This text was taken from William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries, Vol. 2 by C. Kegan Paul. Henry S. King and Co., London, 1876.
THE SHELLEYS. 1811-1814.
THE intimacy with Shelley, which also was not of Godwin's seeking, was destined to have a far more abiding influence on the lives of both. The first notice of Shelley in the Godwin Diaries is under date Jan. 6, 18 11. "Write to Shelly." It is the only time his name is so spelt, his letter was in answer to Shelley's first letter, in which he introduced himself, and was written at once, when he was not quite clear about the name of his correspondent.
Shelley was at this time living at Keswick, in the earlier and happier days of his marriage with Harriet Westbrook, and his eager and restless spirit prompted him to form the acquaintance, by letter, with others whom he believed to be like himself enthusiasts in the cause of humanity, of liberty, and progress. He had already, in this manner, made the acquaintance of Leigh Hunt, when, in January 1811, he wrote thus to Godwin :--
P. B. Shelley to William Godwin.
KESWICK, Jan. 3, 1811.
"---You will be surprised at hearing from a stranger. No introduction has, nor in all probability ever will, authorize that which common thinkers would call a liberty. It is, however, a liberty which, although not sanctioned by custom, is so far from being reprobated by reason, that the dearest interests of mankind imperiously demand that a certain etiquette of fashion should no longer keep I man at a distance from man, and impose its flimsy barriers between the free communication of intellect. The name of Godwin has been accustomed to excite in me feelings of reverence and admiration. I have been accustomed to consider himas a luminary too dazzling for the darkness which surrounds him,. and from the earliest period of my knowledge of his principles, I have ardently desired to share in the footing of intimacy that intellect which I have delighted to contemplate in its emanations. Considering, then, these feelings, you will not be surprised at the inconceivable emotion with which I learned your existence Ind your dwelling. I had enrolled your name on the list of the honourable dead. I had felt regret that the glory of your being had passed from this earth of ours. It is not so. You still live, and I firmly believe are still planning the welfare of human kindI have but just entered on the scene of human operations, yet my feelings and my reasonings correspond with what yours were. My course has been short, but eventful. I have seen much of human prejudice, suffered much from human persecution, yet I see no reason hence inferable which should alter my wishes for theirrenovation. The ill treatment I have met with has more than ever impressed the truth of my principles on my judgment. I am young: I am ardent in the cause of philanthropy and truth: do not suppose that this is vanity. I am not conscious that it influences the portraiture. I imagine myself dispassionately describing the state of my mind. I am young: you have gone before me, I doubt not are a veteran to me in the years ofpersecution. Is it strange that, defying persecution as I have done, I should outstep the limits of custom's prescription, and endeavour to make my desire useful by friendship with William Godwin? I pray you to answer this letter. Imperfect as it maybe, my capacity, my desire, is ardent, and unintermitted. Half-an-hour would be at least humanity employed in the experiment. I, may mistake your residence. Certain feelings, of which I may be an inadequate arbiter, may induce you to desire concealment. I may not in fine have an answer to this letter. If I do not, when I come to London I shall seek for you. I am convinced I could represent myself to you in such terms as not to be thought wholly unworthy of your friendship. At least, if any desire for universal happiness has any claim upon your preference, that desire I can exhibit. Adieu. I shall earnestly await your answer.
The answer to this is lost, but it appears from the diary that the correspondence was frequent. From Keswick Shelley went to Dublin, and devoted himself to the cause of' Irish Patriotism, with his usual chivalry, and perhaps even less than his usual discretion. Godwin did all that he could, not by any means to change Shelley's principles, but to inculcate prudence and discretion in the mode of carrying them out. The following letters serve well to show their writer's political standpoint, though it may be doubted if they had much effect on the vehement young dreamer to whom they were addressed. In fact, very shortly after the last was written, Shelley had made Ireland too hot to hold him, for venturing to suggest that even Protestants were entitled to toleration. The police warned him that he had better quit the country, and after a while he settled for a time his wandering household at Lynmouth, in North Devon.
William Godwin to P. B. Shelley.
March 4, 1812.
"MY GOOD FRIEND,--I have read all your letters (the first perhaps excepted) with peculiar interest, and I wish it to be understood by you unequivocally that, as far as I can yet penetrate into your character, I conceive it to exhibit an extraordinary assemblage of lovely qualities not without considerable defects. The defects do, and always have arisen chiefly from this source, that you are still very young, and that in certain essential respects you do not sufficiently perceive that you are so.
"In your last letter you say,'I publish because I will publish nothing that shall not conduce to virtue, and therefore my publications, as far as they do influence, shall influence for good.'
"Oh, my friend, how short-sighted are the views that dictated this sentence! Every man, in every deliberate action of his life, imagines he sees a preponderance of good likely to result. This is the law of our nature, from which none of us can escape. You, do not in this point generically differ from the human beings about you. Mr Burke and Tom Paine, when they wrote on the French Revolution, perhaps equally believed that the sentiments they supported were essentially conducive to the welfare of man. When Mr Walsh resolved to purloin to his own use a few thousand pounds, with which to settle himself and his family and children in America, he tells us that he was for some time anxious that the effects of his fraud should fall upon Mr. Oldham rather than upon Sir Thomas Plumer, because, in his opinion, Sir Thomas was the better man. And I have no doubt that he was fully persuaded that a greater sum of happiness would result from these thousand pounds being employed in settling his innocent -and lovely family in America, than in securing to his employer the possession of a large landed estate. . . . .
" In the pamphlet you have just sent me, your views and mine as to the improvement of mankind are decisively at issue. You profess the immediate objects of your efforts to be I the organization of a society whose institution shall serve as a bond to its members.' If I may be allowed to understand my book on Political justice, it's pervading principle is, that association is a most ill-chosen and ill-qualified mode of endeavouring to promote the political happiness of mankind. And I think of your pamphlet, however commendable and lovely are many of its sentiments, that it will either be ineffective to its immediate object, or that it has no very remote tendency to light again the flames of rebellion and war. . . . .
"Discussion, reading, enquiry, perpetual communication: these -are my favourite methods for the improvement of mankind, but associations, organized societies, I firmly condemn. You may as well tell the adder not to sting:
'You may as well use question with the wolf:
You may as well forbid the mountain pines
To wag their high tops, and to make no noise
When they are fretted with the gusts of heaven,'
as tell organized societies of men, associated to obtain their rights and to extinguish oppression'-prompted by a deep aversion to inequality, luxury, enormous taxes, and the evils of war,--to be innocent, to employ no violence, and calmly to await the progress of truth. I never, was at a public political dinner, a scene that I have now not witnessed for many years, that I did not see how the enthusiasm was lighted up, how the flame caught from man to man, how fast the dictates of sober reason were obliterated by the gusts of passion, and how near the assembly was, like Alexander's compotatores at Persepolis, to go forth and fire the city, or, like the auditors of Anthony's oration over the body of Caesar, to apply a flaming brand to the mansion of each several conspirator.
"Discussion and conversation on the best interests of society are excellent as long as they are unfettered, and each man talks to his neighbour in the freedom of congenial intercourse as he happens to meet with him in the customary haunts of men, or in the quiet and beneficent intercourse of each other's fireside. But they become unwholesome and poisonous when men shape themselves into societies, and become distorted with the artifices of organization. It will not then long be possible to reason calmly and dispassionately : men will heat each other into impatience and indignation against their oppressors; they will become tired of talking for ever, and will be in a hurry to act. if this view of things is true applied to any country whatever, it is peculiarly and fearfully so when applied to the fervent and impetuous character of the Irish . . . . .
"One principle that I believe is wanting in you, and in all our too fervent and impetuous reformers, is the thought that almost every institution and form of society is good in its place and in the period of time to which it belongs. How many beautiful and admirable effects grew out of Popery and the monastic institutions in the period when they were in their genuine health and vigour. To them we owe almost all our logic and our literature. What excellent effects do we reap, even at this day, from the feudal system and from chivalry! In this point of view nothing perhaps can be more worthy of our applause than the English Constitution. Excellent to this purpose are the words of Daniel in his Apology for Rhyme: 'Nor can it touch but of arrogant ignorance, to hold this or that nation barbarous, these or those times gross, considering how this manifold creature man, wheresoever he stand in the world, hath always some disposition of worth, entertains and affects that order of society which is best for his use, and is eminent for some one thing or other that fits his humour and the times.' This is the truest and most sublime toleration. There is a period, indeed, when each institution is obsolete, and should be laid aside; but it is of much importance that we should not proceed too rapidly in this, or introduce any change before its due and proper season . . . . .
" You say that you count but on a short life. In that too you are erroneous. 1 shall not live to see you fourscore, but it is not improbable that my son will. I was myself in early life of a remarkably puny constitution. Pope, who was at all times kept alive only by art, reached his fifty-seventh year. The constitution of man is a theatre of change, and I think it not improbable that at thirty or forty you will be a robust man . . . . .
" To descend from great things to small, I can perceive that you are already infected with the air of the country [Ireland]. Your letter with its enclosures cost me by post £1 is. 8d., and you say in it that you I send it in this way to save expense.' The post always charges parcels that exceed a sheet or two by weight, and they should therefore always be forwarded by some other conveyance . . . . .
The Same to the Same.
"March 14, 1812.
"I take up the pen again immediately on the receipt of yours, because I am desirous of making one more effort to save yourself and the Irish people from the calamities with which I see your mode of proceeding to be fraught. In the commencement of this, letter you profess to 'acquiesce in my decisions,' and you go on with those measures which, with no sparing and equivocal voice, I have condemned. I smile, with a bitter smile, a smile of much pain, at the impotence of my expostulations on so momentous a topic, when I observe these inconsistencies. . . .
"You say, I What has been done within these last twenty years?' Oh, that I could place you upon the pinnacle of ages, from which these twenty years would shrink to an invisible point 1 It is not after this fashion that moral causes work in the eye of him who looks profoundly through the vast and-allow me to add--venerable machine of human society. But so reasoned the French Revolutionists. Auspicious and admirable materials were working in the general mind of France; but these men said, as you say, I When we look on the last twenty years, we are seized with a sort of moral scepticism; we must own we are eager that something should be done.' And see what has been the result of their doings. He that would benefit mankind on a comprehensive scale, by changing the principles and elements of society, must learn the hard lesson, to put off self, and to contribute by a quiet but incessant activity, like a rill of water, to irrigate and fertilise the intellectual evil. . . .
"I wish to my heart you would come immediately to London. I have a friend who has contrived a tube to convey passengers sixty miles an hour : be youth your tube. I have a thousand things I could say, really more than I could say in a letter on this important subject. You cannot imagine how much all the females of my family, Mrs Godwin and three daughters, are interested in your letters and your history."
The Same to the Same.
"March 30, 1812.
"I received your last letter on the 24th inst., and the perusal of it gave me a high degree of pleasure. . . . I can now look upon you as a friend. Before, I knew not what might happen. It was like making an acquaintance with Robert Emmet, who, I believe, like yourself, was a man of a very pure mind, but respecting whom I could not have told from day to day what calamities he might bring upon his country; how effectually (like the bear in the fable) he might smash the nose of his mother to pieces, when he intended only to remove the noxious insect that tormented her; and what premature and tragical fate he might bring upon himself Now, I can look on you, not as a meteoric ephemeral, but as a lasting friend, who, according to the course of nature, may contribute to the comforts of my closing days. Now, I can look on you as a friend like myself, but I hope more effectually and actively useful, who is prone to study the good of his fellow men, but with no propensities threatening to do them extensive mischief, under the form and intention of benefit. . . .
"You say, 'I will look to events in which it will be impossible I can share, and make myself the cause of an effect which will take place ages after I shall have mouldered into dust.' In saying this you run from one extreme to another. I have often had occasion to apply a principle on the subject of education, which is equally applicable here--'Be not easily discouraged; sow the seed, and after a season, and when you least look for it, it will germinate and produce a crop.' I have again and again been, hopeless concerning the children with whom I have voluntarily, or by the laws of society, been concerned. Seeds of intellect and knowledge, seeds of moral judgment and conduct, I have sown; but the soil for a long while seemed ungrateful to the tiller's care. It was not so ; the happiest operations were going on quietly and unobserved, and at the moment when it was of the most importance, they unfolded themselves to the delight of every beholder.
"These instances of surprise are owing solely to the bluntness of our senses. You find little difference between the men of these islands of Europe now and twenty years ago. If you looked more' into these things you would perceive that the alteration is immense. The human race has made larger strides to escape from a state of childhood in these twenty years than perhaps in any hundred years preceding. . . .
When arranging his usual short summer excursion in 18 12, Godwin determined to combine this with a visit to the Shelleys. They had asked him to visit them, but no time had been fixed for his arrival ; indeed the invitation had not been pressed when Godwin first thought of making his tour westward, for the Shelleys feared they could scarcely make him quite comfortable in the limited accommodation they could offer him. But on his arrival at Lynmouth, the Shelleys were gone, and had taken up their abode at Tan-yr-alt in North Wales. The diary illustrates the difficulties of a pleasure tour sixty years since, and the perseverance of the tourist in spite of ill-health.
"Sep. 9, W. Twice to Bagley's banker: coach Gerards Hall: sup at Slough. Write to Place.
"10, Th. Breakfast at Thatcham : lunch Beckhampton : cyder, Bath: sleep at Bristol, Bush. Fellow travellers; Mrs Major Wins (Picton) rev. Gibbs, spouter, and Mrs Harwood. Write to M. J. [Mrs Godwin.]
"11, F. Call on Gutch: New Passage to Chepstow: Black Rock Inn, Mr and Mrs Griffiths: dine w. Vivian, Beaufort Arms; walk to the Castle. Write to M. J.
"12, Sa. Boat to Tintern; St Peter's Thumb, Twelve Apostles, Lover's Leap: dine at Chepstow: walk to Black Rock; adv. Griffiths (al Lewis) and Yescomb. Write to M. J.
"13, Su. Passage, with 12 horses, &c. : return chaise to Bristol: call on Dr Kentish, deceased. Write to Shelley.
"14, M. Call on Gutch, and w. him on Cottle: meet Vivian: w. him Cathedral and Redcliffe: dine at Gutch's W. Dr Pritchard. Write to M.J. French enter Moscow.
"Sep. 15, Tu. Breakfast at Gutch's : walk w. him to St Vincent's tea Cottle's: Bradbury's theatre. Write to M. sent Wednesday.
"16, W. Call on Gutch and Shephard: Jane, Capt. Edwards, w. Lawrence and son, Capt. Cotham, Miss Fisher, Mrs Kirkby, &c.
"17, Th. Rainy morning: pass Minehead: turned back by a squall, to Penarth, one mile from Cardiff, where it was proposed by the Captain we should sleep on shore, I believe in a barn. Deliquium.
"18 F. Lynmouth, three in afternoon: eat nothing from Wednesday's dinner: walk to the Valley of Stones. Deliquium, in bed-chamber.
"19, Sa. Call on Mrs Hooper; see Mrs Sandford: horses to Barnstaple ; mall and fair.
"20, Su. Coach w. East-Indian and wife, Capt. Burke, Major Hatherley, Lyndon cripple, &pc. : South Molton: dine at Tiverton: Peverel; Wellington: sleep at Taunton. Write to M. J.
"21, M. Breakfast at Somerton : walk and prospect at Castle Carey: Wincaunton; Mere: dine at Hindon: sleep at Salisbury: call on Dowding; Cathedral, moonlight. Write to M. J.
"22, Tu. Del. imp- Call on Dowding, and w. Luxford on Jeffery, picture-dealer: meet Tinney: Cathedral and Close: dine at Luxford's : sup on Welch Rabbit.
"23, W. Deliquia impa. Call on Dowding and Jeffery: Cathedral, charity-sermon, Bp. &c. : dine at Jeffery's w. Coates, Finches, Miss Noyes, Long and Luxford: adv. Bushel and Mitty. Write to M. J. Darmany calls.
"24, Th. Call on Dowding and Luxford, Jeffery n. and Coates chaise to Stonehenge and Amesbury: return do- to Andover; call on Godden, tanner. Write to M. J.
"Sep. 25, F. Coach, outside; w. postmaster, Jew, and 2 daughters, D. Hayter of Whitchurch, mechanist : dine at Staines : tea Skinner Street."
The narrative is given in greater detail to Mrs Godwin. The letter has already been printed by Lady Shelley in her " Shelley Memorials."
William Godwin to Mrs Godwin.
"LYNMOUTH, VALLEY OF STONES, Sep. 19th, 1812.
"MY DEAR LOVE,--The Shelleys are gone! have been gone these three weeks. I hope you hear the first from me; I dread lest every day may have brought you a letter from them, conveying this strange intelligence. I know you would conjure up a thousand frightful ideas of my situation under this disappointment. I have myself a disposition to take quietly any evil, when it can no longer be avoided, when it ceases to be attended with uncertainty, and when I can already compute the amount of it. I heard this news instantly on my arrival at this place, and therefore walked immediately (that is, as soon as I had dined) to the Valley of Stones, that, if I could not have what was gone away, I might at least not fail to visit what remained.
"You advise me to return by sea; I thank you a thousand times for your kind and considerate motive in this, but certainly nothing more could be proposed to me at this moment than a return by sea. I left Bristol at one o'clock on Wednesday, and arrived here at four o'clock on Friday, after a passage of fifty-one hours. We had fourteen passengers, and only four berths, therefore I lay down only once for a few hours. We had very little wind, and accordingly regularly tided it for six hours, and lay at anchor for six, till we reached this place. This place is fifteen miles short of Ilfracombe. If the Captain, after a great entreaty from the mate and one of his passengers. (for I cannot entreat for such things) [had not] lent me his own boat to put me ashore, I really think I should have died with ennui. We anchored, Wednesday night, somewhere within sight of the Holmes (small islands, so called, in the British Channel). The next night we came within sight of Minehead, but the evening set in with an alarming congregation of black clouds, the sea rolled vehemently without a wind (a phenomenon which is said to portend a storm) and the Captain in a fright put over to Penarth, near Cardiff, and even told us he should put us ashore there for the night. At Penarth, he said, there was but one house, but it had a fine large barn annexed to it capable of accommodating us all. This was a cruel reverse to me and my fellow-passengers, who had never doubted that we should reach the end of our voyage some time in the second day. By the time, however, we had made the Welsh coast, the frightful symptoms disappeared, the night became clear and serene, and I landed here happily-that is, without further accident--the next day. These are small events to a person accustomed to a seafaring life, but they were not small to me, and you will allow that they were not much mitigated by the elegant and agreeable accommodations of our crazed vessel. I was not decisively sea-sick, but had qualmish and discomforting sensations from the time we left the Bristol river, particularly after having lain down a few hours of Wednesday night.
" Since writing the above I have been to the house where Shelley lodged, and I bring good news. I saw the woman of the house, and I was delighted with her. She is a good creature, and quite loved the Shelleys. They lived here nine weeks and three days. They went away in a great hurry, in debt to her and two more. They gave her a draft upon the Honourable Mr Lawless, brother to Lord Cloncurry, and they borrowed of her twenty-nine shillings, besides £3 that she got for them from a neighbour, all of which they faithfully returned when they got to Ilfracombe, the people not choosing to change a bank-note which had been cut in half for safety in sending it by the post. But the best news is that the woman says they will be in London in a fortnight. This quite comforts my heart."
The Shelleys arrived in London after their stay at Tan-ry-alt on October 4th, and dined with Godwin. They remained in London just six weeks, during which time Shelley and Godwin met almost daily, and he with his wife and her sister, Miss Westbrook, were frequent visitors in Skinner Street. Of the two persons who were most to influence Shelley's life in after years, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and Jane Clairmont, who made her home with him and his second wife, he saw but little. Mary Godwin was just fifteen, was still a child, and considered as such in her family. Her half sister Fanny was Miss Godwin, and was, after this visit, Shelley's friend and occasional correspondent. Jane Clairmont was only at home for two nights during the six weeks Shelley spent in London. She was several years older than Fanny, and even then led a somewhat independent life apart from her mother and step-father, presumably as a governess, since that was the occupation she afterwards followed in Italy, during the intervals of her residence with the Shelleys. In those later days, however, it seemed more poetical to an imaginative mind to call herself 'Clare' instead of Jane, by which self-chosen name she appears in the Shelley diaries. Godwin, however, preferring blunt reality, sticks to her true name.
When Mary Godwin was fifteen her father received a letter from an unknown correspondent, who took a deep interest in the theories of education which had been held by Mary Wollstonecraft, and who was anxious to know how far these were carried out in regard to the children she had left. An extract from Godwin's reply paints his daughter as she was at that period:--
"Your enquiries relate principally to the two daughters of Mary Wollstonecraft. They are neither of them brought up with an exclusive attention to the system and ideas of their mother. I lost her in 1797, and in 1801 I married a second time. One among the motives which led me to chuse this was the feeling I had in myself of an incompetence for the education of daughters. The present Mrs Godwin has great strength and activity of mind, but is not exclusively a follower of the notions of their mother; and, indeed, having formed a family establishment without having a previous provision for the support of a family, neither Mrs Godwin nor I have leisure enough for reducing novel theories of education to practice, while we both of us honestly endeavour, as far as our opportunities will permit, to improve the mind and characters of the younger branches of our family.
" Of the two persons to whom your enquiries relate, my own daughter is considerably superior in capacity to the one her mother had before. Fanny, the eldest, is of a quiet, modest, unshowy disposition, somewhat given to indolence, which is her greatest fault, but sober, observing, peculiarly clear and distinct in the faculty of memory, and disposed to exercise her own thoughts and follow her own judgment. Mary, my daughter, is the reverse of her in many particulars. She is singularly bold, somewhat imperious, and active of mind. Her desire of knowledge is great, and her perseverance in everything she undertakes almost invincible. My own daughter is, I believe, very pretty; Fanny is by no means handsome, but in general prepossessing."
In 1813 Shelley was again in London for a short time during the summer, but Mary was absent in Scotland. She was not strong, and as a growing girl needed purer air than Skinner Street could offer ; she had therefore gone to Dundee with her father's friends, Mr Baxter and his daughter; and remained with them six months. It was not until the summer of 1814 that Shelley and Mary Godwin became really acquainted, when he found the child whom he had scarcely noticed two years before had grown into the woman of nearly seventeen summers.
The story has often been told, and told in different ways; but the facts as far as they can be gleaned from the scanty entries in Godwin's Diary are these. Shelley came to London on May 18th, leaving his wife at Binfield, certainly without the least idea that it was to be a final separation from him, though the relations between husband and wife had for some time been increasingly unhappy. He was of course received in Godwin's house on the old footing of close intimacy, and rapidly fell in love with Mary. Fanny Godwin was away from home visiting some of the Wollstonecrafts, or she, three years older than Mary, might have, discouraged the romantic attachment which sprang up between her sister and their friend. Jane Clairmont's influence was neither then, nor at any other time, used, or likely to be used, judiciously.
It was easy for the lovers, for such they became before they were aware of it, to meet without the attention of the parents being drawn to the increasing intimacy, and yet without any such sense of clandestine interviews, as might have disclosed to themselves whither they were drifting. Mary was unhappy at home ; she thoroughly disliked Mrs Godwin, to whom Fanny was far more tolerant; her desire for knowledge and love for reading were discouraged, and when seen with a book in her hand, she was wont to hear from her step-mother that her proper sphere was the storeroom. Old St Pancras churchyard was then a quiet and secluded spot, where Mary Wollstonecraft's grave was shaded by a fine weeping willow. Here Mary Godwin used to take her books in the warm days of June, to spend every hour she could call her own. Here her intimacy with Shelley ripened, and here, in Lady Shelley's words, "she placed her hand in his, and linked her fortunes with his own."
It was not till July 8th that Godwin saw in any degree what was going on. The Diary records a "Talk with Mary," and a letter to Shelley. The explanation was satisfactory-it was before the mutual confession in St Pancras churchyard-and Godwin and Shelley still met daily; but the latter did not dine again in Skinner Street. On July 14th Harriet Shelley arrived in London. The entries in the Diary for that and the following day are :--
"15, F. M[arshal] and Shelley for Nash: Balloon: P.B. and H. Shelley to call n.: M. and F. Jones call, for Miss White: call on H. Shelley.
"16, Sa. C. Turner (fr. Mackintosh and Dadley) call: call on Shelleys; coach w. P. B. S."
It is quite certain that Godwin used all his influence to restore the old relations between husband and wife; and on the 22d "Talk with Jane, letter fr. do. Write to H.S.," evidently refer to his dislike of the attention which Shelley now paid his daughter. But it was too late; for on July 28th, early in the morning, Mary Godwin left her father's house, accompanied by Jane Clairmont. They joined Shelley, posted to Dover, and crossed in an open boat to Calais during a violent storm, during which they were in considerable danger. As soon. as the elopementwas discovered Mrs Godwin pursued the party.
Godwin's Diary is here also extremely brief :--
"28, Th. Five in the morning. Macmillan calls. M. J. for Dover."
Charles Clairmont wrote to break the news to Fanny, and devoted himself to his step-father during the three days of uncertainty, till Mrs Godwin returned from Calais on July 31st.
On the evening of their arrival at Calais, Shelley and Mary began a joint diary, which was continued by one or the other through the remainder of Shelley's life. The entry for the second day gives an account of the entrance into their room of the landlord of the Calais Hotel to say that 11 a fat lady had arrived who said that I had run away with her daughter." As all the world knows, her persuasions had no avail, and she returned alone; Jane Clairmont, in spite of her mother's remonstrances, determined to stay with Shelley and Mary. The three went to 'Paris, where they bought a donkey, and rode him in turns to Geneva, the others walking. He was bought for Mary as the weak- est of the party, but Shelley's feet were soon blistered, and he was glad to ride now and then, not without the jeers of the passers by, in the spirit of those who scoffed in the Fable of the " Old Man and his Ass."
Sleeping now in a cabaret and now in a cottage, they at last finished this strange honeymoon, and the strangest sentimental journey ever undertaken since Adam and Eve went forth with all the world before them where to choose.
Godwin's irritation and displeasure at the step his daughter had taken were extreme. His own views on the subject of marriage had undergone a considerable. change, and he was more alive than in former years to the strictures of the world. Nor is it possible for the most enthusiastic admirers of Shelley to palliate materially his conduct in the matter. On any view of the relations between the sexes, on any view of the desirableness of divorce, the breach with Harriet, was far too recent to justify his conduct. In spite of her after-conduct our sympathies cannot but be in some measure with the discarded wife. But neither need they be refused to Mary Godwin. Let it be remembered that she was not seventeen, that her whole sympathies were with her mother, who had held views on marriage, different indeed to those which her daughter was upholding by her action, but which a young inexperienced girl might easily confuse with them, that her home was unhappy, and that she had met one who was to her then, and through all her married life, as one almost divine, last and not least that she was upheld in all that she did by an astute and worldly woman, who, though no relation, stood to Mary in the place of an elder sister. For Miss Clairmont indeed it is difficult to find excuse.
Godwin's sources of trouble were considerable at the time of Mary's leaving her home. He was not a tender father in outward show, but he was sincerely attached to his children, and Mary was bound up with the happiest and the saddest days of the past. William also began to give his father a good deal of uneasiness, and the week after Mrs Godwin returned from her bootless mission to Calais, the boy ran away from home--the first, but by no means the last, escapade of the kind--and could not be found till after two nights' search and anxiety. And the day after his disappearance was that on which Godwin heard of Patrickson's suicide.
It has seemed best to give the narratives of Patrickson and Shelley without intermission, but the following letters, which need little elucidation, fall within the period to which the death of the one and the elopement of the other, bring the narrative of Godwin's life.
William Wordsworth to William Godwin.
"GRASMERE, March 9. 1811.
"DEAR SIR,--I received your letter and the accompanying booklet yesterday. Some one recommended to Gainsborough a subject for a picture: it pleased him much, but he immediately said with a sigh, I What a pity I did not think of it myself!' Had I been as much delighted with the story of the Beauty and the Beast as you appear to have been, and as much struck with its fitness for verse, still your proposal would have occasioned in me a similar regret. I have ever bad the same sort of perverseness : I cannot work upon the suggestion of others, however eagerly I might have addressed myself to the proposed subject, if it had come to me of its own accord. You will therefore attribute my declining the task of versifying the tale to this infirmity, rather than to an indisposition to serve you. Having stated this, it is unnecessary to add that it could not, in my opinion, be ever decently done without great labour, especially in our language. Fontaine acknowledges that he found 'les narrations en vers tres mal-aisees,' yet he allowed himself, in point of metre and versification, every kind of liberty, and only chose such subjects as (to the disgrace of his country be it spoken) the French -language is peculiarly fitted for. This tale, I judge from its name, is of French origin; it is not, however, found in a little collection which I have in that tongue: mine only includes Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and two or three more. I think the shape in which it appears in the little book you have sent me has much injured the story, and Mrs. Wordsworth and my sister both have an impression of its being told differently, and to them much more pleasantly, though they do not distinctly recollect the deviations. I confess there is to me something disgusting in the notion of a human being consenting to meet with a beast, however amiable his qualities of heart. There is a line and a half in the Paradise Lost upon this subject, which always shocked me,--
'. . . . . for which cause
Among the beasts no mate for thee was found.'"
"These are objects to which the attention of the mind ought not to be turned even as things in possibility. I have never seen the tale in French, but, as every one knows, the word Bete in French conversation perpetually occurs as applied to a stupid, senseless, half-idiotic person. Betise in like manner stands for stupidity. With us, beast and bestial excite loathsome and disgusting ideas--I mean when applied in a metaphorical manner: and consequently something of the same hangs about the literal sense of the words. Brute is the word employed when we contrast the intellectual qualities of the inferior animals with our own, the brute creation, &c. I Ye of brutes human, we of human gods.' Brute, metaphorically used, with us designates ill manners of a coarse kind, or insolent and ferocious cruelty. I make these remarks with a view to the difficulty attending the treatment of this story in our tongue, I mean in verse, where the utmost delicacy, that is, true, philosophic, permanent delicacy, is required.
"Win. Taylor of Norwich took the trouble of versifying 'Blue Beard' some years ago, and might perhaps not decline to assist you in the present case, if you are acquainted with him, or could get at him. He is a man personally unknown to me, and in his literary character doubtless an egregious coxcomb, but he is ingenious enough to do this, if he could be prevailed upon to undertake it.
"Permit me to add one particular. You live, and have lived, long in London, and therefore may not know at what rate parcels are conveyed by coach. judging from the size, you probably thought the expense of yours would be trifling. You remember the story of the poor girl who, being reproached with having brought forth an illegitimate child, said it was true, but added that it was a very little one, insinuating thereby that her offence was small in proportion. But the plea does not hold good, as it is in these cases of immorality, so it is with the rules of the coachoffices. To be brief, I had to pay for your tiny parcel 4/9, and should have to pay no more if it had been twenty times as large. . . . . I deem you, therefore, my debtor, and will put you in the way of being quits with me. If you can command a copy of your book upon burial, which I have never seen, let it be sent to Lamb's for my use, who in the course of this spring will be able to forward it to me.-Believe me, my dear Sir, to be yours sincerely,
" W. WORDSWORTH."
Charles Lamb to William Godwin.
"'Bis dat qui dat cito.'
"I hate the pedantry of expressing that in another language which we have sufficient terms for in our own. So in plain English I very much wish you to give your vote to-morrow at Clerkenwell, instead of Saturday. It would clear up the brows of my favourite candidate, and stagger the hands of the opposite party. It commences at nine. How easy, as you come from Kensington (a propos, how is your excellent family?) to turn down Bloomsbury, through Leather Lane (avoiding Hay Stall St. for the disagreeableness of the name). Why, it brings you in four minutes and a half to the spot renowned on northern milestones, ,where Hicks' Hall formerly stood.' There will be good cheer ready for every independent freeholder; where you see a green flag hang out go boldly in, call for ham, or beef, or what you please, and a mug of Meux's Best. How much more gentlemen like to come in the front of the battle, openly avowing one's sentiments, then to lag in on the last day, When the adversary is dejected, spiritless, laid low. Have the first cut at them. By Saturday you'll cut into the mutton. I'd go cheerfully myself, but I am no freeholder (Fuimus Troes, fuit Ilium), but I sold it for £50. If they'd accept a copy-holder, we clerks are naturally copy-holders.
"By the way, get Mrs Hume, or that agreeable Amelia or Caroline, to stick a bit of green in your hat. Nothing daunts the adversary more than to wear the colours of your party. Stick it in cockade-like. It has a martial, and by no means disagreeable effect.
"Go, my dear freeholder, and if any chance calls you out of this transitory scene earlier than expected, the coroner shall sit lightly on your corpse. He shall not too anxiously enquire into the circumstances of blood found upon your razor. That might happen to any gentleman in shaving. Nor into your having been heard to express a contempt of life, or for scolding Louisa for what Julia did, and other trifling incoherencies.--Yours sincerely,
S. T. Coleridge to William Godwin.
"Mar 15, 1811.
"MY DEAR GODWIN,--I receive twice the pleasure from my recovery that it would have otherwise afforded, as it enables me to accept your kind invitation, which in this instance I might with perfect propriety and manliness thank you for, as an honour done to me. To sit at the same table with Grattan, who would not think it a memorable honour, a red-letter day in the almanac of his life? No one certainly who is in any degree worthy of it. Rather than not be in the same room, I could be well content to wait at the table at which I was not permitted to sit, and this not merely for Grattan's undoubted great talents, and still less from any entire accordance with his political opinions, but because his great talents are the, tools and vehicles of his genius, and all his speeches are attested by that constant accompaniment of true genius, a certain moral bearing, a moral dignity. His love of liberty has no snatch of the mob in it.
"Assure Mrs Godwin of my anxious wishes respecting her health. The scholar Salernitanus says:
Si tibi deficiant medici, medici tibi fias
Haec tria : mens hilaris, requies, moderata diæta.'
"The regulated diet she already has, and now she must contrive to call in the two other doctors. . . . God bless you.
"S. T. COLERIDGE."
The Same to the Same.
"Mar. 26, 1811.
DEAR GODWIN,--Mr Grattan did me the honour of calling on me and leaving his card on Sunday afternoon, unfortunately a few minutes after I had gone out, and I am so unwell that I am afraid I shall not be able to return the call to-day, as I had intended, though it is a grief even for a brace of days to appear insensible of so much kindness and condescension. But what need has Grattan of pride?
"'Ha d' uopo solo
Mendicar dall' orgoglio, onore e stima
Chi senza lui di vilipendio e degno.'
"I half caught from Lamb that you had written to Wordsworth with a wish that he should versify some tale or other, and that he had declined it. I told dear Miss Lamb that I had formed a complete plan of a poem, with little plates for children, the first thought, but that alone, taken from Gesner's 'First Mariner;' and this thought I have reason to believe was not an invention of Gesner's. It is this : that in early time, in some island or part of the continent, the ocean had rushed in, overflowing a vast plain of twenty or thirty miles, and thereby insulating one small promontory or cape of high land, on which was a cottage, containing a man and his wife and an infant daughter. This is the one thought. All that Gesner has made out of it (for I once translated into blank verse about half of the poem, but gave it up under the influence of a double disgust, moral and poetical), I have rejected, and, strictly speaking, the tale in all. its parts, that one idea excepted, would be original. The tale will contain the cause, the occasions, the process, with all its failures and ultimate success, of the construction of the first boat, and of the undertaking of the first naval expedition. Now, supposing you liked the idea--I address you and Mrs Godwin as commerciants, not you as the philosopher who gave us the first system in England that ever dared reveal at full that most important of all important truths, that morality might be built up on its own foundation like a castle built from the rock, and on the rock, with religion for the omaments and completion of its roof and upper storeys--nor as the critic who in the life of Chaucer has given us, if not principles of ésthetic, or taste, yet more and better data for principles than had hitherto existed in our language. If we, pulling like two friendly tradesmen together (for you and your wife must be one flesh, and I trust are one heart), you approve of the plan, the next question is whether it should be written in prose or verse, or if the latter, in what metre--stanzas or eight-syllabled iambics with rhymes (for in rhyme it must be) now in couplets and now in quatrains, in the manner of Cooper's admirable translation of the 'Lament of Gresset.' (N.B.--Not the Cowper.)
"Another thought has struck me of a school-book in two octavo volumes of I Lives' in the manner of Plutarch's, but instead of comparing and coupling Greek with Roman, Dion with Brutus, and Cato with Aristides, of placing ancient and modern together, Hume with Alfred, Cicero with Bacon, Hannibal with Gustavus Adolphus, and Julius Caesar with Buonaparte. Or, which perhaps might be at once more interesting and more instructive, a series of 'Lives,' from Moses to Buonaparte, of all those great men who in states, or in the mind of man, had produced great revolutions, the effects of which still remain, and are more or less distant causes of the present state of the world. . . ."
The Same to the Same.
" March 29, 1811.
DEAR GODWIN,--My chief motive in undertaking I the first manner' is merely to weave a few tendrils around your destined walking stick, which, like those of the wood-bine (that, serpent-like climbing up, and with tight spires embossing the straight hazel, rewards the lucky school-boy's search in the hazel-copse), may remain on it when the wood-bine, root and branch, lies trampled in the earth. I shall consider the work as a small plot of ground given up to you to be sown at your own hazard with your own seed (gold grains would have been but a bad pun, and besides have spoiled the metaphor). If the increase should more than repay your risk and labour, why then let me be one of your guests at Harvest Home.
" Your last letter impressed and affected me strongly. Ere I bad yet read or seen your works, I, at Southey's recommendation, wrote a sonnet in praise of the author. When I had read them, religious bigotry, the but half-understanding of your principles, and the not half-understanding my own, combined to render me a warm and boisterous anti-Godwinist. But my warfare was open ; my unfelt and harmless blows aimed at an abstraction I had christened with your name ; and you at that time, if not in the world's favour, were among the captains and chief men in its admiration. I became your acquaintance when more years had brought somewhat more temper and tolerance ; but I distinctly remember that the first turn in my mind towards you, the first movements of a juster appreciation of your merits, was occasioned by my disgust at the altered tone and language of many whom I had long known as your admirers and disciples. Some of them, too, were men who had made themselves a sort of reputation in minor circles as your acquaintance, and were therefore your echoes by authority, themselves aided in attaching an unmerited ridicule to you and your opinions by their own ignorance, which led them to think the best settled thoughts, and indeed everything in your I Political Justice,' whether ground, or deduction, or conjecture, to have been new thoughts, downright creations. Their own vanity enabled them to forget that everything must be new to him that knows nothing. Others again, who though gifted with high talents had yet been indebted to you, and the discussions occasioned by your wish for much of their development, who had often and often styled you the Great Master, written verses in your honour, and, worse than all, had brought your opinions with many good and worthy men into as unmerited an odium as the former class had into contempt by the attempt, equally unfeeling and unwise to realise them in private life, to the disturbance of domestic peace. And lastly, a third class ; but the name of---spares me the necessity of describing it. In all these there was such a want of common sensibility, such a want of that gratitude to an intellectual benefactor which even an honest reverence for their great selves should have secured, as did then, still does, and ever will disgust me.
" As for ---, I cannot justify him; but he stands in no one of the former classes. When he was young he just looked enough into your books to believe you taught republicanism and stoicism; ergo, that he was of your opinion and you of his, and that was all. Systems of philosophy were never his taste or forte. And I verily believe that his conduct originated wholly and solely in the effects which the trade of reviewing never fails to produce at certain times on the best minds,--presumption, petulance, callousness to personal feelings, and a disposition to treat the reputations of their contemporaries as playthings placed at their own disposal. Most certainly I cannot approve of such things; but yet I have learned how difficult it is for a man who has from earliest childhood preserved himself immaculate from all the common faults and weaknesses of human nature, and who, never creating any small disquietudes, has lived in general esteem and honour, to feel remorse, or to admit that he has done wrong. Believe me, there is a bluntness of conscience superinduced by a very unusual infrequency, as well as by a habit of frequency of wrong actions. ' Sunt, quibus cecidisse prodesset,' says Augustine. To this add that business of review-writing, carried on for fifteen years together, and which I have never hesitated to pronounce an immoral employment, unjust to the author of the books reviewed, injurious in its effects on the public taste and morality, and still more injurious in its influences on the head and heart of the reviewer himself. The prægustatores among the luxurious Romans soon lost their taste; and the verdicts of an old prægustator were sure to mislead, unless when, like dreams, they were interpreted into contraries. Our Reviewers are the genuine descendants of these palate-scared taste dictators.
"I am still confined by indisposition, but intend to step out to Hazlitt's, almost my next door neighbour, at his particular request. lt is possible that I may find you there.
"Yours, dear Godwin, affectionately, S. T. COLERIDGE."
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