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March 14 1812: Godwin writes to Shelley


On March 14, 1812, William Godwin wrote to Percy Bysshe Shelley in Dublin urging him to return to London. Shelly admired Godwin and considered him a mentor. Shelley's radical political philosophy was inspired by Godwin's An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice.  Shelley had introduced himself to Godwin in a letter in 1811. They continued their correspondence even as Shelley and his wife, Hariett, left for Dublin. Godwin became concerned that Shelley was going to far in Ireland.  Shelley was making enemies on all sides, drawing opposition from one side for his calls for Irish independence and from the other side for his call for toleration. Godwin, in the letter reproduced below, asks Shelley to return to London. The old radical is also now counselling the young radical that change will not come quickly but "by quiet but incessant activity". The last sentence of the letter[1] is also of  interest given what later transpired between Shelley and Godwin's daughter, Mary Godwin, later to be Mary Shelley. 

March 14, 1812.
I take up the pen again immediately on the receipt of yours, because I am desirous of making one more effort to save yourself and the Irish people from the calamities with which I see your mode of proceeding to be fraught. In the commencement of this, letter you profess to 'acquiesce in my decisions,' and you go on with those measures which, with no sparing and equivocal voice, I have condemned. I smile, with a bitter smile, a smile of much pain, at the impotence of my expostulations on so momentous a topic, when I observe these inconsistencies. ...

You say, What has been done within these last twenty years?' Oh, that I could place you upon the pinnacle of ages, from which these twenty years would shrink to an invisible point. It is not after this fashion that moral causes work in the eye of him who looks profoundly through the vast and-allow me to add--venerable machine of human society. But so reasoned the French Revolutionists. Auspicious and admirable materials were working in the general mind of France; but these men said, as you say, When we look on the last twenty years, we are seized with a sort of moral scepticism; we must own we are eager that something should be done.' And see what has been the result of their doings. He that would benefit mankind on a comprehensive scale, by changing the principles and elements of society, must learn the hard lesson, to put off self, and to contribute by a quiet but incessant activity, like a rill of water, to irrigate and fertilise the intellectual evil. . . .
I wish to my heart you would come immediately to London. I have a friend who has contrived a tube to convey passengers sixty miles an hour: be youth your tube. I have a thousand things I could say, really more than I could say in a letter on this important subject. You cannot imagine how much all the females of my family, Mrs Godwin and three daughters, are interested in your letters and your history.

1. William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries, Vol. 2 by C. Kegan Paul. Henry S. King and Co., London, 1876.
2. The portraits are from Wikipedia's entry for Godwin and Shelley

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