Speciesism in The Blazing World

by Stephen Spencer

For my research project, I will be investigating the representation of animals in Cavendish’s New Blazing World. I’m thinking about this in two ways. First, there are the human-animal hybrids (bird-men, bear-men, fish-men, the list goes on), who are often made the butt of satirical jabs at experimental science (the poor bear-men, for example, whose microscopes are the object of the Empress’s lampooning). Second, there are horses, who the Empress observes in England with the Duchess, with great fascination. When she returns to the Blazing World, the Emperor has established a whole infrastructure for breeding horses. My motivating question, at the outset, is simple: why are horses a privileged animal in this text? Why are they not held to the same kind of animalistic representation (i.e. instruments of satire) that bears, fish, worms, etc. are?

The minimal amount of research that I’ve done suggests, simply, that Cavendish loved horses too much to consider them “animals” in the same way that maybe a fish, or a worm, is an animal. Her husband, William Newcastle, literally wrote the book on horses — A New Method and Extraordinary Invention to Dress Horses and Work them according to Nature… (thanks, Carrie!). I’ve only begun to skim the surface of this text (it’s pretty intense), but initially, I’m struck by a few things. First, William’s stable of horses, upon being observed by nobility in Antwerp during his exile from England during the Civil Wars, were deemed “Reasonable Creatures,” only in want of “Speaking.” This is an interesting take on the tradition in 17th century philosophy that did not consider animals to be in possession of rationality (as far as I know). Also, the horses are often categorized in terms of nationality (Spanish, English, Dutch horses), class (some horses are for princes, some for gentlemen), color, and what I’m calling right now “specialty” (leaping horses, race horses, war horses, etc.). I think my interest is in William’s taxonimization of horses — I want to put it in dialogue with Margaret’s taxonimation of humans (race, class, gender, etc.).

Of the English horse, William says the following:

“The English Horse is Less Wise than the Barb, Fearful and Skittish, for the most part; and Dogged and Rebellious to the Mannage, and not commonly so Apt to Learn: But those they call English Horses, are so Compounded of Horses of all Countries, that they always Participate something of their Sires; and so, that may somewhat alter the Case.” (58-59)

English horses are presented as somehow elect, curiously, because of their nationalistic hybridity. But, the payoff is not so noble; their elect status consists in the idea that, because of their hybridity, they are loyal to their “sire.” In short, their hybridity allows for them to be easily manage, servile. This allows them to be “useful” for all sorts of endeavors, whether it be pulling a cart or riding. I think it might be a stretch to map English horses on to English men/women (although I guess maybe one could — the English “race” as Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, French), but nevertheless, there’s a strong sense that horses have national identities, and that it shapes their phenotypic and genotypic makeup. I need to read more of this text, especially the bits about the other kinds of horses.

My early answer to the question, “why are horses not quite animals?” is that they have all sorts of use value. Unlike other animals in the animal kingdom (who, according to proto-science, succeeded each in one skill or art — think of spiders spinning webs, bees harvesting honey, etc.), horses can excel at manual labor, recreation, and warfare. I see a link between this idea of “specialization,” as it pertains to most animals (i.e. one animal, one skill) and horses (i.e. one animal, many skills). I can’t help but want to turn my focus to the human-animals, who, to me, are examples of the specialization of intellectual labor that comes along with experimental science. Is it prudent of us a society, I imagine Cavendish asking, to have a bunch of bear-men looking through microscopes, or worm-men digging through the earth, without having a larger kind of “knowledge” in mind? What will happen to intellectualism if we divvy it up into work, instead of treating it like a more humanistic tradition that necessitates a lot more reading? (late October as a grad student, the life of a bear-man suddenly seems appealing…)

Writing this has helped me to see that, perhaps, I am looking at a relationship between representations of animals and labor. I think this inquiry intersects with notions of class, race, and gender, but it’s very messy to me right now and I think the trick will be picking and choosing my spots, as opposed to talking about it all. I would appreciate any reactions or thoughts, as I fear my thinking might be a bit big at this point. Cheers!