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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. XIII. 1800
Samuel Parr to William Godwin, 29 April 1800

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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“38 Carey Street, April 29, 1800.

Sir,—I have read your letter attentively, and I believe that you know enough of my serious and importunate avocations in London to consider them as a sufficient excuse for the delay of my answer.

“‘You designed,’ it seems, ‘to ask me whether I had received a letter from you written in December last.’ ‘You meant,’ also,
‘to have listened to know whether intention or simple forgetfulness had caused it to remain unanswered.’ You further represent it ‘as appearing to yourself not an ordinary letter, but one, the author of which was entitled to a reply.’ If you had seen me and spoken what you thus wrote, I should not have given you the trouble of listening to hear my answer. Without professing to adopt your system about the undistinguishing disclosure of truth, I shall follow my own, which appears to me equally sound and salutary.

“A parcel came to my house in December last, when I was absent. Upon my return I opened it, and found four volumes, together with a letter, which from the direction I knew to be from you. I read only the preface to your novel, and afterwards, having heard from Mrs Parr some account of its contents, I felt no anxiety at the time to look into them. I happened to be then very busy upon subjects which were far more interesting to me; and perhaps, if I had been more at leisure, yet I might not have found myself disposed to read your book till I knew the opinion entertained of it by the very sagacious person whom I had desired to peruse it. Certainly, sir, I was not for one moment insensible of your civility in sending it to me. But I had determined to return it to you; and the reluctance I felt to do what might seem to you ungracious, made me put off from day to day the execution of what I intended. I now thank you, sir, for sending me the book. I also apologise to you for not having made my acknowledgments sooner, and after my arrival at Hatton I will take the earliest opportunity of conveying back to you the volumes which for obvious reasons I cannot keep without impropriety.

“Your letter I laid aside, and as I did not expect to find the contents of it agreeable to me, I laid it aside unopened. With some uncertainty whether I should or should not venture to read it, I afterwards looked for it in my library and could not find it. But my search was not very diligent, and I suppose that some day or other it will fall into my hands. I cannot, however, pledge myself, either upon finding to read, or upon reading, to answer it.

“I have told you, sir, with all possible plainness, every circum-
stance I remember about your letter and in the books: and in consequence of what you wrote to me the other day, I think myself justified in confessing that I am now not disposed towards you entirely as I once was.

“Your letter of April 24th goes on thus: ‘This subject dismissed, I should then have mentioned your sermon of Easter Tuesday. I spoke in the letter above referred to of Mackintosh’s Lectures, in which that gentleman, without the manliness of mentioning me, takes occasion three times a week to represent me to an audience of an hundred persons as a wretch unworthy to live.’ Indeed, sir, I must congratulate myself upon not opening a letter containing a passage so offensive to me as this misrepresentation of Mr Mackintosh, be it accidental or voluntary. From various quarters I had heard of the ability and success with which Mr Mackintosh had combated opinions which you are supposed to hold, and of which I am accustomed to disapprove. But I never was told by other men that he had been guilty of any unbecoming personalities towards you; and by Mr Mackintosh himself I have been informed that he never insulted your character, never pronounced your name, never even opposed your tenets, as holden by yourself exclusively. You will therefore permit me to express my fixed belief, that what you wrote in your former letter, and have repeated in your last, is utterly unwarranted by the conduct of Mr Mackintosh in his lectures. Of his genius, his judgment, his erudition, and his taste, I have always thought and spoken with high admiration. From the doubts which I may now and then have entertained of his firmness, I am happily relieved. Inexperience I am convinced of his sincerity in friendship, and for the important services which he is now rendering to a cause which is most dear to my heart, I gladly give him the tribute of my thanks and my praise.

“I return to your letter, in which you say, ‘Your sermon, I learn from all hands, was on the same subject, handled, I take it for granted, from what I know of your character, in a very different spirit. I am sorry for this.’

“Be assured, sir, that you have done me no more than justice,
when you acquit me of describing you ‘as a wretch unworthy to live.’ I hope, sir, you are not sorry for this.

“For the principles which I defend from the pulpit, I am conscious of an awful responsibility, not only to society, but to Almighty God, and it is at my own peril that, in speaking of my fellow-creatures, I forget the obligations which lie upon me to preserve the candour of a gentleman, and the charity of a Christian. Let me hope, that for this also you are not sorry.

“In your letter you thus proceed: ‘Since Mackintosh’s lectures, it has become a sort of fashion with a large party to join in the cry against me. It is the part, I conceive, of original genius to give the tone to others, rather than to join a pack, after it has already become loud and numerous.’

“So far as the foregoing passage contains a statement of facts relating to other men, it may or may not be just. So far as it contains your general opinion upon the duty of men who are endowed with original genius, I am inclined rather to admit than to contradict it. But if it be meant in any degree whatsoever to contain a particular accusation against me, I must lament the want of precision, and the want of fairness in the writer. Sir, I lay no claim ‘to that original genius which is to give the tone to others.’ But I have too delicate a sense of decorum to join a pack because it is loud and numerous, or to act with a party because it is large, or to repeat any cry against you because it is fashionable. I trust, sir, that, upon reconsidering what you have thus written, you will be very sorry for it, and, let your motives be what they may, when you wrote the passage above mentioned, and let your feelings be what they may, when you have reconsidered it, I have no hesitation in pronouncing it quite unauthorised, either by what you know of my general character, or from what you can have heard from any man of sense about my sermon at Christ Church.

“‘These subjects,’ you proceed to say, ‘were better adapted for a conversation than a letter; and I much wish they had been so treated. Every difference of judgment is not the proper topic for a grave complaint.’

“Confessing myself at a lots to find any close connection be-
tween the beginning and the conclusion of the foregoing paragraph, I am under the necessity of replying to them separately. If the subjects upon which you meant to speak to me were those upon which you actually have written to me, I think that they may be discussed more temperately and more correctly by letter than by conversation; and, of course, I very much rejoice that they have not been treated in the manner you say you very much wish to treat them. True it is, that every difference of judgment is not the proper topic for a grave complaint. But if I had joined a pack against you, there would have been reason for very loud complaint on your part; and if you in conversation had accused me, as you seem to accuse me in writing, of having acted thus unbecomingly, I should have complained of you, not for weakness in judgment, but for rashness in reproach, not for differing from me on a point of opinion, but for calumniating me as a point of fact.

“I now quote your concluding paragraph:—‘If, however, both my letters and my visits would have passed unnoticed, I am entitled to conclude that you have altered your mind respecting me. In that case I should be glad you would answer to your own satisfaction what crime I am chargeable with now in 1800, of which I had not been guilty in 1794, when with so much kindness and zeal you sought my acquaintance.’

“The letter you wrote to me on the 24th of April does not pass unnoticed. Your visits entitled you to civility, and yet I am under the painful necessity of acknowledging that I do not wish you in future to give yourself the trouble of writing to me any more letters, or favouring me with any more visits. Upon the alteration of my mind towards you, I can speak entirely to my own satisfaction, though not without some doubts upon the degree in which you will be glad to find I am satisfied.

“I never sought your acquaintance, sir, with any zeal. I received you with kindness when you were introduced to me by Mr Mackintosh. I have treated you with the respect that is due to your talents and attainments. But before the year 1800, I had ceased to think of you so favourably as I thought of you in 1794. I had not in 1794 read in your Enquirer the passage where you
speak so irreverently and unfavourably about the Founder of that religion of which you know that I am a teacher, and of which you can have no reason for doubting but that I am a sincere believer. And in truth, sir, though I found in that book many judicious observations upon life, and many pleasing instances of your improvement in style, still your mis-statement of Christ’s meaning, and your insinuations against his benevolence, have occurred to me again and again, and from the resemblance they bear to the impious effusions of
Mr Voltaire, which I have lately read, they have displeased, and ever will displease me more and more.

“I had not in 1794 been shocked, in common with all wise and good men, by a work which you entitle ‘Memoirs of the Author of the Rights of Women.’

“I had not then discovered the dreadful effects of your opinions upon the conduct, the peace, and the welfare of two or three young men, whose talents I esteemed, and whose virtues I loved.

“I had not then seen your eagerness and perseverance in employing every kind of vehicle to convey to every class of readers those principles which, so long as they appeared only in the form of a metaphysical treatise, might have done less extensive mischief.

“Above all, sir, I had not considered the dangerous tendency of your tenets with the seriousness which the situation of the moral and political world has lately produced in my mind upon subjects most interesting to the happiness of society, and to the preservation of that influence which virtue and religion ought to have upon the sentiments and the happiness of mankind.—I am, Sir, very sincerely your well-wisher and obedient servant,

S. Parr.”