Margaret the First: A Biography of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, 1623-1673

Margaret the First: A Biography of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, 1623-1673

Margaret the First: A Biography of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, 1623-1673

Margaret the First: A Biography of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, 1623-1673

Excerpt

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle--the name at once brings to mind two famous and contradictory opinions: 'a mad, ridiculous, conceited woman', Pepys noted irritably; 'the thrice noble, chaste, and virtuous,--but again somewhat fantastical, and original--brain'd, generous Margaret Newcastle', declared Charles Lamb, in love with her singularity. To which side does the truth incline? Sir Charles Firth considered the question and wrote: 'What fame she has is with the few, and not with the many, with the best and not with the most. To some she is still the 'incomparable Princess', as contemporary panegyrists termed her, and Lamb delighted to style her. But to most she is and will be merely the fantastic figure which flits for a moment across the pages of Pepys.'

I have tried in this biography to show why Margaret Cavendish should be better known than Sir Charles thought likely. She is certainly fantastic--and one would not wish her otherwise-- but her character has a solidity and her writings an interest which could not be guessed from Pepys's remark, or, for that matter, from Lamb's. I hope I have avoided equally Pepys's contempt and Lamb's sentiment.

There are five important studies of Margaret. Sir Charles Firth's introduction to his edition of her Life of her husband, first published in 1886, is as much the work of an excellent literary critic as of a great historian. The standard account of both Margaret and her husband is by Henry Ten Eyck Perry: The First Duchess of Newcastle and her Husband as Figures in Literary History, 1918. I have not attempted to follow Perry's example and write a double-biography. Newcastle had passed fifty when he married Margaret, and I could see no way of doing justice to his early career and still letting my emphasis fall where I wished it to, on Margaret. I have introduced Newcastle himself only . . .

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