tide of the Sea
P I Fire and Moisture Of Fire and Moisture
P I Air Begot of Heat and Moisture Air Begot by Heat and Moisture
P I Winds Are Made in the Air, Not in the Earth. Wind Is Made in the Air, Not in the Earth.
P I A Fire in the Center A Fire is in the Center of the Earth.
P I The Sun is Nurse to All the Earth Bears. The Sun is Nurse to All the Earth Bears. (1664); The Sun is Nurse to All Which the Earth Bears.
P I Of Rebounds What Makes Echo Rebound
P I Of Sound Of the Sound and Echo
P I According as the Notes in Music Agree with the Motions of the Heart or Brain, Such Passions Are Produced Thereby. According as the Motions of the Heart or Brain are, such Passions are produced.
P I The Motion of the Blood Of the Motion of the Blood
P I [Untitled] The Traffic betwixt the Sun and the Earth
P I It Is Hard to Believe that there May Be Other Worlds in this World. It Is Hard to Believe that there Are Other Worlds in this World.
C I– II Another to the Same Purpose [no title – part of precedent poem]
C I– II The Squaring of the Circle The Circle of Honesty Squared
C I– II A Same Circle Squared in Prose The Same Circle Squared in Prose
C I– II The Trasection (this edition’s version: The Trisection) The Trasection (this edition’s version: The Trisection)
P II TO MORALL PHILOSOPHERS. Of Moral Philosophy and Moralists


P II Of Fame: A Dialogue between two Supernatural Opinions A Dialogue between two Supernatural Opinions Concerning Fame. (1664); A Dialogue between Two Supernatural Opinions concerning Fame. (1668)
P II Of Fame: A Dialogue between Two Natural Opinions Another Dialogue of Fame between two Natural Opinions. (1664); Another Dialogue of Fame, between Two Natural Opinions. (1668)
P II A Dialogue between an Oak and a Man Cutting Him Down A Dialogue between an Oak and a Man Cutting It Down
P II A Dialogue of Birds A Dialogue betwixt Birds
P II A Discourse of Love Neglected, Burnt up with Grief A Discourse of Love Neglected, and Burnt up with Grief
P II Pride. A Discourse of Man’s Pride, or Seeming Prerogative
P II Of Ambition Of Foolish Ambition
P II A Moral Discourse betwixt Man and Beast A Moral Discourse of Man and Beast
P II A Moral Description of Corn A Moral Discourse of Corn
P II A Discourse of Beasts Of the Knowledge of Beasts
P II Of Fishes Of Fish
P II A Discourse of Melancholy Of Melancholy
P II A Discourse of the Power of Devils A Discourse of the Devil’s Power
C II– III The Hunting of the Stag The Hunting of a Stag
C II– III Of an Island. A Description of an Island.
C II– III The Ruin of the Island The Ruin of this Island
P III [no title] Upon the same Subject
P III [Untitled] Wherein Poetry Chiefly Consists
P III The Several Keys of Nature, which Unlock her Several Cabinets The Several Keys of Nature, which Unlock the Several Boxes of her Cabinet
P III Meat drest for Natures Dinner; an Ollio for Nature. An Olio Dressed for Nature’s Dinner
P III Head and Brains Head and Brain Dressed
P III A Dessert Nature’s Dessert
P III Comparing the Head to a Barrel of Wine Nature’s Cellar
P III Comparing of Wits to Wines Nature’s Wines
P III Soul and Body The Soul’s Garment
P III Comparing the Tongue to a Wheel Nature’s Wheel
P III Similizing the Brain to a Garden Nature’s Garden
P III Similizing the Heart to a Harp, the Head to an Organ, the Tongue to a Lute, to make a Consort of Music Nature’s Musical Instruments
P III Similizing the Winds to Music Nature’s Music
P III Of a Picture Hung in Nature’s House A Picture Hung in Nature’s House
P III Of Two Hearts Nature’s Fields and Meadows
P III Similizing the Clouds to Horses Nature’s Horses
P III Similizing Birds to a Ship Nature’s Ships
P III Similizing the Mind Nature’s Traffic
P III A Prospect of a Church in the Mind Nature’s Prospect
P III A Landscape Nature’s Landskip
P III Similizing Thoughts Thoughts Similized
P III Of Thoughts The Actions of the Mind Similized
P III Similizing Navigation Of Navigation
P III Similizing the Sea to Meadows and Pastures, the Mariners to Shepherds, the Mast to a Maypole, the Fish to Beasts The Sea Similized to Meadows and Pastures, the Mariners to Shepherds, the Mast to a Maypole, the Fish to Beasts
P III Comparing Waves and a Ship to Rebellion A Storm upon the Seas Compared to a Rebellion
P III Similizing the Head of Man to the World Man’s Head Similized to the Globe of the World.
P III Similizing the Head of Man to a Hive of Bees The Head of Man Compared to a Hive of Bees
P III Similizing Fancy to a Gnat Fancies Similized to Gnats
P III Of the Spider Of a Spider’s Web
P III Of the Head The Head of Man Compared to a Church
P III [no title] The Conclusion of this Part
C III – IV Similizing a young Lady to a Ship. The Voyage of a Ship, under which the Fortune of a Young Lady is Expressed
C III – IV The Ship Another Voyage of the Same Ship
C III – IV The Chorus Chorus
C III – IV The Bride The Bride’s Dress
C III – IV The Bridegroom The Bridegroom’s Dress
C III – IV To the Temple [no title]
C III – IV A Masquer drest by Vanity, spoke the Epilogue; his Dresse. A Masquer Dressed by Vanity
P IV To All Writing Ladies [this item is not included in 1664 or 1668]
P IV [no title] To the Reader, Concerning Fairies
P IV Of the Theme of Love Upon the Theme of Love
P IV The Elysium The Brain Compared to the Elysium
P IV A Description of Shepherds and Shepherdesses A Description of a Shepherd’s and Shepherdess’s Life (1664); A Description of a Shepherd’s and Shepherdess’s Life (1668)
P IV A Shepherd’s Employment is too Mean an Allegory for Noble Ladies. The Allegory of Shepherds Is too Mean for Noble Persons.
P IV Between Shame and Dishonor. The House of Shame, wherein Dishonor Lives
P IV Fame’s Library within the Temples Fame’s Library within the Temple
P IV The Fairy Queen The Fairy Queen’s Kingdom
P IV Her Descending Down The Palace of the Fairy Queen
P IV Witches of Lapland Of the Witches in Lapland that Make Winds
C IV – V Of Small Creatures, Such as We Call Fairies. Of Fairies in the Brain
C IV – V The City of the Fairies The City of These Fairies Is the Brain.
C IV – V The War of those Spirits The War of the Animal Spirits
C IV – V Peace Peace betwixt Animal Spirits
C IV – V The description of their world, which is the Body. The Body Is the World of the Animal Spirits.
C IV – V Similizing the Body to Many Countries The Body Similized to Many Countries
C IV – V [Untitled] A Compliment sent to the Fairy Queen
P V An Epistle to Soldiers To All Valiant Soldiers
P V A Description of the Battle in Fight A Description of the Fight
P V On a Mother, that Died for Grief of her Only Daughter, which Died On a Mother, that Died for Grief of the Death of her Only Daughter
P V Of a Funeral Upon the Funeral of my Dear Brother, Killed in these Unhappy Wars
P V An Elegy on my Brother, Killed in these Unhappy Wars An Elegy upon the Death of my Brother.
Conclusion [Untitled] Of the Style of this Book
Conclusion [Untitled] The Common Fate of Books
Conclusion [Untitled] Another of the Same



  1. James Fitzmaurice, “Some Problems in Editing Margaret Cavendish,” in New Ways of Looking at Old Texts: Papers of the Renaissance English Text Society, 1985–1991, ed. Speed Hill (Binghamton, NY: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1993), 253–61.
  2. On Cavendish’s annotations to her own books, see Liza Blake, “Pounced Corrections in Oxford Copies of Cavendish’s Philosophical and Physical Opinions; or, Margaret Cavendish’s Glitter Pen,” New College Notes 10 (2018), no. 6: 1–11; and James Fitzmaurice, “Margaret Cavendish on Her Own Writing: Evidence from Revision and Handmade Correction,” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 85 (1991): 297–307. I am currently working on an article on matching bindings in Cavendish books across Oxford and Cambridge college libraries.
  3. George Ballard, Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain, who have been celebrated for their writings or skill in the learned languages arts and sciences (Oxford: Printed by W. Jackson, for the author, 1752), 305. This possibility is also mentioned by John Nichols, A Select Collection of Poems: with notes, biographical and historical (London: Printed by and for J. Nichols, Red Lion Passage, Fleet-Street, 1780), vol. 1, 195 and Henry ten Eyck Perry, The First Duchess of Newcastle and her Husband as Figures in Literary History (Boston and London: Ginn and Company, 1918), 287—both apparently citing Ballard.
  4. Reverendissimi domini domini Richardi Willis, Wintoniensis episcopi, bibliothecæ catalogus. A catalogue of the valuable library of … Richard Willis, late Lord Bishop of Winchester, to which is added, a large and fine parcel of well-chosen books lately imported … Which will begin to be sold very cheap … at T. Osborne’s shop in Grays-Inn, on Thursday the 20th day of this instant February, 1734/5, (London, 1735), item #1860. This catalog divides books by size, and the entry in question is classified among the folios. Copies of this catalog survive, according to the ESTC, at the British Library, Cambridge University Library, Grolier Library, and UCLA Clark Memorial Library.
  5. John Nichols, A Select Collection of Poems: with notes, biographical and historical (London: Printed by and for J. Nichols, Red Lion Passage, Fleet-Street, 1780), vol. 4, 353 n. “P. 195”.
  6. Margaret Cavendish, The Life of the thrice noble, high, and puissant Prince William Cavendishe, Duke, Marquess, and Earl of Newcastle (London: printed by A. Maxwell, 1667), sig. (a)2r.
  7. Margaret Cavendish, CCXI Sociable Letters (London, 1664), 266–69 (quotation from 267); Ron Cooley, “Biographical Introduction,” in As One Phoenix: Four Seventeenth-Century Women Poets, ed. Ron Cooley, http://www.usask.ca/english/phoenix/homepage3.htm.
  8. Liza Blake, “Locating Margaret Cavendish’s Books: Database, Map, and Analysis,” Digital Cavendish Project, 14 November 2018, Last updated 25 February 2019, http://digitalcavendish.org/original-research/locating-margaret-cavendish/.
  9. Harvard MS Eng 645, f. 173. In transcribing this title, fossil thorns have been modernized and superscript letters lowered; lineation has not been preserved.
  10. Katie Whitaker, Mad Madge: The Extraordinary Life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, the First Woman to Live by her Pen (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 155, 375 n. 71. The Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, 1652–1653, Preserved in the State Paper Department of Her Majesty’s Public Record Office, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1878) lists these permits on February 16, 1653, and March 2, 1653 (pp. 467 and 469, respectively).
  11. Thomason: British Library, shelfmark E.1474(1), title page; Barlowe: Bodleian Library, shelfmark 8o N 2 Art.BS, verso of second flyleaf. See also Whitaker, Mad Madge, 375 n. 80.
  12. Whitaker, Mad Madge, 375 n. 56.
  13. All of Cavendish’s works were printed in folio, with the exception of her Philosophical Fancies (London, 1653), which is an octavo, and the second edition of her biography of her husband published after her death in 1675 in quarto.
  14. Cameron Kroetsch notes two of the three variant pages in “List of Margaret Cavendish’s Texts, Printers, and Booksellers (1653–1675),” Digital Cavendish Project, 15 August 2013, http://digitalcavendish.org/original-research/texts-printers-booksellers/, 2 n. 4.
  15. In all quotations from the title pages, italics and lineation have been ignored but capitalization has been maintained. The Huntington call number is 120141.
  16. This title page is also found in Harvard Library, call number 15463.72.7, and at the Bodleian Library, shelfmark P 1.22 Jur.Seld.
  17. I have found this dedicatory poem only in the following copies of the 1653 Poems and Fancies: Bodleian Library, shelfmark P 1.22 Jur.Seld; British Library, shelfmark C.39.h.27 (1); Cambridge University Library, shelfmark P*.3.19(C). In the Bodleian copy this poem is opposite the title page, where one might usually see a frontispiece; in other copies it immediately follows the title page.
  18. For a quick overview of stop-press changes, see Sarah Werner, Studying Early Printed Books, 1450–1800: A Practical Guide (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2019), 61–62.
  19. On the different printers not only of the poems but of all of Cavendish’s works, see Cameron Kroetsch, “List of Margaret Cavendish’s Texts, Printers, and Booksellers.” The Errata is printed on the last page of the book, sig. 2Q2r, of the 1664 edition; we have noted the intended corrections from this Errata in the notes to the poems themselves in this digital edition.
  20. Margaret Cavendish, Poems and Fancies (London, 1653), sig. B3r.
  21. That same page has another stop-press correction: the same Bodleian Library copy also reads “beget?” instead of “beget.” in line 14.
  22. Margaret Cavendish, The World’s Olio (London, 1655), 93–94.
  23. Margaret Cavendish, Natures Pictures, Drawn by Fancies Pencil to the Life (London, 1656), sig. 3E4r.
  24. This text is bound with a copy of her Philosophical Fancies (London, 1655).
  25. The word I have transcribed as “Iniqueln” Elizabeth Scott-Baumann transcribes as “languesh” in Forms of Engagement: Women, Poetry, and Culture, 1640–1680 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 62.
  26. This text is bound with her 1665 Philosophical and Physical Opinions, her 1655 World’s Olio, and her 1656 Natures Pictures. I am grateful to Steven Van Impe of the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library for sharing with me images of the marginalia in this volume, and for hosting me at the library to examine the volume myself.
  27. This copy is currently held at the Huntington Library, call number 120141; the poem is located on the recto of the second flyleaf. In transcribing the poem, I have modernized fossil thorns, lowered superscript letters, and silently expanded abbreviations. I have also added line numbers for ease of reference.
  28. Harvard MS Eng 645, f. 173. Fane has another poem in her honor in British Library Add MS 34217, ff. 16v–17r.
  29. Cavendish, Poems and Fancies (London, 1653), Folger Library copy, call number 226042, sig. R3r.
  30. Cambridge University Library, P*.3.14 (C); Bodleian Library, AA 141 Th Seld. These two bindings match one another, a common occurrence as Cavendish frequently had books batch-bound before distributing them to libraries.
  31. City University of New York (CUNY), City College Cohen Library, 3YP N536 X; the CUNY copy was once owned by book collector Beverly Chew, and other copies of Cavendish books that she owned can be found in libraries around the world (with a special concentration in the Huntington Library). Huntington Library, 120141. Harvard University, Houghton Library, 15463.72.7. The Harvard copy of the 1668 Poems is bound to match a copy of her 1664 Sociable Letters and her 1671 World’s Olio.
  32. On the non-uniformity of early print more generally, see esp. Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), though he discusses this variability not in the context of editing, but in the context of the history of science.
  33. Scott-Baumann, Forms of Engagement, 60.
  34. Scott-Baumann, Forms of Engagement, 62; she covers the revisions from 63–67. Other editors have also briefly addressed revision, usually by selecting one or more poems and analyzing their differences: Leigh Tillman Partington analyzes “Of Air” in “A Note on the Text,” in The Atomic Poems of Margaret (Lucas) Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, from her Poems, and Fancies, 1653, an electronic edition, ed. Leigh Tillman Partington (Atlanta, GA: Lewis H. Beck Center, Emory University, 1996), http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/179qb; and Siegfried, in Cavendish, Poems and Fancies, ed. Siegfried, includes eight pages of poems from the first edition to allow readers to compare versions themselves, 369–76.
  35. The multi-modal monograph, in progress, will be called Choose Your Own Poems and Fancies: A Rearrangeable Digital Edition and Study of Margaret Cavendish’s Atom Poems, and is under contract with Electric Press (http://electric.press/books/cavendish.html).
  36. On cutting and pasting (or sewing) in early modern books, see the special issue The Renaissance Collage: Toward a New History of Reading, ed. Juliet Fleming, William Sherman, and Adam Smyth, The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 45.3 (2015): 443–639.
  37. Douglas Grant, Margaret the First: A Biography of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, 1623–1673 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1957), 47 n. 2; Sara Heller Mendelson, The Mental World of Stuart Women: Three Studies (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1987), 42.
  38. Partington, “A Note on the Text”; Partington uses the 1653 edition as her base text on the grounds that, given the hired drudge, “We cannot be sure how closely she supervised this editing process.”
  39. Siegfried, “Introduction,” 15.
  40. Grant, Margaret the First, 113.
  41. Michael Robbins, “Note on the Text,” in Margaret Cavendish, ed. Michael Robbins (New York: New York Review of Books, 2019), xvi.
  42. Siegfried, “Introduction,” 15–17. Scott-Baumann, cited above, likewise assumes Cavendish as the reviser.
  43. lies] doth lye 1664, 1668
  44. For the purposes of this edition, we treated “fire” as a two-syllable word, as more natural to our ears, but over the strenuous objections of co-editor Carl Kersey, who tirelessly advocated for the other pronunciation; his objection is hereby noted for the record.
  45. Cavendish, World’s Olio, 93.
  46. See the copies at the Biblioteque Mazarine in Paris, the University of Leiden, and the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library in Antwerp, at Liza Blake, “Locating Margaret Cavendish’s Books.”
  47. Ibid.
  48. Margaret Cavendish, Poems and Fancies with The Animal Parliament, ed. Brandie Siegfried (Toronto: Iter Press, 2018), 51.
  49. I refer throughout to best-text editing to mean eclectic editing, though as Tanselle notes, “best-text” editing can sometimes also refer to what is more commonly now called copy-text editing, in which an editor chooses one version of the text, or one copy of a text (the one they consider the “best”) and use that as the basis for an edition (as, e.g., Brandie Siegfried’s edition of Cavendish, based on a single copy of one edition). See G. Thomas Tanselle, “Editing without a Copy-Text”, Studies in Bibliography 47 (1994): 1–22, at 1.
  50. The Division of the Kingdoms: Shakespeare’s Two Versions of King Lear, ed. Gary Taylor and Michael Warren (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983). They argue that the desire for “conflation of the two texts” stems from a fantasy that such conflation “will bring us as close as we can hope to get to the lost archetype which each [the Quarto and Folio versions] is supposed imperfectly to represent” (8–9).
  51. In the third edition of the Norton Shakespeare they avoid the terminology “conflation” by saying that the third version of King Lear is “Folio with Additions from the Quarto”; see the Table of Contents in The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2016), vii. They also separate the Q1 Hamlet from “Second Quarto with additions from the Folio” (vi).
  52. Gordon McMullan and Suzanne Gosset, “General Textual Introduction,” in Norton Shakespeare, third edition, 84, 90.
  53. Margaret Cavendish, Natures Pictures, sig. 3F2v. The poem continues: “If not the second, the a third may raise / It from the Dust, and give it wondrous praise. / For who can tell but my poor Book may have / Honour’d renown, when I am in the Grave? / And when I dye, my Blessing I will give, / And pray it may in after Ages live.”
  54. Valerie Wayne, “The Sexual Politics of Textual Transmission,” Textual Formations and Reformations, ed. Laurie E. Maguire and Thomas L. Berger (Delaware: University of Delaware Press, 1998), 179–210.
  55. See, most recently, Michael Robbins, who in his selection of poems includes the following note to the first poem in Clasp I–II: “This is the first of four poems entitled ‘The Clasp’ that link the sections of Poems and Fancies, two of which are included here”; Margaret Cavendish, ed. Michael Robbins (New York: New York Review of Books, 2019), 46n. The note obscures the fact that each Clasp is not a poem but its own section.
  56. Siegfried in her edition likewise treats “The Clasp” as a poem title in Clasps I–II and II–III, and represents the typography differently in those two poems than in Clasps III–IV and IV–V (despite saying in the her textual introduction that she has attempted to mimic the typography of 1668). She marks only Clasp IV–V as a transitional section.
  57. For ease of comparison in this paragraph, in transcribing all poem titles, I have regularized capitalization and italics, and have not included the part of the title that names Margaret Cavendish as the author.