This text was taken from William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries, Vol. 1 by C. Kegan Paul. Henry S. King and Co., London, 1876.
A SINGULAR COURTSHIP-FRIENDS. 1798.
EARLY in the year of which the domestic record has been given, Godwin published the" Enquirer." It is a collection of essays, based, as he says in his preface, on conversations. It embraces a great variety of subjects, very much of the character which we have already found he and his friends met to discuss, such as, "Of Awakening the Mind," Of Co-habitation," "Of Riches and Poverty," and the like. The volume elaborated in this manner many of the points which had been treated cursorily in Political Justice." It did not in any degree detract from his fame, and is admirably written, but since it merely reasserted principles already known as his, it excited no special attention, though it went through several editions. A very furious onslaught on the clergy, however, was one of the causes of a coolness which grew between him and Dr Parr. The Doctor had apparently not seen the hook when Godwin paid his visit to Hatton with Basil Montagu.
The beginning of the year 1798 saw Godwin restored to the usual tenor of his life, yet with a sense, constantly expressed in his letters, of a great void in his existence which nothing could fill, with pecuniary cares pressing upon him, and an almost bewildered feeling in regard to the nurture and education of the children his wife had left him. Little Fanny had, from an early period, won his warm affection; she bore his name, and was always treated by him as a daughter. The Diary of this year shews him again much in society; indeed, rarely at home in the evening. He had no companion there, and it has been seen already that his health did not allow of literary work beyond the time so closely devoted to it in the morning. Yet the amount of work recorded is surprising. Not only was his pen constantly employed, the early part of this year, on the " Memoirs" of his wife, and afterwards on one of the numerous books, of which he had always one or more in hand; but his reading was varied as ever, and the range was still more extended. He read in this year much Latin literature, chiefly the Poets; many French works, mainly the older and standard authors; the old English dramatists; and kept himself au courant with all the books of merit which issued from the English. Press. And there is a curious proof that this reading was, on the whole, thorough and methodical, his extreme honesty with himself leading him always to note in his private Diary whenever he merely dipped into a book, and read it here and there. Those who have turned over his MS. notebooks, have been greatly puzzled by an entry occurring at irregular intervals, consisting apparently of the mysterious word, gala," any explanation of which long seemed quite hopeless. A longer search, however, has shewn that whereas in the earlier note-books he occasionally wrote of an author that he studied him ca et la, this phrase gradually became ca la, and eventually" gala," the conundrum so difficult to solve. The fact that this is occasional, and always in reference to books into which a man would only care to dip, especially when, as was mostly the case, they had been read before, shews clearly enough the thoroughness of the usual study.
Any regular, more extended notes have for some time ceased, but there are occasional memoranda of value. One such relates to literary work Intended during this year.
1798. The following are the literary productions which I am at present desirous to execute:-
"1. A book to be entitled First Principles of Morals.' The principal purpose of this work is to correct certain errors in the earlier part of my 'Political Justice.' The part to which I allude is essentially defective, in the circumstance of not yielding a proper attention to the empire of feeling. The voluntary actions of men are under the direction of their feelings: nothing can have a tendency to produce this species of action, except so far as it is connected with ideas of future pleasure or pain to ourselves or others. Reason, accurately speaking, has not the smallest degree of power to put anyone limb or articulation of our bodies into motion. Its province, in a practical view, is wholly confined to adjusting the comparison between different objects of desire, and investigating the most successful mode of attaining those objects. It proceeds upon the assumption of their desirableness or the contrary, and neither accelerates nor retards the vehemence of their pursuit, but merely regulates its direction, and points the road by which we shall proceed to our goal.
"Again, every man will, by a necessity of nature, be influenced by motives peculiar to him as an individual. As every man will know more of his kindred and intimates than strangers, so he will inevitably think of them oftener, feel for them more acutely, and be more anxious about their welfare. This propensity is as general as the propensity we feel to prefer the consideration of our own welfare to that of any other human being. Kept within due bounds, it is scarcely an object of moral censure. The benefits we can confer upon the world are few, at the same time that they are in their nature, either petty in their moment, or questionable in their results. The benefits we can confer upon those with whom we are closely connected are of great magnitude, or continual occurrence. It is impossible that we should be continually thinking of the whole world, or not confer a smile or a kindness but as we are prompted to it by an abstract principle of philanthropy. The series of actions of a virtuous man will be the spontaneous result of a disposition naturally kind and weIl-attempercd. The spring of motion within him will certainly not be a sentiment of general utility. But it seems equally certain that utility, though not the source, will be the regulator, of his actions; and that however ardent be his parental, domestic, or friendly exertions, he will from time to time examine into their coincidence with the greatest sum of happiness in his power to produce. It seems difficult to conceive how the man who does not make this the beacon of his conduct can be styled a virtuous man. Every mode of conduct that detracts from the general stock of happiness is vicious. No action can be otherwise virtuous than exactly in the degree in which it contributes to that stock.
"I am also desirous of retracting the opinions I have given favourable to Helvetius' doctrine of the equality of intellectual beings as they are born into the world, and of subscribing to the received opinion, that, though education is a most powerful instrument, yet there exist differences of the highest importance between human beings from the period of their birth.
" I am the more anxious to bring forward these alterations and modifications, because it would give me occasion to shew that none of the conclusions for the sake of which the book on Political Justice', was written are affected by them. I am fully of opinion that the sentiments of that book are intimately connected with the best interests of mankind, and am filled with grief when I reflect on the possibility that any extravagances or oversights of mine should bring into disrepute the great truths I have endeavoured to propagate. But thus my mind is constituted. I have, perhaps, never been without the possession of important views and forcible reasonings ; but they have ever been mixed with absurd and precipitate judgments, of which subsequent consideration has made me profoundly ashamed.
"2. A book to be entitled' Two Dissertations on the Reasons and Tendency of Religious Opinion.' The object of this book is to sweep away the whole fiction of an intelligent former of the world, and a future state; to call men off from those incoherent and contradictory dreams that so often occupy their thoughts, and vainly agitate their hopes and fears, and to lead them to apply their whole energy to practicable objects and genuine realities. The first Dissertation would be applied (I) to shew that the origin of worlds is a subject out of the competence of the human under standing; (2) to invalidate the doctrine of final causes; and (3) to demonstrate the absurdity and impossibility of every system of Theism that has ever been proposed. The second Dissertation would treat of the injurious and enfeebling effects of religious belief in general, and of prayer in particular. The consideration would be wholly confined to the most liberal systems of Theism, without entering into superfluous declamation upon the pretences of impostors and fanatics.
"3. A novel, in which I should try the effect of my particular style of writing upon common incidents and the embarrassments of lovers.
"4. Five or six tragedies."
Godwin's most constant associates at this time were those named already as his friends and those of his wife; Basil Montagu, T. Wedgwood, the Fenwicks, the Reveleys, Mrs Cotton, Charlotte Smith: he received at his own house very frequently the members of his family who were in London. These, as his mother's letters imply, were doing but little to their own advantage, and were a great drain on Godwin's limited resources. Beyond this inner circle, he mixed with almost all people then well known in the world of liberal politics and of letters, and much also in theatrical society: he seems to have attended the theatre almost whenever he had no other evening engagement. Wordsworth and Southey appear among the more noteworthy literary acquaintances of this year, the dinners with Horne Tooke and with King were frequent, different as was the society which assembled at the two tables.
It will be convenient to take first among the correspondence of this year that which relates to Godwin's domestic life, and this requires a few introductory remarks. The care of the children, and the superintendence of the household at Somers Town, was undertaken by Miss Louisa J ones, a friend of Harriet Godwin. The position was not an easy one to fill; there were difficulties with the servants in consequence of little Mary's requiring a wet-nurse; not all people could understand or be prepared for Godwin's constant uncertainty about dining or not dining at home; the combination of friend and upper servant has inconveniences of its own, and is open to misconceptions: Besides, there is some evidence from the poor lady's letters that she would willingly have been a tender stepmother to the children, while nothing could be further from Godwin's thoughts than any relation whatever beyond that of housekeeper and governess to his children. The arrangement, therefore, was but temporary, and after Miss Jones ceased to reside in the· house, she, Miss Godwin, Mrs Reveley, and other lady friends, seem to have given a kind, but at the same time necessarily casual superintendence to the nurse in charge of the children, who was devoted to them, and especially to little Mary.
This was among the circumstances which induced Godwin to think it possible, even at a very early date after his wife's death, that he might marry again. Experience had modified his views on this as on some other matters. He did not find that the ideal best was always practicable, and the comfort he had found tended to change his ideal. Mrs Shelley writes that his sentiments on the subject were entirely changed, that-
"the happiness he had enjoyed, instilled the opinion that he might, at least in a degree, regain the blessing he had lost, if he married a woman of sense, and of an amiable disposition. Instead of, as heretofore, guarding himself from the feelings of love, he appears rather to have laid himself open to them. The two orphan girls left in his charge of course weighed much in the balance; he felt his deficiency as the sole parent of two children of the other sex. In March 1798, he left town, as he was in the habit of doing for a short time in every year. He visited Bath, and spent ten days in that city, where he met the authoresses of the Canterbury Tales, Sophia and Harriet Lee." [These ladies were the daughters of John Lee, an actor at Covent Garden; and after their father's death they kept a school at Bath. They afterwards retired to Clifton and died there, Sophia in 1824, Harriet in 1851, aged 94. They each wrote, separately, several novels, and: conjointly, "The Canterbury Tales."] "The latter soon attracted his admiration and partiality; to the end of his life he always spoke of her with esteem and regard, though it was not till his papers were placed in my hands that I learned the nearer tie that he sought to establish between them. The feeling of love was awakened on their first acquaintance, and his immediate desire was to study her mind."
He made, on returning from visits to her house, in the course of those few days, elaborate analyses of her conversation, in which they had discussed books together, Rousseau's works, Richardson, and others, and soon made up his mind to win her, if possible, for his wife. They had only met, as appears from the Diary, four times, but on Godwin's return to London he wrote as follows to Miss Lee:-
William Godwin to Miss Harriet Lee.
" When I last had the pleasure of seeing you, you said you supposed yon should hear of me. What was your meaning in this, I do not think proper to set myself to guess, lest I should find that you meant nothing, or what in my estimate might amount to nothing. In saying, therefore, that you supposed you should hear of me, 1 am determined to understand that you expected to hear from me. It is indeed a very displeasing thought to reflect, when one's ideas of a person have just been raised by their writings, and afterwards confirmed by a direct communication of sentiments and feelings, that possibly years may elapse before that communication is renewed, and that possibly it may even never be renewed. There are so few persons in the world that have excited that degree of interest in my mind which you have excited, that I am loth to have the catalogue of such persons diminished, and that distance should place a barrier between them and me, scarcely less complete than that of death. Indulge me with the knowledge that I have some place in your recollection. Suffer me to suppose, in any future production that you may give to the world, that while you arc writing it, you will sometimes remember me in the number of your intended readers. Allow me to believe that I have the probability of seeing you in no long time here in the metropolis. You said, if I recollect right, that this was rather the less likely as the friend with whom you used to reside in London had lately removed to some other place. Why should not I venture to suggest the practicability of your substituting my house, instead of the accommodation you have lost? I do not perceive that there could be any impropriety in it. A sister of the Miss Joneses, with whom I resided at Bath, lives at my house upon the footing of an acquaintance, and is so obliging as to superintend my family, and take care of the children. I am sure she would be happy to do everything to accommodate you. I should imagine, therefore, but you might accept the invitation without sinning against the etiquette that you love. It is true that my establishment is a humble one, but you could not, perhaps, be under the roof of a person, who docs more justice to your merits." [Here follows some criticism on Miss Lee's writings, of no sort of interest now.]
" Be so good as to express to your sister my sense of the flattering politeness and attention she was so obliging as to bestow upon me. Farewell. Yours, with much regard and esteem,
This letter remained unanswered, and the lover became tormented by a thousand doubts. Three drafts of letters remain, which show his great perplexity. Had he offended? He was sometimes impelled to pour out his feelings with fervour and frankness, sometimes to be as guarded as possible. The first draft is little more than a concise announcement of his intention to revisit Bath, the second is an open confession of aIl his feelings, and of this there are three copies, but neither the first nor the second of these letters seems to have been sent. The third, which reached Miss Lee is a curious mixture of confidence and reticence, and half measures did not please Miss Lee.
William Godwin to Miss Harriet Lee
[LONDON], Saturday June 2, 1798.
"DEAR MADAM. ---I have been extremely mortified at receiving no answer from you, to the letter I wrote soon after my late excursion to Bath. I am not sure indeed whether, in perfect strictness I was entitled to an answer. But silence is so ambiguous a thing, and admits of so many interpretations, that with the admiration I had conceived for you, I could not sit down tranquilly under its discipline. It might mean simply that I had not been long enough your knight, to entitle me to such a distinction. But it might mean disapprobation, displeasure, or offence, when my heart prompted me to demand cordiality and friendship. My mortification has since been increased, by finding that you have been in town lately, and had left town before I knew of your presence: though having a kind of suspicion that the 'Two Emilys' would bring either Miss Lee or yourself to London, I had made some enquiries on the subject.
I am obliged to be at Bristol next week. I remember as my greatest good fortune and pleasure in my last excursion the repeated and long conversations I enjoyed at Belvidere House. May I hope that now, having a right to call myself an acquaintance, I have not without intention or consciousness on my part forfeited the kindness I then experienced as a stranger. Whether next week shall be a week of pride or humiliation to my feelings will depend on the solution it will afford to this question.
Present my best remembrances to your sisters, and believe me, with the highest regard and esteem, yours,
" W. GODWIN."
On reading this letter Miss Lee underlined and bracketted in pencil such words and sentences as she especially noticed, or to which she took exception, then wrote a sort of minute on the margin. This was returned to the writer, after the final cessation of their correspondence.
[Note on the above by Miss Harriet Lee].
The tone of this letter appears to me to betray vanity disappointed by the scantiness of the homage it has received, rather than mortified by any apprehension of discouragement. If any offence was given by the former letter this is calculated to renew and increase it; for it is equally presuming without being more explicit, except in two sentences so alien to the temper, or distant from the express reach of the rest, that they should be made under all circumstances to leave the letter. An alternative proposed by the second clause presents itself to me thus: this journey to Bristol has no reference to me; as far as that is concerned he visits me simply as an acquaintance; but his title to be received as such his been lost by his forwardness to employ the privileges, and claim the rights of a more endeared relation. The purpose of his journey is addrest to me, and it may be dictated either by humility or assurance. I doubt that the former interpretation would be given to a letter in which the same air and accent reign as in this.
She wrote, however, a civil but formal note, expressing her readiness to see him, and on his arrival at Bath on June 5th, Godwin formally paid his addresses to Harriet Lee, and there is a note in his diary of a "conference" on the subject. That the lady admitted "regard and esteem," appears from a correspondence which afterwards ensued, and with this the lover, was prepared to be content. Miss Lee herself was not disinclined to marriage, but feared what would be thought of it by her sister and the world. Almost persuaded to treat this objection as lightly as in reality it deserved to be treated, there remained what was to her a very grave question; were Godwin's own opinions such as would promise a happy marriage, with a woman who held strongly her faith in God, and the divine guidance of the world?
It is not possible to fix exact dates to Godwin's letters to Miss Lee, because only the undated drafts remain, but they were subsequent to the conference. Arguments to induce the lady to reconsider her determination are urged with a pertinacity and elaboration which would be wearisome to all but the principal performers in this little domestic drama, perhaps to all but the writer. Extracts, however, will prove interesting, not only as a specimen of love-letters which are probably unique, but also as a statement of Godwin's own opinions, thoroughly honest, of course, but placed in what he considered the most favourable light.
William Godwin to Miss Harriet Lee.
" . . . We got thus far, I think, in our last conversation, that the decision you shall be pleased to make will be of the greatest importance, since, though it may be easy for either of us to marry, supposing the present question to be decided in the negative, yet It is not probable that either of us will, elsewhere, meet with a fit and suitable partner, capable of being the real companion of our minds, and improver of our powers. We must remain in that separate and widowed state of the heart, which is no part of the system of nature, or must, as St Paul says, be unequally yoked.
. . . Pass over in your mind everything which, if we were united, would employ us from day to day, and from week to week. Things in which we perfectly sympathised, in which we acted in concert, in which our feelings would vibrate to each other. In the exercise of the benevolent and social affections, in the improvement of our understandings, in taste, in the admiration of natural beauty, or the beauties of human productions; in the expression, -the refined, the delicious, but evanescent expressions --- of mutual attachment, those expressions in which the true consciousness of life consists, that attachment which converts this terrestrial scene into a paradise, we should I hope, fully coincide, nor should one discord intrude into the comprehensive harmony.
. . . What will the world say? In the first place, I am not sure that you do not labour under some mistake in this case. I must be permitted to say on this occasion, that among those who personally know me, the respect and love I have obtained is, I believe, fully equal to any reputation I may be supposed to have gained for talents. I believe no person who has so far run counter to the prejudices and sentiments of the world has ever been less a subject of obloquy. I know that many whose opinions in politics and government are directly the reverse of mine, yet honour me with their esteem. I cannot, therefore, be of opinion that your forming a connection with me would be regarded as by any means discreditable to you.
. . . I have said to you once before, Do not go out of life, without ever having known what life is. Celibacy contacts and palsies the mind, and shuts us out from the most valuable topics of experience. He who wastes his existence in this state may have been a spectator of the scene of things, but has never been an actor, and is just such a spectator as a man would be who did not understand a word of the language in which the concerns of men are transacted. The sentiments of mutual and equal affection, and of parental love, and these only, are competent to unlock the heart and expand its sentiments-they are the Promethean fire, with which, if we have never been touched, we have scarcely attained the semblance of what we are capable to be. When I look at you, when I converse with you, it is more, much more the image of what you might be, and are fitted to be, that charms me, than the contemplation of what you are. I regard you as possessing the materials to make that most illustrious and happiest of all characters, when its duties are faithfully discharged-a wife-a mother. But if you are eminently and peculiarly qualified for these offices, it is the more to be regretted, and shall I not add? the more to be censured in you, if you peremptorily and ultimately decline them."
The Same to the Same
"I sit down as a disinterested friend to give you an opinion, the result of what has lately passed between us. It is little likely that anything of consequence to me should arise either way from what I am going to state. I give up the point I have hitherto sought to enforce. You have erected an insurmountable wall of separation between us. Henceforth we shall be no more to each other than persons that had heard of each others' names, that remember there was a period when for a short time they had the habit of seeing each other, and who may now and then have occasion to say, 'Dear me! no, I believe he is not dead, is he?' It might have been otherwise. It ought to have been otherwise. But you have made your election. I have neglected nothing that became me. I have brought the whole subject laboriously before you; but you have remained pertinacious and immoveable. Certainly my opinion of you is not altered; my partiality is not diminished; if it were yet possible that you should view the question between us with fairness and liberality, it would afford me a gratification much, much beyond the power of words to express. It would change me into a new creature, and open to me afresh the most pleasing prospects of life. I know that your heart-the bias and leaning of your heart-is on my side. But you have found the secret of suppressing the feelings of your heart, and subjecting them to the mystery and dogmas of your creed. Suppose, then, that you are reading the reflections of an impartial friend, who has the courage to communicate to you the truth; suppose that the person whose visits you have lately had occasion to receive is dead. Such a supposition may easily be made, and will cause little difference in anything to which you look forward. The friend, who addresses you, as he has the courage to treat you ingenuonsly, so I hope will not forget what is due to your sex and your merits, or utter a word that it would misbecome you to hear.
You tell mc, that if it were not for your religion, and your ideas of a future state, you believe you should adopt a system of conduct selfish and licentious. I do not credit you when you say this; if I did, it would be impossible for me to have the smallest respect for you. I am not so unfair as to suppose that your opinion has the effect of rooting out all liberal and ingenuous sentiments from your mind, but I think it a serious misfortune that you conceive it has. Every parent and preceptor perfectly knows that a conduct adopted from the hope of reward or the fear of punishment is not virtue. If I make myself useful to my fellow-men merely because I expect to De rewarded for it, it is clear that I have no love of utility or virtue, and that if the reward were placed on the other side, I should immediately become as mischievous a creature as lives. Virtue is not a form of external conduct, --it is a sentiment of the heart. I am a base and low-minded creature, whatever be my external conduct, if I do not seek to confer happiness from a genuine principle of sympathy, and because I have ~ direct and heartfelt pleasure in the pleasure, the improvement, and advantage of others. If Omnipotence itself were to annex eternal torments to the practice of benignity and humanity, I know not how poor a slave I might be terrified into; but I know that I should curse the tyrant, while I obeyed the command. In reality, the virtue of every good man is built upon the stable basis of what he sees and daily experiences, and not upon the precarious foundation of the retribution which he rather endeavours to credit than certainly believe.
"The second error I have to notice is that your creed, as you understand it, inculcates the worst part of bigotry. You look, as in fact you tell me, with suspicion and incredulity upon the virtue of almost all that was most illustrious in ancient times, and upon half the most unprejudiced and exemplary men of our own day. This is the very quintessence of bigotry, to overturn the boundaries of virtue and vice, to try men, Dot by what ·we see of their conduct and know of their feelings, but by their adherence to, or rejection of, a speculative opinion. Vou have a certain Shibboleth, a God and a future state, which if any man deny, you assert he can have no firm and stable integrity. And, which. is most curious, you say to him, ' If you have only the sentiment of virtue, if you only do good from a love of rectitude and benevolence, and do not feel yourself principally led to it by a foreign, an arbitrary, and a mercenary motive, I can have no opinion of you.' I am' happy to know that these errors of yours have no necessary connection with either Deism or Christianity.
" I am happy to say that I have known many Deists and many Christians, who confess that morality is an independent rule, by a comparison with which they pronounce on the goodness of providence itself, and of which the rewards of a future state are not the source, but merely an additional sanction. Thinking thus, they arc not backward or timid in applauding the virtues of the patriots and sages of ancient times, or of those benefactors of mankind in their own day, who have discarded the opinions which they cherish. I know it has been fashionable among divines to pretend that no man -rejects religion but because he wishes to be profligate with impunity, but liberal-minded believers despise the shameless assertion.
" But I have done. I entertain no hopes of a good effect from what I now write, and merely give vent to the sentiments your determination was calculated to excite. I have made no progress with you. When you have dropped an objection it has been only afterwards to revive it; when I have begun to entertain fairer prospects, you have convinced me I was deluding myself. My personal qualities, good or bad, arc of no account in your eyes, you are concerned only with the articles of my creed. I am compelled to regard the affair as concluded, and the rational prospect of happiness to you and myself as superseded by something you conceive better than happiness. I have now discharged my sentiments, and here ends my censure of your mistake. If ever you be prevailed on to listen to the addresses of any other man, may his success be decided on more equitable principles than mine have been."
Miss Lee's next letter was intended to close the correspondence.
Miss Harriet Lee to William Godwin.
[BATH], "July 31, 1798.
"You distress me, sir, extremely, by again agitating a question, which ought to be considered as decided. I had full opportunity, when in Town, to hear, and attentively to weight your opinions concerning the point on which we most differ: for perhaps I do not fully agree with you in supposing our minds at unison .on m.1ny others / but that is immaterial-the matter before us is decisive. All tile powers of my understanding, and the better feelings of my heart concurred in the resolution I declared before we parted; every subsequent' reflection has but confirmed it. \Yith me our difference of opinion is not a mere theoretical question. I never did, never can feel it as such, and it is only astonishing that you should do so. It announces to me a certain' difference in-I had almost said a wallt in-the heart, of a thousand times more consequence than all the various shades of intellect or opinion. .1Jy resolution then remains exactly and iirmly what it was: it gives me great pain to have disturbed the quiet of your mind, but I cannot remedy the evil without losing Li.e rectitude of my own .
I have taken from my sister the unpleasant task of telling you
what you are unwilling to credit. She does justice to your understanding, she ,vishes you every good that you can reasonably demand, but recollect how improbable it is that I should cherish opinions she has not entertained long before; and even if I did, self-dependent as I am both in mind and years, how little likely is it that I should look to another for a rule either of duty or happiness.
"You tell me that you are individually beloved by those who know you, and I can easily believe it, but I will tell you that even among the number of your friends, or at least well-wishers, there arc to my kumdedgc those who much lament, and even blame the lengths to which your systems of thinking ha,re carried you, and who recede insensibly from your opinions, 'while they preserve a respect for your intentions.
"If, in our conversations, I have ever appeared in any moment undecided, it was only at those when it occurred to me that truth and genuine feeling were so strongly on my side, that while you were collecting arguments to enlighten my mind, I felt persuaded of the possibility of a change in your own. And ,vhy should I not? A doctrine so necessary to the heart, so consonant to the reason, as that of a just and all-powerful Diety ,,,,ill I hope onc day find its way to both.
"My own good wishes and those of my sister attend you. Nothing further can or ought to be said by either of us. Farewell. H.L.
Godwin, however, was not so to be put down, and \\-Tote a flood of letters in one week, of which the following extracts may serve:-
William Godwin to Miss Harriet Lee
[Early in August, 1798,]
. . . What you have done is in the genuine style of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. You have put out of sight the man, and asked only what he believed. In the midst of the vast world of conjecture, before the beginning of all things, that appropriate
field of wild assertion, in which proud man, ignorant of the essence and character of what immediately passes under his eyes, delights to expatiate, you have chosen a creed. You have done well; it amuses the fancy, it is the parent of a thousand interesting pictures, it soothes the heart with pleasing ideas. This is the deism of those persons whom I have known, who, having shaken off the empire of infant prejudices, yet differ from me in the point in which you differ. They frankly acknowledge that it is a matter of taste, and not a matter of reason, "That can you know of the origin of the universe? Wert thou present when the foundations of the earth were laid? Didst thou see whereupon they are fastened, or who laid the corner stone thereof? Knowest thou it because thou wert then born, or because the number of thy days is great? Still more unsupported in reason is the notion of a future state. We see a man die; we can lock up his body in a vault; we can visit it from day to day, and observe its gradual waste; and we say that an invisible part of him is flown off, and inhabits somewhere with a consciousness that that, and that only, is the man. The evidence that we had of his existence was speech, and motion, and pulsation, and breath. All this is changed into a motionless and putrid mass, and we still say the man exists. We pretend to infer the character of infinite benevolence from what we see in a world where despotism, and slavery, and misery, and war continually prevail, and then, reasonably growing discontented with the scene, we piece out most miserably another world with hallelujahs and everlasting rest, according to our fancy, and we call this evidence. We first infer the goodness of God from what we see, and then infer that this world is not worthy of the goodness of that being whose existence we deduced from it. I have no disrespect for these opinions; far from it. I regard them as the food of a sublime imagination and an amiable temper. But I expect the unprejudiced man that cherishes them to know them for what they are-the creatures of taste, and not of reason. I expect him to be moderate and forbearing in assertion. I know that such a man will never regard this invisible world, with which he has no acquaintance, and which is the mere creature of his conjecture, as a balance-for the realities around him; will never, instead of inquiring what is a man's understanding, what is his genius, what are his morals, what is his temper, 'what the improvement, the pleasure, the mode of happiness he proposes to him; will never, I say, instead of this, inquire, what is his creed, and judge him by that
Tlte Same to the Same.
[Early in August, 1798. ]
" . . . Bigots have pretended that the wi11 of God is the foundation of morality, that what He commands is therefore right, and what He forbids is therefore wrong. But rational theism teaches that morality is antecedent to the divine will, and is a rule to which God himself delights to conform. Rational theism teaches that God is good; and to prove that He is so, compares His providence and works with the immediate standard of rectitude to which God and good men equally adhere. The will of God therefore is by no means the foundation of morality, but merely its sanction, an additional reason why we should conform to it . . ."
Miss Lee wrote a letter on August 7th, which seems to have been taken as final, in which she hopes that friendly remembrance may still subsist, unchecked by minute misunderstandings," and so concluded this singular correspondence. After a time, however, friendly though somewhat formal intercourse was renewed, and there is a letter extant, 'written in the following year by Miss Lee in reference to a literary criticism by Godwin on some new publication by her. But there is no allusion to the more intimate terms on which he had once desired to stand.
It was just as well that Godwin's plan of keeping house with Thomas Wedgwood was never carried out. Their correspondence shows the not unexampled state of things in which two men who were intellectually complementary to each other, who had for each other a sincere friendship, were yet antipathetic when they met, and suited each other only at a distance. Wedgwood had discovered this earlier than Godwin, and though still writing very cordial letters, though helping his friend with most liberal loans, or rather presents of money, in his need, he yet, in his now failing health, preferred that they should not meet, and that their discussions should be conducted only on paper. Godwin, on the contrary, characteristically desired that they should meet and discuss rationally the questions whether they were or were not more cordially and kindly disposed to each other when apart. Only portions of one letter and of its answer are generally interesting.
Thomas Wedgewood to William Godwin
PENZANCE, Jan. 6, 1798.
"It is hardly necessary for me to inform you that the contents of your letter were highly agreeable to me. You are almost the only person whose judgment is valuable to me on speculative points, and on that account I feel continually the necessity of your sanction. On the subject of friendship, no person ought to think with so much charity of others or to speak with greater diffidence than myself. I was not satisfied with the propriety of my last letter, though, as it has happily led to an explanation agreeable to both of us, I cannot now repent of it. Perhaps I am incapable of friendship--my habits and disposition are certainly so unfavourable as to require a concurrence of fortunate circumstances for its birth and support. 'Sickness,' says Johnson, makes scoundrels of us all,' it impairs and destroys sympathy. Be~ feebleness of constitution and spirits is not the only obstacle ; I have to contend with a timidity of disposition which has long harassed me inconceivably, and which in a thousand ways is obstructive to the growth of all entire and affectionate intimacy ....
William Godwin to Thomas Wedgwood.
[LONDON]. " Jan. 10, 1798.
" ... I am pleased with the style of writing you have lately employed. I have more taste, though I have sometimes suspected and often been told that it is a vicious taste, for letters and conversations of feeling than of discussion.
" Allow me to recommend to you a very cautious admission of the moral admission of Doctor Johnson. He had an unprecedented tendency to dwell on the dark and unamiable part of our nature. I love him less than most other men of equal talents and intentions, because I cannot reasonably doubt that when he drew so odious a picture of man he found some of the traits in his own bosom. I have seen more persons than one or two, whom sickness has neither converted into scoundrels, nor stripped of a sympathetic disposition.
"Your paying the postage of your letters to me is contrary to established etiquette. It is scarcely worth while to enter into an argument about it, but I think I could prove to you that it is wrong.
Though Godwin was now a middle-aged man, though his habits were methodical, and his manner somewhat cold and formal, the fact that his opinions were progressive, and his soul full of what would now be called the enthusiasm of humanity, continued to attract to him young men of hopeful and vigorous minds, whom he never failed to receive with kindness, and set forward to the best of his ability. Their fresh youth, and the earnestness of their minds, served to keep his own mind buoyant, even in the midst of sorrow and disappointment, and as his relations with Webb and Cooper served in some degree to show what he was, in his inner life, so now docs a correspondence with a young Scotchman named Arrnot, who, coming to London to seek his fortune, attached himself to Godwin. He left no mark o~ his generation, but he wrote excellent letters, and incidentally the correspondence throws light on Godwin as showing the kind of lad who still attracted him. A note by the second Mrs Godwin to Mrs Shelley describes Arnot as
a tall young man, pale faced, with large blue eyes , with much meaning in them, in shabby clothes. Whenever your father spoke of him he extolled his intellectual powers, saw infinite folly and danger in the intemperance of his impulses and pursuits, and expressed his fear that he must be mad. At one period his sister and her husband, Mr and Mrs Fyler from Edinburgh, put him in confinement, and had a great dislike to your father, on account of Political Justice, ascribing their brothers conduct to the principles it contains. Arnot and D. Jones [the lady who lived with Godwin as housekeeper] were in love with each other. Arnot was desperately attached afterwards to some German lady of rank. I think this is in the letters."
The immediate reason why Arnot left Scotland does not appear, but he walked the whole way from Edinburgh to London, and wrote the account of his journey to a friend whom he left behind him. These letters afterwards came into Godwin's hands, and are preserved among his papers. An extract from one of them is characteristic of the young -man, and is valuable as a picture of a scene not unfamiliar at this time.
John Arnot to Peter Reid.
CAMBO [NORTHUMBERLAND], April 24, 1798.
. . ."At some distance from the village of Elsdon, through which I passed to-day, I observed a large post erected on the top of the hill. I conceived it might be an intimation about the roads leading to such a place. Being thirsty, I went into a house near it to buy some milk. I sat down to drink it, and inquired what the post meant. "Tis a Gibbet, Sir.' 'A Gibbet! why was it erected amongst the hills?' 'For murder; an old woman was killed there, and who men and a woman were hanged for it, upon that gibbet.'
"'What a train of horrid ideas did that introduce into my mind. I looked at the man who told it mc; he is a sour- looking fellow. His wife, a little shrell, in a red jacket, was present. I thought her a devil. I took cafe to keep my stick near me, it was my only means of defence. I felt a strong aversion to them both, and was glad to get away.
" I went up to the gibbet. The bones arc still hanging, kept together with iron. This, no doubt, is intended as a conspicuous "monument of retributive justice. Is it thought this will have a good effect? I cannot help being of an opposite opinion. Surely the people who live near it cannot be happy. They cannot even feel easy and contented till their minds become hardened. The ideas of hanging and of murder must first become familiar to them. I don't like them. Let me get away from this place.
" I walked as fast as I could, but could not walk long. I was fatigued, and my right foot began to give me pain. I sat down, therefore, upon a stone at the roadside, pulled out my little octave flute, and began to playa tune, but it only added to my melancholy. I looked around. This is a wild, barren country j no trees to be seen, no bushes or enclosures, no fine cultivated fields. All is a dreary waste; this gibbet its only ornament; the sheep its inhabitants. They were feeding within a few yards of me. I looked on them , with an emotion which I never felt before. Ah! innocent people, as Thomson calls you, how much happier are you than man-man who butchers you and his fellow-creatures indiscriminately.
Such is the nature of the present state of society. It punishes, with the utmost severity, crimes to which it holds out irresistible temptations."
Arnot, after he had spent a short time in London, formed the design of visiting the less known portions of Europe on foot, at once to learn the German language, and to take notes for a book of travels, to be published on his return. Godwin warmly approved of this plan, and aided Arnot to carry it into execution. France was of course closed to an English subject, and he therefore went to Germany in a Baltic ship by way of Russia. The letters that he wrote to Godwin are all extremely good, but only portions of them can here be given.
John Arnot to William Godwin.
" PETERSBURG, 10 August 1798, New Style.
" DEAR SIR, -- I shall leave this place to-morrow. I am so happy that I have got my passport! And I assure you that it was no easy matter. It has detained me here for three weeks, living at no little expense, in the British tavern . . . .
"I arrived at Cronstadt after a tedious and very disagreeable passage of 30 days, and in 5 days more got my passport to Petersburg. It was rather odd that I should have pitched upon the worst ship in every respect, perhaps, of the whole fleet; my patience was tried more ways than one. I don't think Job himself had more patience when he was my age.
"I declare I am afraid to write any more. I am writing to Godwin just as if I was writing to my good friend Peter Reid, scribble, scribble, scribble, I have fifty thousand things to say, and don't know which to say first. I dare say my pen has run mad. If I were beside you, you would think my tongue were mad. . . .
I intend to walk to Riga, and from Riga to Vienna. Indeed, I am determined to be at Vienna this winter, that is, if nothing ~opens to me by the way, which you know is possible. Walk to Riga!! The poor lad has lost his wits. Do you know what you are doing? Such weather, such roads, such a country, and such a people. You may as well think of walking to the moon.' But Ill walk it for all that. 'Tis nothing at all.
" I don't think I am half so courageous as when I left Scotland. I believe· I could have taken a hear by the ear as coolly as you could take your dinner. But now that I have the prospect of being happy when I return -- am I not happy already, at least at this moment ?-I begin to think I am worth the taking care of, and therefore I am determined to take care of myself, and never to meddle with a bear unless the bear meddles with me, and to be wondrous civil to the boors and the booresscs. . ..
" I have been obliged to lighten my parcel very much. I gave away 'Tristram Shandy' about five weeks ago, and my two flutes. I have laid aside all my pistol bullets, except about 20, and am thinking to throwaway the only shirt and pair of stockings I have to spare . . . -- I am, with great esteem, yours, &c.
" JOHN ARNOT.
" I keep no journal on my way to Vienna. I dare not.'·
The Same to the Same
DRESDEN, Wednesday, 7th Nov. 1798.
"DEAR Sm.-Here I am. Fol lol de rol, nay I will give you the very notes. No I will not; for you don't care for music, at least for the music that I care for. . . .
"I cannot get a grammar. There is none here. I shall apply very hard, for I wish to be master of the language in 4 months, and then I may go to the Play, and where else I please. I must also study French, which in Dresden is the only language that is spoken in fashionable company. I shall have enough ado. I wish also I had English books, but I cannot have everything while I have no money.
"I don't recollect whether I mentioned to you that I had brought with me from Edinburgh, sets of the best old Scotch songs. By publishing them here, and· perhaps also at Leipsig, or Prague, or Vienna, or at all of these places, I hope not only to procure a subsistence for the winter, but to be able to pay such debts as I have contracted. Germany as you know is a very musical country, and the Scotch songs are very fine . . . Adieu, yours sincerely, JOHN ARNOT.
" P.S.-I heard something of a great victory obtained over the French. If you have any of the old newspapers containing an account of that, or of any other remarkable public occurrence, I shall be obliged to you for them. But first it would be proper to enquire whether it is allowed to send papers abroad, for I would rather want them than run the risk of losing your letters.. "
William Godwin to John Arnot
[LONDON, Nov. 23rd 1798]
"DEAR ARNOT,-- I derived exquisite pleasure from the receipt of your letter. I have thought of you a thousand times with inexpressible anxiety. I have been accused, as you know, of countenancing a young man, in whom I felt a powerful interest, in entering unprovided, and unsupported, upon an attempt the most perilous and insane, from which it was next to impossible he should not reap intolerable calamities, and hardly probable that he should come off alive. Without an accuser I should have sufficiently felt the high responsibility that devolved on me. Yet what could I do? The first sensation your project excited in me was envy. I wished I could have been a lad like you to undertake what you proposed. I saw, in you many qualifications, fitting you for the design, courage, though not an uniform courage, and an easy and assured manner, calculated to smooth a thousand difficulties, and prepossess strangers in your favour. Feeling approbation, could I belie my sentiment?
Under these impressions it seemed to me very long before I heard from you. I saw you for the last time on the 13th of June, and your first letter did not reach me till the 10th of November. You promised me to write from Petersburgh. My active imagination passed in review all the dangers of your route, immense deserts, rude forests, fierce Cossacks, hunger, assassination and death. These evils would have impressed me more strongly, had not the various reports of the vigilance of Russian police created in me a persuasion that you would not be permitted to enter that empire. I confess I had my fears that you would return, looking like a fool, by the same vessel in which you sailed. I considered however that if all activity and enterprise did not desert you, you would in case of the worst, find means to push for the other side of the Baltic, and find rest for your foot on the dry land of Sweden.
"And now, will you forgive me, if I acknowledge, in spite of the heart-felt pleasure with which I received your letters, my satisfaction was not unmixed with disappointment. The first consisted of five poor lines, with a morsel of postscript. The kindest construction I could put upon this was that you were so sunk in spirit that if you had written more, you felt your melancholy and dejection would break out, and therefore out of pure generosity you stopped while you could. But if this were the kindest construction, it was not the most consolatory. Your second letter has in some degree removed this uneasy apprehension. It reached me last night, November 22nd, in fifteen days from its date. But in neither do you tell me where you have been, what you have seen, not even whether you took the route of Livonia, Poland, and Silesia, or of Sweden, Denmark, Holstein, &c. j whether you took shore at Petersburgh and continued your route by land, or whether though first at Vienna, and now at Dresden, you hayv seen no other country than Germany. Another fault I find is, that I trace in your letters no feature of the mind I loved, no sterling observations of man, no agreeable naivete of adventure. I hope while your body has been in restless motion, your mind has not slept. But I suppose you reserve all your good things to surprise the world with.
"I think your famous Dr John Brown affirms that the natural genuine state of man is death. I know not what physical truth there may be in this, but morally I greatly fear that the man who would truly be alive must obstinately spur his mind into a much better state than that into which, if neglected, it will sink. I hope you keep a copious journal. I hate travels into the four quarters of the worId written after all is over, within sight of St Paul's Church. Perhaps it would be better for your book, and better for yourself that you should visit some countries that are not travelled every day, such as Hungary, Spain, &c. You ought too, to take some precautions respecting your manuscripts, that in case of an accident your name and your usefulness may not be wholly lost. But above all take care of yourself. I had rather be refreshed by the sight of John Arnot in person than John Arnot's book. . . . Study language elaborately, you cannot know man without understanding his speech.
"You ask for news. . . The grand topic if Egypt. Buonaparte salled for that country in May. Our Admiral Nelson pursued him, arrived before him, and returned to Europe. Buonaparte landed his forces July 1St. Nelson having refitted, sailed again to Alexandria, where he found the French Fleet still at anchor. Nelson with 14 ships attacked the French with 13 on August 1st, took 9 and burned 2, so that only 2 escaped. Buonaparte, on the other hand, seems impregnably established in possession of Egypt. The Turk has in consequence declared war against France.
"Coleridge and Wordsworth, two names that I believe you will find in the list I wrote out for you, landed some time ago at Hamburgh. They are at no great distance from that place, but I cannot learn where. You may perhaps meet with them in your rambles. They are both extraordinary men, and both reputed men of genius. Coleridge I think fully justifies the reputation ...
I wish you all manner of prosperity, improvement, and happiness. "
John Arnot to William Godwin
DRESDEN, Saturday, 8th Dec. 1798.
DEAR Godwin, -- Your letter has given me no small degree of pleasure, but I confess it has also given me anxiety. It seems the letter of a man who once thought well of me, but who now finds with regret that he has reason in a great measure to retract his good opinion. It is worse. It seems to me to be written in a tone of melancholy despondency. I dont know what to think of it. What a disappointment that you have not said a word of my friends. Not a word of Louisa [Jones] -- not a word of Fanny -- not a word of sister Mary, who was so fond of me -- nor of Miss Godwin, nor Marshall, nor Dyson, nor Dibbin, nor anybody. Ah, Godwin, you would not have forgot that, had you received my letter from Petersburg, or had you known how nearly I feel my happiness allied to theirs. Are they well? or have they forgot me? or can you think I have forgot them?
" Curse the news-what care I for Egypt? But that was my own thoughtlessness and impertinence. . . .
"I took the route of Livonia, Poland, and Silesia. I passed through Riga, Warsaw, Cracow, Teschen, Olmutz, Brunn, to Vienne. So far from having kept a copious journal; between Petersburg and Warsaw I marked only the days of the month, and the place where I slept each night, when that place had a name and I knew it. Before I reached Warsaw I lost my inkholder -- a loss "which in the capital of Poland could not be supplied, so that I did not afterwards write another word, but trusted solely to my memory. I regret this. . . .
" I am quite of your opinion that it would be better to visit countries which are not traversed every day. Hungary, however, I scarcely expect to see, or any part of the Emperor's dominions, so difficult is it to procure admittance, and so closely are you watched when admitted . . . Fortune, indeed, has not smiled upon my early youth, and my infant years have been years of misery; but among the few happy periods of my life I shall ever rank the time I spent in walking through Poland. And yet I met with nothing there to make me happy; the generality of young men in my situation would have considered their condition as most desperate and deplorable. My happiness was founded in hope, and in thinking of the Polygon. . .
There can be no doubt that Godwin had, during his married life, withdrawn himself in some degree from those acquaintances who did not lie within his immediate circle of friends, and had also taken less interest in the more abstract questions connected with life and politics than he had done before. His life on the whole was so happy, rounded, and complete, his literary work had been so sharply defined during that period, that he had less time and inclination [or pursuits and companions once, and to be again, full of interest for him. But he now began once more to see and correspond with literary and distinguished men beyond his intimates, though many letters written by him are unfortunately lost. Such is the case with that to which the following letter is an answer, but the document itself is of sufficient importance to call for insertion.
The writer, the Rev. T. R. Malthus, published anonymously his H Treatise on Population H in 1798, but no secret was made of the authorship, and he gave his name to the fourth edition, published five years later. Mr Malthus, who was born in 1766 at Albury, was Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, and afterwards, from 1804 till his death in 1831, Professor of History and Political Economy at Haileybury College, then the place of education for Writers in the East India Company's Service. The main doctrine of the Treatise is that assistance should be refused to poverty for the purpose of preventing over-population which he declares to be the main cause of the evils apparent in human life-though his name is more often associated with some of the details of his argument.
The Rev. R. Malthus to William Godwin.
ALBURY, August 20th .
DEAR SIR, -- I went out of town almost immediately after I left you on Wednesday morning, and therefore did not receive your obliging letter till I arrived at Albury, whither Mr Johnson was so good as to send it.
In the view in which you now place the subject, do you not in some degree change the question from the perfectibility and happiness to the numbers of the human race; and it may be a matter of doubt whether, without looking to a future state, an increase of numbers without a perpetual increase of happiness be really desirable.
Could we suppose any country, by the most extraordinary exertions, to arrive at the ne plus ultra of subsistence and population, in one or two centuries we have reason to think that the pressure of population in its utmost weight, would be felt in frequent famines and pestilences, and particularly in the small recompense of labour; for I think you yourself must allow that under the present form of society the real recompense of labour depends upon the increase of the funds for its maintenance; and when these funds are completely stationary, and have continued so some time, this recompense will naturally be the least possible. You think that the present structure of society might be radically changed. I wish I could think so too; and as you say I have completely failed in convincing you on this subject, will you have the goodness to remove a few of those ditliculties which I cannot remove myself, and allow me to be convinced by you?
" I set out with granting the extreme desirableness of the end proposed-that is, the abolition of all unnecessary labour, and the equal division of the necessary labour among all the members of the society. I ought also to premise, that in speaking of the present structure of society, I do not in the least refer to any particular form of government, but merely to the existence of a class of proprietors and a class of labourers, to the system of barter and exchange, and to the general moving principle of self-love.
" I can conceive that a period may arrive when the baubles that at present engage the attention of the higher classes of society may be held in contempt; but I cannot look forward to a period when such a portion of command over the produce of land and labour as cannot be within the reach of all will cease to be an object of desire. Moderate cloathing, moderate houses, the power of receiving friends, the power of purchasing books, and particularly the power of supporting a family, will always remain objects of rational desire among the majority of mankind. If this be allowed, how is it possible to prevent a competition for these advantages? If the labour of luxuries were at an end, by what practicable means could you divide the necessary labour equally? Without the interference of Government, which I know you would reprobate as well as myself, how could you prevent a man from exchanging as many hours of labour as he liked for a greater portion of these advantages? Were the island of Great Britain divided among a great number of small proprietors, which would probably be the most advantageous system in respect to produce, it would be the natural wish of each of these proprietors to get the labour of his farm done for as small a part of the produce as he could, that he might be able to gratify his inclination in marrying without transgressing the rules of prudence, and provide for a large family, should he have one. The consequence of this desire in the proprietor to realise a sufficiency to maintain and provide for a family, together with the desire in the labourer to obtain the advantages of property, would be that the labourer would work 6, 8, or 10 hours in the day for less than would support 3, 4, or 5 persons, working two hours a-day. Consequently the equal division of the necessary labour would not take place. The labourers that were employed would not possess much leisure, and the labourers that were not employed would perish from want, to make room for the increase of the families of proprietors, who, as soon as they were increased beyond the power of their property to support, must become labourers to others, who, either from prudence or accident, had no families. And thus it appears that, not withstanding the abolition of all luxuries, and a more equal division of property, the race of labourers would still be regulated by the demand for labour, and the state of the funds for its maintenance.
" The prudence which you speak of as a check to population implies a foresight of difficulties; and this foresight of difficulties almost necessarily implies a desire to remove them. Can you give me an adequate reason why the natural and general desire to remove these difficulties would not cause such a competition as would destroy all chance of an equal division of the necessary labour of society, and produce such a state of things as I have described? If you can satisfy me on this head, I will heartily join with you in invectives against the increase of labour, and in the general sentiments of your essay on avarice and profusion. Excuse my descending to particulars, as I am of opinion that the great object of our researches, truth, cannot be attained without it.
Your objection against the present form of society, on account of its preventing the greatest practicable population, would, in some degree, hold against your system of prudence, the object of which, as I conceive, would be to keep the population always considerably within the means of subsistence. Should such a system ever prevail so generally as to remove the constant want of an increasing quantity of food, it is highly probable that cultivation would proceed still more slowly than it does at present. I only approve of the present form of society, because I cannot myself, according to the laws of just theory, see any other form that can, consistently with individual freedom, equally promote cultivation and population. Great improvements may take place in the state of society; but I do not see how the present form or system can be radically and essentially changed, without a danger of relapsing again into barbarism. With the present acknowledged imperfections of human institutions, I by no means think that the greatest part of the distress felt in society arises from them. The very admission of the necessity of prudence to prevent the misery from an overcharged population, removes the blame from public institutions to the conduct of individuals. And certain it is, that almost under the worst form of government, where there was any tolerable freedom of competition, the race of labourers, by not marrying, and consequently decreasing their numbers, might immediately better their condition, and under the very best form of government, by marrying and greatly increasing their numbers, they would immediately make their condition worse. As all human institutions will probably be imperfect, and consequently always open to censure, it is not surely fair to charge them with evils of which, as far as I can judge, they are totally guiltless. And in all projected changes of human institutions, it appears to me of the highest importance previously to ascertain as nearly as possible how much evil is to be attributed to these institutions, and how much is absolutely independent of them.
I have made this letter much longer than I at first intended; and I certainly ought to apologise for taking up so much of your time: but if your avocations will not permit you to answer it, I shall hope for some future opportunity of hearing your opinions upon the subject, when I have the pleasure of seeing you. -- I am, dear sir, yours sincerely,
A letter from Mrs Godwin, senior, will close the record of the year.
Mrs Godwin, senior, to William Godwin.
[WOOD DALLING, 1798].
"My DEAR W. -- I'm a poor letter writer at best, but now worse than ever. After thanking yo. for yr. genteel present of the Memoirs of yr. wife. Excuse me saying Providence certainly knows best, the fountain of wisdom cannot err. He that gave life can take it away, and none can hinder, and tho we see not his reasons now, we shall see them hereafter. I hope yo. are taught by reflection your mistake concerning marriage, there might have been two children that had no lawful wright to anything yt. was their fathers, with a thousand other bad consequences, children and wives crying about ye streets without a protector. You wish, I dare say, to keep yr. own opinion, therefore I shall say no more but wish you and dear babes happy. Dose little Mary thrive? or she weaned? You will follow your wives direction, give them a good deal of air, and have a good oppertunity, as yo. live out of ye. Smoke of the city. You will be kind enough to let yr. Sister know. Mr and Mrs G. and self wish to know if she recd. a box with eggs whole, they were all new, and sundry trifels I sent her, with a new piece of print for my grand-daughter Mary for a gown, with 2/6 to pay for the making, a pr. little Stockens and Hat for yr. Ch. 16 March last. Am greatly concerned to hear yr. Bro. has lost his place at Wright's j am affraid it's from the old cause j Seneca's morals he bastes off is not sufficient, there is something else wanting of greater moment and importance. I dont write to him because he gives me such hard names, as that I don't act up to the carrector my blessed Saviour has set me, &c., though I wish him well, and think I discharge my duty towards him. He wrote me word he wish'd he had done with Sirvitude or with life, I'm afraid he is prepared for neither. I have been burning a great number of old letters, but when I came to yours, it was with great reluctance that I destroyed them, there is such a kind and benevolent spirit in them towards your dear S. and J. in their necessities. What a burthen has John been to yo.! Poor creature, what will become of him I tremble to think. He trusts providence, but its in a wrong way, not in ye way of well doing. I have sent him a new shirt for Mr Sothren to send by private hand, directed to Hanh. I coud send him my riding-coat, its so very heavy, and I so very week I cant wear it, and perhaps Natty a waistcoat, but imagain the use he will make of them will be to lay them in pawn, but so he must if he will, who can help it? Money is of no use, nor is it much otherwise with some others which I shall not name.
" By selling a little Timber, and frugality in my expences, hope to be able a little after Mic[haelmas] to help you and the rest to £ 10 a-piece, taking yr. notes for it, perhaps will just keep their heads above water. I wd. reserve something to keep yr. S; from starving, but yt. will be difficult. If I leave her a place for her life, and she be deep in debt, and have interest to pay, she will be nothing ye. better. I wish you to write very soon by post with your opinion of the matter, and also how Joe conducts himself towards his wife and family. I sent Mary a pritty mourning ring with an emethist and 2 sparks in it ; do you ask to see it, also a box for it j hope she will not loose it. Would not wish yo. to declare the contents of my letter: my best wishes attend you and yours. yr. Bro. Hull and wife and Natt join me in the same, Mrs G. is in ye increesing way j their eldest has got the measles is very full, but hope no danger. I see in ye news a Miss Foster married of Wisbeach. -- From yr. affecate. Mother, A. G.
" I wish you woud let me know if there is any better way of directing letters or parcels, are they no more than letters to London 'when directed to Somers Town.
" What I send Han woud be glad yo. to be her director what use to make of it. She has told me some former letters she was affraid she sh'd be put to trouble, and often exprest yo. have been a father to her, but it stands yo. in hand to take care of yourself j an aspiring temper will be beat down, while the humble shall be exalted."
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