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

“. . . What you have done is in the genuine style of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. You have put out of sight the man, and asked only what he believed. In the midst of the vast world of conjecture, before the beginning of all things, that appropriate
field of wild assertion, in which proud man, ignorant of the essence and character of what immediately passes under his eyes, delights to expatiate, you have chosen a creed. You have done well; it amuses the fancy, it is the parent of a thousand interesting pictures, it soothes the heart with pleasing ideas. This is the deism of those persons whom I have known, who, having shaken off the empire of infant prejudices, yet differ from me in the point in which you differ. They frankly acknowledge that it is a matter of taste, and not a matter of reason. What can you know of the origin of the universe? Wert thou present when the foundations of the earth were laid? Didst thou see whereupon they are fastened, or who laid the corner stone thereof? Knowest thou it because thou wert then born, or because the number of thy days is great? Still more unsupported in reason is the notion of a future state. We see a man die; we can lock up his body in a vault; we can visit it from day to day, and observe its gradual waste; and we say that an invisible part of him is flown off, and inhabits somewhere with a consciousness that that, and that only, is the man. The evidence that we had of his existence was speech, and motion, and pulsation, and breath. All this is changed into a motionless and putrid mass, and we still say the man exists. We pretend to infer the character of infinite benevolence from what we see in a world where despotism, and slavery, and misery, and war continually prevail, and then, reasonably growing discontented with the scene, we piece out most miserably another world with hallelujahs and everlasting rest, according to our fancy, and we call this evidence. We first infer the goodness of God from what we see, and then infer that this world is not worthy of the goodness of that being whose existence we deduced from it. I have no disrespect for these opinions; far from it I regard them as the food of a sublime imagination and an amiable temper. But I expect the unprejudiced man that cherishes them to know them for what they are—the creatures of taste, and not of reason. I expect him to be moderate and forbearing in assertion. I know that such a man will never regard this invisible world, with which he has no acquaintance, and which is the mere creature of his conjecture, as a balance for the realities around him; will never, instead of inquiring what is a man’s understanding, what is his genius, what are his morals, what is his temper, what the improvement, the pleasure, the mode of happiness he proposes to him; will never, I say, instead of this, inquire, what is his creed, and judge him by that . . . .”