LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. XI. 1798
William Godwin to John Arnot, 23 November 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
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH
[London, Nov. 23rd 1798.]

Dear Arnot,—I derived exquisite pleasure from the receipt of your letter. I have thought of you a thousand times with inexpressible anxiety. I have been accused, as you know, of countenancing a young man, in whom I felt a powerful interest, in entering unprovided, and unsupported, upon an attempt the most perilous and insane, from which it was next to impossible he should not reap intolerable calamities, and hardly probable that he should come off alive. Without an accuser I should have sufficiently felt the high responsibility that devolved on me. Yet what could I do? The first sensation your project excited in me was envy. I wished I could have been a lad like you to undertake what you proposed. I saw in you many qualifications, fitting you for the design, courage, though not an uniform courage, and an easy and assured manner, calculated to smooth a thousand difficulties, and prepossess strangers in your favour. Feeling approbation, could I belie my sentiment?

“Under these impressions it seemed to me very long before I heard from you. I saw you for the last time on the 13th of June, and your first letter did not reach me till the 10th of November. You promised me to write from Petersburgh. My active imagination passed in review all the dangers of your route, immense deserts, rude forests, fierce Cossacks, hunger, assassination and death. These evils would have impressed me more strongly, had
not the various reports of the vigilance of Russian police created in me a persuasion that you would not be permitted to enter that empire. I confess I had my fears that you would return, looking like a fool, by the same vessel in which you sailed. I considered however that if all activity and enterprise did not desert you, you would in case of the worst, find means to push for the other side of the Baltic, and find rest for your foot on the dry land of Sweden.

“And now, will you forgive me, if I acknowledge, in spite of the heart-felt pleasure with which I received your letters, my satisfaction was not unmixed with disappointment. The first consisted of five poor lines, with a morsel of postscript. The kindest construction I could put upon this was that you were so sunk in spirit that if you had written more, you felt your melancholy and dejection would break out, and therefore out of pure generosity you stopped while you could. But if this were the kindest construction, it was not the most consolatory. Your second letter has in some degree removed this uneasy apprehension. It reached me last night, November 22nd, in fifteen days from its date. But in neither do you tell me where you have been, what you have seen, not even whether you took the route of Livonia, Poland, and Silesia, or of Sweden, Denmark, Holstein, &c.; whether you took shore at Petersburgh and continued your route by land, or whether though first at Vienna, and now at Dresden, you have seen no other country than Germany. Another fault I find is, that I trace in your letters no feature of the mind I loved, no sterling observations of man, no agreeable naiveté of adventure. I hope while your body has been in restless motion, your mind has not slept. But I suppose you reserve all your good things to surprise the world with.

“I think your famous Dr John Brown affirms that the natural genuine state of man is death. I know not what physical truth there may be in this, but morally I greatly fear that the man who would truly be alive must obstinately spur his mind into a much better state than that into which, if neglected, it will sink. I hope you keep a copious journal. I hate travels into the four quarters
of the world written after all is over, within sight of St Paul’s Church. Perhaps it would be better for your book, and better for yourself that you should visit some countries that are not travelled every day, such as Hungary, Spain, &c. You ought too, to take some precautions respecting your manuscripts, that in case of an accident your name and your usefulness may not be wholly lost. But above all take care of yourself. I had rather be refreshed by the sight of
John Arnot in person than John Arnot’s book. . . . Study language elaborately, you cannot know man without understanding his speech.

“You ask for news. . . . The grand topic is Egypt. Buonaparte sailed for that country in May. Our Admiral Nelson pursued him, arrived before him, and returned to Europe. Buonaparte landed his forces July 1st. Nelson having refitted, sailed again to Alexandria, where he found the French Fleet still at anchor. Nelson with 14 ships attacked the French with 13 on August 1st, took 9 and burned 2, so that only 2 escaped. Buonaparte, on the other hand, seems impregnably established in possession of Egypt. The Turk has in consequence declared war against France.

Coleridge and Wordsworth, two names that I believe you will find in the list I wrote out for you, landed some time ago at Hamburgh. They are at no great distance from that place, but I cannot learn where. You may perhaps meet with them in your rambles. They are both extraordinary men, and both reputed men of genius. Coleridge I think fully justifies the reputation . . .

“I wish you all manner of prosperity, improvement, and happiness.”