Thus quick Industry, that is not slack,
Is like to Witchery, brings lost things back.



“The Hunting of the Hare”[2] tells the story of a hare that at the start of the poem is resting in an idyllic spot of plowed land. For a few brief lines, it goes about doing what hares do (crouching against the earth, pressing its nose into its paws, getting up at dusk to walk around). The animal suddenly becomes the object of a hunt. Men on horseback, who sound trumpets, and fierce dogs pursue Wat (the hare) until it is caught and killed. At this point, Cavendish criticizes the murderous habit people have of killing beasts for food. The conclusion of the poem promotes a vegetarianism based on theological argument: 

Yet Man doth think himself so gentle, mild,
When he of Creatures is most cruel wild.
And is so Proud, thinks only he shall live,
That God a Godlike Nature did him give,
And that all Creatures for his sake alone,
Was made for him, to Tyrannize upon.
[ll. 101-106]

Among the sublime detail of the hare’s fur and limbs, Cavendish frequently depicts its eyes. The animal hears with straightened ears and sees with “great gray Eyes.” It also feels its weakness accumulating as the chase nears its finish.

Two lines, however, mark a curious sentiment about halfway through the poem in the midst of the dogs’ pursuit of the hare. Cavendish italicized both lines in their entirety.

Thus quick Industry, that is not slack,
Is like to Witchery, brings lost things back.

This sequence appears when Wat seems to have escaped the dogs. And nature had an explicit hand in this: “with that the Winds did pity poor Wat’s case, / and with their Breath the Scent blew from the Place.”[3] The dogs do not give up, and the scent of the hare comes back to them.

There is an analogy in these lines where “industry” is like “witchery.” Further, an effortless chiasmus emerges: Witchery is not slack, / Industry brings lost things back.

It seems easy to say that a lot of people were thinking about witches in the mid-17th century; we need not go back so far as to the Pendle witches of Lancashire in 1612, but to the witch scare of the 1640’s during the English Civil War and the publication of an infamous pamphlet: The Witches of Huntingdon (ca. 1646-1647). It also goes without saying that one of the final poems in Cavendish’s collection of verse is called “Witches of Lapland.” But the witchery in Cavendish’s “The Hunting of the Hare” looks less like the witches of Lapland who harness the wind to sell it later to mariners, and more like the Witch of Endor who brings back the spirit of Samuel; that witch feels cheated as Saul, who had made a decree to throw all wizards out of the land, went to the Witch of Endor in disguise to bring up Samuel. This was not only bad for the Witch, but it was also bad for Saul who heard he would die the next day (1 Samuel 28: 3-20). Witchery that brings lost things back is seen negatively here; even if a spirit is brought up because one asked for it to be so, the outcome is generally unfortunate.

Nevertheless, let us look more closely at how Cavendish characterizes Industry by considering contemporary uses. At least in the 17th and 18th centuries, “industry” generally had a positive connotation. Dr. Johnson defines “industry” as “diligence, assiduity, habitual or actual laboriousness.”[4] Johnson supports this distinction with a quote from Henry More’s An Antidote against Atheism (1655). It reads: “Providence would only initiate and enter mankind into the useful knowledge of her Treasures, leaving the rest to imploy our industry, that we might not live like Idle Loyterers and Truants.”[5] This selection from An Antidote against Atheism suggests industry as a kind of power to do good and to discover new things.

Henry More (1614-1687), the author of the text, was a Neoplatonist at Cambridge. He also greatly admired Descartes. Among other things, More explored the relation of people with nature and Providence; he found that an individual must take an active role in their daily life for the betterment of their soul. Here is industry again in An Antidote against Atheism where More writes that we should prune weeds when they are detrimental to other plants and thus allow for good plants to grow freely: “For first the Industry of Man is exercised by them to weed them out where they are hurtful. Which reason, if it seem slight, let us but consider, that if humane Industry had nothing to conflict and struggle with the fire of mans Spirit would be half extinguish’d in the flesh.”[6] The context suggests a borrowed image from the Parable of the Sower, but turns toward the individual person and their conservation; industry is fundamental as the physical and intellectual labor toward that goal.

More’s Cartesian sympathies shine brightly in this passage through the waning of the soul, which slowly deteriorates in the flesh because of a lack of activity; we find an example of the conflict or collision of two entities — that is, the spirit and the body. Let us note here that industry acts as a positive force within this struggle. To use the language of Henry More, Providence gave people a starting point: a field with a few grains growing in it. Through industry, humankind can then cultivate and grow more grain in order to thrive. An individual relies on industry, which is to say they rely on their own strength, to persevere in this task and not grow slothful.

But how can this contemporaneous sense of industry be reconciled with Cavendish’s use of the word in “The Hunting of the Hare”? We may argue that the dogs are trained by humans to serve a specific purpose — to root out an animal for the sake of food or for the sake of being made into clothing. This activity may even be enjoyable as a kind of sport for those who trained (or use) the dogs in the same way that a gardener may enjoy the pursuit of weeds in a garden. It may even be that industry can bring lost things back — for example, a drought scorches the land and only careful, diligent, tillage revitalizes the damaged soil to return that land to the state Providence had originally provided. This is a generous sense of industry, which draws an individual closer to Providence.

Cavendish, however, paints a negative picture of industry — that is, when industry takes on a likeness distorted by ambition. Henry More’s industry is directed toward virtue. Cavendish sequesters that understanding and queries it by placing it at a crossroads. The poem evinces a sense of industry that is only interested in an immediate reward. It is a sense of industry that sends a firecracker into the sky as a fruit of labor that extinguishes after a single blast of light — an image of war for those who remember and a smoky arabesque enjoyed as a simple pleasure by those who have forgotten. When industry turns away from building up the land for a future generation and unleashes its power against nature as though in battle, the seat of the ruler of things becomes obscure. In Cavendish’s poem, it seems that Providence wished to save if not all creatures then at least just this one creature. But that perseverance, that constancy in human endeavor, brings back the lost thing — this prize of fancy — to smother and destroy it before the thing humiliates industry before itself. The animal dies then with “weeping eyes” as a great foe to the nature of Providence could not be persuaded.


[1] Margaret Cavendish, “The Hunting of the Hare” in Poems, and Fancies, 110-113, London, T. R. for J. Martin, and J. Allestrye, 1653, ll. 61-62. The quotations are taken from a modernized version found in Margaret Cavendish, edited by Michael Robbins, New York: New York Review of Books, 2019, pp. 96-99.

[2] “The Hunting of the Hare” (1653) appears in a collection of poems by Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673). Cavendish was known as an eccentric woman by her personality and also by the way she dressed. Her circle of acquaintances included René Descartes, and her interests were not only in poetry but also in philosophy and the natural world. Her collection of verse, Poems and Fancies (1653), reflects an individual who has a broad intellectual curiosity, with poems on atoms, poems in dialogue form between a range of characters — for example, a Bountiful Knight and a Castle Ruined in War — and poems on nature. There are also a few poems on hunting, and “The Hunting of the Hare” is one of them.

[3] ll. 55-56.

[4] Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language: in which the Words are Deduced from their Originals, and Illustrated in their Different Significations by Examples from the Best Writers. 2 vols. 6th ed. London: J. F. and C. Rivington, et. al., 1785.

[5] Henry More, An Antidote Against Atheism, or An Appeal to the Natural Faculties of the Minde of Man, whether there be not a God. 2nd edition. London: J. Flesher, 1655, 99.

[6] Ibid., 97.

A Arte Alegre #9

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