7 September 1795

William Godwin to Mary Hays, 2 Paragon Place, Surrey Road, Southwark, 7 September 1795.1 

    You must not draw me into a correspondence which is wholly incompatible with my avocations & the disposition of my time. I would ^not^ answer your letter,2 were it not that you suggest a doubt of any ^having^ forfeited any ^some^ part of my good opinion.

     That, I assure you, is not the case. I found, or thought I found, you in an error; but that neither shocked nor surprised me. There is scarcely any difference of opinion by which a person can forfeit my good opinion.

     You appear to me to have considerably altered your tone respecting my heroes, in the letter now before me. Before, you upon the whole condemned them, at your bar of morality, as depraved persons, & corrupters of mankind.

     But you are still far from satisfying me. You talk of the powers of these writers. I talk of the virtue with which their hearts glowed, & the inestimable benefits they conferred on mankind. I talk of men, whose virtue, whose generosity, whose heroic spirit of sacrifice, doubled their own existence, & continues to double that of every one that truly understands them. I talk of Swift & Sterne, the apostles, & of Rousseau and Voltaire, the martyrs, of humanity.

     Did you ever read Sheridan’s Life of Swift, or the Vie de Voltaire, printed at Geneva, in 12mo, which I recommend in my Political Justice?3

    I am very far from agreeing with you that virtue is a matters of taste. I place it upon a more solid & immovable basis. I will never make a eunuch of my mind, or keep myself ignorant in order that I may be good.

     You misunderstand my charge respecting Epicureanism. My system of thinking does not allow me to be satisfied with your placing your happiness in the good of others, but requires a disinterested benevolence, that you should desire their good for their sake, & not for your own.

     We will now, if you please, return to our old contract: you shall communicate your sentiments by letter; & I will answer ^you^ in person.

                             W Godwin

Sep. 7. 1795

You seem to have equally misconceived my principles on the subject of friendship. I believe it to be virtuous to distinguish between man & man, and that in precise proportion to the estimable qualities that exist, & the opportunities I have of knowing those qualities. Do you desire anything more? Do you desire to be esteemed for qualities that you have not?


Address: Miss Hayes | No 2 | Paragon Place | Surrey Road

Postmark: 9 September 1795.

1  MS G 0315, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 396-97; Clemit, Letters 1.123-24; Wedd, Love Letters 231-32.

2 Hays's letter is untraced.

3 Reference is to Thomas Sheridan's The Life of the Rev. Dr. J. Swift, vol. 1 of The Works of the Rev. Dr. Swift (London: C. Bathurst [and others], 1784); and Abbé Duvernet's La Vie de Voltaire, par M*** (London: Nourse, [1786]).