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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. IX. 1797
William Godwin to Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, 15 June 1797

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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Produced by CATH
June 15, 1797.

“We are now at The George in the Tree, 10 miles north from Warwick. We set out from Etruria, as we purposed, at 5 a.m., Tuesday, June 13. We bent our course for Derby, being furnished with a letter of introduction to Dr Darwin, and purposing to obtain from him a further letter of introduction to Mr Bage, of Tamworth, author of ‘Man as He is,’ and ‘Hermsprong.’ Did we not well? Are not such men as much worth visiting as palaces, towns, and cathedrals? Our first stage was Uttoxeter, commonly called Utchester, 19 miles. Here we breakfasted. Our next stage was Derby, where we arrived at two o’clock. At this place, though sentimental travellers, we were for once unfortunate. Dr Darwin was gone to Shrewsbury, and not expected back till Wednesday night. At this moment I feel mortified at the recollection. We concluded that this was longer than we could with propriety wait for him. I believe we were wrong. So extraordinary a man, so truly a phenomenon as we should probably have found him, I think we ought not to have scrupled the sacrifice of 36 hours. He is 67 years of age, though as young as Ganymede; and I am so little of a traveller, that I fear I shall not again have the opportunity I have parted with. We paid our respects, however, to his wife, who is still a fine woman, and cannot be more than 50. She is perfectly unembarrassed, and tolerably well bred. She seemed, however, to me to put an improper construction on our visit, said she supposed we were come to
see the lions, and that Dr Darwin was the great lion of Derbyshire. We asked of her a letter to Mr Bage; but she said she could not do that with propriety, as she did not know whether she had ever seen him, though he was the Doctor’s very particular friend.

“Thus baffled in our object, we plucked up our courage, and determined to introduce ourselves to the author of ‘Hermsprong.’ We were able to cite our introduction to Dr Darwin by the Wedgwoods, and our intention of having procured a letter from the Doctor. Accordingly we proceeded from Derby to Burton-upon-Trent, 16 miles. This is a very handsome town, with a wide and long street, a beautiful river, and a bridge which Montagu said was the longest he ever saw in the world. Here we slept, and drank Burton ale at the spring, after a journey of 48 miles. The next morning, between six and seven, we set out for Tamworth, 15 miles. At Elford, 11 miles, we saw Mr Bage’s mills, and a house in which he lived for 40 years. His mills are for paper and flour. Here we enquired respecting him, and found that he had removed to Tamworth five years ago, upon the death of his younger son, by which event he found his life rendered solitary and melancholy. The people at the mill told us that he came three times a-week, walking from Tamworth, to the mill, four miles; that they expected him at eleven (it was now nine); and that, if we proceeded, we should meet him upon the road. They told us, as a guide, that he was a short man, with white hair, snuff-coloured clothes, and a walking-stick. He is 67 years old, exactly the same age as Dr Darwin. Accordingly, about a mile and a half from Tamworth, we met the man of whom we were in quest, with a book in his hand. We introduced ourselves, and, after a little conversation, I got out of the chaise, and walked back with him to the mill. This six or seven miles was very fortunate, and contributed greatly to our acquaintance. I found him uncommonly cheerful and placid, simple in his manners, and youthful in all his carriage. His house at the mill was floored, every room below-stairs, with brick, and like that of a common farmer in all respects. There was, however, the river at the
bottom of the garden, skirted with a quickset hedge, and a broad green walk. He told me his history.

“His father was a miller, as well as himself, and he was born at Derby. At twenty-two he removed to Elford. He had been acquainted forty years with Dr Darwin. The other acquaintances of his youth were Whitehurst, author of ‘The Theory of the Earth,’ and some other eminent man, whose name I forget. He taught himself French and Latin, in both of which languages he is a considerable proficient. In his youth he was fond of poetry; but, having some motive for the study of mathematics, he devoted his three hours an afternoon (the portion of time he allotted for reading) to this subject for twelve years, and this employment destroyed the eagerness of his attachment to poetry. In the middle of life, he engaged in a joint-undertaking with Dr Darwin and another person respecting some iron-works. This failed, and he returned once more to his village and to his mill. The result filled him with melancholy thoughts; and, to dissipate them, he formed the idea of a novel, which he endeavoured to fill with gay and cheerful ideas. At first he had no purpose of publishing what he wrote. Since that time he has been accustomed to produce a novel every two years, and ‘Hermsprong’ is his sixth. He believes he should not have written novels, but for want of books to assist him in any other literary undertaking. Living at Tamworth, he still retains his house at the mill, as the means of independence. It is his own, and he considers it as his security against the caprice or despotism of a landlord, who might expel him from Tamworth. He has thought much, and, like most of those persons I have met with who have conquered many prejudices and read little metaphysics, is a materialist. His favourite book on this point is the ‘Systeme de la Nature.’ We spent a most delightful day in his company. When we met him, I had taken no breakfast; and though we had set off from Burton that morning at six, and I spent the whole morning in riding and walking, I felt no inconvenience on waiting for food till our dinner time at two, I was so much interested with Mr Bage’s conversation.

“I am obliged to finish this letter somewhat abruptly, at the
house of
Dr Parr, where we arrived Thursday (yesterday) about noon, and found Mr and Mrs Wynn, but not the Doctor, he having thought proper to withdraw himself on their arrival. It is most probable we shall be in town to-morrow evening, but may possibly not arrive till Sunday.

“I should have added to the account of Mr Bage, that he never was in London for more than a week at a time, and very seldom more than 50 miles from his home. A very memorable instance, in my opinion, of great intellectual refinement, attained in the bosom of rusticity.

“Farewell. Salute William in my name. Perhaps you know how. Take care of yourself!—Tell Fanny that her mug and Lucas’s are hitherto quite safe. I hope I shall find that the green monkey has resumed his old station by the time of my return.”