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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. VII. 1791-1796

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 her lonely lodging near Blackfriars, Mary Wollstonccraft had been writing an original work during the scant time she could give to it from her labours of translation. It was one which has ever been more known by name than by perusal, on a subject which even now excites acrimony rather than calm discussion. The very words, “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” which was the title of the book, are held, without examination, to claim emancipation alike from law, from custom, and from morality. Yet it is evident that the writer, as she has shown herself in her letters, must have changed far more suddenly than is wont to be the case, if such were indeed the object she set before her in writing her treatise.

It is not among the least oddities of this singular work that it is dedicated to M. Talleyrand Perigord, late Bishop of Autun. Mary Wollstonecraft, always confiding and always charitable, still believed in him. She little knew how unstable was the liberalism for which she gave him credit, and though well aware that some of her opinions were opposed to those which Talleyrand had put forward in his pamphlet on National Education, she yet thought him quite sincere and working in the same direction as herself. Mary Wollstonecraft, like so many others, turned to France as the land from which was rising the day-star of a
new time, yet, unlike many, she was far from considering that all French manners were worthy of imitation. Even in the Dedication to Talleyrand are some noble words in defence of English cleanliness in life and talk, even of seeming prudery, rather than much which is still tolerated in France.


“The main argument” of the work “is built on this simple principle, that if woman be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge, for truth must be common to all, or it will be inefficacious with respect to its influence on general practice. And how can woman be expected to co-operate, unless she know why she ought to be virtuous?—unless freedom strengthen her reason till she comprehend her duty, and see in what manner it is connected with her real good. If children are to be educated to understand the true principle of patriotism, their mother must be a patriot; and the love of mankind, from which an orderly train of virtues springs, can only be produced by considering the moral and civil interest of mankind; but the education and situation of woman at present shuts her out from such investigations.”—P. viii.


In the carrying out of this argument the most noticeable fact is the extraordinary plainness of speech, and this it was which caused all or nearly all the outcry. For Mary Wollstonecraft did not, as has been supposed, attack the institution of marriage, she did not assail orthodox religion, she did not directly claim much which at the present day is claimed for women by those whose arguments obtain respectful hearing. The book was really a plea for equality of education, a protest against being deemed only the plaything of man, an assertion that the intellectual rather than the sexual intercourse was that which should chiefly be desired in marriage, and which made its lasting happiness. In maintaining these theses, in themselves harmless and to
us self-evident, she assailed the theories not only of
Rousseau in “Emile,” which would have been easily borne, but those of Dr Fordyce, whose sermons had long made a part of a young woman’s library, of Dr Gregory and others whose words were as a gospel to the average English nation, when she would teach her daughters less from her own experience than in sounding periods whose gravity simulated real authority. She did but carry out what Day had sketched in “Sandford and Merton,” and Miss Simmons was a young lady who might have been trained by Mary Wollstonecraft herself.

It may, however, be admitted that her frankness on some subjects is little less than astounding, and that matters are discussed which are rarely named even among members of the same sex, far less printed for both, while side blows are administered to much which was then unquestioned, at least in the society to which a woman’s book would gain admission. The insistance on the reception of the Sacrament in our colleges, the relics of Popery retained in them, the weekly services she had noticed the Eton boys unwillingly attend, which was “only a disgusting skeleton of the former state,” in which “all the solemnity that interested the imagination if it did not purify the heart is stripped off”—in fact, the whole system which had come before her in her residence with Mr Prior was rudely criticised. Nor were other sacred institutions dealt with more gently than our schools and universities. The fallacy by which virtue is confounded with reputation was laid bare, and she by no means shrinks from uncovering the worst sores of society.

Yet for extreme plain speaking, there was much reason and excuse. The times were coarser than ours, the days were not so far distant when the scenes were possible and the dangers real which Richardson’s novels pourtray. The
very book she assails, “
Dr Fordyce’s Sermons,” contains words spoken from the pulpit to young women which would now be considered an outrage on the congregation. Mary Wollstonecraft shrunk from no directness in dealing with the most dangerous and explosive subjects.

It was not only the plain speaking which alarmed, and not only that a woman spoke, but every page showed that she too was affected by the thoughts which claimed rights for men, and the demand for these had issued in the French Revolution.

The faults of the book are grave over and above those of the time; it is ill-considered, hasty, and rash, but its merits are great also; there is much that is valuable for these days also—it is fresh, vigorous, and eloquent, and most remarkable as the herald of the demand not even yet wholly conceded by all, that woman should be the equal and friend, not the slave and the toy of man.

One passage only shall here be quoted. It is one in which Mary Wollstonecraft gives her views on elementary education, and in favour of mixed schools.


“Day schools should be established by Government in which boys and girls might be educated together. The school for the younger children, from five to nine years of age, ought to be absolutely free, and open to all classes, . . . where boys and girls, the rich and the poor, should meet together. To prevent any of the distinctions of vanity, they should be dressed alike, and all obliged to submit to the same discipline, or leave the school. The school-room ought to be surrounded by a large piece of ground, in which the children might be usefully exercised, for at this age they should not be confined to any sedentary employment for more than an hour at a time. But these relaxations might all be rendered a part of elementary education, for many things improve and amuse the senses when introduced as a kind of show, to the
principles of which dryly laid down children would turn a deaf ear. For instance, botany, mechanics, and astronomy. Reading, writing, arithmetic, natural history, and some simple experiments in natural philosophy might fill up the day, but these pursuits should never encroach on gymnastics in the open air. The elements of religion, history, the history of man, and politics might also be taught by conversations in the Socratic form.

“After the age of nine, girls and boys intended for domestic employments or mechanical trades ought to be removed to other trades, and receive instruction in some measure appropriated to the destination of each individual, the two sexes being still together in the morning, but in the afternoon the girls should attend a school where plain work, mantua making, millinery, &c., would be their employment.

“The young people of superior abilities or fortune might now be taught in another school the dead and living languages, the elements of science, and continue the study of history and politics, on a more extensive scale, which would not exclude polite literature.

“Girls and boys still together? I hear some reader ask. Yes. And I should not fear any other consequence than that some early attachment might take place, which, whilst it had the best effect on the moral character of young people, might not perfectly agree with the views of the parents, for it will be a long time, I fear, before the world is so enlightened that parents only anxious to render their children virtuous will let them choose companions for life themselves.”—A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, pp. 386-389.


That the publication of “The Rights of Woman” should prove startling and even shocking to the author’s sisters as it did to many other people, is not surprising, but the exhibition of small spite which is to be found in the following letter is unworthy of one for whom the writer had made, and was again ready to make, such great sacrifices.
Charles the worthless had been taken to London, wholly by the kindness of his sister Mary, who, since the issue of her book, which had made her in some degree a public character, took the brevet rank of Mrs Wollstonecraft.

Mrs Bishop to Everina Wollstonecraft.
Upton Castle, July 3d, 1792.

“. . . He” [Charles] “informs me too that Mrs Wollstonecraft is grown quite handsome; he adds likewise that being conscious she is on the wrong side of thirty she now endeavours to set off those charms she once despised to the best advantage. This entre nous, for he is delighted with her kindness and affection to him.

“So the author of ‘The Rights of Woman’ is going to France! I dare say her chief motive is to promote poor Bess’s comfort, or thine, my girl, at least I think she will thus reason. Well, in spite of reason, when Mrs W. reaches the Continent she will be but a woman! I cannot help painting her in the height of all her wishes, at the very summit of happiness, for will not ambition fill every chink of her Great Soul (for such I really think hers) that is not occupied by love? After having drawn this sketch, you can hardly suppose me so sanguine as to expect my pretty face will be thought of when matters of State are in agitation, yet I know you think such a miracle not impossible. I wish I could think it at all probable, but, alas! it has so much the appearance of castle-building that I think it will soon disappear like the ‘baseless fabric of a vision, and leave not a wrack behind.’

“And you actually have the vanity to imagine that in the National Assembly, personages like M. and F[useli] will bestow a thought on two females whom nature meant to ‘suckle fools and chronicle small beer.’”

The scheme of going to France, of which Mrs Bishop speaks above, had been announced to her sister Everina shortly before. Everina Wollstonecraft had spent a few
weeks in France for the sake of perfecting her French accent; and there was a plan that Mrs Bishop also should go for the same purpose.

Mary Wollstonecraft to Everina Wollstonecraft.
London, June 20th, ’92.

“. . . I have been considering what you say respecting Eliza’s residence in France. For some time past Mr and Mrs Fuseli, Mr Johnson, and myself have talked of a summer excursion to Paris; it is now determined on, and we think of going in about six weeks. I shall be introduced to many people, my book” [“A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”] “has been translated, and praised in some popular prints, and Mr Fuseli of course is well known; it is then very probable that I shall hear of some situation for Eliza, and I shall be on the watch. We intend to be absent only six weeks; if then I fix on an eligible situation for her she may avoid the Welsh winter. This journey will not lead me into any extraordinary expense, or I should put it off to a more convenient season, for I am not, as you may suppose, very flush of money, and Charles is wearing out the clothes which were provided for his voyage” [to America at her expense], “still I am glad he has acquired a little practical knowledge of farming. . . .”

A candid friend who published anonymously in 1803, “A Defence of the Character and Conduct of the late Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin,” but whose “Defence” is mingled with a good deal of venom, says that “though we are not expressly informed,” there seems a probability that she had experienced a disappointment in her earlier years, and that such disappointment “tended to increase her irritability.” The writer goes on to say,


“The first sexual attachment that is plainly avowed was towards Mr Fuseli. . . . She had reason to esteem him as a particular friend, but on finding that her regard for him had gradually assumed a more interesting form, mark her prudence and resolu-
tion. No sooner had she analysed her feelings, traced them to their real source, discovered their tendency, and weighed them in the balance of moral obligation, than, with a just respect for herself as well as for the other parties interested, she determined to make a sacrifice of her private desires upon the altar of Virtue; and in order to snap the tie that seemed likely to occasion uneasiness either to herself or her friends, she prudently resolved to retire into another country, far remote from the object who had unintentionally excited the tender passion in her breast.”—(Pp. 58 60.)


The same story, told with much greater circumstance, appears in Knowles’sLife of Fuseli,” and is supposed to be confirmed by extracts from her letters which are given. But one of them, the last written after her return from France, most certainly does not refer to any attachment to Fuseli; and Mr Knowles is so extremely inaccurate in regard to all else that he says of her, that his testimony may be wholly set aside, finding, as it does, no confirmation whatever from her correspondence, and very little from a few ill-natured remarks of Mrs Bishop, which do not justify the malignant gossip.

Godwin himself, in his Memoir of his wife speaks also of her intimacy with Fuseli, saying that had he been unmarried, he would probably have been the man of her choice. He goes on to declare that the friends were only friends, but his mention of the matter at all is only one of those strange instances of his somewhat morbid habit of dwelling on matters of which it would have been well to take no notice. It is probable that he had only heard of the more unfavourable version of the story at second-hand, and, even after careful attention to her husband’s words, the correspondence and the uninterrupted friendship with Mrs Fuseli would seem wholly to clear Mary Wollstonecraft’s memory from the imputation of any feeling for
Fuseli in which there is reason for blame even by the most censorious.

The Fuselis and Mr Johnson having given up the tour, Mary went to France alone in December, and certainly no object whatever finds place in her letters but the one of rendering herself as good a French speaker as she was already a reader, and incidentally of finding a situation for her sister, Mrs Bishop, among the many leading Frenchmen who were then so eager for all that was English. She found a home at first in the house of Madame Filiettaz, neé Bregantz, the daughter of Madame Bregantz, in whose school at Putney Mrs Bishop and Everina Wollstonecraft had both been teachers. The following extract gives her first impressions of Paris at a critical time, though none then knew how critical.

Mary Wollstonecraft to Everina Wollstonecraft.
Paris, Dec. 24th, ’92.

“To-morrow I expect to see Aline” [Mme. Filiettaz]; “during her absence the servants endeavoured to render the house—a most excellent one—comfortable to me, but as I wish to acquire the language as fast as I can, I was sorry to be obliged to remain so much alone. I apply so closely to the language, and labour so continually to understand what I hear that I never go to bed without a headache, and my spirits are fatigued with endeavouring to form a just opinion of public affairs. The day after to-morrow I expect to see the King at the bar, and the consequences that will follow I am almost afraid to anticipate.

“I have seen very little of Paris—the streets are so dirty, and I wait till I can make myself understood before I call upon Madame Laurent, &c. Miss Williams has behaved very civilly to me, and I shall visit her frequently, because I rather like her, and I meet French company at her house. Her manners are affected, yet the simple goodness of her heart continually breaks through the
varnish, so that one would be more inclined, at least I should, to love than admire her. Authorship is a heavy weight for female shoulders, especially in the sunshine of prosperity. Of the French I will not speak till I know more of them. They seem the people of all others for a stranger to come amongst, yet sometimes when I have given a commission which was eagerly asked for, it has not been executed, and when I ask for an explanation, I allude to the servant-maid, a quick girl, who, an’t please you, has been a teacher in an English boarding-school, dust is thrown up with a self-sufficient air, and I am obliged to appear to see her meaning clearly, though she puzzles herself, that I may not make her feel her ignorance; but you must have experienced the same thing. I will write to you soon again, meantime let me hear from you, and believe me yours sincerely and affectionately,

“M. W.”

Two days afterwards she addressed a letter to Mr Johnson. It has already been printed in the “Posthumous Works of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin: London, 1798.” These volumes were edited by Godwin, but are so very unlikely to be known to many readers at the present day, that the letter deserves quotation here.

Mary Wollstonecraft to Mr Johnson.
Paris, December 26, 1792.

“I should immediately on the receipt of your letter, my dear friend, have thanked you for your punctuality; for it highly gratified me, had I not wished to wait, till I could tell you that this day was not stained with blood. [Wednesday, Dec. 26th, was the day on which the King appeared to plead, by his advocate Desèze.] Indeed, the prudent precautions taken by the National Convention to prevent a tumult, made me suppose that the dogs of faction would not dare to bark, much less to bite, however true to their scent; and I was not mistaken; for the citizens, who were all called out, are returning home with composed countenances,
shouldering their arms. About nine o’clock this morning the King passed by my window, moving silently along—excepting now and then a few strokes on the drum, which rendered the stillness more awful—through empty streets, surrounded by the National Guards, who, clustering round the carriage, seemed to deserve their name. The inhabitants flocked to their windows, but the casements were all shut; not a voice was heard, nor did I see anything like an insulting gesture. For the first time since I entered France, I bowed to the majesty of the people, and respected the propriety of behaviour, so perfectly in unison with my own feelings. I can scarcely tell you why, but an association of ideas made the tears flow insensibly from my eyes, when I saw
Louis sitting, with more dignity than I expected from his character, in a hackney-coach, going to meet death, where so many of his race have triumphed. My fancy instantly brought Louis XIV. before me, entering the capital with all his pomp, after one of the victories most flattering to his pride, only to see the sunshine of prosperity overshadowed by the sublime gloom of misery. I have been alone ever since; and though my mind is calm, I cannot dismiss the lively images that have filled my imagination all the day. Nay, do not smile, but pity me; for once or twice lifting my eyes from the paper, I have seen eyes glare through a glass door opposite my chair, and bloody hands shook at me. Not the distant sound of a footstep can I hear. My apartments are remote from those of the servants, the only persons who sleep with me in an immense hotel, one folding-door opening after another. I wish I had even kept the cat with me! I want to see something alive, death, in so many frightful shapes, has taken hold of my fancy. I am going to bed, and, for the first time in my life, I cannot put out the candle.

M. W.”

The news which reached England from France was of the most scanty kind, and little was heard of individuals after the troubles in Paris really began. Mrs Bishop’s letters are full of complaints that she so seldom has news
Mary; for, in her ignorance of what was really occurring, she even professes herself ready to join her. Those among whom she lived did not wish to hear more, and marvelled that anyone, especially a woman, should take any interest in politics.

Mrs Bishop to Everina Wollstonecraft.
Upton Castle, January 20, 1793.

“. . . I never can get to see a paper; and if anyone of our Bears call, the whole family leave the room when I say a word about Politics, or else order them to talk of something else; and, of course, the conversation turns on Murphy or Irish Potatoes, or Tommy Paine, whose effigy they burnt at Pembroke the other day. Nay, they talk of immortalizing Miss Wollstonecraft in the like manner; but all end in Damning all Politics: what good will they do men? and what rights have men that three meals a-day will not supply? So argues a Welshman. I heard a clergyman say that he was sure there was no more harm in shooting a Frenchman, than in lifting his piece at a Bird. And a gentleman—I cannot find out who—sent me this receipt:—

“‘An effectual cure for the bite of a Mad Frenchman: Mix a grain of common sense in the milk of human nature with two grains of honour, and half-a-dram of loyalty; let the patient take this night and morning, and he will be in his senses all day.’”

The Same to the Same.
Upton Castle, February 10, ’93.

“. . . I should like to know what you felt on first hearing Louis’s death. I own I was shocked, but not deluged in tears. In short, I could bear to hear it read, and hoped they had some motive for such an act of cruelty that our newspapers did not explain. But to hear him cried up as the best of men, and that no man’s sufferings or fortitude equalled the King of France’s, is to me quite novel. The depth of his understanding and the
goodness of his heart, is all the men here can talk of. Was he really that innocent kind of man they here represent him? The military men at Pembroke, who have left the service, furnish opinions for the people, who declare, with one voice, that the French are all Atheists, and the most bloody Butchers the world ever produced. Rees is pale with passion if the subject is introduced, declaring the world is going to be at an end; that the Assassins are Instruments in the hands of Providence. I can hardly tell you, then, with what delight I read
Fox’s manly speech, or how clear and replete with good sense it appeared to me; in short, every word carried conviction with it; yet this man is condemned, with Paine, as an unworthy wretch. I was obliged to sit up till three this morning, to read the debates; for a gentleman had lent the paper to R., and I could not have it

“God bless you.—Yours affectionately,


In the following year some refugee French priests were lodging at Pembroke, and Mrs Bishop went from Saturday to Monday in each week to that town, spending nearly all her time with two of them, an aged bishop and his brother, for the sake of learning French more thoroughly. The following extract describes their reception in Pembrokeshire:—

The Same to the Same.
Upton Castle, May 24th, ’94.

“. . . I believe I told you they fled from wretched France. They landed near Haverford West, and were used worse, they declare, than if they had been in Paris. The P[rimat], though he had fainted among the savages, had a stone flung at his head, and [was] guarded all night—though he expected every moment to be his last; for, in spite of the letter to Government, they were treated as Republicans. This good creature was compelled to walk three miles, though nearly fainting at every step he took, surrounded by men, women, and children, gazing, not at his pale face, but at a handkerchief that supplied the place of a wig that
the waves had stolen from him. The moment he was housed at Pembroke, all the children were admitted into the room, where he sat for many hours, his head sunk on the table, till at last he was allowed to go to bed. . . .

“He was for a year and a half concealed by friends from the Republicans, and was so narrowly watched, that neither of the brothers saw daylight during that period. They at last made their escape, merely with the hope of saving the family who had sheltered them. At fifty, it is dreadful to be snatched from the lap of abundance, for M. Graux had his carriage and every elegance of life, and to feel all the horrors of dependence in a strange country.”

In the meantime, Mary Wollstonecraft’s position in France had become extremely difficult, if not precarious. It was impossible that she should receive remittances from England, nor could she return when once war was declared. It was at this juncture, at some time in the spring or summer of 1793, that she met Mr Gilbert Imlay, an American then living in Paris. He had been a captain in the American army during the late war, and was afterwards a commissioner for laying out land in the back settlements. He appears to have been a speculator in many ways, without real fortune, but with some command of money, and to have been an attractive person. He certainly was an able man, for a work published by him, called “A Topographical Description of the Western Territory of North America,” is a model of what a monograph on a new country should be. It is clear, full, and condensed, yet not so much as to hinder the reader even now from finding it an interesting work, and in its own day it went through many editions. The kindness he showed Mary Wollstonecraft disposed her to look on him favourably, and she soon gave him a very sincere affection. Opposed as were her views to
those of the majority of women in her own, and even in this day, yet they were those which now are, except on one point, held by very many cultivated women, without a shadow of blame attaching to them. Her opinions on the equality of the sexes, on the social and political position of women, might now be held without remark, and it would not be too much to say that she was simply in advance of her age in giving expression on those subjects to thoughts which arc held increasingly by men and women of advanced political views, but of many shades of devout religion. On the question alone of the relation of the sexes, there is no indication of any approximation to her theories. Her view had now become that mutual affection was marriage, and that the marriage tie should not bind after the death of love, if love should die. It must be remembered that her own experience of family life was not likely to ennoble it in her eyes. Her father,
Mr Blood, Mr Bishop, and Lord Kingsborough, in whom chiefly she had seen what husbands may be, were not favourable specimens; her sister was living as an unwived wife, without any prospect of such a separation as would enable her to form another tie. Men who were far from acting on these theories as did Rousseau, yet who were moving the minds of men to an unprecedented extent, were proclaiming that man should return to a more “natural” system; the accidental defects of certain marriages were pointed out as the inherent vices of all.

Yet it is probable that what Mary Wollstonecraft held, as a theory, in common with others who did not put their theories into act, would have been held by her most blamelessly, had it not been for the untoward circumstances which seemed to claim that she should act upon them. A legal marriage with Mr Imlay was difficult, if not impossible.
Her position as a British subject was full of danger; a marriage would have forced her openly to declare herself as such. It may be doubted whether the ceremony, if any could have taken place, would have had validity in England. Under the protection of Imlay, and passing as his wife without such preliminary declaration, her safety was assured. Imlay, long after this period, declared her to be his wife in a document which in some cases would be considered as constituting a marriage. She believed that his love, which was to her sacred, would endure. No one can read her letters without seeing that she was a pure, high-minded and refined woman, and that she considered herself, in the eyes of God and man, his wife. Religious as she was, and with a strong moral sense, she yet made the grand mistake of supposing that it is possible for one woman to undo the consecrated custom of ages, to set herself in opposition to the course of society and not to be crushed by it. And she made the no less fatal mistake of judging Imlay by her own standard, and thinking that he was as true, as impassioned, as self-denying as herself.

Mary Wollstonecraft was living with Imlay as his wife in August 1793, in Paris, but he was soon afterwards called to Havre on business, and was absent for some months. During this period letters passed between them, of which her own were afterwards returned to her, and were published after her death. “They are,” as Godwin said of them, “the offspring of a glowing imagination, and a heart penetrated with the passion it essays to describe.” But they are the letters of a tender and devoted wife, who feels no doubt of her position. Towards the close of 1793, Imlay had established himself in some commercial business at Havre, where Mary joined him, and there, in the spring of 1794, she gave birth to a
girl, who received the name of
Fanny, in memory of the dear friend of her youth.

Some rumours of all these circumstances had reached the sisters in England, but only such as to render them extremely perplexed as to the true state of the case.

Charles Wollstonecraft to Mrs Bishop.
Philadelphia, June 16th 1794.

[After saying he was doing extremely well, and making an offer of a home or assistance to his sisters, he continues] “I heard from Mary, six months ago, by a gentleman who knew her at Paris, and since that have been informed she is married to Captain Imlay of this country.” . . .

Mrs Bishop to Everina Wollstonecraft.
Upton Castle, August 15th 1794.
[Enclosing copy of the above.]

. . . “Can this be a dream, my heart’s best friend? I would I could fancy these things matters of fact. I mean the poor fellow’s wonderful good luck in so short a time. I own I want faith” [her want of faith was justified; since Charles’s account of himself proved pure brag], “nay, doubt my senses, so I have sent you word for word, to spell and put together. . . . If Mary is actually married to Mr Imlay, it is not impossible but she might settle there” [in America] “too. Yet Mary cannot be Married!! It is natural to conclude her protector is her husband. Nay, on reading Charles’s letter, I for an instant believed it true. I would, my Everina, we were out of suspense, for all at present is uncertainty and the most cruel suspense; still Johnson does not repeat things at random, and that the very same tale should have crossed the Atlantic makes me almost believe that the once M. is now Mrs Imlay, and a mother. Are we ever to see this mother and her babe?”

In September 1794, business called Mr Imlay to London, and Mary returned to Paris. A separation of some months
chilled his affection, and though they met again, his desertion of her had now really begun.

Mr Imlay to Mrs Bishop.
[London, November 1794.]

My dear Madam.—Mr Johnson gave me your acceptable favor inclosing one to Mrs Imlay, saying it was for her, which leaving me ignorant of being included, I could not return an immediate answer; since which time I have been out of town. I hope this circumstance will appear to you a sufficient apology for my silence, and that you will be pleased to consider it a good reason for preventing a forfeit of that claim to humanity or at least respect and esteem for a person so affectionately loved by my dear Mary as yourself, which you say had already been impressed on your mind.

“As to your sister’s visiting England, I do not think she will previous to a peace, and perhaps not immediately after such an event. However, be that as it may, we shall both of us continue to cherish feelings of tenderness for you, and a recollection of your unpleasant situation, and we shall also endeavour to alleviate its distress by all the means in our power. The present state of our fortune is rather” [word omitted]. “However you must know your sister too well, and I am sure you judge of that knowledge too favourably to suppose that whenever she has it in her power she will not apply some specific aid to promote your happiness. I shall always be most happy to receive your letters, but as I shall most likely leave England the beginning of next week, I will thank you to let me hear from you as soon as convenient, and tell me ingenuously in what way I can serve you in any manner or respect. I am in but indifferent spirits occasioned by my long absence from Mrs Imlay, and our little girl, while I am deprived of a chance of hearing from them.—Adieu, yours truly,

G. Imlay.”
Mary Wollstonecraft to Everina Wollstonecraft.
Havre, March 10th ’94.

My dear Girl.—It is extremely uncomfortable to write to you thus without expecting, or even daring to ask for an answer, lest I should involve others in my difficulties, and make them suffer for protecting me. The French are at present so full of suspicion that had a letter of James’s imprudently sent to me been opened, I would not have answered for the consequence. I have just sent off great part of my MS., which Miss Williams would fain have had me burn, following her example; and to tell you the truth, my life would not have been worth much had it been found. It is impossible for you to have any idea of the impression the sad scenes I have been witness to have left on my mind. The climate of France is uncommonly fine, the country pleasant, and there is a degree of ease and even simplicity in the manners of the common people which attaches me to them. Still death and misery, in every shape of terror, haunt this devoted country. I certainly am glad that I came to France, because I never could have had a just opinion of the most extraordinary event that has ever been recorded, and I have met with some uncommon instances of friendship, which my heart will ever gratefully store up, and call to mind when the remembrance is keen of the anguish it has endured for its fellow-creatures at large—for the unfortunate beings cut off around me, and the still more unfortunate survivors. If any of the many letters I have written have come to your hands or Eliza’s, you know that I am safe, through the protection of an American, a most worthy man, who joins to uncommon tenderness of heart and quickness of feeling, a soundness of understanding and reasonableness of temper rarely to be met with. Having also been brought up in the interior parts of America, he is a most natural, unaffected creature. I am with him now at Havre, and shall remain there, till circumstances point out what is necessary for me to do. Before I left Paris, I attempted to find the Laurents, whom I had several times previously sought for, but to no purpose. And I am apt to think that
it was very prudent in them to leave a shop that had been the resort of the nobility.

“Where is poor Eliza? From a letter I received many many months after it was written, I suppose she is in Ireland. Will you write to tell her that I most affectionately remember her, and still have in my mind some places for her future comfort. Are you well? But why do I ask? you cannot reply to me. This thought throws a damp on my spirits whilst I write, and makes my letter rather an act of duty than a present satisfaction. God bless you! I will write by every opportunity, and am yours sincerely and affectionately,

The Same to the Same.
[Paris, September 1794.]

“As you must, my dear girl, have received several letters from me, especially one I sent to London by Mr Imlay, I avail myself of this opportunity just to tell you that I am well and my child, and to request you to write by this occasion. I do indeed long to hear from you and Eliza. I have at last got some tidings of Charles, and as they must have reached you, I need not tell you what sincere satisfaction they afforded me. I have also heard from James, he too talks of success, but in a querulous strain. What are you doing? Where is Eliza? You have perhaps answered these questions [in answer to the letters I gave in charge to Mr I., but fearing that some fatality might have prevented their reaching you, let me repeat that I have written to you and to Eliza at least half a score of times, pointing out different ways for you to write to me, still have received no answers. I have again and again given you an account of my present situation, and introduced Mr Imlay to you as a brother you would love and respect. I hope the time is not very distant when we shall all meet. Do be very particular in your account of yourself, and if you have not time to procure me a letter from Eliza, tell me all about her. Tell me too what is become of George, &c., &c. I only write to ask questions and to assure you that I am most affectionately yours,

Mary Imlay.”


Paris, Sep. 20th.

“Should peace take place this winter, what say you to a voyage in the spring, if not to see your old acquaintance, to see Paris, which I think you did not do justice to. I want you to see my little girl, who is more like a boy. She is ready to fly away with spirits, and has eloquent health in her cheeks and eyes. She does not promise to be a beauty, but appears wonderfully intelligent, and though I am sure she has her father’s quick temper and feelings, her good humour runs away with all the credit of my good nursing.

“I managed myself so well that my lying-in scarcely deserved the name. I only rested, through persuasion, in bed one day, and was out a-walking on the eighth. She is now only four months old. She caught the small-pox at Havre, where they treat the dreadful disorder very improperly. I however determined to follow the suggestions of my own reason, and saved her much pain, probably her life, for she was very full, by putting her twice a-day into a warm bath. Once more adieu. The letter not being sent for as soon as I expected, gave me an opportunity to add this prattling postscript. You will see the last vol. I have written, it is the commencement of a considerable work. Tell Mrs Skeys, who could not fulfil her promise respecting her portrait, that it was written during my pregnancy.”

Imlay was now involved in a multitude of speculations which rendered him restless and dissatisfied with the competency which it seems that at one time he had secured. The plan that he and Mary Wollstonecraft had proposed to themselves was to settle on a farm either in France or America, but he now embarked in trade connected with Norway and Sweden, which was, he considered, to bring him a large fortune. His interest in Mary and his child sensibly cooled, and though he allowed them to join him in England, her letters to him show that she did so with a heavy heart, and gloomy forebodings of coming sorrow.


Mr Rowan, to whom the following letter is addressed on her departure from France, was just about to settle in America, where Charles Wollstonecraft already was established in Philadelphia.

Archibald Hamilton Rowan, Esq., Secretary of the Society of United Irishmen, was prosecuted January 29, 1794, for having published a seditious libel. After a trial at Bar, in which he was defended by Curran, he was found guilty, was sentenced to pay a fine of £500, to be imprisoned for two years, and at the end of this time to give security for his good behaviour for seven years, himself in £2000 and two sureties in £1000 each. Within four months he escaped from gaol, and found his way to Havre, then called Havre Marat, in lieu of its old name Havre de Grace.

Mary Wollstonecraft to Archibald Hamilton Rowan, Esq.
Havre, April 1795.

My dear Sir,—I wrote a few hasty lines to you just now, before we entered the vessel, and after hurrying myself out of breath—for as I do not like exaggerated phrases, I would not say to death—the awkward pilot ran us aground, so here we are in an empty house; and with the heart and imagination on the wing, you may suppose that the slow march of time is felt very painfully. I seem to be counting the ticking of a clock, and there is no clock here. For these few days I have been busy preparing, now all is done, and we cannot go. If you were to pop in I should be glad, for in spite of my impatience to see a friend who deserves all tenderness, I still have a corner in my heart, where I will allow you a place, if you have no objection. It would give me sincere pleasure to meet you at any future period, and to be introduced to your wife. Pray take care of yourself, and when you arrive let me hear from you. Direct to me at Mr Johnson’s, St Paul’s Churchyard, London, and wherever I may be the letter will not fail to
reach me. You will not find a very comfortable house; but I have left a little store of provisions in a closet, and the girl who assisted in our kitchen, and who has been well paid, has promised to do everything for you. Mr Wheatcroft has all your packages, and will give you all the information and assistance he can. I believe I told you that I offered Mr Russell’s family my house, but since I arrived I find there is some chance of letting it. Will you then, when Mr Wheatcroft informs you in what manner he has settled it, write the particulars to them. I imagine that the house will be empty for a short time to come at any rate, but I found it necessary to take my linen with me, and the good people here sold my kitchen furniture for me. Still I think, as they have many necessaries, they will find this house much more comfortable than an inn. I neither like to say or write adieu. If you see my brother
Charles, pray assure him that I most affectionately remember him. Take every precaution to avoid danger.—Yours sincerely,

Mary Imlay.”
Mary Wollstonecraft to Everina Wollstonecraft.
April 27th [1795].

“When you hear, my dear Everina, that I have been in London near a fortnight without writing to you or Eliza, you will perhaps accuse me of insensibility, for I shall not lay any stress on my not being well in consequence of a violent cold I caught during the time I was nursing; but tell you that I put off writing because I was at a loss what I could do to render Eliza’s situation more comfortable. I instantly gave Jones ten pounds to send, for a very obvious reason, in his own name to my father, and I could send her a trifle of this kind immediately, were a temporary assistance necessary. I believe I told you that Mr Imlay had not a fortune when I first knew him; since that he has entered into very extensive plans, which promise a degree of success, though not equal to the first prospect. When a sufficient sum is actually realized, I know he will give me for you and Eliza five or six hundred pounds, or more if he can. In what way could this be
of the most use to you? I am above concealing my sentiments, though I have boggled at uttering them. It would give me sincere pleasure to be situated near you both. I cannot yet say where I shall determine to spend the rest of my life; but I do not wish to have a third person in the house with me; my domestic happiness would perhaps be interrupted without my being of much use to Eliza. This is not a hastily-formed opinion, nor is it in consequence of my present attachment, yet I am obliged now to express it, because it appears to me that you have formed some such expectation for Eliza. You may wound me by remarking on my determination, still I know on what principle I act, and therefore you can only judge for yourself. I have not heard from
Charles for a great while. By writing to me immediately you would relieve me from considerable anxiety. Mrs Imlay, No. 26 Charlotte St, Rathbone Place.—Yours sincerely,

Mrs Bishop to Everina Wollstonecraft.
Pembroke, April 29, 1795.

“Read the following letter: ‘I arrived in town near a fortnight ago, my dear girl, but having previously weaned my child on account of a cough, I found myself extremely weak. I have intended writing to you every day, but have been prevented by the impossibility of determining in what way I can be of essential service to you. When Mr Imlay and I united our fate together, he was without fortune; since that, there is a prospect of his obtaining a considerable one; but though the hope appears to be well founded, I cannot yet act as if it were a certainty. He is the most generous creature in the world, and if he succeed, as I have the greatest reason to think he will, he will, in proportion to his acquirement of property, enable me to be useful to you and Everina. I wish you and her would adopt any plan in which five or six hundred pounds would be of use. As to myself, I cannot yet say where I shall live for a continuance. It would give me the sincerest pleasure to be situated near you. I know you will think me
unkind, and it was this reflection which has prevented my writing to you sooner, not to invite you to come and live with me. But,
Eliza, it is my opinion, not a readily formed one, the presence of a third person interrupts or destroys domestic happiness. Excepting this sacrifice, there is nothing I would not do to promote your comfort. I am hurt at being obliged to be thus explicit, and do indeed feel for the disappointments which you have met with in life. I have not heard from Charles, nor can I guess what he is about. What was done with the £50 he speaks of having sent to England? Do, pray, write to me immediately, and do justice to my heart. I do not wish to endanger my own peace without a certainty of securing yours. Yet I am still your most sincere and affectionate friend,

‘26 Charlotte St., Rathbone Place, London.’

“This I have just received. My Everina, what I felt, and shall for ever feel! It is childish to talk of. After lingering above a fortnight in such cruel suspense. Good God! what a letter! How have I merited such pointed cruelty? When did I wish to live with her? At what time wish for a moment to interrupt their domestic happiness? Was ever a present offered in so humiliating a style? Ought the poorest domestic to be thus insulted? Are your eyes opened at last, Everina? What do you now say to our goodly prospects? I have such a mist before my lovely eyes that I cannot now see what I write. Instantly get me a situation in Ireland, I care not where. Dear Everina, delay not to tell me you can procure bread, with what hogs I eat it, I care not, nay, if exactly the Uptonian breed. Remember I am serious. If you disappoint me, my misery will be complete. I have enclosed this famous letter to the author of the ‘Rights of Women’ without any reflection. She shall never hear from poor Bess again. Remember, I am as fixed as my misery, and nothing can change my present plan. This letter has so strongly agitated me that I know not what I say; but this I feel, and know, that if you value my existence you will comply with my requisition, for I am positive I will never tor-
ment our amiable friend in Charlotte Street. Is not this a good spring, my dear girl? At least poor Bess can say it is a fruitful one. Alas, poor Bess!”

Mrs Bishop to Everina Wollstonecraft.
Pembroke, May 10, 1795.

My dear Everina,—Though I know it is impossible for you to have answered either of my last letters, yet I feel vexed at not hearing from you. I am so eager for you to say you have procured a situation for me in Dublin. I now have only ten days to spend at Pembroke, yet am quite uncertain what ‘poor Bess’s’ future fate is to be. I mean to stay with my father a week, or little more, so write and tell me the price of the new stage from Waterford to the capital. Also inform me from what inn it sets off, not forgetting the hour. There is no vessel now that can sail for Ireland, so I must send my box to London, and from thence to our mother country. What say you to Mrs Imlay’s friendly epistle? I told you I returned it with only these words: ‘Mrs B. has never received any money from America.’ Nine days have now elapsed, and here I am waiting for your letter, my dear Everina. Can you blame me for returning Mrs I.’s letter? I am sick of thinking on the subject, and weary of anticipating ought from to-morrow. If it is impossible to procure me bread immediately, perhaps George would permit me to remain with him until you succeed. Recollect I value not what situation you get me—agreeable or disagreeable will be equally acceptable to the sister of the author of the ‘Rights of Women.’ I now have not the smallest wish to quit Wales, nor are my prospects in the least cheered by the idea of seeing you so soon. For I am sick to death of arguing and accounting for the unaccountable events of this wretched life, and as thoroughly tired of the lingering existence I have dragged on year after year, spring after spring. To receive aught now from your Mary appears to me to be the height of meanness. Would to God we were both in America with Charles. Do you think it would be possible for us to go from
Dublin to Philadelphia in an American ship? This is my only hope, yet I am afraid to indulge it. I beseech you to write to Charles immediately. I am sure our sister would be delighted with this plan, and our new brother will of course display all his energy of character to render it practicable. Was it greatness of mind or heart which dictated the ever-memorable letter, which has so stupified me that I know not what I write, for I have incessant headaches to such a degree that it is a torture for me to take up a pen. Alas! at the end of four long years, could despair itself have dreamed of such studied cruelty? No inquiries after my present wants, &c.; no wish to see us.
Mr Imlay’s silence was a bad omen, and that she could remain in London a fortnight, and then send poor Bess such a cordial! Oh! that I could find another Upton, for I never more wish to be near those I love. The last month with the good and amiable Graux has been dreadfully embittered. He is now very ill, and thoroughly hurt at my sublime sister. He sends his love to Everina, whom he is much more anxious to see than the famous Mrs Wollstonecraft Write to me immediately. Direct to me at Laugharne, for an answer cannot reach me here before I leave. Send every particular relative to the coach at Waterford, and what house will receive me in Dublin? The visit to my father will add greatly to my expense: be particular about the terms. I know not what I say, I am so dull and weary of my miserable life. Is not this a goodly spring, and is not Bess a lucky girl? The amiable Mary pined in poverty, while Mrs Imlay enjoys all her heart can sigh for.

“Good night.”


The truth, however, was wholly other than Mrs Bishop supposed. When Mary and Imlay again met in England, his affairs proved seriously embarrassed, and his affection had sensibly cooled. There was not as yet, indeed, any word of a permanent separation; but as they had, in fact, been actually together during but a short time of their
connection, so now it was evident that Imlay’s speculations in trade, which were extended to various countries, would separate them still more; and nothing was further from his intentions than to settle down on a moderate competence with her who counted herself his wife, and their child.

It proved necessary that some one should go to Sweden and Norway on Imlay’s part, on some business, not clearly stated, but connected with his trade; while his own presence was urgently required elsewhere. The voyage, it was thought, would prove of advantage to Mary’s health; and, in the June following their meeting, she made the voyage, and undertook the business.

The document already mentioned remains, in which Imlay spoke of her as his wife, and gave her power to act for him. It is as follows:—

May 19, 1795.

“Know all men, by these presents, that I, Gilbert Imlay, citizen of the United States of America, at present residing in London, do nominate, constitute, and appoint Mary Imlay, my best friend and wife, to take the sole management and direction of all my affairs and business which I had placed in the hands of Mr Elias Bachman, negotiant, Gottenburg, or in those of Messrs Myburg & Co., Copenhagen, desiring that she will manage and direct such concerns in such manner as she may deem most wise and prudent. For which this letter shall be a sufficient power, enabling her to receive all the money or sums of money that may be recovered from Peter Ellyson or his connections, whenever the issue of the tryal now carrying on, instigated by Mr Elias Bachman, as my agent, for the violation of the trust which I had reposed in his integrity.

“Considering the aggravated distresses, the accumulated losses and damages sustained in consequence of the said Ellisson’s disobedience of my injunctions, I desire the said Mary Imlay will clearly ascertain the amount of such damages, taking first the
advice of persons qualified to judge of the probability of obtaining satisfaction, or the means the said Ellisson or his connections who may be proved to be implicated in his guilt may have, or power of being able to make restitution, and then commence a new prosecution for the same accordingly. . . .

“Respecting the cargo of goods in the hands of Messrs Myburg and Co., Mrs Imlay has only to consult the most experienced persons engaged in the disposition of such articles, and then placing them at their disposal, act as she may deem right and proper. . . .

“Thus, confiding in the talent, zeal, and earnestness of my dearly beloved friend and companion, I submit the management of these affairs entirely and implicitly to her discretion.

“Remaining most sincerely and affectionately hers truly,

G. Imlay.

Witness, J. Samoriel.”

Her letters to Imlay during this period were afterwards published, when divested of all that was personal and private, under the title, “Letters from Norway,” and are still thoroughly worth reading, as a picturesque and graceful description of a summer tour. The more personal portions may be found among her posthumous works, and carry on the sad tale of her sorrows. She returned to England in the late autumn, to meet letters from Imlay, which made it plain they were to part, but offering to settle an annuity on her and her child. This, for herself, she rejected with scorn. “From you,” she writes, “I will not receive any more; I am not yet sufficiently humbled to depend on your beneficence.” They met once again, when Imlay attempted to gloss over the past, so that it seemed possible, for the child’s sake, that they might still remain together. But though he had assured her that he had no other attachment, she discovered in a short time that he was carrying on an unworthy intrigue under her own
roof. It was then that, driven to despair, and for a time quite out of her mind, she attempted to drown herself by leaping from Putney Bridge; and when that attempt was frustrated, although she was quite insensible when taken out of the water, she still nursed for some time the desire of ending her existence. The letters written during this period are some of the most terrible and most touching ever penned. But calmer counsels, and the loving care of her friends, among whom
Mr Johnson was chief, prevailed. She determined once again to support herself by her pen, and resented all attempts of Imlay to induce her to accept support from him. “I want not such vulgar comfort,” she says, “nor will I accept it. I never wanted but your heart: that gone, you have nothing more to give. Forgive me, if I say that I shall consider any direct or indirect attempt to supply my necessities as an insult I have not merited, and as rather done out of tenderness for your own reputation than for me.” With regard to Fanny’s maintenance, she neither accepted nor refused anything. “You must do as you please with regard to the child,” was her final decision. Imlay eventually gave a bond for a sum to be settled on his child, the interest to be devoted to her maintenance; but neither principal nor interest was ever paid.

The following letter to Mr Rowan was written just after the final parting with Imlay.

Mary Wollstonecraft to A. Hamilton Rowan, Esq.
London, 26th Jany., 1796.

My dear Sir,—Though I have not heard from you, I should have written to you, convinced of your friendship, could I have told you anything of myself that could have afforded you pleasure. I am unhappy. I have been treated with unkindness, and even
cruelty, by the person from whom I had every reason to expect affection. I write to you with an agitated hand. I cannot be more explicit. I value your good opinion, and you know how to feel for me. I looked for something like happiness in the discharge of my relative duties, and the heart on which I leaned has pierced mine to the quick. I have not been used well, and I live but for my child; for I am weary of myself. I still think of settling in France, because I wish to leave my little girl there. I have been very ill, have taken some desperate steps; but I am now writing for independence. I wish I had no other evil to complain of than the necessity of providing for myself and my child. Do not mistake me.
Mr Imlay would be glad to supply all my pecuniary wants; but unless he returns to himself, I would perish first. Pardon the incoherence of my style. I have put off writing to you from time to time, because I could not write calmly. Pray write to me. I will not fail, I was going to say, when I have anything good to tell you. But for me there is nothing good in store—my heart is broken!—I am yours, &c.

Mary Imlay.”

Still, for the sake of the child, bearing Imlay’s name, she began again to enter into London literary society, in which she and Godwin were almost equally conspicuous.