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 Last Years. 1832—1836.
A GREAT, happily the last great, sorrow fell on Godwin in the autumn of 1832, in the loss of his only son. He appears to have been a singularly bright, winning, and accomplished man. His nephew, Sir Percy Shelley, remembers him as " a very good fellow, who used to take me to the play." He was much loved by his friends, and was happy in his marriage. A somewhat stormy youth and chequered career of various unfinished beginnings had given place to a steady manhood, in which he was friend and companion to his father, and earned for himself a respectable competence. He was parliamentary reporter to the Morning Chronicle, a fairly successful draughtsman, and had at the time of his death finished a novel, "Transfusion," of considerable power and weird imagination. This was published by his father after his death, prefaced by a touching and gravely self-restrained Memoir. William Godwin, the younger, died of cholera after a short illness, during which his father and mother never left him, and was buried in the churchyard nearest his home, that attached to the Church of St. John Evangelist, Waterloo Road.
The poverty which Godwin had feared was not his fate. In April 1833, Lord Grey, on the urgent request of many friends, amongst whom Mackintosh, before his death in 1832, had been very earnest, conferred on Godwin the post of Yeoman Usher of the Exchequer, with residence in New Palace Yard. The office, which was in fact a sinecure, the nominal duties of which were of necessity wholly performed by menials, was abolished among the retrenchments on which a reformed Parliament insisted; and, soon after his appointment, there was for some time a danger, or there seemed to Godwin a danger, that he might be once more homeless and poor, for he had accepted the office subject to such changes as might be deemed afterwards desirable. But men of all political creeds were now kindly disposed to the patriarch of philosophical radicalism, the old literary lion. The Duke of Wellington and Lord Melbourne alike exerted themselves for him, and each assured him that no change in his position should be made.
The old friends were gone. Charles Lamb, almost the last, died at Edmonton, on December 27, 1834. There had been a slight coolness, the cause of which is not apparent, between them, but Rickman intervened, and invited both to meet at a dinner given by him at the Bell at Edmonton, "where," in Rickman's words, "Mrs Gilpin once dined or meant to dine." The dinner took place on July 19, 1833, and the old cordiality was happily restored. To Godwin, Edmonton had more sacred associations than of Mrs Gilpin; there is no record that he had before visited the early home of Mary Wollstonecraft.
And at his age he made few new friends, though even to I the last he retained the power of attracting the young and of sympathizing with them. The record of one such acquaintance is preserved only in the letters which follow, but the correspondence is worth preserving, since it does honour to both the writers.
W. Cooke to William Godwin.
"Lisson Grove, Dec. 5, 1834.
"I take up my pen to address this to you, sir, at the earnest, dying request of a dearly beloved, whose respect and admiration of you was as deep as it was lasting. I believe one of the last requests he made to Mrs Godwin before he left London was, should you be attacked with any dangerous illness, that she should be so kind as to inform him of it; for that wheresoever he was, or whatsoever might be his employ, he would most assuredly hasten to your bed-side, to render all the assistance in his power, and if it should be fatal, to observe how you would conduct yourself in such an extremity, and how you would die. These also are the very things he has requested me to inform you concerning himself, and to this I hasten.
"Rather more than three months ago, soon after his return from the Isle of Wight, he was attacked with an alarming illness. . . . Debility and emaciation still proceeded, and on the 23d ultimo he expired. He retained all his powers of mind unimpaired to the last.
"About two months before he died, he said he felt a great want of something to console him under his sufferings, and requested me to ask a particular friend of his (a Unitarian minister) to lend him some books. Amongst these was ' Channing's Sermons.' . . . He soon after requested me to read him one of the Gospels. . . . After this, one morning early, he sent his wife for me, saying he had somewhat to communicate; when he said, 'Father, I am fully convinced that Jesus Christ is very God: I can adore and worship him with all the powers and faculties of my soul.' He said much more to the same purport, and at different times. . . . Perhaps a more surprising change from infidelity to assured faith never occurred. . . . He ardently wished that all should be made acquainted with it who knew his former principles. ... I hope, sir, that you will excuse the inadequate manner in which I have attempted to comply with the request of a dying son, and take it as a memorial of his respect, and the best wishes of
"Sir, yours very respectfully,
"The widow desires to be kindly remembered to Mrs Godwin."
William Godwin to W. Cooke.
"Dec. i6, 1834.
"Sir,—I beg to acknowledge my obligations to you for the letter with which you favoured me last week. I do most sincerely condole with you on the death of your son, who had many good qualities that awakened my esteem. I know how fervently you were attached to him, and, considering all things, am almost glad that he died in a manner that could best afford you consolation under the afflicting dispensation that has taken from your age its greatest comfort.
"As to my own creed, to which you refer, that is a totally different thing. It has been deeply reflected on, and has been at least the fruit of as much patient and honest research as your own. I am now in my seventy-ninth year, and am not likely to alter in a matter of so much moment. We must be contented with different results, and should entertain charity for each other. If I am in error, I am in the hands of God, and I humbly trust that he will see the integrity and honesty of my enquiries.
"I am, sir, with much respect, very sincerely yours,
"The Lives of the Necromancers " still occupied Godwin during the summer of his removal to Palace Yard. The book is not greatly interesting, but a letter from Ramohun Roy, in answer to enquiries, will serve to show that even at Godwin's advanced age his habit of patient and painstaking enquiry had not left him.
The writer, a learned Hindoo, a Brahmin, was ambassador in England from the Court of Delhi, and died near Bristol during the month following that in which his letter was written. He became a Christian, according to the Unitarian phase of that religion. His mastery of English was remarkable, shown not only by such letters, but also by religious and political tracts, and translations from the sacred books of India.
Ramohun Roy to William Godwin.
"Bedford Square, August 10, 1833.
"The term Magi is most probably derived from Majas (worshippers of fire) or from Moogk, almost synonymous to the former term. The founder of this religion in Persia was Zoroaster. He extended his doctrine in all the provinces of Persia, and some parts of India. He and almost all the celebrated Magi were supposed to have performed wonderful miracles. The Mantua (or text) implies certain passages of the Vedas, and also certain sentences, by means of which impostors pretend to heal diseases, to banish evil spirits, and bring lions, serpents, and other fierce and venomous animals to subjection. In fact, in India, Persia, and almost all the countries of Asia, the inhabitants are still deluded by pretended magicians, astrologers, etc. Almost all the celebrated kings, sages, and devotees are mentioned in every historical work as being possessed of supernatural power.
"Pari signifies a female spirit in the human form, and is very nearly synonymous to the English term fairy, signifying male and female spirits. Deeoo (or Dives) is synonymous to Demons, and Fin is an Arabic word, signifying a kind of superior being, morally responsible for their actions, and possessed of almost all the powers that an angel is possessed of. The difference between the Fins and the Deeoos is, that among the Fins, like men, righteous as well as wicked persons can be found. In fact, in the various parts of Asia, in proportion to the ignorance of the people, a belief in necromancy, etc., is prevalent."
The letter of Godwin's New York correspondent will be read with deep sympathy by many an author even now on this side of the water; but its special interest for us also lies in the fact that we have one more glimpse of Tom Cooper, whose fortunes had been through life much what they were at its outset.
John Howard Payne to William Godwin.
"New York, Nov. 30, 1833.
"My Dear Mr Godwin,—I have written a letter or two which I have reason to believe you never saw: but I presume those detailing the shufflings and ill-treatment of the booksellers on the subject of your novel, must have reached you. I hope you are satisfied I did everything in my power to secure you some advantage from this work. But I am now convinced that, unless for some party purpose, it is impossible to create a more liberal spirit in reference to literary matters here, than the law enables me to command: and in your case the law gave all the power out of your hands. Competition, if it could have been kindled, might have given some power to the possessor of the earliest copy, but I laboured in vain to create such a spirit; and after great efforts, and one or two long journeys, was obliged quietly to let a paltry edition appear, and endure to be laughed at for my philippics against the powerful booksellers, who for a hope of disreputable profit, could stoop to so much meanness.
"I have only a moment to spare for the purpose of asking your civilities to a friend of mine—Mr Rand, an artist . . . He has been kind enough to promise me your portrait, if you will so far oblige me as to sit for it. I know this is asking much, but I shall prize the favour in proportion to the sacrifice. I feel persuaded that Mr Rand will produce such a picture as will deserve to be prized; and a good likeness of you I should deem invaluable. . . .
"Thomas Cooper has been obliged to appeal to public sympathy for his family. The people came forward very handsomely. At Philadelphia they had a benefit which yielded 2500 dols., and one was lately given in New York, amounting to 4500 dols.—I am, &c
"John Howard Payne."
We may well suppose that Mrs Stanhope may have considered an autograph letter was, in fact, a sufficient contribution to her album. She may have considered he was not unlike that one of her own sex, who, "whispering she would ne'er consent, consented."
William Godwin to Mrs L. Stanhope.
"Jan. 30, 1834.
"Dear Madam.—I am fully sensible of the compliment you pay me in requesting a contribution from my pen to your album, but my principal sensation on the occasion is pain in refusing you. Quin, the actor, after retiring from the stage, was accustomed annually to play Falstaff for the benefit of his old friend, Ryan. But at length, being applied to once more, and having lost several of his teeth, he answered that he fervently desired for Ryan all manner of good, 'but, by God, he would not whistle Falstaff for any man.' So I, who am as clumsy as an elephant, must reply in this case, that I greet you with my utmost good wishes, but will not attempt a hornpipe even for Mrs L. Stanhope.—Believe me, dear Madam, most sincerely yours,
Godwin ceased his career as author with "The Lives of the Necromancers," but his pen was still active, and his brain still vigorous. In quite the last years of his life he retouched, in some cases re-wrote, and in others wrote for the first time, a series of essays, which he designed to call "The Genius of Christianity Unveiled," and to this refers the last letter to his wife remaining among his papers. Mrs Godwin was absent on her short annual excursion to Southend. The work, which was to have been prepared for publication by Mrs Shelley after her father's death, was withheld for various reasons till three years since, when it was published under the more modest title, more truly descriptive, of " Essays, hitherto unpublished."
William Godwin to Mrs Godwin
"Aug. 30, 1834.
"My health is better. I have had no return of the sick feeling which obstinately pursued me for three weeks after my journey to Harrow. I have written at my manuscript for four days, a little at a time, and feeling as if I were too old to do much. But it cheers me. . . .
"Mrs Shelley dined with me on Friday 22d, and I with her the following Monday. She spent the evening with me yesterday. We should meet oftener, but I rather decline going to her evenings. The evenings are now dark, and the walk across the park at a late hour is anything but pleasant. . . .
"I am afraid to say how much I wish to see you, lest you should call me selfish. Do, however, stay longer, if you think it will do you good. I have still £50, the produce of the 'Necromancers.'"
His last word on politics is contained in a letter to Mr Cross, given below; his last words on religion in the Essays published since his death. The letter, though of an earlier date, seems in place here. He was true to himself, consistent and unwavering.
William Godwin to W. Cross.
Jan. 31, 1831.
..." I am extremely sorry that any silence on my part should have been the cause of giving you pain. ... I have been all my life accustomed to regard man as everything, 'the most excellent and noble creature of the world,' and property as comparatively mere dross and dirt. I was sorry, therefore, to see you count the value of a man by pounds, shillings, and pence. I remember a plan of Mr H. Tooke on the subject of Parliamentary Reform, which was to give every man a right to as many votes for a repre sentative as he was able and willing to purchase at a stipulated price. I do not know whether he was in jest or earnest, and I dare say you never saw his plan. Yours is better than his because yours does not depend so much on whim as his did. . . .
"I am a republican because I am a philanthropist. That form of society, perhaps, is the best which shall make individual man feel most generous and most noble. As poor Dr Watts says, 'The mind's the standard of the man.'
"With regard to the revolution which occurred in France in July last, it appears to me that the leaders did well in the points you specify. You say that your voluntary association would have proved strong enough to resist all the force that combined Europe could have brought against them. Be it so: yet the despots of Europe would not have thought so. And to prevent a war is much better than to finish a war with victory to the just cause. I am glad, therefore, that the leaders said to Europe,' We will have a king as we have had before. Be not alarmed: we will set no example of anarchy and the dissolution of government to the people over whom you reign.' I moreover rejoice in the generous magnanimity and forbearance the leaders have displayed, so much the reverse of the Revolution of 1789. I finally rejoice in the energy that has saved the lives of the ministers of Charles X."
Though his mind was thus vigorous, his body was showing signs of decay. The occasional maladies from which he had suffered for many years, giddiness, faintings, and numbness in his limbs, occurred at more frequent periods; the entries in the Diary on given days that he felt quite well are evidence added to the record of maladies that on other days he was aware that "age with stealing steps had clawed him in her clutch." Yet it is possible the habit of minute introspection, extending to his bodily condition, led him to dwell on some matters of which even less healthy men might have thought less; and, on the whole, it was a singularly vigorous old age. To the last years, even to the last days of his life, his habits were the same as they had been forty years before. Reading of the most varied kind, but by preference the Classics and Italian literature, occupied his mornings, visits from and to friends his afternoons. He still dined out and attended the theatre, and even so late as Thursday, March 24, 1836, he went to the Opera to hear Zampa.
He was aware, however, that the end could not be far distant, and contemplated it with the same philosophical calm which had characterized him through life. On August 21, 1834, he had written some reflections on the diaries he had kept for so many years, on a loose sheet of paper, that he might place it regularly and with method in its true position whenever he felt that the last entry in the Diary, as it lay open on his desk was made. He ended vol. xxxii. of this on the Saturday, March 26, 1836, with these words:—
"Malfy, fin. Call on Hudson, Trelawny calls, cough, snow."
and then on the inside of the cover pasted the sheet which had so long waited for its place. It is as follows:—
"August 21, 1834.
"With what facility have I marked these pages with the stamp of rolling weeks and months and years—all uniform, all blank! What a strange power is this! It sees through a long vista of time, and it sees nothing. All this at present is mere abstraction, symbols, not realities. Nothing is actually seen: the whole is ciphers, conventional marks, imaginary boundaries of unimagined things. Here is neither joy nor sorrow, pleasure nor pain. Yet when the time shall truly come, and the revolving year shall bring the day, what portentous events may stamp the page ! what anguish, what horror, or by possibility what joy, what Godlike elevation of soul! Here are fevers, and excruciating pains 'in their sacred secundine asleep.' Here may be the saddest reverses, destitution and despair, detrusion and hunger and nakedness, without a place wherein to lay our head, wearisome days and endless nights in dark and unendurable monotony, variety of wretchedness; yet of all one gloomy hue; slumbers without sleep, waking without excitation, dreams all heterogeneous and perplexed, with nothing distinct and defined, distracted without the occasional bursts and energy of distraction. And these pages look now all fair, innocent, and uniform. I have put down eighty years and twenty-three days, and I might put down one hundred and sixty years. But in which of these pages shall the pen which purposes to record, drop from my hands for ever, never again to be resumed? I shall set down the memoranda of one day, with the full expectation of resuming my task on the next, or my fingers may refuse their functions in the act of forming a letter, and leave the word never by the writer to be completed.
"Everything under the sun is uncertain. No provision can be a sufficient security against adverse and unexpected fortune, least of all to him who has not a stipulated income bound to him by the forms and ordinances of society. This, as age and feebleness of body and mind advances, is an appalling consideration, 'a man cannot tell what shall be,' to what straits he may be driven, what trials and privations and destitution and struggles and griefs may be reserved for him."
It was with no faltering hand, but yet with a prophetic feeling, that the end had come, that Godwin finished his last Diary note-book. On Sunday, March 27th, the illness of which he had complained the day before increased, and his cold became feverish. The pen had "dropped from his hand for ever," and after ten days of gradual and peaceful decay, he died on Thursday, April 7th, 1836.
He was buried by the side of Mary Wollstonecraft, in Old St Pancras Churchyard, which even then had not entirely ceased to be a quiet nook, where Shelley had met Mary Godwin under the willow which shadowed her mother's grave. The tide of London was soon to desecrate and deform into hideous desolation a spot full of so many memories; two Railways run below and through Old St Pancras graveyard.
But when it became needful to disturb the bones of the dead for the sake of the living, Mary Shelley had passed away, and was resting in Bournemouth churchyard, the burial-place nearest to the home of her only surviving child. In order that parents and daughter might rest together, the remains of Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft were transferred to the same spot by their grandson, in whose house, enshrined in a silver urn, are the ashes of his father. It is Shelley's heart alone, "cor cordium," that the Roman grave contains. Clerical intolerance uttered some protests against the inscription on the grave, where stand recorded the works by which each who lies there is best known, though it is difficult to see why words which were innocent in St Pancras' churchyard were harmful elsewhere. But kinder and wiser counsels prevailed, and on a sunny bank, sloping to the west, among the rose-twined crosses of many who have died in more orthodox beliefs, rest those who at least might each of them have said
"Write me, as one that loves his fellow-men."
William Godwin, Author of " Political Justice."
Born, March 3rd, 1756; Died, April 7th, 1836
Aged 80 years.
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin,
Author of a Vindication of the "Rights of Women."
Born, April 27th, 1759; Died Sepr. 10, 1797
Their remains were removed hither from the Churchyard of St Pancras,
London, A.D. 1851.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley,
Daughter of Willm. & Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and Widow of the late
Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Born, 30 Augt., 1797; Died, 1st Feby. 1857.
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