14 October 1794
Mary Hays, 2 Paragon Place, to William Godwin, [25 Chalton Street, Somers Town], 14 October 1794.1
Perhaps no apology could be equally proper for a stranger addressing Mr Godwin, and presuming to solicit a favor, as a plain statement of the truth! Disgusted with the present constitutions of civil society, an observance of which the storms which have lately agitated the policy hemisphere has forced upon every mind not absolutely sunk in apathy or absorbed in selfishness, the writer of this has been roused from a depression of spirits, at once melancholy & indignant, by an attention to the “few puissant and heavenly endowed spirits, that are capable of guiding, enlightening, & leading the human race onward to felicity!”2 Among these, fame has given a distinguished place to the Author of “Political Justice.”3 Contrary to the assertions of some really liberal & respectable writers – That the human mind, like the pendulum of a clock, will continue to move backward & forward, without ever exceeding a certain boundary – the author of this justly celebrated work is said to have supported, with equal perspicuity of language & strength of reasoning, the noble, the cheering hypothesis of the progressive improvement and ultimate perfection of the human mind.
My ardor for the perusal of this work was first excited by a copious analysis in the Analytical4 Review5; next, by the testimony, among many others, of a respected friend, Mr Wm Frend late of Cambridge, who writing to me on this subject says – “I am at present in the chambers of a friend, & have again a decent shew of books around me. My attention has however been chiefly arrested by Godwin on Political justice. The first hundred pages please me exceedingly &, if he continues in the same manner, I might almost venture to presage that his book will in a few years operate as great a change in the political sentiments of our nation as Lockes famous treatise on government.”6 – To gratify this curiosity I had recourse, but in vain, to various circulating libraries, being informed that the work was too expensive for their purposes; & I will frankly confess that the same cause rendered it inconvenient for me to purchase it, which otherwise I should most chearfully have done. I have since applied to several of my friends & acquaintance, but without success.
Very lately my curiosity has received an additional stimulus from perusing Mr Godwin’s Memoirs of Caleb Williams7; to which originality, force, & genius, combine to give an interest far exceeding the generality of publications of this nature: The affecting struggles between prejudice & principle in the finely sketched character of Falkland; the artless, simple, pathetic tale of Emily Melville; the soul harrowing catastrophe of the unfortunate Hawkins’s; the protracted persecutions & sufferings of the intrepid & ingenuous Caleb Williams – alternately excited in my mind a sensibility almost convulsive! Hurried along by the interesting & impassioned narrative, I had scarcely time, till a second perusal, to pay a proper attention to the variety of excellent remarks, polit^ic^al & moral, with which these Memoirs abound, the accurate knowledge of the mechanism of the human understanding which they display, with the too just & melancholy reflection which pervades them. – “Of what use are talents & sentiments in the corrupt wilderness of human society? It is a rank & rotten soil from which every finer shrub draws poison as it grows. All that in a happier field & a purer air would expand into virtue & germinate8 into general usefulness, is thus converted into henbane & deadly nightshade.”9
May then a disciple of truth, & a contemner of the artificial <-> forms which have served but to corrupt & enslave society, request of Mr Godwin himself to be allowed an opportunity of investigating further the important & interesting subjects of moral truth & political justice? I must not say that I will promise to preserve the books with care & return them with punctuality – but I will assure Mr G that from the first dawnings of reason, amid all the disadvantages of worse than neglected, perverted, female education, the governing principles of my mind have been ian ardent love of literature & an unbounded reverence for truth & genius: I can with enthusiasm adopt the sentiment of a modern ingenuous writer (who is at present suffering the penalty which virtue & talents, the only just objects of fear to a corrupt government, have ever suffered in perilous times.) “What is there precious but mind? And when mind, like a diamond of uncommon growth, exceeds a certain magnitude, calculation cannot find its value.”10 These associations have mechanically produced in my mind a thirst after books & a sense of their value – I have been obliged to incur11 various obligations of this nature, & can say, with strict sincerity, that my friends have never once had cause to repent their liberality, or to distrust either my care or my integrity.
If Mr G should think proper to signify by a line his compliance with my request, I will send a person for the work where ever he shall please to appoint & return it punctually when perused.
Octbr 14th 1794.
No 2. Paragon Place. Surry Road.
Address: Mr Godwin | Summers Town
In another hand the following is written over the address:
“Jupiter a [illegible] tyrant Court but [illegible] allegory of monarchy authority”
1 MS MH 0001, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 382-84; Wedd, Love Letters 227-29. Hays spent much of 1794-95 living with her older sister, Joanna Dunkin, in her new and spacious townhome in the Paragon, Surrey, built by local architect Michael Searle. She had several young daughters at this time and probably welcomed Hays's assistance in their care and early education. The three youngest Dunkin daughters would later live with Hays in her house in Park Street, Islington, 1807-08, receiving their final education from their aunt. All three nieces would remain very close to Hays the remainder of her life.
2 Quotation is taken from Thomas Holcroft's novel, Anna St. Ives, 7 vols (London: Shepperson and Reynolds, 1792), 7.259. Holcroft (1749-1809) would become a friend and correspondent of Hays after her introduction to the Godwin circle. See his entry in the Biographical Index.
3 Reference is to Godwin's An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness (London: G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1793), which Hays successfully borrowed from Godwin as a result of her request in this letter.
4 anylitical] MS
5 See the June and August issues of the Analytical Review 16 (1793), 121-30; 388-404.
6 See John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (London, 1690).
7 Godwin's Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, appeared in three volumes in London in 1794, published by Benjamin Crosby, a Dissenting bookseller/printer.
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9 Taken from Godwin, Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, 2nd ed. corrected (London: G. G. & J. Robinson, 1796), 3.311.
10 Holcroft, along with Thomas Hardy, John Thelwall, Horne Took and several other reformers, was tried for treason in 1794; all the accused, however, were acquitted. The quotation is once again from Anna St. Ives, 7.259.
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