The Godwin Project: Letters from a Radical

10 Aug

Mary Shelley in 1840 by Richard Rothwell

William Godwin was one of the foremost radical thinkers of the late 18th and early 19th century. In this extract from his second volume of letters, edited by Pamela Clemit, he writes home soon after the death of his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary is his daughter with Mary Wollstonecraft; Fanny is her daughter from a previous relationship. Mary would go on to marry Percy Shelley and to write Frankenstein.

From Letter 268: To James Marshall, 11 July 1800

I received your letter this morning, four days from its date. I forget now what I said in my last letter about the poor little girls; but in this letter I will begin with them. Their talking about me, as you say they do, makes me wish to be with them, & will probably have some effect in inducing me to shorten my visit. It is the first time that I have been seriously separated from them since the death of their mother, & I feel as if it was very naughty in me to have come away so far, & to have put so much land, & a river sixty miles broad between us, tho’, as you know, I had very strong reasons for coming. I hope you have got Fanny a proper spelling book. Have you examined her at all, & discovered what improvement she has made in her reading? You do not tell me whether they have received or paid any visits. If it does not take much room in your next letter, I should be glad to hear of that. Tell Mary, I will not give her away, & she shall be nobody’s little girl, but papa’s: papa is gone away, but papa will soon come back again, & look out at the coach-window, & see the Polygon across two fields, from the trunks of the trees at Camden Town. Will Mary & Fanny come & meet me? I will write them word, if I can, in my next letter or the letter after that, when & how it shall be. Next Sunday, it will be a fortnight since I left them, & I should like, if possible to see them on the Sunday after Sunday the 20th of July.

I depute to Fanny & Mr Collins, the gardener, the care of the garden. Tell her, I wish to find it spruce, cropped, weeded & mowed at my return, &, if she can save me a few strawberries & a few beans without spoiling, I will give her six kisses for them. But then Mary must have as many six kisses too, because Fanny has six.

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