William Godwin

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Publisher: Gale
Series: Dictionary of Literary Biography
Document Type: Biography
Length: 10,394 words

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About this Person
Born: March 03, 1756 in Wisbeck, United Kingdom
Died: April 07, 1836 in London, United Kingdom
Nationality: British
Occupation: Social philosopher
Other Names: Baldwin, Edward; Marcliffe, Theophilus


  • The History of the Life of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, anonymous (London: G. Kearsley, 1783).
  • A Defence of the Rockingham Party, in their Late Coalition with the Right Honorable Frederic Lord North, anonymous (London: J. Stockdale, 1783); facsimile in Four Early Pamphlets, 1783-1784, edited by Burton R. Pollin (Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1966).
  • An Account of the Seminary that will be opened on Monday the Fourth Day of August at Epsom in Surrey, for the Instruction of Twelve Pupils in the Greek, Latin, French, and English Languages, anonymous (London: T. Cadell, 1783); facsimile in Four Early Pamphlets 1783-1784.
  • Sketches of History, in Six Sermons, some copies anonymous (London: T. Cadell, 1784); as Godwin (Alexandria, Va., 1801).
  • The Herald of Literature: or, A Review of the Most Considerable Publications that will be made in the Course of the Ensuing Winter: With Extracts, anonymous (London: J. Murray, 1784); facsimile in Four Early Pamphlets 1783-1784.
  • Instructions to a Statesman. Humbly inscribed to the Right Honourable George Earl Temple, anonymous (London: J. Murray, J. Debrett & J. Sewell, 1784); facsimile in Four Early Pamphlets 1783-1784.
  • Damon and Delia: A Tale, anonymous (London: T. Hookham, 1784).
  • Italian Letters; or, The History of the Count de St Julian, 2 volumes, anonymous (London: G. Robinson, 1784).
  • Imogen: A Pastoral Romance. From the Ancient British, 2 volumes, anonymous (London: W. Lane, 1784).
  • The History of the Internal Affairs of the United Provinces, from the Year 1780, to the Commencement of Hostilities in June 1787, anonymous (London: G. Robinson, 1787).
  • The English Peerage; or, A View of the Ancient and Present State of the English Nobility, 3 volumes, anonymous (London: G. G. & J. Robinson, 1790).
  • An Enquiry concerning Political Justice, and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness, 2 volumes (London: G. G. & J. Robinson, 1793); revised as Enquiry concerning Political Justice, and its Influence on Morals and Happiness, 2 volumes (London: G. G. & J. Robinson, 1796; Philadelphia: Bioren & Madan, 1796); revised again, 2 volumes (London: G. G. & J. Robinson, 1798).
  • Things As They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (3 volumes, London: B. Crosby, 1794; 2 volumes, Baltimore: H. & P. Rice, 1795; revised edition, 3 volumes, London: G. G. & J. Robinson, 1796; revised again, 3 volumes, London: G. G. & J. Robinson, 1797); revised as Caleb Williams (1 volume, London: H. Colburn & R. Bentley, 1831, 2 volumes; New York: Harper, 1831).
  • Cursory Strictures on the Charge delivered by Lord Chief Justice Eyre to the Grand Jury, October 2, 1794, anonymous (London: D. I. Eaton, 1794); facsimile in Uncollected Writings (1785-1832), edited by Jack W. Marken and Pollin (Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1968).
  • A Reply to an Answer to Cursory Strictures, supposed to be wrote by Judge Buller. By the Author of Cursory Strictures, anonymous (London: D. I. Eaton, 1794).
  • Considerations on Lord Grenville's and Mr. Pitt's Bills, concerning Treasonable and Seditious Practices, and Unlawful Assemblies. By a Lover of Order, anonymous (London: J. Johnson, 1795); facsimile in Uncollected Writings (1785-1832).
  • The Enquirer. Reflections on Education, Manners, and Literature. In a Series of Essays (London: G. G. & J. Robinson, 1797; Philadelphia: Robert Campbell, 1797; revised edition, Edinburgh: John Anderson / London: W. Simkin & R. Marshal, 1823).
  • Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (London: J. Johnson/G. G. & J. Robinson, 1798; revised edition, London: J. Johnson, 1798); republished as Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Author of "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" (Philadelphia: James Carey, 1799).
  • St. Leon: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century (4 volumes, London: G. G. & J. Robinson, 1799; 2 volumes, Alexandria, Va.: J. & J. D. Westcott, 1801; revised edition, 1 volume, London: H. Colburn & R. Bentley, 1831).
  • Antonio: A Tragedy in Five Acts (London: G. G. & J. Robinson, 1800; New York: D. Longworth, 1806).
  • Thoughts. Occasioned by the Perusal of Dr Parr's Spital Sermon, preached at Christ Church, April 15, 1800: Being a Reply to the Attacks of Dr Parr, Mr Mackintosh, the Author of an Essay on Population, and Others (London: G. G. & J. Robinson, 1801); facsimile in Uncollected Writings (1785-1832).
  • Bible Stories. Memorable Acts of the Ancient Patriarchs, Judges, and Kings: extracted from their Original Historians. For the Use of Children, 2 volumes, as William Scholfield (London: R. Phillips, 1802; Albany, N.Y.: Charles R. & George Webster, 1803); republished as Sacred Histories; or, Insulated Bible Stories, 2 volumes (London: R. Phillips, 1806).
  • Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, the Early English Poet, including Memoirs of his Near Friend and Kinsman, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster: With Sketches of the Manners, Opinions, Arts and Literature of England in the Fourteenth Century, 2 volumes (London: R. Phillips, 1803).
  • Fleetwood; or, The New Man of Feeling (3 volumes, London: R. Phillips, 1805; 2 volumes, New York: I. Riley, 1805; Alexandria, Va.: Cotton & Stewart, 1805; revised edition, 1 volume, London: R. Bentley, 1832).
  • Fables, Ancient and Modern. Adapted for the Use of Children, 2 volumes, as Edward Baldwin (London: T. Hodgkins, 1805; New York: Increase Cooke, 1807).
  • The Looking Glass: A True History of the Early Years of an Artist. Calculated to awaken the Emulation of Young Persons of Both Sexes, in the Pursuit of Every laudable Attainment: particularly in the Cultivation of the Fine Arts, as Theophilus Marcliffe (London: T. Hodgkins, 1805).
  • Life of Lady Jane Grey, and of Lord Guildford Dudley, her Husband, as Theophilus Marcliffe (London: T. Hodgkins, 1806).
  • The History of England. For the Use of Schools and Young Persons, as Edward Baldwin (London: T. Hodgkins, 1806).
  • The Pantheon: or Ancient History of the Gods of Greece and Rome. Intended to facilitate the Understanding of the Classical Authors, and of the Poets in General, as Edward Baldwin (London: T. Hodgkins, 1806).
  • Faulkener, A Tragedy (London: R. Phillips, 1807).
  • Essay on Sepulchres; or, A Proposal for erecting some Memorial of the Illustrious Dead in All Ages on the Spot where their Remains have been interred (London: W. Miller, 1809; New York: M. & W. Ward, 1809).
  • The History of Rome: From the Building of the City to the Ruin of the Republic, as Edward Baldwin (London: M. J. Godwin, 1809).
  • Outlines of English History. For the Use of Children from Four to Eight Years of Age, as Edward Baldwin (London: M. J. Godwin, 1814).
  • Lives of Edward and John Philips. Nephews and Pupils of Milton. Including Various Particulars of the Literary and Political History of their Times (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown, 1815).
  • Letters of Verax, to the Editor of the Morning Chronicle, on the Question of a War to be commenced for the Purpose of putting an End to the Possession of Supreme Power in France by Napoleon Bonaparte (London: R. & A. Taylor, 1815); facsimile in Uncollected Writings (1785-1832).
  • Mandeville. A Tale of the Seventeenth Century in England (3 volumes, Edinburgh: A. Constable / London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown, 1817; 2 volumes, New York: W. B. Gilley, 1818; Philadelphia: M. Thomas, 1818).
  • Letter of Advice to a Young American: On the Course of Studies it might be Most Advantageous for him to Pursue (London: M. J. Godwin, 1818); facsimile in Uncollected Writings (1785-1832).
  • Of Population. An Enquiry concerning the Power of Increase in the Numbers of Mankind, being an Answer to Mr. Malthus's Essay on that Subject (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown, 1820; New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1964).
  • History of Greece: From the Earliest Records of that Country to the Time in which it was reduced into a Roman Province, as Edward Baldwin (London: M. J. Godwin, 1821).
  • History of the Commonwealth of England. From its Commencement, to the Restoration of Charles the Second, 4 volumes (London: H. Colburn, 1824-1828).
  • Cloudesley: A Tale (3 volumes, London: H. Colburn & R. Bentley, 1830; 2 volumes, New York: Harper, 1830; Albany, N.Y.: O. Steele/Little & Cummings, 1830).
  • Thoughts on Man, his Nature, Productions and Discoveries. Interspersed with some Particulars respecting the Author (London: Effingham Wilson, 1831; New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1969).
  • Deloraine (3 volumes, London: R. Bentley, 1833; 2 volumes, Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Blanchard, 1833).
  • Lives of the Necromancers; or, An Account of the Most Eminent Persons in Successive Ages, who have claimed for themselves, or to whom has been imputed by Others, the Exercise of Magical Powers (London: F. J. Mason, 1834; New York: Harper, 1835).
  • Essays, Never Before Published, by the late William Godwin, edited by C. Kegan Paul (London: H. S. King, 1873).
  • The Elopement of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, as Narrated by William Godwin, edited by H. Buxton Forman (London: Bibliophile Society, 1911; Boston, Mass.: Privately printed, 1912).
  • Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft, edited by W. Clark Durant (London: Constable / New York: Greenberg, 1927).
  • Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft, with a preface by John Middleton Murry (London: Constable / New York: R. R. Smith, 1928).
  • Imogen: A Pastoral Romance. From the Ancient British, edited by Jack W. Marken (New York: New York Public Library, 1963).
  • Italian Letters: or, The History of the Count de St Julian, edited by Burton R. Pollin (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1965).
  • Four Early Pamphlets (1783-1784), edited by Pollin (Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1966).
  • Uncollected Writings (1785-1832), edited by Marken and Pollin (Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1968).
  • Caleb Williams, edited by David McCracken (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970; revised, 1982).
  • The Collected Novels and Memoirs of William Godwin, 8 volumes, edited by Mark Philp, Pamela Clemit, and Maurice Hindle (London: Pickering & Chatto, 1992).
  • The Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin, 7 volumes, edited by Philp, Clemit, and Martin Fitzpatrick (London: Pickering & Chatto, 1993).
  • St. Leon: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century, edited by Clemit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).
  • Memoirs of the Life of Simon Lord Lovat, Written by Himself, in the French Language and now first translated, from the Original Manuscript, translated by Godwin (London: G. Nichol, 1797).
  • Posthumous Works of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 4 volumes, edited by Godwin (London: J. Johnson, 1798).
  • Mylius's School Dictionary of the English Language. To which is prefixed A New Guide to the English Tongue by Edward Baldwin, as Edward Baldwin (London: M. J. Godwin, 1809).
  • Outlines of English Grammar, partly abridged from Hazlitt's New and Improved Grammar of the English Tongue, edited by Godwin as Edward Baldwin (London: M. J. Godwin, 1810).
  • Valperga; or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca; A Novel by Mary Shelley, revised by Godwin (London: G. & B. W. Whittaker, 1823).
  • Preface to Transfusion; or, The Orphans of Unwalden, by the late William Godwin Jun., 3 volumes (London: J. Macrone, 1835; New York: Wallis & Newell, 1835).
  • "British and Foreign History," anonymous, New Annual Register for the Years 1783 to 1790 (1784-1791).
  • "Character of Chatham," anonymous, New Annual Register for the Year 1783 (1784): 19-24.
  • "Dr Priestley's Letters to Dr. Horsley," anonymous, English Review, 5 (1785): 52-54, 105-124, 377-384.
  • Letter "To the Right Hon. William Wyndham Grenville, Joint Paymaster of his Majesty's Forces," signed "Mucius," Political Herald, and Review, 1 (October 1785): 165-182.
  • Letter "To the Right Honourable Edmund Burke," signed "Mucius," Political Herald, and Review, 1 (December 1785): 321-329.
  • Letter "To the Right Honourable William Pitt," signed "Mucius," Political Herald, and Review, 2 (March 1786): 175-183; (May 1786): 241-249.
  • Letter "To the Right Honourable Henry Dundas, Treasurer of the Navy," signed "Mucius," Political Herald, and Review, 2 (June 1786): 402-411.
  • Article on "Modern Characters, by the Right Honourable William Pitt," signed "Mucius," Political Herald, and Review, 2 (August 1786): 19-24.
  • Letter I, "To the People of Ireland," signed "Mucius," Political Herald, and Review, 3 (November 1786): 268-275.
  • Letter to the National Convention, dated 26 January 1793, Procés-Verbal de la Convention Nationale, 9 (1793): 196-197.
  • Letter I, "To the Editor," signed "Mucius," Morning Chronicle, 1 February 1793.
  • Letter II, "To Mr. Reeves, Chairman of the Society for Protecting Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers," signed "Mucius," Morning Chronicle, 8 February 1793.
  • Letter III, "To Sir Archibald MacDonald Attorney General," signed "Mucius," Morning Chronicle, 26 March 1793.
  • Letter IV, "To Such Persons as may be appointed to serve upon Juries for the Trial of Seditious and Treasonable Words," signed "Mucius," Morning Chronicle, 30 March 1793.
  • "A Reply to An Answer to Cursory Strictures, supposed to be wrote by Judge Buller," anonymous, Times, 25 October 1794.
  • Letter to the editor on Caleb Williams, dated 7 June 1795, British Critic, 6 (July 1795): 94-95.
  • Letter to John Thelwall, dated 23 October 1795, Tribune, 3 (1796): 101-113.
  • Letter to the editor on infanticide, dated 10 November 1801, Monthly Magazine, 12 (December 1801): 387-388.
  • "Biographical Sketch of the late Joseph Ritson," Monthly Magazine, 16 (November 1803): 375-376; reprinted in Monthly Mirror, 19 (May 1805): 291-294.
  • Letter to the editor and a "Character of Mr. Fox," dated 21 October 1806, London Chronicle, 22-25 November 1806, p. 499.
  • Letter to the editor on John Kemble's performance as Cardinal Wolsey in Henry VIII, signed "Aristarchus," dated 3 April 1809, Morning Chronicle, 5 April 1809.
  • Obituary notice of Joseph Johnson, anonymous, Morning Chronicle, 21 December 1809.
  • Letter to the editor on the question of a war against Napoleon Bonaparte, signed "Verax," Morning Chronicle, 25 May 1815.
  • Obituary notice of John Philpot Curran, Morning Chronicle, 16 October 1817.
  • "Further Letters of Advice to a Young American," Analectic Magazine (Philadelphia), 14 (September 1819): 230-243.
  • Letter to the editor on population, signed "L'Ami des Hommes," dated 29 December 1821, Morning Chronicle, 11 January 1822.
  • "Fragment of a Romance," New Monthly Magazine, 37 (January 1833): 32-41.


William Godwin was a philosopher, an educationalist, a moralist, a biographer, a historian, a novelist, and a dramatist. His versatility led William Hazlitt to describe him in Lectures on the English Comic Writers (1819) as "a sort of phenomenon in the history of letters." Yet Godwin's modern reputation rests on only two works, both of the period following the French Revolution of 1789: An Enquiry concerning Political Justice, and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness (1793), his treatise of philosophical anarchism, and Things As They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794), a suspense narrative in which the author extends the critique of political institutions begun in his treatise. However, Godwin's progressive political theories were not the result of a sudden enthusiasm for the French Revolution. His work was shaped by, and contributes to, long-standing British traditions of moral and political thought of a reformist temper. His writings of the 1780s show that many of his fundamental beliefs were developed well before the publication of An Enquiry concerning Political Injustice, while after the mid 1790s he continued to develop and modify his philosophical views in essays, in biographies, and, above all, in fiction. Moreover, throughout his long career Godwin actively sought to further moral and intellectual progress through his correspondence and personal contact with various people who sought him out as teacher, counselor, or friend.

William Godwin was born on 3 March 1756 at Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, the seventh of thirteen children of John Godwin and Ann Hull. His father was a Dissenting minister of moderate Calvinist leanings who, as a result of disputes with his congregation, moved his family in 1758 to Debenham in Suffolk, and in 1760 to Guestwick in Norfolk. According to Godwin's account in his manuscript autobiography, his parents were indifferent to him, but he became the favorite of his father's austere cousin, Mrs. Sothren, who used to put him to bed with instructions "to compose myself to sleep, with a temper as if I were never to wake again in this sublunary world." Questions of salvation and damnation also permeated his waking hours. Before the age of six Godwin had read and reread John Bunyan 's Pilgrim's Progress (1678-1684), and attempted to imitate the piety of the virtuous subjects of James Janeway's Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children (1671-1672). By the age of eight, after two years at a local children's school, he had read the whole of the Bible and an illustrated edition of John Foxe 's Book of Martyrs (1559, 1563); on Sundays he delivered extemporary sermons from a kitchen chair. Godwin's formal education began in 1764 when he was sent to a school in nearby Hindolveston run by the self-taught Robert Akers. By the age of eleven Godwin had resolved to become a minister. In September 1767 he moved to Norwich to become the solitary pupil of the Reverend Samuel Newton, whom he describes in his autobiography as "the abstract of phlegmatical sternness" and who served as the model for the sadistic tutor Hilkiah Bradford in Godwin's novel Mandeville (1817). Despite being whipped and humiliated by Newton, Godwin was greatly influenced by his political and religious views: "He was rather an intemperate Wilkite, but, first and principally, he was a disciple of the supra-Calvinistic opinions of Robert Sandeman." (John Wilkes was a reformist politician who opposed the unrepresentative nature of the British parliamentary system.) In Newton's absence Godwin made use of his library and planned in his head "books of imaginary institutions in education, and government, where all was to be faultless," as Godwin recalls in his autobiography. Despite quarrels with his tutor, Godwin remained at Norwich until the end of 1771, when Newton dismissed his pupil as ready for Homerton Dissenting Academy. Godwin returned to Hindolveston to spend a year as an assistant master, during which time his father died and he adopted Tory views.

Having been turned down by Homerton on the grounds of suspected Sandemanianism, Godwin entered, in September 1773, Hoxton Academy, one of the best institutions for learning set up by eighteenth-century Dissenters, who were excluded by law from the ancient universities. For the next five years he studied classics, theology, philosophy, and belles lettres under two leading Dissenting divines, Andrew Kippis and Abraham Rees. Despite the liberal views of his tutors (Kippis, for example, was a Socinian, denying the divinity of Christ, and a staunch supporter of the Whig program for parliamentary reform), Godwin graduated in May 1778 with his Tory and Calvinist principles intact.

However, the principles of free enquiry and rational debate he had imbibed at Hoxton soon undermined his commitment to the ministry. During his next five years as a candidate minister, his political and religious views were transformed. When in June 1778 he became minister at Ware in Hertfordshire, he met Joseph Fawcett, a follower of the American theologian Jonathan Edwards and a Whig in politics and the first of "four principal oral instructors" (the other three were Thomas Holcroft , George Dyson, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge ) who, according to a manuscript note, influenced his intellectual development. Rejected by his congregation in August 1779, Godwin spent four months in London, where he too became a Whig after reading newspaper reports of the speeches of Charles James Fox and Edmund Burke supporting the American colonists' right to form an independent state. In December 1779 Godwin took up a post as minister at Stowmarket in Suffolk for two years. There he read the works of Jonathan Swift and the Roman historians, and he became a republican. After studying the works of Paul-Henri-Dietrich d'Holbach, Claude-Adrien Helvétius, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, to which he was introduced by a parishioner, Frederick Norman, he abandoned his Calvinist beliefs in favor of deism (the belief that all things act according to certain immutable "laws of nature" implanted by God, but that God has no supervisory role) and concluded that "human depravity originates in the vices of political constitution." Godwin was again dismissed by his church in April 1782.

On returning to London he made his first attempt to earn his living as an author with a planned "periodical series of English Biography." The work made him no money, however, and in December he returned to the ministry at Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire. In January 1783 The History of the Life of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham was published at Godwin's expense. In this first biography of the great Whig statesman who had died in 1778, Godwin seeks to give a balanced view: he praises his subject as a champion of liberty who stood aloof from political corruption but deplores Pitt's "misguided flame of patriotism" in opposing the American colonists. The work was generally well received and went through several editions. Godwin lasted only seven months at Beaconsfield, during which he became a Socinian after reading Joseph Priestley 's Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion (1772-1774), and he published his first political pamphlet, A Defence of the Rockingham Party (1783). This vigorous defense of the coalition in April 1782 of the Rockingham Whigs led by Fox and the Tory followers of Lord North was based on the belief that only the "Rockingham connexion" could bring the economic and parliamentary reform the country needed. It includes Godwin's first criticism of Burke's "aristocratical principles." Most reviews did not share Godwin's confidence in the Rockingham group, but there was general praise for his forceful style. In June 1783, his mind now firmly on constitutional issues, Godwin left the ministry for good and settled in London as a writer.

While the many anonymous works Godwin produced over the following twelve months were primarily written to make money, they also show his experimentation with a variety of genres to convey his political and philosophical interests. In An Account of the Seminary (1783), a prospectus for a proposed school at Epsom, Godwin sets out his gradualist belief in individual reform, which was to become central in An Enquiry concerning Political Justice. He argues that education is more important than government as an agent of change, since "government must always depend upon the opinion of the governed. Let the most oppressed people under heaven once change their mode of thinking, and they are free." Thus in both curriculum and teaching method, Godwin planned to foster freedom of inquiry. Not enough pupils applied, however, and he abandoned the experiment. In Sketches of History (1784), a collection of his Beaconsfield sermons, he presents biblical stories as historical incidents, or "philosophy teaching by example," and concludes: "God himself has not a right to be a tyrant." Godwin's next work, The Herald of Literature (1784), is an accomplished exercise in literary parody, in which he presents a series of literary pastiches in the guise of forthcoming works from well-established writers and proceeds to review them as if they were genuine. His choice of literary models reveals his underlying preoccupation with political issues: he includes a satiric portrait of the young Pitt and gentle parodies of the speeches of Burke and Tom Paine. Most reviewers appreciated the joke, but some thought the new "publications" were genuine. In Instructions to a Statesman (1784), his second political pamphlet, Godwin adopts a more caustic tone to protest at the unprincipled action of George Grenville, Earl Temple, which led to the downfall of the Fox-North coalition in December 1783. The work purports to be written by a hermit (alluding to the hermitage installed in the gardens at Stowe, Temple's country seat) and offers practical "instructions" in Machiavellian statecraft. Its irony was not lost on reviewers. In 1784 Godwin also published three short novels: Damon and Delia: A Tale,Italian Letters; or, The History of the Count de St Julian, and Imogen: A Pastoral Romance. From the Ancient British . In each work he exploited a different genre to criticize aristocratic manners.

For the first half of 1784 Godwin was employed to write the literary sections of the English Review at two guineas a sheet, but he remained poor: "For the most part I did not eat my dinner," he recalled, "Without previously carrying my watch or my books to the pawnbroker's." In July he was appointed, on Kippis's recommendation, as writer of the "British and Foreign History" section of the Whig New Annual Register at a stipend of sixty guineas. Between 1784 and 1791 this work provided Godwin's main source of income. His only other publications in this period were two compilations, The History of the Internal Affairs of the United Provinces (1787) and The English Peerage (1790). In 1785, again recommended by Kippis, he became a contributor to the Political Herald, a journal established by the Whig party leaders. Although he produced a series of letters, signed "Mucius," in support of Whig policies, he was far from becoming a party ideologue: in 1786, when he was offered the editorship of the Political Herald with a salary to be paid out of party funds, he refused and the journal collapsed.

Godwin's role as a prominent contributor to two journals on the reforming side led to many new acquaintances with whom he could discuss his ideas. During his brief involvement with the Political Herald, he was in frequent contact with the Whig statesman Richard Brinsley Sheridan . In 1786 Godwin became a regular guest at the literary parties held by his publisher, George Robinson, and there he met the self-taught actor and playwright Thomas Holcroft , under whose influence he became an atheist. A year later Godwin began to attend the literary gatherings of the poet Helen Maria Williams , and in 1788 he became a regular guest at the parties of the wealthy republican Thomas Brand Hollis. By the end of the 1780s he had met several prominent Dissenting reformers, including Joseph Priestley and Richard Price . Many of these new contacts were members of the London Revolution Society, which was established in 1788 to commemorate the centenary of the Glorious Revolution and welcomed the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789.

Godwin dined with the Revolution Society on 5 May 1789 and may also have been present at the Old Jewry Meeting House the previous evening to hear Price deliver his celebrated sermon, A Discourse on the Love of our Country (1789). After calling for the realization of the principles of the 1688 Constitutional settlement, Price ended with an address to the friends of freedom: "Behold, the light you have struck out, after setting AMERICA free, reflected to FRANCE, and there kindled into a blaze that lays despotism in ashes, and warms and illuminates EUROPE!" Price's linking of the Dissenters' constitutional claims with events in France provoked Burke to write Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), an attack on French principles and British reform, which inaugurated a pamphlet war. Along with Holcroft and Hollis, Godwin helped to secure the publication of the first part of Thomas Paine 's The Rights of Man (1791-1792), by far the most influential reply to Burke.

Although Godwin's "heart beat high with great swelling sentiments of Liberty," he stood aloof from the pamphlet debate on practical reform. Instead in the summer of 1791 he proposed to Robinson "a treatise on Political Principles" summarizing recent developments in political philosophy. In September, after Robinson had agreed to pay his expenses in advance, Godwin gave up his work for the New Annual Register. He spent the next sixteen months working solely on An Enquiry concerning Political Justice and hammering out his ideas with friends. His preparatory reading included the works of the classical historians who had first inspired his republicanism, the French philosophes, the works in the debate on the French Revolution, and most important the philosophers and theologians he had studied at Hoxton: John Locke , Samuel Clarke , Anthony Collins , David Hartley , Edwards, Price, and Priestley.

As Godwin's work proceeded the political situation in France deteriorated. In August 1792 a crowd stormed the Tuileries and the monarchy was overthrown; in September came the massacre of Paris prisoners by order of popular tribunals. In Britain Loyalist associations proliferated in response to the radical societies formed in early 1792, and there was a spate of prosecutions for seditious writings or speech. In December 1792 Godwin attended Paine's trial in absentia for seditious libel, and in January 1793 he wrote four letters to the Morning Chronicle, signed "Mucius," in which he defended liberty of speech. Godwin knew that the publication of An Enquiry concerning Political Justice was a calculated risk. In the preface dated 7 January 1793 he made a case for immunity from prosecution by presenting the work as "by its very nature an appeal to men of study and reflexion"; but the price of the first edition, which appeared on 14 February 1793 at £1 16s., persuaded the government not to prosecute. (By contrast, part 1 of Paine's Rights of Man cost three shillings, and part 2 appeared in a sixpenny edition.) Revised editions of An Enquiry concerning Political Justice were published in 1796 and 1798, with extensive changes reflecting Godwin's revised philosophical position. Although the text of the third edition is the basis of most modern editions, the first edition gave the purest expression of Godwin's philosophical anarchism and established his contemporary reputation.

Godwin made considerable advances in his thought as he wrote the first edition: he began with a position very close to Paine's, in which he acknowledged government as a necessary evil, but by the time he finished he had made a case for the "utter annihilation" of government. In book 1 he establishes the importance of enquiry into political institutions by arguing that the characters of men are formed, not by the immutable influences of climate, national character, and luxury, as Montesquieu had proposed, but by social and political experience, a view that is based on a Lockean rejection of innate ideas. Moreover, since individuals have no innate ideas, they are all equally "perfectible," or susceptible of moral and intellectual improvement. In book 2 Godwin abandons any claim that government may have a positive role, and in a discussion of the principles of society he establishes the core of his moral position in the twin principles of utility and private judgment. In chapter 2, which was to become the favorite target of his opponents, Godwin argues that justice is coincident with utility: faced with the choice of rescuing the educationalist François de Salignac de La Mothe-Fénelon or his chambermaid from a burning house, one should rescue Fénelon because of his greater benefit to mankind, even if the chambermaid was "my wife, my mother or my benefactor." However, in chapter 6 Godwin contends that moral decisions are not solely dictated by utility: instead individuals have a duty to act upon the dictates of the understanding. He elaborates on this position in the second half of book 4, which shows his debt to Dissenting arguments concerning truth and virtue.

In the remainder of the work Godwin uses the principles of utility and private judgement established in book 2 as a basis for both his critique of existing political institutions and his alternative vision of a future society of autonomous rational individuals. Thus he dissects traditional theories of political authority in book 3 and moves on to issues concerning resistance, revolutions, and political associations in book 4. In book 5 he embarks on a trenchant critique of the monarchy and aristocracy, and he includes an account of a possible future order, a simplified, decentralized society of small parishes. Returning to the attack in books 6-8, he condemns the political superintendence of opinion and the institutions of law and property. Godwin concludes with his most utopian arguments concerning cooperation, the abolition of marriage, and, finally, the prolongation of human life, which he takes care to separate from the rest of the work as a "probable conjecture" derived from the proposition that "mind will one day become omnipotent over matter."

Godwin's rigorously deductive method, in which he pursued a given set of principles to their logical conclusions, made An Enquiry concerning Political Justice an immediate success. Pirated editions in Ireland and Scotland made Godwin's ideas available to workingmen, and many copies were bought by subscription. Yet the work primarily appealed to intellectuals. As William Hazlitt recalled in The Spirit of the Age (1825): "No work in our time gave such a blow to the philosophical mind of the country as the celebrated Enquiry concerning Political Justice. Tom Paine was considered for a while as a Tom Fool to him, Paley an old woman, Edmund Burke a flashy sophist. Truth, moral truth, it was supposed, had here taken up its abode; and these were the oracles of thought."

In his next work, the superbly crafted Things As They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, Godwin turned to fiction as a means of transmitting his ideas to "persons, whom books of philosophy and science are never likely to reach." The novel's bleak atmosphere, especially marked in volume three, reflects the increasingly beleaguered situation of British radicals. By mid February 1793 France and Britain were at war, and the government clamped down on the burgeoning reform movement. After making an example of Scottish radical leaders, several of whom were sentenced to transportation, the government arrested twelve prominent London radicals, including Holcroft and John Thelwall , on 12 May 1794. The publication of Caleb Williams could not have been more timely: in the preface, provocatively dated 12 May, Godwin declares that the novel is intended to show "the modes of domestic and unrecorded despotism, by which man becomes the destroyer of man." When Caleb Williams appeared on 26 May, the preface was withheld; it did not appear until the second edition of 1796.

Although Godwin's 1794 preface has often been taken as an adequate guide to his political aims, the novel also has a more subtle reforming purpose. Casting his tale of tyranny as a first-person narrative, Godwin exploits the limits of the protagonist's view of events and thus enjoins the reader to exercise the duty of impartial judgment, which leads to the gradual improvement of mind. The story is told by the servant Caleb, who is first patronized and then persecuted by the wealthy landowner Ferdinando Falkland. After hearing the tale of Falkland's rivalry with a neighboring squire who is found dead in the street one night, Caleb, who has learned of Falkland's rivalry with the dead man, begins to suspect his master of murder, even though others have already been convicted of the crime and executed. Impelled by a fatal curiosity, he tries to break open Falkland's wooden chest, which he thinks contains proofs of his crime; but he is caught in the act by Falkland, who privately confesses his guilt. In the second half of the novel Caleb's quest for knowledge gives way to a drama of flight and persecution: he is accused by Falkland of theft and harried through the kingdom by the forces of legal despotism, mobilized by Falkland in an effort to hide his secret. In the final courtroom scene the two men are brought face to face for the last time. Godwin resolved the novel in two different ways. In the original manuscript ending, Caleb's aggressive pursuit of truth leads to his imprisonment and passive resignation to the injustice of the existing system. The published ending, however, suggests "a better and more magnanimous remedy": Caleb's "frank and fervent expostulation" of his grievances moves Falkland to a public confession of guilt. Once the revolutionary moment of sincere utterance had passed, however, Caleb collapses in remorse, showing his internalization of hereditary assumptions.

Caleb Williams became Godwin's most successful work: "No one ever began Caleb Williams that did not read it through," wrote Hazlitt: "No one that ever read it could possibly forget it, or speak of it after any length of time but with an impression as if the events and feelings had been personal to himself." Revised editions appeared in 1796 and 1797. In the Edinburgh Review (October 1815) James Mackintosh paid tribute to the novel's lasting success in translation and on the stage, which prompted Godwin to produce a fourth edition in 1816. The place of Caleb Williams as a nineteenth-century classic was secured by its republication, without its topical subtitle, as number 2 in Bentley's Standard Novels, First Series (1831-1855). In the preface to the Standard Novels edition (1832) of Fleetwood; or, The New Man of Feeling (1805), Godwin published his celebrated account of the composition of Caleb Williams, written for a new generation of readers, which emphasized formal and psychological properties at the expense of political concerns.

As soon as Caleb Williams was finished, Godwin turned his attention to the plight of his friends under arrest. When twelve defendants were indicted on the charge of high treason in October 1794, Godwin produced an incisive reply: his anonymous Cursory Strictures on the Charge delivered by Lord Chief Justice Eyre to the Grand Jury, October 2, 1794 first appeared in the Morning Chronicle on 21 October and was then issued as a pamphlet. The work argues that Eyre's "new imaginary treason" of "conspiring to subvert the Monarchy" had no basis in law, case, or precedent and that the remainder of the charge was made up of " hypothesis, presumption, prejudication, and conjecture." One of Godwin's most practically effective works, Cursory Strictures virtually demolished the case for the prosecution: the twelve radicals were either acquitted or had the charges against them dropped.

Godwin's role in the treason trials marked the high point of his popular reputation, but in the following year his distance from the reform movement became apparent again. In October 1795 Thelwall addressed a public meeting of nearly 150,000 people. Several days later the king's coach on the way to the state opening of Parliament was hit by a stone from a hostile crowd. The government immediately introduced two bills designed to prevent seditious meetings and publications. Godwin responded with the pamphlet Considerations on Lord Grenville's and Mr. Pitt's Bills, concerning Treasonable and Seditious Practices, and Unlawful Assemblies (1795), signed "A Lover of Order." Presenting himself as "untainted by the headlong rage of faction," he condemns both the arbitrary tyranny of the government and the "impatient and headlong" activities of political orators such as Thelwall. The point at issue here is the appropriate method of political education: in the first edition of An Enquiry concerning Political Justice Godwin had rejected political associations as a hindrance to private judgment; by 1795 he feared that hasty reformers would arouse an unruly populace they could no longer control, as in France. Thus he placed increased emphasis on gradual change through education of opinion, a theme taken up in his revisions for the second edition of An Enquiry concerning Political Justice, which appeared in November 1795 (dated 1796). The preface states that "the spirit and great outlines of the work ... remain untouched"; Godwin retained his central doctrine of private judgment but tried to integrate into it a recognition of the role of pleasure, feeling, and the private affections.

The year 1797 marked a turning point in Godwin's career. In The Enquirer. Reflections on Education, Manners, and Literature , a collection of essays published in February, he distances himself from the "barbarism" of the friends of innovation and announces a significant redirection of political energy based on the conviction that "the cause of political reform, and the cause of intellectual and literary refinement, are inseparably connected." With "as ardent a passion for innovation as ever," he declares his aim to devote himself to education, manners, and literature. In his educational theory he sought to promote the child's free exercise of private judgment. Thus he emphasizes the need to cultivate "habits of intellectual activity" by allowing the child to take the lead in lessons. The importance of "manners" in Godwin's revised program for reform is evident from his account of the "lesser moralities" of frankness, politeness, and sincerity, which all people have the opportunity to practise in their daily lives. Godwin's third new agent of reform was literature. Reading authors such as John Milton and William Shakespeare leads not only to individual progress through contact with "mind[s] of uncommon excellence," but to the gradual improvement of whole societies: "Every man who is changed from what he was by the persual of their works, communicates a portion of the inspiration all around him. It passes from man to man, till it influences the whole mass." The Enquirer was well received by most reviews and greatly admired by Godwin's most famous disciple, Percy Bysshe Shelley . A revised edition appeared in 1823.

This period of intellectual reassessment was also a time of immense change in Godwin's personal life. In 1796 he became reacquainted with Mary Wollstonecraft , the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), with whom he had quarrelled on their first meeting in 1791. In 1796 they met on different terms. Both were well-known authors. Wollstonecraft had had unhappy love affairs with the married painter Henry Fuseli and with the American adventurer Gilbert Imlay, by whom she had a daughter, Fanny; Godwin, always popular with women, had carried on discreet flirtations with Amelia Alderson, Elizabeth Inchbald , and Maria Reveley. After meeting Wollstonecraft in January, Godwin read her Letters Written during a Short Residence in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark (1796), where he found confirmation of his own gradualist views and a new emphasis on the private affections. In April they began to see each other regularly; in August they became lovers, but continued to live apart. When Wollstonecraft became pregnant, they decided to marry to preserve her reputation, but the marriage, which took place in March 1797, had the opposite effect: it forced a recognition among their friends that she had not been married to Imlay, although she had taken his name. Even so, in a state of profound domestic happiness, Godwin began work on revisions for the third edition of An Enquiry concerning Political Justice, published in December (although the title page was dated 1798), in which he further emphasized the role of feeling and sympathy in moral judgments. On 30 August Wollstonecraft gave birth to a daughter, Mary, and died ten days later from puerperal fever.

"I have not the least expectation that I can now ever know happiness again," Godwin wrote to Holcroft. A fortnight later Godwin plunged into writing Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798), which is both a loving portrait of "this incomparable woman" and a defense of a relationship based on egalitarian principles. With a frankness and sincerity that arose directly from the tenets of An Enquiry concerning Political Justice, Godwin gives a detailed account of Wollstonecraft's career and private life, including her expedition to France, her relationships with Fuseli and Imlay, her two suicide attempts, and finally her liaison with Godwin and her death. However, the national mood had changed since 1793. The publication of the Memoirs unleashed a storm of outrage and accelerated the reaction against the "new philosophy" that was already under way. The publication of a corrected edition at the end of 1798 did little to mollify hostile reviewers, and for the next three years Godwin's views were denigrated in abusive verse, satiric novels, sermons, and pamphlets.

To provide a full statement of his revised ethical position, Godwin turned to fiction again. In the preface to St. Leon: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century (1799) he pays tribute to Wollstonecraft's thought by declaring that domestic and private affections are fully compatible with justice, a view upheld by the hero's wife, Marguerite, a fictional portrait of Wollstonecraft. Godwin sets out the philosophical rationale of his first historical novel in a 1797 manuscript essay "Of History and Romance" (1988), in which he argues that the author of "fictitious history" could promote gradual reform by showing how individual character is formed by political and historical circumstances. Set in the Protestant Reformation, St. Leon tells the tale of a French aristocrat whose chivalric values degenerate into a craving for wealth under the pressures of a commercial society. After St. Leon has gambled away his fortune, the family moves on Marguerite's initiative to a cottage in republican Switzerland; but their egalitarian idyll is destroyed when a mysterious stranger gives St. Leon the secrets of the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life. Alienated from humanity by these debasing gifts, St. Leon is hounded through the main centers of European religious controversy. After the deaths of his loved ones and a period of imprisonment during the Spanish Inquisition, he sets off to aid the victims of Turkish despotism in Hungary. The failure of this plan brings a new sense of the unbearable loneliness that is the lot of the historically alienated individual who chooses dreams of public fame over the charities of private life.

The first edition quickly sold out, and a second one appeared in February 1800, earning Godwin four hundred guineas overall. In 1816 Godwin issued a third edition, and in 1831 St. Leon appeared alongside Caleb Williams as number 5 in the series Bentley's Standard Novels. Reaction among Godwin's friends and followers was mixed: Holcroft compiled a list of faults but praised the characterization of Marguerite; Samuel Taylor Coleridge , whose long-lasting friendship with Godwin dated from his reading of St. Leon, was full of admiration. Shelley used St. Leon as a model for St. Irvyne: The Rosicrucian (1811), and Mary Shelley developed many of Godwin's themes in Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). In The Spirit of the Age Hazlitt ranked St. Leon and Caleb Williams as "two of the most splendid and impressive works of the imagination that have appeared in our times."

When Godwin's former friends James Mackintosh and the Reverend Samuel Parr unexpectedly joined in the attack on his ideas, Godwin replied with the eloquent pamphlet Thoughts. Occasioned by the Perusal of Dr Parr's Spital Sermon, preached at Christ Church, April 15, 1800 (1801). As a counterweight to Parr's tone of "gall, intolerance and contempt," Godwin invoked the "disinterested and generous" spirit of the time in which An Enquiry concerning Political Justice had originally been written. He refuted Parr's charge of extreme rationalism by quoting the preface to St. Leon and giving a further gloss on Fénelon and "the famous fire cause." Then he turned to the more serious criticism of his views by Thomas Malthus, who had argued in An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) that the vices and miseries of mankind do not originate in political institutions but in fixed natural laws: the necessity of food and of passion between the sexes. Godwin focused on the principle of population as a threat to his theory of progress. While he accepted Malthus's principle that population, when unchecked, increases in an arithmetical ratio, he rejected his conclusion that the only checks to population growth were vice and misery and argued for the moral checks of "virtue, prudence or pride." Rejecting Malthus's misanthropy, Godwin ended with a resounding affirmation of humanity's perfectible potential. After reading Godwin's account of the reaction against his ideas at the start of the pamphlet, Coleridge wrote in the margin of his copy: "I remember few passages in ancient or modern authors that contain more just philosophy in appropriate, chaste & beautiful diction.... They reflect equal Honor on Godwin's Head and Heart." Yet the pamphlet failed to stem the tide of reaction. In the second edition of his Essay on Population (1803), Malthus acknowledged Godwin's idea of moral restraint, but reaffirmed his earlier view that benevolence is an inadequate motive to action.

In December 1801 Godwin married the widow Mary Jane Clairmont, who brought two children to add to the two from his previous marriage; a son, William, was born in 1803. For the next ten years Godwin withdrew from overt political and philosophical debate as he concentrated on writing to support his growing family. Yet he continued to promote his central belief in gradual reform through educating the imagination. As he wrote in the preface to Bible Stories (1802), his first and immensely successful children's book, "Imagination is the ground-plot upon which the edifice of a sound morality must be erected."

In 1803 Godwin completed the Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, a massive work that he presented as a "new species" of biographical study intended to "carry the workings of fancy and the spirit of philosophy into the investigation of ages past." He studied the mind of Chaucer in terms of the totality of environmental influences to which the poet was subject from birth, arguing that the decline of feudalism fostered his imaginative capacities and made him a type of the true poet, who is "the legislator of mankind and the moral instructor of the world." A second edition appeared in 1804. Pursuing the theme of the writer's role in troubled times, Godwin returned to the novel to comment on the dangers of withdrawal from humanity, a course recently taken by Coleridge and Thelwall. The hero of Fleetwood; or, The New Man of Feeling cultivates his sensibility at the expense of the social virtues. During a Wordsworthian boyhood in the Welsh mountains he learns to dominate his family and nature. He seeks happiness in middle age by marrying the daughter of the benevolent MacNeil, a friend of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who has retired to the English Lake District. Yet in marriage Fleetwood remains self-absorbed and domineering, unable to recognize his wife as an independent being, a theme underlined by his Othello-like jealousy. He is eventually humbled by the discovery that he has been the victim of a plot to discredit his wife's reputation, orchestrated by his malevolent young relative, Gifford, and by her inexplicably tenacious affection. Reviewers rightly commented that the novel lacked Godwin's typical economical design, and a second edition was not warranted. Nevertheless, Fleetwood was reprinted as Bentley's Standard Novels number 22 (1832).

Godwin's reforming impulse found its main expression in these years in books for children. In 1805 he and his wife set up the Juvenile Library to try and place their finances on a more secure footing. Two years later they moved to larger premises at 41 Skinner Street, where Godwin, whose name was still synonymous with sedition and immorality, established the business under his wife's name. Under the pseudonyms of "Theophilus Marcliffe" and "Edward Baldwin," Godwin produced a series of books for children in which he sought to promote moral enlightenment. Some of these became his most popular works: Fables, Ancient and Modern (1805), The Pantheon (1806), The History of England (1806), and The History of Rome (1809), all published under the Baldwin pseudonym, went through many editions in Godwin's lifetime. Despite these successes the business ran into serious debt, and Godwin became increasingly ill from the fainting fits that had affected him since 1800. The deaths of Holcroft and Godwin's mother in 1809 brought him to his lowest point.

Nevertheless, ten years later in a letter to Mary Shelley, Godwin looked back on this period as a "precious interval" that enabled him to renew his creative strength. This resurgence of activity was prompted in part by his meeting with Shelley, the most renowned of a series of younger men and women who sought him out for advice (others included Mary Hays , John Arnot, Thomas Turner, and Patrick Patrickson). In January 1812 Shelley wrote to Godwin introducing himself as a convert to the doctrines of An Enquiry concerning Political Justice, but his subsequent championing of political associations in the Irish campaign for Catholic emancipation showed that he had misread Godwin's greatest work. In his long letters of admonishment Godwin emphasized the need for individual reform as an essential prerequisite to social and political change. This led to a change of direction in the younger man's career. Determined to devote himself to literature as an agent of gradual reform, Shelley came to London to meet Godwin in October 1812. The pair began a series of discussions that consolidated Shelley's reading of Godwin's works and laid the groundwork for his poetic revitalization of Godwin's ideas.

Shelley's arrival in the Godwin household led to a series of domestic crises. At first he seemed to provide the answer to the family's money worries, but in July 1814 he abandoned his wife, Harriet, and eloped to the Continent with Godwin's seventeen-year-old daughter, Mary, accompanied by Mary's stepsister, Claire Clairmont. The runaways returned to England at the end of 1814, but Godwin refused to see them. It was only after the suicides of Mary's half-sister Fanny and Harriet Shelley in 1816 that a reconciliation became possible. Shelley and Mary Godwin married in December 1816, and friendly relations with Godwin resumed until the Shelley family left for Italy in March 1818. Mary Shelley was to return in 1823 after her husband's death.

Godwin's new phase of writing activity began with the Lives of Edward and John Philips. Nephews and Pupils of Milton (1815), his second philosophical biography, in which he surveys Milton's character from the point of view of the lives of the two men he educated and attributes their degeneracy to the "unmitigated calamity" of the Stuart Restoration. In his next work, the pamphlet Letters of Verax , Godwin turns to the present-day calamity of the restored Bourbon monarchy and protests at the decision of the Allies to outlaw and depose Napoleon Bonaparte after his triumphant return from Elba in March 1815. Godwin's staunch defense of Napoleon as an agent of social progress shows the tenacity of his radical views. He argues that the Allies should not interfere in the internal affairs of France, since Napoleon, now the "earnest votary of peace," had accepted a limited constitutional government. Originally published in the Morning Chronicle on 25 May, this letter appeared with a second letter in a pamphlet on 22 June, but Godwin withdrew it when he heard the news of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo.

Godwin's lives of Milton's nephews reawakened his interest in the seventeenth century, which he had described in his essay "Of History and Romance" as "the only portion of our history interesting to the heart of man." In his next novel, Mandeville. A Tale of the Seventeenth Century in England , fired by the success of Walter Scott, Godwin presents a "fictitious history" of the English Commonwealth period as seen through the eyes of a disoriented Presbyterian aristocrat, Charles Mandeville. After witnessing the massacre of his parents in the Irish rebellion of 1641, Mandeville is brought up by a harsh Calvinist tutor in his uncle's household, where he develops a brooding and fiercely competitive personality. At Winchester School he meets the graceful Royalist Clifford, who becomes his lifelong rival. When Clifford plans to marry Henrietta, Mandeville's adored sister, Mandeville succumbs to insane jealousy and tries to abduct her. The plan is foiled, and at the end of the novel Mandeville's face is disfigured by Clifford in a fight. Reviews were mixed, but all welcomed Godwin's return to fiction after ten years. In the Examiner for 28 December 1817 Shelley lavished praise on the novel's taut construction and found in Henrietta's speeches "the genuine doctrine of Political Justice expressed in one perspicuous and impressive view."

While writing Mandeville, Godwin met Joseph Bevan, an American student who asked for guidance with his reading. In reply Godwin published the pamphlet Letter of Advice to a Young American (1818), which summarized his mature educational views and set out a detailed plan of study. Above all Godwin emphasized the need to cultivate the imagination through the study of ancient history, the early English poets, and Elizabethan prose. In a review in the Champion (19 April 1818) Thelwall enthusiastically endorses Godwin's premise that "we can dignify the mind, and improve our moral nature." In Britain the pamphlet was reprinted in the Edinburgh Magazine (March 1818), and in America it became one of Godwin's most widely read works: it was reprinted in the Analectic Magazine (August 1818) and then in several other journals. The Analectic Magazine (September 1819) published five more of Godwin's letters to Bevan showing that Godwin remained, as he wrote to Lady Caroline Lamb in 1821, "in principle a Republican, but in practice a Whig."

Godwin's last major contribution to public debate was Of Population. An Enquiry concerning the Power of Increase in the Numbers of Mankind (1820), a full-length reply to his most influential opponent, Malthus, who in the fifth edition of the Essay on Population (1817) had dropped all reference to Godwin's theories. Adopting the polemical idiom earlier used against him by Malthus, Godwin devoted the first five books to marshaling evidence against Malthus's "groundless" geometrical ratios. In the sixth and final book he rejects Malthus's view of humanity as constrained by "unalterable impulse" and reaffirms his own belief in man as "the artificer of his own fortune." Admired by liberal thinkers but condemned by the political economists, Of Population provoked a minor pamphlet war.

Godwin's financial situation continued to deteriorate. In 1822 he was sued and evicted by his landlord, and he moved the family business from Skinner Street to the Strand. Despite continuing financial help from friends, he was unable to recover the costs incurred in his earlier legal battle. In March 1825 the Juvenile Library was declared bankrupt.

Godwin moved to 44 Gower Place to complete his impressively researched four-volume History of the Commonwealth of England (1824-1828), the first substantial history written from the republican side. Characteristically attentive to the motives of the leading protagonists, he devotes a whole volume to Oliver Cromwell, concluding that he was both a victim of his own ambition and of "the necessity of the situation in which he was placed." Although Godwin reserved his greatest praise for the period from the abolition of the monarchy in 1649 to Cromwell's military coup of 1653, he also inferred the need for a "beneficient and sound constitution" in which liberty coexisted with order. The work was reviewed favorably and sold well.

During the last five years of his life Godwin was saddened by the death of his son William in 1832, but he was increasingly optimistic about the prospects for fundamental political change, with Whigs in office under Earl Grey from November 1830 and the Reform Bill passed in 1832. As well as writing two more novels, Godwin published Thoughts on Man, his Nature, Productions and Discoveries (1831), a collection of essays summing up the changes to his philosophy since the 1790s, and drafted a prospectus for a new edition of An Enquiry concerning Political Justice, in which he declared that in the present political climate, "sentiments favourable to human liberty and happiness will go forward with a tide that no power can resist," but the fourth edition did not appear until 1842. In April 1833 Godwin accepted from Grey's ministry a sinecure as office keeper and yeoman usher of the Receipt of the Exchequer in the Palace of Westminster, which gave him a secure income for the rest of his life. In this unlikely setting he began a collection of essays called "The Genius of Christianity Unveiled", in which he made a trenchant attack on Christianity as a system of falsehood, thus completing the reform program he had begun forty years earlier. On his death he entrusted the work to Mary Shelley for publication, but she held it back. A truncated version appeared as Essays, Never Before Published (1873). Godwin died quietly at home on 7 April 1836 at the age of eighty. He was buried with Mary Wollstonecraft in St. Pancras's churchyard, but in 1851 their remains were removed to St. Peter's, Bournemouth, to lie beside Mary Shelley's.

Far from being confined to the early 1790s, then, Godwin's career as a reform writer spanned more than fifty years. Although the period that led to the publication of An Enquiry concerning Political Justice and Caleb Williams was especially significant for Godwin, his intellectual position was rooted in his Dissenting education and first articulated in writings prior to the French Revolution. While the debates of the 1790s provided a context in which Godwin could fuse his Dissenting beliefs and Enlightenment rationalism in An Enquiry concerning Political Justice, the same partisan context also led to the marginalization of his theories as he became associated with sedition, atheism, and immorality. Critical surveys of Godwin's career have often argued that he retracted his progressive views as he grew older, pointing to the apparent contradictions between his rational philosophy and his fictional exploration of the flawed character of human motivation. Yet while Godwin modified his philosophy, he never abandoned his first principles: hence, his magnetic appeal for reformers of the next generation, including Shelley and Robert Owen . Godwin's novels, essays, and biographies play a vital role in his rehabilitation of feeling and the imagination, strengthening rather than weakening his philosophical system. In his later works he exploited different genres for essentially the same purpose: to further the intellectual and moral development of men and women and to reveal to them the extent to which they have been misled by the political, social, and religious institutions of society.



  • Godwin & Mary: Letters of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, edited by Ralph M. Wardle (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1966).
  • C. Kegan Paul, William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries, 2 volumes (London: H. S. King, 1876).
  • Ford K. Brown, The Life of William Godwin (London: Dent, 1926).
  • George Woodcock, William Godwin: A Biographical and Critical Study (London: Porcupine Press, 1946).
  • Don Locke, A Fantasy of Reason: The Life and Thought of William Godwin (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980).
  • Peter H. Marshall, William Godwin (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1984).
  • William St. Clair, The Godwins and The Shelleys: The Biography of a Family (London & Boston: Faber & Faber, 1989).
  • H. N. Brailsford, Shelley, Godwin, and their Circle (London: Williams & Norgate, 1913).
  • Marilyn Butler, "Godwin, Burke, and Caleb Williams," Essays in Criticism, 32 (July 1982): 237-257.
  • Butler, ed., Burke, Paine, Godwin, and the Revolution Controversy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).
  • John P. Clark, The Philosophical Anarchism of William Godwin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977).
  • Pamela Clemit, The Godwinian Novel: The Rational Fictions of Godwin, Brockden Brown, Mary Shelley (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), pp. 1-102, 211-219.
  • David Fleisher, William Godwin: A Study in Liberalism (London: Allen & Unwin, 1951).
  • Albert Goodwin, The Friends of Liberty: The English Democratic Movement in the Age of the French Revolution (London: Hutchinson, 1979).
  • Gary Kelly, The English Jacobin Novel, 1780-1805 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), pp. 179-260.
  • D. H. Monro, Godwin's Moral Philosophy: An Interpretation of William Godwin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953).
  • Mitzi Myers, "Godwin's Changing Conception of Caleb Williams," Studies in English Literature, 12 (Autumn 1972): 591-628.
  • Mark Philp, Godwin's Political Justice (London: Duckworth, 1986).
  • Burton R. Pollin, Education and Enlightenment in the Works of William Godwin (New York: Las Americas, 1962).
  • Pollin, Godwin Criticism: A Synoptic Bibliography (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967).
  • The Abinger Collection, on loan to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, includes William Godwin's diaries, manuscripts, notes, and letters. The Forster Collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum Library includes the manuscripts of Political Justice, Caleb Williams, Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, and History of the Commonwealth of England. The Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection at the New York Public Library includes the manuscript of Fleetwood, drafts, notes, and letters.


Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1200006148