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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. III. 1788-1792

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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The notes already mentioned, which are mainly the authority for the facts of this portion of Godwin’s life, are supplemented by a diary begun by him on the 6th of April 1788, and continued to the end of his life. It was contained in thirty-two small notebooks, all of which have been preserved. They are ruled and dated most carefully in black and red ink, for those were not days in which such diaries could be purchased ready to hand, and are marvels of neatness and method. This record is extremely concise, and contrary to the usual practice of journal keepers, is even more laconic at the beginning than towards the end. The use made of this diary was to mention the portion of writing accomplished each day, the books read, the persons seen, the places visited. In the earlier volumes many days, and even weeks are sometimes left without an entry, and the most full account extends to but a few words. But for the last forty years of his life there is no omission of even a single day. It appears that he was at this time widely extending his circle of acquaintance, and nearly all the names mentioned are those of men worth knowing.

The following specimens of two weeks may prove of interest:—


“Apr. 6. Su.

“7. M. Called at Webb’s.

“8. Tu. Brand Hollis called. The Ton written by La Wallace acted.

“9. W.

“10. Th. Hasting’s trial resumed.

“11. F. Dined at Leg of Pork. Dr Priestley in London.

“12. Sa.

“May 4. Su. Dine at Holcroft’s. Call on Mr Close, Tower Hill.

“5. M.

“6. Tu.

“7. W. Hear Sir G. Elliot. Dine at Holcroft’s.

“8. Th. Tea Holcroft’s. Dinner at Cadel’s, and on Gibbon’s birthday and day of publication. Sheffield, Fullarton, Reynolds, Gillies, Kippis, Cour Pleniere.

“9. Fr. Exhibition. Nunducomar 55 to 73. Speak with O’Brien. Priestley from London.

“10. Sa. Wilson calls. Correct for him Graham’s Letter to Pitt on Scotch Reform.”

Much of this diary has now become simply enigmatical, such as the entries—“Aug. 4. Th. Jour de mauvaise nouvelle. Marshal for Southampton.” “Nov. 22. Sa. Meilleur nouvelle. Robinson calls,” and much which touches on the mere opinion of the day proves unhistorical, as “Nov. 7. F. Dine at Hamilton’s with Robinson, Archd., Holcroft, Nicholson, and Mercier, Le roi mourant.” The king’s illness was his first temporary seizure, from which he entirely recovered. But to those who have turned over the pages of the diary, with their short unimpassioned records of forgotten sorrows and forgotten joys, of keen political struggles and of eloquent voices hushed, there rises a very vivid picture of the dead past, far more life-like than they have gained from more elaborate histories.


Godwin, calm as he seemed, was stirred to his depths by politics. Holcroft knew his friend when he wrote him the details of the Westminster election, and to eager hearts at the close of the last century it seemed an easier thing to undo admitted evils than we now find it, who are the children and grandchildren of those who were roused by the sound of the first French Revolution. The following is the note on the year 1789:—


“This was the year of the French Revolution. My heart beat high with great swelling sentiments of Liberty. I had been for nine years in principles a republican. I had read with great satisfaction the writings of Rousseau, Helvetius, and others, the most popular authors of France. I observed in them a system more general and simply philosophical than in the majority of English writers on political subjects; and I could not refrain from conceiving sanguine hopes of a revolution of which such writings had been the precursors. Yet I was far from approving all that I saw even in the commencement of the revolution. . . . I never for a moment ceased to disapprove of mob government and violence, and the impulses which men collected together in multitudes produce on each other. I desired such political changes only as should flow purely from the clear light of the understanding, and the erect and generous feelings of the heart.”


The diary of this year, though written with the same extreme brevity, shows that he followed with keen interest the course of events in France, as “June 23. Tu. Difference of Necker and the king: he proposes to resign. Dine at Hollis’s with the Garbets. 24. W. Necker is restored.” “July 11. Sa. Necker is dismissed.” “15. W. King of France submits to the National Assembly.” Under “Nov. 5. W.,” is the following entry:—“Dine with the Revolutionists: see Price, Kippis, Rees, Towers, Lindsay, Disney, Belsham, Forsaith, Morgans, Listers, S. Rogers, and B.
Wits.” “Present
Earl Stanhope, Beaufoy, H. Tooke, and Count Zenobio. See B. Hollis, Jennings, Lofft, and Robinson. Sup with Fawcet.” “The Revolutionists “were the members of one among many clubs existing at that day composed of men who sympathised more or less with the friends of liberty in France. Their President at this time was Charles, Earl Stanhope. Dr Price had preached—Nov. 4th, 1789—a sermon before them at the Old Jewry. Meeting House, and their proceedings generally had attracted considerable attention, which was heightened by the eloquence of Burke, directed against them. The following draft of a communication from English to French Republicans belongs to this time. It bears no date, and is evidently only a rough copy in Marshal’s handwriting, but the words are the words of Godwin.


Gentlemen,—We acknowledge with the utmost pleasure the communication you have made us of sentiments honourable to the country of which you are natives, and calculated to advance political society to a state of enviable felicity. The Revolution Society of London does not pretend to the authority of being the organ of the national sentiment. We are a body of private individuals, who can claim little other distinction than what we derive from a love of freedom, reason, and humanity. With no desire to be regarded as of great political importance, we do not scruple to do everything in our power for the dissemination of benevolence, liberality, and truth.

“We join with you, gentlemen, in the most ardent wishes that that freedom which for several centuries appeared to have fixed her last retreat in the island of our birth, may, by your example, be diffused over Europe and the world. So admirable and illustrious an example cannot be lost. The proceedings of the people of France will secure tranquillity, and all the virtues of patriotism to themselves, and a dawn of justice and moderation to surrounding nations. The inhabitants of Great Britain in particular may ex-
pect to derive the most essential benefit from the Revolution of France; and united as we are to you by congeniality of sentiment, by the cultivation of science and truth, and by the love of that freedom for which our ancestors bled, we trust it is scarcely possible for any occasion to offer that can lead two such nations to engage in mutual hostilities.”


Godwin lived much in society during this year, being a very constant visitor at the house of Miss Helen Maria Williams, where many literary people congregated almost every night at tea-time. There are repeated notices of intimacy with Willis Webb, his old pupil, and of almost daily meetings with Holcroft. On this friend fell the great sorrow of the death of his son in November 1789.

His son was a lad of sixteen, who had long shown a wild and wandering disposition, and, young as he was, had several times run away from home. He had, however, seemed of late more steady, and had been in consequence praised and rewarded by his father. But the old disposition again showed itself. On Nov. 8 he broke open his father’s desk, stole from it £40 and a pair of pistols, and set off to join a friend who was sailing for the West Indies. He was pursued to Gravesend, but there for a time all trace was lost. A few days after he was found to be at Deal, on board the “Fame,” and on a search being made he concealed himself in the steerage. He had said that he would shoot whoever came to take him, unless it was his father, in which case he would shoot himself. This his father considered to be a mere threat. He was called, but did not answer. A light was procured, but as soon as the lad heard his father advancing, with the ship’s steward and some of the crew, he suddenly shot himself, unable to bear the shame of open detection. The shock to Holcroft was
very great. For a whole year afterwards he seldom left his house, and the impression was never wholly effaced from his mind.

The entries in Godwin’s journal show that he was the friend who accompanied the father first to Gravesend and afterwards to Deal to seek the fugitive. They are as follows:—

“Nov. 8. Tu. Dine at Holcroft’s—Elopement de son fils.

“9. M. To Gravesend.

“Nov. 15. Su. Dine at Holcroft’s: set out for Deal. Call upon Crosdil W. Holcroft.

“16. M. Mort de son fils.

“17. Tu. Funerailles: to have drank tea with Holcroft at Miss Williams’s.

“Nov. 22. Su. Dine at Holcroft’s: Crosdil calls.

“27. F. Dine at Holcroft’s: write a paragraph sur son fils.”

Mrs Shelley has left a short note on this occurrence:


“The youth was of an unfortunate disposition, and his conduct was very reprehensible, at the same time it is certain that Holcroft carried further than Godwin a certain unmitigated severity, an exposition of duty and truth, and of the defalcation from these in the offender, conceived in language to humiliate and wound, a want of sympathy with the buoyant spirit of youth when conjoined to heedlessness and, it may be added, dissipation, all of which tended to set still wider the distance too usually observed between father and child. Something of this Godwin detected in himself in his conduct towards Cooper. I mention this circumstance the more particularly, as it, several years afterwards, caused the breach between Holcroft and Godwin which was never healed until the death of the former.”


Under the year 1790 Godwin writes:


“My mind became more and more impregnated with the principles afterwards developed in my Political Justice; they were the
almost constant topic of conversation between
Holcroft and myself; and he, who in his sceptic and other writings had displayed the sentiments of a courtier, speedily became no less a republican and a reformer than myself. In this year I wrote a tragedy on the story of St Dunstan, being desirous, in writing a tragedy, of developing the great springs of human passion, and in the choice of a subject of inculcating those principles on which I apprehend the welfare of the human race to depend.”


The Diary becomes somewhat more full, recording here and there scraps of conversation. He took the same vivid interest in foreign politics, and he also attended the debates in the House of Commons. Some fragments which belong to this period show that the ambition to be himself a Member was not strange to him, and he mentions with pleasure that Sheridan had once said to him, “You ought to be in Parliament.” He speaks of another dinner with the “French Revolutionists,” at which were present “Stanhope, Sheridan, Tooke, O’Brien, B. Hollis, Geddes, Lindsey, Price, Paradise,” and one of the party said to him, “We are particularly fortunate in having you among us; it is having the best cause countenanced by the man by whom we most wished to see it supported.” There was a dinner with the “Anti-Tests,” among whom are, as might be expected, some of the people we have seen among the Revolutionists: “Fox, Beaufoy, Hoghton, Sawbridge, Adair, Watson, Heywood, B. Hollis, Shore, Geddes, Vaughan, Fell, Stone, Woodfall, Listers.”

There is also the record of a correspondence with the Bishop of Llandaff and the Archbishop of Canterbury in reference to a vacancy in the Natural History Department of the British Museum, of which correspondence Dr Watson’s letters remain. It is curious that when applying, without success, for the vacant post, Godwin still calls him-
self, “The Rev. William Godwin” in a letter to
Lord Robert Spencer. It would appear, however, that he did so rather with a view of identifying himself with the person whom Lord Robert had known in former years, than with any wish of resuming a character which, as he said, had completely quitted him. He had, as will be remembered, dedicated his sermons to the Bishop of Llandaff, who had by no means forgotten him. The Bishop’s letter is curious, as evidence that a liberal Bishop even in those days was somewhat suspect.

The Bishop of Llandaff to William Godwin.

Sir,—I would not have hesitated a moment writing to the Archbishop in your favour, if I had not been of opinion that my appearing in support of a Dissenter would rather have tended to obstruct than to promote your wishes. The enclosed is written in such a manner that if you think it can serve you, it may be sent as from yourself, as a kind of confirmation that you had used my name with propriety. I sincerely wish you success, and am your most obedient Servant,

Th. Llandaff.
Callgarth, Kendall,
May 18, 1790.”

The last entry in the Diary for the year is under date of Dec. 31: “It was in this year that I read and criticised ‘The Simple Story’ in MS.” This was probably at the instance of the publisher, for Godwin does not appear to have made Mrs Inchbald’s personal acquaintance till the autumn of 1792.

Godwin’s autobiographical note for the year 1791 is somewhat longer than usual, and must be given in full, as showing the growth of his political views, and giving his first conception of his great work, the “Enquiry concerning Political Justice.”


“On the 29th of April in this year Mr Holcroft and I wrote two anonymous letters, he to Mr Fox, and I to Mr Sheridan. Mr Fox, in the debate on the bill for giving a new constitution to Canada, had said that he would not be the man to propose the abolition of a House of Lords in a country where such a power was already established; but as little would he be the man to recommend the introduction of such a power where it was not. This was by no means the only public indication he had shown how deeply he had drank of the spirit of the French Revolution. The object of the above-mentioned letters was to excite these two illustrious men to persevere gravely and inflexibly in the career on which they had entered. I was strongly impressed with the sentiment that in the then existing circumstances of England and of Europe great and happy improvements might be achieved under such auspices without anarchy and confusion. I believed that important changes must arise, and I was inexpressibly anxious that such changes should be effected under the conduct of the best and most competent leaders.

“This year was the main crisis of my life. In the summer of 1791 I gave up my concern in the New Annual Register, the historical part of which I had written for seven years, and abdicated, I hope for ever, the task of performing a literary labour, the nature of which should be dictated by anything but the promptings of my own mind. I suggested to Robinson the bookseller the idea of composing a treatise on Political Principles, and he agreed to aid me in executing it My original conception proceeded on a feeling of the imperfections and errors of Montesquieu, and a desire of supplying a less faulty work. In the first fervour of my enthusiasm, I entertained the vain imagination of “hewing a stone from the rock,” which, by its inherent energy and weight, should overbear and annihilate all opposition, and place the principles of politics on an immoveable basis. It was my first determination to tell all that I apprehended to be truth, and all that seemed to be truth, confident that from such a proceeding the best results were to be expected.”


The diary shows many and various literary labours besides the composition of “Political Justice,” which, when
fairly started, was written very slowly: six or seven pages of MS. are recorded as being the utmost written in a day, but far more often a page, half a page, or even a paragraph or a sentence written twice, are proofs of the extreme care which was bestowed on the work.
Godwin took also Italian lessons, and his reading in all branches, from Greek plays and Greek philosophy to modern belles lettres, was vast. But he was an extremely discursive reader, and had several books in hand at once, carefully noting how many pages of each were read as the day’s task. He visited the theatre frequently, and took great interest in all that related to the stage. Here are a few of the entries for this year:—

“March 16, W. Robinson calls; proposes a ‘Naval History.’

“19, S. Wrote to Robinson; propose £1050, i.e., £525 per volume.

It is perhaps not surprising to find that the publisher declined to accede to these terms, or that in consequence there is an entry:—

“Mar. 25, F. Démêlé avec Robinson.

“June 30, Th. Dine with Robinson; propose ‘Political Principles.’

“July 10, M. Close with Robinson.

“Aug. 31, W. Holcroft dines, Fawcet expected; démêlé faintness.

“Nov. 30, W. Holcroft at tea; un peu de démêlé sur Davis.”

It would not be fair to suppress these very characteristic notes of hot temper, and quarrels with his best friends, which also appear only too often in the letters. It must, however, be said that the vehemence of temper soon exhausted itself, and did not affect the real regard which Godwin felt for those with whom he disputed the most.
And during this and the next year, during which the word “démêlé” so often occurs, we also have notices in this plain-spoken diary of various forms of ill-health, resulting apparently from Godwin’s very sedentary habits, no symptom being serious in itself, but all of a kind which are frequently found most trying to the nerves and temper of the patient.

In the spring of 1791, Thomas Paine, whose acquaintance Godwin had made at the house of Mr Brand Hollis, published his celebrated pamphlet, “The Rights of Man,” in answer to Burke’sReflections on the French Revolution.” Godwin and Holcroft had both seen much of this in MS., and the former wrote of it in terms of great though measured praise. Holcroft—never so cautious—addressed to Godwin a little twisted note, worth insertion here as some evidence of the fervour of spirit which animated men in days when such eager utterances escaped from a press, over which hung the terrors of the pillory, and of prosecutions for high treason.

Thomas Holcroft to William Godwin. [No date.]

“I have got it—If this do not cure my cough it is a damned perverse mule of a cough—The pamphlet—From the row—But mum—We don’t sell it—Oh, no—Ears and Eggs—Verbatim, except the addition of a short preface, which, as you have not seen, I send you my copy—Not a single castration (Laud be unto God and J. S. Jordan!) can I discover—Hey for the New Jerusalem! The millennium! And peace and eternal beatitude be unto the soul of Thomas Paine.”

The pamphlet had been originally printed for Johnson of St Paul’s Churchyard, who, on seeing it in print, de-
clined to publish it. The unexpected refusal caused a month’s delay. A few copies, however, got into private hands, one of which, bearing Johnson’s name as publisher, is in the British Museum. Some of those most anxious for the appearance of the tract urged the excision of certain passages, and it was commonly believed that it was not issued after all in its original form. A “
Life of Thomas Paine, by Francis Oldys, A.M. of the University of Pennsylvania”—a Pseudonym for George Chalmers, one of the Clerks of Plantations, the real author of the book—has the following passage on “The Rights of Man:”—


“The men mid-wives determined to deprive the child of its virility, rather than so hopeful an infant should be withheld from the world. At length, on the 13th of March 1791, this mutilated brat was delivered to the public by Mr J. S. Jordan, at No. 166 Fleet Street.”


Holcroft, however, was quite right; he and Godwin were members of the Committee, of which Mr Brand Hollis was the leading spirit, to whom had been entrusted the revisal of the work.

One more entry in the diary of this year calls for attention, for it records Godwin’s first meeting with Mary Wollstonecraft.


“Nov. 13, Su. Correct. Dyson and Dibdin call; talk of virtue and disinterest Dine at Johnson’s with Paine, Shovet, and Wolstencraft; talk of monarchy, Tooke, Johnson, Voltaire, pursuits, and religion. Sup at Holcroft’s.”


The autobiographical note for 1792 is concerned with the preparation of his work on Political Justice. That he was
engaged on it was already well known to a not inconsiderable number of persons likely to be interested in the subject, and it appears that the work received during its preparation the imprimatur of men whose views still carry weight.
Godwin writes:—


“During this year I was in the singular situation of an author, possessing some degree of fame for a work still unfinished and unseen. I was introduced on this ground to Mr Mackintosh, David Williams,”—founder, and afterwards a pensioner of the Literary Fund, died 1816,—“Joel Barlow,”—afterwards American ambassador to Napoleon, died at Wilna, Dec. 26, 1812; the translator of Volney,—“and others, and with these gentlemen, together with Mr Nicholson,”—a mathematical teacher, foreign agent for Wedgwood, civil engineer, died 1815,—“and Mr Holcroft, had occasional meetings, in which the principles of my work were discussed. Towards the close of the year I became acquainted with Mr Horne Tooke, to whose etymological conversation and various talents I am proud to acknowledge myself greatly indebted, though these came too late to be of any use to me in the concoction of my work, which was nearly printed off before I had first the pleasure of meeting this extraordinary and admirable man.”


From the Diary, however, it appears that the foregoing paragraph must be understood with limitations. Godwin and Horne Tooke had met from time to time at the meetings of the “Revolutionists,” and had been thus slightly acquainted, though no degree of intimacy had sprung up, nor had they met in private. The entries also record in increasing detail the topics of the conversations held day by day with friends, as “Dyson at tea, talk of ancient virtue, and respect for other men’s judgment;” “Tea at Barlow’s with Jardine, Stuart, Wolstencraft, and Holcroft: talk of self-love, sympathy, and perfectibility, individual and general;” “Sup at Nicholson’s, talk of ideal unity.”
Godwin saw much of his sister
Hannah in this year, much of Mrs and Miss Cooper; his brothers were not unfrequently his guests; but the only entries which are especially interesting are a few which shew how warmly he and his friends welcomed to England any one who represented the leaders of the Revolution in France. Thus—

“Sep. 6. Th. Dine at Holcroft’s avec Noel et le cousin de Danton, Merget.

“Oct 14. Su. Dine at Holcroft’s with Crosdil: adv.”—advenæ—“Merget, Danton junr et Pinard.

“Oct. 21. Su. Dine at Holcroft’s with Major Waller, Merget and Recordat; History of Danton.”

On Nov. 25 are the words, “Debating Society silenced,” which, taken with the political trials so soon to follow, make us wonder how Englishmen remained quiet while France rebelled.

Since Godwin came to London he had been living in various lodgings, the greater part of the time having one or two persons to share his chambers—the boys Willis Webb, and Cooper, and often his friend Marshal. In the next year he took a house to himself, and in a district where he could be more free from interruptions. As this year was therefore in a degree the end of his nomad existence, a note may be inserted from among his papers giving the various changes of abode.

“Holborn, Apl. 1782. “Newman St., June 1786.
“Beaconsfield, Dec. “Berkeley St., Sep.
“Porter St., Aug. 1783. “Norfolk St., Mar. 1787.
“Strand, Sep. “Guildford, June 1788.
“Norfolk St., Dec. 1784. “Marylebone St., Sep.
“Tavistock Row, Mar. 1785. “Titchfield St., Dec 1790.
“Broad St., June “39 Devonshire St., 1792.”

Mrs Inchbald, whose more intimate friendship and correspondence with Godwin began in 1792, was the well-known authoress of “The Simple Story.” This was, as we have seen, criticised by Godwin; and the plot was in a measure altered in deference to his advice.

Mrs Shelley has left the following note relative to Mrs Inchbald:—


“She was one of a numerous family, orphaned of their father, whose mother had to struggle with poverty. She was exceedingly beautiful. The spirit of adventure natural in youth seems to have developed itself in her with unusual vigour, but it was joined by a certain saving grace of self-command and self-possession that bore her through nearly unharmed. She married early an actor, and went also on the stage. She was left a widow at the age of six-and-twenty, and from that time had to struggle alone with the world. She continued her career as an actress for some time under many disadvantages, an impediment in her speech preventing all hope of excellence, till at length her success as an author enabled her to retire from the stage.

“Nothing can be more singular and interesting than the picture of her life as given in her biography. Living in mean lodgings, dressed with an economy allied to penury, without connections, and alone, her beauty, her talents, and the charm of her manners gave her entrance into a delightful circle of society. Apt to fall in love, and desirous to marry, she continued single, because the men who loved and admired her were too worldly to take an actress and a poor author, however lovely and charming, for a wife. Her life was thus spent in an interchange of hardship and amusement, privation and luxury. Her character partook of the same contrast: fond of pleasure, she was prudent in her conduct; penurious in her personal expenditure, she was generous to others. Vain of her beauty, we are told that the gown she wore was not worth a shilling, it was so coarse and shabby. Very susceptible to the softer feelings, she could yet guard herself against passion; and though she might have been called a flirt, her character was unim-
peached. I have heard that a rival beauty of her day pettishly complained that when
Mrs Inchbald came into a room, and sat in a chair in the middle of it as was her wont, every man gathered round it, and it was vain for any other woman to attempt to gain attention. Godwin could not fail to admire her; she became and continued to be a favourite. Her talents, her beauty, her manners were all delightful to him. He used to describe her as a piquante mixture between a lady and a milkmaid, and added that Sheridan declared she was the only authoress whose society pleased him.”


One letter of Mrs Inchbald’s may here be given, the first apparently written by her to Godwin: it relates to her tragedy called “The Massacre,” which was never acted, but may be found in the Appendix to Boaden’s Memoirs of her Life.

Mrs Inchbald to William Godwin.
“3rd Nov. 1792.

Sir,—There is so much tenderness mixed with the justice of your criticism, that, while I submit to the greatest part of it as unanswerable, I feel anxious to exculpate myself in those points where I believe it is in my power.

“You accuse me of trusting to newspapers for my authority. I have no other authority (no more, I believe, has half England) for any occurrence which I do not see: it is by newspapers that I am told that the French are at present victorious; and I have no doubt but you will allow that (in this particular, at least) they speak truth.

“2ndly. There appears an inconsistency in my having said to you, ‘I have no view to any public good in this piece,’ and afterwards alluding to its preventing future massacres: to this I reply that it was your hinting to me that it might do harm which gave me the first idea that it might do good.

“3rdly. I do not shrink from Labour, but I shrink from ill-health, low spirits, disappointment, and a long train of evils which attend on Laborious Literary work. I was ten months, unceasingly,
finishing my
novel, notwithstanding the plan (such as you saw it) was formed, and many pages written. My health suffered much during this confinement, my spirits suffered more on publication; for though many gentlemen of the first abilities have said to me things high in its favour, it never was liked by those people who are the readers and consumers of novels; and I have frequently obtained more pecuniary advantage by ten days’ labour in the dramatic way than by the labour of this ten months.—Your very much obliged humble servant,

E. Inchbald.
Leicester Square, 24th.”

It does not appear that the letters by Godwin and Holcroft to Sheridan and Fox were printed, but the MS. copy is among the Godwin papers, as from “a well-known literary character.” The following paragraphs are noteworthy:—


“You would willingly promote the true interests and happiness of the human race. You would willingly enrol your name with the benefactors of mankind, or, which is still better, would rejoice in the extension of justice, though your efforts in promoting that extension should never be acknowledged. Can you really think that the new constitution of France is the most glorious fabric ever raised by human integrity since the creation of man, and yet believe that what is good there would be bad here? Does truth alter its nature by crossing the Straits, and become falsehood? Are men entitled to perfect equality in France, and is it just to deprive them of it in England? Did the French do well in extinguishing nobility, and is it right that we should preserve hereditary honours? Or are these questions so very trifling in their nature, so uninteresting to the general weal, that it is no matter which side of them we embrace? If you speak out you must be contented to undergo a temporary proscription. That proscription you at present suffer, and the period of the obloquy which the true friend to mankind must endure will be very short. Had you rather be indebted for your eminence to the caprice of a monarch than to the voice of a whole nation, accumulating its gratitude on
the head of the general benefactor? Had you rather have the nominal possession of power, with your hands free for the purposes of corruption, but chained up from the exertion of every virtuous effort, than have the real possession of power, able to make every act of your administration a blessing to Britain, to Europe, and to mankind.”




“Liberty strips hereditary honours of their imaginary splendour, shows the noble and the king for what they are—common mortals, kept in ignorance of what other mortals know, flattered and encouraged in folly and vice, and deprived of those stimulations which perpetually goad the hero and the philosopher to the acquisition of excellence. Liberty leaves nothing to be admired but talents and virtue, the very things which it is the interest of men like you should be preferred to all the rest. Pursue this subject to its proper extent, and you will find that—give to a state but liberty enough, and it is impossible that vice should exist in it”


This sweeping, and somewhat astounding statement, proves the excess of Godwin’s enthusiasm on the subject of political liberty. Mrs Shelley writes with respect to the passage just quoted:—


“It may seem strange that any one should, in the sincerity of his heart, believe that no vice could co-exist with perfect freedom —but my father did—it was the very basis of his system, the very keystone of the arch of justice, by which he desired to knit together the whole human family. It must be remembered, however, that no man was a more strenuous advocate for the slow operation of change, no one more entirely impressed with the feeling that opinions should be in advance of action. Perhaps even to a faulty degree he desired that nothing should be done but by the majority, while he ardently sought for every means of causing the majority to espouse the better side.”