The Godwin Project: Love letter to Maria Reveley

25 Jun|Pamela Clemit

William Godwin

NOT LONG AFTER the death of his wife Mary Wollstonecraft, author and radical William Godwin started pursuing other women. Here is an extract of a letter from him to Maria Reveley, a friend of his whose husband had recently died.

From Letter 235: To Maria Reveley, 25 July 1799

I think you have the courage to excuse the plainness with which I am going to speak. The game which we play the stake that may eventually be lost, is my happiness & perhaps your own.

You have it in your power to give me new life, a new interest in existence, to raise me from the grave in which my heart lies buried. You are invited to form the sole happiness of one of the most known men of the age, of one whose principles, whose temper, whose thoughts you have been long acquainted with, & will I believe confess their universal constancy. This connection, I should think, would restore you to self-respect, would give security to your future peace, & insure for you no mean degree of respectability. What you prop to chuse in opposition to this, I scarcely know how to describe to you. You have said you cannot live without a passion, yet you prefer a mere abstraction, the unknown ticket you may draw in the lottery of men, to the attachment of a man with some virtues, a man whom you once, whom you long, believed you loved. Your temper is so gentle & yielding in those moments in which your heart is moved, that you indeed want a protector & an amulet. I cannot bear to think of, what but for the sake of warning you I would not suffer to remain a moment in my thoughts, the new difficulties, embarrassments & repentance, in which this amiable softness of your character will too probably involve you. I offer you a harbour, once your favourite thought; you prefer to launch away into the tempestuous treacherous ocean. I should not forgive myself in case of any new misfortune to you, if I had not ventured to say this much.

How singularly perverse & painful is my state! When all obstacles interposed between us, when I had a wife, when you had a husband, you said you then loved me, for years loved me! Could you for years be deceived? Now that calamity on the one hand, & no unpropitious fortune on the other have removed these obstacles, it seems your thoughts are changed, you have entered into new calculations & reasonings.

You cannot imagine how much, how entirely I love you, how my heart expands & is cherished when I am daring enough to picture to myself my fondness repaid by a reciprocal fondness from you. Then I am young & a giant. Then I rejoice like the orb of day to run its race, then I feel & am conscious of that full value life is capable of possessing. When the contrary idea intrudes & obstinately fastens itself all then is blank & chill & discouraging; I may then attain to tranquillity, a bleak & winter tranquillity, but this is not life. I never can love any but you; & indeed when I consider my astonishing misfortune, that the woman of my choice, the woman who so long loved me, now that every thing is favourable, deserts me & changes her mind, I have no courage to think of society, & the bitterness of my disappointment loudly & strongly commands me henceforth to consign myself to the discomfortlessness of solitude. I say not this to move your compassion; I disdain compassion; but to root out from your mind the idea, if it ever harboured there, that I am a philosopher, & cannot be a lover.


W Godwin
July 25. 1799.

From The Letters of William Godwin, Volume II: 1798-1805, edited by Pamela Clemit. Follow Pamela on Twitter @Godwin_lives