1798 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Godwin

David Rivers, in Literary Memoirs of Living Authors (1798) 1:215-16.



Formerly a dissenting clergyman. In 1784, he published a duodecimo volume, consisting of six Sermons, which he dedicated to the Bishop of Landaff, entitled, Sketches of History!! These discourses have been said to approach nearer to the animated style of the French orators than the generality of compositions for the pulpit in this colder climate. Mr. Godwin is also the reputed author of a pamphlet, which appeared about the same time, entitled, The Herald of Literature; or, A Review of the most considerable Publications which will be made in the ensuing Winter. In these later days he has attracted notice by An Enquiry concerning Political Justice, and its Influence on general Virtue and Happiness, first published in 1793, in two volumes, quarto, and since in two volumes, octavo. Whatever the pretentions of this Political Doctor, a Philosopher of the New Sect, may be to NEW LIGHTS and a NEW INTELLIGENCE; and however his doctrines, likely to maintain but a short-lived credit in their native barbarity of form, may have disguised themselves in the dress of Philosophy, and endeavoured to play upon us with the false glitter of their borrowed trappings; we will venture to say that so gross a Libel as the present, upon Common Sense and Common Honesty, has seldom been uttered from the press. In 1794, Mr. Godwin published a Novel, entitled, Things as they Are; or, the Adventures of Caleb Williams, in three small volumes. In this performance (a work of most pernicious tendency!) the author's object is evidently to give an easy passport and general circulation to some of his favourite opinions; and it is written with an evident allusion to his work on Political Justice. The use which Mr. Colman [the younger] has made of this novel [dramatized as The Iron Chest] has already been mentioned under the name of that gentleman. In 1796, Mr. Godwin published an octavo volume, entitled, The Enquirer; or, Reflections on Education, Manners, and Literature, in a series of Essays; and [a] competent reader will grant it may fairly be said, that, as in the first instance, the sanity of Mr. Godwin's intellect might reasonably be questioned, so in this (if the speculations he advances be the honest dictates of his understanding) he has no less a claim to the character of a most pitiful ignoramus.