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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. IX. 1797
William Godwin to Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, 12 June 1797

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
Etruria (finished), June 12, 1797.

“Having dispatched one letter, I now begin another. You have encouraged me to believe that some pleasure results to you, merely from thus obtaining the power of accompanying my motions, and that what would be uninteresting to another may, by this circumstance, be rendered agreeable to you. I am the less capable of altering my method, if it ought to be altered, as you have not dealt fairly by me this post I delivered a letter of mine to the messenger, but I received none from him in return. I am beginning a fourth letter, but of yours I have as yet only one.

“The theatre, which was at Stoke-upon-Trent, two miles from Etruria, was inexpressibly miserable. The scene was new to me, and I should have been sorry to have missed it; but it was extremely tedious. Our own company, consisting of nine persons, contributed one-half of the audience, exclusive of the galleries. The illusion, the fascination of the drama, was, as you may well suppose, altogether out of the question. It was the counterpart of a puppet-show at a country fair, except that, from the circumstance of these persons having to deliver the sentiments of Sheridan and
Shakespeare (the
School for Scandal and Catherine and Petruchio) their own coarseness and ribaldry were rendered fifty times more glaring and intolerable. Lady Teazle was by many degrees the ugliest woman I ever saw. One man took the two parts of Crabtree and Moses. Another, without giving himself the trouble to change his dress, played Careless and Sir Benjamin Backbite. The father of Catherine had three servants; and when he came to the country-house of Petruchio, he had precisely the same three servants to attend him. The gentleman who personated Charles in the play was the Woman’s tailor in the farce, and volunteered a boxing-match with Sir Oliver Surface in the character of Grumio. Snake, who was also footman-general to every person in the play, had by some means contracted the habit of never appearing when he was wanted, and the universal expedient for filling up the intervals, was for the persons on the stage to commence over again their two or three last speeches till he appeared. But enough of these mummers. Peace be to their memory. They did not leave us in our debt: they paid the world in talent, to the full as well as they were paid in coin.

“Which is best, to pass one’s life in the natural vegetation state of the potters we saw in the morning, turning a wheel, or treading a lay: or to pass it like these players, in an occupation to which skill and approbation can alone give a zest, without a hope of rising to either?

“Saturday morning our amusement was to go to a place called the Tunnel, a sort of underground navigation, about a mile and a half, at a distance of three miles from Etruria. We went in a small boat, which was drawn along by a horse. As we approached the Tunnel, we saw a smoke proceeding from the mouth, which gave it no inadequate resemblance of what the ancients feigned to be the entrance to the infernal regions. We proceeded to about the middle of the subterranean, the light that marked the place of our entrance gradually diminishing, till, when we had made two-thirds of our way, it wholly disappeared. The enclosure of the Tunnel was by an arch of brick, which distilled upon us, as we passed, drops of water impregnated with iron. We discerned our
way by means of candles that we brought along with us, and pushed ourselves along with boat staves, applied to the walls on either side as we passed. Our voyage terminated, as to its extent, in a coalpit, of which there are several in the subterranean. We had the two elder children with us, who exhibited no signs of terror. I remarked, in coming out, that the light from the entrance was much longer visible in going than returning; and, indeed, in the latter instance, was scarcely visible till it in a manner burst upon us at once.

“The only ladies who accompanied us in this voyage was Mrs Josiah Wedgwood and Mrs Montagu elect. Here, and at the play, where I contrived to sit beside her, I contrived to see more of this latter than I had yet done. I am sorry to observe that she does not improve upon me.

“Another evening and no letter. This is scarcely kind. I reminded you in time that it would be impossible to write to me after Saturday, though it is not improbable you may not see me before the Saturday following. What am I to think? How many possible accidents will the anxiety of affection present to one’s thoughts! Not serious ones, I hope: in that case I trust I should have heard. But headaches; but sickness of the heart, a general loathing of life and of me. Do not give place to this worst of diseases! The least I can think is, that you recollect me with less tenderness and impatience than I reflect on you. There is a general sadness in the sky; the clouds are shutting around me, and seem depressed with moisture: everything turns the soul to melancholy. Guess what my feelings are, when the most soothing and consolatory thought that occurs, is a temporary remission and oblivion in your affections.

“I had scarcely finished the above when I received your letter, accompanying T. W.’s, which was delayed by an accident till after the regular arrival of the post. I am not sorry to have put down my feelings as they were.

“We propose leaving Etruria at four o’clock to-morrow morning (Tuesday). Our journey cannot take less than three days, viz., Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. We propose, however, a
visit to
Dr Darwin, and a visit to Dr Parr. With these data from which to reason, you may judge as easily as I, respecting the time of our arrival in London. It will probably be either Friday or Saturday. Do not, however, count on anything as certain respecting it, and so torment yourself with expectation.

“Tell Fanny the green monkey has not come to Etruria. Bid her explain to Lucas the mug he is to receive. I hope it will not be broken on the journey.”