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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. VI. 1794-1796

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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In all the storm and stress of politics, when his male friends were almost all more or less in trouble, when Mrs Reveley was putting herself into the semi-hysterical state in which we have seen her, the friendship of Mrs Inchbald, who was no politician but only a very clever and very charming woman, was a great comfort to Godwin. Their correspondence was frequent, as also were their meetings; all Mrs Inchbald’s letters are worth reading, but only a few can be given. Godwin sent the proofs of “Caleb Williams” to her, and her opinion of it must have pleased him as much as Marshal’s criticism displeased him. The early tales from his pen had been forgotten, and he appeared before the world as a new novelist.

The letters which follow were written while the story was still in reading, and she wrote in far too hot haste to dream of dating her letters, and usually to sign them.

Mrs Inchbald to William Godwin.
(No date.)

“God bless you!

“That was the sentence I exclaimed when I had read about half a page.

“Nobody is so pleased when they find anything new as I am. I found your style different from what I have ever yet met. You
come to the point (the story) at once, another excellence. I have now read as far as page 32 (I was then interrupted by a visitor) and do not retract my first sentence. I have to add to your praise that of a most minute, and yet most concise method of delineating human sensations.

“I could not resist writing this, because my heart was burthened with the desire of saying what I think, and what I hope for.

“My curiosity is greatly increased by what I have read, but if you disappoint me you shall never hear the last of it, and instead of ‘God Bless,’ I will vociferate, God ——m you.”

The Same to the Same.
Monday evening.

Sir,—Your first volume is far inferior to the two last. Your second is sublimely horrible—captivatingly frightful.

“Your third is all a great genius can do to delight a great genius, and I never felt myself so conscious of, or so proud of giving proofs of a good understanding, as in pronouncing this to be a capital work.

“It is my opinion that fine ladies, milliners, mantua-makers, and boarding-school girls will love to tremble over it, and that men of taste and judgment will admire the superior talents, the incessant energy of mind you have evinced.

“In these two last volumes, there does not appear to me (apt as I am to be tired with reading novels) one tedious line, still there are lines I wish erased. I shudder lest for the sake of a few sentences, (and these particularly marked for the reader’s attention by the purport of your preface) a certain set of people should hastily condemn the whole work as of immoral tendency, and rob it of a popularity which no other failing it has could I think endanger.

“This would be a great pity, especially as these sentences are trivial compared to those which have not so glaring a tendency, and yet to the eye of discernment are even more forcible on your side of the question. . . . . But if I find fault it is because
I have no patience that anything so near perfection should not be perfection.”

She could take as well as give criticism in a thoroughly good-humoured manner. She had sent Godwin a MS., which was probably afterwards destroyed. It is, however, no doubt that to which a letter from Mr Hardinge, quoted in Boaden’sLife of Mrs Inchbald,” alludes, under the title, “A Satire on the Times,” and about which Boaden remarks that Hardinge’s remark is unintelligible. “Oh! that I may be for ever called stupid by the person who wrote ‘A Satire on the Times,’ by setting a ship on fire and burning every soul in the book except a Lord of the Bedchamber, by whom she meant the k——.”—Memoirs of Inchbald, Vol. I., p. 328.

The Same to the Same.

“I am infinitely obliged to you for all you have said, which amounts very nearly to all I thought.

“But indeed I am too idle, and too weary of the old rule of poetical justice to treat my people, to whom I have given birth, as they deserve, or rather I feel a longing to treat them according to their deserts, and to get rid of them all by a premature death, by which I hope to surprise my ignorant reader, and to tell my informed one that I am so wise as to have as great a contempt for my own efforts as he can have.

“And now I will discover to you a total want of aim, of execution, and every particle of genius belonging to a writer, in a character in this work, which from the extreme want of resemblance to the original, you have not even reproached me with the fault of not drawing accurately.

“I really and soberly meant (and was in hopes every reader would be struck with the portrait) Lord Rinforth to represent his Most Gracious Majesty, George the 3rd.

“I said at the commencement all Lords of Bedchambers were
mirrors of the Grand Personage on whom they attended, but having Newgate before my eyes, I dressed him in some virtues, and (notwithstanding his avarice) you did not know him.

“The book is now gone to Mr Hardinge. Mr Holcroft is to have it as soon as his play is over, and though I now despair of any one finding out my meaning, yet say nothing about the matter to Mr Holcroft, but let my want of talent be undoubted, by his opinion conforming to yours.

“And there, (said I to myself as I folded up the volumes) how pleased Mr Godwin will be at my making the King so avaricious, and there, (said I to myself) how pleased the King will be at my making him so very good at the conclusion, and when he finds that by throwing away his money he can save his drowning people he will instantly throw it all away for flannel shirts for his soldiers, and generously pardon me all I have said on equality in the book, merely for giving him a good character.

“But alas, Mr Godwin did not know him in that character, and very likely he would not know himself.”

Some extracts from a letter to a young man, whose name is not preserved, may be interesting, for they represent Godwin in yet another light, and show at once his versatility, and his unceasing desire to help others in all their various needs. There is no date, but it belongs to this time, and seems to have been written to an Oxford man who was in some trouble of mind.

William Godwin to ——.
(No date.)

“. . . I am glad that my writings have in any degree contributed to your pleasure in moments of dejection and gloom. I should be much more glad if I could point out to you a remedy for your disease. Dr Darwin, you say, assures you it is a disease of the mind. There is perhaps some deception in that way of distributing the disorders of the human species. The mind and the
animal frame are so closely connected, that scarcely anything can unfavourably affect the one without deranging the other. I think it not improbable that your unhappiness may be connected with some vice of organization, as far as I can annex a distinct meaning to that term. But in these subtle diseases, take insanity for an example, it seems as if the remedies might sometimes be found in material, sometimes in mental applications. I see no good reason to doubt, that a certain discipline of the mind may have a powerful tendency to restore sanity to the intellect, and consequent vigour to the animal frame. I know a young man, subject in a considerable degree to the same evil under which you labour, and of a strong understanding, who has in some measure found out the remedy for himself, and has considerably added to his happiness by watching resolutely the operations of his own mind.

“The first thing you have to guard against, as the most pernicious error into which you can fall, is the feeling yourself flattered by your own misery as something honourable and delicate. Do not from this, or other motives, cherish and indulge painful sensations. Resolutely expel them, if possible, from your mind. Determine vehemently and hardily to be as happy as you can. . . . Break abruptly the thread of painful ideas. Set your face as much as possible against a spirit of timidity and procrastination. Endeavour to be always active, always employed. Walk, read, write, and converse. Seek variety in this respect. Whatever you engage in, engage in firmly, and give no quarter to the inroads of irresolution and listlessness. . . . Do not indulge in visions, and phantoms of the imagination, or place your happiness in something you may perhaps never obtain, but endeavour to make it out of the materials within your reach. Adopt some course of improvement, and impress yourself with some ardour of usefulness, which will never wholly elude the grasp of him who seeks it with ingenuousness and simplicity. . . .

W. Godwin.”

The remaining letters of value during this year are those from Tom Cooper, which follow. They relate, as will be
seen, to different periods of the year, but equally to his professional engagements, and are best presented consecutively. The most truculent game preserver may, at this distance of time, feel tenderly towards the poor stroller, who would not have dined at all but for his venial poaching.

Thomas Cooper to William Godwin.
Chichester, January 12, 1794.

“On inquiring into the causes that guide our actions, I am greatly puzzled to discover the reason why I have not written before to London. Can it be indolence? I have been in other respects very industrious. It cannot be indifference or inattention, for a day has never passed over without my thinking on the subject. Whatever was the cause, such is the fact, which cannot be removed by an inquiry, however long. I will therefore dismiss it at once, and proceed to my purpose.

“I left Hyde Park Corner at five o’clock on the Sunday. I left you at two. I proceeded some twenty or thirty miles when I was overtaken by the Southampton mail. I got a four shilling cast on the outside, and arrived at Southampton, gloriously wet, at ten o’clock on Monday night. I set off to Cowes the next morning at seven by the mail packet, which was opposed both by wind and tide, and could make no way. The mail was obliged to shift to an open boat, and as I could row, I got into the boat, leaving the rest of the passengers on board. I now pulled against wind and tide for upwards of twelve miles, without one minute’s rest, and I do not recollect ever to have undergone so great fatigue before. I arrived at Newport, however, by 3 p.m. on Tuesday, according to my promise, when, contrary to my expectation, I had nothing to do in the evening’s entertainment. I have since been on a salary of 10s. a week, and we have had one idle week between Newport and this place, where we have been three weeks, and are likely to continue four more. Hence we go immediately to Portsmouth. . . . I have pursued the plan Mr Holcroft mentioned as much as possible, consistently with almost continual moving,
but that will for about a month receive a considerable check. On account of some of the company taking benefits here, and the manager’s great impatience to open the Portsmouth Theatre, the company is obliged to divide. I am ordered to Portsmouth, and have a great deal of study on my hands. Mr Collins, in addition to other things, told me yesterday to study George Barnwell and Irwin. Of a morning, since I have been here, from about seven to nine, I have amused myself by shooting, and have in utter defiance of the laws of the constitution under which I exist, dined twice or thrice on partridges.

“I beg you will make a point of showing this to my mother immediately, as I have not written to her since I left town. My love to her and Betty and Miss Godwin. Is Nat at Spithead?

Thomas Cooper
Stockport, October 21, 1794.

“Whether the God of Wisdom presided in my brain at the time I made the resolution of joining these strolling players at Stockport I know not. Whether you may think the step wise (which is not the same quaere, however paradoxical my supposing a difference may appear to you), I am equally ignorant. But well I know that it is now a fortnight since we closed at Liverpool, and that in the interim I have travelled fifty miles, bag and baggage, across the country, and that by this means my stock of cash is so reduced, that without a supply before to-morrow at twelve o’clock, I shall be obliged to dine with a certain duke with whom I have kept company before to-day (but heartily despising everything, and titles among the rest, that put me in mind of usurpation and inequality), whose company I would very willingly renounce for the time to come. Nevertheless I stand prepared to encounter any tricks or mischief Fortune may be inclined to put upon me, continually repeating the first lines of that ode of Horace, beginning, ‘Justum et tenacem propositi virum.’

“By means of reduction in my pocket, having now taken the step of coming here, it is impracticable to recall it, and here I must remain. But in eight or ten weeks, unless I should meet
with any great success, I shall again think of coming to London. Though, indeed, if
Mr Holcroft’s trial comes on, and a consequence which I tremble to think of should take place, I shall be in London on the instant.

“Thus, then, I am. We open to-morrow. I do not play till Saturday, when I make my appearance in Barnwell. I have no doubt of my success, for what trifling degree of merit I may have, will derive additional lustre from the extreme dullness of the set of devils I have got among. We are to play in a theatre, to be sure, that is, in a place built for that purpose only, but we shall come under the Vagrant Act. But the sweets of superiority! ‘Oh, ’tis better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven!’

“I will thank you for a letter, containing as much circumstance as you can contrive. How do yours’ and Mr Holcroft’s novels sell? How is Mr H.’s family governed in his absence. Tell me any occurrences relative to Mr H.’s imprisonment, if any there is, not mentioned in the papers. Is George Dyson yet out of his swaddling clothes? that is, does he yet live entirely as his own master, or is he still at home with papa and mamma? How does Jack go on? Remember to give my love to my mother, Miss Godwin, &c. Likewise let the Holcroft family know I have not forgotten them. And though last, not least, mention me, ‘after what flourish your nature will,’ to Mrs Reveley—I believe—but it is, however, the lady who supped with you at Mr Holcroft’s the last night I was in town. She is a painter. Tell her I would come to London, all the way barefoot, to see her perform the office of hangman to Mr P., which I recollect she said she should have no objection to.

Thomas Cooper.”
Stockport, Oct. 28, 1794.

“All the devils in hell seem to conspire against me. When success seemed placed within my reach, and I had nothing left to do but to nod my head and become a hero, some damned untoward accident prevents it. Barnwell could not be played, as I informed you it would. But last night, to forward the manager’s business,
I undertook to play Holdam, in
Columbus, at a short notice, and to give up an appearance part. The consequence of which was, that the manager, relying upon a continued obligingness in doing his dirty work, this morning gave me a list of parts, and grinning, told me I promised very well, but that I must do all the parts there specified. There were, to be sure, a great many good parts, and most of them respectable; but he told me that in my turn I must also deliver messages. I told him that the parts expressed in his list would satisfy me very well indeed; but that as to the delivering of messages, I would not do it in heaven.

“If it were a respectable company, I would gladly accept the good parts he gave me, though a few messages were thrown in with them, because it was really a good line; but in that situation I hardly think it would be right to stay, even if I did nothing else but the good parts. They are such a wretched set of mummers. Perhaps you will say that I can do my business properly, though they did not. I say no. They seldom speak a word of the author. The business is a jest, and likewise the man who attempts to treat it seriously.

“I shall leave this place before you can possibly return an answer. I am now 170 miles from town. I shall start from hence with 5s. in my pocket. I shall see you shortly. I will black shoes at the corner of Goodge Street for 1s. a-day sooner than be anything but the leader among a set of wretches I despise.

“Io Triumphe,
Thos. Cooper.”

The note for the year 1795 records that Godwin’s literary work during the course of it consisted mainly in the revision of his two lately published works. He continues:—


“In the beginning of this year I accepted the offer of a certain degree of acquaintance with a man, in doing which I thought myself right, but in which I did not escape censure. The man was John King, a notorious Jew money-lender, who was married
to the
Countess Dowager of Lanesborough. My motive was simple—the study to which I had devoted myself was man, to analyse his nature as a moralist, and to delineate his passions as an historian, or a recorder of fictitious adventures; and I believed that I should learn from this man and his visitors some lessons which I was not likely to acquire in any other quarter. My system prompted me to express my thoughts of him as freely, though without the same scurrility and ill-temper, as Apemantus at the table of Lord Timon. An incident worthy to be mentioned occurred to me on the 21st of May in this year. I dined on that day with Mr Horne Tooke and a pretty numerous company at the house of a friend. The great philologist had frequently rallied me in a good-humoured way upon the visionary nature of my politics—his own were of a different cast. It was a favourite notion with him that no happier or more excellent Government had ever existed than that of the English nation in the reigns of George the First and George the Second. From disparaging my philosophy, he passed by a very natural transition to the setting light, either really or in pretence, by the abilities for which I had some credit. He often questioned me with affected earnestness as to the truth of the report that I was the author of the ‘Cursory Sketches on Chief Justice Eyre’s Charge to the Grand Jury,’ of which pamphlet he always declared the highest admiration, and to which he repeatedly professed that he held himself indebted for his life. The question was revived at the dinner I have mentioned. I answered carelessly to his enquiry that I believed I was the author of that pamphlet. He insisted on a reply in precise terms to his question, and I complied. He then requested that I would give him my hand. To do this I was obliged to rise from my chair and go to the end of the table where he sat. I had no sooner done this than he suddenly conveyed my hand to his lips, vowing that he could do no less by the hand that had given existence to that production. The suddenness of the action filled me with confusion; yet I must confess that when I looked back upon it, this homage thus expressed was more gratifying to me than all the applause I had received from any other quarter.


Another detached note contains fragments of a conversation at Horne Tooke’s during another dinner party about the same time; it has some small value as bearing on the controversy about the authorship of “Junius’ Letters.”


Wimbledon.—For several years after the commencement of the present reign (except the ‘Daily Advertizer’) there were but two newspapers, the ‘Gazetteer’ and the ‘Public Advertizer:’ afterwards started up the ‘Ledger,’ expressly ministerial.

Horne Tooke knows who was the author of ‘Junius’ Letters.’ He wrote a few years before letters under the signature of ‘Lucius,’ collected in two volumes, and intended a series under the signature of ‘Brutus;’ he designed the coincidence of the three for a clue to his secret. He sunk ‘Junius’ at last—by law arguments, a science in which he was uninformed, and city politics, which he did not understand; he is still living. Tooke speaks of his style with the highest commendation.

H. T., born 1737; goes abroad with Elwes, heir to Sir Harvey Elwes (whose estate afterwards descended to Megget, alias Miser Elwes, 1763); staid abroad four years.

Burke came to England before Tooke went abroad; he had previously a pension of £200 for writing a speech ‘for singlespeech Hamilton.

Tooke was to have for his services with Elwes £300 a-year for life, or a provision in the Church to the amount of £900; his (Tooke’s) father was a tradesman in the city.

Tooke brought home his ward from the South of France in a fit of insanity, the young man at the bottom of the chaise, and Tooke on the seat armed with pistols. The young man was not allowed knife or fork.”


The diaries add little worth recording. They show an ever increasing number of acquaintances, among whom the most noticeable are Lord Lauderdale, who was afterwards Plenipotentiary to France in 1806, and died in 1839; Mrs
Siddons, and Basil Montagu. This gentleman was for many years a warm friend and devoted admirer of Godwin. He was Q.C., Commissioner of Bankruptcy, and author of “A Digest of the Bankruptcy Laws.” He died in 1851, aged 81. Opie the painter, R.A., buried in St Paul’s 1807, also became an acquaintance of Godwin first in this year. With Amelia Alderson, who became Mrs Opie, he had formed a fast friendship during his visit to Norwich in 1793, and many letters had already passed between them. He paid another and a more extended visit to Dr Parr at Hatton, near Warwick, in the summer of this year. Though Mrs Shelley records that he had become disgusted with the excesses of the French Revolution, it must not be supposed that he had in any degree wavered in his allegiance to its principles, or shrunk from such of its acts as sprung from deliberation. Thus we find an entry: “June 9th, The Young Capet dies,” showing that he acquiesced at least in the deposition of Louis XVI., and the degradation of his family from all royal titles.

Holcroft had gone to Exeter during Godwin’s absence from London, and from Broadclyst, near Exeter, he addressed the following letter to his friend:—

Thomas Holcroft to William Godwin.
Clist, July 22d, 1795.

“Had I not forgotten the place of Dr Parr’s residence, you would have received the ‘Lamentations of Jeremiah’ from me. You would have heard how I fell from a slip ladder, and broke it fairly in two; how, with difficulty, I kept what your friend at Hatton calls soul and body together; how I endeavoured to overcome the extreme pain, but at last was obliged, partly by entreaty
and partly by precaution to send for a village surgeon; how he took a full basin of blood from me; how, half an hour after his departure, the spasms with which I had before been seized assaulted me with two-fold, or, for aught I know, with ten-fold malignity; how I was obliged to send to Exeter for another Dr in search of ease; how he affirmed my ribs were broken; how I believe they were not, but am not quite certain; how he made me swallow potions which proved to be opiates, and which indeed relieved me in part from spasm, but consigned me over to drowsy stupidity, which to me appeared a more intolerable evil; how I was roused from this lethargic struggle after existence by a severe fit of the gout; how I lay with my joints burning and my muscles cramped and twisted, during which I had full leisure for the display of my system ‘of resistance to pain;’ how I persuaded myself, in spite of my tormentors, that my system was true; how it induced me to laugh and joke, and exercise my little wits on all that came within my sphere of action; how some believed I was in pain, and some believed I was not; and how difficult I found it to define to myself what pain is. In short, like my predecessor Grumio, I would have told you a very tragical tale, had not my ignorance of your local existence prevented me.

“The gout has not yet left me, though I carry it about in a very clandestine kind of a manner; and till it has disappeared, I am advised not to bathe again; being further advised that bathing would be very good for me. Hence you will perceive I have not escaped that Tyrant Necessity—(if you can tell me when I shall, pray send me the intelligence by express, I will venture the expense)—and that the Necessity of which I am now the slave is uncertainty.

“I have had occasion to talk of you, or rather of your essence, your ‘Political Justice,’ and your ‘Caleb.’ If you suppose I understand you, I need not tell you in what terms I spoke. I sometimes doubt whether it be right, i.e., necessary, to declare sentiments of personal affection; yet I still seem more strongly to doubt whether it be right totally to omit such declarations; for impossible as it is that men should perceive utility, or if you will virtue,
and not love it, yet the temporary uncertainties to which the clearest minds appear to be subject, may render declarations concerning our feelings necessary. To what accidents you or I shall hereafter be liable is more than either of us can positively determine; but it seems to me our minds have proceeded too far for there to be any probability that our sentiments respecting each other should suffer any great change. Still, if it be pleasure to remind each other that we deserve and possess something more than mutual esteem, I see no good motive for abstaining from the enjoyment of this pleasure.

“I hope you have renewed your visits in Newman Street. As this letter will perhaps be a more circumstantial narrative of my late disaster than any they have yet received, be kind enough to communicate the contents at home.

Mr Cooper, partly in consequence of my desire, and partly, as I suppose, from the decisions of his own judgment, remains near me some time to pursue his studies. I wish, perhaps more than a wise man ought, to be at home. Whether this impulse, or the hope of re-establishing my health shall prevail, must be left to future circumstances: my return, however, cannot be very distant.

T. Holcroft.”

“How came I to omit saying that you have a few warm admirers here, and that the report of your second edition has committed homicide upon the first? In my opinion, should the publishing be delayed, both will be injured.”

Holcroft’s faith that death and disease existed only through the feebleness of man’s mind, must have been rudely shaken, unless we accept the dictum of Jean Paul, that no man really believes his creed till he can afford to laugh at it.

The only other letters of special interest preserved during his year are two from Cooper. He had not yet made the
figure on the stage which he and his friends alike hoped that he would do: life was sustained with difficulty on ten shillings a week and a chance partridge. Hence he accepted a clerk’s situation in an office, and appears to have been under a regular agreement. He was ill-treated, or thought himself so, and discharged himself by running away. No trouble, however, was taken by Mr Dorset, his employer, to recover the young man, who probably had not been the most docile of clerks, and he then went to study his chosen profession with
Holcroft. How he supported himself, or if Godwin again helped him, does not appear. With these few words the letters speak for themselves.

Thomas Cooper to William Godwin.
January 20, 1795.

“The die is, I believe, now finally cast, and if it be, the result is insignificance, nonentity, death to the hopes my ambition has oftentimes formed, and on which my mind has continually brooded with enthusiasm. The little portion of mind I (perhaps) have hitherto retained has now yielded. It receives its fetters, not indeed without murmuring, but the curses it pours forth and the tortures it endures are equally unavailing. The love of fame, which you consider a bad motive for praiseworthy conduct, has been with me the only spur to intellectual exertion. Perhaps it is for want of the better motive for action that my mind has now given up the contest, and that I consent to become totally an everyday man. Your last words to me on Sunday night were, ‘And thou become a mere vegetable.’ The damned idea has harassed me ever since. . . . . But why do I complain? Have I not given my consent to become a slave? Have I not even sought for the means of becoming so? What right then have I to assume the phraseology or to pretend to the feelings of a man? They are the last faint struggles of an expiring mind, and to you therefore I address them, as being the first cause of producing
that mind. . . . . I feel half inclined to go and quarrel with
Mr Holcroft. I do not know, and have not inquired, why I feel that inclination (I state facts: of causes I am ignorant), though at the same time I have the utmost veneration and love for him. . . . . The purport of my present letter is to tell you that I am under treaty with Mr Dorset (fiends!) to become a clerk in his house, and by this means I intend to advance towards riches. . . . . . .

Thomas Cooper.”
The Same to the Same.
Exeter, July 25, 1795.

“I am at a loss to discover wherein consists the singularity of requesting a letter from one I have been in the habit of considering my most immediate and intimate friend. That you should think it singular, I do not wonder, as you presently take care to inform me that in so considering I labour under a mistake . . . You say that I shall probably be sorry for having asked you to write, when I have read a certain portion of your letter. This would be the case, perhaps, if anything any man could say to me would make me sorry. But I am not easily moved to contrition or repentance, either by falsehood or truth; and it does not in the least operate in that way. When truth is presented to me, I hope I shall grow better under the perception of it. When falsehood blows her foul breath upon me, it passes by like the idle wind I regard not. Since, therefore, I am invulnerable, I rejoice rather than repent that I requested a letter, as the reception of it has, in some measure, let me into the state of your feelings.

“You say that my pretence of a ten days’ ramble appears to be a cloak for a visit to Bath. What criminality there is in a visit to Bath that should require a cloak, I cannot perceive; but take my word for it, whatever desperate villany I may engage in shall not be under a cloak; and when, as you express it, I sink into vice, it shall not be into its sourness; it shall be into the dashing whirlpool that openly destroys everything around it. Therefore, whenever vice becomes my object, notorious shall be the fact.

. . . . . . .
Thomas Cooper.”

Godwin writes, of 1796:—


“In the preceding year the Earl of Lauderdale had requested the favour of my acquaintance, and now I was almost a regular attendant at his most select parties. The persons I met at them were Mr Fox, General Fitzpatrick, Lord Derby, Sir Philip Francis, Mr Adam, Mr Tierney, Mr Courtenay, Mr Dudley North, Mr William Smith, Mr Robert Adair, &c., &c. In my little deserted mansion I received, on the 22d of April, a party of twelve persons, the most of whom good-humouredly invited themselves to dine with me, and for whom I ordered provisions from a neighbouring coffee-house. Among this party were Dr Parr and his two daughters, Mr and Mrs Mackintosh, Mr Holcroft, Mrs Wollstonecraft, and Mrs Inchbald. I was also introduced about this time by Merry, the poet, to a most accomplished and delightful woman, the celebrated Mrs Robinson. In the course of this summer I paid a second visit to Norfolk, in the company of Merry, and had the happiness, by my interference and importunity with my friends, to relieve this admirable man from a debt of £200, for which he was arrested while I was under his roof, and would otherwise have been thrown into jail.”


To this the Diary adds but little. It records, in scarce intelligible private notes, the increasing intimacy with Mary Wollstonecraft, of which more hereafter; and there is some evidence that Godwin during this year might, even at his mature age, have said in reference to her as Proteus said of Julia—
“Thou hast metamorphos’d me,
Made me neglect my studies, lose my time;”
for the record of work is slender, and there is less evidence of interest in public questions.

Two letters, however, claim insertion. King, the Jew bill-broker already named, was concerned in a trial arising
out of his not altogether creditable business. He wrote to
Godwin, requesting him to appear as his friend and supporter, and to use his influence with “some nobleman” to do the same. This letter is worded somewhat vaguely; and it does not appear whether he wanted evidence to character given in his favour, or merely the moral support in the eyes of the public which would have been afforded by such appearance of distinguished men in court by his side. The following very characteristic letter is an answer to this application:—

William Godwin to John King.
Jan. 24, 1796.

“I am extremely surprised at the note I have just received from you, and hasten to oppose the false statement it contains. From the first moment I was acquainted with you, it was a contest between me and several of my friends, and partly in my own mind, whether or no I ought to be acquainted with a man, of whom, to say the least, the world entertained a very ill opinion, respecting the justice of which I could be no competent judge. Upon what grounds, do you think, I decided that contest? I said, ‘It would be absurd for me to attempt to associate only with immaculate persons; nor do I believe that the right way to attempt to correct the errors of the vicious, is that all honest men should desert them.’ As to the frequency of my visits, I appeal to your own memory whether I ever sought that frequency. Did you imagine that your dinners were to be a bribe, seducing me to depart from the integrity of my judgment? That would be a character meaner than that of the poorest pensioner of the vilest court that ever existed.

“You seem to insinuate that I ought to appear in court as your friend and supporter. I have always avoided connecting myself with any set of men, even though Charles Fox should be at their head. I will stand or fall by my own character, and my own principles. Are you ignorant that, if I were to show myself as your supporter, it would be considered as a declaration, not merely
that I thought you injured by
Alex. Champion, Esq., of Winchester Street, but that I approved of the general spirit of your transaction with Philips, and other similar transactions? If I were asked in open court whether, upon the whole, I believed that your money transactions were immaculate, or that they had in some instances been very exceptionable, what do you think would be my answer?

“You call upon me for an act of friendship, and the act you demand would be scarcely of any imaginable use to you. At the same time you show very little friendship in the demand. Why should my character be involved with yours, which however as you may conceive undeservedly labours under a very extensive odium? Why should I bring obloquy upon all my future, and all my past labours? No sir, I will retain my little portion of usefulness undiminished. Whatever may be my share of good opinion with the world, it shall be injured by no man’s vices but my own. Should I not be both fool and knave if I did otherwise?

“You oblige me to treat you unceremoniously. But I must venture that rather than be misunderstood. Otherwise I certainly would have refused to give you pain, especially at the present moment. If there were anything I could do for your service that I could be brought to think reasonable, I would most cheerfully do it. I wish you all imaginable happiness, but I cannot sacrifice my independence and my judgment. Upon this footing, and this explanation being given, I am willing that our acquaintance should either cease or continue, as best suits your inclinations. It is perhaps impossible that one human being should have a repeated good humoured intercourse with another, without increasing in kindness towards him. But, remember, I can dine at a man’s table, without being prepared to be the partisan of his measures and proceedings.

“What a strange dilemma do you create for your acquaintance! If I had ceased to visit you, you would have censured me, as unnecessarily squeamish and fastidious. I have continued to visit you, and you conclude that I ought to be ready to proceed all lengths with you.

W. Godwin.”

The intimacy was continued. King’s reply has in it something of bluster, mixed with a great desire not to quarrel with Godwin, and ends thus;

J. King to William Godwin.
“24 Piccadilly, Janry. 26th, 1796.

“. . . I am ashamed of the illiberally about dining with me. Do I expect every man to be my partizan who dines with me, or desist my invitations when he differs from me in opinion? I say I understand you now, but I still like you, and perhaps you will hereafter like me better when you know me more, and the impracticability of your own theory. Merry and Este dine with me to-morrow when I expect you will join them.

John King.”

It appears from the diary that the invitation was accepted.

Godwin’s fearlessness to offend his own friends and supporters, if duty called him to oppose them in any degree, appears in a nobler manner in a letter to Erskine in reference to his defence of political prisoners, in which he thought Erskine compromised principle for the sake of results, and there are many other letters of criticism to Fawcet and others showing the same fearlessness, but these have not in them otherwise anything to call for special remark. The same may be said of a correspondence which began to be frequent between himself and Miss Alderson. Godwin’s replies to the lady’s letters are not extant, and hers do not at this period show any great literary power. They are lively and pleasant, and show Miss Alderson as she was in days which afterwards seemed to her frivolous, and in which she was unconverted. An extract from one may here be transcribed, as it gives the last glimpse of an old friend.

Miss Alderson to William Godwin.
Norwich, 5th of Febry., 1796.

“. . . I called on your old friend Mrs Southern about a month ago, and asked her opinion of ‘Caleb Williams:’ now, pray let not thy noble courage be cast down when I inform you that both Mrs S. and her daughter think you talk too favourably of wicked men, and that ‘Italian Letters’ (your first novel), are vastly prettier than ‘Caleb Williams.’ Console yourself, my good friend, by reflecting on the fable of the old man and his ass.”

Mrs Sothren had become more tolerant since in 1788 the fact that Godwin had turned novel-writer had given the good lady “serious concern.”

There is some reason to suppose that Godwin had at one moment seriously thought of asking Amelia Alderson to be his wife, and that not long before his intimacy with Mary Wollstonecraft, but whether the lady or her father declined the alliance, or whether no offer was actually made, it is plain that the feeling between the two was at no time warmer than a sincere friendship. Nor was there a shade of pique or jealousy to come between Miss Alderson and Mary Wollstonecraft. They were no sooner acquainted, in the spring of this year, than they became fast friends, and in one of the letters still preserved from Miss Alderson to Mrs Imlay (Mary Wollstonecraft) is this curious sentence, that whatever Miss Alderson had seen before for the first time had always disappointed her, “except Mrs Imlay and the Cumberland Lakes.” She was one of the persons who always looked with interest on the intimacy between Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, and rejoiced when their marriage was declared.


The relation in which this remarkable woman stood to Imlay and to Godwin, and the light in which the very exceptional nature of the case may present itself to us, will be presently considered. No doubt, however, not only she, but Mrs Inchbald and others, may be in some degree compromised by the association with one who has been mentioned in Godwin’s notes—Mrs Robinson. This lady, whose maiden name was Darby, had married very young, and her marriage had proved unhappy. She went on the stage, and while acting Perdita in the Winter’s Tale, had the ill fortune to attract the notice of the Prince of Wales, whose mistress she became. This connection was short, but was not the only one she formed. At this time she was living on a pension from the Prince, and was received in a certain society, chiefly literary and theatrical.

There is a radical difference between the life of one who honestly believed, on moral grounds, that marriage as usually understood is a mistake, and that true marriage can dispense with outward forms, and is an union of the heart and mind, and one who necessarily and avowedly was only the object and ministress of a fleeting passion of the basest sort. Yet even republicans were then dazzled by the name of a prince, and the shame of a royal amour was felt less then than perhaps it now would be. The day had gone by, if indeed it ever had been, save in the imagination of a song writer, when such a connection would be repudiated with the scorn expressed in the fine old ballad of “Mary Ambree,” nor had that day dawned, if now it has, in which to be the mistress of a prince is held to be the lowest and most fatal degradation, because in that case alone must the mistress abandon all hope of ever being made “an honest woman” by him who has wronged her.

With this halo of false stage light around her, Mrs
Robinson appears to have been a very agreeable woman, and her society was eagerly cultivated.

The record of the year may close with the following letter:

Mrs Godwin sen. to William Godwin.
[No date, but Mrs Sothren died Dec. 12, 1796. The top of the page is wanting.]

Mrs Sothren pass’d out of this life in a serene Slumber. She had been down stairs the day before; eat some minc’d turkey, and, with taking hold of ye maids arm, walked about the room. Departed abt. 4 o’clock Thursday morng., 22 inst. Mr Sothren sent a messinger yt same morning to acquaint me of the Awful event; your brother Hully attended ye funeral on Lord’s Day morng.; a Hears and mourng Coach; Mr and Mrs Sothren, Mr and Mrs Hatton, H. G. and Miss Jane, in ye coach; barers 5s. a piece. She said she thought she would be too heavy to be carried on men’s sholders: your brother slept at the Widow Nutter’s, a very nice woman: the deare Creature was a pattern of strict piety, Humility, patience, doing good to all as far as she had ability and opportunity; tho’ not rich in this world’s goods, was rich in the promises, disclaiming all merit of her own, owning she had nothing but what she had recieved. Others have a loss, a great one, but myself the greatest; to die is her gain, as St Paul saith of himself. It now remains that we keep her steps in mind, that we may meet her, with all our pious friends, in the realms of Joy and Peace. She has desired yo sh’d have her watch, yr Sister can give yo further particulars. She did not mean to make a will, as her Estate was not at her Disposal after her death. I sent you a Hare 13 Instant, did yo receive it, was it good and of any use; sh’d you like anything else better. If you have a few spare minutes, sh’d like to receive a letter fr you, and to be informed if there is any alteration for the better in Josh. respecting his family. I hear a poor account of his aunt Barber, yt is, that she is a kept Miss to Mr H. Hall. I shall inclose this in a goose for my daughter Joseph, directed to Son John.—I am, with sincear affection, yours,

A. Godwin.”