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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. V. 1802-1803

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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We have now entered on a period of which the interest mainly depends on the correspondence which has been preserved. The life which Godwin led was singularly barren of events; his opinions and his habits were stereotyped. It is true that he made new friends, and there are constant indications that many persons, especially young and enthusiastic men, sat at his feet and gained from him kindliest counsel in difficulties mental and other. But he had ceased to throw himself eagerly into the questions of the day, and the stern need of winning his bread forced him more and more to such literary work as would pay. That his views were unchanged, however, is clear from an interesting letter to him from his friend Fell, whom he had reproached for apparent untruth to the principles of the French Revolution. Fell says that he had denounced the excesses of Robespierre and Marat, while admitting the excellence of that for which they had originally contended. Godwin’s position seems to have been that the work was so good, and the principles so true, that to remark the crimes, however gross, of individuals, is to seek for specks on the sun. Whatever may be thought of the argument, it is evidence that Godwin in no degree shrunk from the views of his youth, or from carrying them out to what he considered their legitimate conclusion.


He took much trouble during 1802 in endeavouring to gain Charles Clairmont admission into Christ Hospital, which is another evidence of the pressure of money difficulties. He was now in the receipt of a very small income arising from the rents of ten houses in Primrose Street—No. 11 to 21—the property of the Wollstonecraft family, ‘and divided between the survivors, or their legal representatives. All else depended on his own exertions.

The diaries show no change; the same names recur as formerly, the same old friends and some new ones—but with this meaning change that fewer seek him than in earlier years. His visits are made in increasing proportion to them. The old acquaintances did not like Mrs Godwin, and she did not like them; she was a harsh stepmother, whom his children feared. She had strong views, in which many would agree, that each child should be educated to some definite duties, and with a view of filling some useful place in life; but this arrangement soon had at least a show of partiality. It was found that Jane Clairmont’s mission in life, according to her mother’s view, was to have all the education and even accomplishments which their slender means would admit, and more than they would admit; while household drudgery was from an early age discovered to be the life-work of Fanny and Mary Godwin. That Mary Shelley was afterwards a worthy intellectual companion to Shelley is in no degree due to Mrs Godwin, and little to her father’s direct teaching. All the education she had up to the time when she linked her fate with Shelley’s was self-gained; the merits of such a work as “Frankenstein” were her own, the faults were those of her home training.

There is indeed one fact recorded in the Diary, in the usual curt way, of which it would be interesting to know further particulars. On March 2d Godwin visited Lord
Lauderdale, and met there, also as a casual caller, the Prince of Wales, accompanied by Lord R. Spencer and R. Adair. Godwin had dined with Horne Tooke the night before, and all the other names which occur in the Diary at and about the same time are those of men of opinions congenial to his own. We should like to know how Godwin made his reverence to the Prince, whose training and character he had held up to such scorn in “Political Justice;” and how the Prince—who could, when he pleased, seem to be a gentleman—treated the philosopher.

Holcroft’s letter, which begins the year, may at once be followed by the rest of those which he and Lady Mountcashel wrote to Godwin, that the whole story may be told at once. We are not now personally interested in the misunderstandings between a lady and her governess, but the strong feeling on political questions is too characteristic of the time to be omitted.

The Loir and Marmot mentioned in the letters were for Sir Anthony Carlisle, who was at this time deeply engaged in researches in comparative anatomy.

Thomas Holcroft to William Godwin.
Paris, Rue De Lille, Jan. 1, 1802.

“I cannot write a word of business till I have first spoken of the information in your letter, which excited infinitely the most emotion. You are by this time married. I would say something that should convey my feelings: but what are common-place expressions of wishing you joy, hoping you may be happy, or pretending to moralize on a subject which depends so almost entirely on the feelings of the parties. There is not anything on earth so requisite, as well to the every-day, as to the exquisite, happiness of man, as the love and friendship of woman. I know you deserve
the love and friendship of the whole earth, and I think you better calculated to find it in a married life than perhaps any man with whom I am acquainted. With the same ardent desire to practice and to create virtue, which I attribute to myself, you have more forbearance. I do not know
Mrs Godwin, but I have great reliance on your discrimination. As the beginning of future friendship, speak of me, Louisa and Fanny, to her as kindly as your conscience will permit. The time, I hope, will come for us to realize the promises you shall make in our name.

“I have received the bill for £266, 6s. Would you were a man of business as well as a poet. I requested you not to send me the money, but a letter of credit. It might have saved me £8 or £10. I lose now on the whole £16, 8s. 0d. This is a trifle. . . .

“I shall do my utmost to procure books. I begin to have doubts of my securing the work of Madam de Stael. . . . I would by no means libel a nation: but the habits and manners of the people are such, that a promise is frequently here nothing better than warm breath. I have had a quarrel on the subject, still I am not without hopes. When I say a quarrel, you know with what caution and desire of doing right I conduct my quarrels. . . . I think I understand, permit me the expression, the whole history of Le Voyageur. You shall have it with the first parcel, but I think, for Madam de Genlis, it is sad trash. This lady lives at Versailles: distance and bad weather prevented a visit; and Lady Mountcashel gave the letter to me, which has been duly sent. Mr Marshal has not answered my question concerning books of science, agriculture, the fine arts, &c.

“You enquired of S. concerning Fanny’s marriage. The young man is not what his letters appeared to paint him. I forbear to say more, except that Fanny behaves like an angel, I give you this under my own hand, and, as I can well perceive, feels no regret. She is strongly invited to assist Lady Mountcashel in the education of her daughters: and we sincerely wish you were here to help us to consider the question and to decide. Nothing but the utmost independence will be suffered, nor, I believe, will anything else be offered. Lady M. is a woman of uncommon powers of
mind, and with respect to little failings, charity to ourselves will teach us toleration: those I have hitherto discovered certainly are not great. If
Tuthil be not in London, I request you will write to him to say how earnestly we desire to show that our feelings and affections are still the same.

T. Holcroft.”
Thomas Holcroft to William Godwin.
Paris, Feb. 17, 1802.

“The devil of misfortune is everlastingly at my heels. I wrote to you on the 2d, informing you of having sent an opera already performed. This was severe enough, but it was little to the present. Doubtless you have read or heard of a paragraph in the Times, Jan. 26th, warning Englishmen in Paris against me as a spy. A few days ago, being at Lord Mountcashel’s on one of his public nights, Lady Mountcashel, after great civility, and placing my daughter at the pianoforte to play and sing, with praises, compliments, and every apparent satisfaction, put a letter into my hand at going away, to inform me that Lord Mountcashel, having been so repeatedly warned against me as a democrat tried for high treason, domestic peace required her to part with my daughter. I immediately sent for Fanny home; and these circumstances have been followed by several letters and one conversation. The first I wrote is the enclosed, which it appears to be necessary you should read. You will then send it to its address, that it may immediately be published, unless, which I think impossible, you see it to be unjust. Lady Mountcashel is averse to the publication, for Lord M. (and perhaps even she herself) is averse to see his name joined to mine. She first argued; and since, in order to deter me, has been guilty of unpardonable injustice, that of threatening to publish to the world that my being a democrat was not the only reason, but that she was obliged to part with Fanny because of “an uncultivation of understanding, a want of polish of mind, and (observe the phrase) an entire absence of those numerous little delicacies easier to be imagined than expressed.” Lady M. is a woman of great understanding: she never once spoke to Fanny during her residence with dissatisfaction or blame,
but with repeated praise, to herself, to me, and others: she never thought proper to warn her, or give her any serious advice, yet suddenly at this critical moment she makes a charge as unqualified as it is exaggerated. I have written proper answers to her, as I hope, should she publish her letters, mine will also appear, and it will be seen whether the Peeress or the Poet are the most noble. If I do her wrong, it will be unintentional; but her threats have only fortified me in what I think the just resolution to publish the enclosed. I must write to
Foulkes to commence an action against the Times, if an action will lie, as I have little doubt that it will, though my name is not mentioned.

“During summer the Loir is easily found, but not in winter, when it burrows and hides: various unsuccessful efforts have been made, but I still hope to procure one soon. The vile marmotte has scratched half through, and in part spoiled Fanny’s favourite symphonies by Haydn; besides disturbing us at night, and again unbottoming and spoiling chairs. It almost excites the unfeeling wish of seeing it under the knife of Carlisle.

“Have you received the books? Will they answer the purpose? This I ought to know.

“I lost nearly a fortnight on the opera; and before my mind was again thoroughly in train for my Travels, this second wretched interruption came. With my young children round me, a mind thus distracted, and spirits thus worn and preyed upon, should you wonder if I felt moments of despair? I am indeed of iron, for they come but seldom. Every blessing on you and Mrs Godwin. Shall we see her? Louisa and Fanny will treat her very kindly. Mr Manning called yesterday, and desired the following message to be sent to you: ‘Mr Manning is desired by Mr Cunningham to request Mr Godwin to return the books he has from Caius College Library as soon as possible.’

Tuthil and Maclean, the only persons consulted, are both of opinion that what I send should be published. I have shewn Tuthil the whole correspondence, and his feelings coincide with mine: he thinks the attack on Fanny a mean artifice, to say the least.

T. Holcroft.

“I wish you to recollect that my intercourse with the family of Mountcashel was courted; that I was pressed to suffer Fanny to undertake this charge; that there is nothing in the letter I send for publication that ought to wound the feelings of the family, after I had been so courted and pressed, unless it be the reason given by them for breaking off intercourse; and that it is absolutely necessary I should defend myself, as well against the attempts to exclude me from society, as the wicked charge of being a spy. Your conviction, therefore, must certainly be very strong, if it should induce you to suspend the publication.”

Lady Mountcashel to William Godwin.
Paris, February 21, 1802.

Dear Sir,—I am very much concerned at being obliged to trouble you on a subject which has lately occasioned me some uneasiness, and on which I must request your kind assistance. Before I left London, you were so good as to give me letters of introduction to two persons here with whom you thought I should like to be acquainted. In a very few days after my arrival I sent that which was addressed to Mr Holcroft, who immediately called on me, and has been since that time (till within this last fortnight) one of our constant visitors. I met him with prejudices in his favour, the result of his political opinions, his literary pursuits, and your friendship for him. His conversation at first pleased me, as it appeared to be rational and moral, and the great affection which he expressed for his wife and children interested me in regard to both him and them. I am too apt to form favourable opinions precipitately, and it was unfortunately the case in this instance. I thought so well of Mr Holcroft after a fortnight’s acquaintance, that I asked his advice respecting a governess for my daughters, thinking it probable that he might know of some English or French woman in Paris who might be qualified for such a situation. He said he knew of but one person whom he could recommend as being perfectly calculated for such a trust; that this person was his daughter, but that he did not believe that it would be possible for her to undertake it. However, he gave me some hopes; in
short, in about a month after
Miss Holcroft (whom I had only seen about four times) came here on trial (the agreement being that if either party found reason to disapprove of the arrangement, she was immediately to return home) as governess to my daughters, with a salary of £60 a-year.

“She had been represented to me as being extremely well educated and highly accomplished, deficient in nothing except those exterior trifles respecting manner which proceed from knowledge of the world, and an intercourse with polished society. Imagine my disappointment at finding her a frivolous, romantic girl, with an uncultivated mind, a character devoid of delicacy, a total want of method, order, and discretion; in short, with nothing to recommend her but a clumsy goodness of heart, a sweet temper, and her accomplishments, which consist of music, and of some of the modern languages. Of all persons I have ever met with, she is the most unfit to be entrusted with the education of youth; and had my daughters been a very few days older than they are, I could not have suffered them to remain with her for even so short a time as three weeks. In a very few days after the arrival of Miss Holcroft, Lord Mountcashel was informed by some officious persons who had seen Mr Holcroft here that he had been tried for high treason, and that he and some other of my acquaintance were notorious English democrats, whom it would be prudent for loyal British subjects to avoid. This was about the 23d or 24th of January.

Lord Mountcashel informed me of it some days afterwards as a thing very disagreeable to him, saying that he was extremely sorry I had brought Miss Holcroft into the house, and wished her to be removed from it as soon as possible; and on finding that the more I knew of her the less I approved of her as a governess for my children, I determined to avail myself of this prejudice of Lord Mountcashel to dismiss her in a delicate manner, without hurting the feelings of either father or daughter. I therefore wrote Mr Holcroft a letter (a copy of which I will send you), in which I suppressed a part of the truth, and only mentioned one of the causes of her dismission. Mr H. immediately sent for his
daughter, declared that her removal was occasioned by a paragraph in a newspaper, and informed me in a long letter that he should publish it to the world. I called at his house to explain his mistake, to assure him that Lord Mountcashel had never heard that there was such a paragraph until he mentioned it, to tell him that I thought he would act imprudently in publishing the circumstance of his daughter’s residence (of not quite three weeks) in my family, and to request that he would not obtrude a private transaction, which concerned me, on the public eye. I was much surprised at discovering in this interview, that the man whom I had supposed to be mild, moderate, and rational, was selfish, violent, and self-sufficient: beyond the power of cool argument, and utterly regardless of the feelings of any person but himself. He, however, promised to reconsider the matter, and inform me of his determination. The next day I received a letter, in which he declared the intention of adhering to his resolution, and I was thus laid under the disagreeable necessity of acquainting him with all the causes which occasioned the removal of his daughter. The copies of his answer and all other letters concerning this affair shall be conveyed to you by a friend of yours, who leaves Paris in a few days, and who can inform you of all the circumstances relative to this business; which (however I may dislike having my name absurdly forced on public notice) would give me very little uneasiness, were it not on account of the displeasure of Lord Mountcashel, who barely tolerated Mr Holcroft’s visits, and latterly had taken a complete dislike to the man, totally distinct from any political prejudice. The favour I have to request from you is, that if Mr Holcroft has sent any paper on this subject to you for publication, you will have the goodness to defer obtruding on the world what I positively assert to be an absolute falsehood, until you have heard the circumstances related by a very rational friend of yours, who will see you in a few days.

“With a thousand good wishes for your little girls, and all the rest of your family, I remain, dear Sir, with great respect and esteem, yours very sincerely,

M. J. Mountcashel.”
Thomas Holcroft to William Godwin.
Paris, March 1, 1802.

“Your last was dated Jan. 29. I have since written February 2d and 16th, and am anxious for your answer. S. will deliver you the Marmot. No price (for I offered any that should be asked) could obtain the Loir. In two months I suppose it may be had for five shillings. I sent, and went again and again, but all in vain. A bird man told me he had one, but that it disappeared on the approach of winter, having previously done him much mischief by killing his birds. Assure Mr Carlisle that my zeal to oblige him was great, and that I am heartily vexed at my failure.

T. Holcroft.”
The Same to the Same.
Paris, March 20, 1802.

“I have seen Madame de Stael, and she has promised me her novel, volume by volume, but she is anxious to be well translated, and asks more questions than I can answer concerning the former translations of Mr Marshal. I dare not cite the Ruins, because Volney complains much of his English dress. Recapitulate to me what Mr Marshal has translated. . . . I hope that the Marmot, and the voyage dans le Crimée with their bringer are all safe, of which I am anxious to hear.

T. Holcroft.”
The Same to the Same.
Paris, May 2, 1802.

“A few days ago I a second time dined with Madame de Stael, who told me it will still be some months before her novel will appear, and that I should have it for my friend, volume by volume, on the strict and absolute condition (to which I pledged myself) that no person except the translator should read it in this partial manner. I interceded for you and myself, but she positively refused: alleging, and, indeed, very justly, that the effect intended to be produced in any work was spoiled by such partial reading. Having entered into this engagement with her, Mr Marshal will, of course, think himself bound to its strict observance. . .

T. Holcroft.”

Dr Wolcot, from whom is the next letter, was better known as Peter Pindar. He was a Devonshire physician and artist, born in 1738, and in this latter capacity was the instructor of Opie, through whom, no doubt, began his intimacy with Godwin. Some years before the present date, he had given up the practice of medicine, and become a poetical critic of Royal Academicians, under his assumed name. His satirical Poems, of various degrees of power and scurrility, were much read in their day, and are now not quite deservedly forgotten. Dr Wolcot became blind, and died in 1819.

J. Wolcot to William Godwin.
Camden Town, Jan. 8, 1802.

My dear Sir,—Most willingly would I join your philosophic party at the Polygon, but Death on Sunday last sent one of his damned young brats to attack me in bed at Lord Nelson’s at Merton. Inspired with a little of his Lordship’s courage, I fired away at him flannel, brandy, hot bricks, and red-hot coals, which, by the blessing of God (on whom you most devoutly believe), overcame him, and I am now at Camden Town, singing Te Deum for the victory. Though I have not gained the laurels of Aboukir, I have (as Marshal Boufflers said of his troops) ‘performed wonders.’

“To descend from lofty metaphor to humble prose, I have been plagued with my asthma for nearly a week past, and have flown to Camden Town to recover. Here I am at Delaney Place, No. 7, with a fiddle and a good fire, the one a balm for the mind, and the other for the body.—I am, truly yours,

J. Wolcot.

P.S.—The instant I can with safety crawl forth, I will peep in upon you. Report says you are married again. Fortunate man! Forty years have I been trying to get my tail into the trap and have not succeeded. What a monkey!”

The letter to Mr Cole, which follows, is one of a large number written by Godwin in answer to questions on every
conceivable subject. The advice given is so wholesome, and the letter so good that it is given, though the reaction against such books as are here assailed has set in, and carried the day.

William Godwin to William Cole.
March 2, 1802.

Sir,—Your question is much too copious to admit of being properly answered in an extemporary letter, and it may happen that my opinions upon some parts of the subject are so singular that they can stand little chance of obtaining your approbation without a further explanation than I can here give. I will, however, give you a proof of my willingness to oblige you on this point by giving you such an answer as I can.

“You enquire respecting the books I think best adapted for the education of female children from the age of two to twelve. I can answer you best on the early part of the subject, because in that I have made the most experiments; and in that part I should make no difference between children male and female.

“I have no difficulty in the initiatory part of the business. I think Mrs Barbauld’s little books, four in number, admirably adapted, upon the whole, to the capacity and amusement of young children. I have seen another little book in two volumes, printed for Newbury, entitled ‘The Infants’ Friend, by Mrs Lovechild,’ which I think might, without impropriety, accompany or follow Mrs Barbauld’s books.

“I am most peremptorily of opinion against putting children extremely forward. If they desire it themselves, I would not baulk them, for I love to attend to these unsophisticated indications. But otherwise, Festina lente is my maxim in education. I think the worst consequences flow from overloading the faculties of children, and a forced maturity. We should always remember that the object of education is the future man or woman; and it is a miserable vanity that would sacrifice the wholesome and gradual development of the mind to the desire of exhibiting little monsters of curiosity.


“As far as Mrs Barbauld’s books I have no difficulty. But here my judgment and the ruling passion of my contemporaries divide. They aim at cultivating one faculty, I should aim at cultivating another. A whimsical illustration of this occurred to me the other day in a silly bookseller, who was observing to me what a delightful book for children might be made, to be called ‘A Tour through Papa’s House.’ The object of this book was to explain all the furniture, how carpets were made, the history and manufacture of iron, &c., &c. He was perfectly right: this is exactly the sort of writing for children which has lately been in fashion.

“These people, as I have said, aim at cultivating one faculty, and I another. I hold that a man is not an atom less a man, if he lives and dies without the knowledge they are so desirous of accumulating in the heads of children. Add to which, these things may be learned at any age, while the imagination, the faculty for which I declare, if cultivated at all, must be begun with in youth. Without imagination there can be no genuine ardour in any pursuit, or for any acquisition, and without imagination there can be no genuine morality, no profound feeling of other men’s sorrow, no ardent and persevering anxiety for their interests. This is the faculty which makes the man, and not the miserable minutenesses of detail about which the present age is so uneasy. Nor is it the only misfortune that these minutenesses engross the attention of children: I would proscribe them from any early share, and would maintain that they freeze up the soul, and give a premature taste for clearness and exactness, which is of the most pernicious consequence.

“I will put down the names of a few books, calculated to excite the imagination, and at the same time quicken the apprehensions of children. The best I know is a little French book, entitled ‘Contes de ma Mere, or Tales of Mother Goose.’ I should also recommend ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ ‘Fortunatus,’ and a story of a Queen and a Country Maid in Fenelon’sDialogues of the Dead.’ Your own memory will easily suggest to you others which would carry on this train, such as ‘Valentine and Orson,’
The Seven Champions of Christendom,’ ‘Les Contes de Madame Darmon,’ ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ if weeded of its method, ism, and the ‘Arabian Nights.’ I would undoubtedly introduce before twelve years of age some smattering of geography, history, and the other sciences; but it is the train of reading I have here mentioned which I should principally depend upon for generating an active mind and a warm heart.—I am, Sir, yours, &c.,

W. Godwin.”

It has been said that Godwin’s second marriage was not a happy one, and ample proof of this will hereafter appear. Meanwhile, the only letter to his wife preserved for 1802, written during a visit to Norfolk, shows Godwin still under an illusion, which faded abruptly in the following year. But in the letters to his friends, is evidence that his natural loneliness was greatly increased. This came, no doubt, partly from increasing pecuniary embarrassment, but probably also from the want of comfort and perfect union at home, which affected him even before the existence of it was quite evident to himself.

William Godwin to Mrs Godwin.
East Bradenham, May 6, 1802.

My Dearest Love,—I am extremely sorry—but no: I will not say that.

“I am at this moment (twelve o’clock, Tuesday) under my brother’s roof at East Bradenham. I found two conveyances from Swaffham to this place, when I expected none. Mr Sturley, the cabinetmaker, my brother’s wife’s brother-in-law, kindly offered to bring me on in his taxed cart (a thing very little different from an open chaise), and when we were a mile on the road, my brother met me with a similar intention. Thus circumstanced, however, Mr Sturley did not turn back, and will therefore form one of our party at the dinner which is on the spit.


“For God’s sake, write to me often, and especially if you have any good news to communicate. I had some thoughts extremely deject and wretched last night on the road near Puckeridge (for that was the road we took, and supped at Cambridge), but as morning approached, and promised a beautiful day, these thoughts were dissipated.

“I should not have troubled you with a letter to-day (I am extremely stupid, owing to having travelled all night) were it not that, in my hurry, and exceeding anxiety to forget nothing, I forgot the letter to Mr Norman, which I left open on the table. Pray, seal and despatch it without delay. Something else also I forgot, which recurred to me in the darkness of the night, but I cannot now recollect it. I know that it belongs to something in. one of the brown paper parcels which I left on the green table. One of these parcels consists of Christmas bills, and the other contains papers of various sorts, which I put together thus that they might come to my hand with more facility at my return. Open everything, but leave, as nearly as possible, as you find.

“I set out to-morrow morning for Dalling upon a horse of my brother’s. What I am to do, and what course the thing will take, I know not, but I will do the best I can. Of course, I can give no account of my motions till I have let down my fathom-line, and sounded the bottom.

“God for ever bless you, and for your sake and the sake of those you love, bless me too!”

Charles Lamb to Mrs Godwin.

Dear Mrs G.,—Having observed with some concern that Mr Godwin is a little fastidious in what he eats for supper, I herewith beg to present his palate with a piece of dried salmon. I am assured it is the best that swims in Trent. If you do not know how to dress it, allow me to add, that it should be cut in thin slices and boiled in paper previously prepared in butter. Wishing it exquisite, I remain,—Much as before, yours sincerely,

C. Lamb.

“Some add mashed potatoes.”