1848 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Godwin

Horace Smith, in "A Graybeard's Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance" New Monthly Magazine 82 (March 1848) 338-39.



William Godwin, the author of Political Justice, whose name, though it no longer arrests public attention with the tenacity of former years, must ever occupy a high position in the annals of English literature. It was in the years of his second marriage, and in his later life, that I first had the honour of becoming known to him. A rather short and solid figure, a large bald head, in which a phrenologist would have seen manifest proofs of intellectual development, a benevolent resigned look, expressive of calm submission to the scorns and contumelies "that patient merit of the unworthy takes," combined with a gentle voice and manner, gave him rather the semblance of some ancient philosopher — of Socrates after his unjust condemnation, or of Aristides, after his iniquitous ostracism — than of a modern and not undistinguished author, keeping, as he then did, and inferior shop for stationery and children's books in Skinner-street, not far from Holborn-hill. He was then writing elementary school-books, under the assumed name of Mylius, for his own would have been fatal to their success. Nay, so bitter was the ban and proscription of bigotry in those days, that he did not inscribe his own name over his own shop-door, substituting the figure of a hunchback, under which was written, in black-letter characters, to puzzle the ignorant, the word AESOP. Here have I sometimes shared his frugal early dinner, which, nevertheless, was luxurious enough for one who had rather partake of filberts with a philosopher than of venison with a fool. Sooth to say, however, he spoke but little, seemed averse from discussion, and was somewhat prone to somnolency, unsocial habits, partly attributable to his age, partly, perhaps, to the state of his affairs; for my visits had generally reference to his pecuniary embarrassments, which were of constant recurrence, spite of the frequent an munificent assistance he had received from his son-in-law, Shelley. His total ignorance of the tradesman's art must have occasioned this difficulties, for he lived in an almost primitive simplicity, and had no expensive habits. Though we rarely met except upon such unpleasant occasions, I never left him without feeling a deep regret at his uncongenial and painful position, and a sincere admiration of his talents and his virtues.