1877 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Godwin

Bryan Waller Procter, in Procter: An Autobiographical Fragment (1877) 202-3.



William Godwin, a small man, apparently of cold temperament, but abounding in literary energy, sprang into life after the blaze of the French Revolution. I feel some difficulty in offering an opinion about him. Mr. Thomas Campbell (the poet) had a cold, Scotch manner, but that was merely the educated habit or manner of his country — cautious, canny. There was sap behind the bark. If the oppression of the Poles or any other flagrant enormity was brought before him his energy quickly flamed up. And he was also very vivacious, not to say riotous, in his cups.

But Godwin was always the same; very cold, very selfish, very calculating. His philosophy, such as it was, never generated pity or gratitude. His sympathies and generosities and liberal qualities showed themselves only in print. His conduct towards Shelley was merely an endeavour to extract from him as much money as was possible. His conduct towards Mr. —, whom I have heard speak of it, in denying a pecuniary liability, because, as he said, "there was no witness to the loan;" his pedantic cavilling at his, wife's unscientific expression when dying, "Oh, Godwin, I am in heaven!" (expressive of her relief from extreme pain), all indicate an unamiable character. I have known several persons who were intimate with him, none of whom ever pretended to endue him with a single good quality. He was very pragmatic, very sceptical of God and men and virtue. And yet this man has in his study compiled fine rhetorical sentences, which strangers have been ready to believe flowed warm from his heart. I have always thought him like one of those cold intellectual demons of whom we read in French and German stories, who come upon earth to do good to no one and harm to many.