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First Published:  31 August 2021
Revised (substantive):  n/a

H T M L   T R A N S C R I P T   O F

Four Essays on Opinion,
Ignorance & Knowledge


excerpted from
the 1st edition of The Worlds Olio
(London, 1655)

by  M A R G A R E T   C A V E N D I S H
afterwards Duchess of Newcastle
Royalist émigré in Paris during the 1640s, and in Antwerp
during the 1650s, returning to England in 1660 following
the restoration of Charles II.
Natural philosopher, moral philosopher, poet, and
author of 22 published works between 1653–1671.

E S S A Y   125
Of Several Opinions

Opening quotation markSeveral Opinions, except it be in Religion, do no harm, if no good; for Opinions are the greatest entertainers of Time, and a chief Companion in mans life; for Opinions are Chatting Gossips, to pass away the idle time; for although Man complains of the shortness of Life, and swiftness of Time, yet he hath most commonly more than he can well tell how to spend his Life with; for most men seek waies to pass Time withall; and if the World were equally, amongst Mankind and Industry, divided, yet he would find little Variety of Imployment; so that Mans Life is busied more with Thoughts than Actions.Closing quotation mark

E S S A Y   126
The Strength of Erroneous Opinions

Opening quotation markHow strong did men believe against the Antipodes, as one man believing such a thing to be, was put out of his Liveing, when in after Ages it was found a Truth? How strongly did many Ages believe that the Torrid Zone, or Ecliptick Line, was not Habitable, which now is found the most temperate Climate? How strongly did Europe believe that all the World was discovered, and yet afterwards so much found out, as it seemed another World? and many believi’d [sic] that the Earth was flat and not round, but Cavendish, Drake, and others, rectified that Error; and many other Examples might be given. So that Opinions are alwaies in War, with Factious Sidings, and men become their Champions either with the Pen or Sword; but the ignorant men are the stronger in their belief in Opinions; for searching gives Doubts, aswell as discovereth the Truth, and it is Doubts that disturb the Peace, either of the Mind or otherwaies, when Truth commonly closeth all differences; so men travell in their Thoughts to spy out the Secrets of Nature, and find out Reason, to perswade them to new Opinions, which may be as far from the Truth, as the old ones which they fling off; for Nature is too various to be known, and her Curiosities too subtil to be understood; but men are so strangely delighted with what is new, that those men that have found a new Opinion are absolute to judge and rule over all others; such Reputation Singularity begets.Closing quotation mark

E S S A Y   127
The Strength of Opinions

Opening quotation markSo strongly do men wedge or rivet Opinions with the Hammer of a confident belief, that it is, in many, impossible to remove them fro[m] th[e]m, though they are most ridiculous & foolish, but especially when they are begot of their own Brains, and all those that do not adhere to them shall be accompted as their Enemies; So much doth Opinion sway and rule in the mind of Man more than Truth doth; for though some Opinions jump upon Truth, yet it is a thousand to one when they meet; And when the Truth is found, it is no longer an Opinion, but Knowledge, yet it is less esteemed when it is found, which makes that Saying true, That Ignorance is the Mother of Admiration, which Admiration begets an Esteem, and sets a Value upon they know not what: Wherefore he is a very wise man, that can rule his Opinions with Reason, and not let his Opinion overbear his Reason and to lead him from himself; Yet Opinions should not be sleighted nor contemned without Examination or Triall, though they be never so strange and unlikely, untill the Errour be found out; but not to rely upon them, or to be so bound that they will make no question against them; for an Opinion is but a guesse of what may be a Truth; but men should be as free to Opinions as Opinions to them, to let them come and go at
pleasure.Closing quotation mark

E S S A Y   128
The Opinions of Some Philosophers

Opening quotation markIf it be as some say, that the first Matter was from all Eternity, it is a Deity; And if Nature, which workes upon that Matter, was from all Eternity, it is a Deity; and God, the Order of Nature from all Eternity: For what had no begining, sure is a Deity. Thus Philosophers by their Arguments make three Deities, although they hold but one.Closing quotation mark


SOURCE:  Cavendish, Margaret. The worlds olio. Written by the right honorable, the Lady Margaret Newcastle. London: Printed for J. Martin and J. Allestrye at the Bell in St. Pauls Church-Yard, 1655. 116–117.
   Essay 126 opens with an oblique reference to Virgil of Salzburg: “How strong did men believe against the Antipodes, as one man believing such a thing to be, was put out of his Liveing, when in after Ages it was found a Truth?” (The Worlds Olio, 1655, 116)
   Click/tap here for a IN BRIEF topic on the Bishop and the Antipodes.