22 October 1797
William Godwin to Mary Hays, ]Little John Street], 22 October 1797.1
The letter I have just received from you does you considerable credit, &, in spite of the prejudices you have elaborately impressed on my mind, raises you in my esteem. I am sorry there are other parts of the letter that have a contrary tendency.
You allude to our conversation of Tuesday & Wednesday, seven weeks ago,2 & strive to retort on me the charge of impropriety. I can only say that, if the conversation were written down aided by our joint recollections, there could scarcely be a dissentient opinion among its readers. I can only repeat my conviction, that my answer to your selfish, unhandsome & passionate attack, was exemplarily moderate. No doubt I felt it; probably the feeling might influence the tone of my voice; but I governed my words. You are welcome to Mrs Vaughan’s applause in the business.3
Your account of your conversation with that lady about her own affairs, is probably accurate. I hope however that you were guided in the advice you gave, as I am satisfied you were in the epithets of false heroism & ridiculous philosophy, by personal feelings towards me.
You tell me that the assuming manners of which I have accused you, resulted from a spirit resisting imposition. This is rather an unfortunate account of the matter, as there is, to the best of my recollection, no one of our common friends, from whom I have not lately heard repeated complaints against you of the same nature. Which is most probable, that they are all united in the imposition you talk of, or that the spirit of imposition dwells in your own breast? I still adhere to my former solution, & ascribe it to a newly hatched literary vanity.
But, what is most material, is the charge of tyranny which you repeat against me, I really wish to come to the consideration of this point with all the sobriety I am master of. If I were governed by the vanity of an author, that would not account for the phenomenon, since you acquit me of this tyranny in the early part of our acquaintance, when I was as fully vested in the honours of an author as at present, & when I wore them with a newer gloss. Believe me, miss Hays, the alteration is in you & not in me. I used more harsh, &, if that were the proper epithet, tyrannical, expressions, in our early discussions, than I have ever done since. I could convince you of this by refreshing your memory. But then you took them in good part.
I wish now, in all good-humour & kindness, to call you to the examination of the result. I cannot, I am afraid, alter my manners. They have ever been the same to you, as now, & the same to you as to any human being whom I thought it worth my while to talk much with. But what is the consequence? I cannot hereafter talk to you of any thing, you say, or any thing you think, but you will, I doubt not, be looking out for this bugbear, this disguised or unsuspected tyranny. I cannot talk to you frankly, but I shall continually be stopped by the recollection, not merely that I shall not have a fair hearing, but that my well-intended remarks will be construed into tyranny. Believe me, this sort of charge is the bane of all cordiality, & (what you have lately set your face against) unreserve.
Well then, suffer me to ask you whether, thus circumstanced, it does not appear, as I said in my last letter, that our intercourse is not likely to be attended with much benefit? We are, at present, twin stars, that cannot shine in the same hemisphere.4 Hays cannot admit of an equal, nor Godwin, in this case, of a superior. Is it not better then to rest, for some time at least, in that esteem, with which your letter now before me, has unfeigned impressed me?
I am far from meaning to recommend that we should never see each other. When we meet by accident, our mutual esteem will, I hope, produce the fruits of mutual good will. I wish to see you, in order that I may give you any trifles belonging to your friend, that might happen to be acceptable to you. But intimacy, I am afraid you have precluded.
Oct. 22. 1797.
1 MS Abinger c. 22, fols 64-66, Bodleian Library, Oxford; Brooks, Correspondence 466-67; Clemit, Letters 1.256-58.
2 According to Godwin's diary, Hays visited him during his wife's final illness on 4 and 5 September 1797.
3 A Mrs Vaughan appears in Godwin's diary in August and September 1797, staying at the Polygon and apparently assisting in the care of Mary Wollstonecraft. See Cameron, Shelley and His Circle, 1.197, 199.
4 Sentence adapted from lines in John Dryden's Tyrannick Love, Act I, scene 1.