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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. V. 1783-1794
William Godwin, Unpublished letter to The Morning Chronicle [3 March 1794]

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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“‘Sir,—The situation in which Messieurs Muir and Palmer are at this moment placed is sufficiently known within a certain circle, but is by no means sufficiently adverted to by the public at large. Give me leave, through the channel of your paper, to call their attention to it.

“‘All the consolations of civilized society are pertinaciously refused to them. Property, whether originally their own or the gift of their friends, is to be rendered useless. Supplies of clothing, it seems, have been graciously received on board the vessels; but stores of every kind and books have constantly been denied admission. The principle which has been laid down again and again by the officers of Government is—they are felons like the rest,

“‘This, sir, is a species of punishment scarcely precedented in the annals of mankind. Tiberius, and his modern antitype, Joseph the Second, are mere novices in the arts of cruelty compared with our blessed administration. Joseph took judges from the bench, men accustomed to reflection, to deference and elegant gratification, and made them scavengers in the streets of Vienna. Mr Pitt probably took the hint from this example. But he has refined upon his model, inasmuch as he has sent the victims of his atrocious despotism out of the country. If I must suffer under the barbarian hand of power, at least let me suffer in the face of day. Let me have this satisfaction, that my countrymen may look on and observe my disgrace. Let them learn a great lesson from my suffering. It is for them to decide whether it shall be a lesson of aversion to my guilt, or abhorrence against my punisher.
On that condition, I will stand on their pillories, and sweep their streets with satisfaction and content. But to shut me up in dungeons and darkness, or to transport me to the other side of the globe, that they may wreak their vengeance on me unobserved, is base, coward-like, and infamous.

“‘Perhaps, Mr Editor, I may be told that, in holding up these proceedings to the indignation of my countrymen, I am guilty of sedition. You know, sir, that there is not in the Island of Great Britain a more strenuous advocate for peaceableness and forbearance than I am. But I will not be the partaker of their secrets of State. What they dare to perpetrate, I dare to tell. Do they not every day assure us that the great use of punishment is example, to deter others from incurring the like offence? And yet they delight to inflict severities upon these men in a corner, which they tremble to have exposed in the eyes of the world. I join issue with administration on this point: I, too, would have the punishment of Messieurs Muir and Palmer serve for an example. Sir, there are examples to imitate and examples to avoid.

“‘Mr Dundas told Mr Sheridan, when that gentleman applied to him officially upon this subject a few months ago, that he saw no great hardship in a man’s being sent to Botany Bay. Observe that in this sentence, as now appears, is meant to be included an exclusion from all the means of intellectual pleasure and improvement, a reduction of men of taste and letters to the condition of galley-slaves. I can readily believe that to a man so obdurate in feeling and unhumanised in manners as Mr Dundas, a privation of the sources of intellectual pleasure may appear no hardship. Let me appeal, then, to Mr Burke. Who knows so well as he what is due to elegance of education, delicacy of manners, and refinement in literature? Who has declaimed so powerfully against those systems, by which all classes of society are confounded together, and all that is venerable for antiquity, lovely in cultivation, and elevated by imagination and genius, is overwhelmed by the iron hand of a barbarous usurpation? Never was the principle of taking lessons from an enemy so extensively adopted as at present. We declaim against the French, and we
imitate them in their most horrible atrocities. Administration is desirous of conducting themselves with respect to Messieurs
Muir and Palmer as the Germans have acted towards M. de la Fayette, who, we are told, in consequence of the rigours he has endured, is reduced to the state of an idiot.

“‘And who are the men that are destined to this treatment, that are to be considered as felons like the rest? I hear the moderate and respectable friends of Government perpetually confessing that they are men of excellent character and irreproachable manners. What is it by which they have incurred this punishment? I learn from the same quarter that it is by an ill-directed zeal for what they thought a good cause. I agree to that statement; I think they did wrong. Let us suppose that for that wrong, that well-meant but improper zeal, they ought to be punished. In what manner punished? Not, sir, as if they were felons. A mild and temperate punishment might, for aught I know, have operated upon others to induce them to act with more becoming deliberation. But a punishment that exceeds all measure and mocks at all justice, that listens, to no sentiment but revenge, and plays the volunteer in insolence and cruelty—a punishment the purpose of which is to inflict on such men slavery, degradation of soul, a lingering decay and final imbecility—can do nothing but exasperate men’s minds, and wind up their nerves to decisive action.

“‘You will perceive, sir, that in this letter I have entered into no comment upon the justice of the sentence of the Court of Session, and that the baseness of which I complain belongs exclusively to the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the rest of the Cabinet junto.’