William Godwin - A Short Biography

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He died at 29, leaving the manuscript of a novel, which Godwin saw into print. All of Godwin's children who lived into adulthood worked as writers or educators, carrying on his legacy and that of his wives. Only two of them had children who in turn survived: Percy Florence Shelley , and the son and daughter of Charles. Godwin did not welcome the birth of Allegra Byron , but Claire's only child died aged five. Godwin had high hopes for Mary, giving her a more rigorous intellectual experience than most women of her period, and describing her as "very intelligent.

However, Godwin withdrew his support as Mary became a woman and pursued her relationship with Percy Shelley. Both explore the role of the father in the child's socialisation and the control the father has on the child's future. They were written at a time when Shelley was raising her only surviving child alone and supporting her ageing father. In both novels, the daughter eludes the father's control by giving him the traditional maternal figure he asks for.

This relationship gives the daughter control of the father. Godwin was awarded a sinecure position as Office Keeper and Yeoman Usher of the Receipt of the Exchequer, [31] which came with grace and favour accommodation within the Palace of Westminster. In later years, Godwin came to expect maternal support and consolation from his daughter.

Two of the five children he had raised had pre-deceased him, and two more lived abroad. Mary responded to his expectations and she cared for him until he died in He was buried next to Mary Wollstonecraft in the churchyard of St Pancras, where they had married. His second wife outlived him, and eventually was buried there too.

The three share a gravestone. In the s, Wollstonecraft and Godwin's remains were moved to Bournemouth, to the family tomb of the Shelleys. In , while the French Revolution was in full swing, Godwin published his great work on political science , Enquiry concerning Political Justice, and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness. The first part of this book was largely a recap of Edmund Burke 's A Vindication of Natural Society — an anarchist critique of the state.

Godwin acknowledged the influence of Burke for this portion. The rest of the book is Godwin's positive vision of how an anarchist or minarchist society might work. Political Justice was extremely influential in its time: after the writings of Burke and Paine , Godwin's was the most popular written response to the French Revolution.

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Godwin's work was seen by many as illuminating a middle way between the fiery extremes of Burke and Paine. However, as was the practice at the time, numerous " corresponding societies " took up Political Justice , either sharing it or having it read to the illiterate members. Eventually, it sold over copies and brought literary fame to Godwin.

Godwin augmented the influence of Political Justice with the publication of a novel that proved equally popular, Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams. This tells the story of a servant who finds out a dark secret about Falkland, his aristocratic master, and is forced to flee because of his knowledge.

Mary Shelley - Life, Frankenstein & Books - Biography

Caleb Williams is essentially the first thriller: [33] Godwin wryly remarked that some readers were consuming in a night what took him over a year to write. Not the least of its merits is a portrait of the justice system of England and Wales at the time and a prescient picture of domestic espionage. His literary method, as he described it in the introduction to the novel, also proved influential: Godwin began with the conclusion of Caleb being chased through Britain, and developed the plot backwards.

Dickens and Poe both commented on Godwin's ingenuity in doing this. In response to a treason trial of some of his fellow British Jacobins , among them Thomas Holcroft , Godwin wrote Cursory Strictures on the Charge Delivered by Lord Chief Justice Eyre to the Grand Jury, 2 October in which he forcefully argued that the prosecution's concept of "constructive treason" allowed a judge to construe any behaviour as treasonous. It paved the way for a major, but mostly moral, victory for the Jacobins, as they were acquitted.

However, Godwin's own reputation was eventually besmirched after by the conservative press, in part because he chose to write a candid biography of his late wife, Mary Wollstonecraft , entitled Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman , including accounts of her two suicide attempts and her affair before her relationship with Godwin with the American adventurer Gilbert Imlay , which resulted in the birth of Fanny Imlay.

Revisiting William Godwin

Godwin, consistent in his theory and stubborn in his practice, practically lived in secret for 30 years because of his reputation. By the words "political justice" the author meant "the adoption of any principle of morality and truth into the practice of a community," and the work was therefore an inquiry into the principles of society, government, and morals. For many years Godwin had been "satisfied that monarchy was a species of government unavoidably corrupt," and from desiring a government of the simplest construction, he gradually came to consider that "government by its very nature counteracts the improvement of original mind," demonstrating anti-statist beliefs that would later be considered anarchist.

Believing in the perfectibility of the race, that there are no innate principles, and therefore no original propensity to evil, he considered that "our virtues and our vices may be traced to the incidents which make the history of our lives, and if these incidents could be divested of every improper tendency, vice would be extirpated from the world. Such optimism was combined with a strong empiricism to support Godwin's belief that the evil actions of men are solely reliant on the corrupting influence of social conditions, and that changing these conditions could remove the evil in man.

This is similar to the ideas of his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft , concerning the shortcomings of women as due to discouragement during their upbringing. Peter Kropotkin remarked of Godwin that when " speaking of property , he stated that the rights of every one 'to every substance capable of contributing to the benefit of a human being' must be regulated by justice alone: the substance must go ' to him who most wants it '.

His conclusion was communism. Populations in his view are therefore always doomed to grow until distress is felt, at least by the poorer segment of the society. Consequently, poverty was felt to be an inevitable phenomenon of society. Let us imagine for a moment Mr.

Godwin's beautiful system of equality realized in its utmost purity, and see how soon this difficulty might be expected to press under so perfect a form of society Let us suppose all the causes of misery and vice in this island removed. War and contention cease. Unwholesome trades and manufactories do not exist.

Crowds no longer collect together in great and pestilent cities Every house is clean, airy, sufficiently roomy, and in a healthy situation And the necessary labours of agriculture are shared amicably among all. The number of persons, and the produce of the island, we suppose to be the same as at present.

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The spirit of benevolence, guided by impartial justice, will divide this produce among all the members of the society according to their wants With these extraordinary encouragements to population, and every cause of depopulation, as we have supposed, removed, the numbers would necessarily increase faster than in any society that has ever yet been known Malthus went on to argue that under such ideal conditions, the population could conceivably double every 25 years. However, the food supply could not continue doubling at this rate for even 50 years.

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The food supply would become inadequate for the growing population, and then:. The corn is plucked before it is ripe, or secreted in unfair proportions; and the whole black train of vices that belong to falsehood are immediately generated. Provisions no longer flow in for the support of the mother with a large family. The children are sickly from insufficient food No human institutions here existed, to the perverseness of which Mr. Godwin ascribes the original sin of the worst men. No opposition had been produced by them between public and private good.

No monopoly had been created of those advantages which reason directs to be left in common. No man had been goaded to the breach of order by unjust laws. Benevolence had established her reign in all hearts: and yet in so short a period as within fifty years, violence, oppression, falsehood, misery, every hateful vice, and every form of distress, which degrade and sadden the present state of society, seem to have been generated by the most imperious circumstances, by laws inherent in the nature of man, and absolutely independent of it human regulations. In Political Justice Godwin had acknowledged that an increase in the standard of living as he envisioned could cause population pressures, but he saw an obvious solution to avoiding distress: "project a change in the structure of human action, if not of human nature, specifically the eclipsing of the desire for sex by the development of intellectual pleasures".

In the second and subsequent editions, however, he wrote that widespread moral restraint, i. He reasoned that increasing technological advances would lead to a decrease in the amount of time individuals spent on production and labour, and thereby, to more time spent on developing "their intellectual and moral faculties".

Godwin pictured a social utopia where society would reach a level of sustainability and engage in "voluntary communism". Godwin's main argument was against Malthus' notion that population tends to grow exponentially. Godwin believed that for population to double every twenty-five years as Malthus had asserted had occurred in the United States, due to the expanse of resources available there , every married couple would have to have at least eight children, given the rate of childhood deaths.

Godwin himself was one of thirteen children, but he did not observe the majority of couples in his day having eight children. He therefore concluded:. In reality, if I had not taken up the pen with the express purpose of confuting all the errors of Mr Malthus's book, and of endeavouring to introduce other principles, more cheering, more favourable to the best interests of mankind, and better prepared to resist the inroads of vice and misery, I might close my argument here, and lay down the pen with this brief remark, that, when this author shall have produced from any country, the United States of North America not excepted, a register of marriages and births, from which it shall appear that there are on an average eight births to a marriage, then, and not till then, can I have any just reason to admit his doctrine of the geometrical ratio.

In his first edition of Political Justice Godwin included arguments favouring the possibility of "earthly immortality " what would now be called Physical Immortality , but later editions of the book omitted this topic. Although the belief in such a possibility is consistent with his philosophy regarding perfectibility and human progress, he probably dropped the subject because of political expedience when he realised that it might discredit his other views.

Leon , which became popular and notorious at the time of its publication in , but is now mostly forgotten. Leon may have provided inspiration for his daughter's novel Frankenstein. Source: Tomalin, Claire []. Shelley and His World. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other people named William Godwin, see William Godwin disambiguation. Portrait by Henry William Pickersgill.

Wisbech , Cambridgeshire , England. London , England.