The New International Encyclopædia/Godwin, William

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The New International Encyclopædia
Godwin, William
Edition of 1906. See also William Godwin on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

GODWIN, William (1756-1836). An English novelist and political writer. The son of a dissenting minister, he was born at Wisbeach, Cambridgeshire, March 3, 1756. After studying at the Hoxton Presbyterian College, he became minister at Ware in Hertfordshire, and in 1780 minister at Stowmarket in Suffolk. Having been shaken in his religious belief, he gave up preaching in 1783, and by 1787 he was ‘a complete unbeliever.’ He was already devoting himself to literature. After a Life of Chatham (1783), Sketches of History, in Six Sermons (1784), and considerable hack-work, he published the famous Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), in which were presented the most radical theories of French philosophy on morals and government. By this book he is best known. It was followed by The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794), a remarkable novel, intended to illustrate the political views advanced in the Political Justice and by The Enquirer (1797), a collection of essays on morals and politics. Tn 1796 he formed an alliance with Mary Wollstonecraft (q.v.). After some months they yielded so far to custom as to be married. His wife died a short time after, in giving birth to a daughter, the future wife of the poet Shelley. In 1799 he published a successful romance entitled Saint Leon. In 1801 he married a Mrs. Clairmont. To secure a more certain support, Godwin and his wife started in 1805 a small publishing business, but he also worked indefatigably with his pen to the end of his life. He wrote many school books; Life of Chaucer (1803); Fleetwood, a novel (1805); Mandeville, a novel (1817); Of Population (1820), a reply to Malthus; History of the Commonwealth of England (1824-28); Cloudesley, a novel (1830); Thoughts on Man (1831); Deloraine, a novel (1833) ; and Lives of the Necromancers (1834). As he grew old, he modified his opinions on politics and society, and especially on marriage, which he warmly commends in some of his later works. Many of his books were translated into foreign languages. He died in London, April 7, 1836. Consult: Paul, William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries (London, 1876); Hazlitt, essay in the Spirit of the Age (London, 1825); and Stephen, English Thought in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1876).