a Library publication

Library Catalog No. DTB1990
(reissued 21 August 2012)

An Early Challenge to the Precepts and Practice of Modern Science: The Fusion of Fact, Fiction, and Feminism in the Works of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623–1673). PhD diss. University of California, San Diego, 1990. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1990. 9023994.
(Item 11 of 12: Appendix B)
by Deborah Bazeley
e-Copyright © 2004–2016 < >
see also Part 1: Editor’s Introduction for Library Cat. No. DTB1990


Appendix B

The Seventeenth-Century
Context: The Discourse of the
New Science As the Ultimate Masculine Register

The language theories of the New Science movement have already been assessed in some detail. Scholars have looked at this subject in relation to issues of style, class, poetry, the essay, ethics, cognition, institutionalization, audience, epistemology, semiotics, ideology, rhetoric, metaphor, persuasion, and universal language schemes.<1> Despite the obviously encyclopedic sweep of this body of scholarship, no one has yet explored the considerable influence of antiwoman sentiment in the elaboration of a New Science language model. I wish to argue here that New Science concerns with the emasculation of truth-seeking and truth-seekers (described in appendix A) extended also to the area of truth-telling. A perceived need to strip language (like man) of “the Woman in us” underlay the bulk of New Science language reform projects. While I do not believe that a feminist analysis (or indeed, any other) by itself accounts for all aspects of New Science discourse theory, I do privilege it here — partly because no one else has, and partly in support of arguments and themes foregrounded in the preceding study.

B.1   In Search of the Ultimate Masculine Register

In Western culture, truth-telling has traditionally been associated with masculine rather than feminine speech. Plato inaugurated philosophic discourse as a masculine form by relegating women’s “unformed, chaotic, evanescent” speech — “the private speech of the household” — to the realm of opinion, set in opposition to masculine forms of truth-telling and truth-seeking embodied in the “all-male forum for philosophic discourse, pedagogy, and intimacy that is the mise en scène for the Platonic dialogues.”<2>

Francis Bacon was the first Englishman to grapple with language issues relating to the New Science. In his fable on the subject (from the Wisdom of the Ancients), Bacon’s discourse ideal for the New Science is notably similar to his society’s feminine speech ideal. Nature — “the universal frame of things” (meaning truth/reality as revealed by science) — is recast in the masculine gender, as Pan. Language is feminine, presented as either the good wife, Echo, or the deceitful daughter, Iambe. In Bacon’s description of Echo (representative of “truth-telling” discourse), we can discern the yearnings of a patriarchal society for total self-effacement of the “feminine”: Echo is language “which echoes most faithfully the voice of the world itself, and is written as it were from the world’s own dictation; being indeed nothing else than the image and reflexion of it, which it only repeats and echoes, but adds nothing of its own” (Works 6:714). Conversely, in Bacon’s description of Iambe (the discourse of deceit and “ridiculous stories”) we encounter patriarchy’s commonplace portrayal of women’s actual speech as an assertive outpouring of the “feminine”: “vain babbling doctrines about the nature of things ... doctrines barren in fact, counterfeit in breed, but by reason of their garrulity sometimes entertaining; and sometimes again troublesome and annoying” (Works 6:714). Bacon’s casting of language as feminine, and ideally, subordinate — echo, not ego — was hardly original. A popular proverb of the age held that “words are feminine, deeds are masculine” and was repeated in various forms throughout the century.<3>

Although a masculine res — things, facts, reality; the particular province and discovery of New Science (primarily experimental) “deeds” — was to assume precedence and prestige over a feminine verba in the new philosophic scheme of things, natural philosophers could not entirely dispense with language. In compensation, they sought a “new” and specialized register for truth-telling, characterized by its “manly unaffectedness, and simplicity of speech.”<4> The new register was intended to be free of the “feminine” extravagences of language. As explained by Thomas Sprat, the intended language reforms of the Royal Society would result in a new “purity of Speech” capable of becoming the “Instrument of conveying to the World, the Masculine Arts of Knowledge,” thus leaving “the Feminine Arts of Pleasure, and Gallantry” — and any other designated untruths — to “our Neighbouring Languages,” portrayed by Sprat as already so predisposed (History 41, 129).<5> This appropriation of the truth-telling function by a properly masculinized “English Tongue” would, as an added benefit, preserve (and extend) for England “the greatness of Empire” (Sprat, History 41).

It has been customary to interpret the intended language reforms of the Royal Society as an early rejection within the scientific movement of eloquence, grace, metaphor, and rhetoric.<6> I believe this interpretation is incorrect. The most prominent polemicists for the New Science did not reject (either in practice or theory) rhetoric and its associated arts; they sought instead to reconceptualize these along “masculine” lines considered more suitable to truth-telling.

B.2   Reconstructing Eloquence

It has become quite popular to discuss technical discourse in terms of its “signal-to-noise ratio” (Brogan). This bipartite division of language into noise (much) and truth/message (little) was earlier articulated by Sprat when he contrasted a perceived “volubility of Tongue, which makes so great a noise in the World” with the newly-streamlined discourse of the New Science (History 112). The essence of the streamlining process proposed by Royal Society statute lay in stripping the noise — the “extravagence” and “ornament” — from language, leaving as its residue a “plain and naturall” style. For Sprat and other New Science polemicists, “perspicuity replaced amplitude as the governing norm for the transmission of ideas” (Broadhead 230).<7> Thus, the Royal Society resolved

... to reject all the amplifications, digressions, and swellings of style: to return back to the primitive purity, and shortness, when men deliver’d so many things, almost in an equal number of words. They have exacted from all their members, a close, naked, natural way of speaking; positive expressions; clear senses; a native easiness: bringing all things as near the Mathematical plainness, as they can: and preferring the language of Artizans, Countrymen, and Merchants, before that, of Wits, or Scholars....
(Sprat, History 113)

The twin hallmarks of the improved masculine style — plain and natural — were, of course, ideals rather than accurate descriptors. “Plain” never meant the commonplace or overly familiar: e.g., “the use of vulgar Proverbs, and homely similitudes, and rude and clownish phrases: These are indecencies of speech, and misbecoming the reverence that is due to solemn discourses” (Glanvill, Essay Concerning Preaching 77). In fact, a good deal of rhetorical artifice was required in order to achieve properly “plain” prose — unembellished but not inelegant, lucid but not prosaic. Nor did “natural” mean without art. It took Joseph Glanvill, himself a masterful writer, years to achieve the “natural fluency of genuine eloquence” he so ardently championed as the proper means for conveying a “manly sense.”<9> Others, such as Robert Boyle, were never able to dispense with the (truly natural) prolixity of language.

The Royal Society battle against an ornamental use and superfluity of words (whether conscious or unconscious) culminated in the various philosophic language schemes associated with the New Science movement. Bacon, Hobbes, Wilkins, Boyle, Locke, and other prominent New Science spokesmen were obsessed with continuing attempts at ridding language of semantical imprecision. Far from valuing the communication function achieved via a basic indeterminacy of meaning,<10> they pursued rules and laws that would systematize and regulate interpretation by “stripping” words of their semantic possibilities, thus imposing on words a particular logic of reference and classification.<11> But who would assign the fixed meanings of words, and according to what criteria? Certainly not the masses of language users, whose creative appropriation of the “mother” tongue on their own terms was viewed as the problem rather than the solution. As Bacon phrased it (Aphorism LIX from the New Organon): “Now words, being commonly framed and applied according to the capacity of the vulgar, follow those lines of division which are most obvious to the vulgar understanding” (qtd. Stephens, Francis Bacon 10, 60). In the end, the New Science quest to purge language of ambiguity and a concomitant plurality of vision and interpretation translated into a bid for political power. Hobbes was quite clear about this. With his call for language reform, he openly sought to control the potential subversiveness of public and private language through the imposition of a disimpassioned, neutral, scientific vocabulary stripped of the terms of public moral evaluation or the terms of private moral sentiment and emotion.<12> Their focus on a masculine res and its concomitant emphasis on the referential function of the sign, coupled with a Baconian desire to appropriate the power of naming, led New Scientists to cultivate a standardized learned terminology, usually Latinate, that was at base exclusionary. By the new rules that governed truth-telling, Cavendish’s detractors were allowed to claim “that I having not the Names and Terms of Art, Speak and Write Non-sense” (1663 Philosophical and Physical Opinions d2v).

As idealized by Sprat and others, the superdiscourse of the New Science was decidedly androcentric. Re-rooted in the masculine registers associated with finance, commerce, and the mechanical arts, it was worldly, aggressive, and “naked” — denuded of all words that play to the feminine “passions,” and stripped of metalingual references and other forms whose primary function is structural (geared to communication) rather than referential (geared to truth-telling). The ideal technical discourse would brook no communication “niceties,” no special allowances for message or audience, no leisurely exploration of ideas, no meandering from a rigidly linear delivery. As Henry More stated it in a preface to the reader for his Philosophicall Poems, his “hard” form and style best suited his subject and “the more generous and manly Genius” he there catered to; if in so doing he offended “the delicacy of some Lady-wits” with their “female phansies” for elegant, polished and “smooth” prose, that was deliberate — such emasculated spirits had no allotted role in the truth-seeking ventures of the New Science (B1v).

B.3   Reconstructing Rhetoric

Despite the many vociferous criticisms leveled against conventional rhetoric, no one within the New Science movement wished to dispense with it entirely; their goal was reform, not extirpation. For example, Sprat argued that the “seeming Mysteries” associated with “fine speaking” are “shallow” arts compared to the pursuits of natural philosophy, but he conceded (more than once) that “how to set off, and persuade their conceptions, to others” is crucial to the success of the scientific enterprise (9). He also argued that the arts of rhetoric are now “much degenerated from their original usefulness,” but when employed once again by “Wise Men” to “represent Truth ... and to bring Knowledge back again to our very senses, from whence it was at first deriv’d to our understandings,” rhetoric will become “an admirable Instrument” and “Weapon” in the battle for truth (111–12). Boyle, too, preferred

... a philosophical rather than a rhetorical strain ... yet I approve not that dull and insipid way of writing, which is practised by many chymists ... For though a philosopher need not be sollicitous, that his style should delight its reader with his floridness, yet I think he may very well be allowed to take a care, that it disgust not his reader by its flatness....
(Certain Physiological Essays, Works 1:304)

Generally within New Science circles it was agreed that “rhetorical flourishes” served the cause of truth admirably when the intent was propaganda or popularization of New Science issues. Many of the early proponents of the New Science (e.g., Galileo, Kepler, Bacon, Wilkins, Sprat, Glanvill) themselves relied on accepted rhetorical conventions in order to sell “new” ideas to a popular and potentially hostile audience.<13> In a letter to Cavendish, Glanvill explains an earlier appeal to antiquity (which Cavendish chastised him for, claiming that the antiquity of an opinion offers “no certain Argument of the truth of it”) as a rhetorical strategem used in order to win his argument, and not actually intended as “a demonstration of the thing” (A Collection of Letters and Poems 126–7). However, in technical discourse directed not at Cavendish but at the elite “sons of science” (Bacon’s phrase), Glanvill deplored any such use of “feminine” ornament. He, and others, sought instead a reconstructed role for rhetoric in truth-telling. Various ideas were advanced.

Bacon, for example, assigned technical rhetoric an exclusionary role in dissociating “the vulgar” from truth-seeking activities and giving to science — as some sort of disembodied aggregate of truths — the power to “select her followers.”<14> As Henry Power wrote in his 1664 Experimental Philosophy, “the management of this great machine of the world ... must needs be the proper office of only the experimental and mechanical philosopher” (qtd. Easlea, Sexual Oppression 85). To achieve his end, Bacon trumpeted an “obscure” delivery of “fragments of knowledge” packaged with “chastity and brevity” of style — e.g., aphorisms, emblems, hieroglyphics, and tabular matrices — all designed to exclude the public-at-large from the “secrets of knowledge.”<15> The assumption undergirding Bacon’s new technical rhetoric was that only a professional elite could share the interpretive strategies and knowledge systems required to decipher such oblique communications. All others, restricted from the specialized training required to discourse in such a privileged register, would need the additional helps provided by traditional rhetoric (meanings pre-interpreted for an end audience, and then packaged to persuade). Thus, by distancing traditional arts of rhetoric from the pursuit of truth, one could effectively distance the public-at-large also.

Glanvill, like Bacon, believed that the search after truth (with its accompanying “Freedom of Judgment”) must not be polluted by the “vulgar” — in his case, unimproved masculine spirits incapable of “modest, impartial enquiry” after his model.<16> “Freedom of Judgment,” Glanvill believed, must be reserved for the privileged because “the representation of ... diversity [in interpretation] tends to the dissettlement of the people; and it begets in some a despair of understanding any thing ... which commonly ends in Scepticism, or Popery” (Essay Concerning Preaching 45). He thus distinguished carefully between the discourse of “Theory and Speculation,” addressed to a restricted audience of educated and professional elite, characterized by “fullness of sence, and compactness of writing,” versus discourse for the uneducated masses, characterized by “a certain laxness of style” — “Whoever would edifie them, must dilate, and represent the same things in different lights and colours” (Essay on Preaching 63, 64).

Glanvill also argued for a rhetorical conception of instructional discourse when he claimed that such discourse must incorporate “the proper ornaments of Language. I say, proper; for Styles are Cloathes that must be fitted to the Subjects they are upon, and altered according to the different kinds of things they describe and express” (Plus Ultra 85). A list of Glanvill’s “proper ornaments” included “genuine” epithets, proper and familiar words, smooth periods of middle proportion, and a macrostructure that is “as polite and as fast as Marble” (Plus Ultra 84). Anticipating Locke, Glanvill pushed to reconstruct rhetoric as the art of “plain reasoning” — i.e., “to state Matters clearly, and to draw out those conclusions that are lodged in them” — also referred to as “uningaged” argument whereby “extravagent heats may be avoided” (Essays IV:23, VII:47–8).<17>

B.4   Reconstructing Metaphor

Many have commented on the anti-metaphor stance of the New Science movement, and the attempt to purge conscious metaphor as a means of knowing or describing from technical discourse. As Stephen Medcalf points out, metaphor depends on assumptions that the universe does not consist of wholly distinct entities, and cannot therefore be fully described in positive and distinct terms; that categories can be crossed; that one object may be seen in terms of another object (xxx). Such assumptions were neither consonant with the extremely dissociated universe of Cartesianism — composed of clear and distinct entities, corresponding to clear and distinct ideas — nor with that of Newton — “nature as isolated parts that impinge on each other only as an effect of external forces” (Harding, The Science Question 237). Brian Vickers has added to this his argument that the anti-metaphor stance of the New Science was in large part a reaction against “the occult’s tendency to reify images,” treating analogy as if it were identity and collapsing necessary distinctions between (a feminine) verba and (masculine) res.<18>

Despite much accusatory debate within New Science circles arraigning any reliance on metaphor in technical writing, actual use of metaphors was subject to a certain double standard. Henry More, for example, castigated Thomas Vaughan, an influential spokesman for the competitor Hermetic-Paracelsian philosophy, for his dependence on metaphor. However, as Vickers points out, More himself “use[d] parables and occult analogies (the macrocosm and microcosm), believe[d] in the doctrine of signatures, and espouse[d] Platonic mysticism, visionary enthusiasm, and the Christian cabala” (“Introduction” 30). Without question, certain analogies and metaphors were permissible in technical discourse as models that typified man and his universe. While some concepts were designated symbolic, others (equally symbolic) were designated an objective mirror of reality. For example, quoting from William Petty’s 1674 Discourse Concerning the Use of Duplicate Proportion: “I might suppose (even without a Metaphor) that Atoms are also Male and Female, and the Active and Susceptive Principles of all things ... For, that Male and Female extend further than to Animals, is plain enough; the fall of Acorns into the ground, being the Coition of Oaks with the Earth ...” (130–1).

Glanvill typically discerns two different uses of metaphor: one he describes as manly “true Wit”; all other uses of metaphor constitute “vile and contemptible fooling” and are lumped together under the category of “the other.” In Glanvill’s schema, “manly” wit is “a perfection in our faculties, chiefly in the understanding ... a sagacity to find out the nature, relations, and consequences of things” (71). Glanvill’s “other” kind of wit is grounded in the imagination rather than the understanding — “a quickness in the phancy to give things proper Images ... that which consists in inversions of sentences, and playing with words, and the like” (Essay Concerning Preaching 71–2). A discriminating use of “manly” metaphor in the service of the New Science is not only acceptable, but desirable; conversely, metaphor as word play, a despised vanity of speech, is unacceptable in instructional discourse.

The important cognitive role of metaphor in the scientific enterprise was similarly acknowledged by other New Science spokesmen (e.g., Bacon, Boyle). However, later New Science strictures against a wrong use of metaphor focused on subordinating metaphor to argument and denying its cognitive role. Glanvill, who issued his polemical essay The Vanity of Dogmatizing in three different versions, made a point of editing out an early abundance of metaphor in favor of accentuated logical connections and belabored demonstrations (Medcalf xxxiii). Vickers summarizes: “we note the expulsion of symbolism from the domain of scientific argument, the appeal for proof, the demand for a rational explanation of causes” (“Analogy” 155). By the end of the century, Locke expressly condemned “metaphorical representations” in technical discourse because they circumvent the order and clearness required for logical demonstration. Metaphors would entrap even those “men, who sincerely aim at truth”: “their fancies being struck with some lively metaphorical representations,” they would be too precipitate in accepting inferences and granting assent, Locke argued, thus bypassing the carefully-crafted chain of reasoning favored by the New Science as sole means for truth-seeking and truth-telling (Essay Concerning Human Understanding, qtd. Medcalf xxxiii).

B.5   Suppression of Copia

Terence Cave has identified a discourse of copia, grounded in Erasmian rhetorical theory — really “a kind of anti-theory designed to release the movement of discourse rather than to master it and circumscribe it pedagogically” — that flourished during the sixteenth century (xiv). Cave describes this discourse as open-ended, characterized by a “desire to give rein to the liberties of writing,” an overflowing of textual boundaries, and an “acceptance of non-resolution,” resulting in a written text that “is often ironic or incomplete, expressly revealing the impossibility of enclosing the universe of knowledge within the perimeters of a single work” (332). He points to Erasmus, Ronsard, Montaigne, and Rabelais, among others, as representative writers in the tradition of copia. And he argues that this alternate rhetorical tradition died out in the seventeenth century with the advent of the New Science movement.

Notably, the Royal Society repeatedly proclaimed its commitment to open-ended discourse. Quoting Sprat: “... whatever they have recorded, they have done it, not as compleat Schemes of opinions, but as bare unfinish’d Histories” (History 115). And a few individuals within the New Science movement did explore open-system paradigms for technical discourse. Pascal was perhaps foremost among the Europeans in this endeavour (Ong 330). Foremost among the English was Robert Boyle, with his technique of “pursued Thoughts,” common to both his practice and discourse as a scientist. As explained by J.R. Jacob: “The thoughts can be about anything; the important thing is that the mind or ‘imagination’ play over the object until the possibilities of its elaboration have been exhausted — until it has been ‘pursued’” (28). Boyle’s technique of “pursued Thoughts” was somewhat akin to Hooke’s “algebras” (Boyle and Hooke were long-time collaborators).<19> However, Hooke’s “algebras” were usually brief lists or matrices of “idea seeds,” terse, telegraphic, and essentially non-communicative; in contrast, Boyle’s technique of “pursued Thoughts” was primarily discursive and grounded in the rhetoric of copia (see, for example, his 1665 Occasional Reflections upon Several Subjects — an extraordinary sustained exercise in thought pursuit [Works 2:323–461]).

Boyle’s technique of “pursued Thoughts” was not, however, freely indulgent. Boyle was forever terrified of his “volatile fancy” with its “habitude of roving” to subjects “unseasonable and impertinent” — among which Boyle included sexual fantasies, plays and romances, and the philosophy of the schools (J.R. Jacob 29). Free cognitive play was encouraged by Boyle only when it moved in properly devout tracks; any wild and “wandering thoughts” were impermissible. As Boyle tells us in his autobiographical fragment, “An Account of Philaretus during His Minority,” his own cure for this, developed during adolescence as a means to “reclaim his thoughts” from the influence of “fabulous and wandering stories,” was immersion in “the extraction of the square and cube roots, and especially those more laborious operations of algebra” (Works 1:xvii).

Boyle achieved opened closure in his technical prose by avoiding the systematizing pull of “demonstration” (i.e., argument) and presenting instead a “rhapsody of loose notes” cobbled together for publication (Works 1:589). His novel “experimental essay” texts comprise an essentially random listing of experiments (“the order of the experiments every reader may alter”) — in essence, a compilation of raw data free from the weight of theoretical superstructures (Works 1:3).<20> Such discourse was additive, inclusive, continually pointed outside of itself, and avoided closure: for example, “by declining a methodical way of delivering them, I ... leave you and myself the greater liberty and convenience to add to them, and transpose them as shall appear expedient” (Works 1:668). For communicating experiments, Boyle favored a narrative (“historical”) essay form that emphasized the logic of discovery over that of proof. To be accepted as matters of fact, experiments had to be recorded by way of “relations” and not simply by way of “prescriptions” (Works 1:460). Thus oriented towards process, Boyle presented a detailed chronology rather than a synopsis: he stressed not only what worked, but what didn’t; mistakes as well as successes; mid-stream changes in approach or intent; plus individual and group brainstorming sessions concerning observed effects, possible causes, and proposed future experiments.

Boyle was not unaware of the dramatic effects inherent in a “circumstantial” delivery, and he expertly exploited this in order to involve and entertain his readers simultaneously. His technical writing was immersed in concrete detail and emotionally charged with frequent expressions of expectation, excitement, wonder, surprise, confusion, or disgust as “I” and “we” delighted in their experimental play with nature. In keeping with his preference for a “circumstantial” delivery, Boyle favored a “prolix” prose style, with over-long periods and parentheses, capable of pulling in everything that was pertinent to each occurrence in the laboratory (Works 1:2, 1:305). His language meanders, often tedious in its attention to and amassing of detail, and characterized by complex embedded structures, lengthy parenthetical asides, circumlocution, and repetition.

Boyle’s fascinating rhetorical technique assumed that experiments — carefully construed by him as “matters of fact” (e.g., Works 1:2, 1:463, 1:664) — required no logical “demonstration” but spoke for themselves: “And if the notions and reasoning be themselves solid, they will not need the assistance of an exact method to obtain the assent of so discerning a reader, as they are presented to” (Works 5:253). This Boyle maintained despite the fact that he himself frequently warned against the subjective nature of experiments, and the extreme difficulties of achieving meaningful repetition in results or interpretation. Ultimately, Boyle’s interesting rejection of a “dogmatical” way of technical writing rested on faulty grounds: a misplaced reverence for the impartial nature of “facts”; an assumption that data accumulation is the “design and business” of science (Works 1:667); and an assumption that data-dumping discourse is the preferred means for achieving this end. In the end, Boyle cast himself as the purveyor rather than author of information, substituting a seeming neutrality — “free inquiry” — for more traditional, and to his mind value-laden, methods of assertion (e.g., scholastic “dogmatizing” and “confutation”; Works 5:158–254).

Royal Society strictures for achieving open-ended discourse aimed at nothing quite so radical as Boyle’s discursive practice. They focused instead on surface-level reforms. There were two specific injunctions endorsed by the Royal Society: avoid systematizing (by which was meant explicit theorizing) and incorporate terms of “caution and reserve” (e.g., “So I think,” “In my opinion,” “Perhaps ’tis so”; see Glanvill, Plus Ultra 147). The suggested terms of diffidence were sprinkled through most New Science texts, but seldom wrought any substantive change in tone. Similarly, almost every scientific text of the period professed in prefatory remarks to avoid theorizing. Few authors contested the Royal Society’s simplistic conflation of theoretical speculation with system-building. Not surprisingly, Robert Boyle was one.<21> Robert Hooke was another. On the one hand, Hooke applauded the Royal Society for “The Rules You have prescrib’d Your selves ... particularly that of avoiding Dogmatizing, and the espousal of any Hypothesis not sufficiently grounded and confirm’d by Experiments”; on the other, he stated his own preference for “some Expressions, which may seem more positive then Your Prescriptions will permit” (Micrographia A2v). One of the most popular science texts ever written during the early modern period, Hooke’s Micrographia contained microscopical observations in the form of description-narrations of experimental methods and findings, accompanied by exquisitely detailed illustrations. With these, Hooke included his “Conjectures and Quaeries” — “doubtful Problems, and uncertain ghesses, and not ... unquestionable Conclusions, or matters of unconfutable Science” (b1r). Hooke believed in a dialectical interplay of “Hands,” “Eyes” and “Reason” at every stage of scientific endeavor (b2r). Random observation and investigation were uninformative, he felt. Hooke thus emphasized that “there must be Judgement in the Historian to discern what will be material and useful” (qtd. Wood 8). Nonetheless, at the same time that his defiant introduction of conjecture actually opened up the discovery process to the reader, the schematic nature of Hooke’s text at the level of macrostructure worked towards closure. Sixty essays were organized in such a manner as was consonant with Hooke’s hierarchical view of nature and the correct way to conduct a philosophic inquiry: in seriated steps, beginning with “the most simple and uncompounded bodies” before advancing to “bodies of a more complicated nature” — i.e., from “Inanimate or Mineral bodies” to “Vegetative bodies; and last of all, of Animate ones” (1, 87–88). Ultimately, the Micrographia was encoded within the systematizing framework of “the Great Chain of Being” — a theory of nature grounded in order, stasis and closure.

Despite repeated proclamations to the contrary, the primary trend within New Science discourse was towards closed-system paradigms, characterized by implicit systematizing and/or an authoritarian relation to subject and audience. For example, in the Scepsis, Glanvill quotes Montaigne and locates himself within the tradition of copia: his text is an “Essay, or imperfect offer at a Subject” (c3v). However, Glanvill’s movement from the earlier version of the Scepsis (the Vanity of Dogmatizing) to its third and final version in the Essays, was a movement towards, rather than away from, closed-system paradigms. As Medcalf describes it, “The Vanity is open, the Essay positive.... Glanvill chose in the end to give a positive picture of his universe, one in which a kind of openness, livingness and substantial quality was not expressed” (xliii–xliv). As already mentioned (see B.3), Glanvill focused increasing attention on a methodical delivery, including rigid adherence to an elaborated schema of either/or logic that restricted the free flow of information or argument; for example:

So that whosoever saith, that inquiry into Nature, and God’s Works leads to any degree of Atheism, gives great ground of suspicion that himself is an Atheist; or that he is that other thing that the Royal Psalmist calls him, that saith in his heart there is no God. For either he acknowledgeth the Art and exactness of the Works of Nature, or he doth not; if not, he disparageth the Divine Architect, and disables the chief Argument of his existence: If he doth, and yet affirms that the knowledge of it leads to Atheism, he saith he knows not what, and in effect this, That the light of the order and method of a regular and beautiful contrivance tends to perswade that Chance and Fortune was the Author....
(Essays IV:7)

Glanvill expressly sought improved methods of demonstration — “That I may prove this, it must be premised, That ...” (Essays IV:13) — rather than discovery. His intent was that technical writing convert rather than challenge (“surprise”) the reader (Essay on Preaching 38–40).

Similarly, Henry More claimed that he deliberately “deferres” from “a more determinate decision” (B3r), and yet he never achieved (or truly desired to achieve) open-ended discourse. His attitude towards any sustained pose of “diffidence” is quite clear: “I desire no man to take any thing I write, upon trust, without canvasing; and would be thought rather to propound then to assert what I have here or elsewhere written. But continually to have expressed by diffidence in the very tractates themselves, had been languid and ridiculous” (H2r). Both in tone and structure, More’s discourse resisted the declaredly tentative nature of New Science speculation. His markedly aggressive and combative mood, his “manly” style, his unmasked contempt for opposing viewpoints, his vitriolic tirades against opponents, and his rigidly argumentative structure (“my writings intend to prove” (R6v) — all belie a genuine commitment to indeterminacy.

There are times in the Philosophicall Poems when More does purposely introduce conflicting arguments in order to stimulate reader skepticism.<22> He also inveighs against too great a reliance on “Demonstration,” avers that “true opinion is as faithfull a Guide, as Necessity and Demonstration,” and acknowledges a preference for “argument” from “reason, nature, and story” (B3r). However, despite More’s introduction of “sportfull phancie,” “speculation,” and the use of poetry as a vehicle for debate in natural philosophy, More will not give free reign to copia, nor will he ultimately relinquish his claim to authority. He seeks open dialogue with his subject matter and the reader only in a few specific instances; the majority of the time, his intent is to close off “atheistical” truth claims from the realm of legitimate scientific discussion. More’s discussion of his rhetorical strategy in part 3 of Book I of his Philosophicall Poems is exemplar of this. In “The Preface to the Reader,” More explains that the following poems were intended “to raise a certain number of well ordered Phantasms, fitly shaped out and warily contrived, which I set to skirmish and conflict with all the furious phansies of Epicurisme and Atheisme.” His aim, he informs us, is “victory” (over epicureanism, atheism, and the reader), but he is unhappily aware that “victory will be no victory, unlesse the adversary acknowledge himselfe overcome. None can acknowledge himselfe overcome, unlesse he perceive the strength, and feel the stroke of the more powerfull arguments.” More concludes by asking his readers to willingly enter into combat with him. In sum, “though they were of another opinion then what my writings intend to prove, I doubt not but they will have the happinesse to be overcome, and to prove gainers by my victory” (Philosophicall Poems R5r).

B.6   Preference for Classical Rhetorical Model

There were a number of reasons why, when crafting a “new” technical discourse, the Royal Society ignored available models in the tradition of copia and instead sought its models in classical rhetoric.<23> For starters, the primary role accorded language and discourse in Erasmian rhetoric was not in keeping with New Science theories of language and physical reality. Cave describes the discourse of copia as “a continuous, infinitely extensible discourse which allows verba to proliferate in order to discover some eventual res” (275). New Science philosophers anxious to subordinate verba to res and to purge language of its “feminine” elements — its unending protean flow — were clearly at odds with the suppositions of copia. Then too, as Walter Ong comments, Cartesian and Newtonian frames of reference “relied on ‘closed system energy models of all reality’” corresponding with closed-system paradigms for discourse (330). Lastly, classical rhetoric was steeped in patriarchal traditions consonant with the “manly” truth-seeking and truth-telling activities associated with the New Science.<24>

B.6.1 The Adversary Paradigm

As demonstrated by Janice Moulton, the rhetoric of philosophy (natural or otherwise) derives from a classical model predicated on adversarial reasoning, whereby objective truth is sought after and believed revealed only through a rite of “extreme opposition” — “an unimpassioned debate between adversaries who try to defend their own views against counterexamples and produce counterexamples to opposing views.” Such a rhetorical strategy was from the beginning gendered “masculine.” First, the feminine speech ideal (in the seventeenth century — silence, modesty, sweetness) restrained women from using argumentative forms of address, let alone the discourse of “extreme opposition.” Second, the rigidity and rigor of adversarial reasoning required specialized training closed to women. Third, as Moulton points out, the Adversary Paradigm ignores the role of “experience” in formulating truth and is frequently inappropriate to discussion of so-called women’s issues and concerns. Fourth, in its extreme focus on counterexamples, the adversary paradigm “presents a distorted picture about what sorts of positions are worthy of attention” and “prevents us from seeing that systems of ideas which are not directed to an adversary may be worth studying and developing.” This built-in exclusionary bias has often been used to dissociate women’s issues and interests from the realm of scholarly study. Any forms of reasoning (most associated with women, children, and the “lower orders”) that are “different from the reasoning used to address an adversary” or “too complex and interrelated to be evaluated by counterexamples” cannot be accommodated within the adversarial frame.<25>

Although the favored genres of the New Science comprised a mixture of old (e.g., treatise, letter) and new (e.g., “experimental essay,” technical journal, abstract, “natural history” — that is, extensive, sometimes tabular, compilations of “raw data”), the bulk of New Science scholarship retained the adversarial form of “disputation.” In fact, it has been credibly argued that New Science experiment and rhetoric did not so much seek to prove the plausibility of the new mechanical philosophy (as represented in the thought of Descartes, Hobbes, and Gassend — “the great physicist-systematizers of the mid-seventeenth century”) as to damage opposing theories, leaving the new philosophy “to rush into the resulting breach.”<26> Boyle himself admits to this; see his commentary regarding the character Carneades — Boyle’s mouthpiece — in The Sceptical Chymist (Works 1:460).

B.6.2 The Conquest/Conversion Paradigm

Closely associated with the Adversary Paradigm is what Sally Gearhart labels a “conquest/conversion” mentality (see “Womanization of Rhetoric”). This aggressive and controlling stance towards audience is also a predominant feature of classical rhetoric, with roots in classical oratory where the orator, described by George Kennedy as “a fighter in a lonely contest,” sought to impose his will on others — to achieve victory over rather than harmony with his listeners (Kennedy 10). Again, this key rhetorical stance was widely gendered as masculine. A Conquest/Conversion strategy is premised on dominating over audience. Such behavior was simply not countenanced in women who were repeatedly admonished, throughout the early modern period, to relinquish all forms of rhetoric-as-persuasion in favor of feminine models of deference and modesty.

Within the New Science movement, new forms of apodictic demonstration replaced older forms, such as the syllogism, but still retained a Conquest/Conversion mentality. As I have already suggested, the closed-system rhetorical models favored by New Science writers replaced “to know” with “to prove,” thus converting a task of discovery into one of justification (Gearhart, “End to Technology” 174).

B.6.3 The Primacy of “Ethos”

Classical rhetoric also emphatically showcased “ethos” — the public image of self, the rhetor’s “character” as constructed in the text — epitomized by the heroic speaker of classical oratory (Kennedy 10). Not perhaps coincidentally, “ethos” was the supreme guarantor of “credibility” in New Science discourse. Unlike now, “self” was not elided from technical writing to achieve objectivity, but was prominently displayed. Even a cursory review of a range of science texts from the period reveals the omnipresence of “I” and “we.”<27>

By definition, the ideal “ethos” had always been, and continued to be, androcentric, tied to concepts of personal honor and public achievements that were available to men but not to women (Stone, Crisis 90; Kennedy 110). Within the circles of institutionalized New Science, the ideal “ethos” was that of Glanvill’s “improved Masculine Spirits” whose “impartial Search, wary Procedure, deep Sagacity, twisted Endeavours, ample Fortunes, and all other advantages” guaranteed that

... fondness of preconceivd opinions, sordid Interests, or affectation of strange Relations, are not like to render your reports suspect or partial, nor want of Sagacity, Fortune, or Care, defective ... So that the relations of your Tryals may be received as undoubted Records of certain events, and as securely be depended on, as the Propositions of Euclide....
(Glanvill, Scepsis c1r)

The Royal Society’s motto — Nullius in Verba (“on the word of no man”) — was intended to stress the need for independent confirmation of reported technical information; each claim or argument in natural history required substantiating external verification, independent corroboration (Paradis, “Origins” E83, E86). In practice, this was far from the case. The prohibitive cost and extreme difficulty of repeating experiments were legion; more often than not, experiments did not yield the same results, and far from providing external verification, repeat attempts served only to confuse matters. In actuality, the mere description of an experiment — reproducible in theory, if not in fact — served as an acceptable demonstration of truth claims. Indeed, description of the experimental process was not always even necessary. According to Boyle, “the bare mention of an experiment as having been performed, though the way of making it be concealed” was sufficient “if the relator of the experiment be a person, that may safely be credited” (Works 1:316). In actuality, the concept of “ethos” prevailed. The privileged epistemological status of scientific discourse was during the early modern period still largely associated with the enunciating subject. It was “ethos” rather than experiment that established “facts” and the validity of observations.<28> An especially pernicious example of this surfaces in Glanvill’s correspondence with Cavendish on the subject of witchcraft, where he argues that what she deems only “probable arguments” are actually “as great demonstrations as matter of Fact can bear; being no less than the evidence of the Senses, and Oaths of sober Attestors, and the critical inquiries of Sagacious, and suspitious Persons; which circumstances of Evidence, your grace knows, some of those Relations [of witchcraft] have to prove them”; “I my self was a Witness” (A Collection of Letters and Poems 138).

Robert Boyle even counselled a certain indulgence among New Science experimenters when “trialls” did not turn out according to expectation. Allowances were to be made on the basis of “ethos.” For “sober and experimental writers,” Boyle writes, one should “forbear to distrust his veracity, as if he had not done or seen what he says he did or saw” and “forbear to reject his experiments, till ... hav[ing] tried, whether or no by some change of circumstances they may not be brought to succeed.” Indeed, “our tenderness of the reputation of so great and so candid a philosopher” as Francis Bacon caused Boyle a great deal of trouble before he was finally able to confirm one of Bacon’s more suspect findings. Boyle informs us that he has also had occasion to make similar allowances for van Helmont and “Dr. Brown.” But Boyle recommends no similar indulgence for those writers “wont to be fabulous or transcriptive”: “if his experiments upon trial succeed not, we may be allowed to impute their unsuccessfulness rather to him, than to ourselves, or to chance” (Works 1:349). The same held for observational data:

... when I am satisfied of the abilities and circumspection of a writer, delivering a matter of fact as upon his own knowledge; I do not presently reject his observation as untrue, much less condemn the person himself as a lyar, whensoever I find, that it seems to be contradicted by a contrary and more undoubted observation, or to contradict a received and plausible either hypothesis or tradition; but rather try, if by fit distinction or limitation I can reconcile them; unless I can imagine something or other, which might probably lead him to mistake....
(Works 1:351)

At the same time, the New Science appeal to “ethos” served other claims than those of “truth.” As a class in “crisis,” no longer legitimated by a feudal political and economic structure, the English nobility of this period (from whose ranks were drawn a number of Royal Society members<29>) sought new grounds upon which to command deference as the requisite social elite (Stone, Crisis 746–53). No longer an automatic function of rank, title, or birth, “authority” increasingly sought justification in concepts of self over those of regime (Gouldner 43). A new “ethos” — that of “sober and impartial Discoverers” (Hooke, Micrographia b1r); models of reason; men who could be relied upon to be at all times fair, judicious, and receptive “to opposite Perswasion” (Glanvill, Plus Ultra 147) — closely associated with “noble” birth and breeding provided a partial answer to the problems of socio-political legitimation during this period.

Works Consulted >>


1. For a representative sampling of the eclectic interests of scholarship on this subject, see: Robert Adolph, Wilda Anderson, Charles Bazerman (“Scientific Writing as a Social Act”), Glenn Broadhead, R. John Brockmann, David Dobrin, Stillman Drake, Roy Dreistadt, Stanley Fish (Seventeenth-Century Prose), Joseph Gusfield, Michael Halloran, Robert Hoffman and Richard Honeck, W.S. Howell, Kathleen Jamieson, Lisa Jardine, Mark Johnson, R.F. Jones, Stephen Land, W.H. Leatherdale, Stephen Medcalf, Carolyn Miller, C.E. Newman, James Paradis, Vivian Salmon, Jack Selzer, James Stephens, Brian Vickers, Karl Wallace, Merrill Whitburn, P.B. Wood, and James Zappen.

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2. Elshtain 130; see also Keller Reflections 21–30. Within all strains of the New Science movement, proponents and practicioners not only retained this androcentric bias of classical philosophy, but actively sought to improve on it.

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3. E.g., Thomas Sprat and Henry Oldenburg both cite it. See Sprat, History 215 and Easlea, Sexual Oppression 70.

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4. Glanvill, Essay Concerning Preaching 23; see also Plus Ultra 84.

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5. Notably, when Sprat wished to detract from competing truth-claims and methods of inquiry, he often cast aspersions on the manhood of those (e.g., “Wits,” “Scholars,” “Astrologers,” “Poets”) concerned.

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6. For example, see R.F. Jones and those such as R. John Brockmann who follow his lead; also Marder and Guinn; also Whitburn, Davis, Higgins, Oates, and Spurgeon. Of course, not all scholars take the well-known remarks of Thomas Sprat and others at face value. In particular, James Stephens, P.B. Wood, and James Zappen have produced important studies of the New Scientists’ recourse to rhetoric in both their writings and recommendations.

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7. The oft-repeated desideratum of “perspicuity” (almost every New Scientist of the period employed this term) was predicated on the questionable set of assumptions that economy of expression yields maximum clearness, in turn yielding maximum information transfer. This theory, in the new guise of “readability formulas,” still dictates the style of much technical discourse today, in spite of demonstrable inadequacies and errors (e.g., see Selzer, Huckin).

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8. Sprat’s interesting reference in this passage to the “primitive purity and shortness” denotes the prelapsarian tongue used by Adam, before it was corrupted by devilry and woman. Royal Society plans for the reduction of words to object equivalents were later satirized in Swift’s description of the language projects of the Academy of Lagado in his Gulliver’s Travels. Of note, in Swift’s satire, it is women (“in conjunction with the vulgar and illiterate”) who rebel against “the new scheme of expressing themselves by things,” threatening “to raise a rebellion, unless they might be allowed the liberty to speak with their tongues, after the manner of their forefathers; such constant irreconcilable enemies to science are the common people” (Works 11:235).

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9. Glanvill, Essay Concerning Preaching 23, Plus Ultra 84, Scepsis a2r.

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10. Both Lawrence Ianni and Deborah Cameron address this point. See also David Dobrin (“What’s Technical about Technical Writing?”).

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11. “Stripping,” as Paradis points out, has the same effect as modelling, with “the word-inventor in effect selecting only detail believed relevant to his or her distinction.” Thus, semantical reduction “created a closed system of verbal reference that admitted the relevance of only selected kinds of information” (Paradis, “Reform” 222; see also Wilda Anderson, plus Stephen Land 2–6, 114, and 131).

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12. Elshtain 133–4; see also Davis 80–2.

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13. See, for example, studies by James Stephens (“Style as Therapy”), Stillman Drake, Lisa Jardine, and P.B. Wood.

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14. See Stephens, Francis Bacon ix, 2–15.

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15. See Stephens, “Style as Therapy” 193; also Francis Bacon 3, 69.

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16. Essays IV:22, Essay Concerning Preaching 19. See A.3.5 above for extended discussion of Glanvill’s vision of the scientist qua “improved masculine spirit.”

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17. Locke pushed this idea even further than Glanvill. He too did not wish to purge all “art of rhetorick” from technical discourse; Locke advocated instead the reduction of rhetoric to matters of “order and clearness” and the development of arts which would “lay the naked ideas, on which the force of the argumentation depends, in their due order, in which position the mind taking a view of them, sees what connexion they have, and so is able to judge of the inference without any need of a syllogism at all” (Essay Concerning Human Understanding, qtd. Medcalf xxxii–xxxiii).

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18. I should note that Vickers does not incorporate terms of gender in his argument. I have added the parenthetical assignments in order to stress my own points of argument.

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19. Robert Hooke’s “algebras” provide an interesting example of open-ended natural inquiry. According to Gunther, when confronted with a problem, “Hooke would not rest content until he had jotted down all the possible solutions and their variants, whether practicable or not, that presented themselves to his extraordinarily active brain.... Over this scheme he would then ponder, and use it as a means of further discovery.... He believed this method of systematizing ideas to be peculiarly his own, and he is said to have frequently spoken of other researchers, even the most eminent, as ‘childishly contenting themselves with partial views of the corners of things’” (xii–xiii). While the use of “algebras” guided Hooke’s scientific practice, they had no impact on his published discourse.

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20. Boyle’s “reflexions” were seldom integrated with data, but deliberately presented separately. See, for example, the New Experiments Physico-Mechanical and his accompanying commentary, Works 1:2.

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21. Boyle refused to “disallow the use of reasoning upon experiments, or the endeavouring to discern as early as we can the confederations, and differences, and tendencies of things: for such an absolute suspension of the exercise of reasoning were exceeding troublesome, if not impossible”; indeed, “it is sometimes conducive to the discovery of truth, to permit the understanding to make an hypothesis” (Certain Physiological Essays, Works 1:303).

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22. E.g.: “... my old designe of furnishing mens minds with variety of apprehensions concerning the most weighty points of Philosophie, that they may not seem rashly to have settled in the truth, though it be the truth” (Philosophicall Poems P5r).

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23. For example, see Glanvill’s discussion of the “modest ... Platonical, and Socratical method” which he advocated as “the better way for men, that would find truth, and inform one another” (Essays VII:47–8). Also, Wilkins’ earlier A Discovery of a New World ... in the Moon boasted an Aristotelian framework: “The order by which I shall bee guided will be that which Aristotle uses in his booke De Mundo” (61). Brian Vickers has more than once called our attention to the New Science debt to “the Platonic-Aristotelian tradition of language,” including numerous “debts to classical rhetoric” which “are only just beginning to be recognized” (“Analogy” 104, 115).

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24. Ong locates the origins of classical rhetoric in the “the world of male ceremonial combat” (227).

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25. All quotations in this paragraph are from Moulton; see 153, 162, 158, 161.

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26. Kargon 93, 103; see also Thomas, Decline 657, 662.

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27. See, for example, the sweeping collection in British Scientific Literature in the Seventeenth Century; many of these essays were originally printed in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

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28. See, for example, Boyle, Works 1:117 and 1:312–3.

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29. Hooke confirms that in 1665 the membership of the Royal Society was drawn from “the chief Nobility and Gentry, and others, who are some of the most considerable in their several Professions” including “men of Converse and Traffick” (Micrographia g1r–g1v).

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