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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. XII. 1799
William Godwin to Maria Reveley [Gisborne], [September 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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[Sept. 1799.]

“I am surprised, and will you forgive me if I add, pleased, at Mrs Fenwick’s intelligence, that your objection to what you once desired is wholly grounded upon your opinion of my understanding. I cannot persuade myself to regard this as an invincible objection. If Mrs Fenwick has misunderstood you, if your objection have any other basis beside this, I think you owe it to me to correct my mistake.

“And so you would really demand in a partner an understanding too little comprehensive to see into many things, and a heart, for these are wholly or nearly inseparable, of too little sensibility to feel many things? Surely to state such a requisition is sufficiently to display the misapprehension on which it is founded. I should have thought experience would have shown you how little is to be hoped from characters of this kind. Make one generous experiment upon a man of a different sort. Can you fail to be aware that the man of real powers will infallibly, at least when he loves, be affectionate, attentive, familiar, and totally incapable of all questions of competition or ideas of superiority; while the man of meaner or middling understanding may almost always be expected to be jealous of rivalship, obstinate, self-willed, and puffed up with the imaginary superiority he ascribes to himself? Can you fail to be aware of the inferences which you ought to draw from the respective characters of the two sexes? We are different in our structure; we are perhaps still more different in our education. Woman stands in need of the courage of man to defend her, of his constancy to inspire her with firmness, and, at present at least, of his science and information to furnish to her resources of amusement, and materials for studying. Women richly repay us for all that we can bring into the common stock, by the softness of their
natures, the delicacy of their sentiments, and that peculiar and instantaneous sensibility by which they are qualified to guide our tastes and to correct our scepticism. For my part I am incapable of conceiving how domestic happiness could be so well generated without this disparity of character. I would not, if I could, marry a man in female form, though that form were the form of a Venus.

“You say you are incapable of reasoning with me. Believe me, there is no good to myself I would not cheerfully sacrifice, rather than consciously be guilty of an atom of sophistry. Ask yourself whether any word I have put down on this subject be not unquestionable truth, and I might almost say put down dispassionately. This, as I have just said, is the privilege of our sex, from superiority of education, to collect the materials of decision: your sex, though feeling both exquisitely and admirably, are often in danger of deciding from a partial view of the subject.

“But what I have just said was not the purpose for which I sat down to write, though I could not prevail on myself to omit it. I am willing to leave this question to time. There is no character I have so much repugnance to act as that of a tormentor. The point I have principally to press is one which, so far as I at present see, tends to decide whether you have a heart or have no heart; I mean the point of the continuance of our acquaintance.

“We have now lived on terms of the most cordial and unreserved friendship for six years. For more than four of those six years I suffered no thoughts respecting you, but those of single and unmixed friendship, to find harbour in my heart. You showed, in a thousand instances, that you valued my friendship, as I hope it deserved to be valued. On my part, at a moment when what would have happened without my interference I regarded as your ruin, I spared no exertion of my faculties or my industry, I defied misrepresentation and obloquy in every shape they might assume, so I might rescue you. Esteeming me probably more than you ever esteemed any other man, you, with a resolution that does you the highest honour, preserved my acquaintance, often in spite of Mr Reveley, once in spite of myself. Again and again, when he
was unwilling to receive my visits, by your perseverance you conquered his inflexibility: at another time, when I was no longer willing to pay them to him, you conquered me. If, the moment all these complicated obstacles are removed, you of your own accord cease from all further intercourse with me, what, I beseech you, would you have me think of you? You always professed the highest regard for
Mrs Godwin; naturally it would be expected you should feel some interest in her children and mine: are these motives all at once become nothing to you?

“You cannot form so despicable an opinion of me as to suppose that I can view you with no eyes but those of a lover. You saw the contrary for years; and believe me, I know what I say; I can conquer myself again and again, as often as the conquest shall be necessary. There is nothing upon earth that I desire so ardently, so fervently, so much with every sentiment and every pulse of my heart, as to call you mine. But dispose of that point as you please, I am too vigorous and robust of soul ever to be made the suicide of my body or the suicide of my mind. No objection to our intercourse can therefore arise from that point.

“If you are all at once become so thoroughly the slave of a miserable etiquette that you must not even risk the seeing me alone, you may dine here with my sister; she comes to me every other Sunday through the year: next Sunday is her day: or order me to invite Mrs Fenwick: when the heart is willing, such trifles are easily adjusted.

“It is, however, more than probable that in all I have said respecting our intercourse, I have been fighting a shadow. In one of your first intimations to me since your widowhood, you said you could not see me, or any unmarried man, for some time: that did not sound as if our intercourse was to be closed for ever. I think, however, you pay too little attention to my feelings. Two months of etiquette have now nearly elapsed, and no elucidation of this some time has yet reached my ears. You ought perhaps to have known that respecting persons in whom I feel myself interested, uncertainty fills my soul with tumults, and tortures my fancy with a thousand painful and monstrous images.”