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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. XII. 1799
William Godwin to Thomas Holcroft, 13 September 1799

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
Polygon, Somers Town, near London,
September 13th, 1799.

Dear Holcroft.—I know I have been guilty of what the world calls a crime, in suffering your letter to be so long by me unanswered. But for this you were prepared: you knew there were few offices I loathed more than that of sitting down to write, without having my mind previously filled with some subject on which to discourse. I come to the employment with the utmost repugnance; and I hate myself, and for the moment half hate my correspondent, all the time I am engaged in it. I believe this is a defect; but there are some propensities in the mind, whether taking their date from before or after the period of birth, that to say the least, almost surpass all human force to conquer. Supply me with a subject, and I will discourse upon it most eloquently; believe that scarcely a day passes without your being in my mind, but do not expect me to amend.

“What could I have said? ‘I bear you in the highest regard; I think of you continually; I felt the loss of you an irreparable one.’
This and no more, however honest and cordial, discovering itself in the folds of a letter, would have looked dry and repulsive. It would have been still worse, if I had made you pay postage for it a second time. I did not like to enter on the point which makes the principal topic of your letter. If I had I could have shewn, demonstratively to my apprehension, that the breach of confidence and reserve came first on your part. This I might perhaps never have known, but for
Mrs Inchbald. I afterwards discovered it in other instances. This was the true St Leon and Marguerite point between us; you date it too low.

“I should have been much mortified if my friend Arnot had taken your advice and returned to England. It would have snapped the series, and broken the goodly harmony of his undertaking. I always thought, and his manuscript confirms me in the opinion, that he was happily formed for a traveller, and I have never been able to repent that I encouraged his purpose. There is nothing relative to the publication of his remarks that may not be managed full as well in his absence; wherever he was, he must have subsisted in the meantime, and subsistence, as I take it, is as cheap on the continent as here.

“I am glad that you treated him kindly; I can perceive that it had a good effect on him. In some things indeed you failed; in your marginal annotations you were too rude and harsh, especially to a stranger. In one place you say ‘This is the knave’s morality.’ This he took considerably in dudgeon; you had not been long enough acquainted with him to be able to form a regard for the author, distinct from his work. Mrs Cole, he says, treated him with the most supercilious neglect; in that case I am more sorry for her than for him. Observe, neither of these things were mentioned in his letter to me, but are merely noted in his private journal put down every night, which he has sent me. I know that according to the maxims of the world, I am guilty of a breach of decorum in mentioning them to you. But I think one of the crying sins of society is that we do not sufficiently explain our feelings to one another, and I am willing to make this solitary experiment whether it will not do more good than harm.


“No alteration, so far as I have observed, has taken place in the politics or tone of this island, since you left it. If there had, I should be almost afraid to state it. Parliament is to meet on the 24th instant, a period uncommonly early.

Nicholson, Col. Barry, and Opie (your friend, no friend of mine) are well. I have seen the two latter once, the former several times, since your absence. I am unable to say whether his school will succeed; it goes on, like its master, at a slow and German-sort of a pace, but he appears sanguine. . . .

“You say nothing in this new communication by means of Arnot respecting my novel. I could send you another volume: there will be four.

“You are so anxious with your machine to get a legible copy of your letter, that you make a very devil of the original, and one has scarcely courage to attempt to decipher it. You water it too copiously.

“The above letter is to Mr Holcroft; but as he may not be at Hamburgh, and I would not willingly lose a moment in transmitting the enclosed £20 to Mr Arnot, I have addressed it so that Mr Cole may open it, who, I am happy to hear by Mr A., is well. Advise me of the receipt.

W. Godwin.”