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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. IV. 1801-1803
Charles Lamb to William Godwin, 18 September 1801

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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Margate, Sept. 17, 1801.

“I shall be glad to come home and talk these matters with you. I have read your scheme very attentively. That Arabella has been mistress to King Charles, is sufficient to all the purposes of the story. It can only diminish that respect we feel for her to make her turn whore to one of the Lords of his Bedchamber. Her son must not know that she has been a whore: it matters not that she has been whore to a King: equally in both cases, it is against decorum and against the delicacy of a son’s respect that he should be privy to it. No doubt, many sons might feel a wayward pleasure in the honourable guilt of their mothers, but is it a true feeling? Is it the best sort of feeling? Is it a feeling to be exposed on theatres to mothers and daughters? Your conclusion (or rather Defoe’s) comes far short of the tragic ending, which is always expected, and it is not safe to disappoint. A tragic auditory wants blood. They care but little about a man and his wife parting. Besides, what will you do with the son, after all his pursuits and adventures? Even quietly leave him to take guinea-and-a-half lodgings with mama in Leghorn! O impotent and pacific measures! . . . I am certain that you must mix up some strong ingredients of distress to give a savour to your pottage. I still think that you may, and must, graft the story of Savage upon Defoe. Your hero must kill a man or do some thing. Can’t you bring him to the gallows or some great mischief, out of which she must have recourse to an explanation with her husband to save him. Think on this. The husband, for instance, has great friends in Court at Leghorn. The son is condemned to death. She cannot teaze him for a stranger. She must tell the whole truth. Or she may teaze him, as for a stranger, till (like Othello in Cassio’s case) he begins to suspect her for her importunity. Or, being pardoned, can she not teaze her husband to get him banished? Something of this I suggested before. Both is best. The murder and the pardon will make business for the fourth act, and
the banishment and explanation (by means of the Friend I want you to draw) the fifth. You must not open any of the truth to Dawley by means of a letter. A letter is a feeble messenger on the stage. Somebody, the son or his friend, must, as a coup de main, be exasperated, and obliged to tell the husband. Damn the husband and his ‘gentlemanlike qualities.’ Keep him out of sight, or he will trouble all. Let him be in England on trade, and come home as Biron does in Isabella, in the fourth act, when he is wanted. I am for introducing situations, sort of counterparts to situations, which have been tried in other plays—like but not the same. On this principle I recommended a friend like Horatio in the ‘
Fair Penitent,’ and on this principle I recommend a situation like Othello, with relation to Desdemona’s intercession for Cassio. By-scenes may likewise receive hints. The son may see his mother at a mask or feast, as Romeo, Juliet. The festivity of the company contrasts with the strong perturbations of the individuals. Dawley may be told his wife’s past unchastity at a mask by some witch-character—as Macbeth upon the heath, in dark sentences. This may stir his brain, and be forgot, but come in aid of stronger proof hereafter. From this, what you will perhaps call whimsical way of counterparting, this honest stealing, and original mode of plagiarism, much yet, I think, remains to be sucked. Excuse these abortions. I thought you would want the draught soon again, and I would not send it empty away.—Yours truly,

Somers Town, 17th Sept. 1801.”