William Godwin

William Godwin (3 March 1756 – 7 April 1836) was an English journalist, political philosopher and novelist. He is considered one of the first exponents of utilitarianism and the first modern proponent of anarchism.[1] Godwin is most famous for two books that he published within the space of a year: An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, an attack on political institutions, and Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, an early mystery novel which attacks aristocratic privilege. Based on the success of both, Godwin featured prominently in the radical circles of London in the 1790s. He wrote prolifically in the genres of novels, history and demography throughout his lifetime.

In the conservative reaction to British radicalism, Godwin was attacked, in part because of his marriage to the pioneering feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797 and his candid biography of her after her death from childbirth. Their daughter, later known as Mary Shelley, would go on to write Frankenstein and marry the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. With his second wife, Mary Jane Clairmont, Godwin set up The Juvenile Library, allowing the family to write their own works for children (sometimes using noms de plume) and translate and publish many other books, some of enduring significance. Godwin has had considerable influence on British literature and literary culture.

William Godwin
William Godwin by Henry William Pickersgill
Born3 March 1756
Died7 April 1836 (aged 80)
London, England
Notable work
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Things as They Are
Mary Wollstonecraft
(m. 1797; died 1797)

Mary Jane Clairmont (m. 1801)
Era19th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolPhilosophical anarchism
Main interests
Social philosophy, political philosophy, ethics
Notable ideas

Early life and education

Godwin was born in Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, to John and Anne Godwin. Godwin's family on both sides were middle-class. Godwin's parents adhered to a strict form of Calvinism. Godwin was the seventh of his parent's thirteen children.[2] Godwin's mother came from a wealthy family but due to her uncle's frivolities the family wealth was squandered. Fortunately for the family her father was a successful merchant involved in the Baltic Sea trade.[2] Godwin's father, a Nonconformist minister in Guestwick in Norfolk, died young, and never inspired love or much regret in his son; but in spite of wide differences of opinion, tender affection always subsisted between William Godwin and his mother, until her death at an advanced age.

William Godwin was educated for his father's profession at Hoxton Academy, where he studied under Andrew Kippis the biographer, and Dr Abraham Rees of the Cyclopaedia. At the age of 11, he became the sole pupil of Samuel Newton, a strict hyper-Calvinist, who was a Sandemanian, a disciple of Robert Sandeman. Godwin later characterised Newton as, "... a celebrated north country apostle, who, after Calvin damned ninety-nine in a hundred of mankind, has contrived a scheme for damning ninety-nine in a hundred of the followers of Calvin."[3]

He then acted as a minister at Ware, Stowmarket and Beaconsfield. At Ware the teachings of the French philosophers were brought before him by a friend, Joseph Fawcett, who held strong republican opinions. Godwin came to London in 1782, still nominally as a minister, to regenerate society with his pen – a real enthusiast, who never shrank from conclusions of the premises which he laid down. He adopted the principles of the Encyclopédistes, and his own aim was the complete overthrow of all existing political, social and religious institutions. He believed, however, that calm discussion was the only thing needful to carry every change, and from the beginning to the end of his career he deprecated every approach to violence.

Early writing

His first published work was an anonymous Life of Lord Chatham (1783). He published under his own name Sketches of History (1784), consisting of six sermons on the characters of Aaron, Hazael and Jesus, in which, though writing in the character of an orthodox Calvinist (Godwin himself had become an atheist),[4] his character enunciates the proposition "God Himself has no right to be a tyrant." Introduced by Andrew Kippis, he began to write in 1785 for the New Annual Register and other periodicals, producing also three novels now forgotten. His main contributions for the "Annual Register" were the Sketches of English History he wrote annually, which were yearly summaries of domestic and foreign political affairs. He joined a club called the Revolutionists, and associated much with Lord Stanhope, Horne Tooke and Holcroft.

Marriage to Mary Wollstonecraft

James Northcote, William Godwin, oil on canvas, 1802, the National Portrait Gallery

Godwin first met Mary Wollstonecraft at the home of their mutual publisher. Joseph Johnson was hosting a dinner for another of his authors, Thomas Paine, and Godwin remarked years later that on that evening he heard too little of Paine and too much of Wollstonecraft; he did not see her again for some years. In the interim, Wollstonecraft went to live in France to witness the Revolution for herself, and had a child, Fanny Imlay, with an American adventurer named Gilbert Imlay. In pursuit of Gilbert Imlay's business affairs, Wollstonecraft travelled to Scandinavia, and soon afterwards published a book based on the voyage. Godwin read it, and later wrote that "If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book."[5]

When Godwin and Wollstonecraft were reintroduced in 1796, their respect for each other soon grew into friendship, sexual attraction, and love.[6] Once Wollstonecraft became pregnant, they decided to marry so that their child would be legitimate. Their marriage revealed the fact that Wollstonecraft had never been married to Imlay, and as a result she and Godwin lost many friends. Godwin received further criticism because he had advocated the abolition of marriage in Political Justice.[7] After their marriage at St Pancras on 29 March 1797, they moved into two adjoining houses in Somers Town so that they could both still retain their independence; they often communicated by notes delivered by servants.[8]

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born in Somers Town on 31 August 1797, the couple's only child.[9] :5 Godwin had hoped for a son and had been planning on naming the child "William."[10] On 10 September 1797 Wollstonecraft died of complications following the birth. By all accounts, it had been a happy and stable, though brief, relationship.[11] Now Godwin, who had been a bachelor until a few months before, was distraught at the loss of the love of his life. Simultaneously, he became responsible for the care of these two young girls, the newborn Mary and toddler Fanny.

When Mary was three, Godwin left his daughters in the care of James Marshall while he travelled to Ireland. Godwin's tone in his letters demonstrates how much he cared about them. His letters show the stress he placed on giving his two daughters a sense of security. "And now what shall I say for my poor little girls? I hope they have not forgot me. I think of them every day, and should be glad, if the wind was more favourable, to blow them a kiss a-piece from Dublin to the Polygon.. but I have seen none that I love so well or think half so good as my own."[10]

Second marriage and book publishing

In 1801 Godwin married his neighbour Mary Jane Clairmont.[12] She brought two of her own children into the household, Charles and Claire. Journalist H.N. Brailsford wrote in 1913, "She was a vulgar and worldly woman, thoroughly feminine, and rather inclined to boast of her total ignorance of philosophy."[13][14][15] While Fanny eventually learned to live with Clairmont, Mary's relationship with her stepmother was tense. Mary writes, "As to Mrs Godwin, something very analogous to disgust arises whenever I mention her",[9]:200 "A woman I shudder to think of".[16]

In 1805 the Godwins set up a shop and publishing house called the Juvenile Library, significant in the history of children's literature. Through this, Godwin wrote children's primers on Biblical and classical history, and using the pseudonym Edward Baldwin, he wrote a variety of books for children, including a version of Jack and the Beanstalk,[17] and a biography of the Irish artist William Mulready,[18] who illustrated works for them. They kept alive family ties, publishing the first book by Margaret King (then Lady Mount Cashell), who had been a favoured pupil of Mary Wollstonecraft.[19] They published works never since out of print, such as Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare. The Juvenile Library also translated European authors. The first English edition of Swiss Family Robinson was translated (from the French, not the German) and edited by them.[20][21][22] The business was the family's mainstay for decades.


Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie (c. 1797)
Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie (c. 1797)

Godwin was responsible for a family of five children, none of whom had the same two parents. Although he raised them with his second wife, the ghost of Mary Wollstonecraft hovered over the family, as evidenced by the John Opie portrait to which Godwin gave pride of place in his study.

The eldest was Fanny Imlay (1794–1816), who committed suicide as a young woman. Charles Gaulis Clairmont[23][24] ended up as Chair of English literature at Vienna University[25] and taught sons of the royal family; news of his sudden death in 1849 distressed Maximilian.[26] Mary Godwin (1797–1851) gained fame as Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Half a year younger than her was Claire Clairmont, Mary Jane's only daughter, to whom she showed favouritism. The youngest, and the only child of the second marriage, was William Godwin the Younger (1803 – 1832). Godwin sent him first to Charterhouse School and then to various other establishments of a practical bent. Nonetheless, he eventually earned his living by the pen. 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." He wished to give his daughter a more "masculine education" and prepared her to be a writer. However, Godwin withdrew his support as Mary became a woman and pursued her relationship with Percy Shelley.[27] Mary's first two novels, Frankenstein and Mathilda, may be seen as a reaction to her childhood. Both explore the role of the father in the child's socialisation and the control the father has on the child's future.[28] Shelley's last two novels, Lodore and Falkner, re-evaluate the father-daughter relationship. 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.[28][29]

Later years and death

Godwin was awarded a sinecure position as Office Keeper and Yeoman Usher of the Receipt of the Exchequer,[30] which came with grace and favour accommodation within the Palace of Westminster.[31]

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 1836. 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 1850s, Wollstonecraft and Godwin's remains were moved to Bournemouth, to the family tomb of the Shelleys.

Works and ideas

Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Caleb Williams

In 1793, 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. Godwin's work was seen by many as illuminating a middle way between the fiery extremes of Burke and Paine. Prime Minister William Pitt famously said that there was no need to censor it, because at over £1 it was too costly for the average Briton to buy. 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 4000 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. Caleb Williams is essentially the first thriller:[32] 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.

Political writing

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 1794 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 1798 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.

Godwin, consistent in his theory and stubborn in his practice, practically lived in secret for 30 years because of his reputation. However, in its influence on writers such as Shelley, who read the work on multiple occasions between 1810 and 1820,[33] and Kropotkin, Political Justice takes its place with Milton's Areopagitica and Rousseau's Émile as a defining anarchist and libertarian text.

Interpretation of political justice

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." All control of man by man was more or less intolerable, and the day would come when each man, doing what seems right in his own eyes, would also be doing what is in fact best for the community, because all will be guided by principles of pure reason.

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."[34]

Debate with Malthus

In 1798, Thomas Robert Malthus wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population in response to Godwin's views on the "perfectibility of society." Malthus wrote that populations are inclined to increase in times of plenty, and that only distress, from causes such as food shortages, disease, or war, serves to stem population growth. 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. 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....[35]

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. The food supply would become inadequate for the growing population, and then:

...the mighty law of self-preservation expels all the softer and more exalted emotions of the soul.... 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.[35]

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".[36] In the 1798 version of his essay, Malthus specifically rejected this possible change in human nature. In the second and subsequent editions, however, he wrote that widespread moral restraint, i.e., postponement of marriage and pre-nuptial celibacy (sexual abstinence), could reduce the tendency of a population to grow until distress was felt.".[37] Godwin also saw new technology as being partly responsible for the future change in human nature into more intellectually developed beings. 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".[36] Instead of population growing exponentially, Godwin believed that this moral improvement would outrun the growth of population. Godwin pictured a social utopia where society would reach a level of sustainability and engage in "voluntary communism".[36]

In 1820, Godwin published Of Population: An Enquiry Concerning the Power of Increase in the Numbers of Mankind as a rebuttal to Malthus' essays. 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.[36]

Interest in earthly immortality

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.[38] Godwin explored the themes of life extension and immortality in his gothic novel St. Leon, which became popular (and notorious) at the time of its publication in 1799, but is now mostly forgotten. St. Leon may have provided inspiration for his daughter's novel Frankenstein.[39]

Major works

See also

  • Godwin-Shelley family tree


  1. ^ Philp, Mark (2006-05-20). "William Godwin". In Zalta, Edward N. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  2. ^ a b Philp, Mark (1993). Political And Philosophical Writings Of William Godwin. London: Pickering & Chatto Limited. p. 7. ISBN 1 85196 093 7.
  3. ^ Cedric J. Robinson (1980). The Terms of Order: Political Science and the Myth of Leadership. SUNY Press. p. 171. ISBN 978-0-87395-411-2.
  4. ^ Peter H. Marshall (1984). William Godwin, philosopher, novelist, Revolutionary. Yale University Press. p. 240. ISBN 9780300105445. Coleridge also introduced Charles Lamb to Godwin. Lamb had shown some sympathy for the New Philosophy but the arguments of Coleridge and his own religiosity and common sense quickly turned him against it. He was particularly repelled by Godwin's atheism.
  5. ^ Memoirs page 95
  6. ^ St. Clair, 164–69; Tomalin, 245–70; Wardle, 268ff; Sunstein, 314–20.
  7. ^ St. Clair, 172–74; Tomalin, 271–73; Sunstein, 330–35.
  8. ^ Sunstein has printed several of these letters in order so that the reader can follow Wollstonecraft and Godwin's conversation (321ff.)
  9. ^ a b Marshall, Julian. The Life and Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. London: R. Bentley and Son, 1889. PDF.
  10. ^ a b Godwin, William The Letters of William Godwin. Ed. Pamela Clemit. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. PDF.
  11. ^ St. Clair, 173; Wardle, 286–92; Sunstein, 335–40.
  12. ^ Colbert, Ben. "Mary Jane Godwin (Author, Translator) - British Travel Writing". University of Wolverhampton. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  13. ^ Brailsford, Henry Noel (2009-09-13). Shelley, Godwin, and their circle. Home University Library of Modern Knowledge. Retrieved 16 July 2018 – via gutenberg.org.
  14. ^ Brailsford, Henry Noel (1919). Shelley, Godwin, and their circle. London: J.J. Williams. Retrieved 16 July 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  15. ^ Brailsford, Henry Noel (1913). "Shelley, Godwin, and their circle". New York: Henry Holt and Company. Retrieved 16 July 2018 – via Hathi Trust.
  16. ^ Jump, Harriet (1 October 1999). "Monstrous stepmother: Mary Shelley and Mary Jane Godwin". Women's Writing. 6 (3): 297–308. doi:10.1080/09699089900200076. "A woman I shudder to think of" (1814)
  17. ^ Jones, William B. (November 2001). Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History (Hardback) (Abridged ed.). McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-1077-4.
  18. ^ Mitchell, Sally (1988). Victorian Britain (Routledge Revivals): An Encyclopedia. p. 516.
  19. ^ "Margaret Jane King Moore: Stories of Old Daniel: or Tales of Wonder and Delight". The Literary Encyclopedia. Volume 1.2.4: Irish Writing and Culture, 400-present. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  20. ^ hahn, Daniel (2015). The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. p. 234. ISBN 9780199695140. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  21. ^ BLAMIRES, David. 6. The Swiss Family Robinson In: Telling Tales: The Impact of Germany on English Children's Books 1780-1918 [online]. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2009 (generated 16 October 2017). Available on the Internet: <http://books.openedition.org/obp/605>. ISBN 9781906924119.
  22. ^ "Mary Jane Godwin". British Travel Writing. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  23. ^ "Charles Gaulis Clairmont manuscript material". The New York Public Library. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  24. ^ "Charles Clairmont (1795-1850)". WikiTree Family Tree. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  25. ^ McAllen, M. M. (2014). Maximilian and Carlota: Europe's Last Empire in Mexico. p. 21.
  26. ^ Joffe, Sharon (2016). The Clairmont Family Letters, 1839 - 1889, Volume 2. p. 151.
  27. ^ Carlson, Julie Ann. England's First Family of Writers: Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Mary Shelley. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2007. Print.
  28. ^ a b Hill-Miller, Katherine. "My Hideous Progeny": Mary Shelley, William Godwin, and the Father-daughter Relationship. Newark: U of Delaware, 1995. Print.
  29. ^ Greenlee, Alison M. (2011-10-10). "The Swiss Family Robinson and… Frankenstein?". University of Tulsa. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  30. ^ "Events". William Godwin's Diary. Bodleian Library. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  31. ^ An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (Oxford World Classics ed.). OUP. 2013.
  32. ^ Marshall, Peter (1992). Demanding the Impossible. Harper Collins. p. 196.
  33. ^ Locke, Don (1980). A Fantasy of Reason: The Life & Thought of William Godwin. Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 246.
  34. ^ “Anarchism” from the Encyclopædia Britannica by Peter Kropotkin
  35. ^ a b An essay on the principle of population, (1798) Chap. 10.
  36. ^ a b c d Medema, Steven G., and Warren J. Samuels. 2003. The History of Economic Thought: A Reader. New York: Routledge.
  37. ^ Geoffrey Gilbert, introduction to Malthus T.R. 1798. An essay on the principle of population. Oxford World's Classics reprint. xviii
  38. ^ Siobhan Ni Chonailla (2007). "'Why may not man one day be immortal?': Population, perfectibility, and the immortality question in Godwin's Political Justice". History of European Ideas. 33 (1): 25–39. doi:10.1016/j.histeuroideas.2006.06.003.
  39. ^ "Godwin, William (1756–1836) – Introduction". Gothic Literature. enotes.com. 2008. Archived from the original on 28 August 2008. Retrieved 9 August 2008.

Further reading

External links

Anarchism and education

Anarchism has had a special interest on the issue of education from the works of William Godwin and Max Stirner onwards.

A wide diversity of issues related to education have gained the attention of anarchist theorists and activists. They have included the role of education in social control and socialization, the rights and liberties of youth and children within educational contexts, the inequalities encouraged by current educational systems, the influence of state and religious ideologies in the education of people, the division between social and manual work and its relationship with education, sex education and art education.

Various alternatives to contemporary mainstream educational systems and their problems have been proposed by anarchists which have gone from alternative education systems and environments, self-education, advocacy of youth and children rights, and freethought activism.

Anarchism in the United Kingdom

Anarchism in the UK initially developed within the context of radical Whiggery and Protestant religious dissent. During the English Civil War and the industrialisation English anarchist thought developed in the context of revolutionary working class politics.


Cloudesley: A Tale (1830) is the fifth novel published by eighteenth-century philosopher and novelist William Godwin.

Edward William Godwin

Edward William Godwin (26 May 1833, Bristol – 6 October 1886 London) was a progressive English architect-designer, who began his career working in the strongly polychromatic "Ruskinian Gothic" style of mid-Victorian Britain, inspired by The Stones of Venice, then moved on to provide designs in the "Anglo-Japanese taste" of the Aesthetic Movement and Whistler's circle in the 1870s. Godwin's influence can be detected in the Arts and Crafts Movement.

His best known early works include The Guild Hall, Northampton (illustration, right), which was his first notable public commission, and Town Hall, Congleton, as well as restorations and neo-Gothic additions to Dromore Castle, Limerick and Castle Ashby.

Enquiry Concerning Political Justice

Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on Morals and Happiness is a 1793 book by philosopher William Godwin, in which Godwin outlines his political philosophy. It is the first modern work to expound anarchism.

Fine Art Society

The Fine Art Society is a gallery in Dundas Street in Edinburgh's New Town (originally Bourne Fine Art, established 1978). The New Bond Street, London gallery closed its doors in August 2018 after being occupied by The Fine Art Society since February 1876, the entrance façade of which was designed in 1881 by Edward William Godwin (1833–1886).

Godwin Michelmore

Major General Sir William Godwin Michelmore KBE, CB, DSO, MC, TD, JP, DL (14 March 1894–25 October 1982) was a senior British Army officer who served in both world wars and was later ADC to King George VI and Lord Mayor of Exeter.

Goodwin Hudson

Arthur William Goodwin Hudson (known as Goodwin;) was a coadjutor bishop in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.He studied at the London College of Divinity and was ordained in 1941. He began his career as a Curate at St Paul, Chatham after which he became Vicar of Good Easter. From 1945 to 1948 he was Headmaster at Windsor School, Santiago and then the incumbent at St James, Holloway until 1955. After a similar post at Woodford Wells he was consecrated to serve the Sydney diocese as coadjutor bishop on 25 March 1960. After four years based in Point Piper, New South Wales he returned to England and became Vicar of St Paul’s, Portman Square.

Individualist anarchism in Europe

Individualist anarchism refers to several traditions of thought within the anarchist movement that emphasize the individual and his or her will over external determinants such as groups, society, traditions, and ideological systems. European individualist anarchism proceeded from the roots laid by William Godwin, Individualist anarchism expanded and diversified through Europe, incorporating influences from American individualist anarchism.

Early European individualist anarchism was influenced by many philosophers, including Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Max Stirner, and Henry David Thoreau. Proudhon was an early pioneer of anarchism as well as of the important individualist anarchist current of mutualism. Stirner became a central figure of individualist anarchism through the publication of his seminal work The Ego and Its Own which is considered to be "a founding text in the tradition of individualist anarchism." The philosophy of Max Stirner supports the individual doing exactly what he pleases – taking no notice of God, state, or moral rules. To Stirner, rights were spooks in the mind, and he held that society does not exist but "the individuals are its reality"– he supported property by force of might rather than moral right. Stirner advocated self-assertion and foresaw "Union of egoists" drawn together by respect for each other's self-ownership. Thoreau emphasized the promotion of simple living, environmental stewardship, and civil disobedience were influential in European individualist anarchists.An important tendency within European individualist anarchism in general is the emphasis on individual subjective exploration and defiance of social conventions. Individualist anarchist philosophy attracted "amongst artists, intellectuals and the well-read, urban middle classes in general." As such Murray Bookchin describes a lot of individualist anarchism as people who "expressed their opposition in uniquely personal forms, especially in fiery tracts, outrageous behavior, and aberrant lifestyles in the cultural ghettos of fin de siecle New York, Paris, and London. As a credo, individualist anarchism remained largely a bohemian lifestyle, most conspicuous in its demands for sexual freedom ('free love') and enamored of innovations in art, behavior, and clothing.". In this way free love currents and other radical lifestyles such as naturism had popularity among individualist anarchists. Other important currents common within European individual anarchism include free love, illegalism, and freethought.Influential European individualist anarchists include Albert Libertad, Bellegarrigue, Oscar Wilde, Émile Armand, Lev Chernyi, John Henry Mackay, Han Ryner, Adolf Brand, Miguel Gimenez Igualada, Renzo Novatore, and Michel Onfray.

Lives of the Necromancers

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 (1834) was the final book written by English journalist, political philosopher and novelist William Godwin. The book concerns paranormal legends from western and middle eastern history. In 1835 it was reviewed by Edgar Allan Poe of the Southern Literary Messenger.

Mandeville (novel)

Mandeville, a tale of the seventeenth century (1817) is a three volume novel written by William Godwin.

Mary Shelley

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (née Godwin; 30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.

After Wollstonecraft's death less than a month after her daughter Mary was born, Mary was raised by Godwin, who was able to provide his daughter with a rich, if informal, education, encouraging her to adhere to his own anarchist political theories. When Mary was four, her father married a neighbour, with whom, as her stepmother, Mary came to have a troubled relationship.In 1814, Mary began a romance with one of her father's political followers, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was already married. Together with Mary's stepsister Claire Clairmont, Mary and Shelley left for France and travelled through Europe. Upon their return to England, Mary was pregnant with Percy's child. Over the next two years, she and Percy faced ostracism, constant debt, and the death of their prematurely born daughter. They married in late 1816, after the suicide of Percy Shelley's first wife, Harriet.

In 1816, the couple famously spent a summer with Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont near Geneva, Switzerland, where Mary conceived the idea for her novel Frankenstein. The Shelleys left Britain in 1818 for Italy, where their second and third children died before Mary Shelley gave birth to her last and only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley. In 1822, her husband drowned when his sailing boat sank during a storm near Viareggio. A year later, Mary Shelley returned to England and from then on devoted herself to the upbringing of her son and a career as a professional author. The last decade of her life was dogged by illness, most likely caused by the brain tumour which killed her at age 53.

Until the 1970s, Mary Shelley was known mainly for her efforts to publish her husband's works and for her novel Frankenstein, which remains widely read and has inspired many theatrical and film adaptations. Recent scholarship has yielded a more comprehensive view of Mary Shelley’s achievements. Scholars have shown increasing interest in her literary output, particularly in her novels, which include the historical novels Valperga (1823) and Perkin Warbeck (1830), the apocalyptic novel The Last Man (1826), and her final two novels, Lodore (1835) and Falkner (1837). Studies of her lesser-known works, such as the travel book Rambles in Germany and Italy (1844) and the biographical articles for Dionysius Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopaedia (1829–1846), support the growing view that Mary Shelley remained a political radical throughout her life. Mary Shelley's works often argue that cooperation and sympathy, particularly as practised by women in the family, were the ways to reform civil society. This view was a direct challenge to the individualistic Romantic ethos promoted by Percy Shelley and the Enlightenment political theories articulated by her father, William Godwin.

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft (27 April 1759 – 10 September 1797) was an English writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights. Until the late 20th century, Wollstonecraft's life, which encompassed several unconventional personal relationships, received more attention than her writing. Today Wollstonecraft is regarded as one of the founding feminist philosophers, and feminists often cite both her life and work as important influences.

During her brief career, she wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children's book. Wollstonecraft is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education. She suggests that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason.

After Wollstonecraft's death, her widower published a Memoir (1798) of her life, revealing her unorthodox lifestyle, which inadvertently destroyed her reputation for almost a century. However, with the emergence of the feminist movement at the turn of the twentieth century, Wollstonecraft's advocacy of women's equality and critiques of conventional femininity became increasingly important.

After two ill-fated affairs, with Henry Fuseli and Gilbert Imlay (by whom she had a daughter, Fanny Imlay), Wollstonecraft married the philosopher William Godwin, one of the forefathers of the anarchist movement. Wollstonecraft died at the age of 38, eleven days after giving birth to her second daughter, leaving behind several unfinished manuscripts. This daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, became an accomplished writer herself, as Mary Shelley, whose best known work was Frankenstein.

Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798) is William Godwin's biography of his wife Mary Wollstonecraft, the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).

Godwin felt it was his duty to edit and publish Wollstonecraft's unfinished works after her death in September 1797. A week after her funeral, he started on this project and a memoir of her life. In order to prepare to write the biography, he reread all of her works, spoke with her friends, and ordered and numbered their correspondence. After four months of hard work, he had completed both projects. According to William St Clair, who has written a biography of the Godwins and the Shelleys, Wollstonecraft was so famous by this time that Godwin did not have to mention her name in the title of the memoir.Published in January 1798, Godwin's account of Wollstonecraft's life is wracked with sorrow and, inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions, unusually frank for its time. He did not shrink from presenting the parts of Wollstonecraft's life that late eighteenth-century British society would judge either immoral or in bad taste, such as her close friendship with a woman, her love affairs, her illegitimate child, her suicide attempts and her agonizing death. In the "Preface", Godwin explains:

I cannot easily prevail on myself to doubt, that the more fully we are presented with the picture and story of such persons as the subject of the following narrative, the more generally shall we feel in ourselves an attachment to their fate and a sympathy in their excellencies. There are not many individuals with whose character the public welfare and improvement are more intimately connected than the author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

Godwin's openness was not always appreciated by the people he named or by Wollstonecraft's sisters. Everina and Eliza ran a school in Ireland and they lost students as a result of the Memoir.Joseph Johnson, Wollstonecraft's life-long friend and the book's publisher, tried to dissuade Godwin from including explicit details regarding her life, but he refused. However, the book was heavily criticized and Godwin was forced to revise it for a second edition in August of the same year. Rarely published in the nineteenth century and sparingly even today, Memoirs is most often viewed as a source for information on Wollstonecraft. However, with the rise of interest in biography and autobiography as important genres in and of themselves, scholars are increasingly studying it for its own sake.Claudia Johnson has written that "Godwin's Memoirs appeared virtually to celebrate Wollstonecraft's suicidal tendencies as somehow appropriate in a heroine of her exquisite sensibility".The Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine pilloried the book, writing that "if it does not shew what it is wise to pursue, it manifests what it is wise to avoid. It illustrates both the sentiments and conduct resulting from such principles as those of Mrs. Wollstonecroft [sic] and Mr. Godwin. It also in some degree accounts for the formation of such visionary theories and pernicious doctrines." The review surveys Wollstonecraft's entire life and indicts almost every element of it, from her efforts to care for Fanny Blood, her close friend, to her writings. Of her two Vindications in particular, it criticizes her "extravagance" and lack of logic. However, when the review comes to discuss her relationship with Gilbert Imlay, it tips over into outright slander, accusing her of being a "concubine" and a "kept mistress" and writing "the biographer does not mention many of her amours. Indeed it was unnecessary: two or three instances of action often decide a character as well as a thousand." Rising to a fever pitch at the end, the review claims that "the moral sentiments and moral conduct of Mrs. Wollstonecroft [sic], resulting from their principles and theories, exemplify and illustrate JACOBIN MORALITY" and warns parents against bringing up their children using her advice.

Philosophical anarchism

Philosophical anarchism is an anarchist school of thought which holds that the state lacks moral legitimacy while not supporting violence to eliminate it. Though philosophical anarchism does not necessarily imply any action or desire for the elimination of the state, philosophical anarchists do not believe that they have an obligation or duty to obey the state, or conversely that the state has a right to command. Philosophical anarchism is a component especially of individualist anarchism.Scholar Michael Freeden identifies four broad types of individualist anarchism. He says the first is the type associated with William Godwin that advocates self-government with a "progressive rationalism that included benevolence to others". The second type is egoism, most associated with Max Stirner. The third type is "found in Herbert Spencer's early predictions, and in that of some of his disciples such as Donisthorpe, foreseeing the redundancy of the state in the source of social evolution". The fourth type retains a moderated form of egoism and accounts for social cooperation through the advocacy of the market, having such followers as Benjamin Tucker and Henry David Thoreau.

Sideboard (Edward William Godwin)

This sideboard was designed by Edward William Godwin (1833–86), who was one of the most important exponents of Victorian Japonisme, the appropriation of Japanese artistic styles. Japan began trading with the West in the 1850s, and by the next decade imported Japanese prints (Ukiyo-e), ceramics and textiles were very fashionable in Britain. Godwin was influenced by interiors depicted in Japanese prints and by the studies he made of Japanese architecture, but he did not seek to imitate Japanese designs. Instead his Anglo-Japanese furniture aimed to combine the more general principles of simplicity and elegance he admired in the art of Japan with domestic needs of the Victorian home.

The sideboard is stylish and dramatic, but it is also quite appropriate for use in a dining room. It is functional with drawers, adjustable shelves, and a rack fitted to take a large dish between the cupboards. The construction and finish are practical and hygienic, with hard surfaces and simple decoration, and the raised bottom shelf gives access for cleaning the floor.

Godwin designed the first version of this sideboard in ebonised deal, a cheap wood, in 1867. He subsequently changed to ebonised mahogany, as he found deal to be unstable. At least ten versions of the original were made between 1867 and 1888, with differences in design, in decoration or in the number of legs. There are several surviving examples of this sideboard, made of ebonised deal, mahogany, or oak and pine. The original sideboard was designed by Godwin for the dining room of his London home in 1867.

Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams

Things as They Are; or The Adventures of Caleb Williams (often abbreviated to Caleb Williams) (1794) by William Godwin is a three-volume novel written as a call to end the abuse of power by what Godwin saw as a tyrannical government. Intended as a popularisation of the ideas presented in his 1793 treatise Political Justice Godwin uses Caleb Williams to show how legal and other institutions can and do destroy individuals, even when the people the justice system touches are innocent of any crime. This reality, in Godwin's mind, was therefore a description of "things as they are." The original manuscript included a preface that was removed from publication, because its content alarmed booksellers of the time.

To Godwin

"To Godwin" or "To William Godwin" was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and published in the 10 January 1795 Morning Chronicle as part of the Sonnets on Eminent Characters series. William Godwin was admired by Coleridge for his political beliefs. However, Coleridge did not support Godwin's atheistic views, which caused tension between the two. Although the poem praises Godwin, it invokes an argument that the two shared over theological matters. After the poem was written, the relationship between Coleridge and Godwin cooled and the poem was not reprinted.

William Godwin the Younger

William Godwin (1803 – 8 September 1832) was an English reporter and author. He was influenced by his father (William Godwin's) work.

Family tree of William Godwin
Sir John Lethbridge
Mary Jane Vial Clairmont
(c. 1766–1841)
William Godwin
Mary Wollstonecraft
Gilbert Imlay
Claire Clairmont
Lord Byron
William Godwin the Younger
Fanny Imlay
Allegra Byron
Harriet Westbroke
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin
Clara Everina
Percy Florence

Source: Tomalin, Claire (1992) [1980]. Shelley and His World. Penguin. p. 115. ISBN 0140171525.

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