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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. XII. 1799
Sir James Mackintosh to William Godwin, 30 January 1799

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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Serle Street, Lincoln’s Inn, 30th Jany. 1799.

Dear Sir,—I read your very candid and good-tempered letter with real pleasure. I owe you an honest answer. I think I am disposed to make it a perfectly good-natured one. The strongest expression you quote, ‘Savage Desolators,’ you will find on reperusal to be a half-pleasantry directed against metaphysicians in general, amongst whom I have sometimes the vanity to number myself. ‘Those who disguise commonplace in the shape of paradox’ is most certainly not an allusion to you. The thing is so common as an art of literary empiricism that I rather think no particular writer was present to my mind when I wrote the passage. Your opinions do not stand in need of any contrivances to make them appear more singular than they are. As to Turgot, Rousseau, and Condorcet, I have the highest reverence for the first of these writers. The second I have long considered as the most eloquent
and delightful madman that ever existed. The third I always thought a cold and obscure writer; I never could think very highly of his talents, partly perhaps because I am no great judge of his mathematical eminence, which is, I believe, the principal part of his reputation. His conduct did not appear to me to have been that of a good man. But in none of the phrases which you have selected have I even so much as insinuated that he or any other mistaken speculator was influenced by bad motives. A man may be ‘mischievous’ with the best ‘motives’ in the world. In all discussions of ‘Speculative Principles’ it is always a most unfair act of controversy to load the author whom we oppose with the ‘immoral consequences’ which we suppose likely to flow from his opinion, not to mention that it is a sorry and impertinent sophism to urge such consequences as an argument against the truth of a speculative proposition. But the case is very different in moral and practical disputes. There the consequences are everything, and must be constantly appealed to, especially by those who, like you and myself, hold utility to be the standard of morals. To apply this to the present subject. With respect to you personally, I could never mean to say anything unkind or disrespectful. I had always highly esteemed both your acuteness and benevolence. You published opinions which you believed to be true and most salutary, but which I had from the first thought mistakes of a most dangerous tendency. You did your duty in making public your opinions. I do mine by attempting to refute them; and one of my chief means of confutation is the display of those bad consequences which I think likely to flow from them. I, however, allow that I should have confined those epithets, which I apply to denote pernicious consequences, merely to doctrines. Though these epithets, when they are applied by men to me, are never intended to convey any aspersion upon the moral or intellectual character of individuals, but merely to describe them as the promulgators of opinions which I think false and pernicious, yet I admit that I should not in any way have applied the epithets to men. I feel gratitude to you for having recalled my attention to this great distinction which I shall observe in my proposed
lectures, and in the work which may one day be the fruit of them, with a caution which is prescribed equally by a regard to my own character, and to the interests of science. I assure you that I never felt any desire that our intercourse should be lessened; having never experienced anything but pleasure from it. Distance, accident, occupation, and laziness have contributed to make it less; inclination has had no share. I, on the contrary, hope that we shall continue to exhibit the example, which is but too rare, of men who are literary antagonists but personal friends.—I am, with great regard, yours,

James Mackintosh.”