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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. II. 1785-1788
Willis Webb to William Godwin, 25 October 1787

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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October 25, 1787.

“To me, who have enjoyed the liberty of a public school, and experienced the liberality of private tuition, my present situation is extremely irksome and disagreeable. Confined within a narrow pale, I survey a beautiful country, which I am forbid to enter, on the penalty of expulsion from the society. I shudder at the reflexion that for a juvenile indiscretion, which is overlooked at a public institution, not considered as a fault in private education—(the merely taking a walk)—one’s character is liable to be blasted by ignominious dismission.

“When, moreover, I consider that most of my contemporaries have finished their classical career, that mathematical knowledge can be acquired elsewhere with as much facility as at my present abode, that my character is hitherto unimpeachable, and by a timely secession from a place in which it is hourly exposed to imminent danger, will be secured, I confess I ardently desire to be admitted at the University, and to leave a society from which little profit and no pleasure is to be derived.

“Nor am I singular in my opinion that the University would be
the most advisable plan for my future education. Several men of learning and experience, friends of my father (who, by-the-by, had he lived, intended to have sent me this autumn to Oxford), concur in recommending the same measure. I am now in my eighteenth year, an age no longer puerile. My friends wish me to assume the character of a man; but how is this practicable whilst they retain me in the shackles of a child?

“Some people are apt to think that these private seminaries are free from the vices of the age, but give me leave to assure you they are grossly mistaken. The same vices that flourish at Eton or Westminster are practised at Hitcham, with this glorious addition that here deceit is necessary to conceal them; there they gratify their passions without breach of truth and sincerity.

“Adieu, dear Sir, and believe me,

“Yours sincerely,
W. Webb.

P.S.—The Captain intends to send me to Cambridge next summer, because I shall then be more discreet. Q. Are the passions of a young man of eighteen less strong than those of one who is seventeen years and six months old?”