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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. XI. 1798
William Godwin to Harriet Lee, [June 1798]

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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[June 1798.]

“. . . We got thus far, I think, in our last conversation, that the decision you shall be pleased to make will be of the greatest importance, since, though it may be easy for either of us to marry,
supposing the present question to be decided in the negative, yet it is not probable that either of us will, elsewhere, meet with a fit and suitable partner, capable of being the real companion of our minds, and improver of our powers. We must remain in that separate and widowed state of the heart, which is no part of the system of nature, or must, as
St Paul says, be unequally yoked.

“. . . Pass over in your mind everything which, if we were united, would employ us from day to day, and from week to week. Things in which we perfectly sympathised, in which we acted in concert, in which our feelings would vibrate to each other. In the exercise of the benevolent and social affections, in the improvement of our understandings, in taste, in the admiration of natural beauty, or the beauties of human productions; in the expressions—the refined, the delicious, but evanescent expressions—of mutual attachment, those expressions in which the true consciousness of life consists, that attachment which converts this terrestrial scene into a paradise, we should, I hope, fully coincide, nor should one discord intrude into the comprehensive harmony.

“. . . What will the world say? In the first place, I am not sure that you do not labour under some mistake in this case. I must be permitted to say on this occasion, that among those who personally know me, the respect and love I have obtained is, I believe, fully equal to any reputation I may be supposed to have gained for talents. I believe no person who has so far run counter to the prejudices and sentiments of the world has ever been less a subject of obloquy. I know that many whose opinions in politics and government are directly the reverse of mine, yet honour me with their esteem. I cannot, therefore, be of opinion that your forming a connection with me would be regarded as by any means discreditable to you.

“. . . I have said to you once before, Do not go out of life, without ever having known what life is. Celibacy contracts and palsies the mind, and shuts us out from the most valuable topics of experience. He who wastes his existence in this state may have been a spectator of the scene of things, but has never been an actor, and is just such a spectator as a man would be who did
not understand a word of the language in which the concerns of men are transacted. The sentiments of mutual and equal affection, and of parental love, and these only, are competent to unlock the heart and expand its sentiments—they are the Promethean fire, with which, if we have never been touched, we have scarcely attained the semblance of what we are capable to be. When I look at you, when I converse with you, it is more, much more the image of what you might be, and are fitted to be, that charms me, than the contemplation of what you are. I regard you as possessing the materials to make that most illustrious and happiest of all characters, when its duties are faithfully discharged—a wife—a mother. But if you are eminently and peculiarly qualified for these offices, it is the more to be regretted, and shall I not add? the more to be censured in you, if you peremptorily and ultimately decline them.”