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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. X. 1797

Contents Vol. I
Ch. I. 1756-1785
Ch. II. 1785-1788
Ch. III. 1788-1792
Ch. IV. 1793
Ch. V. 1783-1794
Ch. VI. 1794-1796
Ch. VII. 1759-1791
Ch. VII. 1791-1796
Ch. IX. 1797
‣ Ch. X. 1797
Ch. XI. 1798
Ch. XII. 1799
Ch. XIII. 1800
Contents Vol. II
Ch. I. 1800
Ch. II. 1800
Ch. III. 1800
Ch. IV. 1801-1803
Ch. V. 1802-1803
Ch. VI. 1804-1806
Ch. VII. 1806-1811
Ch. VIII. 1811-1814
Ch. IX. 1812-1819
Ch. X. 1819-1824
Ch. XI. 1824-1832
Ch. XII. 1832-1836
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Mary Godwin had been in remarkably good health during the whole period of her pregnancy. It will have been seen in the correspondence that she consulted Dr Carlisle during this time, but not for any serious indisposition. She had no alarm or even uneasiness on the subject of her approaching trial, since she had suffered but little at the birth of Fanny, and had conceived the idea that women in general made far too much of the difficulties and inconveniences of child-bearing. She had a strong opinion that in all normal and natural cases women were the proper persons to attend their own sex, and therefore engaged Mrs Blenkinsop, matron and midwife to the Westminster Lying-in Hospital to be with her. When Mrs Blenkinsop arrived, soon after Mary Godwin was taken in labour on Wednesday, August 30, all seemed well. She had wished that Godwin should not be in the house, and the notes that follow, written to him during her labour, have probably but few parallels.

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin to W. Godwin.
“Aug. 30, 1797.

“I have no doubt of seeing the animal to-day; but must wait for Mrs Blenkinsop to guess at the hour. I have sent for her. Pray send me the newspaper. I wish I had a novel or some book
of sheer amusement to excite curiosity and while away the time. Have you anything of the kind?

The Same to the Same.
“Aug. 30, 1797.

“Mrs Blenkinsop tells me that everything is in a fair way, and that there is no fear of the event being put off till another day. Still at present she thinks I shall not immediately be freed from my load. I am very well. Call before dinner time, unless you receive another message from me.”

The Same to the Same.
“Three o’clock, Aug. 30, 1797.

“Mrs Blenkinsop tells me I am in the most natural state, and can promise me a safe delivery, but that I must have a little patience.”

The child, not the William so anxiously expected, but Mary, afterwards Mrs Shelley, was born at twenty minutes past eleven, and for some hours all seemed well. But some circumstances then alarmed the midwife, and Dr Poignard, physician and accoucheur to the same hospital, was called in. He did what was deemed necessary, and the danger, which was extreme till about eight the next morning, then appeared at an end. Godwin called in Dr Fordyce, a very old friend of his wife, who confirmed Dr Poignard’s opinion that the patient was doing well; indeed, he quoted Mrs Godwin’s case the same day “in corroboration of a favourite idea of his, of the propriety of employing females in the capacity of midwives. Mary had had a woman, and was doing extremely well.” On Sunday, however, a very alarming change took place, and after a week
of terror, alternating with some gleams of hope, she sunk and died on the following Sunday morning, September 10, at twenty minutes before eight.

All that medical skill could do was done in the case. Dr Fordyce and Dr Clarke were constant in their attendance, and Mr, afterwards Sir Anthony, Carlisle never left the house from Wednesday, Sept. 6th, till the time of the patient’s death. Mr Basil Montagu was constantly with Godwin, and was full of kindness and sympathy. Through the whole time Godwin tells us “nothing could exceed the equanimity, the patience, and affectionateness of the poor sufferer.”

Godwin’s diary during these days is very curious. All that he felt most deeply is recorded in his usual businesslike way; the hand-writing never falters, the same precise abbreviations and stops, are used, till the last, when occur the only lines and dashes which break the exceeding neatness of the book. It is as follows:—

Aug. 30, W.—‘Mary’ p. 116. Fell and Dyson call: dine at Reveley’s: Fenwicks and M. sup: Blenkinsop. Birth of Mary, 20 minutes after 11 at night. From 7 to 10, Evesham Buildings.” [This refers to a change of lodgings.]

„ 31, Th.—Fetch Dr Poignard: Fordyce calls: in the evening Miss G. and L. J. M. Reveley and Tuthil: J. G. calls.

Sep. 1, F.—Call on Robinson, Nicholson, Carlisle, and M. Hays: Johnson calls: favourable appearances.

„ 2, Sa.Carlisle, Montagu, Tuthil, and M. Reveley call: worse in the evening. Nurse.

„ 3, Su.Montagu breakfasts: call with him on Wolcot, Opie, Laurence and Dr Thompson. Shivering fits: Fordyce twice. Poignard, Blenkinsop and nurse.

DEATH. 275

Sep. 4, M.—Blenkinsop: puppies [Dr Fordyce now forbade the patient to nurse her child, and puppies were employed to draw off the milk]. Johnson and Nicholson call: Masters calls. E. Fenwick and M. sleep. M. Hays calls. Pichegrn, arrested.

„ 5, Tu.Fordyce twice: Clarke in the afternoon. M. Hays calls.

„ 6, W.Carlisle calls: wine diet: Carlisle from Brixton: Miss Jones sleeps.

„ 7, Th.Barry, Reveley and Lowry call: dying in the evening.

„ 8, F.Opie and Tuthil call. Idea of death: solemn communication. Barry: Miss G. sleeps.

„ 9, Sa.—Talk to her of Fanny and Mary: Barry.

„ 10, Su.—20 minutes before 8 ——————————
—————————————————————————— ”

It is not easy to characterize the frame of mind in which Godwin sat down a few hours after these agitated pen-marks were drawn, to write himself to those friends to whom as he thought he owed the duty of himself communicating the loss he had sustained. It was probably an attempt to be stoical, but a real indulgence in the luxury of woe. Among the first of these friends was Holcroft.

William Godwin to T. Holcroft.
Sunday, Sep. 10, 1797.

My dear Friend.—The passage in your last kind letter that related to the subject of self-reproach was rather out of season. It has dwelt upon my mind ever since. My wife is now dead. She died this morning at eight o’clock. She grew worse before your letter arrived. Nobody has a greater call to reproach himself,
except for want of kindness and attention in which I hope I have not been very deficient, than I have. But reproach would answer no good purpose, and I will not harbour it.

“I firmly believe that there does not exist her equal in the world. I know from experience we were formed to make each other happy. I have not the least expectation that I can now ever know happiness again.

“When you come to town, look at me, and talk to me, but do not—if you can help it—exhort me, or console me.

W. Godwin.”

He also wrote to Mrs Inchbald, and the whole of the letters which ensued are given consecutively, before passing to other correspondence. Mrs Shelley who had the letters before her, was certainly lenient in her judgment of Mrs Inchbald in her note quoted above. Smart writing and an argumentative temper were sadly out of place over the death-bed of Mary Godwin.

William Godwin to Mrs Inchbald.
Sep. 10, 1797.

“My wife died at eight this morning. I always thought you used her ill, but I forgive you. You told me you did not know her. You have a thousand good and great qualities. She had a very deep-rooted admiration for you.

“Yours, with real honour and esteem,

W. Godwin.”
Mrs Inchbald to William Godwin.
[Sept. 10, 1797]

“You have shocked me beyond expression, yet, I bless God, without exciting the smallest portion of remorse. Yet I feel most delicately on every subject in which the good or ill of my neighbours is involved.


“I did not know her. I never wished to know her: as I avoid every female acquaintance, who has no husband, I avoided her. Against my desire you made us acquainted. With what justice I shunned her, your present note evinces, for she judged me harshly. She first thought I used her ill, for you would not. I liked her—I spoke well of her. Let Charlotte Smith be my witness, who received her character from me, such as I gave of her to everybody.

“Be comforted. You will be comforted. Still I feel for you at present. Write to me again. Say what you please at such a time as this; I will excuse and pity you.”

The Same to the Same.
Sept. 11, 1797.

“The ceremony of condolence is an impertinence, but if you consider mine superior to ceremony, you will accept it.

“I have too much humility to offer consolation to a mind like yours. I will only describe sensations which nearly a similar misfortune excited in me.

“I felt myself for a time bereft of every comfort the world could bestow, but these opinions passed away, and gave place to others, almost the reverse.

“I was separated from the only friend I had in the world, and by circumstances so much more dreadful than those which have occurred to you, as the want of warning increases all our calamities, but yet I have lived to think with indifference of all I then suffered.

“You have been a most kind husband, I am told. Rejoice,—the time might have come when you would have wept over her remains with compunction for cruelty to her.

“While you have no self-reproaches to wound you, be pacified. Every ill falls short of that.

“I lament her as a person whom you loved. I am shocked at the unexpected death of one in such apparent vigour of mind and body; but I feel no concern for any regret she endured at parting
from this world, for I believe she had tact and understanding to despise it heartily.
Mr Twiss received the news with sorrow, and Mrs Twiss shed many tears. They were not prepared, any more than myself, for the news, for they had not heard of her illness. I showed them your note to me, and if you had seen the manner in which they treated your suspicion of my influence with them (and that was certainly your only meaning), you would beg my pardon.

“I shall be glad to hear of your health, and that your poor little family are well, for believe me concerned for your welfare.”

“E. I.”
William Godwin to Mrs Inchbald.
Sept. 13, 1797.

“I must endeavour to be understood as to the unworthy behaviour with which I charge you towards my wife. I think your shuffling behaviour about the taking places to the comedy of the ‘Will,’ dishonourable to you. I think your conversation with her that night at the play base, cruel, and insulting. There were persons in the box who heard it, and they thought as I do. I think you know more of my wife than you are willing to acknowledge to yourself, and that you have an understanding capable of doing some small degree of justice to her merits. I think you should have had magnanimity and self-respect enough to have shewed this. I think that while the Twisses and others were sacrificing to what they were silly enough to think a proper etiquette, a person so out of all comparison their superior, as you are, should have placed her pride in acting upon better principles, and in courting and distinguishing insulted greatness and worth; I think that you chose a mean and pitiful conduct, when you might have chosen a conduct that would have done you immortal honour. You had not even their excuse. They could not (they pretended) receive her into their previous circles. You kept no circle to debase and enslave you.

“I have now been full and explicit on this subject, and have done with it, I hope, for ever.


“I thank you for your attempt at consolation in your letter of yesterday. It was considerate, and well-intended, although its consolations are utterly alien to my heart

W. Godwin.

“I wish not to be misunderstood as to the circles above alluded to. I mean not to apply my idea to the sacrifices, for one or two of whom I feel more honour than I can easily express, but to the idols.”

Mrs Inchbald to William Godwin.
Sept. 14, 1797.

“I could refute every charge you allege against me in your letter; but I revere a man, either in deep love or in deep grief: and as it is impossible to convince, I would at least say nothing to irritate him.

“Yet surely thus much I may venture to add. As the short and very slight acquaintance I had with Mrs Godwin, and into which I was reluctantly impelled by you, has been productive of petty suspicions and revilings (from which my character has been till now preserved), surely I cannot sufficiently applaud my own penetration in apprehending, and my own firmness in resisting, a longer and more familiar acquaintance.”

The Same to the Same.
Thursday, Oct. 26, 1797.

“With the most sincere sympathy in all you have suffered—with the most perfect forgiveness of all you have said to me, there must nevertheless be an end to our acquaintance for ever. I respect your prejudices, but I also respect my own.

E. Inchbald.”

Mrs Cotton, an old and intimate friend of Mary Godwin, wrote a touching letter of condolence, from Sonning, near Reading. Godwin thus replied,—

William Godwin to Mrs Cotton.
Sept. 14, 1797.

Dear Madam,—I cannot write. I have half destroyed myself by writing. It does me more mischief than anything else. I must preserve myself, if for no other reason, for the two children. I had desired a friend to write to you. I suppose he has forgotten it. He is not in the way forme to inquire. She expressed a wish to have had you for a nurse. I wrote a letter to you for that purpose last Wednesday. But the medical attendants told me it was useless to send it. She died on Sunday morning at eight o’clock. She lasted longer than any one expected. She had Dr Fordyce, Dr Clarke, and Mr Carlisle, the last of whom, who is one of the best and greatest of men, sat with her the four last nights and days of her life. Mrs Fenwick, author of ‘Secrecy,’ a novel, was her principal nurse, and Mr Carlisle said, the best nurse he ever saw. Four of my male friends stayed night and day in the house, to be sent at a moment’s warning anywhere that should be necessary. I spent the principal part of my time in her chamber. I will desire Mrs Fenwick to write to you. If you have any inquiries to make, address them to her at my house.

“Believe me to be, with a deep sense of the affection my wife entertained for you,

“Your sincere friend,
W. Godwin.

“I find that the address I gave to my friend, Mr Basil Montagu, to write to you, was Mrs Cotton, near Henley-upon-Thames. He has despatched a letter with that address.”

The Same to the Same.
Oct. 24th, 1797.

. . .” I partook of a happiness, so much the more exquisite, as I had a short time before had no conception of it, and scarcely admitted the possibility of it I saw one bright ray of light that
streaked my day of life only to leave the remainder more gloomy, and, in the truest sense of the word, hopeless.

“I am still here, in the same situation in which you saw me, surrounded by the children, and all the well-known objects, which, though they all talk to me of melancholy, are still dear to me. I love to cherish melancholy. I love to tread the edge of intellectual danger, and just to keep within the line which every moral and intellectual consideration forbids me to overstep, and in this indulgence and this vigilance I place my present luxury.

“The poor children! I am myself totally unfitted to educate them. The scepticism which perhaps sometimes leads me right in matters of speculation, is torment to me when I would attempt to direct the infant mind. I am the most unfit person for this office; she was the best qualified in the world. What a change. The loss of the children is less remediless than mine. You can understand the difference.—I am, madam, with much respect, yours,

W. Godwin.”

Mrs Fenwick and Miss Hayes, the other friend who was with Mary Godwin in her last hours, each wrote, as did Mr Basil Montagu, many of the necessary letters. Some words of these ladies may serve to complete the picture of a very beautiful character, and a very peaceful death. It was a death, moreover—as here may fitly be remarked in connection with a sentence of her husband’s quoted above—brightened by the same faith which has brightened the deathbeds of so many more who have sinned and suffered, faith in the love and mercy of God, whom she had never doubted, though the words in which she would have couched her creed may have changed, since she wrote her early letters to George Blood. Her mind, as Godwin tells us, was undisturbed by the graver doubts on the very Being of God which assailed his own.

Miss Hayes to [Mr Hugh Skeys.]

“Sir,—Myself and Mrs Fenwick were the only two female friends that were with Mrs Godwin during her last illness. Mrs Fenwick attended her from the beginning of her confinement with scarcely any intermission. I was with her for the four last days of her life, and though I have had but little experience in scenes of this sort, yet I can confidently affirm that my imagination could never have pictured to me a mind so tranquil, under affliction so great. She was all kindness and attention, and cheerfully complied with everything that was recommended to her by her friends. In many instances she employed her mind with more sagacity on the subject of her illness than any of the persons about her. Her whole soul seemed to dwell with anxious fondness on her friends; and her affections, which were at all times more alive than perhaps those of any other human being, seemed to gather new disinterestedness upon this trying occasion. The attachment and regret of those who surrounded her appeared to increase every hour, and if her principles are to be judged of by what I saw of her death, I should say that no principles could be more conducive to calmness and consolation.” [The rest is wanting.]

Mrs Fenwick to Everina Wollstonecraft.
Sept. 12, 1797.

“I am a stranger to you, Miss Wollstonecraft, and at present greatly enfeebled both in mind and body: but when Mr Godwin desired that I would inform you of the death of his most beloved and most excellent wife, I was willing to undertake the task, because it is some consolation to render him the slightest service, and because my thoughts perpetually dwell upon her virtues and her loss. Mr Godwin himself cannot upon this occasion write to you.

Mrs Godwin died on Sunday, Sept. 10, about eight in the morning. I was with her at the time of her delivery, and with very little intermission until the moment of her death. Every skil-
ful effort that medical knowledge of the highest class could make, was exerted to save her. It is not possible to describe the unremitting and devoted attentions of her husband. Nor is it easy to give you an adequate idea of the affectionate zeal of many of her friends, who were on the watch night and day to seize on an opportunity of contributing towards her recovery, and to lessen her sufferings.

“No woman was ever more happy in marriage than Mrs Godwin. Who ever endured more anguish than Mr Godwin endures? Her description of him, in the very last moments of her recollection was, ‘He is the kindest, best man in the world.’

“I know of no consolations for myself, but in remembering how happy she had lately been, and how much she was admired, and almost idolized, by some of the most eminent and best of human beings.

“The children are both well, the infant in particular. It is the finest baby I ever saw.—Wishing you peace and prosperity, I remain your humble servant,

Eliza Fenwick.

Mr Godwin requests you will make Mrs Bishop acquainted with the particulars of this afflicting event. He tells me that Mrs Godwin entertained a sincere and earnest affection for “Mrs Bishop.”

Mr Marshal who had been, as might be expected, one of the friends so constant in his attentions, had, with Mr Basil Montagu, the charge of the arrangements for the funeral. Among those asked to be present was Mr Tuthil, a very intimate friend of Godwin, who shared in his views on religious as on other subjects. The correspondence which ensued is honourable to both friends.

Mr Tuthil to Mr Marshal.
“3 Chapel Court, off New Burlington Street,
[Sep. 13th, 1797.]

“I feel very much gratified at finding myself numbered with those who had engaged Mrs Godwin’s ‘particular esteem,’ and
should rejoice to pay any honest tribute to her memory. If a funeral consisted simply in the expression of affectionate feelings, I should ardently desire to follow her; but I much doubt the morality of assisting at religious ceremonies; and I cannot place myself where I should be inclined to think I did not look like an honest man.

“It would be painful, very painful to me, if Mr Godwin were for a single instant to suppose my decision incompatible with the warmest affection.—Yours very sincerely,

G. Tuthil.”
William Godwin to Mr Tuthil.
Sep. 13th, 1797

“I think the last respect due to the best of human beings ought not to be deserted by their friends. There is not perhaps an individual in my list, whose opinions are not as adverse to religious ceremonies as your own, and who might not with equal propriety shrink from, and desert the remains of the first of women. I honour your character; I respect your scruples. But I should have thought more highly of you, if, at such a moment it had been impossible for so cold a reflection to have crossed your mind. Think of the subject again. Consult Holcroft. Act finally upon the genuine decision of your own judgment.—Yours in sincere friendship,

W. Godwin.”
Mr Tuthil to William Godwin.
“3 Chapel Court, off New Burlington Street,
[Sep. 14th, 1797.]

“I have reconsidered the subject, and can only arrive at the same conclusion. If there be men who appear to me to violate those principles which they profess to hold sacred, I cannot imitate them. There has been a time when you would have thought as I do: but show me that there is, even at this melancholy moment, a deficiency of true feeling in this reflection, and I will instantly discard it. Indeed, indeed you do not understand me. There is a coldness in my manner which has deceived you.—Yours very sincerely,

G. Tuthil.”

Godwin was too prostrate both in mind and body himself to attend the funeral or meet the friends who did so. He spent the day at Marshal’s lodgings and thence wrote to Mr Carlisle.

William Godwin to Mr Anthony Carlisle.
Sep. 15th, 1797.

My dear Carlisle,—I am here, sitting alone in Mr Marshal’s lodgings during my wife’s funeral. My mind is extremely sunk and languid. But I husband my thoughts, and shall do very well. I have been but once since you saw me, in a train of thought that gave me alarm. One of my wife’s books now lies near me, but I avoid opening it. I took up a book on the education of children, but that impressed me too forcibly with my forlorn and disabled state with respect to the two poor animals left under my protection, and I threw it aside.

“Nothing could be more soothing to my mind than to dwell in a long letter upon her virtues and accomplishments, and our mutual happiness, past and in prospect. But the attractions of this subject are delusive, and I dare not trust myself with it

“I may dwell however with perfect safety upon your merits and kindness, and the indelible impression they have left on my mind. Your generous and unintermitted attendance upon the dear deceased constituted the greatest consolation it was possible for me to receive in that dreadful period when I most needed consolation. I may say to you on paper, what I observed to you in our last interview, that I never, in the whole course of my life, met with the union of so clear and capacious an understanding, with so much goodness of heart and sweetness of manners.

“It is pleasing to be loved by those we feel ourselves impelled to love. It is inexpressibly gratifying, when we find those qualities that most call forth our affections, to be regarded by that person with some degree of a correspondent feeling. If you have any of that kind of consolation in store for me, be at the pains to bestow it. But, above all, be severely sincere. I ought to be acquainted
with my own defects, and to trace their nature in the effects they produce.—Yours, with fervent admiration and regard.”

By a strange coincidence, Mr Hamilton Rowan was writing on the same 15th of September to congratulate on her marriage her who was then committed to the grave.

Archd. H. Rowan, Esq., to Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.
Brandywine, near Wilmington, Delaware, “Septr. 15, 1797.

Dear Madam,—I rejoice most sincerely that you have such a companion, protector, and friend as I believe him to be, whose name the papers inform me you now bear. I have been much to blame. In the more than two years that I have been in America I have written only thrice to you. You were not happy. I had no right to trouble you with my dark reveries. I was displeased with my past and my present conduct and undecided as to my future; how could I speak comfort to so wounded a mind as yours? Now I may be allowed to croak. You know it was my fashion in Paris. Through my wife’s prudent conduct she has been permitted to remain in possession of my property, and I have thus become a pensioner of the Irish Government. That I have spent only what was necessary for my subsistence does not satisfy me. Every letter which I receive from Mrs H. R., though couched in the most affectionate terms, yet shows me that what I called acting from principle was in her idea wild ambition or foolish vanity. A mode has been pointed out to me by which I might possibly rejoin my family, but it is a renunciation of principle. I cannot accede to the proposition. I should be for ever unhappy, and, I think, should disgrace my children even as long as it was remembered that I was their ancestor. As my growling, however, signified little, I set about procuring an independence, and with this view have commenced calico printer, &c., on the banks of the Brandywine. I have connected myself with a good sans culottes dyer from Manchester, who had two great faults which forced him to quit that place—he could read and he
could speak. I rent the place where we are.
Aldred, my partner, has the stone mansion, and I have in a most romantic corner built, upon a surface of 18 ft. square, a house in the second stage of civilization, viz., a log house, where I and Charles, who has a daughter, live and cook, &c., just as you saw in the Rue Mousseaux.

Nov. 17.—This has been lying by me, and the last papers announce a melancholy event—and have you so shortly enjoyed the calm repose I hoped you were in possession of. I hope the report is false; if true, let this convey my condolence to Mr G.

Archd. Hamilton Rowan.”

The funeral took place in Old St Pancras Churchyard, attended by all the friends, save Mr Tuthil, who had been on terms of great intimacy with Godwin and his wife. The body does not now rest there. That churchyard was rudely disturbed when the Metropolitan and Midland Railways were constructed, before which time Godwin lay by his wife’s side. Loving hands transported their remains to Bournemouth, where they now lie together with those of their daughter, Mrs Shelley.

This Memoir is a record rather of what was than a speculation on what might have been. Yet it is impossible not to think for a moment on the two lives, one shortened so untimeously, one so blighted. That each had supplemented and improved at once the life and genius of the other cannot be doubted, in spite of the little clouds which had arisen on the fair sky of their domestic happiness. That Mary Godwin’s calm faith might have in some degree softened her husband’s ruggedness, that his critical faculty might have aided to mature her style, and prune her luxuriant fancy, is probable. She too had been more schooled in the actual work of life than he, and her experience might
have saved her husband from the unfortunate pecuniary difficulties which were so great a burthen on his later years. But this was not to be. She died in her prime, intellectual and physical, leaving to the daughter to whom she gave birth a mingled inheritance of genius and sadness, of filial duty, met by coldness at home, of deep wedded joys and deep widowed sorrows. She passed to her rest, not to be disturbed by the chorus of vituperation which has assailed her memory.

“Thee nor carketh care nor slander,
Nothing but the small cold worm
Fretteth thine enshrouded form—
Let them rave.
Light and shadow ever wander
O’er the green that folds thy grave—
Let them rave.”

Yet it may be hoped that in some degree what has here been written may give some a clearer view of the virtues, and a more tender pity for the failings and the sorrows of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.

The children were with Mrs Reveley during the few sad days of extreme danger, and after the death. The infant was also for a few days alarmingly ill, but recovered after her return to her father’s house on Sunday 17th. Little Fanny had been brought home the evening before, and Mrs Fenwick remained a few days to nurse the child. Godwin removed all his books and papers from Evesham buildings, and in future took for his study the room which had been his wife’s.

Among those who had been most zealous in offers of help was Mr Nicholson, who, with his wife, wished to have
charge of the children for a time, had they not been already removed. The letter from him which follows shows not only the interest which “
Lavater’s Speculations on Physiognomy” then were exciting, but one of Godwin’s favourite theories, which he brings out in several books, and notably in “The Enquirer,” that education cannot begin too early, and that in the very dawn of infancy the future character begins to develop. The Diary records that Mr Nicholson visited Godwin on Monday, Sept. 18, and on his return home the letter was written.

William Nicholson to William Godwin.
Newman Street, Sept. 18, 1797.

Dear Sir,—When I had the pleasure of seeing your little daughter this morning, and you asked my opinion concerning her physiognomy, I experienced some difficulty, partly from an ill-grounded sense of ridicule in seeming to assume the character of fortune-teller, partly from a consciousness of imperfect knowledge, but chiefly from the little probability that the opportunity would afford time for a calm consideration of the individual, and of my own associated notions, which require meditation and development before I can satisfy myself. My view was, in fact, slight and momentary. I had no time to consider, compare, and combine. Yet I am disposed to think the following imperfect observation may lead you to more than a suspicion that our organization at the birth may greatly influence those motives which govern the series of our future acts of intelligence, and that we may even possess moral habits, acquired during the fœtal state.

“1. The outline of the head viewed from above, its profile, the outline of the forehead, seen from behind and in its horizontal positions, are such as I have invariably and exclusively seen in subjects who possessed considerable memory and intelligence.

“2. The base of the forehead, the eyes and eyebrows, are
familiar to me in subjects of quick sensibility, irritable, scarcely irascible, and surely not given to rage. That part of the outline of the forehead, which is very distinct in patient investigators, is less so in her. I think her powers, of themselves, would lead to speedy combination, rather than continued research.

“3. The lines between the eyes have much expression, but I had not time to develope them. They simply confirmed to me the inductions in the late paragraph.

“4. The form of the nose, the nostrils, its insertion between the eyes, and its changes by muscular action, together with the side of the face in which the characteristic marks of affection are most prominent, were scarcely examined. Here also is much room for meditation and remark.

“6. The mouth was too much employed to be well observed. It has the outlines of intelligence. She was displeased, and it denoted much more of resigned vexation than either scorn or rage.

“On this imperfect sight it would be silly to risk a character; for which reason I will only add that I conjecture that her manner may be petulant in resistance, but cannot be sullen. I have chosen to send you these memoranda, rather than seem to shrink from the support of truth by declining to practise what I have asserted could be done without difficulty in the case of my own children.

“That she may be everything your parental affection can desire is the sincere wish of—Yours, with much regard,

Wm. Nicholson.”

The Diary shows, as might be expected, an almost complete stagnation in Godwin’s literary life. Friends were constant in their visits—Holcroft, the Fenwicks, Mrs Reveley, Mrs Barbauld, and many more; but the only reading recorded is his wife’s published works, the letters addressed to her, and the MSS. which she left unfinished, and he found almost at once a comfort in beginning to
compile the memoirs of her which were published in the following year.
Mr Skeys, who wrote very cordially to the husband of his first wife’s friend, aided him with all the information in his power; but Mrs Bishop and Everina Wollstonecraft, who had never liked the marriage, gave as little help as they could, and hence the meagreness and even inaccuracies, in some parts of that narrative. These ladies found, or said that they found, difficulties in getting situations because of their relationship to Mary Godwin; Mr Skeys, with whom they quarrelled, said it was because of their own infirmities of temper. At any rate, they closed as far as possible, and of their own accord, all communication between Godwin and the family of his wife, and for many years showed no interest in either of the children she had left.