This text was taken from William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries, Vol. 2 by C. Kegan Paul. Henry S. King and Co., London, 1876.
New Friends and New Troubles. 1819 — 1824.
Once more the pages of the Diary are thickly studded with the records of death. One whose acquaintance had been so varied and so numerous, presented a large band of friends to the attacks of the great divider. But the stoical calm after which Godwin had ever striven, deprives these records of anything like lament, or the pathos lies in obscure touches. One such is to be found in the entry under August 1, 1820 — " E. Inchbald dies, Suffield dies." His most intimate friends are described as Miss, Mrs, and the men simply by their names. Mrs Inchbald alone in these pages is mentioned as though he thought of her under the intimacy of a Christian name. Speculation is out of place in a biography, but it is almost impossible not to think that this death brought to Godwin a very keen pang. She was the woman whom once he had desired to make his wife, with whom he quarrelled for the sake of one he loved yet more, in whose grave the romance of his life was buried.
Two new acquaintances, who ripened into friends were, made by Godwin in 1819; the first being a young man, attracted, as so many others had been, to one whose writings had taught them so much. Mr Rosser's name occurs, as a most frequent guest in Godwin's house, and a companion in his walks, whenever the Cambridge vacations made it possible that they should be together. Once more the sympathy for the young, and the prudent advice for their career, which have been so manifest on former occasions, come out in the letters to Rosser which follow. They are not in strict order of time, but in a sequence which is not inappropriate.
Henry Blanch Rosser to William Godwin.
"Cambridge, March 14, 1819.
"I am introducing myself to the study of the Ancients with ardour. The more I know of them, the more I meditate on them, and weigh the meaning of every letter of their words, the more I love and honour them When I review past life, and look for the causes that have operated to mould me into what I am, I always recur to the time I first read 'Political Justice,' September 1815. I should not now be in Cambridge had 1 not read it How doubly fortunate then am I in the friendship of the man to whose book I, the world, owe so much. The ardour and enthusiasm it produced may have cooled, but the conviction of its truth has gathered strength. Nor do I forget, though I am forced to silence here, that my inclination and duty are combined in fostering and spreading the doctrines I adopt."
The Same to the Same.
"Cambridge, April 13,1819.
"I suppose, from what I have heard, that a majority of men here are miserable. Several causes may perhaps be assigned for this The solitude, to those who cannot find a resource in books and study, is insupportable; ennui and disgust seize their souls, and companions and dissipation cannot quiet them. Another species of solitude — no female society. . . . The disgusting monotony of the whole, and, with me at least, the constant attendance at chapel, and the dull, cold, miserable, sombre religious sound of the bell. Another cause, the wretched country. .... How great an advantage it would be if the University were situated in a romantic, mountainous country, with a 'matchless cataract,' a forest, a volcano, or the sea; some magnificent object of nature, or association of art. At the foot of the Alps, at Rome or Athens, or the Bay of Naples, or, as it must be in England, in the Peak, or the coast of Devon, or in Wales."
William Godwin to H. B. Rosser.
"March 7, 1820.
"Dear Rosser, — I do not like your last letter, and why should I not tell you so? You rejoice in having made a convert to Atheism. I think there is something unnatural in a zeal of proselytism in an Atheist . I do not believe in an intellectual God, a God made after the image of man. In the vulgar acceptation of the word, therefore, I think a man is right who does not believe in God, but I am also persuaded that a man is wrong who is without religion.
"But if a zeal in proselytism in such a cause might, under certain circumstances, be right, think how it shows in a young man conforming in all outward shows with the Church of England — regular in frequenting her worship, and even joining her in her most solemn act of communion. Do you think that this character looks well. Oh! shut up your thoughts on this subject for the present in your own mind. Do you think there is no danger of their growing too mature? Or would you be ashamed of reflecting deeply and patiently before you finally cease to reflect and examine in a question, which all mankind in all ages have agreed to regard as of the deepest importance?
"I am also displeased with your telling me of your letter "to Wooler, advising him to leave a question you think contemptible to the Whigs. Formerly I took some pains to convince you that the Whigs, as a party in the state, were of the highest value to the public welfare, and constituted the party to which a liberal-minded and enlightened man would adhere. My pains, I see, were thrown away. It is possible I was wrong. But was it necessary that you should go out of your way, and make an occasion to oppose me (I use the language of the world) with your contempt for my partialities?"
The Same to the Same.
"March 27, 1820
"I now as frankly say, I like your letter of the 24th inst. as that I disliked your letter of Feb. 23rd.
"My first feeling was that I must have been wrong in censuring its elder brother. But I went back to it, and there was still entire all that had offended me at first. You rejoiced in making an Atheist I saw no end to this. The man who is bitten with the zeal of proselytism hopes to make a convert at least three times a week. You say now, how could you help doing as you did? You were in solitude: had but one friend. To this I answer — it stands in your February letter — ' I need not add that Austen is of my faith. Bedingfield also, my old friend Bedingfield, is become an Atheist.'
"I look also to the passage about Wooler. There it stands, — pure, unmitigated, groundless contempt for the Whigs. As you express yourself now, you come so near to my sentiments that it is not worth disputing with you, and I have done.
"You seem not to know what I mean by religion. You ask whether I do not mean benevolence. No: I should be ashamed of such a juggle of words. The religious man, I apprehend, is, as Tom Warton phrases it in the title of one of his poems, 'An enthusiastic or a lover of nature.' I am an adorer of nature. I should pine to death if I did not live in the midst of so majestic a structure as I behold on every side. I am never weary of admiring and reverencing it. All that I see, the earth, the sea, the rivers, the trees, the clouds, animals, and, most of all, man, fills me with love and astonishment. My soul is full to bursting with the mystery of all this, and I love it the better for its mysteriousness. It is too wonderful for me; it is past finding out: but it is beyond expression delicious. This is what I call religion, and if it is the religion you loath you are not the man I took you for.
"You express yourself ready to burst with joy on the event of the Spanish Revolution. All that I have seen I like, and I am willing to anticipate all that is good from it. A revolution that gives representation, that gives freedom of the press, that sets open the door of the prison, and that abolishes the inquisition; and all this without bloodshed, must have the approbation of every liberal mind. But I- know too little respecting it. If it gives, as you say, universal suffrage, that is pain to my heart Without the spirit of prophecy, I can anticipate the most disastrous effects from that. England is not yet ripe for universal suffrage, and, as I have often said, if it were established here, the monarchy probably would not stand a year. Now the medicine that is too strong for the English nation, I can never believe will work well in Spain.
"I understand the picture you make of yourself. You begin to find yourself at home, and you can do comparatively very well without me. It is welL An old man is perpetually losing friends by death or otherwise, and he would be glad to keep some. But I also must do as well as I can. As Shakespeare says, ' Crabbed age and youth cannot live together.' It is of more importance that you should go on well, than that you should stand in need of me."
The other new friend was Lady Caroline Lamb. She was daughter of Lord Bessborough, and wife of William Lamb, afterwards Lord Melbourne. Lady Caroline died Jan. 25, 1828, before her husband succeeded to the title. Her literary powers were considerable, and her novel, "Glenalvon," is still remembered. Almost all the letters which passed between herself and Godwin have appeared worthy of preservation both for their intrinsic value, and as. the record of the last of Godwin's many friendships withT clever and remarkable women.
The Lady Caroline Lamb to William Godwin.
"Feb. 25, 1819.
"Lady Caroline Lamb presents her compliments to Mr Godwin, and fears his politics will incline him to refuse her request of his interest for Mr George Lamb. She hopes, however, it will not offend if she solicits it"
William Godwin to Lady C. Lamb.
"Feb. 25, 1819.
"My Dear Madam, — You have mistaken me. Mr G. Lamb has my sincere good wishes. My creed is a short one. I am in principle a Republican, but in practice a Whig.
"But I am a philosopher: that is, a person desirous to become wise, and I aim at that object by reading, by writing, and a little by conversation. But I do not mix in the business of the world, and I am now too old to alter my course, even at the flattering invitation of Lady Caroline Lamb."
Lady Caroline Lamb to William Godwin.
"Brocket, May 15, 1821.
"I cannot express to you how pleased I was to see your note, and how much I regret not being able to meet you upon the day you name, as I intend staying at Brocket Hall until June, to enjoy this most beautiful season of the year. I wish I could induce you to come here instead, if that is possible. I will send my carriage to Barnet to fetch you any day, but not jus't at present, when we shall be with people. Write and tell me all you would have said, or half, if you will not all. It shall be sacred unless you permit otherwise. I am impatient to know what you have been doing since the great work came out I read it, and admired it much. It is a more delightful and cheering view of this world than the other. I am no judge which is the truest. Pray tell me when you write (if you do) what you think of the ' Doge of Venice,' if you have read it, and also whether you are an admirer of Cobbett I LADY CAROUSE LAMB. 267
think he writes better to my fancy than almost any one. I hope you are well; are you happy? Pray honour me so far as to write me a longer letter than the last, for every word you write is to the purpose. Yours is a beautiful style. I believe the saying so to you is the repeating what has been said by everyone for years. Forgive me. I am too stupid and comfortable to think of anything new or nitty. — Believe me, however, with much interest and respect yours,
The Same to the Same
"Thank you for the book. Mr Lamb begs me to remind you of your promise, and as we shall be a week at Brocket, and your time is precious, choose the day which happens to be most convenient to you. Your room shall be always ready. We are, and shall be entirely alone until I have seen my dear father, who returns from Italy in May. A quiet day or two in the country may not displease you; and as I said before, a person with your mind can, I am sure, encounter all the dulness of a mere family party without fear. We shall be at Brocket after Sunday next, and until Monday shall continue there. You have only to choose a fine day, and let us know the night before. You will be sure to be welcome. — I am, with respect and truth, yours,
"-Melbourne House, Actually Four in the morning."
The Same to the Same
"You would not say, if you were here now, that nature had not done her best for us. Everything is looking beautiful, everything in bloom. It is impossible for me to come just yet to London, but I will if I live in June. Yet do not fancy that I am here in rude health, walking about, and being notable and bountiful I am like the wreck of a little boat, for I never come up to the sublime and beautiful — merely a little gay merry boat, which perhaps stranded itself at Vauxhall or London Bridge — or wounded without killing itself, as a butterfly does in a tallow candle. There is nothing marked, sentimental or interesting in my career. All I know is, that I was happy, well, rich, joyful, and surrounded by friends. I have now one faithful, kind friend in William Lamb, two others in my father and brother — but health, spirits, and all else is gone — gone how? Oh, assuredly not by the visitation of God, but slowly and gradually, by my own fault! You said you would like to see me and speak to me. I shall, if possible, be in town in a few days. When I come I will let you know. The last time I was in town I was on my bed three days, rode out and came off here on the 4 th.
"God preserve you. — Yours,
The other letters which belong to this period need but little elucidation. The stoicism which is so admirable when employed in repressing his own feelings, is less beautiful when used to condole with Mrs Shelley on the death of her child. It is fair to remark, however, that he is dealing with his daughter as he would have desired that men should deal with him had he given way to what, had he indulged it, he would have considered a blameable weakness.
William Godwin to W. Wallace.
"Skinner St., Sep. 3, 1819.
"My Dear Sir, — Will you forgive me if I say one word to you on the subject of the introduction with which you favoured me yesterday?
"There are two kinds of introductions, and I am unable to ascertain to which class your friend belongs. Otherwise one word would stand in the place of fifty.
"I am not yet so old but that I should be glad to add to the number of my acquaintance, any man from whom I was likely to obtain profit or pleasure. But to be such a man, Hamlet says, 'as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.'"
"Now, if your friend is not such a man (will you excuse me ?) my time is too precious, and I have too few days left in my little span of life to wish to increase my acquaintance without some absolute gain. I desire no more than that you would examine yourself and enquire whether he is a man whose intercourse would afford me reasonable delight, you cannot bring him too soon, and I shall hold myself your debtor. If he is not, put him off for this time. — Sincerely and thankfully yours,
William Godwin to Mrs Shelley.
"Skinner St., Sep. 9, 1819.
"My Dear Mary, — Your letter of August 19 is very grievous to me, inasmuch as you represent me as increasing the degree of your uneasiness and depression.
"You. must, however, allow me the privilege of a father, and a philosopher, in expostulating with you on this depression. I cannot but consider it as lowering your character in a memorable degree, and putting you quite among the commonality and mob of your sex, when I had thought I saw in you symptoms entitling you to be ranked among those noble spirits that do honour to our nature. What a falling off is here! How bitterly is so inglorious a change to be deplored!
"What is it you want that you have not? You have the husband of your choice, to whom you seem to be unalterably attached, a man of high intellectual attainments, whatever I, and some other persons, may think of his morality, and the defects under this last head, if they be not (as you seem to think) imaginary, at least do not operate as towards you. You have all the goods of fortune, all the means of being useful to others, and shining in your proper sphere. But you have lost a child: and all the rest of the world, all that is beautiful, and all that has a claim upon your kindness, is nothing, because a child of two years old is dead.
"The human species may be divided into two great classes: those who lean on others for support, and those who are qualified to support of these last, some have one, some five, and some ten
MISSING ALL OF PAGE 270
intellectual exertion in the human mind has its limits. 'Political Justice' was published in 1793, and 'Caleb Williams' in 1794. 'St Leon' did not come till 1799, 'Chaucer' in 1803, and 'Fleetwood' in 1805. My mind then felt exhausted; I could no longer pursue unintermittedly the same course; or if I had it would have been ineffectively and with aversion.
"Blessed, therefore, and thrice blessed was the interval which enabled me to renew my strength! I did not begin 'Mandeville' till 1816, and I have ever since felt that I have gained a new tenancy of my intellectual life. I write and I plan works, and I feel all the vigour of youth, that I shall never leave off writing again, till the infirmities of nature, or some terrible convulsion in my circumstances, shall perhaps put an end to my literary career for ever.
"You will know that I did not remain idle in this precious interval, to which I am indebted for everything I value in this present life. I manufactured the works of Baldwin! I digested a School Dictionary; I wrote the 'Essay on Sepulchres,' and the 'Lives of the Nephews of Milton.' But these were not me; I did not put forth the whole force of my faculties; the seed of what peculiarly constitutes my individual lay germinating in the earth, till in its own time it should produce its proper fruit. . . .
"Even the 'Answer to Malthus'could never have been produced without the business. I thought this 'Answer' might have been completed in six months; it is now more than two years since I undertook it. New views are perpetually opening upon me; new difficulties, with their solutions; and though I work upon it in every day of health, it is far from being finished. I have resolved not merely to attack Malthus in his remedies, his vice, and his misery; but to show that there is no need of any remedies, that the numbers of mankind never did and never can increase in the preposterous way he lays down; and though I shall be able perfectly to make out this, yet it is attended with a world of difficulties, and requires patience indescribable. While, then, I pursue this Herculean task, the inglorious transactions of the shop belowstairs furnish me with food, clothing, and habitation, and enable me to proceed ...
"I have read the tragedy of ' Cenci,' and am glad to see Shelley at last descending to what really passes among human creatures. The story is certainly an unfortunate one, but the execution gives me a new idea of Shelley's powers. There are passages of great strength, and the character of Beatrice is certainly excellent.
— Ever most affectionately yours, William Godwin."
The letters which follow relate to the answer to Malthus, and though some deduction must be made for the fact that they were written to the author by admiring friends, they certainly express a feeling which at the time was widely spread. But the answer came too late; the interest in Malthus' book had greatly died away, and not all the enthusiasm of Godwin's admirers could give the book success.
W. Morgan to William Godwin.
"Nov. 6, 1820."
... "I have delayed acknowledging the receipt of your valuable present, till I had time to examine it thoroughly, that I might be better able to give my opinion of it . I can now assure you, with great truth, that I have carefully read the whole of your answer to Mr Malthus with much pleasure and instruction, and am fully convinced that you have given the death-blow to his geometrical and arithmetical ratios. It might have been thought that a system so disgusting could not have required any great effort to destroy it: but the popularity of Mr Malthus's publication has proved the contrary: and I think the public are much indebted to you for quieting their alarms, and for exposing the folly and impiety of a system which made the kind and benevolent Author of Nature to appoint vice and misery as his agents in the world. I do not know whether you have not granted too much in supposing that the existence of the present population may be preserved by four children to a marriage. If half the inhabitants die before they attain the age of 21, as in the Northampton Tables, which give the mean probabilities very fairly, what compensates for the bachelors and old maids? Illegitimate births may do a little towards it, but certainly not enough. I have always thought that 4J children, or more, are necessary, and therefore that Dr Franklin's 8 children (if such a mean ever existed) would not be sufficient to double the number in the way he mentions. It should also be observed that the inhabitants of America are remarkably short-lived, which proves an earlier decay of their constitution, and consequently a shorter period for procreation. This goes a little way towards strengthening your argument with respect to America, but it really wants no assistance. I am myself convinced that population fluctuates in all parts of the world. In some it becomes less, in others greater: but I cannot subscribe to your opinion that the human race may become extinct, any more than I can to that of Mr Malthus that they are in danger of increasing so fast as to render it our "duty to check it, by divesting ourselves of our best and noblest feelings, in relieving or preserving the lives of our fellow-creatures."
H. B. Rosser to William Godwin.
"Cambridge, Jan. 9, 1821.
"Dear Godwin, — The morning I received your letter I called on Barron, the man in whose rooms in College I have been, till within this week, since last May. He is quite satisfied that you have overthrown Malthus, and I am satisfied, from some conversation I had with him, that he fully comprehends the pith of the argument. This is a valuable opinion. He is a first-rate classic, and no ordinary mathematician. He is yet only twenty-one, and has begun to think about a year.
"The present Vice-Chancellor, who is also Master of Trinity, is so determined to be made a Bishop, and has descended to so icoundrelly inquisitorial practices, that I have judged it best to have no personal communication with Hatfield. . . .
"I went to see and talk with Place and Mill, from both of whom it shall be their fault, not mine, if I do not get a distinct statement of their — if Place has any — objections to your book.
"Has there been any article on it in the ' Examiner?' I shall see Henry Hunt upon this point . . .
"In the ' Black Dwarf?' I shall endeavour to see Wooler upon this.
"In the 'Supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britannica,' now publishing, Mr Mill is a frequent contributor. The letter ' P' is yet distant, and an article, ' Population,' must go in. If he is converted: why should not he? and, if not, why should not some other person make your book a mine for an article?
"These are all words. ... I can only send you my best wishes.
— Very sincerely yours H. B. Rosser."
Sir James Mackintosh to William Godwin.
"Mardocks Near Ware, Sep. 6, 1821.
"My Dear Sir, — When I received your work last year, I was labouring under a distressing illness, which rendered me for a time unable to read or write, and for a longer period unfitted me for serious application of mind.
"The first exertions of my understanding after an imperfect recovery, were claimed by the duties of a laborious session of Parliament, and since the almost entire restoration of my health, I have only had time to look over your work in a very cursory way. I shall shortly study it with the attention which the nature of the subject requires. But I can no longer delay this short explanation of a silence which you must have thought unpardonable.
"I should be wanting in that frankness, of which you have always set the example, if I were to say that your reasonings (as far as I have hitherto considered them) have changed my opinions on population. But I must add, that these opinions do not appear to me inconsistent with the firmest belief in the indefinite improvement of the human character and condition. The theory of the increase of mankind does not, by just inference (as I think), lead to any consequences unfavourable to their hopes. I before intimated to you my notion on that subject, and should be glad to talk of it when I see you next, which I will take care to do when I go to town.
"I own I thought your tone towards Malthus somewhat intolerant, and that you might have maintained your argument as firmly with more forbearance towards such an opponent.
"There is a review of your book in the present' Edinburgh Review,' which I have only just seen. I beg you to be assured that I never knew or heard anything of it till I saw it in print. I should be exceedingly sorry (for more than one reason) to take any part in the application of any language to you personally but that of esteem and regard. I make this observation to satisfy my own feelings and your claims on me.' I need not say that several circumstances would render it unpleasant to me to have any public use made of my language. — I am, my dear Sir, with sincere regard, yours faithfully,
The pecuniary troubles already mentioned assumed no serious form till the year i82i,nor did any real crisis arrive till the year 1822. The title to the proprietorship of the house in Skinner Street, of which Godwin held a long lease, was disputed, and an action for ejectment was brought against him. After considerable litigation the suit was finally decided adversely to Godwin's interests. The results were an enforced move from Skinner Street, a claim for arrears of rent, which was wholly unlooked for, the disorganization of the whole of the business which had been carried on with considerable and increasing success, and finally Godwin became bankrupt.
Lamb, with prompt sympathy, wrote the following letter. The loan was indeed munificent, when his own slender circumstances are considered.
Charles Lamb to William Godwin.
"May 16, 1822.
"Dear Godwin, — I sincerely feel for all your trouble. Pray use the enclosed ^50, and pay me when you can. I shall make it my business to see you very shortly.
— Yours truly, C. Lamb."
A letter from William Godwin junior to Mrs Shelley, though of a later date, will here fitly summarize the troubles through which the family had passed.
William Godwin, junior, to Mrs Shelley.
"No. 195 Strand, 25M Feb., 1823.
". . . . I am not aware how far my father may have informed you — I mean, of course, as to particulars — relative to our affairs, the Skinner Street business, &c. ; but as I know he is not very minute in general, it may afford you some gratification for me to run them over, and discuss them as they strike me.
"On quitting Skinner Street in May , which we were obliged to do at two days' notice, we were glad to find anybody, you may well suppose, that would receive us. Read at the time that he brought into the house his ejectment, coupled with it a power to seize for his bill of costs 135 pounds. This was an oppressive circumstance indeed, for the ejectment compelled everything to be moved, under pain of being thrown into the street,* by the Saturday night — this was Thursday night — while the sheriff's distress prevented us from moving a single thing. Well, as the money could not be raised to meet the writ, it was clear that we must submit to the seizure. So to prevent any time being lost in the clumsy way the auctioneer would set about making a catalogue, I wrote out overnight a list of our best bound books, and those most likely to fetch the required sum, so that by about 3 o'clock on the Friday, the auctioneer being satisfied, we were suffered to begin to move. In the morning of this day my mother had secured a lodging and a warehouse for us in the neighbourhood — the former in Pemberton Row, close to Gough Square, and the latter in Gunpowder Alley, close to Strahan the King's Printer. .... Suffice it to say we were fortunate enough to get all our things out by the appointed time, and bade a long farewell for ever to Skinner Street. In Pemberton Row we were put up for six weeks, first deciding what we would do, and then doing what we had decided. My father at last agreed for the house we now inhabit, at the awful rent of £210 per annum: how we shall get on God only knows: I have some fear, it is true, but, like Pandora's box, I still find hope at the bottom. Subsequently Read obtained a verdict against us for 373 pounds, 6s. 8d., for rent from the beginning
of 1820 with costs, but this we are in hopes will be met by my father's friends.
"'Valperga' is finished..."
"Valperga" was a novel by Mrs Shelley, which she had sent to her father in MS. the moment she heard of his renewed embarrassments, begging him to publish it and use the proceeds as his own. After some hesitation he accepted the generous gift, making sundry alterations which he conceived would more fit it for the public taste. In a later letter he says of it —
William Godwin to Mrs Shelley.
"Your novel is now fully printed, and ready for publication. I have taken great liberties with it, and I am afraid your amour propre will be proportionally shocked. I need not tell you that all the merit of the book is exclusively your own. The whole of what I have done is merely confined to taking away things which must have prevented its success"
Before, however, he had made up his mind to accept the work, the following correspondence passed between the Godwins and the Shelleys. Shelley's own letter has a peculiar interest, as it is the last one remaining written to England by that hand, which less than six weeks afterwards was "to toss with tangle and with shells."
William Godwin to Mrs Shelley.
"Skinner St., May 3, 1822.
"Dear Mary, — I wrote to you a fortnight ago, and professed my intention of not writing again. I certainly will not write when the res-Jt shall be to give pain, unmitigated pain. It is the questionable shape of what I hare to communicate that still thrusts the pen into my hand. This day we are compelled by summary process to leave the house we live in, and to hide our heads in whatever alley will receive us. If we can compound with our creditor, and he seems not unwilling to receive 400 pounds (I have talked with him on the subject), we may emerge again. Our business, if freed from this intolerable burthen, is more than ever worth keeping.
"But all this would perhaps have failed in inducing me to resume the pen, but for an extraordinary accident Wednesday, May 1, was the day when the last legal step was taken against me. On Wednesday morning, a few hours before this catastrophe, Willatts, the man who three or four years before lent Shelley £2000 at two for one, called on me to ask whether Shelley wanted any more money on the same terms. 'What does this mean? In the contemplation of such a coincidence I could almost grow superstitious, liut alas, I fear, I fear, I am a drowning man, catching at straws.
— Ever most affectionately your father,
P. Bysshe Shelley to Mrs Godwin.
"Lerici, May 29, 1822.
"Dear Madam, — Mrs Mason [Lady Mountcashel] has sent me an extract from your last letter to show to Mary, and I have received that of Mr Godwin, in which he mentions your having left Skinner Street. In Mary's present state of health and spirits, much caution is requisite with regard to communications which must agitate her in the highest degree, and the object of my present letter is simply to inform you that I have thought right to exercise this caution on the present occasion.
"Mary is at present about three months advanced in pregnancy, and the irritability and languor which accompany this state are always distressing and sometimes alarming: I do not know how soon I can permit her to receive such communication, or how soon you and Mr Godwin would wish they should be conveyed to her, if you could have any idea of the effect Do not, however, let me be misunderstood. It is not my intention or my wish that the circumstances in which your family is involved should be concealed from her, but that the details should be suspended until they assume a more prosperous character, or at least the letters addressed to her or intended for her perusal on that subject, should not convey a supposition that she could do more than she does, thus exasperating the sympathy which she already feels too intensely, for her father's distress, which she would sacrifice all she possesses to remedy, but the remedy of which is beyond her power. She imagined that her novel might be turned to immediate advantage for him; I am greatly interested in the fate of this production, which appears to me to possess a high degree of merit, and I regret that it is not Mr Godwin's intention to publish it immediately. I am sure that Mary would be delighted to amend anything that her father thought imperfect in it, though I confess that if his objections relate to the character of Beatrice, I shall lament the deference which would be shown by the sacrifice of any portion of it to feelings and ideas which are but for a day. I wish Mr Godwin would write to her on that subject, and he might advert to the letter, for it is only the last one which I have suppressed, or not, as he thought proper.
"I have written to Mr Smith to solicit the loan of ^400, which, if I can obtain it in that manner, is very much at Mr Godwin's service. The views which I now entertain of my affairs forbid me to enter into any further reversionary transactions, nor do I think Mr Godwin would be a gainer by the contrary determination, as it would be next to impossible to effect any such bargain at this distance. Nor could I burthen my income, which is barely sufficient to meet its various claims, and the system of life in which it seems necessary that I should live.
"We hear you have Jane's news from Mrs Mason. Since the late melancholy event (the death of Allegra) she has become far more tranquil, nor should I have anything to desire with regard to her, did not the uncertainty of my own life and prospects render it prudent for her to attempt to establish some sort of independence as a security against an event which would deprive her of that which she at present enjoys. She is well in health, and usually resides in Florence, where she has formed a little society for herself among the Italians, with whom she is a great favourite. She was here for a week or two, and though she has now returned to Florence, we expect her soon to visit us for the summer months. In the winter, unless some of her various plans succeed, for she may be called lafille aux milk profits, she will return to Florence.
"Mr Godwin may depend on receiving immediate notice of the result of my application to Mr Smith. I hope to hear soon an account of your situation and prospects, and remain, dear Madam, yours very sincerely,
P. B. Shelley."
In the same week which saw Shelley drowned in the Gulf of Spezzia, and before the sad news reached England, Godwin, already so harassed by pecuniary difficulties, had to mourn the death of Henry Blanch Rosser. He died in the early days of the Long Vacation, the last he would spend at Cambridge, where he had hoped to take honours, and he certainly was a man of great promise. He had written a pamphlet on Godwin's side in the Malthusian controversy of singular ability and grasp of his subject. Less perhaps than any of Godwin's younger friends had he shown any disposition to waver from his teacher's views. He was the last but one of the young people who regarded Godwin as guide, philosopher, friend, almost more than father. Both deaths are recorded with the same stern repression of self which has appeared throughout the Diaries, but to Mrs Shelley her father wrote a letter full of feeling and sympathy. After her return from Italy with her son in August 1823, the most cordial intercourse and affection marked the relations of father and daughter, even though as some sort of concession to Mrs Godwin's jealous temperament, bespeaks of her in writing to his wife as " Mrs Shelley," and not as " Mary." The only letter, however, which need be quoted, is one which Godwin wrote before the return of the widow to England. Sir Timothy Shelley offered to take the entire charge of his grandson, provided his mother would give up all control over him. Godwin's letter was written while Mrs Shelley's answer was unknown to him. It was, of course, an absolute refusal to give up her now only child.
William Godwin to Mrs Shelley.
"195 Strand, Feb. 14, 1823.
"My Dear Mary, — I have this moment received a copy of Sir Timothy Shelley's letter to Lord Byron, dated February 6, and which, therefore, you will have seen long before this reaches you. You will easily imagine how anxious I am to hear from you, and to know the state of your feelings under this, which seems like the last blow of fate.
"I need not, of course, attempt to assist your judgment upon the vile proposition of taking the child from you. I am sure your feelings would never allow you to entertain such a proposition. But were it otherwise, even worldly prudence would forbid your taking such a step. While you retain the child you are, in spite of all they can do, a member of your husband's family. But the moment you give it up, you appear to surrender all relationship to them or to him. Your child is still, in case of Charles Shelley dying before him without issue, heir to the whole estate. . . .
"Do not, I entreat you, be cast down about your worldly circumstances. You certainly contain within yourself the means of subsistence. Your talents are truly extraordinary: Frankenstein is universally known, and though it can never be a book for vulgar reading is everywhere respected. It is the most wonderful book to have been written at twenty years of age that I ever heard of. You are now five-and-twenty. And, most fortunately, you have pursued a course of reading, and cultivated your mind in the manner most admirably adapted to make you a great and successful author. If you cannot be independent, who should be? Your talents, as far as I can at present discern, are turned for the writing of fictitious adventures.
If it shall ever happen to you to be placed in sudden and urgent need of a small sum, I intreat you to let me know immediately. We must see what I can do. . . . We must help one another Your affectionate father,
Once more Godwin's friends came forward to help him in his difficulties, and the manner in which he was really regarded by those who knew him was even more shown now than it had been before. Then he was a politician,, vigorous and fierce; a warm friend indeed and a dangerous enemy. Then the chief subscribers were among the leading Whig statesmen, and the subscription was in some degree a manifesto, but political and religious opinions played no part on this occasion. Then he was one whom men found it their interest to conciliate and help. But now he wa* I broken and feeble — his pen was no longer vigorous, though always graceful; he was no more dangerous or very helpful.What was done was done for himself, and because men really valued him. The following letters refer to his difficulties and the aid given to him.
"Albemarle St., July 8, 1823.
"We take the liberty of soliciting your attention to the case of Mr Godwin, a writer of great talents and reputation, distinguished by works of literature, not relating to any disputed questions, who in the sixty-seventh year of his age has been suddenly involved in difficulties without any want of industry and prudence on his part. He has for fifteen years earned a moderate income as a bookseller. He was unexpectedly engaged in a law-suit, occasioned by a disputed title to the premises which he occupied, and being compelled to change his residence, he has again established himself in another house, with all appearances of the same moderate success as before. But the arrears of his former rent, which he had no reason to expect would ever have fallen on him, together with the costs of the law-suit, amount to a sum which he is wholly unable to pay. We hope that this sum, which does not exceed ^600, may be raised by a subscription, which will not press heavily on any individual, and that a man of genius may thus be enabled by his own industry to earn a creditable subsistence during the remainder of his life.
"We have the honour to be your most obedient servants, "H. C. Robinson. "F. L. Gower. "W. Ayrton. "Dudley. "John Murray. "Wm. Lamb. "Charles Lamb. "J. Mackintosh."
William Godwin to Lady Caroline Lamb.
"My Dear Madam, — Do you remember that it was contrary to my inclination that you were acquainted with the story of the judicial avalanche that threatened to fall on my head in the month of November next? How wrong I was. Yet I wished that all the communication that occurred between us should be an interchange of thoughts and sentiments. There is a conventional equality between the gentle and the simple as long as the one are not benefactors, the others the receivers of benefits. Can that equality and reciprocity of sentiment exist afterwards? It is too late now to ask this question in relation to you and me. The Rubicon is past.
"Caesar passed the banks of that river and came to other impediments. In this respect I am like Caesar. He had his Ides of November, and so have I. November is now fast approaching, and my adversary is inexorable. In how brutal a manner he is callable of proceeding he showed in Skinner St., and when November arrives he will show here, unless he is prevented.
"My subscription has gone on unfortunately, or rather has stood still. Mr Murray, unluckily for me, undertook to be my Chancellor of the Exchequer and Secretary of State, and has slept in his offices. He has issued a very small number of letters. I have always been of opinion that a bare circular letter was of little efficacy: persons even well-disposed are inclined to wait till some special messenger comes to rouse their attention. Mr Murray has, however, baffled me there : he has no list, and cannot even guess who are the persons to whom his letters have been sent.
"This is all unlucky enough, but, your Ladyship will ask, what is in your power to do for me? That is the point for me to come lo. The Earl of Bessborough and Mr William Blake were names which you particularly did me the favour to point out: and you were so good as to add that you were persuaded they would have a pleasure in being brought into the business. Circular letters have therefore been dispatched to them in the present week, and would it be impertinent in me to add that a single word in any shape coming from your Ladyship might turn the index to a yes, instead of a no?
"I would have addressed this letter to Mr Lamb, as being perhaps more properly the business of man and man, but you have so much accustomed me to present my trifles to you that my houghts, whether I will or no, when I take up the pen with the idea of Brocket Hall, sets the image of your Ladyship before me.
"May I hope soon to hear from you, to tell me you forgive this fresh act of impertinence?"
Lady Caroline Lamb to William Godwin.
"My Dear Sir, — I will, and indeed have written, and would that I could be of use to you. Some circumstances which I do not much wish to explain prevent me from offering my own assistance in the manner I could wish. Believe me, however, I will warmly press the matter to the few I know. In the meantime, will you in charity send me another ream of that thick drawing paper, 100 more pens, and two dozen sticks of wax. Not that I either write or do anything with it, but it goes as quick as lightning. Pray tell me if Mrs Shelley is your daughter: they say she is very interesting and beautiful, and is returned from abroad.
"Write to the Marquis of Lansdowne, Earl Fitzwilliam, Lord Dacre, the Duke of Devonshire, without naming me: merely send the circular letter, also to Mr Mansfield, Upper Winpole St., the Dowager Lady Lansdowne, Mr Lambton, Earl Grey, Lord Holland. None of these are friends of mine, but I think from circumstances it will be well to write to them. There is also Mr Rogers in St James' Place. Douglas Kinnaird too: he is a friend of Lord Byron's, and to him I have already written; but in all these cases you must not name me, only send the letters as from Mr Murray. — Believe me sincerely yours,
"Will you send my small account due to your secretary to Dr Roe, that I may discharge it?"
The Same to the Same.
"My Dear Sir, — From the moment when I saw you last under such excessive agitation, until the present moment, I have been, as you said I might be if I would, calm and perfectly well, and tolerably happy. Is it not strange, then, that I can suffer my mind to be so overpowered, and mostly about trifles? can you think of me with anything but contempt? Tell me, would you dislike paying me a little visit? I will not allure you by descriptions of a country life. If you come, I imagine it is to pay me a friendly visit, and if you do not, I shall feel secure you have good reasons fornot coming. The whole of what passed, which set me so beside myself, I forget and forgive; for my own faults are so great that I can see and remember nothing beside. Yet I am tormented with such a superabundance of activity, and have so little to do, that I want you to tell me how to go on.
"It is all very well if one died at the end of a tragic scene, after playing a desperate part; but if one lives, and instead of growing wiser, one remains the same victim of every folly and passion, without the excuse of youth and inexperience, what then? Pray say a few wise words to me. There is no one more deeply sensible than myself of kindness from persons of high intellect, and at this period of my life I need it .
"I have nothing to do — I mean necessarily. There is no particular reason why I should exist; it conduces to no one's happiness, and, on the contrary, I stand in the way of many. Besides, I seem to have lived 500 years, and feel I am neither wiser, better, nor worse than when I began. My experience gives me no satisfaction; all my opinions and beliefs and feelings are shaken, as if suffering from frequent little shocks of earthquakes. I am like a boat in a calm, in an unknown, and to me unsought-for sea, without compass to guide or even a knowledge whither I am destined. Now, this is probably the case of millions, but that does not mend the matter, and whilst a fly exists, it seeks to save itself. Therefore excuse me if I try to do the same. Pray write to me, and tell me also what you have done about my journal.
"Thank you for the frame; will you pay for it, and send me in any account we have at your house. I am very anxious about my dear boy. I must speak to you of him. Every one as usual is kind to me — I want for nothing this earth can offer but self-control. Forgive my writing so much about myself, and believe me most sincerely yours,
William Godwin to Mr Sergeant Lens.
"Sir, — It is a thousand to one whether you recollect a little boy to whom you did a kind action between 50 and 60 years ago, and who has never seen you since. You, I daresay, have done so many kind actions since, that this may well be obliterated from your mind.
"We met at Mr Christian's dancing-school at Norwich. You were almost a man grown, and I was perhaps about twelve years of age. You and your sister and a Miss Carter were, I believe, at the head of the school. Miss Carter was a very plain girl, but a good dancer. I was in reality no dancer at all. It so happened that one day in your hearing I said, thinking perhaps of nothing, I should like for once to dance with Miss Carter. You immediately answered, I will take care that you shall, and accordingly you brought it about. This is altogether a trifle, but it has a hundred times recurred to my memory.
"We have since run a different career. I have written 'Caleb Williams' and 'St Leon,' and a number of other books. Did you ever hear of those books? And if you did, did your quondam school-fellow at the dancing-school ever occur to your mind? You have been perhaps more usefully employed in an honourable profession. The consequence is, you are rich, and I am — something else.
"I have been twice married: my first wife was Mary Wollstonecraft. My present wife, fifteen years ago, looked with anxiety to the precariousness of our situation: my resources were those I derived from my pen: and persuaded me to engage in a commercial undertaking as a bookseller. We were neither of us fit for business, and we made no great things of it, but we subsisted. Till at length I was inevitably engaged in a lawsuit which, after being several times given in my favour, was at length last year decided against me.
"The consequence was heavy losses: costs of suit, the purchasing the lease of a new house, the fitting it up, and many more. These I have encountered, and I am doing tolerably welL But there is an arrear due on the lawsuit (which was respecting the title to a house), under the name of damages, &c, to the amount of 500 pounds, which will come against me in the most injurious form the law can give it, in the beginning of November.
"Several noblemen and gentlemen a few months ago formed themselves into a committee for the purpose of collecting this sum. . . . But many delays occurred in forming this committee, and it was not completed till July last. . . . My subscription falls short. This is principally owing to the time of year. My friends tell me that if I could keep it open till the meeting of Parliament it would still answer. But the beginning of November must decide my good or ill fortune. In this emergency I am reduced to think of persons whom I suppose to be in opulent circumstances, and respecting whom I can imagine they may be kindly disposed towards me, to fill up the subscription. It is by a very slender, and almost invisible thread that I can hope to have any hold upon you, but I am resolved not to desert myself. The subscription has gone about half way.
"Thus, Sir, I have put you in possession of my story; and begging pardon for having intruded it on your attention, I remain, not without hope of a favourable issue to my impertinence, — Your most obedient servant,
Sir James Mackintosh to William Godwin.
"Weedon Lodge, Tuesday.
"Dear Godwin, — I am more grieved than you perhaps would have expected by what you consider, I hope too precipitately, as the final result of our projects. If you should be driven from the respectable industry which, with your talents, reputation, and habits, you have undertaken for your family, it will, in my cool opinion, be a scandal to the age. The mortification of my own disability is aggravated by my natural, though not very reasonable repugnance to an avowal of its full extent, and of all its vexatious causes. But you must not give up. Be of good heart. New publications, I grant to you, are not likely to increase your fame. But they will refresh your reputation, and give you all the advantages of present popularity. When liberality and friendship are quickened by public applause, they are more trustworthy aids than in their solitary state. The great are to be pushed on by the movement given to the many. I see your novels advertised to-day. Could you ask Mr Hazlitt to review them in the Edinburgh Review. He is a very original thinker, and notwithstanding some singularities which appear to me faults, a very powerful writer. I say this, though I know he is no panegyrist of mine. His critique might serve all our purposes, and would, I doubt not, promote the interests of literature also.
"I shall receive the two books with much thankfulness, for, after much research, I have not yet traced the accounts of Kirke and Jefferies to the original witnesses.
"Can you tell me whether L'Estrange continued the ' Observator' during James II.'s reign?
"I am sorry to hear of Mrs Godwin's illness. Lady Mackintosh begs her kindest remembrances, and I am most truly yours,
In 1824 Mrs Shelley submitted to her father the MS. of a tragedy on which his opinion was unfavourable. The letter has in great degree lost value now, except one sentence of keen, far-reaching criticism, and another paragraph which shows that his own dramatic disappointments rankled still.
William Godwin to Mrs Shelley.
"Feb. 27, 1824.
". . . . Is it not strange that so many people admire and relish Shakespeare, and that nobody writes, or even attempts to write like him? To read your specimens I should suppose that you had read no tragedies but such as have been written since the date of your birth Your personages are mere abstractions, the lines and points of a Mathematical Diagram, and not men and women. If A crosses B, and C falls upon D, who can weep for that? . . .
"For myself, I am almost glad that you have not (if you have not) a dramatic talent. How many mortifications and heart-aches would that entail on you. Managers to be consulted, players to be humoured, the best pieces that were ever written negatived and returned on the author's hands. If these are all got over, then you have to encounter the caprice of a noisy, insolent, and vulgar-minded audience, whose senseless non-fiat shall in a moment turn the labour of a year into nothing."
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