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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. V. 1802-1803
Lady Mountcashel to William Godwin, 21 February 1802

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
Paris, February 21, 1802.

Dear Sir,—I am very much concerned at being obliged to trouble you on a subject which has lately occasioned me some uneasiness, and on which I must request your kind assistance. Before I left London, you were so good as to give me letters of introduction to two persons here with whom you thought I should like to be acquainted. In a very few days after my arrival I sent that which was addressed to Mr Holcroft, who immediately called on me, and has been since that time (till within this last fortnight) one of our constant visitors. I met him with prejudices in his favour, the result of his political opinions, his literary pursuits, and your friendship for him. His conversation at first pleased me, as it appeared to be rational and moral, and the great affection which he expressed for his wife and children interested me in regard to both him and them. I am too apt to form favourable opinions precipitately, and it was unfortunately the case in this instance. I thought so well of Mr Holcroft after a fortnight’s acquaintance, that I asked his advice respecting a governess for my daughters, thinking it probable that he might know of some English or French woman in Paris who might be qualified for such a situation. He said he knew of but one person whom he could recommend as being perfectly calculated for such a trust; that this person was his daughter, but that he did not believe that it would be possible for her to undertake it. However, he gave me some hopes; in
short, in about a month after
Miss Holcroft (whom I had only seen about four times) came here on trial (the agreement being that if either party found reason to disapprove of the arrangement, she was immediately to return home) as governess to my daughters, with a salary of £60 a-year.

“She had been represented to me as being extremely well educated and highly accomplished, deficient in nothing except those exterior trifles respecting manner which proceed from knowledge of the world, and an intercourse with polished society. Imagine my disappointment at finding her a frivolous, romantic girl, with an uncultivated mind, a character devoid of delicacy, a total want of method, order, and discretion; in short, with nothing to recommend her but a clumsy goodness of heart, a sweet temper, and her accomplishments, which consist of music, and of some of the modern languages. Of all persons I have ever met with, she is the most unfit to be entrusted with the education of youth; and had my daughters been a very few days older than they are, I could not have suffered them to remain with her for even so short a time as three weeks. In a very few days after the arrival of Miss Holcroft, Lord Mountcashel was informed by some officious persons who had seen Mr Holcroft here that he had been tried for high treason, and that he and some other of my acquaintance were notorious English democrats, whom it would be prudent for loyal British subjects to avoid. This was about the 23d or 24th of January.

Lord Mountcashel informed me of it some days afterwards as a thing very disagreeable to him, saying that he was extremely sorry I had brought Miss Holcroft into the house, and wished her to be removed from it as soon as possible; and on finding that the more I knew of her the less I approved of her as a governess for my children, I determined to avail myself of this prejudice of Lord Mountcashel to dismiss her in a delicate manner, without hurting the feelings of either father or daughter. I therefore wrote Mr Holcroft a letter (a copy of which I will send you), in which I suppressed a part of the truth, and only mentioned one of the causes of her dismission. Mr H. immediately sent for his
daughter, declared that her removal was occasioned by a paragraph in a newspaper, and informed me in a long letter that he should publish it to the world. I called at his house to explain his mistake, to assure him that Lord Mountcashel had never heard that there was such a paragraph until he mentioned it, to tell him that I thought he would act imprudently in publishing the circumstance of his daughter’s residence (of not quite three weeks) in my family, and to request that he would not obtrude a private transaction, which concerned me, on the public eye. I was much surprised at discovering in this interview, that the man whom I had supposed to be mild, moderate, and rational, was selfish, violent, and self-sufficient: beyond the power of cool argument, and utterly regardless of the feelings of any person but himself. He, however, promised to reconsider the matter, and inform me of his determination. The next day I received a letter, in which he declared the intention of adhering to his resolution, and I was thus laid under the disagreeable necessity of acquainting him with all the causes which occasioned the removal of his daughter. The copies of his answer and all other letters concerning this affair shall be conveyed to you by a friend of yours, who leaves Paris in a few days, and who can inform you of all the circumstances relative to this business; which (however I may dislike having my name absurdly forced on public notice) would give me very little uneasiness, were it not on account of the displeasure of Lord Mountcashel, who barely tolerated Mr Holcroft’s visits, and latterly had taken a complete dislike to the man, totally distinct from any political prejudice. The favour I have to request from you is, that if Mr Holcroft has sent any paper on this subject to you for publication, you will have the goodness to defer obtruding on the world what I positively assert to be an absolute falsehood, until you have heard the circumstances related by a very rational friend of yours, who will see you in a few days.

“With a thousand good wishes for your little girls, and all the rest of your family, I remain, dear Sir, with great respect and esteem, yours very sincerely,

M. J. Mountcashel.”