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Journal of Early Modern Studies

Volume 9, Issue 2, Fall 2020

Francis Bacon

Michael Deckard
Pages 85-107

Of the Beard of a Wild Oat
Hooke and Cavendish on the Senses of Plants

In 1665–1666, both Margaret Cavendish and Robert Hooke wrote about the beard of a wild oat. After looking through the microscope at the wild oat, Hooke describes the nature of what he is seeing in terms of a “small black or brown bristle” and believes that the microscope can improve the human senses. Cavendish responds to him regarding the seeing of the texture of a wild oat through the microscope and critiques his mechanistic explanation. This paper takes up the controversy between Cavendish and Hooke regarding the wild oat as two forms of a broadly Baconian enterprise. Challenging Lisa Walters and Eve Keller, who suppose that Cavendish was against the “Baconian enterprise as a whole,” the argument in this paper is that Cavendish is opposed to Hooke’s defense of instruments as recovering Edenic glory in the Micrographia, but not to the Baconian enterprise as a whole.

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