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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. IV. 1801-1803
William Godwin to an anonymous correspondent, 29 August 1801

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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Produced by CATH
Aug. 29, 1801.

Dear Sir,—I thank you most sincerely for the kindness of your letter. Human creatures, living in the circle of their intimates and friends, are too apt to remain in ignorance of the comments and instructions which may be made of what they say and do in the world at large. I entertain a great horror of this ignorance. I do not love to be deceived, and to spend my days in a scene of delusions and chimera. I feel it is an act of unequivocal friendship that you have thus communicated to me a fact in which I must hold myself interested, though you deemed the communication to be ungracious.

“Good God! and so you heard me gravely represented in a large company yesterday as an advocate of infanticide. I have been so much accustomed to be the object of misrepresentation
in all its forms, that I did not think I could be surprised with anything of that sort. The advocates of those abuses and that oppression against which I have declared myself, have chosen it as their favourite revenge to distort every word I have ever written, and every proposition I have ever maintained. But there is a malignity in this accusation which, I confess, exceeds all my former calculations of human perverseness.

“They build the accusation, it seems, upon a few pages in my ‘Reply to Dr Parr,’ where I am considering the hypothesis of the author of the Essay on Population. They eagerly confound two things so utterly dissimilar as hypothetical reasoning upon a state of society never yet realized, and the sentiments and feelings which I, and every one whom it is possible for me to love or respect, must carry with us into the society and the transactions in which we are personally engaged. Because I have spoken of a certain practice, prevailing in distant ages and countries, which I deprecate, and respecting which I aver my entire persuasion, that in no improved state of society will it ever be necessary to have recourse to it, they represent me as the recommender and admirer of this practice: as a man who is eager to persuade every woman who, under unfortunate and opprobrious circumstances, becomes a mother, to be the murderer of her own child.

“Really, my friend, I am somewhat at a loss whether to laugh at the impudence of this accusation, or to be indignant at the brutal atrocity and the eager sentiment of persecution it argues in the man who uttered it. I see that there is a settled and systematical plan in certain persons to render me an object of horror and aversion to my fellow-men: they think that when they have done this they will have sufficiently overthrown my arguments. Their project excites in me no horror. As the attack is a personal one, it is only by a retrospect to my individual self it can be answered.

“I say then to my own heart, and I will resolve to say to you, that in spite of the machinations of these persons, there will always remain some man in the world who will read my writings, as long as my writings shall be thought worthy of curiosity or dis-
cussion, with sufficient impartiality to discern in them a spirit of humanity in the author. To you, and to every man who knows me, I appeal, without the slightest apprehension, to my present habits. Am I a man likely to be inattentive to the feelings, the pleasures, or the interests of those about me? Do I dwell in that sublime and impassive sphere of philosophy that should teach me to look down with contempt upon the sentiments of man, or the little individual concerns of the meanest creature I behold? To come immediately to the point in question: Am I, or am I not, a lover of children? My own domestic scene is planned and conducted solely with a view to the gratification and improvement of children. Does my character as a Father merit reprehension? Are not my children my favourite companions and most chosen friends?

“This, I think, is all the answer to which such an accusation as the one you mention is entitled. It is too monstrous to suppose that a man of my turn of mind can be the advocate of an unnatural disposition, the inciter and persuader of acts of horrible enormity. I would cherish and encourage in the minds of every father and every mother the sentiment of that relation, as the most sacred band of human society. I would not willingly disturb or diminish, by one single atom, those impulses which so irresistibly and imperiously guide every well constituted mind under the circumstance of this relation. My literary labours for ten years have been solely directed to the melioration of human society, and prompted by an anxiety for human happiness. Let, then, these men go on in their despicable task of misrepresentation and calumny. Let them endeavour to represent me as the advocate of everything cruel, assassinating, and inhuman. You and I, my friend, I firmly persuade myself, shall yet live to see whether their malignant artifice, or the simple and unalterable truth, shall prove triumphant.