C. Kegan (Charles Kegan) Paul.

William Godwin : his friends and contemporaries .. (Volume 1) online

. (page 1 of 31)
Online LibraryC. Kegan (Charles Kegan) PaulWilliam Godwin : his friends and contemporaries .. (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


B*



BR



vn



*m



lIMiPtitg



*> . -■



msss»f§ss



tsgx



'*m



'■"?■■-■■



m



wsm



@«4^a



Mwo a aaagj — na



\vl



WILLIAM GODWIN:



HIS FRIENDS AND CONTEMPORARIES.



i.



BY THE SAME WRITER.



GOETHE'S FAUST. A New Translation in Rime. Crown 8vo. 6s.

This is translated line for line in the metres of the original, and while
it is hoped that not all the spirit has evaporated, it claims to reproduce
the outward form in which that spirit dwelt.

"His translation is the most minutely accurate that has yet been produced-
. . .'' — Examiner.

" Mr Paul is a zealous and a faithful interpreter." — Saturday Review.



william Godwin's unpublished essays.

THE GENIUS OF CHRISTIANITY UNVEILED : Being Essays, never
before published. By William Godwin. Edited, with a Preface,
by C. Kegan Paul, i vol. Crown 8vo. 7s. 6d.

In all these essays Mr Godwin pointed in the direction along which
we, the children of a later day, have advanced, even if he did not indi-
cate the precise path we have travelled.

" Few have thought more clearly and directly than William Godwin, or expressed
their reflections with more simplicity and unreserve." — Examiner.

" The deliberate thoughts of Godwin deserve to be put before the world for reading
and consideration." — A the?icenm.



SHELLEY MEMORIALS FROM AUTHENTIC SOURCES. With (now
first printed) an Essay on Christianity, by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Third Edition. Crown 8vo. With Portrait. Price 5s.

Henry S. King & Co., London.







WILLIAM GODWIN



A PORTRAIT BY NC GTE-






WILLIAM GODWIN:



HIS FRIENDS AND CONTEMPORARIES.



BY



C KEGAN PAUL.



Willi PORTRAITS AND ILLUSTRATIONS.



VOL. I.



Henry S. King & Co., London.

1876.



The rights of Translation and of Reproduction are resented.



PREFACE.

My best thanks are due to Sir Percy Shelley, the grandson
of William Godwin, for the generous manner in which he
has placed at my disposal the whole of the papers in his
possession which relate to his grandfather. These included
a vast quantity of letters and other MSS., some of which had
never been opened since they were laid aside by Godwin's
own hand, many years before his death. Mrs Shelley
began to arrange them for publication soon after that
event, in 1836, but many packets had apparently not been
examined by her. This fact renders it the more necessary
that I should state that while Sir Percy Shelley has
sanctioned my work as a whole, he is in no way whatever
answerable for details. I only am responsible for the
selections made and inferences drawn from the papers, as
well as for every opinion expressed in the book.

A very few of the letters have been already printed —
some of Godwin's by Lady Shelley in her " Shelley
Memorials," and some of Coleridge's by Mr Garnett in a
Magazine article.

In all cases where there appeared to be the smallest
doubt in regard to the publication of documents, I have
consulted, where possible, the representatives of the persons
concerned, and have obtained their permission to print the
letters.

C. K. P.

February 1876.



CONTENTS.



PAGE

CHAPTER I.

EARLY LIFE. 1756 — 1785, ..... I

CHAPTER II.

LITERARY WORK. 1 785 — 1 788, ..... 24

CHAPTER III.

POLITICAL WRITINGS. 1788 — 1792, .... 59

CHAPTER IV.

LITERARY LIFE AND FRIENDS. 1 793, , . 77

CHAPTER V.

GODWIN'S WORKS AND POLITICS. 1 783— 1 794, . . 99

CHAPTER VI.

FRIENDS AND ACQUAINTANCES. 1794 — 1796, . . . 138

CHAPTER VII.

THE WOLLSTONECRAFTS. 1759 — 1791, . . . . l6l



viii CONTENTS.



PAGE



CHAPTER VIII.

MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT. 1 79 1 — 1 796, . . 200

CHAPTER IX.

MARRIED LIFE. 1 797, . . . . . 23 1

CHAPTER X.

MARY GODWIN'S DEATH. 1 797, ..... 272

CHAPTER XI.

A SINGULAR COURTSHIP — FRIENDS. 1 798, . . . 292

CHAPTER XII.

ST LEON. MRS REVELEY. 1799, .... 328

CHAPTER XIII.

VISIT TO IRELAND — LITERARY SQUABBLES. 1800, . . 354



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

William Godwin. After a Portrait by Northcote. Frontispiece.

Facsimile of Mary Wollstonecraft's Hand-
writing, . . . . . . . p. 200

Wisbeach. — Godwin's Birthplace, . . . .387



WILLIAM GODWIN:

HIS FRIENDS AND CONTEMPORARIES.



CHAPTER I.

EARIY LIFE. 1756— 1785.

To those conversant with the literary history of the close
of the last, and the first quarter of the present century,
few names are more familiar than that of William Godwin.
The husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, the father-in-law of
Shelley, the confidential friend of Coleridge and Lamb, his
life was so closely intertwined with the lives of those whose
story has been often written, as to render some record of
him valuable, even had the man himself been less remark-
able than he was. But though the present generation has
read his works but little, this age owes more to him than
it recognizes ; many opinions now clothed in household
words were first formulated by him, and the publication of
his "Political Justice," in 1793, marked a distinct epoch in
the growth of liberal thought. During a large part of his
life younger men looked on him as a kind of prophet-sage,
and he exercised a remarkable influence over all with
whom he came in contact.

The mere record of his life, would, if written soon after
his death, have had a deeper interest than it now can have,
the interest being in these days rather antiquarian and

I. A



2 WILLIAM GODWIN.

literary than personal and social. But to write such a
life was then possible to one alone, to Godwin's daughter,
Mrs Shelley. She only would have known what to pre-
serve and what to reject from the mass of papers left by
one who never willingly destroyed a written line, and whose
life and opinions had clashed to so great an extent with the
susceptibilities of men then living. But from causes into
which there is here no need to enter, Mrs Shelley was only
able in a measure to select those papers which seemed to
her fittest for publication, and to draw up a few valuable
notes, explanatory of otherwise forgotten circumstances.
Much as this is to be regretted, it may yet be that a freer
handling than is possible to a daughter was needed for
such a life and correspondence as is here presented. Not
however that a veil is lifted from particulars which
Godwin's daughter would have desired to hide ; she wished
to conceal nothing of interest except in cases where some
living person might be wounded, or some dear memory of
the dead, and such danger has now almost or wholly ceased.

For the record of Godwin's early years we are mainly
dependent on an autobiographical fragment, drawn up by
him in the year 1800, when he was forty-four years of age.
But interest in the extreme detail in which the facts of his
earlier life are presented in this fragment would at all times
have been restricted to the members of .his own family, nor
was there anything especially remarkable in the surround-
ings of his earlier years. For these reasons but a small
portion of his narrative is reproduced in the following pages.

William Godwin was born March 3rd, 1756, at Wisbeach
in Cambridgeshire, at which place his father was a Dissent-
ing Minister. He sprang on both sides from respectable
middle-class families, that of his father having been estab-



ANCESTORS. 3

lished for some generations at Newbury in Berkshire, that
of his mother, whose name was Hull, had originally held
landed property in Durham. Mr Hull had married and
settled in Wisbeach, had been originally in the Merchant
Service, and was at the time of his daughter's marriage to
Mr Godwin, the owner of vessels engaged in the coasting
trade ; he also sent an occasional venture to the Baltic.

The earliest traceable ancestor on the Godwin side was
a great-great-grandfather, William Godwin, of Newbury,
described in the Parish Register as " Mr," who died, leaving
six sons and three daughters. The following are among
the family traditions, recorded by William Godwin : —

" Edward, my great-grandfather, was the fifth son of William,
and was born in the year 1661. He married, probably in the

year ] 694, Mary , fifteen years younger than himself, and'

in the year 1706 was chosen Mayor of the town of which he was
a native. He was educated to the profession of an attorney, and
possessed at the time of his death in 17 19 the office of town clerk
of the corporation of Newbury.

"Edward," his eldest son, "was born 10th November 1695.
He was destined to the profession of a dissenting minister, and
was placed at a suitable age under the reverend Mr Samuel Jones,
who conducted an academy for preparing young persons for the
profession of the ministry at Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire."

This Samuel Jones was a remarkable man. He was the
son of the Rev. Malachi Jones, a " minister of the gospel
in Pennsylvania," who had emigrated to America early in
life. Samuel was sent to Europe, and received his educa-
tion in great measure at Leyden, " under the learned Peri-
zonius," Professor of History and Greek, who died 17 15.
In 171 1 we find him, still quite a young man, taking fifteen
pupils, who were not, however, all constant to the noncon-
formist training of their tutor. Not only Dr Isaac Watts,



4 WILLIAM GODWIN.

but Thomas Seeker, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury,
and Joseph Butler, Bishop of Durham, author of the
Analogy, were among his pupils. From Tewkesbury,
while still a schoolboy, Butler " conducted a correspond-
ence with Dr Samuel Clarke on the subject of certain pro-
positions in Clarke's treatise, entitled ' A Demonstration of
the Being and Attributes of God,' which were afterwards
printed as an appendix to that work."

" A ridiculous mistake," says Godwin, " has been fallen into by
some persons who have written concerning this Samuel Jones, in
supposing that he married the daughter of Mr John Weaver, one
of the ministers ejected in the reign of Charles II., who was born
about the year 1632, and whose daughter may be supposed to
have been about sixty at the time of Mr Jones's marriage." He
did in fact marry a young woman named Judith Weaver from
Radnorshire.

" To go back to my grandfather. He was a fellow-student of
Butler and Seeker, and " on the death of Mr Jones in October
17 19 "was invited to undertake the conduct of the seminary in which
he had been educated." This offer he declined. " On the 12th
of April 17 2 1 he married the widow of his late tutor. He resided
at this time in his professional character of a minister at Hunger-
ford, in the county of Wilts, and in 1723 was called to take charge
of a congregation in Little St. Helens, Bishopsgate Street, Lon-
don, in which situation he continued for the rest of his life. My
grandfather maintained in his advancing years the character he
had acquired in early life, and was frequently consulted by his
brethren as a reviser of their works. He, in particular, superin-
tended the ' Family Expositor' of Dr Philip Doddridge in its
passage through the press."

Edward Godwin had two sons, Edward, who having run
" a certain career of wildness and dissipation, became a
convert to the tenets and practices of Mr George Whit-
field. He was for a short time, for the thread of his life



PORTRAIT OF HIS FATHER. 5

was soon broken, a distinguished preacher in the Methodist
connection, and an eager publisher of experiences, devout
allegories and hymns." John, the younger of the two sons,
was born Feb. 21, 1723. He was a pupil of Dr Doddridge,
" for whom he retained during life a more affectionate
veneration than for any other human being," became a
dissenting minister, as has been said, and the father of
William Godwin.

The son's portrait of the father is amusing and charac-
teristic. Aiming at the most scrupulous fairness, he suc-
ceeds only in giving a very distinct impression that he had
but little love for his father, and no very high opinion of
his mental powers.

" My paternal grandfather, as I have said, was esteemed a man
of learning ; my father was certainly not a man of learning. But
he was something better than a merely learned man can ever be ;
he was a man of a warm heart and unblemished manners, ardent
in his friendships, eager for the relief of distress whether of mind
or of circumstances, and decent and zealous in the discharge of
his professional duties. He had so great a disapprobation for the
constitution and discipline of the Church of England, as rather to
approve of his children's absenting themselves from all public
worship than joining in her offices; yet he lived on terms of friend-
ship with many of her members and of her clergy. He was
scrupulous and superstitious respecting most of the succours ot
religion, particularly the observance of the Lord's day. My
father, at the time I was most capable of noticing his habits, was
extremely nice in his apparel, and delicate in his food. He spent
much of his time on horseback. This habit grew out of a senti-
ment of duty, when he resided in a village, the scene of my early
reveries and amusements, where his flock lay variously dispersed
through a circle of from twelve to sixteen miles in diameter. He
was attached to the intercourses of society, yet of the most
unvaried temperance. He was extremely affectionate, yet at



6 WILLIAM GODWIN.

least to me, who was perhaps never his favourite, his rebukes had
a painful tone of ill humour and asperity. He was fond of reading
aloud in his family, but the age of novels and romances, of Tom
Jones and Cleopatra, was over with him before my memory. I
scarcely ever heard him read anything but expositions and
sermons. His study occupied but little of his time. His sermon,
for in my memory he only preached once on a Sunday, was regu-
larly begun to be written in a very swift short-hand after tea on
Saturday evening. I believe he was always free from any desire
of intellectual distinction on a large scale ; I know that it was with
reluctance that he preached at any time at Norwich, in London,
or any other place where he suspected that his accents might fall
on the ear of criticism. He was regarded by his neighbours as a
wise as well as a good man, and he desired no more. He died at
fifty years of age, but it was with considerable reluctance that he
quitted this sublunary scene. The last time I stood by his bed-
side, two or three days before he expired, he repeated with an
anxious voice a hymn from Dr Watts' collection, the first stanza
of which is as follows : —

' When I can read my title clear
To mansions in the skies,
I'll bid farewell to every fear
And wipe my weeping eyes. ' "

The notice of his mother is more favourable, and, as will
appear from letters which are extant, not other than
deserved.

" My mother, so long as her husband lived, was the qualifier
and moderator of his austerities. Some of the villagers were im-
pertinent enough to allege that she was too gay in her style cf
decorating her person. She was facetious, and had an ambition
to be thought the teller of a good story, and an adept at hitting
off a smart repartee. She was a most obliging, submissive, and
dutiful wife. She was an expert and active manager in the detail
of household affairs. Two persons perhaps never lived against



EARLY TRAINING. 7

whom the voice of calumny itself had less to urge than my father
and mother. I speak here of her character during the life of my
father. After his death it became considerably changed. She
surrendered herself to the visionary hopes and tormenting fears
of the methodistical sect, and her ordinary economy became
teazingly parsimonious."

It may be added, and indeed will hereafter be sufficiently
evident, that Mrs Godwin was far from being a highly
educated person.



Of this marriage, "which proved extremely prolific,"
William was the seventh child of thirteen. Mrs Godwin
did not suckle her children, and the child was " sent from
home to be nourished by a hireling." When he was again
taken home at the age, apparently, of two years, there was
added to his family circle a first cousin of his father, Miss
Godwin, afterwards Mrs Sothren, " who out of her decent
income, as it was considered, of .£40 a year, paid £16 to
my father as a stipend for lodging and board." Miss God-
win had a considerable amount of literary culture, and still
more of literary instinct. This, however, was qualified and
checked by a strongly Calvinistic turn of mind, which
impressed the child whom she made her chief favourite
and companion, but increased the breach between them,
when in after years he adopted opinions widely different
from those in which he had been so carefully nurtured.
To this lady William Godwin owed his first teaching and
initiation into literature. His earliest books were the
" Pilgrim's Progress," and an " Account of the Pious Deaths
of Many Godly Children," by James Janeway. " Their
premature eminence," he writes, " suited to my own age and
situation, strongly excited my emulation. I felt as if I



8 WILLIAM GODWIN.

were willing to die with them, if I could with equal success
engage the admiration of my friends and mankind." But
while thus nursed in a very hotbed of forced piety, he was
physically a puny child, and records that the persons about
him were much less solicitous for the health of his body
than the health of his soul.

In 1758 Mr Godwin, senior, removed from Wisbeach to
Debenham, " a small market town in the vicinity of Suffolk.
But here his congregation was divided into two factions,
Arian and Trinitarian. The Trinitarians had just before
expelled an heretical pastor, and the defeated Arians were
resolved to grant no suspension of arms to his more orthodox
successor." He therefore went in about 1760 to Guestwick,
sixteen miles north of Norwich, "one of the smallest order
of villages in the county of Norfolk," and here, where it
may be hoped the simple villagers did not know the subtle
differences of rival creeds, he passed the remainder of his
life. The emolument of none of his preferments exceeded
the amount of £60 a year.

William Godwin's school-life was subject to the same
influences which surrounded him at home. His earliest
teacher beyond his own family was the mistress of a dame's
school at Guestwick, and, like all the persons who had
hitherto had any charge of him, she " was much occupied
in the concerns of religion. She was considerably stricken
in years, and had seen twenty years of the preceding cen-
tury. I recollect her bitter lamentations respecting the
innovation in the Style," September 1752, "and the alter-
ation of Christmas Day." Under her tuition he read through
the whole of the Old and New Testaments, and gained,
before he was eight years old, a great familiarity with the
phraseology and manner of the Bible ; and this, he himself
thought, had a considerable share in the formation of his



HILDERSON SCHOOL. 9

character. He was a precocious child, in whose mind the
most characteristic features " were religion and love of
distinction." Having determined even thus early to be a
minister, he afterwards recorded that he " preached sermons
in the kitchen, every Sunday afternoon, and at other times,
mounted in a child's high chair, indifferent as to the muster
of persons present at these exhibitions, and undisturbed at
their coming and going." His education at this time was
puritanically strict. " One Sunday, as I walked in the
garden, I happened to take the cat in my arms. My
father saw me, and seriously reproved my levity, remark-
ing that on the Lord's-day he was ashamed to observe me
demeaning myself with such profaneness."

In March 1764, upon the death of his aged schoolmistress,
the boy was sent with one of his brothers to a school at
Hindolveston, or Hilderson, about two miles and a half
from his home. The school consisted of thirty boarders,
and seventy day scholars, among which last were the
Godwins. The name of the master was Akers ; he was
celebrated as " the best, or second best, penman in the
county of Norfolk, or, for aught he knew, in England."
This will account for the admirable quality of Godwin's
own handwriting, which remained, even to the end of his
long life, as legible as print, yet with a distinct personal
character about it. "Akers was bred a journeyman tailor,
and had never had more than a quarter of a year's school-
ing in his life. The rest was the fruit of his own industry.
He was a moderate mathematician, and had a small smat-
tering of Latin. Few men ever excelled him in the rapidity
and truth of his arithmetical operations." Godwin says
further : " I was perhaps the only one of his scholars that
ever loved him ; " and this is likely enough from the
account given of the master, and of the conduct of his



io WILLIAM GODWIN.

school. All, however, that was taught was well taught,
and Godwin was an eager and ambitious pupil.

At this school was also " a poor lad of the village, whose
name was Steele," who seemed to Godwin a proper subject
on whom to exercise his old practice of preaching. He
talked to Steele "of sin and damnation, and drew tears
from his eyes." He privily got possession of the key of
the meeting-house, that he might preach to and pray over
Steele from his father's pulpit. His whole soul was vexed
within him, because he thought that very few of his school-
fellows discovered any tokens, of God's grace.

In the following year Mrs Sothren took the boy on a
tour to Norwich, Lynn, and Wisbeach ; and as at Wisbeach
it was the time of the races, he was then, for the only time
in his life, a spectator of that amusement, to which he
" attended with great interest and passion." At Norwich
he saw the play of Venice Preserved ; and it is a curious
instance of the changeableness and inconsistency that there
is in the repudiation of amusements by those who are very
strict in their religious views, that he was taken to the
theatre by Mrs Sothren, with the full consent of his parents.

In September 1767 he was sent to Norwich, to become the
solitary pupil of Mr Samuel Newton, minister of the Inde-
pendent congregation in that city. Of this man he gives a
most unpleasant picture, physically and intellectually. But
this is evidently the impression of his riper manhood, not of
his childhood. For at the time Newton had a great influ-
ence over him, and of a kind scarcely possible but where
sympathy exists. It is probable that he only grew to detest
Newton when he grew to detest Newton's creed. This was
" drawn from the writings of Sandeman, a celebrated north
country apostle, who, after Calvin had damned ninety-nine
in a hundred of mankind, has contrived a scheme for damn-



MR SAMUEL NEWTON. u

ing ninety-nine in a hundred of the followers of Calvin."
Of himself at this time he writes as follows, and there is no
reason to doubt the accuracy of his self-introspection : —

" It was scarcely possible for any preceptor to have a pupil more
penetrated with curiosity and a thirst after knowledge than I was
when I came under the roof of this man. All my amusements
were sedentary ; I had scarcely any pleasure but in reading ; by
my own consent, I should sometimes not so much have gone into
the streets for weeks together. It may well be supposed that my
vocation to literature was decisive, when not even the treatment I
now received could alter it. Add to this principle of curiosity a
trembling sensibility and an insatiable ambition, a sentiment that
panted with indescribable anxiety for the stimulus of approbation.
The love of approbation and esteem, indeed, that pervaded my
mind was a nice and delicate feeling, that found no gratification
in coarse applause, and that proudly enveloped itself in the con-
sciousness of its worth, when treated with injustice."

But his new tutor did not think so highly of the abilities
which thus panted for recognition as Mrs Sothren and
Akers had done. After the fashion of those days, Newton
speedily proceeded to birch his self-complacent pupil, pre-
facing the application of the rod by a long exhortation, full
of facetious metaphor.

"To this discourse," says Godwin, "I listened at first with
astonishment, and afterwards with incredulity. It had never
occurred to me as possible that my person, which hitherto had
been treated by most of my acquaintances, and particularly by Mrs
Sothren and Mr Akers, who had principally engaged my attention,
as something extraordinary and sacred, could suffer such ignomin-
ious violation. The idea had something in it as abrupt as a fall
from heaven to earth. I had regarded this engine as the appro-
priate lot of the very refuse of the scholastic train."

In the spring of the following year, 1768, he had an



Online LibraryC. Kegan (Charles Kegan) PaulWilliam Godwin : his friends and contemporaries .. (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 31)