1800 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Godwin

Thomas Green, 25 March 1800; Extracts from the Diary of a Lover of Literature (1810) 209.



Read Godwin's St. Leon. In the Preface, he explicitly abjures the doctrine of extinguishing the private affections, which he had inculcated in his Political Justice; and the subsequent pages bear repeated testimony to the sincerity and completeness of his conversion: — yet he professes to see no cause to change the fundamental principle of that Work! I flatter myself with having been instrumental in a little humanizing him; but the volcanic and blasphemous spirit still peeps, occasionally, through a flimsy disguise. His sentiments and expressions are often borrowed; and the account of the interrogatories at the Inquisition, with the decoy employed there, are directly and impudently stolen from Mrs. Radcliffe. In his struggles to be sublime, there is something inexpressibly hideous and revolting: — they are not the exertions of mighty power, but the convulsive and ghastly agonies of a distempered sensibility. — After all, too, though one may be amused with the adventures of St. Leon, what impression do they leave on the mind? They do not indoctrinate the unsatisfactory nature of boundless opulence and immortal youth, as Nourjahad does, — for St. Leon seems rather persecuted by his ill fortune, than by the natural consequences of his supernatural acquisitions. What, then, do they inculcate? — I am quite unable to tell.